Mind and Body/Opinion

Are you OK?

A simple question of empathy opens up a conversation about miscarriage and loss and shows us a path toward healing

Image courtesy of a Facebook post

Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, who wrote about her miscarriage in a recent op-ed in The New York Times.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 11/30/20
The op-ed by Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, talking openly about her recent miscarriage, resonated with many folks, including me.
When was the last time you asked someone if they were OK and listened to their answer? When will medical practices change and stop asking patients about their pain, on a scale of one to 10? What are the stories in your life that you have yet to share? How will the incoming Biden administration reshape the approach to government?
One of the decisions that I made as a young journalist was choosing not to write a story about an interview with Phil Ochs in May of 1973, with was appearing at Grendel’s Lair in Philadelphia, attempting a comeback. Ochs has asked me to buy him some beer, which I did, and he got very drunk before he appeared on stage, staggering and almost falling down, as he sang, “Here’s to the state of Richard Nixon,” a new version of his old song, “Here’s to the state of Mississippi.”
I believed, at the time, that if I wrote about Ochs, I would have to write about his drunkenness, which I thought would be detrimental to his comeback attempt. Was it the right decision? I don’t know. Should I have been brutally honest about his apparent battle with alcoholism? I don’t know. Perhaps, if I had asked him, “Are you OK?” I would have gotten an opportunity for him to share with me what was really happening with him.

PROVIDENCE – When Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, opened up about her recent miscarriage in an op-ed published in The New York Times on Wednesday, Nov. 25, it was a moment that stood far apart from the political rancor and partisanship that has divided the nation in the wake of the Presidential election.

Talking about having a miscarriage, a common experience for most women and for many couples, is still a taboo topic for conversation.

The same is true for other kinds of personal choices and trauma – those women who have chosen to have an abortion, and those men and women who are survivors of sexual assault. And, for those of us who are struggling with debilitating illnesses that limit one’s physical capabilities.

What Markle came to understand, lying in a hospital bed following her miscarriage, was a profound truth about our lives. “I realized that the only way to begin to heal is to first ask, “Are you OK?”

She continued: “This year has brought so many of us to our braking points. Loss and pain have plagued every one of us in 2020, in moments both fraught and debilitating.”

Her wisdom and her ability to openly express her emotions in a public fashion serves as a lesson for all of us, one that is heartfelt for me.

Asking the right question
If our own personal stories are the most valuable possession we have, sharing them, even when they involve great emotional loss, is what makes us human – the ability to find common ground in our personal struggles to survive.

As a journalist, I have learned that the ability to ask a question, with empathy, with kindness, is often what it takes to engage in a meaningful, respectful, revealing conversation.

It is often far, far removed from the incessant political queries about who gets what, when, and how much.

Indeed, it was a journalist’s question, asking Markle, “Are you OK?” which prompted her to give an honest answer – and provide her a pathway to share her loss and her grief about having a miscarriage.

How we experience great loss during a time of pandemic is perhaps the biggest dividing line between President-elect Joe Biden and outgoing President Donald Trump: Biden embraces empathy; Trump cannot deal with loss, denying the reality.

It is not just our health care delivery system but the health care workers on the front lines in emergency rooms and nursing homes across the nation that are at the breaking point, emotionally and physically.

We take for granted that there will always be someone to take care of us when we are sick. There are those who see it as a sign of weakness to ask for help, as if there is something wrong with admitting to human frailty and emotional needs.

I write this as someone who has been grappling with medical issues that make each step I take a painful reminder of how difficult it can be to persevere. As observant readers of ConvergenceRI may know, I have been diagnosed with auto-immune encephalitis, and have been steadily losing my ability to walk, dependent upon trekking poles to keep my balance.

I have recently begun a series of infusion treatments that appear to have improved my stability. The first infusion treatment had an unwanted side effect, an allergic reaction, which caused my skin to break out. A different infusion treatment is now being planned, pending authorization from my health insurer.

And, yes, I am often dependent on the kindness of strangers in moving through the demands of everyday life.

A path toward healing
Once again, Markle’s wisdom came shining through in her op-ed, when she wrote about the dangers of “siloed living – where moments sad, scary or sacrosanct are all lived out alone. There is no one stopping to ask, ‘Are you OK?’”

Markle wrote: “Losing a child means carrying an almost unbearable grief, experienced by many but talked about by few. In the pain of our loss, my husband and I discovered that in a room of 100 women, 10 to 20 of them will have suffered from miscarriage. Yet despite the staggering commonality of this pain, the conversation remains taboo, riddled with [unwarranted] shame, and perpetuating a cycle of solitary mourning.”

Imagine having lived through not one but five miscarriages – and having to carry that pain in silence.

Markle continued: “ Some have bravely shared their stories; they have opened the door, knowing that when one person speaks truth, it gives license for all of us to do the same. We have learned that when people ask how any of us are doing, and when they really listen to the answer, with an open heart and mind, the load of grief often becomes lighter — for all of us. In being invited to share our pain, together we take the first steps toward healing.”

It has been a difficult year for me personally, trying to navigate the convoluted pathways of the health care delivery system during a time of pandemic, having to take extra precautions to stay safe while at the same time learning how to become a ferocious advocate for my own health care needs.

Perhaps that is why I found Markle’s op-ed so meaningful, so moving. Perhaps sharing what is happening to me is too personal, too much information for readers at a time when objectivity is, for me, the disliked norm for journalists.

We will always be participants and observers, and our voices need to reflect that synergy.

In her concluding paragraphs, Markle wrote: “As much as we may disagree, as physically distanced as we may be, the truth is that we are more connected than ever because of all we have individually and collectively endured this year.”

She continued: “We are adjusting to a new normal where faces are concealed by masks, but it’s forcing us to look into one another’s eyes – sometimes filled with warmth, other times with tears. For the first time, in a long time, as human beings, we are really seeing one another.”

Markle concludes by asking, “Are we OK?” and answering, “We will be.”

Me, I hope so, but I recognize that I have a long road ahead of me in forging a recovery. When people ask me if I’m OK, I tell them, honestly, that I still have my mental acuity, and I hope a semblance of a sense of humor, although I admit to being more irritable these days.

And, I find great sustenance in producing ConvergenceRI, and engaging in conversations and convergences that seek to create a more engaged community around us.


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