When I suggested writing an article on miscarriage the response was surprisingly positive given the associated pain and grief. It is a common experience that is little spoken of considering its impact on women and their partners’ lives. Getting pregnant, carrying a baby and giving birth is still an uncertain process with little direct control for the woman.
Every miscarriage is different and there is no ‘norm’, from the physical, mental to emotional experience. Having had two miscarriages – the first at 8 weeks before I had a child and the second at 16 weeks when my son was nearly 3 – I wanted to give a voice to some of the grief and emotion it brings and help those who are going through it, or their family and friends. I will share some of my personal experience in the hope it reassures and normalises a usually ‘hidden’ event, but know it is just one perspective.
A friend recently shared that she had had a miscarriage at 8 weeks before her second child, and that she had never found the right way or moment to even share this with her mother. She is by no means alone in this. Given miscarriage is most common before 12 weeks when the pregnancy is often still a secret, the miscarriage in turn can become a secret. This can be a very lonely, confusing and isolating experience and can affect how you feel through the following pregnancy and birth, but without others fully understanding this.
Whenever I have spoken about either miscarriage I have noticed how women who’ve also had one need to talk about their experience, even after 30years, and often with much emotion. It seems women often haven’t talked about it much and it is a relief and special to connect with another woman about their experience. This response can be hard if you are not ready to hear others stories, so talking to the Miscarriage Association or a counsellor can be easier.
The Physical Side
When I miscarried at 8 weeks I was shocked by the physicality of it and having never given birth before found the actual miscarriage quite traumatic as it felt like a mini birth. I was lucky enough to have my sister who is a GP present, but can imagine it might have been even scarier if it was just me and my husband, and also if I had not known it was going to happen as I had had a scan after spotting. The size and amount of blood clots (‘scuse the gore) was equally frightening and if it hadn’t been for a friend who reassured me it was normal and shared her own experience I would have been constantly back and forth to the Dr.
More recently, my later miscarriage was very much a birth with contractions all night. Having had a healthy son I felt I knew the process and what to expect which helped enormously, and I delivered the baby at home with only my husband present. It allowed me to see it as a natural process even though I needed medical help with the placenta and had an ERPC (a short operation where they clear out any leftover products of conception) two and a half weeks later.
Personally, I have found the impact on my body and weight hard to handle, as you go through all the usual hormone changes, weight gain and possibly morning sickness, yet then have to deal with grief rather than a new baby. For me this has meant comfort eating with yet more weight gain and a real sense of losing control of my body. Whether you eat or lose your appetite in response to the loss, there can be a real challenge around trusting your body again.
The Emotional Side
Grief affects us all differently and it is very rare following a miscarriage for women and their partners to feel the same way at the same time. Men can feel much removed as they have no tangible experience of the pregnancy apart from perhaps a scan and their partner being emotional, tired and/or sick. Women in contrast experience the loss physically and may have built up a strong relationship with the baby growing within them. If it’s taken time to get pregnant it may already have been a stressful journey, and tough on the relationship, even before the miscarriage. One area where couples can more easily grieve together is over the expectations and dreams that they had for the baby and their family, though even here a couple may find it hard to talk about these together.
For me, grief includes periods of numbness, apathy, weeping uncontrollably, exhaustion and overwhelm. It comes in waves that build up and then hit. Time and talking helps and I have talked to family, friends and counsellors to grieve and manage the aftermath. I found miscarrying before I had a child left me feeling particularly isolated as I only knew a few mothers to talk to and did not feel seen as a mother, even though I felt one and had started on the journey.
Support & Future Pregnancies
You don’t have to handle it on your own. There are resources and people to talk to at different stages including your GP, midwife, counsellors, the early pregnancy clinics, alternative/holistic therapists the Miscarriage Association and NCT experience database.
When to try again can be difficult as one partner often feels ready before the other, and sometimes with intense urgency, especially where it took time to conceive. For me, first time round getting pregnant fairly quickly felt right and helped whilst this time round it feels hard to even think about getting pregnant again and face the uncertainty of it all. Future pregnancies naturally bring more anxiety and you can always ask for an early scan(s) and later on consider hiring or buying a heart monitor (this really reassured and relaxed me). And if you have more than one miscarriage its worth pushing for additional support.
Of course these little lives that aren’t meant to be with us for long can bring many realisations and gifts, as we experienced recently with our Leo, from bringing couples closer together, deepening friendships to appreciating life and what you have.
Wishing you all happy, healthy pregnancies and babies, and where things don’t go as planned the support and time to find your way through with your partner.