Miscarriage can be an intensely isolating experience – and for me, it became progressively more lonely as I endured six in a row.
Last week, Jools Oliver opened up about her experience of having five miscarriages, including a recent one in lockdown. She admitted that she hadn’t told her family about each loss, saying she didn’t want to worry them, and instead wanted to ‘just… carry on’.
I recognised that mindset, because I felt it too.
My first pregnancy went ahead without a problem and our eldest son was born in 2011.
Then, 18 months later, we decided we wanted him to have a little brother or sister. We started trying for another baby, and that’s when I had my first miscarriage.
It happened early in the pregnancy, at eight weeks, and I responded in a very practical way. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, but I understood logically that not all pregnancies are destined to survive. Although I didn’t know women who had had miscarriages, I knew that they were relatively common, so it didn’t take me by surprise.
Nobody around me knew I had been pregnant in the first place, except my husband – conventional wisdom says you don’t tell people you’re pregnant until you’re 12 weeks – so I didn’t tell many people about our loss either.
I just carried on, thinking it hadn’t worked out, but that was OK. Since my first pregnancy had been uneventful, I wasn’t particularly worried it would happen again.
In 2013, I had two more miscarriages, each time at seven or eight weeks. I began to know what to expect with a miscarriage. By now, early pregnancy felt uncertain and, apart from my husband, I kept my worry to myself. In general though, I still felt happy to keep trying, and confident everything would work out in the end.
The fourth miscarriage was different. It coincided with a promotion at work and this time I found I couldn’t ‘just carry on’ any more. Emotionally, It knocked me over like a wave.
The effort it took to put on a brave face at work and social events would leave me drained
It felt like, suddenly, I had all four miscarriages at once. Almost overnight, I went from being a happy mother, wife, friend and colleague, to suffering from anxiety to the point where I couldn’t really function. I would drop my three-year-old son at nursery and I would get into the car and sob. It would take me half an hour to recover enough to drive home.
I was lucky to have a supportive husband and family around me, but even so, I didn’t feel like I could talk openly about what I was going through. Instead, I would wear a mask, presenting a happy exterior to the world. That took so much energy.
Putting on a brave face left me drained. I pulled myself together to attend a family wedding, I smiled and danced, in part to reassure my family I was OK, but this left me exhausted and tearful for days afterwards.
Despite the pain of the fourth miscarriage, I was determined to keep trying. I had a powerful desire to provide a sibling for my son, and a bit of relentless optimism that if I carried on, it would eventually happen.
I realised that if I was to keep trying, I had to tell my friends and family as soon as I became pregnant, rather than waiting until 12 weeks, because I would need their support if I lost another baby.
So the fifth time I got a positive pregnancy test in three years, I told my mum and my closest friends straight away.
The fifth miscarriage was awful. I’d got to 10 weeks, and started to feel hope. It was nearly Christmas, and one evening we went to dinner at a friend’s house. My not drinking was noticed, and we told our friends that my scan was the next day. Everyone fell silent, because we all knew it was too soon to say ‘congratulations’.
The following day, at the scan we learnt there was no heartbeat. I spent the Christmas holiday trying to smile for my son and our visitors, while waiting for the inevitable bleeding and pain to start.
I joined online support groups, and began seeing a counsellor who specialised in grieving. I had been feeling like I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to feel grief, because I hadn’t lost people, but pregnancies. The counsellor helped me to understand that we can grieve for the loss of a hope, and that I was mourning the dream of a sibling for my son. That was really significant.
I began to see a pregnancy as a tiny spark of hope, and a miscarriage was the spark being extinguished.
I also had an excellent GP. He was supportive of both my mental health, and my continued pursuit of a second child. I used the Miscarriage Association website, and read up about clinical trials.
My heart and my head were so fragile that even the kindest and most well-intentioned friend or relative would inadvertently say something which would make me crumble
Having the support of my husband, my GP, friends and family helped me get through the dark days. But after the sixth loss, I had to acknowledge the escalating cost to my mental health of getting pregnant. My anxiety was worse than ever, and I had responsibilities, especially to my son. So, after six losses, my husband and I decided to take a break from trying.
During the following year, I changed jobs, taking a role with fewer hours and less responsibility. I did a course in Buddhism, got some chickens, volunteered with a charity that supports refugees, and spent quality time with family. Gradually, my mental health improved.
After a year, I felt more resilient, and we started trying again. I soon became pregnant with my second son.
Inevitably, that pregnancy was not a relaxing experience – I think the people around me were even more worried than I was. My mum came with me to an early scan and we cried with joy when there was a heartbeat. (Another misery of recurrent miscarriage: I’d got to the point where it didn’t feel worth asking my husband taking the time off work for a scan).
Fortunately, the pregnancy was uneventful. The 20 week scan marked a turning point, and I started to feel normal again. In October 2016, after four years of trying, our lovely little boy was born. We were all overjoyed.
Going through a miscarriage can feel so lonely – especially when we don’t normally talk about the early stages of pregnancy openly with family and friends. For me, talking about the grief in online support groups was a game changer.
My heart and my head were so fragile that even the kindest and most well-intentioned friend or relative would inadvertently say something that would make me crumble.
At any given time there are many women suffering pregnancy loss. I found the love and solidarity among those women was a powerful and nurturing force.
My miscarriages gave me an experience of how dark things can become for women who are going through this. I hope that by talking about what I experienced, it can show that this is not something you have to go through alone.
You can find support via the Miscarriage Association here.
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