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Bush Recollection Puts Spotlight on Miscarriage

New York Times,  Nov 9, 2010
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The image of a mother handing her teenage son a jar containing the remains of her just-miscarried fetus may be a disturbing one.

But the scene, described by former President George W. Bush in his interview with Matt Lauer of NBC News on Monday night, has started a national conversation — both about his mother, Barbara Bush, and about the complex psychological fallout from miscarriage.

Mr. Bush called his mother’s action “straightforward,” and added that it illustrated “how my mom and I developed a relationship.” Some opponents of abortion reacted approvingly. Other commentators called Mrs. Bush’s behavior the action of a depressed and angry person.

But experts say the incident is hard to interpret half a century after the fact. Indeed, it was extraordinary in at least one respect, they add: Mrs. Bush made a point of directly confronting the loss at a time when the subject was largely taboo.

When a middle-class woman miscarried in postwar America, doctors often whisked the fetus away as if there were no loss of life at all, only embarrassment; women whispered about it between themselves but hardly ever discussed it openly.

“It wasn’t thought of as losing a life; it was more like a medical mishap,” said Dr. Randi Hutter Epstein, a physician and the author of “Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth” (Norton, 2010). “And although women felt it privately, they didn’t feel it was worthy of going to see someone, or seeking help.”

In recent years, however, that thinking has been flipped on its head. “It’s now a much bigger deal,” Dr. Epstein said. “There are support groups where women can go,” and therapists who specialize in treatments.

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