Wednesday, 27 March 2019

What not to say to someone who's had a miscarriage

It can be hard to know what to say to someone who has just had a miscarriage. It's a difficult time and it's not your fault if you don't know what it's like. So I'm making it a bit easier for you. Here's what not to say.

1. At least you already have a child.

Maybe this makes it easier in the long run, but in the immediate aftermath of a miscarriage it's not helpful, because it's not about having a child, it's about having this child, the one that's been lost.

2. Next time you'll have a healthy pregnancy.

A doctor said this to me, but I don't care how medically qualified you are - it's bullshit. Maybe I won't be able to get pregnant again. And if I do the chance of that one miscarrying are exactly the same as they were for this one. So maybe I'll have a healthy pregnancy, or maybe I won't. Either way, it's not a dead cert so don't treat me like an idiot and promise what you can't deliver (pun alert).

3. It was very early.

Obviously I know that, and maybe it makes it easier, maybe it doesn't, but you saying it is not helpful. Because from the second I became pregnant my body and my brain was preparing to have that baby, and now it's not going to happen, so I have to adjust to that. Just because it was early doesn't stop it being a big deal.

4. At least you can get pregnant. 

There's not a lot of point in getting pregnant if you don't end up with a baby. You get all the hassle - putting on weight, nausea, avoidance of lovely food and wine - without the lovely outcome.

5. It wasn't meant to be. 

If you'd spent hours cooking me a lovely dinner, and I came round to your house and we had a nice chat and a glass of wine and were both getting really hungry and you went to dish up the feast you'd been labouring at all day, only to find that the cat had just eaten the lot, and then I said to you 'It wasn't meant to be', what would you do? Obviously my maybe-baby wasn't viable - but you're not saying that because that sounds a bit clinical and insensitive (correct). Just don't assume I share your crackpot notions of fate.

6. You will have a healthy baby, I know you will. 

No you bloody don't. Shut up and see #2.

7. Are you going to try again? 

None of your business. I haven't got over this yet, so why are you asking me? Trying again means opening myself up to the possibility of another loss, so don't make me think about that right now.

Empty Swings by Viola Ng via Flickr Creative Commons

If you don't know what to say, that's OK. And it's OK to not really understand. I couldn't really understand, until it happened to me. And I didn't know what to say. "Sorry" is good. It doesn't need any more than that.

Saying nothing

Everyone's different, but to me, saying nothing is worse than saying the wrong thing. Saying nothing suggests that you don't care, while saying the wrong thing is annoying, but at least I know you mean well. 

So next time you hear someone has had a miscarriage, say you're sorry that their baby died, sorry they had to go through it, just sorry. Ask them if they're OK (but don't expect that they will be), ask them if there's anything you can do, and if you've had one yourself and want to share your experience, then do.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Taking the mystery out of miscarriage

Last year I became one of many women who has experienced a pregnancy that ended in miscarriage. It was quite horrible. Then I did it all over again, just to be sure. 

The physical discomfort was nothing on the feeling of devastation that this wonderful thing that I had thought was growing inside me, that would have a name, and a mother and a father and a big sister, was ebbing away to nothing.

Around one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage (Miscarriage Association). Based on a very unscientific poll of my friends, around half of my friends with children have had a miscarriage at some point. It’s very common. If you’re a woman in your 30s or 40s you will definitely know several people who have been through it. But you might not know they have, because we don't like to talk about it.

Early pregnancy

The second I found out I was pregnant I began to make plans about how we would fit a new little person into our lives. We mapped out the rest of our year with thoughts of pregnancy and infancy, preparing to be a four not a three. And I worried constantly about how I would cope with a second child.

I try to be pragmatic about it. My pregnancies miscarried because they weren't viable. The embryo or whatever it was, could never have been a person, and in that sense it wasn’t a loss. 

That’s a lot of crap really. It’s true, and maybe it helps. But the moment you become pregnant your body and brain starts preparing to have a baby. It may not even be a foetus yet, just a microscopic collection of cells, but your body starts to make room for it. I was eating and exercising more or less as I had been before, but I was getting bigger. Maybe I could still fit into most of my normal clothes, but they weren’t comfortable anymore. 

Pregnancy is hard. Some days I felt totally fine. But at other times it felt that the thing that was trying to grow inside me was taking every piece of my energy, and I could hardly pick my feet up. There had only been very few weeks of this. But afterwards it still hurt that it was all for nothing.

Photo by via Flickr Creative Commons

Sharing the news

There’s a lot of secrecy around the early days and weeks of pregnancy. There are reasons not to tell too many people too soon. You don’t want people congratulating you too quickly, when it can so easily go wrong. Maybe you don’t even believe it’s real until you get a bit bigger, see it wriggling around on a scan, hear a heartbeat. Or perhaps if you inform everyone of your good news, you don’t want to have to re-inform them that it’s gone wrong, so soon.

A positive pregnancy test is just a coloured line - it's a long way from a baby and I wouldn't advocate shouting far and wide as soon as you see the second line. It's nice to keep it between the two of you for a while. But being a bit more open about early pregnancy and the possibilities for it to go wrong might not take the sting out of miscarriage, might help take away some of the mystery. And if we knew how often it happened, maybe we'd be a little better prepared when it happens to us.

I told quite a few people I was pregnant. After it went wrong, I was glad I'd told them. My family could step in and help me in practical ways when it went wrong, without the need for much explanation. My friends talked to me, and told me about how it happened to them, and helped me feel less alone and despondent about it. Others just gave me a hug, which told me all I needed to know.

The end of a pregnancy

Miscarriage was just a word before this. I knew it meant a pregnancy that went wrong, but that was about it.

I learnt that, for me at least, miscarriage is a process not an event. I’d expected it to be over within hours at the most, but the first took 11 days in the end. That’s 11 days from hope and happiness to a horrible cycle of fear, anxiety, distress, pain, sadness. My second miscarriage took longer, and included surgery. 

I had no idea what to expect. Was I going to have contractions, like in childbirth? Would I be bent double in pain? Would I see the remains of a baby? Would I wake up in the night in a pool of blood?
I asked the doctors what to expect, and how long it would take, but they said they couldn’t really tell me. And when you're scared, distressed and confused it's hard to know what questions to ask. I found some graphic descriptions of miscarriages on the internet, but didn’t know what would apply to me.

Considering so many of us experience miscarriage, you’d think there would be quite a lot of information about it. The people close to me, who had been through it before, helped me the most. So I’m glad I felt I could tell them.

Rude Nasty Girl's miscarriage tips

I hope this doesn't happen to you, but if it does, here are my four top tips:

  • Don’t drink too much! If you think you're having a miscarriage you'll probably get an ultrasound scan. You’re told to go with a full bladder, but you’ll probably be kept waiting and it can be quite painful. Also, as what they’re looking for may be much smaller than a usual scan they may press very hard, which is extremely painful on a full bladder, so don’t overdo it.
  • Take a pen and notepad: You might not be very with it and take in what’s going on, so write down things like your next appointment, or anything important they tell you that you want to remember. You might find it’s all a blur afterwards.
  • Take drugs. You can’t stop the emotional pain but you can tackle the physical pain. Keep painkillers by you, make sure you’re stocked up and knock them back whenever it starts to hurt. You don’t need two types of pain in your life.
  • Take time: I didn’t do this. I didn’t give myself enough time. I wish the doctors had told me not to go to work, but they didn’t. And when you’re full of pregnancy hormones and grief, you’re not necessarily in the best place to know how best to deal with it. I was desperate for it to stop hurting and it seemed like the fastest way to get there was to carry on as normal. Wrong.

More about miscarriage

When I was going through this I couldn't really find the kind of information I wanted to. There's no shortage of information pregnancy and babies but it's a different story with miscarriage, which is shocking given that one in four pregnancies ends this way. These are some of the few useful places to go:

Tommy's, the baby charity funds research into miscarriage, which includes my local clinic, and encouraging women to share their experiences 

The Miscarriage Association provides help and information on miscarriage

Clear and comprehensive information about miscarriage from the Royal Women's Hospital, Victoria that could help women everywhere.