Column Is society finally able to recognise the pain of a miscarriage?

Until recent years, miscarriage was not something that was spoken about: it was simply brushed under the carpet. But couples should not be afraid to be open about their grief – talking will help them to heal, writes Deirdre Pierce-McDonnell.

THE WORD “MISCARRIAGE” can sometimes be dismissive or banal in its use. What I mean by this is that even though most people are kind when referring to miscarriage, I sometimes get the impression that people’s perception of a miscarriage is that it’s an experience that a woman and her partner should get over quite quickly and just move on.

Unfortunately this perception is far from reality. The physical and emotional impact of a miscarriage on a woman, her partner and family –whether the miscarriage is early or late – is enormous.

The excitement of pregnancy

One can never be ‘a little bit pregnant’. When you have been trying for a baby and you see those two blue lines that indicate ‘pregnant’ your heart and head are filled with love and plans for this little life. Even if the pregnancy is unplanned, or perhaps unwanted, to go on to miscarry that baby in any case is a life-changing experience.

Until recent years miscarriage was not something that was spoken about. It was brushed under the carpet and the most common phrase that was heard was “sure you are young and healthy, you will have another one”.  For older women who have had miscarriages this was definitely the case. These women did not make a fuss or grieve, largely because society’s view did not recognise their loss as the loss of their baby, and also because there was no such thing as a pregnancy test that could be purchased over the counter or scans – and many women did not realise that they were pregnant and had miscarried.

But miscarriage is just that – the loss of a baby. It is of no significance to a woman and her partner who have miscarried that they never got to see or hold their baby – or that if it was before 24 weeks in medical terms and the baby was not viable.  When you miscarry and feel that little life that you carried slipping away, part of your heart goes with that baby.

You always remember

At a recent Service of Remembrance held by one of the maternity hospitals, I was introduced to a lady who was 71 and had miscarried a baby some 40 years previously.  This lady had heard about the service through her local church newsletter and so wanted to remember her little baby after all these years.  Her husband was there with her too and it was touching to see them finally have the space in society and time to acknowledge the baby that they had lost. Time healed, but over that long length of time they never forgot about the baby.

The question is often asked – “How does one manage a miscarriage?” and the answer is as individual as each woman.

From a physical point of view there are various scenarios depending on whether the miscarriage is early or late and how fast or slow it happens. It can be a very frightening time, as some miscarriages take place over a period of time where blood loss may be experienced. In all cases it is best to communicate openly with a GP or hospital who can advise the best course of action.  If you are working, unfortunately there is no legal entitlement to maternity leave in the case of a miscarriage, but talk to your GP who may be able to advise leave if necessary.

Everyone reacts differently

From an emotional point of view everybody reacts differently. But from experience it is important to talk.  Talk to the hospital/ GP at the time of the miscarriage and ask for as much information as you can to help you through the situation.  Talk to your partner, family and friends and any organisation equipped to help you with your grief over the loss of your baby.

Most importantly for the woman, it is important to allow yourself time to come to terms with what has happened physically to your body, allow yourself time to grieve, get angry if that helps, do little things to remember your baby, cry , shout, laugh, cry again. It really is a rollercoaster or rough sea situation where your heart is numb and your head is racing with thoughts and “what ifs” and the world is out of kilter.

A miscarriage is not something to be gotten over – that won’t happen – but it is an emotional time for a woman and her partner and family that can be worked through over time until a place of peace and acceptance is reached.  Some days are better than others and when you do start to feel less numb you may start to feel guilty that you laughed out loud one day – but that is okay too.

How can I help my partner?

Some of the calls/emails received by The Miscarriage Association of Ireland are from the partners of women who have had a miscarriage, asking how they can help as they feel at a loss. The main advice would be just to be there in whatever form is necessary and accept your partner at whatever emotional stage she is at.  If your partner wants to cry, then let her. If she wants to talk, then listen.

Crying doesn’t always mean suffering it can sometimes mean that a person is coping and the tears are how the grief is being expressed. For the man, accept that it was your baby too and you have to grieve in whatever way helps you.  A man’s grief is often not as outwardly obvious as a woman’s and this can often cause friction and put strain on a relationship.

For both parties is it important to recognise that each other’s grief over the loss of your baby may take different forms at different stages. As difficult as it may be, try to be kind and support each other through your loss.  Hold each other tight, one day the cloud will lift and the sun will shine through again.

And remember to talk, tell people about your experience – times have changed and I think society is ready to listen.

If you need support or counselling or to talk to someone outside of your family, there are organisations that are there to help.  The Family Support Agency is a really useful resource that lists all different types of help available countrywide.  If counselling is required try The Bereavement Counselling Service of Ireland which is a free service.  Specifically for Miscarriage there is The Miscarriage Association of Ireland, who provides emotional support to all women and their partners/ family affected by miscarriage via telephone, email, website, group support meetings and their annual service of remembrance which is held on the second Sunday of November each year.

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Deirdre Pierce- McDonnell
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