Fertility

Why the silence around miscarriage needs to stop

As Michelle Obama put it, "It's the worst thing that we do to each other as women. Not share the truth about our bod­ies and how they work – and how they don't work."

By Phoebe Parke
Why the silence around miscarriage needs to stop.

Un­til I was stand­ing in the cor­ri­dor of my lo­cal hos­pi­tal, out of hours, bleed­ing through my jeans, a few days short of 12 weeks preg­nant, I had no idea what a mis­car­riage would be like.

I had no idea how much it would hurt, or that the cramps would come in waves, like the be­gin­nings of con­trac­tions. I had no idea I would go on to pass a recog­nis­able em­bryo – smaller than a chick­en's egg.

So much blood for such a tiny thing. I'm sorry if this is graphic, but what hap­pened to me was graphic – and fright­en­ing. And it was made more so by the fact I had no frame­work for it; I did­n't know what was nor­mal, if I was nor­mal.

Naively, I think I as­sumed a mis­car­riage meant you just stopped be­ing preg­nant. I had no idea you can bleed for weeks af­ter­wards, and that you have to take a preg­nancy test once it's stopped to con­firm the preg­nancy is def­i­nitely over and that surgery is­n't needed to re­move any 're­tained tis­sue'. It's a cruel, fi­nal twist – the sad, soli­tary line in the test win­dow un­der­scor­ing a deep sense of fail­ure.

Why, I re­mem­ber think­ing the day I mis­car­ried, as I got home and peeled off the hos­pi­tal-is­sue pa­per pants, did I not know any of this? Why had I heard so many friends' birth sto­ries – the good, the bad, the 'I'm so sorry, I think I've done a poo' ugly – and yet I'd never heard about any­one's mis­car­riage?

Since that first mis­car­riage, nearly two years ago, I've had three more, all in the space of 18 months. It's some­thing I could never have an­tic­i­pated – that our at­tempt to start a fam­ily would so quickly be­come suf­fused with a fog of grief as we racked up due date af­ter due date that came and went with­out a baby. I still haven't car­ried a baby to full term.

Re­cur­rent mis­car­riage – more than three in a row – af­fects one in 100 cou­ples. But one in six preg­nan­cies will end in a mis­car­riage. And one in four women will have at least one in their life­time. I re­mem­ber the first time I read that sta­tis­tic think­ing: OK, so where are they all?

So I was­n't sur­prised to hear Michelle Obama talk­ing about how the mis­car­riage she had be­fore her daugh­ters Sasha and Malia were born left her feel­ing "lost and alone" be­cause "we don't talk about them". In­stead, she said, "We sit in our own pain, think­ing that some­how we're bro­ken."

I know that's what I did. The first time, hardly any­one knew I'd been preg­nant. I did­n't know how to say: "I was ex­pect­ing a baby, and now I'm not."

So I said noth­ing. But we need to find the words. Be­cause mis­car­riage is a strange, furtive club – and it's only when you raise your hand that you dis­cover how many mem­bers you know.

Still, it would be help­ful if we heard about it be­fore we even try for chil­dren – cer­tainly in early preg­nancy. It needs to be nor­malised to the point where peo­ple have a sense of how it goes, how it looks, feels, hurts, be­fore it's upon them – be­fore they're lit­er­ally bang­ing down the hos­pi­tal doors, won­der­ing which de­part­ment to show up at.

I re­cently read back through my folder from my first preg­nancy, given to me at my ini­tial mid­wife ap­point­ment. Sift­ing through the reams of in­for­ma­tion there is just one small para­graph on mis­car­riage – roughly the same num­ber of words are de­voted to an­swer­ing the ques­tion: "Will my stretch marks last forever?"

The word 'mis­car­riage' ap­pears else­where, of course, but al­ways in the con­text of re­duc­ing or rais­ing your risk. The pic­ture painted is that if you do every­thing "right" mis­car­riage is un­likely to touch you.

And yet, a mis­car­riage can be trau­matic, phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally, and the sense of loss can be pro­found – as can the men­tal health af­ter-shocks. It has been linked with de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety that can last for years af­ter­wards, ac­cord­ing to 2011 re­search pub­lished in The British Jour­nal Of Psy­chi­a­try.

An­other study from 2016 found four in 10 women who have a mis­car­riage or ec­topic preg­nancy dis­play signs of post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der af­ter­wards.

Yet if you en­counter only si­lence when it hap­pens to you, it gives the im­pres­sion that it's no big deal – that it's not wor­thy of frank dis­cus­sion at an­te­na­tal ap­point­ments. And this makes you doubt whether you have a right to feel the way you do. That you're guilty of histri­on­ics. Just mak­ing a fuss.

We don't have to shout about our mis­car­riages from the rooftops – los­ing a preg­nancy is an in­cred­i­bly in­ti­mate thing. But, if we can, we need to try to open up. To of­fer re­as­sur­ance that a mis­car­riage is, sadly, nor­mal and in no way a fun­da­men­tal fail­ing of your fe­male­ness.

Be­cause, as Michelle put it: "It's the worst thing that we do to each other as women. Not share the truth about our bod­ies and how they work – and how they don't work."

Visit Jen­nie's blog at uterus­mono­logues.com.

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