My Wife and I Had Two Miscarriages. Will They Be Crimes Under a New Heartbeat Bill?

There are so many ways that pregnancies end. The details are the parents' business.

by Brett Ortler
A husband holding his wife's hand after she had a miscarriage

When we knew my wife had her second miscarriage, I expected the sadness, but the anger caught me by surprise. I wasn’t angry at fate: we had had an introduction to the general odds with the first miscarriage. (The statistics vary, but somewhere around 25 percent of pregnancies result in miscarriage. Where I live, in Minneapolis, that’s about as common as rainy days.) It was, rather, the judgment that made me angry.

At the hospital, one of the nurses asked what procedure my wife was about to undergo. When the other nurse replied, “a D&C,” the nurse snapped her head toward us and glared.

Let me explain: Pregnancy introduces you to a host of unfamiliar terms (blastocyst, quickening), as well as a lineup of potential threats, like placenta previa, gestational diabetes, and “missed” miscarriages, which are miscarriages that the woman doesn’t know has occurred. D&C stands for “dilation and curettage.” It’s often conducted after a missed miscarriage to clear out remaining tissue if chemical treatments, usually a drug called Cytotec, don’t eject them. If those remnants remain inside the uterus, they can lead to infection, bleeding, and death.

D&C is also the procedure used for many early abortions — which is why the nurse was glaring at us.

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I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised — it was a small rural hospital in a county where anti-abortion billboards are commonplace — but I was surprised, and furious. She didn’t know anything about us. She didn’t know about the half-finished nursery, the space-themed one with the planets spaced out proportionally by distance (with Pluto all the way on the other side of the room, in the closet). She didn’t know about how awful administering the Cytotec was — the pill has to be inserted and is followed by enough bleeding for a B-movie — or how we walked to the local bar from our house, bought cheap beer and ended up crying and crying and crying. She didn’t know that the medical bills from the pair of miscarriages and the twin D&Cs (the meds didn’t take either time) would end up taking years to pay off — penalties for attempting to get pregnant.

Instead, she was judging us.

I remember hissing under my breath that it was none of her business. That was true then, and it is now: Whether it’s contraception, abortion, or how a mother ends up raising her children, it’s her business. My wife’s health, like every woman’s, is her business alone.

Imagine the alternative: if men were forced to adopt medical care, or refrain from it, by the government. The don’t-tread-on-me types would be shooting in the streets. Glenn Beck’s head would fall off.

And even though I was largely a bystander throughout it all — I wasn’t the one pregnant, after all — the miscarriages were awful. But I can only imagine how much worse it would be if my wife’s miscarriages had been followed up someone arriving at her bedside in the recovery room of the OR and asking intimate, incriminating questions: What did you eat last night? Do you exercise? How much do you drink? (That’s not to mention race or class: miscarriages by a young white woman in a trailer park or a black teen will no doubt be viewed as more suspicious.)

Biologically speaking, there is no avoiding miscarriage. That leaves a pretty clear dichotomy: police pregnancy, and with it, miscarriage, or allow women to make decisions about their own health. In my state, we have divided government. The Minnesota House member who represents the district where our D&Cs took place is also the co-author of a heartbeat bill.

Such a bill wasn’t the law of the land for my wife, but in the future, it may well be, making an already awful situation somehow worse.

Brett Ortler is the author of a number of ten books, including Lessons of the Dead (poetry) and nine non-fiction titles. His writing has appeared in Salon, Yahoo! Parents, Babble, Scary Mommy, and at The Fanzine, among many other venues. A husband and father, his house is full of children, pets, and noise. For more, visit