lara friedenfelds

Lara Freidenfelds

Labyrinth Books and the Princeton Public Library continue their live stream author talks on Thursday, May 28, at 6 p.m., with a session featuring Lara Freidenfelds, author of the recently released “The Myth of the Perfect Pregnancy: A History of Miscarriage in America.”

A historian of health, reproduction, and parenting in America, Freidenfelds graduated from Harvard with a doctorate in the history of science and a bachelor’s degree in social anthropology. Her previous book, “The Modern Period: Menstruation in the Twentieth-Century Woman,” was the recipient of the Popular Culture/American Culture Association’s Emily Toth Prize for Best Book in Women’s Studies.

With approximately 17 percent of all United States pregnancies resulting in miscarriages, it is a subject many women experience. In an interview in the peer-reviewed blog Nursing Clio, Freidenfelds, explained the creation of the book as follows:

I had almost finished my Ph.D. in the history of science, focused on the history of women’s health, so I thought I knew a lot. And then I miscarried my first pregnancy at what I believed was about 11 weeks. I started having a little bleeding and my doctor tried to find a heartbeat and couldn’t find one. It turned out I had a blighted ovum [an empty sac with no embryo]. The embryo had stopped growing at about six weeks and my body had absorbed it, so all that showed up on the ultrasound was an empty gestational sac. I was shocked. And then I started looking at the statistics of miscarriage rates, and I felt not just shocked but betrayed. I felt like, why didn’t anyone explain it to me?”

This happened right before I was supposed to fly to Boston to meet with my committee to finalize the dissertation. I got advice from one health care practitioner, which was: “Cancel the trip; you can’t handle this now.” But I said “I think I need to decide for myself.” I really didn’t want to have no baby and no Ph.D. Those were the two big things that were supposed to happen in my life that year, and this was taking all of it away. So I went on the trip, and while there, I sat down with Katy Park [historian of medieval and early modern medicine and gender] and said “People keep saying ‘stop trying to analyze this, Lara, you just have to have your feelings.’” And I said, “I like to analyze things, that’s what helps me feel better!” And Katy said: “Absolutely! That’s what women’s studies is for.” And that is where the book started. My inclination to analyze what had happened to me, to understand it, not just how I felt at the moment, but why I felt that way, where that came from, why I was shocked by something that turns out to be statistically pretty normal.

Initially, I was surprised by how hard it was to find someone with the perspective that I seemed to have or with the coping style I seemed to have, which was to say: “Wait a minute, maybe I don’t have to mourn this pregnancy, maybe I shouldn’t have been encouraged to get so attached to it in the first place.” Having that perspective, at least at the time I started this research, seemed taboo. And then when I had my postdoctoral fellowship in 2006, I was surprised that even thoughtful academics, when I said: “We don’t necessarily have to mourn miscarriages,” they finished my sentence by saying “Yeah, a lot of people have unwanted pregnancies and then they’re happy when they miscarry.” And I thought, “Yes, but that’s not the end of my sentence.”

It was surprising how hard it was to suggest something where you can have a wanted pregnancy and yet accept its end. And I had to say: “No, no, no. I’m talking about when you did mean to get pregnant and you really want to have this baby, but you understand it might not work out, do you have to mourn the loss of a baby? Can you have a different reaction? Is there something else?” It was interesting that it took me asserting that that’s what my project was to make people understand.

The Myth of the Perfect Pregnancy: A History of Miscarriage in America, Labyrinth Books and Princeton Public Library livestream. Thursday, May 28, 6 p.m. Free. Register.