Miscarriage is a lot like a death without mourning. No one wants to talk about it – it’s like society’s last taboo. And I thought I knew a bit about dealing with grief, having lost my father to cancer in my late 20s, but nothing prepared me for the gut-wrenching shock and devastation of my first miscarriage.
When – close to the magical, all-important 12-week “safe” mark – I started to bleed and then doctors couldn’t find our baby’s heartbeat, I felt absolutely gutted. Sure, I knew miscarriage was common – it affects up to one in four women – but at 36, I was still utterly unprepared for it to happen to me.
“It’s probably your ageing eggs,” explained the ER doctor, unhelpfully, but not unkindly. “But it happens to women of all ages, all the time. Next time, we’ll see you in the labour ward with a healthy baby.”
As we left the hospital, me clutching the pink teddy bear they give to the bereaved, I didn’t believe that doctor for a second. I felt nothing but deep sadness and hopeless, dark despair. I did not see this coming – my husband and I had already prepared the nursery for our much-wanted child. Our hopes and dreams… Cruelly gone.
And I was traumatised, as was my husband, by seeing the images of our dead foetus on the ultrasound scan. These images would continue to haunt me, for months to come, both during the daylight and in my nightmares about the miscarriage.
And then there was the unfortunate timing – the miscarriage occurred the day before my husband’s 40th birthday. We’d actually been out at a top restaurant celebrating this milestone over a long, lavish lunch just prior to the ordeal. I first noticed I was bleeding in the restaurant toilets.
I felt like I’d failed my husband and myself. I was angry at my body – and the world. It took me months to fully physically recover from the miscarriage, as is typical, after I needed an emergency D&C when my body couldn’t expel our baby naturally, as it was too far along.
But the emotional and mental scars were far worse. Aside from the horrors of having to wait almost 24 hours for an emergency D&C at our local hospital; a cold, insensitive and unthinking young obstetrician calling the procedure a “sucky-out machine” (I kid you not!); I was my own worst nightmare.
I constantly headf***ed myself with endless “what-ifs”, which was both pointless and endlessly exhausting. What if that was our only baby? What if I’m too old to have another? What if I did something wrong?
Grief is a funny thing. You can think you’re over it and have properly mourned the loss and dealt with it, only to have something trigger fresh, new pain. It’s kind of like a scab that keeps getting picked at, drawing fresh blood. I took up boxing, kickboxing and yoga with gusto with which to busy myself and help me heal.
And prepare yourself sisters, for if you’re ever unlucky enough to suffer a miscarriage, people will want and need you to be OK again quickly. There is no time for mourning. Society doesn’t seem equipped to deal with parents’ grief, so we rush people’s healing along, thinking it helps them. It doesn’t. There’s no funeral, no acceptable grieving period when you miscarry.
Your much-wanted, precious baby has died, but countless well-meaning people will say to you: “Oh well, it was for the best,” or this other clanger, “At least the baby died early.” Or, “I know how you must be feeling: my grandma died…” or my other favourite: “It just wasn’t meant to be. Will you start trying again soon?”
None of this helps you, in the midst of your pain. And, wanting to please my loved ones, I hurried my pain along, willing it to end, so desperately wanting to be OK.
I returned to a very busy job a week after my D&C, when my head and heart were still breaking, with colleagues nervously eyeing me with a mixture of sympathy and awkwardness. I had a job to do; there was no time or space to not perform at my best.
Happily, with good love and support from each other, our family and friends, my husband and I recovered well and conceived a healthy baby girl just four months later. Our second gorgeous, healthy baby girl was born just 18 months after the first, following a very early miscarriage at six weeks. This was much, much less of a shock and far easier to cope with given it was so early and we already had one beautiful child.
Naturally, I was anxious every second, minute, hour of every day of both pregnancies until we got the all-clear at both the six-week and 12-week scans, but life had ultimately been very kind to us. For in the end, we got not one, but two much-wanted, precious healthy babies.
- October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month
- One in four parents experience the loss of a baby in Australia
- October 15 is International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. It’s a day where families across the globe are asked to light a candle in remembrance of their baby whose life was too short due to miscarriage, stillbirth or postnatal causes. For more information, visit http://15october.com.au or http://www.pregnancylossaustralia.org.au.
If you need help dealing with your loss, phone Lifeline Australia’s 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services on 13 11 14, or Beyond Blue’s 24/7 service on 1300 22 4636.