Miscarriage. What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you read this word? What’s the feeling that emerges in your mind or in your body? No need to get too deep, I just want you to take notice of what automatically comes up for you.
Now think of the word abortion. Again, just notice the first thing that comes to mind and how you’re feeling in your body. Does this feel different or the same as what you were experiencing with the word miscarriage?
Go ahead and let all of that go, perhaps take a couple of deep cleansing breaths. Thank you for bearing with me so we can establish a baseline for this discussion about something that has been troubling for many women that seek medical care for a pregnancy loss.
Most women who do this exercise report much more negative thoughts and feelings when they hear or read the word abortion. But why?
Abortion is an extremely loaded word
1) Politics/Ethics/Religion – it’s the subject of extremely emotional societal debates that tap into ethical and religious beliefs that are extremely polarizing.
2) Core Beliefs – these stem from your early life experiences including all the things you heard others say. What you heard were not just facts, but very intense emotions including sadness or anger. When we become adults, but our default reactions still tend to favor what our early subconscious beliefs were, even if we change our opinions.
When the word abortion comes up it may trigger automatic subconscious feelings and beliefs that stem from early in life. These beliefs that are often multi-generational, religious, social, and sometimes personal.
The problem with saying “abortion” instead of miscarriage in a medical context
When a woman seeks medical care for a miscarriage, stillbirth, ectopic (tubal) pregnancy or any other form of pregnancy loss, she is often shocked to be told (or receive paperwork) that she has had a “spontaneous abortion” or some similar term.
This is problematic because applying the word abortion to an already traumatic event serves to anchor all of her subconscious beliefs and feelings that are associated with that word.
Here is what one suffering mom had to say about her recent experience:
“I labored for 40 hours to give birth to a stillborn baby, received a transfusion because of the amount of blood I lost and went home broken. Abortion is a contentious term and I hate that it is used to describe what happened to me.”
Another woman described her experience:
“I had my daughter at 19 weeks and they put “incomplete abortion.” Made me feel even less of a human being than I already felt. I don’t think anyone (chooses) to have their baby so early.”
Can you sense just how hurtful those words were to these grieving moms? Even if the medical staff is perfectly supportive in giving her care, she still is more likely to suffer due to the triggering of medical words that are used to describe her experience.
As an intelligent adult may consciously understand that your situation has nothing to do with elective abortion. But your emotions and underlying personal judgments will likely overrule logic, tapping into your early life beliefs – “Abortion is bad, and now I am having an abortion! Am I bad?”
This is especially true in highly emotional situations, like having a miscarriage. Logic is not enough when you are tapped into your more powerful and emotional subconscious mind.
Cognitive bias is when your own experiences, beliefs, and subjective way of seeing the world affects your judgments or decision-making. We all experience cognitive bias, it is something we automatically do from a subconscious level. It saves us time when making everyday decisions.
So when a woman is going through the excruciating experience of losing a baby, and she hears the word “abortion,” it doesn’t matter if you logically explain to her that it is a medical term. What has the biggest impact at this moment is that she feels all of her own personal experiences, beliefs and subjective opinions about this very politically-charged word. Those emotions now anchor into her already traumatic experience of having a miscarriage.
She may feel more sensitive and distrustful, due to being mislabeled. She may feel as if she is being judged by outsiders. She may also feel angry about being misjudged at such a sensitive time.
She may direct some of these feelings inward. Logically, she is wise enough to know the difference – she knows she didn’t choose to have a miscarriage. But subconsciously, she may be so emotionally triggered by the word, that she unknowingly takes on the additional pain and guilt of this somehow being her fault.
Again, these are feelings on a deep level. When the emotions associated with the word abortion are applied to oneself, especially in an already vulnerable state, then it can bring on an extraordinary amount of guilt and pain.
Not only can this add to the pain that is already being felt, but in some cases, it can actually distract her from experiencing healthy grieving. This can happen when she begins to focus more of her attention on feeling anger towards medical staff, or when she experiences intense feelings of guilt within herself.
Cognitive Bias in Medical Care
While it may seem that medical words are used in an almost sterile manner by doctors, nurses, and aides, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Cognitive bias can affect their judgments and sometimes the way they provide care.
I have heard countless stories about cold, judgmental care being given by doctors and nursing staff. In one such situation, the mother came in to receive treatment for a very physically and emotionally painful ectopic pregnancy, and she was scowled at and given very cold treatment by the nursing professional that began by asking her “So you’re here for your abortion?” Ouch!
I also hear many accounts of women being treated in a demeaning manner by pharmacists and techs when they go to pick up their medication.
None of this is helpful! In fact, I would argue that it is harmful – both psychologically and physically. The body’s ability to heal is very much affected by intense ongoing emotions. I see many women who are stuck in a cycle of anger, guilt, and isolation after their negative experiences with medical staff.
Grieving parents deserve to be treated with care and understanding.
What if we eliminated this word in a medical context?
Is it possible?
The medical community is slow to change, and there is particular resistance to changing the medical terminology. I get that medical professionals are using these words as medical descriptions, and they aren’t really meaning to hurt anyone’s feelings.
But I submit that due to the extent of harm these words are causing, it may be time to do something about it. Is there any reason why they can’t choose different words?
Humans are both physical and emotional. If you are in the business of treating medical conditions, you must also be sensitive to what is going on emotionally.
That’s not to say that doctors and other caregivers are solely responsible for nurturing the feelings of their patients, but if they are doing and saying things that are significantly distressing to their patients, then it is time to stop and do something different.
Other Triggering Medical Terms
Although this post is focusing on the main word that causes distress for women experiencing a miscarriage or loss, there are others that also stimulate strong negative reactions. A few of these are:
Blighted ovum, products of conception, pregnancy tissue, medical waste, incompetent cervix, habitual aborter and fetal demise.
What can we do on a personal/individual level?
We may be able to agree that changing terminology in the medical community would be highly beneficial, but that takes time. What about now?
When I work with women who have suffered from miscarriages or pregnancy loss, this is one of the things we cover in the healing process. When you work directly with your subconscious mind, you can neutralize overly-charged feelings that are attached to specific words. This changes how you feel about the words, and the personal experiences you have with them.
1)Neutralize negatively charged words – on a subconscious level. With the result that you can hear a word and no longer be triggered by it. Hypnosis is a very easy and effective method for doing this.
2)Create positive triggers with words that you know you will continue to be faced with. If you know that we will hear these words repeated in a medical, political, or social context, you can intentionally create a different response in your subconscious.
So instead of feeling pain, guilt or anger when you hear the word abortion, you can anchor feelings of self-compassion and self-nurturing. This will help you with your grieving, and it will help you to feel more compassion for what others may be experiencing. It doesn’t mean you have to change your opinions about elective abortions, but it does involve protecting yourself as you move forward from your own trauma
3)Tools for moving forward – There are a number of tools available that you can learn to use that can help you deal with strong emotions as they come up. This is so helpful because grief is a unique experience. There is no magic wand that can make it all go away, but there are ways of experiencing grief that keep you from getting stuck in a cycle of increasing pain.
Two of these tools are tapping (EFT) and self-hypnosis. These are my favorite self-empowering techniques because they are simple to use and very helpful for a wide array of situations. If you want to learn more about these tools, please download the FREE Relax and Let Go MP3 (below), and join our newsletter to hear about our free online workshops for women who are suffering from miscarriage or pregnancy loss.
What do you think? Do you think the medical community should adopt new words to describe miscarriage and pregnancy loss? Let me know what you think in the comments below.