I have been seen on the news that the care in the case of miscarriages is being put under the microscope. I watched a heart breaking interview with a couple who were sent away from hospital when the pregnant woman was suffering from abdominal pain, and she went on to miscarry at 15 weeks, at home. She returned to the hospital, with the foetus in a tupperware box, where she was told that they had no room in the hospital morgue for their baby’s remains. Her partner brought the box home in a taxi and placed it in their fridge at home! Their pain at this insensitive treatment, on top of their loss, was clearly unbearable.
Miscarriage is another taboo subject that I have some experience of ,as I lost three babies, all before 12 weeks. I was working away with the first and most traumatic experience, staying overnight with my parents. I was moderating focus group discussions when I started with stomach cramps, but I continued working that evening and went back to my parents, by which time I had started bleeding. It got heavier and Mum called 999 and then she took me to the local hospital, even though we both knew what was happening. I do not recall being kept in hospital for long as my body was taking over the process, so I was soon back at my parents’ house and I always avoided that toilet where I lost my baby, ever since. Both my Mum, and my mother in law, were upset of course about their lost potential grandchild, but both told me that they were delighted that we had been pregnant in the first place, showing that we were trying, now that Joshua was about 3 or 4 years old, and before I turned 40 years old.
It happened two more times, always around the same stage, and each time was just as devastating. From the moment that you find out that you are expecting, in your mind you have already had the baby and your imagination takes over. So the miscarriage signifies the loss of a baby and the loss of hopes and dreams. It is not just an early embryo , it is your child and already part of your family. So for this reason, the heartless treatment of the couple in the news, is horrifying and must be addressed.
Miscarriage is much more common than people tend to realise : among ladies who know that they are pregnant already, 1 in 8 pregnancies will end in miscarriage. It is a taboo subject that is not discussed, until you have your own miscarriage and then, I found, that so many people spontaneously told me that they too had had a miscarriage. In fact when I was pregnant with Joshua, I only knew of one person who had suffered a miscarriage, and I do not even recall it being covered in antenatal classes, so that means that most people remain silent about the loss of their babies. It might feel less shocking if we knew just how common it was and that it is not necessarily the mother’s fault as the majority of miscarriages cannot be prevented; in none of my 4 pregnancies did I drink, smoke or take drugs, which are all risk factors.
I cannot say that I was poorly treated by the hospitals or medical profession when I miscarried, but there was nothing really for them to do and so they gave me a leaflet on miscarriage, and sent me away. Mine were all in relatively early stages, before scans and before we had told anyone that we were pregnant, but it is the later miscarriages, when the baby is much more fully formed, that are much more traumatic I am sure. Any loss before 23 weeks is considered to be a miscarriage , while later than that it is described as a stillbirth.
As I had three consecutive miscarriages, that triggered investigations within the NHS to explore why I might be failing to have a sustainable pregnancy. I had a series of intrusive examinations, scans and procedures and I cannot recall them coming to any real conclusion. Rather like what happened to Joshua, the conclusion was that it was ‘just one of those things’ that could not be prevented. But of course, with one disabled child and three miscarriages behind me, I concluded that I was not able to deliver a healthy baby and so we stopped trying to have any more, the experience was just too painful. I was always sad that we were not able to provide Joshua with a younger brother or sister, to look out for him when they were both older and when we have passed away, but it was simply not meant to be. I certainly was not offered any counselling about our failure to create a healthy life together, and Mum always said that my depression began around the time of those miscarriages, so that might have been something better that the NHS could have done for our family.
In addition, miscarriage affects the whole family, not just the mother. It physically happens to the expectant mother of course and she will no doubt have a sense of failure about the event. But emotionally it impacts on the father too: my husband was working overseas when we lost our second baby, and I know how terrible he felt being so many miles away in Asia, as all had been well when he left on his business trip. It was hard for him to accept that I had not done anything risky to endanger our unborn child, that I was simply standing beside a trampoline watching little Joshua bouncing, when things first started to go wrong. I am sure that he would have benefitted from some form of grief counselling too. It is not something that we really talk about now.
In society we are not equipped with the helpful language to be able to comfort someone who has miscarried. It would appear that the parents are mourning something, or someone, who was not even here yet and therefore is perhaps more difficult to sympathise with than a parent whose baby dies. One of the most painful things to hear in that situation is ‘ You are young enough, you can try to have another baby soon’, when you are still grieving the loss of your unborn child. It feels heartless, even though it is well intentioned. I wonder if miscarriage is a topic that is covered in schools these days, as part of the sex education syllabus perhaps, as it was not covered in my school education. But not only should young people be given the facts about the statistics of the likelihood of miscarriage, but also they need advice about how best to comfort sufferers too, as the chances are that they will either experience it themselves or know somebody who does.
As Meghan Markle pointed out : ” Losing a child means carrying unbearable grief, experienced by many but talked about by few”, so let’s see if we can change the silence surrounding this common loss.