Words can be tricky, in panels

Before I got stuck into writing my graphic memoir, I did a few one-off pages exploring ideas from the story to help get me started. I’m interested in euphemisms and phrases regarding miscarriage and their possible impact.

The word ‘miscarriage’ is already a euphemism or sorts – a lay-term for the medical ‘spontaneous abortion’. I find the word ‘miscarriage’ fairly acceptable although it does have a ‘whoops’ quality to it, as if one had carried something carelessly and dropped it!

Words probably affect people in different ways depending on their personality, life experience and background. For someone who has high expectations of themselves, or who has been trying to conceive for a long time, the term ‘failed pregnancy’ might seem calculating or too reminiscent of exam results!

click to view larger

The term ‘lost a baby’ (verb) causes problems because it could seem blaming, although the idea of ‘loss’ (noun) as something one feels after a miscarriage is more fitting. Any suggestion of blame is best avoided when talking about miscarriage – it’s all too easy for a woman to search for reasons among things she has supposedly done wrong. It’s rarely the case (or so I was told) that it’s the woman’s fault.

I hope to do more work around this based on further inadvisable things to say to a woman who has had a miscarriage:

  • not meant to be (or any mention of fate)
  • just a cluster of cells
  • it was only early
  • maybe you subconsciously caused your miscarriage

Perhaps I’m just being pedantic or oversensitive here, but some seemingly benign words can sting if used in certain contexts; therefore they need to be chosen carefully. I found this quote on the internet:

“The language we use to communicate with one another is like a knife. In the hands of a careful and skilled surgeon, a knife can work to do great good. But in the hands of a careless or ignorant person, a knife can cause great harm. Exactly as it is with our words.”
Source Unknown

The images used here are collected in my self-published comic, X Utero, available here in my shop, or from Orbital Comics, London.

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10 thoughts on “Words can be tricky, in panels

  1. Missed abortion is the worst – though it refers to the foetus self-aborting, the word abortion is enough to make people assume you DID have something to do with it!

  2. What a beautifully written post Paula, and the artwork is incredible. ‘Lost’ is such a pathetic word isn’t it – I hate it when people talk of ‘losing’ someone when they’ve died for exactly the reasons you express so eloquently above. I can’t wait for someone intelligent to snap up this book and get it published.

  3. Hi Paula, this is really interesting from a midwife point of view and generally we do try to word things really carefully but providing holistic care and considering long term well being and memories is an uphill struggle in a largely medical world. I have a personal interest in support and have cared for a number of women with previous traumatic experiences and have experienced insensitive care first hand and realise the long term damage and sadness this brings. I think your work is fantastic xxx

    • Thanks Imogen, It’s interesting to get your pov! I suppose medical-speak is often necessarily cold in order to be protective amidst a constant onslaught of emotive situations.

  4. Pingback: Miscarriage comics – talking about it | Paula Knight Illustrator-Writer

  5. I love this. The only thing you are missing is “A higher power has a plan”. I have heard that so many times. I just want to scream when someone says that to me. It’s gotten to the point with my last miscarriage I didn’t tell anyone (besides my hubby) because to carry that alone was easier than dealing with the well meaning idiots.

    • Hello, Thank you for looking at my blog, and glad you liked it.
      Yes, it says a lot when you’d prefer to keep quiet about the situation rather than having to hear all the wrong responses! And I’m so sorry to hear about your miscarriages.

      Best Wishes x

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