What About The Miscarriage Penelope Trunk Didn't Tweet?

Illustration for article titled What About The Miscarriage Penelope Trunk Didn't Tweet?

Just when you thought Penelope Trunk's tweeted miscarriage was old news, along comes Kathleen Parker, raising her voice yet again on behalf of women who can't stand other women.

When I write about Parker, it's almost always hard for me to choose which inflammatory quote to begin with — and indeed, today I'll start with two.

When a happily pregnant woman loses her pregnancy, she says she has lost her baby. Casting that painful episode as of no greater consequence than missing a lunch date should repel any beating heart.



Regardless of one's moral position, it can't be convincingly argued that abortion and miscarriage are mere medical conditions like any other, as Trunk asserts. They both can involve medical procedures, but there's a life force at work that no woman who aims to give birth will deny.

From these lines, it appears that Parker is either being completely disingenuous or has not done as much research into her subject as I did to write a snarky blog post about it. Because if you read what Penelope Trunk has to say on the matter, you will learn that she has herself had:

  • 2 miscarriages
  • 2 abortions
  • 2 children

Which means that whatever you think about that tweet, Penelope Trunk knows what she's talking about — especially when what everyone's talking about is her body, her life, and her choices. Unlike many of the people who have strong opinions about reproductive rights in general and Penelope Trunk's in particular, Trunk has personal experience with all three of the outcomes at issue in this controversy. I know this because in her very first post following the scandalous tweet, Trunk linked back to previous posts about A) a miscarriage she grieved in the very manner Parker believes is appropriate, and B) the abortions she had for fear of ruining her career, wherein she mentions that she now has two children — and, spoiler alert, concludes that careerism is a lousy reason for having an abortion if you do, in fact, want kids. ("You never know, not really. There is little certainty. But there are some certain truths: It's very hard to have an abortion. And, there is not a perfect time to have kids.")


Imagine if Kathleen Parker had read those two old posts — one about the painful and tragic miscarriage of a wanted pregnancy, one about Trunk's belief that her reasons for having abortions were ill-considered — without knowing about the infamous tweet. Except for the fact that Trunk expresses no shame about her abortions (or even regret, precisely), Parker probably would have approved. Trunk believes miscarriage is a tragedy! She's advised her numerous working female readers that career concerns are no reason to have an abortion! Two for two!

So here's what Penelope Trunk really did "wrong": She had the nerve to feel different about each one of her six pregnancies. She didn't automatically regard each embryo as a wanted child, as a blessing from a god she may or may not believe in, as a lifetime obligation she contracted to fulfill by choosing to have sex. She looked at each pregnancy in the context of her own body and her own life at the time it occurred, and made the decision that felt best for her. Three times, she chose to continue the pregnancy, and when one of those ended in miscarriage, she grieved. Three times, she chose to end the pregnancy, and when one of those ended in miscarriage, she was relieved. And tweeted about it.


The possibility that the same woman could have different feelings about being pregnant at different times in her life — that this is one of the reasons why so many people are pro-choice — is not something Parker allows for, even as she's writing about a woman who has experienced the joys of motherhood and the grief of a lost wanted pregnancy as well as the relief of terminating and losing unwanted ones. In Parker's universe, it seems, there is only one way to feel about pregnancy (happy), one way to feel about miscarriage (bereaved), and one way to feel about abortion (appalled). If you have what she considers the correct feelings about only 50% of your pregnancies, screw you. There is no partial credit.

According to the Guttmacher Institute (PDF), "About 60% of abortions are obtained by women who have one or more children." And that's not even counting the ones who, like Trunk, will later go on to have children when they feel ready. Which means, as reproductive rights activists have been saying forever, the majority of women who choose to end pregnancies at some point will also choose to continue them at other points. Now, take this with a grain of salt, since it's well-known that I'm a murderous, baby-hating feminist, but to me, that suggests that a hell of a lot of women feel different about different pregnancies at different times.


Parker's having none of it: "One might wish that Trunk were an anomaly, but one would be disappointed. To those for whom abortion is a correction, miscarriage is just a messier month."

Penelope Trunk is a woman for whom abortion has been "a correction," a woman who publicly tweeted that miscarriage was a relief. Penelope Trunk is also the woman who wrote this:

I am four months pregnant. But the baby is dead, inside me, and must be removed. I am devastated. I always knew this could happen, in the back of my mind. But you are never prepared for something like this to happen.

When I first heard the news, I did nothing. Cancelled every plan I had. Sat in chairs staring at walls, laid in bed hoping for sleep, and cried.


Unable to reconcile those two things, Parker simply leaves out the second part, placing Trunk squarely in the category of those too selfish and heartless to appreciate the "life force at work that no woman who aims to give birth will deny." Never mind that Trunk did indeed aim to give birth three times. And never mind that when her body had a different idea one of those times, she wrote publicly about her devastation. Penelope Trunk is the self-styled "brazen hussy careerist" whose tweet trivialized "not only the miscarriage but what little remains of our humanity" — ergo she could not possibly be the same woman who wrote, "On the day I found out the baby was dead... at the doctor's office, when I was crying so loudly that I was taken to a room farthest away from the waiting area so as not to scare already jittery expectant mothers, I didn't care if the interviews got done." That would suggest that women are complex human beings who feel different things at different times or something. The facts just don't fit!

And yet, they are the facts. Facts that take about 30 seconds to find if you ask yourself one question: "What does Penelope Trunk have to say on the matter of her own body, choices and feelings, in more than 140 characters?" Kathleen Parker, to her credit, must have asked that question, since she links to Trunk's blog more than once, including to the post that refers back to the previous miscarriage story. Nevertheless, she completely ignores the answer, because it doesn't support her casting of Trunk as the other kind of woman, the kind for whom "miscarriage is just a messier month." If you can only be one kind or the other — and clearly, that's the prevailing wisdom on Parker's planet — then any woman who's ever felt relief after a miscarriage, or after an abortion, is that kind of woman. The kind who doesn't get motherhood, who doesn't get loss, who doesn't get humanity — no matter how much personal experience she has with all three.


Regardless of how you'd characterize The Tweet, condemning Trunk as a woman who simply can't grasp the gravity of a lost pregnancy, some "grotesque" and "freakish" monster who misrepresents how real women feel about miscarriage, is the height of intellectual dishonesty. And it does a disservice to the millions of real women who have felt conflicted about unintended pregnancies (which about half of us will have before we're 45) and/or felt different about one pregnancy than another, by propagating the myth that wanting or not wanting children is a constant in each woman's life, never subject to her particular circumstances at the time. That there are "bad" women who choose abortion and "good" women who choose to be mommies; "bad" women who are grateful to miscarry, especially in states where obtaining an abortion is difficult, and "good" women who grieve for their lost pregnancies. It's pure bullshit to discuss Penelope Trunk's body, life and use of social media without acknowledging that she is all of those women in one. And she's far from alone.

Image from Penelope Trunk's blog.

A Miscarriage Of Propriety [Washington Post]
You Can't Manage Your Work Life If You Can't Talk About It [Penelope Trunk]
Sometimes Work Is A Welcome Distraction [Penelope Trunk]
What's The Connection Between Abortion And Careers? [Penelope Trunk]


Earlier: What Was Penelope Trunk Thinking Twittering About Her Miscarriage?
A Reconsideration Of Penelope Trunk, The Miscarriage-Tweeting Career Advisor

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Erin Gloria Ryan

Can we please extract ourselves from each others' panties and nether regions?