BYU alumni discuss miscarriages, hope to change taboo culture

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Jeri Harashima and her husband Yuji were elated when Jeri could give birth to a healthy baby girl named Raine in February 2021.

However, the process it took for them to get to this point wasn’t easy. Two years before in 2019, when Jeri was pregnant for the first time, she miscarried while in the first trimester.

According to Dr. Christine Greves from Orlando Health, one in four women experience a miscarriage at some time in their life. (Allison Mcarthur)

“They said they couldn’t hear the heartbeat and that scared me. I remember my whole body was paralyzed,” she said.

Sadly, miscarriages are not uncommon. According to Dr. Christine Greves from Orlando Health, one in four women experience a miscarriage at some time in their life.

According to March of Dimes, about 10 to 15 in 100 pregnancies end in miscarriages for women who know they’re pregnant. Most miscarriages will occur before the 12th week of pregnancy, and miscarriages in the second trimester happen in one to five in 100 pregnancies.

Trauma from miscarriages

BYU Chinese language and literature alumna Katie Li was excited when she found out she was pregnant in the summer of 2019.

However, Li was later mortified to find out she had miscarried. She had gone to a checkup and the doctor told her the baby had stopped developing.

Katie Li poses for a picture with her husband Shion and her baby Celeste, who she gave birth to in 2020. (Katie Li’s Facebook Page)

After the miscarriage, Li experienced anxiety and many different emotions.

“I had to take contraction pills to get the baby out because my body didn’t recognize that it wasn’t alive. Between the miscarriage, the postpartum depression, and all of this, it was definitely a traumatic experience,” Li said.

Li said her experience made her really frustrated, sad and depressed. She wasn’t used to all of these emotions and didn’t know how to deal with them.

BYU alumna and sociology graduate student Jordan Coburn also had a miscarriage in 2017. This was during her second pregnancy after her first baby was born.

Coburn said when she went to the hospital and the doctor found that there wasn’t a heartbeat, they told her to come back a week later.

By the next week, she already had a feeling in the pit of her stomach that it was going to be a miscarriage. The doctor confirmed at the visit that she had indeed miscarried.

“I just started crying, because you just get so hopeful. You get excited, you start planning and thinking about their name and make plans for their future,” Coburn said. “The thoughts of their future still don’t go away right away after their death. You’re still thinking about the future that they could have had and would have had, but is no longer a reality.”

Coburn said that once a woman suffers a miscarriage their chance of miscarrying increases the next time they’re pregnant.

“Every time you get pregnant, there is always a nagging feeling in the back of your mind that at any second, your pregnancy could end. It definitely leaves you with a fear,” she said.

The doctor gave her an option to either take medicine or surgery to let it all pass from her body, Coburn said. She opted for the medicine, but when she looked up the medicine’s information, it was specifically for abortions.

While the technical term for what she was doing was having an abortion, she felt emotional having to take the medicine.

Jordan Coburn and her husband have three daughters now, after having a miscarriage in her first pregnancy. (Stacey Clarke)

“It felt so wrong, because what if she was alive and I’m doing this, but I knew deep down she wasn’t. It was a hard thing to do — it was emotional going to pick up the medicine. It was emotional taking the medicine and having to pass everything over the next couple of days,” Coburn said.

While Coburn is happy now with her wonderful husband and three kids, she said the sad feelings from the miscarriage still affect her and she is reminded of them from time to time.

“The feeling never really leaves, of what could have been. You’re still sad about some of the things that have happened in the past, and it’s okay to feel them,” she said.

Miscarriages and stigma

According to Mayo Clinic, miscarriages can happen for many reasons, including abnormal fetus development or the mother’s health conditions. High-intensity activities such as running, sexual intercourse and working usually do not cause miscarriages.

Cynthia Pao, Utah Valley Hospital registered nurse and BYU alumna, said many women will turn to victim blaming and blame themselves for the death of their baby.

Jeri thought a lot about what she could have done to cause the death of her baby. “You think about what you did wrong, as a person, and you question so many things in your life. I thought that I had lost the baby because I worked out too vigorously, even though that wasn’t logical,” she said.

Mayo Clinic’s official page states that there are many factors that can cause miscarriages to happen, including a lack of progesterone, blood clots, stress, maternal age, uterine abnormalities and hormonal irregularities.

“It’s pretty common for babies to just not develop,” Li said. “I went to a doctor and they suggested that I should have more of the hormone progesterone. Once I started taking that, I was able to carry the baby in my second pregnancy and now we have our daughter.”

Anita Wells, BYU alumna and mother to four children, had three miscarriages within her first five years of marriage. After her third miscarriage, the doctors suggested she take a test for Factor V Leiden, a mutation that causes blood clotting.

“It wasn’t until after my third miscarriage that they tested for something, because one or two miscarriages is statistically normal; however after three miscarriages, they started to wonder what was happening,” she said.

After tests, Wells was diagnosed with Factor V Leiden shortly after her third miscarriage. She was put on blood thinners, and was then able to carry her next child.

There are many layers to miscarriages and therefore, it is difficult to find the exact diagnosis or reason as to why miscarriages may occur.

“Miscarriage is very complex because there’s so many different kinds of miscarriages and there’s a lot of genetic components to them,” Pao said.

Religion and miscarriages

While many people do find peace, hope and support through religion during difficult times — especially through miscarriages — Wells said there is a huge lack of doctrinal information about miscarriage and stillborn babies.

Wells said that babies that are miscarried or born stillborn are not sealed to the parents. This has caused her to have questions about her miscarried babies.

“It’s confusing because you try to go and read about it, but all you can find is that Brigham Young said that ‘the Spirit enters the body when it quickens,'” Wells said. “It’s spiritually hard because you don’t have good answers, and you wonder why God would do this to you when you’re trying to do a righteous thing, having a child and raising a family.”

Anita Wells and her husband now have four children, after having had three miscarriages in her first five years of marriage. (Carly Winegar)

Furthermore, Wells said the topic of miscarriages is rarely talked about within the Church. This may make women feel as if Church members don’t really know the right things to say, which can make it difficult to feel supported and loved by the community.

“It’s a delicate subject and if people have never experienced miscarriages before, they don’t really know what to say or how to be sympathetic,” Wells said. “The worst thing that some members say is that you can always have more children later.”

Wells said she wishes the Church would address topics like miscarriages and let women know from a younger age that all marriages aren’t just happy.

“I was raised with the ‘Get married in the temple and you live happily ever after’ Young Women lessons,” Wells said. “Part of the happily ever after are the trials and learning experiences, including going through miscarriages.”

How to find healing from the trauma of a miscarriage

Pao said that finding healing from a traumatic experience can be difficult, but through taking the time to process the trauma, relief can be found.

“Don’t let anyone else determine your timeline. As the person who’s going through the trauma, loss, and grief, you know your body best. You don’t have to rush the grief process,” she said.

Jeri and Yuji Harashima pose as they play with their dog Mochi, in Utah. At this point, Jeri was pregnant with their baby Raine, who was born in February 2021. (Kim Yq)

Yuji Harashima said seeing Jeri in emotional pain and blaming herself for the miscarriage was the hardest thing about the loss of their baby. He said he could help alleviate some of her pain by doing small acts of service.

“I cooked her delicious meals, gave her daily massages, encouraged her to meditate and to pray in order to focus on healing,” Yuji said.

University of Utah Healthcare says men and women experience grief differently. More information on how spouses can help each other to cope with the loss of a baby can be found on The University of Utah Healthcare website.

Jeri said taking the time to feel through the emotions can be therapeutic. “Allow yourself to feel any emotion you want to. If you have to grieve, then do what’s best for you because you’re entitled to any emotion that you feel,” she said.

Wells said one healthy way to remember the baby is to come up with a ritual: make a safe space or ceremony, like writing their due date on a calendar or lighting a candle. Some people will plant trees or flowers to remember the baby.

Getting professional counseling or finding a support group can also be a great way to take steps towards healing.

Finding peace through God

Jeri said relying on God also helped her through the miscarriage.

“I learned that just because something bad happens to someone like me or other good people, it doesn’t mean that God is punishing you,” she said. “God loves us so much that he’s allowing us to have this experience of loss that can be so beautiful if you know how to process it and move forward.”

She said knowing God was in charge of everything and that He has a plan for her helped give her the peace she was looking for.

“I looked at it from an eternal perspective. I learned that it’s really about God’s timing because God is in control of every single detail of our lives,” she said. “There was a reason for why we didn’t have the baby at that moment. I didn’t understand why at that moment, but there’s a reason for everything”

Jeri encourages anyone who is going through a miscarriage and is religious to take the time to build their relationship with God.

“I think that what ultimately got me through the miscarriage was prayer, meditation, and taking the time to just be still and know that God is here and that he’s in charge of everything,” she said.

Speaking out about hard topics like miscarriage

Jeri encourages Asian women and other women of racial minorities to not let the stigmas around mental health stop anyone from finding the help they need or from speaking out about hard topics like miscarriages.

“Don’t let the Asian or minority stigmas define you. Break out of it, and if you feel like you can’t talk to your family about it, do something to make a difference. Change the tide for the other Asian women who can’t talk about it, by speaking about it,” she said.

Wells said she hopes people will be more open, especially in the Church to talk about the reality of a miscarriage.

“I would have coped better through my miscarriage if growing up I had known that there is a high chance of having a miscarriage in the childbearing years,” she said. “I hope that our stories will be educational for the next generation to know what to expect and that this is a normal part of the learning experience, even though it’s difficult.”

Jeri hopes that women will be able to talk more about difficult topics like miscarriage in every-day conversation to be able to break out of the stigma and support other women through these experiences.

“The more we talk about it, the more we can get women to come out and know that they are supported. There are other women who are going through this and we’re going to be okay together,” she said.

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