woman at her kitchen table, looking out the window

I've Been Internalizing Shame My Entire Life — But I Refuse To Feel It Over My Miscarriage

I Googled how to translate the word “miscarriage” into Korean — wondering how to break the news to my mom when I was barely processing it myself.

by Ko Im
Originally Published: 

I Googled how to translate the word “miscarriage” into Korean — wondering how to break the news to my mom when I was barely processing it myself — while stuffing my intricately beaded, ivory wedding dress into a black bulk suitcase.

My fiancé and I had planned to announce our pregnancy at our upcoming destination wedding in Germany, but instead we’d be grieving during what would have been a double celebration. As I pressed “call” on the phone, I braced myself to hear the disappointment in my mom’s voice, which turned into compassion and, eventually, unsolicited advice. It sounds harsh, but it’s her Korean-learned way of caring.

I’ve felt my fair share of shame throughout my life. Many Asian families like mine will repeatedly get nosy about when you’re getting married but tiptoe around taboo topics like sex, fertility, and miscarriage. This often results in a lack of shared knowledge, empathetic communication, and seeking needed treatment. In fact, a recent study found that almost half of Asian American and Pacific Islander women don’t even know how to access medication abortion (and don’t get me started on the stigma around — and lack of — therapy in the community).

My parents and I had different love — and cultural — languages. I was implicitly taught to believe I was the problem. But in this case, the doctor assured me I wasn’t.

So I find comfort in the women openly sharing their stories about miscarriage and how the abortion pill helped during their pregnancy journeys that were cut short. I don’t think they’re brave; I think that’s the way it should be. As such, stories from my community feel even more important to share in light of the push to further restrict our rights to abortion and reproductive care.

Here’s mine.

On paper, I went through a medical abortion, like the 10,000 out of nearly 14,000 abortions in 2021 in Washington state, where I live. I can’t imagine the greater trauma, shame, and recovery I would have gone through without access, options, and vocalized support. Had I not worked over the years to break intergenerational trauma as an immigrant, I might not have given myself permission to ask for a mental health day, fostered healthy communication with my partner, or put up boundaries during our wedding when it was too much too soon.

Since I was a young girl growing up on Guam, where my dad first emigrated from South Korea while my mom was in labor with me, I’ve played the self-blame game where I always lose. My brother and I were taught not to bring shame to the family. We were told not to speak up or shake up the status quo. We were also not encouraged to talk about our feelings. My parents and I had different love — and cultural — languages. I was implicitly taught to believe I was the problem. But in this case, the doctor assured me I wasn’t. I did nothing wrong. I had to keep reminding myself of this.

The week before our flight to Berlin, right before Mother’s Day, I went in for another first-trimester check-up in Seattle. As soon as I saw the dark emptiness across the ultrasound projection, I felt a blanket of dread glazing my entire body. Hot, angry, heartbroken tears fell down our faces as we heard the words “no heartbeat.” I had to make a last-minute decision. Would I wait for the amniotic sac to pass, not knowing if I would stain during the walk down the aisle? Should I undergo a D&C (dilation and curettage) where I could take potentially longer to recover?

I opted for the nonsurgical pill option. Misoprostol helped everything pass within 48 hours — so I could avoid being extra miserable on the long flight. Options like this should be a right, but I understand I had the privilege of easy access because I live in a state that has gone so far as to stock up on three years of mifepristone ahead of court rulings.

For my recovery pre-boarding, my future sister-in-law immediately dropped off seaweed soup. It’s the same soup I’ve had to celebrate birthdays and that I would have had freeze-packs of ready for breastfeeding.

Thankfully, there were no major complications while my body underwent a major hormonal transition. My German mother-in-law greeted me with soft hugs and an open conversation. As I updated my own mother on her way to Europe, she wondered out loud if it was the antidepressants I was taking. I internally questioned if it was the Korean barbecue meat that wasn’t well-done. But the blood test results showed that there was a chromosomal abnormality, which is more common than we might think — and for that matter, should be normalized.

In the moments I wasn’t running wedding errands, I felt so awake, and so alone. I avoided TikTok so I didn’t see triggers in my For You page. I asked my florist to add a special flower in my bouquet in honor of our baby. I joined a virtual support group, where others asked questions about what happens with each miscarriage process. Many posted anonymously, for fear of being found out by their friends or family. Guilt, resentment, and fear seemed to be a theme.

The wedding in Berlin was only for 40 of our closest friends and family. I told some of them in advance, asking them not to bring it up but just gently check in on me. Our honeymoon in Greece went by like a slow blur and turned into a healing retreat.

Science shows that talking about our challenges can help us heal and move forward. Suffering in silence can prove unhelpful, backward-looking, and hurtful. Back home, as I slowly started to break the news of my pregnancy loss to more friends, I discovered there were some women in my circle who had endured similar losses, but hadn’t shared openly in the same way that we shared other things, like painful breakups or the loss of a job. Maybe it’s too sad. But this kind of loss is part of life. I hope that every woman in this unfortunate situation can feel like they can get the emotional support they deserve — without unwelcome pity or invasive questioning.

The key to that support, first and ultimately, is access. More than 6 out of 10 Americans are in favor of keeping the abortion pill, according to the latest Gallup poll. Women and men are about equal in their support. The ongoing debate over this FDA-approved medication largely does not mention the women like me who have taken it despite very much wishing we didn't have to — and the additional trauma we avoided because of it. Just because not all of us speak up doesn’t mean we don’t exist. We are the women, often silent, who entered motherhood in the worst way. The media narrative must include more context and nuance to this conversation.

For her part, my mom never said the word for miscarriage, yu-san, out loud to my face.

I ended up forming my own supportive community of AAPI women. An Asian American mentor and I were able to share a laugh over our mothers’ predictable behavior. A Korean American doctor friend of mine reminded me to give myself more grace along the healing process.

The other day, I was feeling sad and reached out via FaceTime to my mom in Guam. It was her morning; my time before bed. She told me when she feels sad or bored, she’ll look back at happy memories, sometimes directly on her phone. She shared she had just made another collage of our wedding photos. For some reason it made me laugh out loud, and I was glad to connect with her that way. The next day, I took her advice, opened my iPhone album, and looked at how far I had come, openly.

For her part, my mom never said the word for miscarriage, yu-san, out loud to my face. Perhaps it felt too harsh or stigmatized, but I hope she knows I welcome healthy dialogue that’s not constricted by social norms or external judgment. Another way to say miscarriage in Korean is “failed attempt.” I don’t see myself as a failure. I see myself as a daughter who is trying to be better. After all, yu-san can also mean legacy.

Ko Im is a proud millennial, mental health advocate, and voice for Asian American Pacific Islanders. A 1.5-generation immigrant, she is an award-winning storyteller and a microinfluencer on TikTok.

This article was originally published on