The Unspoken Hurt of a Miscarriage
This month we were expecting to welcome a new baby into our family
Column by Lara Protheroe
The morning of our eagerly anticipated twelve-week scan we planned to take Luther to toddler football. We had had an uncertain week, during which we hoped that the (inconclusive) signs did not indicate the worst. But on some level I think I knew; the utter exhaustion that accompanies the first few months of gestation had vanished and I simply stopped feeling pregnant. We weren’t even en route to football by the time the pains kicked in and we headed straight to A&E.
I queued alone to be checked in whilst Luther and The Papa Gorilla went off to park the car. I ended up prostrate in pain on the floor and finally knew for sure that it was all over. I left the waiting area and raced to the bathroom; a kind nurse grabbed me, loaded me into a wheelchair and I was soon hooked up in an emergency bay where I was joined by my boys. I was met with great kindness and support, but there is no halting nature’s progress and my tiny miracle was removed in due course and placed in a jar.
Three months of pregnancy and the roots of attachment grow deep. We’d talked new sleeping set-up arrangements, names, changes of plans for late Summer holidays. I had dusted off maternity clothing to allow for the growing bump. You start to readjust in the most fantastic way and to love the new life you are nurturing.
It had all seemed so perfect: a baby conceived at Christmas, long summer days of blissful pregnancy to look forward to, a September baby more than ready for school when the time came… would Luther have a brother or sister? I was so excited about it all.
We asked the hospital to return the baby’s tiny body to us once they had finished their mandatory testing; a seemingly somewhat unusual request that was nevertheless handled with the utmost sensitivity.
We buried our little miracle in the garden. It was bitterly cold and had been snowing all week. We planted some large purple crocuses above the tiny cardboard coffin and sobbed into each other. The burial was a significant step in the process of coming to terms with the loss, and I take comfort in knowing that the baby was lovingly laid to rest close to where we gather as a family to eat, and right by where Luther so frequently and gleefully plays.
The loss had many consequences, either more or less predictable. I held Luther a little closer for a little longer each night whilst he slept and I counted my blessings, which are many, to stem the flow of grief. Travelling by car became nearly impossible in the weeks following the loss; I was fighting anxiety throughout any journey and just couldn’t calm myself down. Any number of routine daily activities might be interrupted by intrusive thoughts of what if: what if I did something to cause this, what stage would we be at now if we hadn’t lost the baby, what if we can’t manage to have another baby, what if what if…
Time is a great healer, but six months on I don’t feel all that different from how I did once the initial shock had passed. The pocket of pain and aching loss sits rooted in my stomach; and maybe it will never leave. I am sharing these feelings openly not to seek pity nor to create drama, but because I share my life in my column and this – sadly – is the stuff of life; not only for me and for my family but for countless other women and families.
Miscarriage remains one of our society’s great taboos. We inevitably immerse ourselves in an Insta-perfect world where pregnancy is all about effortless fertility, elegant maternity dresses and zero-stress delivery, none of which does anything to support those who have suffered a loss (or indeed many losses) and yet feel that they must keep silent. With silence in loss come inherent loneliness and shame – unjustified, undeserved, insidious and potentially deeply harmful.
I can guarantee you one thing: many more women than you think have experienced miscarriage. Some – perhaps many – of these women may be your friends, or even family members. People you really care about. People you would want to love and support through all the highs and lows of life. They may have been through any or all of the pain and the loss and the doubt and despair and self-questioning and grief and mourning and aching loss and a hundred other distressing and destructive emotions that miscarriage can bring; and you don’t even know.
A study by Imperial College London found that four in ten women described symptoms consistent with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) three months after their loss. Unless as a society we are prepared to recognise that miscarriage is a thing then we cannot even begin to offer adequate understanding and support.
New Zealand has recently decided to look at paid miscarriage leave for both parents, and one of the key drivers behind the proposed legislation – beyond the clear need for parents to grieve together and process their loss – is the need to bring miscarriage out from behind closed (and firmly bolted) doors and out into the open in the national consciousness.
Musician Carrie Underwood and actor James Van Der Beek have both recently spoken out publicly about the trauma of miscarriage; and yet they seemingly only felt able to do so having successfully brought other children living into the world. I am not detracting in any way from their experiences, but rather questioning whether they would have even felt able to share their emotions relating to miscarriage if they had not also experienced this “success.”
I do not sit in judgement: I myself am the proud mother to a wonderful son. I know what comfort this brings me as I grieve for my baby, and do not know whether I would have the strength to talk about this loss if Luther wasn’t there bolstering me in the background. But it doesn’t mean that it should be this way. You can lose the only child you have ever carried – even before they are ever born – and yet still be and remain a parent.
Six months after the horror of miscarriage I was so hoping I’d be expecting another baby; not as a remedy nor a replacement, but simply a shift of focus and a new channel for my maternity. I was offered an AVA bracelet to try and am now using AVA to track not only my cycle but all manner of other metrics.
I am something of a technophobe, so wasn’t initially entirely sold on the idea of having my temperature and heartbeat recorded by a wrist-mounted gizmo, but now I’m into the swing of things I’m really enjoying the sense of control and self-awareness that this is providing.
The bracelet is comfortable and only worn at night, taking its readings whilst you sleep. It keeps its watchful eye on heart rate, sleep phases and temperature (amongst other things) and processes all the data that it gathers to tell you the five days when you are most likely to be able to conceive. This is of course coupled with all possible efforts to lead a healthy, nutritious and calm life, so as to maximize the chances of conceiving on those five days – now more precious than ever.
We continue to live in hope that we will conceive another child and expand our family; but for now I am focusing primarily on being the best mother and wife I can be, never forgetting nor denying our precious baby – who was never born – nor the pain of that life lost; but counting my blessings be they past, present or future.