Eight-limbed bounty hunters, robot aristocrats, teenage ghost baby-sitters — in the dazzling universe of Saga, anything is possible. The comic series by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples is bursting with imaginative worlds and passionate characters. But amidst the aliens and laser-battles, there's a touchingly personal and human story at the heart of the comics. In the most recent volume, Volume 8, Saga's heroes are faced with the tragic loss of an unborn child, and through their experience, Vaughan and Staples deliver a powerful message about miscarriage.
Saga is told from the point-of-view of Hazel, whose parents, Alana and Marco, were soldiers on opposing sides of a long and violent intergalactic war when they illicitly fell in love. Hazel takes readers through a childhood spent on-the-run from both armies, living in a variety of cosmic worlds where danger is found at every turn. Sometimes, however, the danger is very, very human. At the end of Volume 7 of the series, Alana — pregnant with her second child, Hazel's unborn sibling — learns that she has lost the baby after an intense battle. Furthermore, after losing the baby, Alana discovers that she has gained a variety of superpowers.
"Here's the thing about miscarriages. They are painful, they are horrific, and they are very, very common. There are no funerals for Those Who Might Have Been, leaving parents to mourn their loss in strange and unexpected ways. But while a miscarriage may feel like the end of the world... it's actually just the beginning of a new one."
One of the most difficult parts of accepting such a loss is that there is no tangible "bad guy" to vilify or fight. It can be difficult to understand and process what has happened when there's no one to blame. Thus, seeing Alana use her powers to literally set her enemies on fire is incredibly healing. This is the power of comic books— because anything is possible, we can access and express emotions like grief and anger in tangible ways.
Later, Alana manages to accidentally astral project her unborn son as a young boy for a short period of time. Here, too, she is given the opportunity to do something that mothers who miscarry in real life do not get the chance to do: Meet her unborn child. It's heartbreaking to see him come to life and interact with his parents and Hazel — to see what could have been. But also, his projection allows readers — and the family — to experience the mourning process through a unique lens. Alana and her family receive a kind of closure that is not otherwise accessible, and readers are able to accompany them on the difficult journey towards acceptance.
Simply showing this all-too-common phenomenon in media is enormously powerful. The pregnancy health research organization Tommy's reports that one in four women will experience a miscarriage in their lifetime. (This does not include the vast number of women whose children are stillborn, or lost in other complications.)
Despite how common it is, loss of pregnancy is a story rarely told in movies or in literature. It is a tragedy that often goes undiscussed, even within families, and many women and their partners suffer silently as a result.
And of course, silence leads to misinformation. Even in doing research for this article, I had difficulty finding reliable information on the subject, and many available resources were either biased or unhelpful. Many Americans seem to have inaccurate ideas about miscarriage and how common it is. A 2013 study conducted by the Montefiore Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University found that "most of the 1,000-plus people surveyed believed that miscarriage happened in six percent or fewer of pregnancies," while the actual number is closer to 30 percent.
This warped perception is particularly dangerous because it contributes to the feelings of guilt and isolation that often accompany miscarriages. The same study found that 47 percent of people who reported that they or their partner had experienced a miscarriage said they felt guilty, 41 percent said they felt they had done something wrong, 41 percent reported feeling alone, and 28 percent felt ashamed. However, researchers also found that 46 percent of participants felt less alone when they found out a friend had also miscarried, and 28 percent felt less alone when celebrities disclosed their miscarriages. The numbers are clear: talking about it helps.
Seeing Alana and her family go through this experience is an important reminder to women that losing an unborn child doesn't mean you are weak or inadequate in any way. After all, who could be stronger or more badass than Alana, a woman who has protected her family from the wrath of two intergalactic armies, scores of professional hit men, and a slew of other threats?
The cover of Volume 8, the issue when Alana discovers she has superpowers in the wake of her miscarriage, depicts her astride a horse, dressed like a hero from a Western movie. It is a picture of strength in the face of tragedy. She is a champion for any woman who has ever had to survive such a difficult loss.