Since I posted my blog last week, the response has been completely overwhelming. Your messages in my inbox, my emails and the words from friends were completely heartening and uplifting. There was one particular mother who completely blew me away and now she is writing this blog for all my amazing Bellies & Beyond followers. We mothers are so tough on ourselves and feel threatened by anything perceived as weakness and this makes our struggles even greater. Lets stop pushing all these issues underground and speak up to help heal ourselves and others.
…After recently reading a blog by an inspirational mum who ‘came out’ about experiencing PND after the birth of her second child I felt moved to write about another stigma, one, that if more openly discussed would empower the women experiencing emotions that are associated with infertility , miscarriage and stillbirth to feel somewhat normal.
A couple of nights ago on New Year’s Eve as I was clearing up from dinner, a loud raucous affair with family and friends I casually remarked that it had been 12 years to the day that I had experienced my first miscarriage. My announcement was met with a combination of silence and some very quick subject changing. It appeared that even my closest family and friends were not going to go there. Inappropriate party discussion? Or inappropriate altogether? Seems mystifying when 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in miscarriage. My first miscarriage unfortunately was not my last and after my second child was born I experienced another 9 miscarriages. 3 years of my life disappeared in a fog of grief and loss. Friendships were lost, others strengthened but through it all I was unable to share with anyone just how devastated and diminished I was.
Most women who experience miscarriage or infertility will do so in an environment of perceived baby making bliss. Friends, sisters and cousins will seamlessly be conceiving carrying and delivering healthy beautiful babies, what nobody talks about is how long it took to conceive these precious bundles nor of how many babies might have been lost along the way.
Miscarriage is still one of society’s greatest sources of disenfranchised grief. Maybe it is because no one really knows what causes a miscarriage often leaving the woman feeling that it is something that she must have done From a personal and a professional level I have both experienced and seen women finding bizarre and outlandish reasons to explain why they miscarried, perhaps the best ‘worst’ reason was the woman who knew she had eaten 1 too many bags of twisties in the early days of her pregnancy. As a counsellor now and having worked through years of pain myself, I can confidently say that no one sets out to miscarry and that when it happens there is nothing to be ashamed of. So why then does no one talk about how they feel when their baby dies? I wish someone would have spoken to me and told me that feeling utter despair, gut wrenching sadness and impassioned anger was all normal. Why did no one reach out and tell me that they understood that I was fragile, that they could empathise with my belief that I would never have another baby that they could understand that my confidence was gone but that one day with time it would not feel so bleak. Is it because as a society we cannot cope with other people’s pain or is it a lack of education that prevents people from responding helpfully?
When an old or sick person dies there are phrases that can be delivered to loved ones to make them feel better – ‘They have gone to a better place”, “they are no longer suffering”, “they lived a good life” and on and on but when a pregnancy ends or a baby dies these phrases are inappropriate and for the most part are replaced with platitudes that are useless to the grieving parent, – :it wasn’t meant to be”, “it’s better now than later”, “there must have been a problem”, “it’s god’s way” … I can tell you having heard them all and then some these one liners are unhelpful and offer no support or solace. I know that I cannot revolutionise the stigma surrounding miscarriage but for anyone reading this on either side of the fence here is some advice.
If you have had a miscarriage…
- It’s OK to feel completely devastated
- It’s OK to hide away from well-meaning family and friends and give yourself space to process and grieve your loss. You have not only lost your baby but all the hopes and dreams that you had for your child.
- It’s OK to be the green eyed monster and be jealous of anyone who has a baby or announces a new pregnancy
- It’s OK to have days where all you do is cry even a few months after the miscarriage
- It’s OK to feel disconnected from your other children, this does not make you a bad parent
- It’s OK to grieve differently to your partner and to let them know that you are not coping
- It’s OK to get ridiculously angry for no reason at all
- It’s OK to feel like you need to control every other aspect of your life
- It’s OK to question why this happened to you
- It’s OK to lose your confidence in other areas of your life
- It’s OK to feel like a failure as a woman
- It’s OK to believe that you will never have a baby
- It’s OK to be obsessed with conceiving another baby
- It’s OK to never want to try and have another baby
- It’s OK to want to obsessively hold and cuddle other people’s babies
- It’s OK to not want to even look at anyone else’s baby
- It’s OK to want someone to guarantee that it will never happen again
- It’s OK to feel completely out of control when no one can do this
- It’s OK to feel none of the above and to move on from the experience with little effect to your life
For most people a miscarriage or a stillbirth (pregnancy that ends after 20 weeks) is a devastating event, unfortunately for people who have not been through something similar it is hard to understand how you can be devastated or miss someone that you never even knew. If you are reading this as a support person here are some suggestions for things to say and do and also some advice on what is unhelpful. -:
- Offer practical support, cooking, cleaning and looking after other children
- Listen without feeling like you need to say something to take the pain away (there is nothing that you can say)
- Avoid platitudes, no parent who has lost a pregnancy feels like it was for the best
- Don’t force the person to do things like go shopping because you think that they need to get out of the house
- Don’t panic if it feels like all they do is cry, grief and depression are NOT the same thing and most people who experience a miscarriage or stillbirth will not become depressed
- Don’t avoid talking about the pregnancy in case you upset them, they are upset anyway
- Don’t offer helpful suggestions of what they could do differently next time it only serves to reinforce the feeling that they did something wrong this time
- Don’t force them to move on, most people do so anyway but for everyone the time that this takes is different
- Don’t feel like you have to announce other peoples’ pregnancies, eventually they will hear about their friends’ pregnancies – you cannot protect them from the pain.
- Encourage them to seek professional counselling help, sometimes just 1 or 2 sessions with a professional who understands can be invaluable.
Whilst the above lists are comprehensive they are by no means exhaustive. We are all individuals and will process the emotions surrounding devastating experiences differently. If I have learnt anything on my journey it is that no 2 people are the same, no one can share in exactly how you are feeling and no one can tell you that everything will be ok. I do know unequivocally though that time is a great healer and that experiencing sadness reinforces resilience, I also know without a doubt that if more people shared honestly about their experiences of miscarriage there would be less stigma surrounding what is a common everyday experience when you are trying to have a baby.
Terry Diamond is a 41 year old mum of 3. After experiencing many years of secondary infertility and loss she returned to study counselling in the hope that she could help other women experiencing similar problems. She has worked as a bereavement counsellor in the infertility and loss field for 5 years dealing specifically with pregnancy loss from conception to the age of 6. She works in private practice in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs and can be contacted on 0414990243