*Trigger Warning* This post contains fairly graphic descriptions of miscarriage which some people may find upsetting. I especially wouldn’t recommend for anyone currently enjoying a healthy pregnancy.
The 9th to 15th October is Baby Loss Awareness Week. Miscarriage, like mental health, can be a subject surrounded by stigma and taboo. When a person dies, although obviously devastating, there is at least protocol to follow. There are clichés to say, funerals to arrange, home-cooked meals to bring round. However, when someone experiences a miscarriage or stillbirth people can often feel at a loss for what to say or how to support that person, and subsequently they often say nothing, inadvertently brushing aside the person’s grief. Even when we experience it ourselves we can feel the need to brush aside our own grief – afterall we didn’t know this baby, itt wasn’t a person yet. So why are we so upset?
But the grief you feel when you lose a pregnancy is devastating, heartbreaking and real. It’s a grief that’s completely unique too and often difficult for others to understand who have not been through it. This week is about helping more people to understand.
You may know that I experienced miscarriage for the first time back in May. It has been a horrible, tumultuous time comprising a confusing and devastating mixture of emotions. It’s something I was completely emotionally and physically unprepared for.
I’m not one to pull punches on this blog, I often share things about postnatal depression and anxiety that some would call oversharing. And maybe those people will think the same of this post too. But I feel it needs to be said. A lot of my miscarriage experience felt alien and shocking and I want to share what I’ve discovered so that someone else might feel more understood and less isolated.
Miscarriage can happen at any time
I experienced my miscarriage the day before my 12th week of pregnancy. After seeing a healthy heartbeat at eight weeks I, perhaps naively, assumed I was out of the woods. Although the majority of miscarriages do happen during the first few weeks it’s important to know that, tragically, a pregnancy can be lost at any time.
There’s no point worrying about miscarriage
I had a lot of anxiety about miscarriage when I was pregnant with Caterpillar and he was absolutely fine. Similarly, I was hugely worried about it this time too, and that baby wasn’t fine. My point is that worrying about miscarrying has no bearing on the chance of it happening so why bother? Despite the fact that I ultimately did miscarry, I actually wish I hadn’t worried about it so much and could have felt more relaxed for those few weeks.
You may feel guilt, shame and like you’ve let people down
Even though, logically, I knew the miscarriage wasn’t my fault I couldn’t help feeling guilt and – oddly – huge shame. This new baby was looked forward to, not only by my husband and I, but by our families too and I felt I had let others down by not being able to protect the pregnancy. This feeling is particularly poignant when I look at my son as I was so excited for him to have a sibling and that chance being taken away is sometimes unbearable.
Miscarriage may dent your confidence
This is an emotion I really wasn’t expecting to feel. In a very basic sense, procreating is something many women feel is a big purpose in their lives. We feel that being able to have children is an inherent part of our womanliness. So when that chance is ripped away you may feel a huge loss of confidence in yourself, and your body, which takes time to build back up.
You may not receive the support you need from medical professionals
Fortunately, the staff who dealt with us on the day of my miscarriage were quite sensitive to our feelings but I’ve heard from many others who weren’t so lucky in this regard. I think sometimes healthcare providers get caught up in the everyday nature of their roles and forget how much of a huge blow miscarriage can be to the families.
You may be shocked by how much blood there is & how large the clots are
Every miscarriage is different and depends on manyfactors – whether you pass the pregnancy naturally, how long it takes, how far along in the pregnancy you are etc. But for me the amount of blood and, particularly, clots was truly shocking. Every trip to the bathroom was terrifying and sometimes the feeling of passing the larger clots was enough to make me gasp out loud with surprise. You may feel you want to look at or even save the remains or, like me, you might be terrified of looking. Please remember neither feeling is wrong or right.
You may bleed for a long time
After the initial clots I continued to bleed fairly steadily for two more weeks. Although normal this was still shocking to me. I simply couldn’t understand how there was anything left! And, sadly, the bleeding does make the emotional side even more difficult as it’s a constant reminder of what is happening.
It may not be as painful as you expect
I always imagined miscarriage to be terribly painful. I’ve always suffered from period pain so thought it would be unbearable. For many it is very painful and they need to have that pain managed but for me it wasn’t anywhere near what I expected. I only had mild cramps which I managed with paracetamol.
You may need a further procedure
I’m extremely grateful to have miscarried naturally and completely. The wait to find out if you need medical or surgical intervention is difficult.
Your emotions may swing violently from one to another
The grief of miscarriage is a very strange beast. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions; one moment I feel almost fine and the next utterly devastated. This can be exhausting so make sure you rest when you can during this time.
You will be surprised by how many others have also suffered
I felt able to share my miscarriage with several friends and family and it surprised me how many admitted to experiencing it themselves. This provided some comfort and good support. Talking about your loss with someone who truly understands is really valuable and helpful.
You may wish to honour your baby in some way
We were lucky enough to have a scan photo from our eight week appointment so I keep that, my positive pregnancy tests and a special candle in a box. I plan to light the candle on the anniversary of the miscarriage and due date. Having these small items has given me a place to go when I need to cry or release pent up emotions.
You will mourn the child you never knew
The grief of miscarriage can be split into two parts for me. Firstly, you grieve the loss of the immediate future you had planned. This is very hard because it’s like the rug has been pulled from under you. I like to hope that this feeling may ease if we manage to have another successful pregnancy.
But secondly, you may also find yourself mourning that particular child. Even though we weren’t quite 12 weeks along and didn’t even know if the child was a boy or girl, I often still feel that stab of loss that I will never know what that child would look like or be like, that they will never be a part of our family. The curiosity about that person I’ll never know is probably the most upsetting part.
I think this is the grief that people sometimes don’t understand. People often say “well at least you can try again” and they assume this makes it okay. But, truthfully, we won’t ever be able to have that particularly baby in our arms even if we do fall pregnant again and that is a bereavement that has to be processed like any other.
It does get easier
Time heals, or certainly helps. Don’t forget, as well as a terrible sadness, miscarriage is also a horrible shock. And that shock can last several weeks.
However, every passing day since 6th May has made the loss ever so slightly more bearable. Of course I still have lots of sad moments but the initial heartbreak eases. A friend of mine who has experienced miscarriage herself told me “keep moving forward” and these three words have helped hugely. Try to immerse yourself in a project – perhaps work or a hobby – as distraction can be really helpful (as long as you are also allowing yourself those sad moments too). Planning for the future helps as well. Usually I advocate being present but in this situation looking forward to an upcoming trip or event can really help.
Miscarriage is a unique experience and everyone handles their emotions differently. But what’s important is that families are given the space to feel however they need to feel, and the support and love to keep them strong.
To find out more about Baby Loss Awareness Week visit The Miscarriage Association.