We spoke to women about dealing with miscarriage
One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, and among women who know they are pregnant, it’s one in six.1 These are huge numbers, and having a miscarriage can have huge emotional implications. So why aren’t we talking about it?
If you have ever been pregnant, and if you haven’t, you will know that the general consensus is not to tell anyone outside of your closest friends or family before the 12 week marker. The reason behind this logic? In case the pregnancy doesn’t work out. So already, prevailing social norms take into account that miscarriage is extremely common. And yet, if you do have a miscarriage before 12 weeks, chances are the thing you will need most is a support group, and a body of people to listen to how you’re feeling.
It’s unusual to hear people talking about miscarriage at all, and yet women who have had one describe the huge emotional ramifications. Rebecca Bryant, 26, had her first miscarriage aged 19. I ask her what the hardest thing about dealing with a miscarriage is. “Where do I start?” she says. “Firstly there is the initial shock that your baby, who you have grown to love and make plans for, is gone forever in a second.”
All of a sudden you can’t think, she says, going from cloud nine to feeling like you’re falling through the floor. After that, you have to make the decision, if you haven’t already passed the foetus, whether to keep it and let nature take its course, or have it removed in hospital. “I felt so alone,” Rebecca continues. “My world stood still but people carried on living their lives while part of me had died.”
“I wanted people to ask me how I was, but I didn’t want to be the killjoy that brought it up.”
For 29-year-old Jo Weston, who runs Baby Led Kitchen, the hardest part was the waiting. “Both times with me it was unclear whether or not the pregnancy would miscarry, so I had an agonizing two week wait to find out,” she says. Once she had been told there was no heartbeat, she had to wait to miscarry, which, she says, is like waiting for labour “but you know you have no happy ending”.
For 32-year-old Emily Ansell, she struggled because all her friends were getting pregnant around the same time, and it was difficult to watch their pregnancies progressing while hers didn’t. “I felt like people put the word miscarriage into a box,” she says. “I have had two, but no one considers that I have therefore been pregnant. I had bad morning sickness both times but I was excluded from the conversations because I wasn’t still pregnant.” She found the whole experience incredibly isolating.
Time to grieve
Part of the problem for Emily was that people were reluctant to talk about it because they felt awkward, but actually all she needed was someone to talk to. “I wanted people to ask me how I was,” she says. “But I didn’t want to be the killjoy that brought it up.”
”Rebecca mentions the difference in time you are “allowed” to grieve depending on how far into the pregnancy you miscarry. “If we have an early miscarriage we are granted a couple of days of compassionate leave,” she says. “If we have a late miscarriage we are granted our full maternity leave entitlement. Why does the length of gestation matter? A loss of a child leaves a dark hole regardless of when in the pregnancy you lost them.”
Jo, who doesn’t wish to use her last name, echoes this, and says one of the worst things she heard when she told one of her friends about her early miscarriage was ‘Oh well, that’s not so bad, at least you weren’t really attached to it’. “This was so hurtful,” she says. “The minute you see the positive pregnancy test, you can work out your due date, you start imagining what it will be like, how old your child will be at Christmas, and all that kind of thing.”
“The minute you see the positive pregnancy test, you can work out your due date, you start imagining what it will be like, how old your child will be at Christmas, and all that kind of thing.”
Rebecca did find she received a lot of support from friends and family, but believes there should be more education surrounding miscarriage. “This is, in my opinion, where we go wrong,” she says. “How can we expect society to understand miscarriage if we do not educate them? Before I had my first miscarriage I can honestly say I knew very little about it. I was naïve to think my pregnancy would easily end with a baby in my arms.”
Jo Weston believes part of the problem is the “ridiculous” 12 week rule. “Who is this rule for?” she asks. “It’s not for the woman, who potentially ends up dealing with the loss of a baby all on her own. I think it’s because it’s all a bit too grim for the general public, so the attitude is that it’s best to just look the other way.” She believes we all need to come to understand that pregnancy is normal, and miscarriage is also normal.
“All pregnancies should have the chance to be celebrated if the parents wish to, regardless of the outcome of the pregnancy,” she says. “I had people say ‘Ooh, you’re brave for telling people this early’, knowing that I had previously had a miscarriage. This translates to me as ‘No thanks, I don’t want to hear your happy news in case your baby dies’.
Lack of professional support
Another thing she found extremely upsetting was the reaction of her sonographer, who, the second time she miscarried suggested it was because she was breastfeeding her eldest while pregnant. “That really stung,” she says.
Emily, too, describes the “cold” language used by doctors when it came to having the miscarriage diagnosed and removed, and was upset by the lack of care she was offered going forward. “I found it difficult not knowing why I miscarried and you have to have three miscarriages to get support or help understanding why you have had one. I find that so cruel,” she says. Emily ended up paying to be part of a research programme, and the treatment she received through that is the reason why she has a baby now.
“There is so little support out there or people. I paid and had counselling after my second miscarriage, because I felt really angry, and then guilty for feeling anger.”
The lack of mental health support offered was also distressing. “I don’t understand,” she says. “There is so little support out there for people. I paid and had counselling after my second miscarriage, because I felt really angry, and then guilty for feeling anger.”
So, how do women go about dealing with miscarriage, when friends are reluctant to acknowledge it, and the entire process is clinically brushed under the carpet?
Talk if you need to
“I was pretty open about talking about it,” says Emily. “People were taken aback by how much I talked about it and how I needed to cope.” She had no idea how common it was until people came forward and told her they had had one too. “If people talked about it more, it doesn’t take away the pain, but it means you can share that pain more easily and feel less like you have to suffer on your own,” she adds.
Jo Weston found it helpful when people told her what to expect physically about the actual miscarriage itself when it happened. “This was actually so helpful and reassuring, as it’s a very gory process,” she says. “I had no idea what it was like before I had one.” She believes it would be easier to talk about if people knew it was a possibility, and were made to feel confident in seeking help or saying they don’t feel ok. Jo echoes this, saying it’s important people know they are allowed to be upset. “It’s ok to feel that pain, and grieve your pregnancy and the baby,” she says.
“I dealt with both my miscarriages very differently,” says Rebecca. “The first I cried and cried and then suppressed the memory to the best of my ability. Now I’m older I don’t believe this is very cathartic.” This time, she is reading a self help book, which she says is helping because she knows that someone else has experienced her pain, and she finds it useful to reflect on what happened several times over.
For women who have had a miscarriage, there are support services out there, with charities filling in the gaps for an underfunded NHS. Emily went to Tommy’s, who have a support line you can call, a Facebook support group, and who fund research into causes of miscarriage.
Featured image is of a woman wearing a coral coloured dress sitting on a sofa looking out of the window. Her head is turned away from the camera so you can’t see her face.
- Tommy’s, ‘Miscarriage Statistics’, [website], https://www.tommys.org/our-organisation/charity-research/pregnancy-statistics/miscarriage, (accessed 2 November 2018).