I have two beautiful daughters, but I don’t mind telling people that I’ve had not two, but four pregnancies to get the family I have today. Sure, sometimes people recoil in horror when I tell them, or at the very least, shift uncomfortably in their seats but that’s precisely the reason I’m so vocal about it. Maybe if more of us speak up about the loss of our babies, eventually the reactions (and subsequent dialogue) will change? God I hope so.
Statistics tell us one in four pregnancies will end in miscarriage, but experts say even this figure is a conservative estimate. “This rate could be as high as 50 percent,” admits obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr David Kowalski. “But sometimes the miscarriage occurs so early that the woman may not have even been aware that she was pregnant in the first place.” Statistics I could work with when I was sitting at the hospital clutching my ‘thanks for playing’ show-bag, but the following information? Well that’s something I could have done with. Hell, they’re facts we can ALL do with.
1. You almost certainly did not cause the miscarriage
Was it the brie I accidentally ate, or the fumes from our kitchen renovation? Night after night, I lay awake driving myself crazy as I played the blame game but the truth is there’s very little you can do to cause a miscarriage. “You need to remember that there are women all around the world who are firefighters, drug addicts or working for the Taliban who have no issues with their pregnancies whatsoever,” says Dr Kowalski. The simple truth of the matter is that the vast majority of miscarriages occur due to either embryonic abnormalities or implantation problems – two things you have absolutely no influence over.
2. No two miscarriages are ever the same
Screaming for more morphine at the hospital, I remember thinking two things: how can you lose so much blood and continue to live, and how much pain can the human body endure and yes, continue to live. My experience was agony (thanks for nothing Hollywood with your portrayals of a slight trickle and subtle cramping), but everyone’s miscarriage will be as unique as they are as individuals. “What you feel depends on how far along in the pregnancy you were,” reveals Dr Kowalski. “A pregnancy that ends at 13 weeks is always going to be more painful than one that ends at four weeks.”
I received what I like to call ‘the show-bag of death’ before I was discharged from the hospital but I found its ‘why have a baby when you can have these chocolates instead?’ content depressing. That said, I know of other women who found their own show-bags somewhat comforting. Go figure.
3. Medical professionals can have a (shocking) way with words
One minute my babies had names and futures, and the next they were being referred to by my then-obstetrician as ‘conception waste’ or ‘product of conception’ – a way of speaking which only served to further traumatise me.
Dr Kowalski is at pains to point out he’s never spoken to his patients in this way, but concedes such terminology among his peers is all-too-common. “Medical jargon when it comes to this field has always been quite misogynistic (he points to terms such as ‘confinement’ and ‘failure to progress’ as examples) and often these terms have been established as a way to distance yourself from any emotional connect.”
There’s nothing you can do to instill sensitivity in others, but you can vote with your feet for your next pregnancy. “Ultimately you want to be supported by a doctor who can say to you, “So what if everyone else says you can have another baby? You wanted that baby and I can understand that.”
4. When it comes to grief, everything is normal
Just as the physical process of miscarriage varies between women, so too does the emotional. Some may leave hospital and try to pretend it never happened, others may name their babies and hold a funeral service. Me? I liked to punch pillows and glare at happy mothers walking past with their equally happy babies as I angrily prayed for the sun to drown us all. Each of these reactions (plus every other one you can think of) is normal, says Dr Kowalski. “Anger, grief, hopelessness and denial are all common feelings, but what’s important is that no matter which one it is you’re feeling, that you are being supported by a loved one.”
5. You can make changes to help influence the outcome next time
When it came time to try for my now-three-year-old Ivy, I left Dr ‘Conception waste’ and found an obstetrician who was willing to take my concerns (and high levels of anxiety) seriously – and you should too. “A good obstetrician will monitor you closely, whether it’s checking the baby’s heartbeat each week, or prescribing medication that can help decrease your chance of a miscarriage – particularly in high-risk pregnancies,” says Dr Kowalski, who adds that you should request the same kind of support at home. “If at any point you feel unsupported, that’s because you areunsupported so speak to your doctor or counselor about getting additional help during your next pregnancy.”
6. And lastly, you will never be the same person again
The most vivid conversation I had with my grief counselor was when she hugged me and told me to also take the time to grieve for the person I once was. “You’ll never be the same person again,” she told me as I cried all over her shoulder. “A version of, yes, but the same? Never.”
She was right in many different ways. My grief robbed me of my naivety and took away any joy I could have experienced throughout my pregnancy with Ivy (every day, every hour was emotional agony). I still have days when I get angry, sad, or feel puzzled that the world hasn’t stopped turning, but there have also been unexpected positives too. Having experienced the loss of two babies, I went into motherhood with Ivy a much kinder, patient and forgiving mother. Losing my babies may never get easier, but I’m comforted by the knowledge that their very short lives moved mountains. Hope is out there.