Miscarriage. I’ve always thought it a horrible word; cold, clinical and so far removed from the physical and emotional turmoil that pregnancy loss can bring when it happens.
An estimated one in four recognised pregnancies end in miscarriage and 85 per cent occur during the first trimester. That means around 15,000 women in Ireland suffer a miscarriage every year, yet many of us don’t know what to do or how to cope when the waves of grief hit hard.
This is a different type of grief to losing a loved one. Instead you mourn what might have been, that baby you were growing inside you who you will never meet.
I am blessed with three children but I also had two pregnancies that came to an end at nine or ten weeks’ gestation. It wasn’t meant to be, I told myself; better now than later. But no matter how pragmatic I tried to be, the pain was raw and real. I needed to acknowledge the intense, jumbled emotions of guilt, shock and overwhelming sadness I was feeling as I came to terms with our loss. You have to remember that hormones are going haywire, too.
For every woman — and their partner —miscarriage will be an different experience. But one thing’s for sure, talking about it can really help. Irene Lowry, a counsellor at Nurture Health (nurturehealth.ie), agrees. ‘The majority of women should go for counselling,’ she says. ‘If not, choose one or two trusted people to talk to.
‘Many women say, “I’m sorry for crying”, but we are here to listen. If you don’t talk about your emotions, they can turn inwards. I speak to women who find it too hard to go to christenings, for example, or be around babies, and when this sort of thing starts to happen, isolation can come quickly. It can make a woman very unwell — after all, this is postnatal depression.’
You will be surprised, if you choose to open up to close friends, how many have experienced miscarriage themselves but kept it quiet. These friends, in particular, were unwavering support to me. I also found writing down everything I was feeling gave me a huge sense of release.
The most important thing I took from speaking to a lovely bereavement midwife at Holles Street was that miscarrying was not my fault. It was the first thing she said — and exactly what I needed to hear. Also, my GP was fantastic on every level.
When you’ve had a miscarriage, looking after yourself is paramount. ‘Self-care is critical,’ says Irene. ‘Get out, exercise, watch your diet… and most of all, give yourself time.’
Exercise gently at first when your body is in recovery. A walk in the fresh air is an easy way to lift your mood. Make sure you get plenty of rest and do whatever makes you relax: watch a romcom, take a hot bath, read a good book and so on.
To focus on the positive, every night, before going to sleep, try thinking of three things that made you happy that day.
And when you are particularly upset, depressed or anxious, focus on your breath to feel more grounded and calm. Breathe softly and steadily through the nose and simply feel the breath ebb and flow.
Don’t forget your partner, either. Everything here applies to them, too. Encourage them to talk about their feelings, support each other and feel like you’re a close-knit team. Let this shared experience bring you closer.
A little memorial might help you heal. Plant a flower or tree, perhaps, frame a poem that resonates, or have a special piece of jewellery. I still stop and smell the flowers at a special place in the garden where I remember my babies who weren’t meant for this world. For something more structured, The Miscarriage Association of Ireland holds an annual remembrance service and monthly support meetings (miscarriage.ie).
You will slowly start to heal after the heartache of miscarriage, but remember, help is at hand. Listen to your body, and go slow. We all get there, eventually, in our own way…
Published in the Irish Daily Mail, Tuesday February 26, 2019