Why we should talk about miscarriage

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An ultrasound scan of a 12-week-old foetus

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 AssociationARC (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.

A life-changing end to 2013

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In my last blog post back in October I said I hoped to do more posts but life got in the way, as it so often does. Third year deadlines loomed and I got a part-time job so my spare time became a time where I wanted to do… not much at all, really. I’ve also done a few gigs after having got back into guitar earlier on in the year which was something I’d wanted to do for a long time. Most notably, though, I got engaged to my lovely boyfriend in November. 2013 was a pretty great year for me.

Unfortunately, though, the very end of 2013 turned out to be the worst time of my entire life and I suffered a miscarriage. Writing has always been a passion of mine and at times has been very therapeutic, so I have decided to write about my experience.

My fiancé (Sam) and I discovered I was pregnant in early December. It was unplanned and a total shock but my first instinct was I would without a doubt keep our baby, the alternative was something I could never do. Of course we had to think everything through, seeing as the pregnancy was unplanned we had to discuss finances and getting a house and all those fun things. What followed was a very stressful few days of worry and wonder that culminated in the decision we knew we’d been heading to all along. We knew having a baby would be tough but we also knew it would be the most rewarding thing we’d ever do. Once the initial shock had passed the thought of a little us filled us with elation and joy that is totally incomparable to anything I’ve ever experienced before.

We began to talk excitedly about what it would be like to have a baby. Who would he or she look more like? What colour eyes would it have? What should we call it? We talked about it all the time and it was so exciting, we were so innocently naivé. I felt desperate to shout it from the rooftops but we kept it to family and a few close friends, eagerly and impatiently awaiting my first midwife appointment on 3rd January when I could find out how far gone I was and know how long it it would be until we could proudly tell everyone we loved about the bundle of joy that would enter our lives. I went to the pub a couple of times, drinking non-alcoholic drinks unbeknownst to my friends, all the while thinking about how I just couldn’t wait to tell them. Everything seemed to be going fine, I had several symptoms reassuring me I was going through the normal stages of pregnancy.

Tuesday 31st December started out like any other day, although I had a lie-in for the first time in a few days which I was way too happy about because I was exhausted as I’d worked the previous three days. I got up to go for a wee and my heart sank when I noticed a very small amount of light blood. ‘It’ll be fine’, I thought. There are many reasons why a woman can bleed in early pregnancy without it meaning it is anything too serious. However the worry remained, especially when I began to feel slight cramps in my tummy and the blood got a little heavier. We got an appointment with the GP straight away who had a chat with me about what had happened. He said it could just be something normal, as many women bleed in early pregnancy and go on to have healthy babies, but he also said 1 in 4 pregnancies do end in miscarriage and we were at the time where it is most common – we estimated the baby to be about 8-9 weeks old. He booked us in for a scan in a couple of days and off we went home. We both tried to stay positive and I proceeded to relax in bed for the rest of the afternoon but impending doom creeped up as I was sure my cramps were getting worse. I decided to check if the bleeding was any worse and to my horror I went to the toilet and the bleeding was much heavier and like a typical period.

I cried to Sam that it had got worse and continued to wipe the blood away, I was desperate to remove every drop, to see it come to an end and for everything to be ok. I think I knew in my heart what this meant. But it was still the most shocking and traumatic moment of my life when a few moments later I passed the gestational sac, a mere ball of cells at that point but completely heart-breaking and traumatic to have to see none the less.

As clichéd as it sounds, what happened directly after this becomes somewhat of a blur. I was completely drowned by my emotions and I felt absolutely traumatised by what I had seen. It was pain on a scale I’ve never felt before and all I could do was cry. Sam ran to me putting his arms around me desperately asking what was wrong but I couldn’t even speak, I collapsed on my knees as pain completely took over. He helped calm me down, I was crying so much I couldn’t catch my breath and I am certain if Sam hadn’t have been there I would have had a panic attack. That night became of blur of hospitals, waiting rooms and doctors, repeating my story over and over, all the while trying to process the fact I’d lost my baby.

Without Sam, I don’t know how I would have coped. He kept me calm and was there for me through everything, despite the fact he was trying to process what had happened too. He focused on making sure I was alright and for that I will be always be grateful because he kept me sane. The days after it happened were extremely difficult. The tiniest thing triggered me to cry. Having a miscarriage is a strange experience because the grief you encounter  is a type that I have never been through before. You’re mourning for something you never really had to begin with. All the hopes and dreams you had in pregnancy are dashed and you can’t stop thinking about what could have been. Seeing babies on Facebook, or out – even pregnant women – makes my heart ache for the baby I wanted so dearly that slipped away from me.

As days plod on I am starting to feel better and Sam and I agreed to take one day at a time. Family and friends have been extremely supportive and I’m being as positive as I can. I tell myself it just wasn’t meant to be this time around. I feel grateful that this situation happened so early as the later the miscarriage, the more traumatic it must be. I cannot begin to comprehend how hard it must be in later stages, particularly stillbirths. I have so much respect and admiration for people that go through that as I don’t know if I would be able to. The one thought that has been echoing in my mind ever since it happened was something the Doctor told me at my original appointment before the miscarriage happened. ‘It’s natures way of getting rid of babies that aren’t developing properly and wouldn’t have survived in or outside the womb.’ That offers me some comfort, I wouldn’t have wanted my baby to suffer.

It breaks my heart I never got to see my child, or hear its heartbeat. Hold its tiny little body or hear it cry or even find out whether it would have been James or Ella. One day I will hold my first baby in my arms and it will be the happiest day of my life. But I will forever remember the first little star I carried inside me. You helped me realise Sam and I are more ready to be parents than we knew and you helped me be stronger and braver than I ever thought possible. You were with us for such a short time, but you gave us so much and we will never forget you.