As Baby Loss Awareness Week reaches its 20th year, a Touchstone staff member, Liz, wanted to share her experience of baby loss. Baby Loss Awareness Week is an opportunity to bring people who have been affected by losing a baby together as a community to share their experiences and feel less alone. If you would like support or to find out how to get support, please read on.
Content / trigger warning – this blog talks about miscarriage and feelings of loss and grief
This is my story of miscarriage, how my experiences affected me and what I did to support myself to recover physically and emotionally, including around grief. In writing this I acknowledge that people experience miscarriage and loss differently and may therefore feel differently about their own feelings around baby loss.
I have sadly experienced miscarriage twice, either side of having my little boy.
It took my partner and I a little while to conceive our first pregnancy, and when we did my world changed for ever. As soon as I found out, I was nervous and cautious about getting ahead of myself in case we experienced a loss, but despite that I was very excited about our gorgeous little secret. A tiny little seed inside of me was, in my mind, already my child, and so much longed for.
I lost my first baby at 11 weeks due to a missed miscarriage and my partner and I were left devastated. I did what many people do when miscarriage affects them: I searched for answers and blamed myself. Had I been working too hard? Did I overdo it at that exercise class? Why did this have to happen to me? Miscarriage is usually put down as being ‘one of those things’ which didn’t really help my broken heart, or my body which now needed to do what it needed to do.
We had been so close to our 12 weeks scan and had planned to start telling family and friends our news after that point. But that could no longer happen in the way we had hoped. I was left exhausted, heartbroken and with many unanswered questions – partly because people don’t generally talk about miscarriage. Well, that is, until they do.
A particular kind of grief
I found losing a baby to miscarriage to be a very particular kind of grief. For me it was a grief like no other because that little soul had absolutely been a part of me, of my body and my heart. I actually thought twice about writing that last sentence as it may be difficult to understand how someone can feel like that when a baby is lost so early and hasn’t made it to being born. But it feels important to share as articulating that side of my grief helped me, down the line, begin to come to terms with my loss. I had tentatively started to think about what I would look like with bump; I had imagined us as a little family; I had thought about family members playing a part in our little one’s life. The idea of seeing my folks as grandparents filled me with joy.
I felt very alone after my miscarriage. It felt as though there were pregnant people and people with newborns everywhere I looked. I was in the position where I was telling some people not only that I had had a miscarriage, but also that I had been pregnant. I had a close colleague who had become pregnant around the same time and her due date was similar to mine. We had shared our pregnancy news with each other and enjoyed hushed chats about symptoms and our excitement of having babies at the same time. Then I lost my baby. I was genuinely delighted for my friend, especially as she had had a miscarriage a couple of years after the birth of her first son, but I was broken inside because of my own loss. I was smiling on the outside when sat next to her in the office, as she was congratulated by colleagues on her news, but heartbroken and silently crying in the toilets before gaining composure and painting on a smile again.
I found that when you lose a baby, people often just don’t know what to do or say, which I totally understand. I had done my best to steer clear of information about miscarriage and loss prior to getting pregnant, but afterwards found out that as many as 1 in 4 people who are pregnant, miscarry. I was suddenly part of a club that I never wanted to be part of and hadn’t really known existed, but once I started sharing my news with a few friends I found that some shared that they had had a miscarriage or multiple miscarriages. Suddenly, the people I knew who had experienced it had grown to double figures. It was such a relief to speak to people who understood what I was going through.
I remember a midwife saying to me at my 8 week check-up, ‘We don’t talk about miscarriage’, when I expressed some worries about how I was feeling. ‘Ok, then,’ I thought, ‘she knows best, we don’t talk about miscarriage’. But what if we HAD talked about it? Would it have made a difference? I think it might have done. Nothing would’ve taken away the heartache, guilt and brokenness I felt, but having information more readily available about what happens after a miscarriage and what your options are may have been helpful. And talking about these sorts of situations can help normalise what is sadly a common occurrence. And of course, having the chance to be listened to and heard is so so important.
My Second Experience of Miscarriage
My second miscarriage happened at 6 weeks, and I was devastated but this time better informed and understood what was happening in my body.
Our little family has remained a little gang of 3. We hoped for another child but two months after our second miscarriage, my dad had a stroke and died 10 days later, and my world was turned upside down. I had a really difficult year following this grief and my mental health was badly affected.
The two miscarriages, losing my dad and also three other family members, on top of being mum to a toddler in tornado form (who didn’t sleep well!), culminated in a breakdown. It took my months to recover and start getting back on my feet.
Due to my mental health being very fragile and being in my early 40s, my husband and I came to the conclusion, after much soul searching, that trying to conceive again wasn’t going to be right for us at that time. Despite having had one successful pregnancy, I had experienced so much loss in a very short space of time that I still felt quite broken. I worried about the possibility of losing another baby and how I would cope if that happened. It was the right decision for me not to try for another baby because of where I was at but has been one of the biggest heartbreaks of my life.
With this in mind, I would urge folk to be considerate about what they say to families who have one child. I have been asked variations of ‘When are you going to have another baby?’, ‘Don’t you worry about your child not having a sibling?’, ‘Don’t you think they’ll be lonely?’, or as one taxi driver helpfully suggested to me ‘Do you have kids? Don’t wait too long, you need to get on with it’ just a few months after my first miscarriage whilst happily telling me all about his 5 children. I mumbled something about ‘Yeah… one day’ and burst into tears when I got home. Or the builder who I hadn’t seen for a couple of years who recently asked: ‘Have you got another kid now?’ No. No we haven’t. I assume people mean well when they say these things, that maybe they are just trying to make conversation, but it gets said a lot and we really don’t know what has been going on in someone’s life, what pain or heartbreak they might be holding. So, I would say it’s best to err on the side of caution when asking about a family set up. There are so many reasons why someone may have one child, or no children. Sometimes this is through choice, sometimes it isn’t.
As I said at the start of this piece, miscarriage can be experienced differently. There is no right or wrong way. I have found that over 8 years on since my first loss, I can still occasionally be lost in sadness and grief. I will never forget my babies, they will be a part of me forever, but as time has gone on it has become easier and is now part of my story. I found out something rather lovely that was shared by musician and presenter Mylene Klass in an article last year for Baby Loss Awareness Week. She shared learning about microchimerism which means that the cells of every baby you carry are transferred into your own body, and I found such comfort in this.
Pregnancy after loss
Unfortunately, there is a lack of support for people who miscarry and those affected by miscarriage, and support that is available can vary depending on where you live. The Miscarriage Association and Tommy’s have some great resources on their website, and from my experience the local Early Pregnancy Unit was helpful, but very stretched. Otherwise, I had to seek out support myself. Treatment for and physical recovery from the first miscarriage took over 5 weeks (which I understand is unusual), and I carry trauma from that time.
A few months later, anxiety started to grow to new heights. I later found out that this was partly due to a significant hormone imbalance following the pregnancy and miscarriage, culminating in a panic attack while out with friends, which made me consider going to A&E. I also experienced intrusive thoughts about being followed and worrying about being mugged.
I was then off work for a month, went back on antidepressants and was prescribed beta blockers to use as needed when high anxiety returned. I started counselling again for a few sessions which was helpful. I began attending a yoga class regularly and took time to really rest and recover. I must stress that this level of anxiety doesn’t happen for everyone who experiences miscarriage, but I hope it is useful to share.
Around 18 months after my first pregnancy I became pregnant again, and my little one was born in May 2016. I was over the moon to be expecting, but very anxious for a good chunk of the pregnancy, until I reached 24 weeks which is considered a ‘safe’ point.
I had learned that talking about pregnancy and pregnancy loss was what helped me through the first miscarriage, so this time I told a few friends as soon as I found out so that I had some support in place, should anything go wrong. I sought help for anxiety via a contact my midwife gave me. My GP had said it was ok to stay on the antidepressant I was on, and that any risk of taking it to the baby was very low. I wasn’t aware of it at the time but in Leeds there is support available through the Perinatal Mental Health Service where people in the perinatal period are prioritised for support.
How to help
One of the best things anyone said to me was ‘I was so sorry to hear the news about your baby’. it was just what I needed to hear and touched my heart: the acknowledgement that it had happened, and that I was mother to my baby, and it wasn’t just something to be swept under the carpet, or awkwardly skirted around. It also helped affirm that my feelings were valid.
People don’t always know what to say in these situations and I totally get that. Things that were said to me, ‘At least you know you can get pregnant’ and ‘It wasn’t meant to be’ were well meaning but hurt. Yes, I did get pregnant, but I had no idea what had gone wrong, whether we’d be able to conceive again, and if we did conceive again whether or not the pregnancy would be successful.
Also, it’s not helpful to say to someone after a miscarriage that you should start trying again because you’re super fertile. NOT HELPFUL at all – and not even true.
So, I would say just listen, listen, listen and acknowledge someone’s loss: this can be as simple as saying “I’m sorry for your loss”.
Here are some other useful bits about supporting someone through pregnancy loss from The Miscarriage Association.
What helped me
I talked to friends about what had happened. I cried, cried and cried some more. I rested. I watched crappy TV. I did simple crafts as my brain couldn’t cope with much else (I made about a million pompoms). I wrote about my experiences. And I howled on a friend’s shoulder, properly sobbed, a release which made a huge difference.
Counselling. Medication. Yoga. I spent time outside enjoying nature. I rested. I ate healthily. I made plans to do nice things.
I did a few things to remember and honour my babies.
The next thing I’m going to write about might seem a little strange, but it worked for me. I had kept the pregnancy test from finding out I was pregnant that first time, because I was so excited. And later, after our loss, I kept it to hang on to something tangible, I guess something that felt part of our baby. In order to honour her I made a tiny sort of bed for the test in a little box complete with a sort of pillow and blanket. I would sometimes take the box down and look at it, but as time went on, I didn’t need to do it so often. The box is still on a shelf in my house, should I ever need to look at it. My point in sharing this is that I realised that sometimes funny little things can give us comfort in times of loss and grief and that’s absolutely ok. There is no right way to grieve.
On our first baby’s due date, my husband and I went away to the coast and spent some time thinking about the first baby we lost and cried together. I found a beautiful heart shaped stone on my favourite beach and put it on display at home alongside pretty bits and bobs and photos of family. That helped me keep close to my first baby. I have been picking up heart shaped stones ever since and now have quite a collection!
I take time to be mindful of and honour what my therapist calls shadow anniversaries, meaning dates which may not be as prominent as events like birthdays or anniversaries but that may have a significant impact, nonetheless. For me this has included the times of year where I found out I was pregnant those two times, and due dates. As time has gone on the impact of these shadow anniversaries has lessened but I know to be gentle with myself and take time to make space for my feelings at those points.
Finally, I have been considering getting two tiny tattoos of stars or dandelion seeds to remember my babies.
Thank you for reading. X
The Miscarriage Association: Pregnancy loss information and support
Sands | Stillbirth and neonatal death charity
Baby Loss Awareness Week – Break the silence around baby loss (babyloss-awareness.org)