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Follow up to “We need to talk… about MISCARRIAGE”

15 Feb

It would seem I was on to something when I said we need to talk. I am overwhelmed by the number of emails I have received about yesterday’s post on miscarriage. It’s amazing how many people out there have experienced the pain of the loss of a pregnancy.

Quite a few of you recommended a book by Zoe Taylor called Pregnancy Loss: Surviving miscarriage and stillbirth. I thought I’d mention it here in case it can help anyone else. It’s an invaluable resource for anyone dealing with pregnancy loss, both from a medical and an emotional aspect. Find out more about it at:

http://www.pregnancylossbook.com/zoetaylor/Surviving_miscarriage_stillbirth._Home.html

A huge thanks to each and every person who shared their story with me. I am humbled by your strength and courage.

Thanks also for your kind words and support.

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We need to talk… about MISCARRIAGE

14 Feb

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:

“…women grieve alone, misunderstood by those closest to them. We are expected to move on – quickly, quietly – to get over what was just a biological glitch. Life goes on.

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

Useful resources

Related articles:

Royal Women’s Hospital fact sheet: Miscarriage: After a miscarriage

Huggies Australia: Miscarriage and loss

Better Health Channel: Miscarriage explained

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

Website: http://www.sands.org.au/

Ph: 13 000 72637

Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement – bereavement counselling & support service

Website: http://www.grief.org.au/

Ph: 1800 642 066

Wakey wakey… Coping with sleep deprivation

17 Jan

Greetings faithful reader. Let’s play a little game I like to call “Have you ever…?” Have you ever loaded up the car, put the keys in the ignition ready to head out for a play date only to realise that your most precious cargo is still in his cot inside the house? Have you ever hurled abuse at your life partner for hiding the TV remote only to open your handbag and find said remote sitting in the compartment that normally houses your mobile phone? Have you ever stared blankly at a pregnant customer asking for a headache tablet that is safe for her to use? You know that there is some sort of medication she can take; you think it might start with a ‘p’. What’s it called again? Have you ever had an entire conversation with Janet from your mother’s group only to walk away and remember that her name is actually Sarah, you do Pilates together and she in fact has no children? If you answered yes to any of these questions then you are either a few letters short of an alphabet, or more likely you’re a few z’s short of a decent sleep.

Everyone warns you, but no one can truly prepare you for the reality of postnatal sleep deprivation. Having suffered from insomnia for most of my adult life I thought the sleepless nights with a newborn would be a breeze. Sleep deprivation, or the reduced length of sleep due to an externally imposed restriction of the opportunity to sleep, was a whole new ballgame. Many people say that sleep deprivation is like torture. I’m here to tell these people that they are mistaken. Sleep deprivation is not like torture, it is torture – a tactic favoured by the KGB and the Japanese in PoW camps during World War Two. While I’m fairly sure Boy Wonder isn’t working for the Mossad or CIA, his recent night-time activities have transformed me into a perpetually exhausted zombielike being. So why is sleep so important?

As human beings we spend one third of our lives sleeping. The consequences of not getting enough sleep are pretty clear. If you’ve ever pulled an all-nighter or had to deal with a screaming baby at all hours, you would be familiar with these consequences – forgetfulness, grogginess, grumpiness and reduced awareness. As mother Fiona Sugden wrote in a recent post on Mama Mia, “It is a first world problem, but long-term sleep deprivation can be a serious one for many people.” Losing sleep affects mental agility and response time. Studies show that chronic sleep deprivation leads to a decrease in performance equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.05%. The Chernobyl nuclear accident, the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the Challenger space shuttle disaster have all been attributed to human errors in which sleep-deprivation played a role. While raising a child may not be the same as running a nuclear power plant, trying to operate a child while sleep deprived is not without its own dangers.

A new baby typically results in 400-750 hours of lost sleep for parents in the first year. While there isn’t much you can do to change the quantity of sleep you get, it is possible to manage the quality of sleep you get. Here are a few things you can do to improve your sleep.

1. Listen to your body

Most bodily processes including the sleep-wake cycle are controlled by an internal ‘clock’ within the brain. To get quality sleep you need to obey your clock.

  • Don’t ignore tiredness. If you find yourself falling asleep on the couch or in the rocking chair in your baby’s nursery, GO TO BED.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine. Once you’ve established a regular bedtime routine for your baby, do the same for yourself. About an hour before bed, turn off the TV and put aside the work you’ve brought home. Make a cup of herbal tea or warm milk, take a warm bath, curl up with a good book, anything as long as it is relaxing.
  • Don’t force yourself to fall asleep if you’re not ready. If you haven’t fallen asleep after 30 minutes, get up, go to another room and listen to some soothing music or read until you feel sleepy.
  • Get enough early morning sunshine. Exposure to light during early waking hours helps to set your body clock.

2. Make your bedroom more inviting

Quality sleep is more likely if your bedroom is a restful and comfortable place.

  • Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature. To drop off we must cool off, which is why those hot summer nights can cause a bad night’s sleep.
  • Block out light and noise which can wake you from a light sleep. If noise is a problem, consider purchasing a sound machine or even just a pair of earplugs. Don’t worry, you will still hear your baby. Parents are hardwired to hear their offspring’s cries.
  • Use your bed only for sleep and sex. If you are in the habit of paying bills or watching TV in bed, stop. You should associate your bed only with bedtime activities. Remember: Try to clear your mind; don’t use bedtime to solve your daily problems.

3. Just say no!

Some people resort to medications or ‘social drugs’ in the mistaken belief that sleep will be more likely. Here’s why you should just say no:

  • A cup of coffee or a cigarette in the afternoon can delay sleep onset even hours later, and more than a couple of standard drinks may make your sleep more restless. Don’t forget that caffeine may also be found in chocolate, soft drinks, and various medications.
  • Sleeping pills may also be more of a hindrance than help. They may cause daytime sleepiness, and may also have a ‘rebound’ effect whereby falling asleep without them tends to be even harder.

4. Relaaaxxx

Stress often reduces sleep quality.

  • If random thoughts are keeping you awake, keep a notepad by your bed so that you have a place to unload them until the morning.
  • Move your body with some exercise during the day, making sure to finish up at least three hours before going to bed.
  • Give relaxation exercises such as yoga, progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing a try. Baby Centre has a great article on relaxation techniques for parents.

5. Miscellaneous suggestions

A few more handy hints include:

  • Avoiding heavy meals close to bedtime.
  • Snoozing for a maximum of 15- to 20-minutes during the day to help improve alertness, sharpen the mind and generally reduce the symptoms of fatigue.
  • Turning your clock to face the wall to prevent you from counting the minutes you are still awake.
  • Reminding yourself that this phase of your life will pass and that one day soon you will experience uninterrupted sleep once more.

Well, it’s time to practice what I preach, shut down the old computer and lie down on that thing with the mattress where you sleep. What’s it called again?

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