An ultrasound scan of a 12-week-old foetus. Photo authors own.
Today marks the start of Baby Loss Awareness week in the UK. The event commemorates the tragedy of babies who are lost during or after pregnancy due to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and other illnesses. Crucially, the week also invites conversation to raise awareness of baby loss and recognise the pain it causes for mothers, fathers and those close to them. The event has been organised by pregnancy and baby loss charities The Miscarriage Association, ARC (Antenatal Results and Choices), Bliss, the Ectopic Pregnancy Trust, Group B Strep Support and SANDS (Still Birth and Neonatal Death Society).
A miscarriage is defined as the loss of a baby before 23 weeks. It can be difficult to estimate just how many pregnancies end in miscarriage as many women suffer from one early on in pregnancy without knowing they have lost their baby or were ever pregnant, so it’s likely a higher percentage than the statistics currently available. However an estimated 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage with up to 85% of these happening in the first 12 weeks.
I was unaware of such statistics in my first pregnancy in 2013. In fact, I never gave miscarriage a second thought as I did not know it was common. When I experienced heavy bleeding and painful period-like cramps on 31st December I immediately phoned my GP and was in within half an hour thanks to a cancellation. The doctor made me aware of the threat I faced and told me that one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage. I remember the shock I felt that the rate of miscarriage was so high but tried to remain positive and was referred for an ultrasound scan the next day. Whilst I left the doctors with a little more understanding of what may happen, I was still in no way prepared mentally or physically for the actual reality of it.
The actual reality being that often the pregnancy can leave you naturally, which is an extremely traumatic and horrendous ordeal to experience and is equally uncomfortable to discuss. Yet I wish to this day that the doctor had warned me that this could happen, because when my amniotic sac dropped into my palm on the toilet a few hours after I had returned from my GP surgery it provoked the most acute despair and horror I have ever experienced and promptly gave me a panic attack. Had my fiancé not been with me or I had been anywhere else but home, I dread to think what would have happened to me because at that point I was beyond any rational thought on how to deal with the situation I was in.
I doubt very much that I have been alone in the pain that this particular way of miscarrying caused, however any way of miscarrying is just as traumatic. For those that experience missed miscarriages and only find out at their scan that their babies heart has ceased to beat, they then have to make the decision as to how their baby will leave their body, whether naturally or through surgery. Again, a heart-breaking ordeal to have to go through.
I would never wish to scare-monger pregnant woman, or indeed any woman or man who one day considers having a family, however I am adamant a better knowledge and understanding on the matter could help those suffering be more prepared and able to deal with miscarriage better. I for one would advocate some information on miscarriage during your first doctors appointment when you tell your GP you are pregnant, particularly for first time mothers who may be completely unaware that it could happen to them, as I was. I believe if I had been given some information in this early stage, perhaps a leaflet or even just a brief kind word from the doctor to bare in mind – I would have dealt with the situation a lot better.
Equally as important is mothers and fathers feeling that they are able to talk about miscarriage with their family and friends. When it happened to me, talking about it felt wrong and uncomfortable, like I was being too open and should have kept it private. I didn’t even realise at the time that these feelings reflected the fact that miscarriage is still somewhat of a taboo subject, despite some steps forward with the subject in recent times with high-profile celebrities such as Beyoncé speaking out about her experience of miscarriage and the pain that came a long with it. Sharing the experience of a miscarriage can be important in not only getting support and help and feeling less alone, but it also ensures a wider knowledge and awareness of the issue. Just by talking about it, the potential to help others who may go through the same in the future is phenomenal.
The specific type of grief that comes along with miscarriage can be extremely difficult. You have to deal with your dreams being shattered, the excited moments thinking about names and what your child would look like come tumbling down and something you already loved so much is taken away in a cruel instant. It is an awful time, wrought with sadness, not only for mothers and fathers but for their families too. But the ability to talk about miscarriage also encourages the ability to mourn your baby and could help many women to come to terms with and accept their loss more easily.
I wrote a song about the baby I had lost which was an extremely therapeutic and helpful experience for me. I was proud to have been able to see through my grief and create a lasting memory of my baby. So proud, that I wanted to share it with others. I wanted to shout from the rooftops that I had been given a baby, and no matter how short its life had been, I had loved it more than anything else in the world and if nothing else, I would always have that. I shared the song on Facebook and wrote a brief status explaining I’d suffered a miscarriage for the majority of friends and some family who didn’t know and this felt like I had honoured my baby’s life, no matter how short.
I also had a very supportive manager who made the kind and well-thought out suggestion to ask if I would like him to inform another colleague who had been through the same situation so I could talk to her about it. This helped me so much. I felt isolated and disconnected, but talking to my colleague made me realise I wasn’t alone and helped me so much in those early stages.
So as you can see from my experience, talking about miscarriage certainly helped me and without doing so I don’t know how I would have coped. I understand that such tactics may not work for everyone as some women or men may be private, or simply against sharing such news because it will further fuel their sadness which is of course a totally personal decision. However if you feel able and ready to talk about your loss, please don’t feel scared to do so. Conversation about the life you’ve lost can not only set you on the path towards acceptance but can help others who might go through the same thing.
Babyloss Awareness Week culminates on 15th October with Wave of Light, when people across the world light a candle for babies loved and lost at 7pm for one hour. Share your pictures or stories on social media and you can also join the conversation #babyloss #babylossawarenessweek #talkingaboutbabyloss. Please feel free to share this article and comment with your experiences. Visit The Miscarriage Association for help, support and advice about miscarriage. This post is predominately based on personal opinion.