Why We Need to Talk About Miscarriage
Two months before I was diagnosed with my ectopic pregnancy, I had a miscarriage.
(So, yeah, when I’ve described 2016 as a ‘bad year’, I really wasn’t exaggerating. And when I tell you that losing two pregnancies in the space of two months was definitely the worst thing that happened to me this year, but it was far from the only bad thing that happened, you’ll maybe come a little closer to understanding why there’s been so much vagueblogging, and so many references to Things That Cannot Be Mentioned on this blog lately….)
(Also, I’m sure this is obvious from the title, but, again, this post contains triggers, and if you suffer from health anxiety, or are pregnant/hoping to become pregnant, please don’t read any further!)
I was just under seven weeks along when it happened, and I’d only known about the pregnancy for three of those weeks. I don’t think ‘lucky’ is a word that can really ever be applied to something like this, but, physically at least, my miscarriage was a fairly straightforward one. As it happened at such an early stage, I didn’t require any medical intervention – to be honest, I didn’t even have any real pain. Physically, I got off lightly: it could have been a whole lot worse.
Emotionally, though, it was the worst thing that had ever happened to me: I hadn’t even known it was possible to feel so bad. I’ve never had much of a maternal instinct: in fact, Terry and I had gone through almost ten years of marriage without even considering the possibility of starting a family. It wasn’t something we’d ever wanted, and even if it had been, I was convinced that my health anxiety would make pregnancy and childbirth impossible for me to even contemplate. And we were fine with that: really.
As time went on, however, and my 40th birthday approached, we DID start to contemplate it. I don’t really believe in the concept of a ‘biological clock’, and I can say with all honesty that there was never a moment when I thought, ‘OMG, I want a baby, and I want one NOW!’ As my friends started to have children of their own, though, and as I spent more and more time with those children, I gradually realised that my views on parenthood had started to change: and so had Terry’s. Now, rather than thinking, ‘No way, never!’, we found ourselves wondering, ‘What if…?’
There is obviously much more to say on this subject, but suffice to say that earlier this year, and at a time when I’d been anxiety-free for several years, and really felt I had I had my health anxiety under control, we made the decision that I would come off birth control, and just see what happened.
In all honesty, we didn’t really think ANYTHING would happen – and we were fine with that, too. One of the fun side-effects of health anxiety is a complete lack of trust in your own body. Despite being one of the healthiest people I knew, I’d spent my entire life convinced that I would not be able to get pregnant – and that, if I did, something would go horribly wrong (ectopic pregnancy was always at the top of my ‘Things to Worry About’ list, although miscarriage was a close second), and that it would kill me. I was so convinced that these things would happen that it took years of talking and thinking about it before we made the decision to give it a go – and then many more months of worrying about whether the decision was the right one.
To make a long story very slightly shorter, then, I viewed pregnancy as a huge, huge risk – an act of bravery so incomprehensible to me that I found it amazing that anyone was willing to risk it at all. Somehow, though, I decided I was willing to take that risk – and even now, I don’t really know where that courage came from.
Two months later, I was pregnant.
And I was delighted.
Which just goes to show what I know, huh?
I knew about that pregnancy for just three weeks, and while I won’t pretend I wasn’t scared, I was absolutely amazed – as was Terry – by how well I handled it. I did not panic, or fall to pieces: I did choose to pay for an early private scan, as the NHS won’t normally offer one until 12 weeks here, and I was absolutely convinced that I was doomed to have an ectopic pregnancy, which I wanted to catch as quickly as possible.
Everything looked normal at that scan though: the embryo could clearly be seen, and was exactly where it should have been, so I left feeling reassured that my body seemed to know what it was doing, and that all would be well. (As you know, it turned out that I WAS doomed to have an ectopic pregnancy… just not that time.). I knew the risks of miscarriage were still high, but the fact that I’d gotten pregnant so easily (Which seemed like something of a miracle, considering my age, and the fact that I’d been on birth control for over a decade), gave me a level of faith in my body that I’d never had before. For the first time in my life, I was hopeful that things might work out: that I HAD this, and that I was going to be OK.
Exactly three weeks to the day I found out I was pregnant, I miscarried. And I have never known a pain like it.
I feel almost embarrassed to say this: not because I don’t think miscarriage is a sad or traumatic time, but because I know people – many, many, people – who have had it so much worse, and I don’t want them to read this and think I’m trying to pretend I’m the only person in the world who’s ever gone through this. Here’s the thing, though:
At the time, I really felt like I was.
I mean, I knew the statistics. I’d read the book (In Scotland, when you find out you’re pregnant, the NHS gives you a book with the cringe-worthy title, ‘Ready, Steady, Baby!’ – which makes you feel a bit like you’re about to take part in some strange kind of reality TV show, as opposed to gestating a live human…) and the websites. I’d downloaded all of the pregnancy apps, and I thought I knew what I was up against. What all of those stats tell you is that 1 in 4 pregnancies will end in miscarriage: what most healthcare professionals will privately tell you is that, due to the under-reporting of early miscarriage, the reality is likely to be double that. Last week, I was told that, for my age group, it’s basically a 50/50 chance: it’s SO common that, in our area, they won’t even begin testing for possible issues until you’ve had at least three consecutive miscarriages – until then, they’ll tell you (as nicely as possible) that it’s probably just “bad luck”. Understatement of the century, huh?
This is what the stats tell you. The problem with statistics, however, is that they can be so easily contradicted by the evidence you see around you, and, in my case, what I was seeing around me told a very different story indeed. Miscarriage, you see, is incredibly common. Talking about miscarriage, on the other hand, is incredibly rare. To put this in context, almost every single woman I know, or have met, has at least once child. Out of all of those women – friends, family, even just passing acquaintances – I knew of only three who’d had miscarriages. That isn’t a stat of 50%: it’s not even 1 in 4. In fact, while I’m no mathematician, and I can’t even work out how many hundreds (maybe even thousands) of women I’m talking about here, I’d estimate the miscarriage rate amongst women of my acquaintance (that I knew about at the time) was probably more like 1 in 500.
The statistics told me that miscarriage was very, very common. The evidence I saw before me, however, told me that miscarriage was, in fact, incredibly rare: so rare that even I, with the weight of a lifetime of health anxiety behind me, was totally unprepared for it to happen – for me to be that one in 500 who would beat the odds and completely fail to do what every women I knew had apparently managed without any difficulty whatsoever.
I felt like a failure – a freak of nature. I’m agnostic, and have never believed in fate, but in the days and weeks that followed my miscarriage, I truly felt victimised: as if the universe had somehow set out to punish me – for what, I couldn’t imagine. Had I done something wrong? Did I somehow deserve this? Was it my age, my anxiety, the fact that I hadn’t been 100% sure – or not until I got the positive pregnancy test, at least – that I was doing the right thing? The hospital told me that I’d done nothing wrong, that it was ‘just one of those things’ – but still I felt so totally alone, that there were days when I literally thought I would never get over it: that it had changed me so completely that I would spend the rest of my life carrying this weight of grief that I could never, ever shake.
Terry and I had not allowed ourselves to REALLY hope that the pregnancy would work out: we’d always known there was a chance it wouldn’t, but even so, the moment we knew it was over, we lost an entire future that might have been ours, and the only way we could think of to try and fix it, and to regain that lost hope, was to try again as soon as possible.
We didn’t talk about any of this at the time: other than to each other, I mean. Terry urged me to tell our friends and families, and to write about it here on my blog: he thought it would help me. At the time, I didn’t believe him: for one thing, I was literally unable to talk about it without bursting into tears, and for another, I just couldn’t see how it could possibly help. I still felt like a freak: like the only one who had failed so completely to do this totally normal thing, and while I DO know people who have dealt with infertility, or very serious illnesses, I felt it would be crass to compare a 7 week miscarriage to years and years of infertility, or to invasive, life-threatening procedures. I still feel like that, to an extent: I know that there are many people out there who’ve gone through far worse experiences than I have, and I don’t want to diminish those experiences by making this all about ME, or by implying that I alone know what it’s like, because I don’t. Not by a long shot.
Above all, I didn’t want miscarriage to define me: to be the one thing people would think of every time they saw me. I didn’t want anyone to feel awkward. People don’t know what to say when faced with something like this: because, after all, there’s nothing you really CAN say, is there? I knew everyone would be kind and compassionate: that they would do their absolute best to help me, and that I would be grateful for that. I also, however, knew that I would likely burst into tears at the first kind word, and who wants to put people through THAT? I imagined my friends, all getting ready for some imagined meet-up, and thinking, “Oh God, do you think Amber will be there? What do we say, if she is? Should we mention it? Should we NOT mention it? What if she starts crying again?” I thought all of this because I knew that’s how I would feel, were the situation reversed: it’s human nature, isn’t it?
So, rather than being honest about what had happened, I just carried on as normal. I kept working, kept blogging, kept scrolling quickly past the photos that we’d taken when I was still pregnant, and which I can only now look at again without wanting to cry. Gradually, I got better. I don’t think miscarriage is something you get OVER, exactly, but I did start to heal. I started to feel more like my old self. And then, just two months after that miscarriage, I found out I was pregnant again.
Talk about bad luck, hey?
This time around, I knew right from the start that there was something very wrong, and that I would likely have another miscarriage. Initially, I wasn’t going to write about that either: it would have been another set of vague-blogs, another few cancelled appointments with friends and families, and a whole ton of lies to try to explain why I’ve been such a bad friend and mediocre blogger (er, more so than usual) this year. When I found out there was a possibility of surgery, however, I knew I couldn’t hide that: and that I didn’t want to. As I mentioned in my ‘Dark Passenger’ post, we felt it would be wrong not to tell the people closest to us what was going on, so we did: and what happened next is the reason I’m writing this post – and will keep writing and talking about this subject for as long as I need to.
We have to be able to talk about miscarriage.
We have to learn how to push past the embarrassment and the fear, and speak openly about pregnancy loss, because here’s what I’ve learned over the last few days:
I am not alone: and you’re not either.
In the 12 hours or so after we told people our news, I received dozens and dozens of messages from friends and family members: many of them sharing their own stories, and telling me that they, too, had gone through the same things (both the miscarriage AND the ectopic pregnancy – which I’d assumed was even MORE rare than miscarriage, and made me even MORE of a freak for a having one), and had felt EXACTLY the same things I did. They had felt lonely, isolated and afraid. They had felt like they were the only people in the world to have gone through this: had looked at all of the pregnant women around them – at all of the newborn babies, and the happy, smiling, parents, and thought, ‘Why me? What did I do wrong? Why did my body fail me?’
Like me, they had read the statistics, and, like me, they’d thought they didn’t really apply, because the secrecy which surrounds pregnancy loss is so engrained that it’s easy to believe it’s something very rare, and extremely unlikely. The NHS tells you there’s a 1 in four chance of miscarriage with every single pregnancy: your life experience (if it’s anything like mine and my friends’) tells you that, nah, that’s not really true, is it? So if it DOES happen, you feel totally alone – when the reality is that you’re anything but.
I read these messages from my friends, and I cried for most of the day, knowing that people close to me had gone through the same experience I had, and had been unable to talk about it. It’s not fair. It’s not right. And, as hard as it is, it has to change.
We have to talk about miscarriage.
For many women, it’s a sad fact of life: and if it happens, it’s so debilitating and all-consuming that it feels almost impossible to survive. I’m not writing this to scare anyone, and I want to be very, very clear about that: yes, miscarriage is common, but it is NOT a certainty, and, for most people, the chances are high that everything really WILL be absolutely fine. In fact, if you’re young and healthy, the chances of you having a normal, risk-free pregnancy are far higher than the chances of you miscarrying – and that’s something to hold on to, and take hope from.
For those of you who do, unfortunately, find yourself dealing with miscarriage, though, I want you to know that you’re not alone. You might not think you know anyone else who’s gone through this, but here’s the thing: you know me. And if you need to talk, vent, or just know there’s someone out there who understands, I want you to know that you can contact me any time, and I really mean that.
I also want you to know that, in the majority of the cases I now know about, there IS, in fact, a happy ending. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case for Terry and I, and that’s something we will have to deal with in the days and months to come. But you? You’re not alone. You GOT this. And, if these past few months have taught me anything, it’s that there are people out there willing to do anything they can to help: I hope you’ll consider me to be one of them.