I have rather a love-hate relationship with Mother Nature. Ok so perhaps ‘love-hate’ is a bit strong, but certainly ‘love-fervent resentment.’ Not quite as catchy as ‘love-hate’, I know. But the important nuance justifies the extra word in this instance. Having had not just one miscarriage but four, I have several examples of Mother Nature’s cruel ways from which to choose. But with my fourth miscarriage there are two particular howlers:
(1) Everything appeared fine at my 12-week scan, so after many weeks of anxious waiting and hoping this time would be different, we excitedly announced that we were expecting a sibling for the little lady. Our excitement was all the more sweet, and mistakenly confident, because my previous miscarriages were all before 12 weeks. We naively thought we were out of the woods after the 12 week scan, and so we shared our happy news. At 13.5 weeks, on a Wednesday morning at work, I had the tiniest not-even-really-a-bleed. I trotted across Westminster Bridge to St. Thomas’ hospital for a scan just to reassure myself, fully expecting to be told all was well. When I was pregnant with my daughter I had many, many scans for reassurance after 12 weeks, even a couple of times with bleeding, and was always sent off safe in the knowledge that I’d been worrying unduly. Not so this time. Our baby had died a couple of days earlier. I can’t quite put into words the shock and the feelings of sadness and emptiness that ensued. I still haven’t been able to delete the photo from my iPhone of the 12-week scan, where an apparently healthy tiny bean was happily kicking away while we pointed excitedly at the screen.
(2) What should have been my due date for this pregnancy fell on Mother’s Day 2016. Now that is just cruel. A coincidence, of course, but COME.ON.MOTHER.NATURE. Anyone who has experienced a miscarriage, let alone several, will know that thoughts of “I’m supposed to be X weeks” or “I thought I’d be starting mat leave next week” are torturously, and yet entirely understandably, never far away. And they hurt – they hurt so much. On the other hand, acknowledging those thoughts is also (in my humble experience – an unscientific sample of one) a really important part of healing, and of gradually feeling stronger.
There is so much more that I could write about my fourth miscarriage: such as the trauma of having a D&C (the ‘surgical route’) in an over-stretched NHS day surgery unit where nobody, at any point during those horrible hours, made any acknowledgement of why I was there. Nobody that is save for the very sweet trainee theatre assistant who, late in the evening when I’d woken up and was about to be discharged after 12 long, exhausting hours, handed me my rucksack into one hand, and a leaflet for the (excellent, so I’ve since discovered) Miscarriage Association into the other. “If you have any questions about miscarriage, you could give them a call.” Sweet, yes, but oh so little, and just too late; or I could write about how lucky I feel for being able to take time off work to deal with my grief. My amazing boss and colleagues recognised the loss for what it was – a bereavement – and I was supported in so many ways to deal with and recover from that; or I could write about the various ways that people reacted (or didn’t react) to what had happened, and how that all felt; or I could write about the brilliant campaigning work being done by various charities, such as The Miscarriage Association, to raise awareness of miscarriage, which has inspired me to talk more openly about my experiences.
I may write about those things at some point, but this post is already longer-than-ideal. So for now I’ll default to my fondness for bullet points and share five reflections about miscarriage. (There are many more aspects of the experience of miscarriage that I feel strongly about and will probably write about at some point, but the following five are those that feel most important for this post.)
- For something that is so common, it is baffling that there is a still a taboo about it. Miscarriage affects around one in four pregnancies – yes, that’s a quarter, as in quite a lot – that’s a lot of women and their partners going through what is, in many cases, a very physically traumatic and emotionally draining experience. Miscarriage needs to be talked about more. Miscarriage is part of my story, my personal narrative – it’s part of me and my family – and trying to pretend it didn’t happen would be completely dysfunctional.
- Physically, miscarriage is hideous. I won’t go into details. Of course people’s experiences vary (my four miscarriages were not all the same). But trust me – it is tough going. As well as the physical ordeal, your body usually still thinks it’s pregnant so hormones wreak havoc in various ways (thank you, once again, my old pal Mother Nature). So if someone tells you they’ve had a miscarriage, try not to assume it was just like a heavy period. Or that somehow it’s physically bearable because the pregnancy “just wasn’t meant to be” (which is something I’d suggest not saying anyway…in my experience it is not comforting). Miscarriage is horrible, and the physical pain is intensified by the fact that you’re losing a baby you hoped for, planned for, dreamed about.
- There are many brilliant posts on other blogs and websites about what to say and – much more importantly – what not to say to somebody who has had a miscarriage. (A couple of such posts are this one and this one.) In my experience it’s unfortunately, if rather unsurprisingly, the case that lots of the things people often say feature on the lists of what not to say. But do say something – not acknowledging something so significant to a woman adds to the silence and perpetuates the (misguided) idea that a pregnancy somehow ‘didn’t count.’
- Miscarriage is not just about women. It affects partners too – the hopes for a much longed-for (or even unplanned) pregnancy are likely to be no less intense (if probably in different ways) for the partner as for the woman who goes through the physical ordeal. The prevailing view of miscarriage as simply an event that women experience completely overlooks the fact that men can also experience serious trauma from it, not least in watching their partner go through intense physical and emotional pain. There still isn’t very much written about men’s experiences of miscarriage. One blogger whose partner wrote very movingly about miscarriage from a man’s perspective is worth a look here.
- Suffering recurrent miscarriages has reminded me of the therapeutic power of community and shared experience. I’ve been lucky enough to connect – through an online forum – with a wonderful group of women who have also experienced multiple miscarriages. A group of stronger, funnier, wiser, and more courageous women you could never hope to meet. All the more amazing for the fact that I’ve never properly ‘met’ them. I feel utterly blessed to have found my rmc ladies (‘rmc’ is the shorthand for recurrent miscarriage used by those of us unlucky enough to find ourselves ‘in the gang’). The online group is one of the positive consequences (of several) of having gone through the hideousness of rmc. Back in the day, when I studied social and health psychology, I read lots about the whole idea of group belonging and shared experience having positive effects for wellbeing. But it’s taken rmc to appreciate fully the amazing healing power of feeling understood, and supported, by people who really ‘get’ what you’re going through. Especially with something like miscarriage, which can feel so so lonely, realising you’re not alone is very powerful.
Very soon I will write a separate post with links to websites or posts about miscarriage that I’ve found useful and informative in recovering from – and looking forward after – my experiences of multiple miscarriages.Follow @o_lkosullivan