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Why I talk about miscarriage

BY Amy Swales

18th Aug 2022 Life

Why I talk about miscarriage

Pregnancy loss can be devastating, but many people continue to suffer alone. Amy Swales explains how opening up helped her to cope with recurrent miscarriage

By the fifth loss we were worn out, though in some ways it became routine.

Bleeding, then waiting. A&E, referrals, scans, blood tests. Finally, someone sits you down and confirms: this is a miscarriage. A little later in pregnancy and it might be an ultrasound revealing a picture that’s all wrong.

Sometimes they call it a baby, sometimes the product of conception, but the message is the same: something here has failed.

While each miscarriage was different, threads of shame and guilt have run through them all.

A culture of shame and secrecy

Woman holds up pregnancy testThe tendency to wait to the end of the first trimester before sharing pregnancy news means that many people lack a support network when a miscarriage occurs

Reading about Olympian Dame Laura Kenny’s pregnancy losses recently reminds me once again that we’re not past it being something to hide or minimise.

Like Laura, I know how the culture of secrecy before 12 weeks can exacerbate feelings of isolation, how it feels to be scared to try again, how hard it is to navigate a partner's grief as well as your own.

The first time, in 2015, we didn’t really think about miscarriage. We thought we’d done it. We had a few weeks feeling quietly excited before I went to the bathroom one day and saw blood when I wiped.

That moment, though I didn’t know then, left an imprint for subsequent pregnancies, a flinch of fear at every loo trip, an obsessive checking of every tissue.

An internal scan showed an empty uterus, which threw me: had I somehow, stupidly, managed to do the test wrong? They suspected an ectopic pregnancy that had, unusually but very luckily, resolved itself.

Of course we worried about the second pregnancy a couple of months later, but at six weeks we saw a heartbeat exactly where it should be and we tried to skip ourselves past anxiety with that flickering dot.

"I was to carry these memories as vivid, intrusive images and nauseating physical twinges for months"

Almost 11 weeks pregnant, we went on a weekend break to New York and enjoyed the trial run of telling people.

I started bleeding in a burger bar off Times Square. It hit me like a tonne of bricks; I was devastated, angry and unprepared for the physical trauma. At the emergency room, a harassed doctor shrugged as she couldn’t find a heartbeat.

“But we saw one before,” I said. “Doesn’t that mean it’s over?”

Shrug. “I don’t know what to tell you, it doesn’t look like a 10-week pregnancy to me.”

She left. We stared at the blood-covered wand stuck back in its clip on the scanner.

I passed the foetus not long after, but the empty pregnancy sac needed surgical removal.

Most staff at the abortion clinic didn’t know I was there for miscarriage management, while others didn’t know what to say. The frowning sonographer asking if I’d bled, the surgeon joking about my accent as I cried, a confused nurse wondering why she was treating a tourist as she packed me with cotton wool.

I was to carry these memories as vivid, intrusive images and nauseating physical twinges for months, our once-in-a-lifetime holiday swallowed up in grief. Still, we kept our secret. I wondered why I couldn’t get over it.

Breaking the silence around miscarriage

The third pregnancy barely made six weeks. Tests followed—thyroid, blood-clotting, genetic issues, uterus shape—no answers, just try again.

At this stage our hidden misery became overwhelming. I couldn’t socialise because I couldn’t pretend to be fine. I just wanted to sleep. And I felt guilty, because what was this, really? Worse things have happened.

"Not having to hide our sadness and having others acknowledge our grief was comforting"

I suddenly needed to write it down, for myself and as a way of telling others. By the time my first article was published, we were pregnant again. And despite another early heartbeat, by nine weeks it had gone.

This one was tested—Turner Syndrome, thought to be responsible for up to 15 per cent of early miscarriages. A reason but no answers; it’s a random genetic event with no known cause. I didn’t realise I was crying, sat on the floor with the results letter, until the dog came and nudged me repeatedly.

The difference this time, and the time after that, was that it was out there. Friends and family could support us. It didn’t lessen the pain, but not having to hide our sadness and having others acknowledge our grief was comforting and legitimising.

One final attempt

Worried pregnant woman lies in t-shirt and pants on sofaRecurrent miscarriages can make each subsequent pregnancy a strain on both partners

After five losses in 18 months, we were referred to a recurrent miscarriage clinic. An investigative operation found a septum dividing the uterus, so slight that previous x-rays missed it.

The consultants were at pains to say it wasn’t necessarily the cause or the fix, but removing it might help.

When we got pregnant again, we tried to be happy but felt closer to giving up than we ever had. We decided this was the last time.

Pregnancy after loss is hard, conflicting, an exhausting merry-go-round. You want and hope, but you’re cringing anticipating the pain. Those times I saw blood on the tissue, I’d think, yep, there you are, I was waiting for you.

"When we got pregnant again, we tried to be happy but felt closer to giving up than we ever had"

We gingerly made our way through scan after scan, and about halfway through started to believe it might happen. He did happen. I still sometimes think someone might tell me I imagined it all.

His sister arrived two years later. It sounds so casual, but trying for a second baby was a terrifying decision because what we’ve been through has changed us. For better or worse, I’m not sure. But it did change us.

Having put our experiences out there, we’re often asked for advice. All I can say is however we tried to protect ourselves, it always hurt—and sooner or later we’d realise we needed time and space for that.

Too easily, we feel guilty, ashamed or dramatic, while partners often unknowingly lock their grief away.

I hope that being open, like Laura, helps others realise that their pain is legitimate. Keep talking. Find a support network. I can’t tell you how your story ends, but it might help to hear ours.

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