I could never really relate in the past. Sure, I felt sympathy for these women who had lost their babies, but I never really got it. I could understand that it would be horrible to deal with. That it was a loss. But that surely they would move on. I was never callous to anyone who had a miscarriage, but then again, I didn’t really hear about it very much. Seems to be something that is kept quiet. Under wraps.
And then it happened to me.
It took us 12 months to conceive. In the scheme, of things, that’s not too bad. And I could see the learning in this. Now I could relate a little better and understand my patients who had fertility troubles. As a health practitioner, it also forced me to research this area much more intensely and learn so much more than I had before. I had ‘been there’ and could really understand my fertility patients. I was armed with more knowledge. I could see the purpose and bigger picture in this, and I was now a better practitioner.
I was also what they called a mother of ‘Advanced Maternal Age’, aka they thought I was elderly (!). This is what they call you after about age 35, and there are regular mentions of IVF and other medical interventions pretty early on. But I was reasonably healthy and still had very regular and almost symptom-free cycles. Considering this, and my partner’s fertility health, I had no reason to believe that we couldn’t conceive naturally. Being a health practitioner myself, and also seeing other practitioners to assist me with my healthcare, I felt pretty much on top of things.
When we finally fell pregnant about a year after deciding to try to conceive, I remember standing in the bathroom looking at the positive pregnancy test and just laughing. I didn’t have that teary TV moment. It was more incredulity. I kept going back and looking at the test, just in case I was wrong and had dreamed it up! It was a pretty exciting time in our lives. We had this little happy secret, and I couldn’t wait to make my big announcement. As every day passed, it continued to feel so surreal that I was actually pregnant. I even commented to a friend that even saying “I’m pregnant” felt like something other people say, and seemed so strange and foreign coming out of my own mouth. But at the same time it felt perfectly normal and natural.
For those first couple of months we thought we’d be prudent and not tell anyone, just to be ‘safe’. I did end up telling my immediate family pretty quickly, but no one else knew. And just when I had started to tell a few friends about our happy news, (literally a day or two later) the unthinkable happened.
Around week 8 I noticed a tiny bit of spotting over a few days. There are many reasons why this could be perfectly normal, so I didn’t think too much of it, although if I’m honest it was a bit of a worry at the back of my mind. And then one Friday afternoon at work I started to feel drained of energy, and ever so slightly crampy. Nothing major. And that’s when I started to bleed, and this wasn’t just spotting. I went home and told my partner and went about my evening as normal. Although I was pretending nothing was happening, I knew. I no longer felt pregnant. Any woman who has been pregnant, and then…not…will know exactly what I mean. The next morning Leigh convinced me to see the doctor, and that’s when the multiple trips back and forth to emergency, imaging, and doctors began, and lasted for a few days. In the end, it was a complete miscarriage, and that was that.
I was pregnant. And then…I wasn’t.
I remember going into the Emergency Department and when I told the triage nurse that I thought I may be miscarrying she actually said to me, “Just keep trying!” and fist pumped in the air. Oh yes. She fist pumped the air. We didn’t even know for sure that this was the case, but this was the (uncomfortable?) reaction. And this was just the beginning of what I continued to experience. Next, the admitting clerk only wanted to talk about her holiday to Canada with me once she heard my Canadian accent. I wasn’t in the mood for cheery conversation and being excited for her. I’m not sure why I felt I needed to participate in that conversation. I kept moving.
The doctors I saw throughout were very medical and factual. There didn’t appear to be much compassion there. Some of the words they used were a bit cold and harsh, and although I was actually coping fine (and being a health practitioner myself I had some understanding of what they were trying to explain and do), I know that other women would not be ok with this treatment. Some of these doctors made an attempt at sympathy, but because I wasn’t bursting into tears in front of them, they probably thought I was just fine, or it wasn’t a big deal for me, so they got on with their work.
Fortunately, I was able to take time off from everything and rest, recover, and process this. But I then quickly found myself in this bizarre situation where I was no longer pregnant, and most people didn’t know I had been pregnant, much less experienced a miscarriage.
And I wondered, do I just pretend this never happened?
How can I pretend that nothing at all had happened and go on with normal life? We had something exciting happen to us. Unfortunately, it ended, but do we now keep this as a secret? Never mention it to anyone? Pretend my next pregnancy is my first? I decided I wouldn’t. I missed out on the joy of announcing our pregnancy to everyone because we were waiting for that ‘safe’ time (which doesn’t exist, by the way), and now I did not want to keep a secret anymore. I missed out on that joyful announcement. I love this post by Sarah Murnane, photographer and creator of the Australian Breastfeeding Project about her experience of miscarriage and ‘the announcement that never was’. It completely resonated with me. And when I shared it with my own explanation of what happened to me, there were so many similar stories out there.
So, I started to tell people what had happened. And the more people I told, the more stories came out about all the losses. People I had known for years told me about their miscarriages. They had kept it to themselves for years! Why do we do this? We seem to have a ridiculous taboo about pregnancy loss in our society, where women (and both partners, really) feel that this is not something that can be shared. That they must deal with it themselves and in isolation, without support. When you think about it, it’s actually quite silly! Most people I shared with were very interested to discuss it, and with some people, we talked about it at length and had really interesting conversations. With only very few people did I pick up that they were uncomfortable. We have a real discomfort when it comes to other people’s pain and loss.
I know I myself have felt that I didn’t know what to say to others when they have suffered a loss. Now I can appreciate a little bit what they may have been feeling.
I cannot tell you how many people said to me that it ‘happens for a reason’, it was ‘meant to be’, or at least now I know I can get pregnant. All of these lovely people were well-meaning, but I’m not sure this is the best thing to say to someone who has just lost a life. And even though with the passing of time I have actually come to some of those conclusions myself – and I truly do believe there is a reason and a lesson for everything that happens in life – it’s not really something you want to hear right in that moment. But being open about it really helped me process it all and move forward. Brené Brown, researcher and storyteller, has a great, funny video clip about the difference between empathy and sympathy, where she says empathy is a vulnerable choice, because in order to connect, you have to go a place within yourself where you know and experience that same feeling. Sympathy, on the other hand, is keeping yourself at arms length so you don’t have to experience it yourself, therefore creating a disconnection with that person. And that is exactly why I think we have a discomfort with other people’s pain and loss (in this case miscarriage), as a society. We don’t want to ‘go there’ ourselves. It makes complete sense.
As Brené says, an empathic response never begins with the words, ‘at least’. What we need to understand is that nothing you say is likely to make the situation better; what makes it feel better is connection. The best conversations I had were with people who just empathised, maybe asked some questions, and didn’t try to rationalise it or ‘silver lining’ it for me.
Thankfully, no one made any unknowingly hurtful remarks to me, as I’ve heard with others, telling them at least it wasn’t a ‘real’ baby yet, or to get over it or to move on. I remember hearing years and years ago about someone who lost her twins, and how her friends were annoyed that she talked about them a lot afterwards. At the time that meant nothing to me; but now I can understand that she was trying to process it and share a very real situation. Those lives existed. What was ‘annoying’ was that by talking about her losses, she was making others feel uncomfortable because they didn’t want to ‘go there’ themselves. People were too busy thinking about their discomfort talking about loss, and not about just being there for their friend so that she could grieve and remember her babies appropriately.
So, I talk about my miscarriage. Often. Well, at least when it is relevant and appropriate to bring it up. And I have great conversations with people. I’ve learned a lot about friends I’ve known for ages, and others who are new friends. I want to dissolve this ridiculous taboo that we have where we feel we must keep this as a shameful secret.
So what did I learn?
What could possibly be positive about miscarriage? This will be different for everyone, but for me…
- I got to be pregnant!
Although it was short-lived, I still got to experience the total elation of a positive pregnancy test, and all the fun sensations, changes, conversations and planning with my partner and others that go along with it. Some people say that you are a mother from the moment you are pregnant, whether that continues or not, so I now have that.
- Helpful supports and resources
The way I deal with these sorts of experiences in my life is to find resources that I think will help me process it and move forward. My personality demands I take some kind of action to make it ‘better’, so in this instance I found support and knowledge from women in a couple of online pregnancy loss groups. These women knew exactly what it was like, shared useful resources, and were overall extremely helpful to one another. Through a Facebook birth group I was also able to connect with someone who experienced loss at the exact same time as me, so we were able to talk to each about what we were experiencing and feeling while it was happening. This was invaluable.
- I’m a better practitioner. Again.
I mentioned earlier that dealing with my own troubles with fertility and conception helped me to be a better practitioner to my patients who were dealing with those issues, and now that I have experienced miscarriage, I have learned so much that will help me to understand my patients who have experienced miscarriages themselves. Not only do I have firsthand understanding, but this experience has provided me with more clinical knowledge than I had before – invaluable knowledge that I just wouldn’t have at this stage if I hadn’t gone through the whole experience myself.
- Reconnection and new understanding
I have a new respect for women who have experienced miscarriage; and not only the loss itself, but the secrecy and suffering in isolation that occurs along with it. I now have new knowledge of friends and acquaintances who have shared their own stories of miscarriage. This would probably never have come up if I hadn’t disclosed my own experience.
- A new purpose
Through all of this, I can see that the silence surrounding miscarriage is real, and this needs to change. We should be able to share with others and receive empathy and understanding. And this whole idea about waiting for a ‘safe’ time to share pregnancy news doesn’t really make sense. Share when you like! The very people you share with will be the ones who will provide support in your time of loss. There is no downside. I am determined to take miscarriage out of the shadows. We need to be able to talk about it.
- Confidence in the future
Having experienced and learned what I have, I am very hopeful for the future and what it may bring. I am looking forward to the excitement of another pregnancy, and you can be sure I will be sharing the news just as soon as I like this time! Someone told me that I should definitely wait until a ‘safe’ time next time around. Screw that! I missed out on that joy last time and I regret it, and I won’t keep quiet next time. It will always be a loss, but I’m doing fine now. I am now looking forward to everything that comes along with a new pregnancy and planning for birth.
I’m excited for the future – stay tuned!
If you have experienced pregnancy loss yourself, know that you are not alone, and there is so much support out there. Talk about it how and when you feel comfortable. Don’t feel that you need to keep it to yourself. And if you are pregnant, make that happy announcement whenever it suits YOU!
Support for miscarriage and loss:
- Sands Australia – Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Newborn Death Support – Sands supports bereaved parents 24/7 following a miscarriage, stillbirth or newborn death.
- Remembering Our Babies – pregnancy and infant loss group
- Bereaved Mum’s Support Group Australia – Facebook group
- Miscarriage & Pregnancy Loss – Facebook page
- Books to help cope with miscarriage and loss – compiled by Today’s Parent
*A version of this article appears in Birthings Magazine.
Yours in health,