Every year around 250,000 women in the UK suffer miscarriages. It is a truly awful thing to go through and it can take months or years to recover from emotionally and psychologically – I speak from experience. If there is one message that I would really like to get across, it is that you are not alone.
Losing your baby is an incredibly isolating experience. It is such an intimate, personal loss, it can feel like no one will be able to understand, not even your partner. Everything happens to you, inside you. It can feel like you have lost part of you as well as your baby.
What I didn’t realise when it happened to me was that lots of women I knew had had miscarriages. Loads of people came out of the woodwork to share their stories and offer their support including, much to my surprise, a close relative and a very senior one. The latter had never really talked about her experience before because I was the first person in her immediate family that it had also happened to. That’s what happens when you talk about miscarriage – you find people who really do understand your grief.
Talking helps the healing process
Talking about it is one of the most positive things you can do. However, there are always going to be people who say the wrong thing. It is such a sensitive subject people don’t know what to say. The Miscarriage Association publishes a very helpful leaflet on how to help someone you know who has had a miscarriage. The MA provides a wealth of information and support, if you or someone close to you has lost a baby.
Saying the right thing
Among the most commonly said things that cause pain and distress are: ‘don’t worry – you’re young, you can always have another one’; ‘it was probably for the best’; ‘at least it was only eight weeks. I know someone who had a stillbirth…’ and ‘it’s nature’s way of getting rid of something that was deformed’. As the MA points out, the most useful things to say are often the simplest, such as: ‘I am so sorry you have lost your baby’; ‘this must be dreadful for you both’; ‘I don’t know what to say…’ and ‘I can’t imagine how you must be feeling’.
Symptoms of depression
Many women have feelings they find difficult to cope with after a miscarriage and it is not uncommon for them to resurface some time afterwards, particularly on what would have been the baby’s birthday or the anniversary the loss. Symptoms of depression are common and many women blame themselves in some way. One in five pregnancies end in miscarriage and most remain unexplained. Chances are, there is nothing you could have done differently, but it takes time to accept that.
Allow yourself time to grieve
The loss of a child, at whatever stage of pregnancy, takes time to recover from and may take more time than the people around you understand, including your partner. There is no right or wrong, everyone’s grief is intensely personal and everyone takes his or her own time to get over it. A lot of women find it helpful to discuss their experience with other women, particularly those who have been through it. Men deal with things differently and he may be feeling very much alone but that he has to be ‘strong’ for you. He may be feeling helpless and useless. He may not want to talk and he may not be able to even if he does want to. Be gentle with yourself and try to be gentle with him too.
Losing my very much-wanted baby was one of the most painful experiences of my life. The echoing emptiness inside me felt like a heavy hollow through which everyone saw the wind blow, its weight replacing the hopeful weight of my baby. Both were physical. I felt like I was the first person it had ever happened to. I felt as though no one would ever understand. I wanted no one but my then husband and I wanted him to hold with me and share my loss. I had no idea what he was going through or why his grieving process was different. No one ever seemed to ask how he was.
I was 20, young in every sense. The first person I loved who died was my would-be daughter. I was 17 weeks pregnant when I started spotting. We’d stayed over at a friend’s house and had a tortuous public transport journey ahead of us. I was terrified and didn’t know what to do. I hoped it would go away.
Denial and fear
Looking back, I am aware of the contradiction. One part of me thought I should lie down with my legs raised, the other wanted to go to work and pretend nothing was wrong. I went to the office, then I went to pieces. Then I called my husband and took a taxi to my local hospital. I was cold and numb with fear. The bleeding was heavier.
The scan was a nightmare. I had been so looking forward to seeing my baby on the scanner and now it was being performed to confirm what I already knew but wouldn’t admit to myself. It was torture for my husband. We could see the monitor and there was nothing to see. The radiographer was careful to answer questions indirectly; it is the doctors’ job to break the news officially.
I remember the first thing I said was, ‘How long before I can go back to work?’ My husband was appalled. All I could think about was escape strategies, how I could get away from what was happening and focus on something – anything – else.
We went home and cried reservoirs. I was readmitted to hospital several hours later to have what doctors referred to as ‘post-conception products’ removed from my womb. I hated that phrase because it denied my baby’s humanity. The prognosis was that my pregnancy had ended in week eight or nine but that my body had continued to react as if I were still pregnant. The men in white coats failed to recognise that, while she was long dead to them, she wasn’t to me. I had bonded with her.
I wanted to see her but it was impossible. The hospital decided that it would be too distressing for me to see what had been left and had incinerated it. I’d say ‘her’, but that’s just because I was her mother. I do wish I had been given the chance to say goodbye, even if it had meant saying goodbye to something that no one else would recognise. I kept wondering if there was anything I could have done differently. It took months before I stopped blaming myself for having had a high temperature or for falling over in the snow. If I am honest, it took me much longer to forgive everything concerned and move on, but I did. Everyone does. Hard as it is, you get over it.
If I had a dozen children, I still wouldn’t forget her. She will always be my first, but part of the process was forgiving her too and letting go.