Miscarriage isn't a 'dirty secret'

JULE SCHERER
Last updated 07:01 08/07/2014
woman
DON'T FEEL ALONE: 20 per cent of pregnancies end in miscarriage - so know that, if it happens to you, you are not alone.

Breaking the miscarriage taboo

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I have lots of female friends and colleagues; many of those have children, others don't.

None of them have ever told me about having a miscarriage.

Statistically at least one in five pregnancies ends with a miscarriage, so it's very unlikely that no women I know have ever suffered one.

While many aspects of fertility and motherhood are discussed and dissected widely, the common reality of miscarriage is that it is still a taboo and rarely talked about.

Why, for many of us, does a miscarriage still feel like a dirty secret we would rather hide in our emotional cupboard?

What are we afraid of? Confronting others with a difficult subject, overwhelming them with our loss, sadness and vulnerability? Making them uncomfortable, struggling for words?

Or are we afraid of the judgement others could direct at us? That maybe others discuss behind our backs that they're sure they saw us with that cup of full-strength coffee not that long ago and that we may have brought it on ourselves?

Is it our helplessness at dealing with the issue? We believe in medicine and science. We think, if we do everything right, eat healthily, quit smoking, drinking, sushi, soft cheese and even the morning coffee and add folic acid and fish oil to our diet, all should go well.

Even if something goes wrong, modern medicine should be able to help us, right?

Wrong. It's different with pregnancies. For most miscarriages there will be no explanation. They happen - in the majority of the cases - because of a genetic blip. They are seen as random, isolated events that will have no bearing on a woman's future chances of having a baby.

This week I had a miscarriage.

I was 11 weeks along when on Sunday night I started bleeding. In shock, my partner and I held each other before we drove to the emergency department of the hospital.

It was a busy night and it took them almost 12 hours before they were able to do an ultrasound scan.

"I'm afraid I have very bad news," the doctor said. "It seems your baby has stopped growing at eight and a half weeks."

And that was it.

Two months of excitement, of exhilarating joy at becoming a mother, of not quite daring to picture how life with our little one would be, but unable to not dream of it all the time.

Two months where we kept this most important news in our lives secret from the majority of our friends, family and colleagues.

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Two months of making up excuses as to why I'm not having a beer, saying no to sushi at lunch-time, avoiding salad-bars and steak houses.

With those few words, the future we were dreaming off was undone. We wouldn't be parents. Not Beauden-Bob's parents (as was the jocular "working title" of our bub-to-be).

It is something that we knew could happen but firmly believed wouldn't happen to us.

Everybody at the hospital was really nice. They told us how sorry they were, and that we didn't have to make a decision right now between surgery, pills or leaving nature to "take its own course" to rid my body of the "pregnancy tissue", which until just a couple of hours ago was called "my baby".

Many miscarriages start with bleeding, similar to a heavy, crampy menstrual period. The bleeding may last for up to two weeks and women are only advised to see a doctor if the bleeding gets too strong.

I had something called a missed miscarriage. The baby died weeks ago but apart from wondering why I didn't feel nauseous anymore I was unaware of what was happening (or rather not happening) in my uterus.

How to deal with the situation is up to every individual woman. If the miscarriage is diagnosed before severe bleeding has started and the cervix opened, the natural procedure can be quite a drawn-out process that takes weeks.

To speed the process up doctors can give a medication, essentially an abortion pill, that causes the cervix to dilate and prompts a "natural" miscarriage.

If there are "products of conception" left in the uterus or if you decide against the medication then there's a surgical procedure called dilation and curettage (often called D&C) in which the cervix is dilated and the uterine lining scraped.

Some women decline the operation either because they want to avoid an invasive procedure at hospital or they feel that they have to go through the natural process to heal emotionally.

For me it was clear that I wanted the operation. An up to three week long process of birthing my "pregnancy tissue" (ideally into a bucket) at home didn't sound like something I wanted to go through.

Nonetheless we were sent home and had to come back the next day to be booked in for the procedure. Sitting in between all the round, glowing women in advanced stages of pregnancy in the waiting area of the women's clinic, as that woman without the belly but with red, teary eyes, wasn't much fun.

After another short examination I was told to come back for the D&C two days later.  The days until the operation felt drawn out and the advised paracetamol was not really strong enough to deal with the cramps.

On Thursday we checked into the hospital at sparrow fart and by midday it was all done. I was sent home, suddenly un-pregnant, but the physical pain was pretty much gone.

That was only a day ago as I write this.

Now it all feels surreal. Was I really ever pregnant? Did I just imagine our wonderful future as a happy family? How do I grieve for the baby I never met? When am I allowed to try again?

My thoughts do go back to almost three weeks ago when Beauden-Bob stopped growing. What did I do that week? Was there anything I could have done differently?

I know the answer is no, but that doesn't stop me from thinking about it.

I have been off work for a week, so I have been pondering what to say if one of my colleagues should ask what illness had befallen me.

Of course I could lie and babble about that flu that is going around in the office. I hadn't told anybody that I was pregnant anyway.

But do I want to pretend miscarriages only happen to other people? Like they are a dirty secret? Something to hide?

Or do I want to be somebody saying that miscarriages do happen. To many women. Twenty per cent of all pregnancies don't make it.

Every woman deals with it differently, but it is a fate we are not alone in.

Yes I do want to be that person. We can and we must talk about the loss, the disappointment and the self-doubt that come with a miscarriage.  

We can share the pain and heartbreak but also the hope that we will be lucky the next time and one day our bodies will succeed in growing a tiny human being.

WHERE TO GET HELP:

The Auckland Miscarriage Support Group has a comprehensive website about miscarriage with links to local support groups.

www.miscarriagesupport.org.nz

Sands has groups across the country who support bereaved parents and whanau when a baby dies, at any age or gestation.

www.sands.org.nz

- Stuff

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