And why we need to use our words carefully.
He's a father of five young children, but he's also a dad who has suffered the pain of pregnancy loss, and now, James Van Der Beek is asking the world to rethink the word "miscarriage."
"'Mis-carriage,' in an insidious way, suggests fault for the mother - as if she dropped something, or failed to 'carry,'" he wrote on Instagram. "From what I've learned, in all but the most obvious, extreme cases, it has nothing to do with anything the mother did or didn't do."
James and his wife, Kimberly, have supported each other through three painful losses and five births and postpartum periods in the last few years.
I've had almost eight and a half years of pregnancy," Kimberly wrote on Instagram.
"I've had five babies and three miscarriages in that time. I've nursed each child for over a year. Sometimes it's exhausting. Sometimes it's heaven."
Equal turns of exhaustion and heaven does seem to us the perfect way to describe those early years of motherhood, but the Van Der Beeks have started a conversation that could lead to another description mothers need: A new way to describe a pain which so often isn't described at all.
Language and loss
The loss of pregnancy is a pain that often defies language, but one James, as a father and husband, tried his best to put into words for other parents who are suffering what he and Kimberly did.
"It will tear you open like nothing else," he wrote. "It's painful and it's heartbreaking on levels deeper than you may have ever experienced. So don't judge your grief, or try to rationalize your way around it. Let it flow in the waves in which it comes, and allow it its rightful space. And then... once you're able... try to recognize the beauty in how you put yourself back together differently than you were before."
He's right about the pain, and he may also be right about the word "miscarriage."
A new word
Dictionaries offers several definitions of the word. The first is, of course, "the expulsion of a fetus before it is viable." Others include "failure to attain the just, right, or desired result" or "an unsuccessful outcome of something planned."
The word "failure" should not be associated with pregnancy loss because it is not a failure, not at all. Pregnancy loss is so common, it happens in up to 25% of pregnancies and it is no one's fault.
So the Van Der Beeks are right, we do need a new name for pregnancy loss. We need a word that doesn't imply blame or failure, one that isn't infused with unnecessary shame or guilt. We need a word that makes it clear that this hurts.
Right now, the best word we have is "loss," and if you're feeling that right now, don't be afraid to name the feeling.
Grief, hurt, sadness, and pain (and hope) are all words that we can associate with pregnancy loss instead of the dictionary synonyms like failure. When a pregnancy ends, it's not an "an unsuccessful outcome of something planned" or, as Google's definition suggests, a "foundering, ruin, ruination, collapse, breakdown, [or] thwarting".
It's a common personal tragedy that no one should be afraid to put into words.