Love it or loathe it, it’s here again: Valentine’s Day. Ah, the day of love. A day of long-stemmed roses, boxed chocolate and greeting cards inscribed with prose. A day of old flames, new flames, sparks that will become the flames of tomorrow and the embers of loves past. A day of love hearts, broken hearts and lonely hearts. While the cynic in me scoffs at the commercialism of the day, the romantic in me loves the notion that there is one day each year devoted to love. But for me Valentine’s Day has become a time to reflect on a love that never came to be. On Valentine’s Day 2010, I had a miscarriage.
The year 2010 was shaping up to be a stellar one for Mr Wonderful and I. I had just turned 30 and Mr Wonderful was about to turn 40. We had recently returned home from a whirlwind trip to New York where Mr Wonderful had popped the question (and in the most romantic of ways I might add). Wedding planning had begun in fervour, and after only a few months of ‘trying’, I had fallen pregnant to the most wonderful man in the world (forgive the schmaltz, it’s Valentine’s Day after all).
I was so excited to be pregnant. I felt blessed and amazed that Mr Wonderful and I had created a new life out of our love for one another. And as is so often the case when good things happen to us, we wanted to share our joy with our nearest and dearest. Although our family and friends were thrilled by our news, many were shocked that we had let them know so early in the pregnancy. “You shouldn’t talk about it,” we were told. “It’s bad luck to tell people before 12 weeks,” some said. “What if something bad happens?”
Well, something bad did happen. I had cramps and started bleeding. We rushed off to the hospital hoping against hope that all was okay and that this was just a minor hiccup. But an ultrasound confirmed our greatest fear – the heartbeat we had watched and heard with such exhilaration just days ago was nowhere to be found. I had suffered a miscarriage at 10 weeks. I was absolutely devastated. So many questions swirled through my mind. Why had this happened? Had I done something to cause the miscarriage? What effect would this have on mine and Mr Wonderful’s relationship? Would these overwhelming feelings of emptiness, loss and grief ever go away?
Through the haze of my grief I had a realisation. Yes, this sad event had occurred, but the most important people in our lives, our family, our friends knew of my pregnancy. So surely they would also understand our distress and sorrow at losing this pregnancy. When something bad happens it is important to ensure that you have a support system around you. Someone to lend an ear; a shoulder to cry on; a constant presence in the background of your life. What I discovered though is that unfortunately miscarriage remains an uncomfortable subject in our society. Talk of miscarriage is taboo and is often avoided. Editor and author Irma Gold summed it up beautifully in a recent blog post on MamaMia:
And it does go on. But many women silently carry the wound of a miscarriage with them. The problem is, if we don’t talk openly about miscarriage then it will always remain this secret unspeakable thing. A hidden wound.”
And so dear reader, that is why we need to talk about miscarriage…
What is a miscarriage?
In Australia, a miscarriage is defined as a pregnancy that ends before 20 weeks gestation. A miscarriage within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy is called ‘early miscarriage’. Those that occur in the weeks after are ‘late miscarriages’. Approximately 80% of miscarriages occur before 12 weeks.
How common is miscarriage?
It is estimated that 15 to 20% of known pregnancies will end in miscarriage. Results from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health show that for every three women who have given birth by their early 30s, one has had a miscarriage. These figures are often received with surprise – given the high prevalence of miscarriage it is amazing how little it is acknowledged and talked about openly.
What causes a miscarriage?
Miscarriages usually occur because a pregnancy is not developing properly from the start. Often a miscarriage is the result of chromosomal abnormalities or a failure of the embryo to implant properly into the uterus. The chance of having a miscarriage increases with age and with carrying more than one baby (i.e. twins, triplets, etc). Smoking during pregnancy and drinking alcohol may also increase the risk of miscarriage. However, usually no treatable cause is found for a miscarriage.
An important point to remember is that it is very rare for a miscarriage to occur because of something the mother may or may not have done. This can be hard to accept when coming to terms with the loss of a pregnancy. It is so common for women to search for reasons as to why they may have miscarried.
What about future pregnancies?
One of the most common concerns following a miscarriage is that it might happen again. The good news is that up to 97% of women who experience one miscarriage will go on to have a healthy baby with a subsequent pregnancy. Also, up to 75% of women who have had three or more miscarriages will have a subsequent normal pregnancy.
How might I feel after a miscarriage?
There is no ‘right’ way to feel after a miscarriage. According to the Royal Women’s Hospital some people experience a range of physical or emotional reactions, while others feel quite indifferent. Some degree of grief is quite common, and the pain of the grief experienced after a miscarriage often comes as a shock. Feelings of guilt, anger, denial, shock and depression are perfectly normal. Even after dealing with these feelings they can recur, especially around the date of the expected birth or the anniversary of the miscarriage. The important thing is to take it one day at a time. Acknowledge your feelings and reactions as they arise. It is healthy to grieve following a pregnancy loss. Grieving is an essential step in the healing process and paves the way to emotional preparation for your next pregnancy should you choose to follow this path.
How might my partner feel after a miscarriage?
Of course it’s not just mothers who are affected by the grief of miscarriage. It is also vital to acknowledge the loss experienced by their partners. So often it’s the partner’s “job” to tend to the physical and emotional needs of the mother, usually at the expense of their own needs and their own grief. Blogger Clint Greagen expressed his frustration with this very issue in an article describing a man’s perspective on dealing with the loss of a baby. He explained how the questions and concerns he received were “generally directed towards me but in nearly all cases were about Tania” and went on to say “I began to feel as if I wasn’t entirely involved”. We must recognise that miscarriage is likely to affect the expecting partner as well as the mother, even though it may be in different ways. The partner’s emotions and needs are equally important and valid, whatever they may be.
There is a weight of silence that hangs over the subject of miscarriage. We need to lift the taboo surrounding miscarriage and acknowledge all those babies that never quite came to be. The fact of the matter is that miscarriage happens, and it happens more often than we realise. No matter how common miscarriage is, the pain and sadness experienced by many is real and needs to be openly acknowledged and honoured. And that is why we need to talk about miscarriage.
Happy Valentine’s Day xoxo
General contact options:
- Your GP
- Community Health Centre
- Nearest emergency department
- Nurse on Call 1300 60 60 24
The following organisations offer support and information:
SANDS Australia – miscarriage, stillbirth & neonatal death support
Ph: 13 000 72637
Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement – bereavement counselling & support service
Ph: 1800 642 066