Trigger Warning: This Visual Essay is about miscarriage.

Please note that while I refer to “women” throughout this article, I want to acknowledge that not all people who experience pregnancy are female.

Prose Accompaniment

Caretaking, parenting, and pregnancy (and the unexpected complications of each) have a tremendous impact on design educators — but most discussion of these issues still happens behind closed doors, because we have yet to create the space necessary for it to happen in the open. Sometimes these things are kept private by choice, but often they remain cloaked by a broad range of pressures and forces that are both overt and subtle. My central aim with this visual essay is to personalize and normalize these topics and to help create a caring space for what happens with and to our bodies.

Between 10 and 15 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage,[1] and that estimate is as high as 31 to 50 percent when including unknown pregnancies. [2] Having recently experienced a miscarriage, I can offer a first-hand account about how it takes both a physical and mental toll. In my case, I had a “missed miscarriage,” which occurs when “the embryo has died but your body hasn't expelled it yet.” [3] As such, I opted for surgical procedure known as a dilation and curettage (D&C), which involves removing the “spent tissue” from your uterus. [4] I feel fortunate to live in a state in the U.S. (Virginia) that allowed me to have access to such medical treatment, because some American states’ abortion restrictions now reduce access to medications and procedures that have been designed to help a woman physically pass their miscarriage. [5] In my case, I went in to an OBGYN (obstetrician/gynecologist; a physician that specializes in treating female reproductive issues and conditions) for a scheduled 8-week sonogram and learned during that interaction that no fetal heartbeat could be detected. It then took an additional two days to verify the diagnosis of miscarriage, and then an additional day to be scheduled for a “D&C.” (“dilation and curettage,” a surgical procedure that involves removing tissue from inside the uterus. Health care providers perform dilation and curettage to diagnose and treat certain uterine conditions — such as heavy bleeding — or to clear the uterine lining after a miscarriage or abortion[6]). I then experienced about a week of sporadic bleeding and physical recovery.

My miscarriage took place during the summer, and, thankfully, I did not have to deal with teaching university-level graphic design during this ordeal. However, I was still serving as the Program Chair of Graphic Design at my American, tier one-level research university. While this was happening, my teaching colleagues and I experiences the resignation of a fellow faculty member with less than a month’s notice. This resulted in me being tasked with writing the job description necessary to aid and abet the process of replacing this person — we had to initiate an “emergency hire process” — and working with my university’s Human Resources staff to get the job posted. I had not yet told anyone at my university that I was pregnant, so I was faced with either handling these administrative tasks myself, or with revealing this vulnerable experience to my colleagues so that they could do this necessary work instead of me.

One repercussion of miscarriages being kept behind closed doors across a wide variety of social and work landscapes is that women and their families who have experienced them often suffer in silence as they struggle to continue to meet their typical social and work responsibilities. While I believe all people should have the right to retain their privacy regarding an issue such as this, I also believe that support systems should be in place to help those who need it as their individual experiences evolve. One strong example of this has occurred in Australia, where the Australian government recently modified their Fair Work Act to require employers to, “provide employees with two days of paid bereavement leave for parents who experience a miscarriage.” [7] American universities should institute similar policies, while also preserving individuals and family’s rights to privacy as much as possible.

If institutions of higher learning truly value work-life balance and want to achieve a better gender balance among their faculty, they should reflect upon their policies that involve caretaking and parenting more broadly, particularly because Ph.D. and tenure-timelines often overlap with a woman’s childbearing years. According to the TIAA (Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America) Institute, women hold nearly half of all faculty positions in the U.S. but only 37.6% of tenured positions. [8] While this disparity may not solely relate to parenting, its impact should also not be overlooked. In 2016, The Chronicle of Higher Education published the article The Baby-Before-Tenure Question, which asked, “As a woman, how do you balance an academic career with the realities of a biological clock?” [9] The author, Patricia Maurice, wrote that, “realistically speaking, motherhood can be an impediment to tenure and other career milestones.” Personally, I have self-selected out of a career advancing opportunity because I felt it wouldn’t be fair to take on that new responsibility knowing that I was considering having children in the near future. I realize that this choice was my own, but many women feel they have to choose between career and family goals (or that the choice is made for them). On the flip side, I have waited to start trying to get pregnant until after I have earned tenure, and, as a result, I am now faced with different challenges. Many women I know have also focused on their careers instead of focusing on beginning and nurturing families, and they now have questions such as, “Should I freeze my eggs or put a down payment on a house?,” or “Should I move forward with IVF [in-vitro fertilization] or pay off my student loans?” Are these the questions people, especially those pursuing careers as design and other types of university-level educators, should have to contemplate?

My hope is that university-based, design education systems will better support people throughout their pregnancy and parenting experiences, and that our institutions of higher learning will also respect the decisions of those who choose to not have children.


Meaghan A. Dee is a practicing graphic designer and a university-level design educator. Currently, she is an Associate Professor of Graphic Design at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A. She holds a Bachelors’ degree in Fine Arts from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign with a focus in Graphic Design, and a Masters’ of Fine Arts from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, U.S.A. with a focus in Visual Communication Design. She specializes in examining how and why design and systems thinking affect each other, and regularly practices and teaches typography, branding, user-experience design, cross-media design, packaging, and editorial design. She’s also experimented using and employing a wide variety of materials and methods to execute her work, which has lately included exploring how her typographic studies manifest themselves into the realms of motion design, augmented reality, and processing. Regardless of the final outcomes she achieves, she emphasizes the investigation of her and her audiences’ core values, her design decision-making processes, and how particular aspects of design thinking can help her engage in more broadly informed, deeply plumbed approaches to engaging in her work. Examples of the outcomes of this work can be viewed at

    1. March of Dimes. “Miscarriage.” November 2017. Online. Available at: (Accessed September 10, 2021).return to text

    2. Salganicoff, A., Sobel, L., and Weigel, G. “Understanding Pregnancy Loss in the Context of Abortion Restrictions and Fetal Harm Laws,” KFF, 4 December 2019. Online. Available at: (Accessed September 10, 2021).return to text

    3. Gibbs Vengrow, B. “What is a Missed Miscarriage?” Parents, 17 December 2019. Online. Available at: (Accessed September 9, 2021).return to text

    4. The Mayo Clinic, “Dilation and Curettage (D&C).” 19 October 2019. Online. Available at: (Accessed September 8, 2021).return to text

    5. Salganicoff, A., Sobel, L., and Weigel, G., “Understanding Pregnancy Loss in the Context of Abortion Restrictions and Fetal Harm Laws,” KFF, 4 December 2019. Online. Available at: (Accessed September 10, 2021).return to text

    6. The Mayo Clinic, “Dilation and Curettage (D&C).” 19 October 2019. Online. Available at: (Accessed September 8, 2021). return to text

    7. Bell, J., “Senate passes bill to include miscarriage leave in Australia's Fair Work Act.” Human Resources Director, 9 September 2021. Online. Available at: (Accessed September 10, 2021).return to text

    8. TIAA Institute, “Taking the Measure of Faculty Diversity,” 2016 April. Online. Available at: (Accessed September 9, 2021). return to text

    9. Maurice, P., “The Baby-Before-Tenure Question.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 3 August. 2016. Online. Available at: (Accessed September 8, 2021).return to text