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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

A mother’s right to choose – when is the right time to return to work post baby?

13 Dec

During my pregnancy I suddenly sensed a shift in the force. Being a shy and somewhat reserved person, I found this shift both intriguing and unnerving. You see, it turns out that when you have a baby your every decision becomes fodder for discussion and debate. Family, friends and strangers alike bombard you with questions and advice ranging from what haemorrhoid cream is best during pregnancy to what parenting style should be followed. Being a fairly career-focused woman, the question I was asked most often was, “When will you be returning to work?”.

I couldn’t believe the controversy I created when I told people I would most likely be back at work within a couple of months of having Boy Wonder. “No way,” they said. “You’ll see, once you have that little baby you’ll never want to work again!” This wasn’t everyone’s view mind you. Those people who know me well understand that my work is a big part of who I am. And with that feeling in my heart, I left 18 week old Boy Wonder in the care of his grandmother last Monday and spent the day at work. I thought just talking about an “early” return to work was controversial, but actually carrying through with it caused quite a furore. Everyone had an opinion. I was told that I would ruin my relationship with my son, that I would no longer be able to breastfeed, that my son may resent me when he’s older, that 18 weeks is not the right time to return to work.

So when is the right time to return to work after having a baby? According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2007 the average length of maternity leave taken by Australian women was 34 weeks for those taking a combination of paid and unpaid leave. On average, those taking only paid leave were back at work after 17 weeks. Perhaps the introduction of the federally funded Paid Parental Leave scheme which provides up to 18 weeks paid leave at the national minimum wage will change the average length of maternity leave. However, are finances the only factor considered when deciding when to return to work?

My answer to that question is a resounding NO! Many people assume that I have chosen to return to work for financial reasons. Why else would you leave your precious, defenseless baby in the care of someone other than yourself, the parent? Now I’m not suggesting that Mr Wonderful and I are rolling in it. Our finances were certainly one reason I decided to return to work. But there were many other reasons as well.

As a new mum and a Jewish woman, I was wracked with guilt when pondering the maternity leave question. Will my baby suffer if I’m not with him all the time? Will I still be able to breastfeed if I return to work? What if something happens and I’m not there? Will our bond be strong enough to withstand our not spending every waking moment together? Will people judge me for returning to work and not being a stay-at-home mum? How will I cope with the judgement? At the same time I was also worrying about my job. How much leave would my boss find acceptable? Will my replacement do a better job than me? Based on the answer to the last question, will I have a job to go back to? Phew, all this pondering, guilt and paranoia was exhausting!

I spent a significant amount of time thinking about what was best for Boy Wonder and what was best for my employer, but I also had to consider what was best for me. I like to think I know myself pretty well. I have suffered a form of depression in the past. I am also an introvert and could easily spend my days in isolation, just me, Boy Wonder and Mr Wonderful. However, as a pharmacist I also know that the risk factors for postnatal depression include a past history of depression, isolation and not having time out from caring for baby. According to Beyond Blue, some new mothers may find the change in lifestyle associated with having a new baby hard to deal with. Adjustments such as spending less time with work colleagues, having little time to go out with friends and other social and psychological risk factors may increase the likelihood of developing depression in some women.

Although I worship and adore my Boy Wonder, I sometimes felt isolated and alone at home with him. I craved the stimulation and social contact of my paid work. I needed some adult conversation and some structure. So I exercised my right to choose and have returned to the pharmacy. I’m only working one day a week at the moment, but it’s enough to make me feel like me again.

The key message I would like you take away from this post, is that choosing to return to work post baby is a very personal decision. Instead of criticising, questioning and debating the reasons our fellow mothers choose to return to work or stay at home, let’s just support a mother’s right to choose…

Some useful links related to returning to work after baby:

1. Raising Children Network: Returning to work – a guide

http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/returning_to_work.html

2. Body & Soul: Back to work after baby

http://www.bodyandsoul.com.au/parenting+pregnancy/pregnancy/back+to+work+after+baby,15031

3. Family Vie: 10 tips for returning to work after maternity leave

http://www.familyvie.com/2010/09/22/10-tips-for-returning-to-work-after-maternity-leave/

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