I can still remember our first miscarriage, over 7 years ago, as if it was happening right now.
I remember the sonographer’s words, “I can’t see a 12 week baby here” followed by “I’m not getting a heartbeat either”.
I remember her tone, cold and matter of fact, with a hint of accusation, as if I was there under false pretences and had made the whole pregnancy up.
I remember the image on the scan. The darkness and emptiness of the largely unfilled gestational sac. The sorrowfulness of our foetus, so tiny, so alone, curled inwards at the bottom of the screen.
I remember the look of absolute horror on my husband’s face, a look that still haunts me today.
I remember my own shock and disbelief, the pounding in my head, heavy pain in my stomach and panic in my voice as I desperately sought reassurance that there had been a mistake.
I remember being ushered into a room away from all the other parents waiting for and receiving their happy news.
I remember a blur of voices and movement around me as I clung to my husband and sobbed.
I remember being in a daze as I was handed information leaflet after information leaflet and asked to make decisions about how to manage the miscarriage process – a miscarriage I was nowhere near ready to accept.
I remember the overwhelming sense of loss for the life I had been carrying and the future I’d been looking forward to.
Until that moment I knew very little about miscarriage and even less about the challenges which could follow – physically, mentally and emotionally. Here are some examples of what I didn’t know, didn’t expect, and went on to discover:
- That even though I was young (early 30s), healthy and had no known family history of miscarriage, it could happen, and would happen, to me.
- That it is surprisingly common. According to the NHS, approximately 1 in 8 known pregnancies will end in a miscarriage and many more unknown pregnancies will end in miscarriage too.
- That there is such a thing as a missed miscarriage, where the baby dies but is not physically miscarried. The body continues to produce pregnancy hormones which continue the feeling of pregnancy and lead to positive pregnancy test results. That this would happen to me. That our baby would die at 8/9 weeks and I would live in blissful ignorance until 12 weeks.
- That once I was aware our baby had died, I would no longer want to carry him/her. That I’d be uncomfortable with the thought of ‘death’ inside me. That I would feel guilty, unloving and ‘a bad mother’ for feeling this way.
- That there is a surgical procedure to remove a baby that has died but not physically miscarried. That I would have this procedure at 13 weeks.
- That most hospitals have sensitive policies for the cremation or burial of miscarried babies. That our hospital would arrange for our baby (and others) to be respectfully cremated and the ashes scattered in the garden of a local cemetery. That we would visit this cemetery to say goodbye.
- That despite being so common, very little is known about the causes of miscarriage. That this lack of understanding and explanation can be excruciating. That it can lead to endless rumination about why it happened and fear over how to avoid it in the future. That I would go over and over the details of my own pregnancy looking for answers I’d never find.
- That people rarely talk about it. That they mainly deal with it in silence, mainly behind closed doors. That I would do the same.
- That talking about it can be uncomfortable. That it can be difficult for people to know what to say. That words offered in comfort can so often be received in pain.
- That I would despise pity.
- That I would resent being reassured that it wasn’t my fault. That the more I was told it wasn’t my fault, the more I would wonder if it was!
- That I would find remarks like “at least you can get pregnant” and “it was meant to be” painfully dismissive of the life we had created, loved and wanted so much.
- That I would struggle with the sense of loss being so personal. That something so painful and life altering for my husband and I, could seem so unimportant to others.
- That I would feel increasingly isolated from family who didn’t understand and couldn’t help ‘fix’ the problem this time.
- That I would feel increasingly isolated from friends with whom I was no longer sharing all of life’s experiences.
- That the only person who would truly understand was my husband. That I would worry he would get fed up of me, overburdened by my sadness. That I would feel guilty for his own sadness and my inability to resolve it.
- That because it is so common, I would assume this meant I should be able to manage it with ease.
- That because people weren’t talking about it, I would assume they were managing it with ease.
- That for everyone who said nothing, I would assume they thought it was no big deal.
- That I wouldn’t manage it with ease and I would think it was a big deal.
- That I would feel so sad, so lost, so lonely, so tired, so disconnected from everyone and everything else in life. That the longer it went on, the more I would wonder what was wrong with me, why I couldn’t cope when everyone else could, and the more I would believe I was too weak, too emotional, letting everyone down and failing.
- That the more I tried to ignore the pain, push it away and push through, the worse it would become.
- That I would find every pregnancy announcement and every baby announcement an excruciating reminder of what I had lost. That I would hate myself for it. That I would worry I was becoming a bad person for feeling pain in the wake of others’ joy.
- That I would feel guilty for feeling sad because I led a privileged life, because others had it far worse than me, because others lost pregnancies way more advanced than mine and because they lost children they’d brought into the world too.
- That even as a practising employment lawyer, I would fear the impact on my career. That I would think I couldn’t take time off, had to show up, had to do a great job, had to prove that my performance and commitment to my work remained the same.
- That I would be anxious about what my colleagues thought about me. That I would worry they thought I was making a big deal out of nothing, that I wasn’t doing enough or doing it well enough.
- That when my colleagues told me of others who had returned to work immediately after a miscarriage, and suggested it would be good for me too, I would feel like I had no choice.
- That I would return to work too soon. That I would find it difficult to concentrate. That I would feel distant from my colleagues and disconnected from my projects. That I would try to put on a brave face but frequently cry in the toilets and break down in the evenings.
- That I would be desperate to be pregnant again. That the longer it took, the more desperate I would become. That I would assume it was the only way to resolve the pain.
- That everyone would tell me I would be pregnant again in no time, that I would be holding a healthy baby in my arms soon. That when it didn’t happen I would wonder what was wrong with me and feel even more a failure.
- That losing 3 or more pregnancies in a row is classed as recurrent miscarriage and is not so common, affecting only around 1 in 100 women. That I would be one of those women. That by my 3rd, I still wouldn’t know what caused them.
- That even 7 years on, every year I would remember the day I found out I was pregnant, the day I found out I miscarried and the day our baby was due. That I would think of him/her many times in between, imagining birthdays, Christmases, Mother’s Days, Father’s Days, their first day of school. That when I would see other children born around the time our baby was due, I would see the life we had lost.
- That I would think of him/her every time I was asked if I have any children. That I would feel dismissive of him/her when I said I didn’t.
- That it would be possible to feel so much love for a life that grew inside me for only a very short period time; a life l never met, never saw, never heard and never felt – that left me physically but in every other sense is still with me now.
- That everything I thought, and everything I felt, was normal and frequently occurring. That some of it was grief and some of it was fear and all of it was understandable. That I was doing my best with the awareness I had.
This week is Baby Loss Awareness Week and if I have learned anything from my experiences it is the importance of awareness and self-awareness.
Awareness is knowledge of what is happening around you. My intention in writing this blog is to raise awareness; to provide information and share my experiences in the hope you gain understanding or a sense of being understood, feel more informed or less alone.
Self-awareness is knowledge of what is happening within you. It is awareness of your own personal experience. My intention in writing this blog is also to raise self-awareness; to share some of my thoughts, feelings and behaviours around miscarriage in the hope you become more conscious of your own.
And above all else, my intention in writing this blog is to share the most important thing I didn’t know about miscarriage until I had one. The key learning that encapsulates all the other experiences and insights I have shared above.
Miscarriage often comes with inevitable pain. Pain that can feel intolerable and unmanageable. Pain that needs to be seen, heard and felt in order to allow for healing. Pain that requires grieving.
But miscarriage also often comes with unnecessary suffering. Suffering that isn’t our fault but which derives from habitual thoughts and ways of operating that are unhelpful, uncaring and unsympathetic. Suffering that can be avoided by becoming aware of our thoughts and behaviours and the impact they have on us, or those around us, and by choosing alternatives that are kind, compassionate and supportive.
There will continue to be baby loss and there will continue to be pain. But whether we’re the one experiencing loss or we’re the relative, friend, neighbour or colleague of someone who is, we can all do our bit to alleviate suffering.
So in Baby Loss Awareness Week and beyond, I encourage you to do just that. Be aware. Be self aware. Be kind.
Emma Menzies | 9 October 2020
Copyright © 2020 Emma Menzies t/a Ready Steady Coach