It is estimated that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, yet there is hardly any serious education on the issue. My now ex-partner and I went through three miscarriages in three years. The ordeal scarred each of us deeply both as people and as a couple. My experiences have made me acutely aware of the potentially harmful messaging around early pregnancies starting with the advice that it is best not to announce the news before three months have passed and ending with the myth that early miscarriages are no more significant than having a heavy period. This ingrained culture of silence and a tendency to only pay attention to the positive outcome of childbearing does not only distort the truth of how easy it is to have children but leaves scores of women and men suffering in isolation. The lack of openness and conversation prevents much needed education and keeps people ignorant of how life changing and traumatic miscarriage can be until it actually happens to them.
Even though I have worked through most of the grief connected to my miscarriages, I find myself avoiding gatherings of parents talking about nothing else but their children and parenthood is spoken of as an achievement. As when I try and bring up my experiences the conversation tends to go like this: “ Oh, I am sorry to hear that. How far along were you?..Oh, it was quite early. Well, at least you can get pregnant…just try for another one.” end of conversation. The fact that my miscarriages happened within the first trimester seems to aid the idea that they were mere mishaps and nothing worth being spoken of. The fact that you are grieving a wanted child and life you already envisaged is pushed aside as the magic line of three months had not been crossed. As if the intensity of the pain endured could be measured in weeks or months of your pregnancy. Especially with early miscarriage, there is a tendency for others to trivialise the experience. There is a lot of pressure to move on, not to dwell or question things.
I was 8 weeks pregnant, when I was told that my baby had stopped growing and that I should expect to start miscarrying again any time soon.It took two weeks for my body to let go. During this time, I found myself travelling on the tube. A woman sat down directly opposite wearing one of those ‘baby on board” batches gifted to pregnant women by the London Underground Service. As I was confronted with my fellow travelers’ fertility success and good news, I could not help but think about how the other 1 in 4 women in this carriage might be feeling. Might they feel a similar sense of isolation, silenced and gagged as yet another success story was pushed down our throats? In solidarity with these women, and in the name of introducing a different narrative, I imagined myself standing up, defiantly announcing my version of the news: “I have a baby on board, too, it’s fucking dead.” I obviously didn’t follow through with this, instead I went home and made my own batch.
I am lucky to live in a country, where I was offered three options on how to end my third pregnancy: take an abortion pill, have an operation or wait for the baby to pass naturally. Initially I decided to go for the operation as I wanted to avoid another ordeal of going through a full blown miscarriage. However each time the operation was scheduled and rescheduled, I found myself withdrawing last minute, as I kept thinking: “What, if they made a mistake? The only way I was able accept the inevitable reality was by feeling the remains pass through me.
I ended up calling it the stick of doom. The sheer look of it sent my heart racing and tears flooding. The tension in the room each time I went for a check up was immense, the silence of the gynaecologist as she carried out her examination deafening. From pregnancy to pregnancy the fear, tension and inability to cope as people and as a couple increased. It was no coincidence that our third pregnancy triggered the end of our relationship. By the time I miscarried week 10, we had already been separated for five weeks.
My first pregnancy ended at 9 weeks, after days of excruciating cramps, contractions and various visits the early pregnancy unit and A&E. An emergency gynaecologist at University College Hospital London removed our baby from my cervix, threw it in the medical bin behind him and said: “I am sorry to tell you, but I’ve just removed the gestational sac from your cervix. It got stuck in there and caused the pain. Your pregnancy has come to an end.“ “Did he just bin our baby?” was all I could say giggling in disbelief as I looked at my partner. Part of me was impressed with the matter of fact attitude the doctor had displayed. A much bigger part of me, however, needed to be given a choice to take our baby home to bury it or send it for further investigation. It felt like one moment we were told our baby had a heartbeat and the next we watched as it was carelessly thrown away by a stranger. We briefly considered recovering the remains but left the hospital instead, feeling totally bewildered by the experienced. This has become one of the most prominent memories of my history of miscarriages. Today, I would not let this happen.
I always thought that early miscarriages were similar to having a heavy period, just as I was taught. Whilst this may have been true for my second miscarriage, this couldn’t be further from the truth for my first and third, both of which were extremely painful, long lasting and traumatising. The severity of my experiences left me wondering, how I could end up knowing so little about something that happens so frequently to so many women and turned out to be so traumatic? I’d never heard stories of the excruciating pain and contractions, the waiting, the birthing process even at weeks 9 and 10, the emergency services, the trauma, the weeks it takes until the bleeding stops. The attachment to the baby that one forms so quickly, the grief. The flashbacks and sense of the isolation and loss. How can it be possible that this narrative and reality is more or less cut out of the conversation about childbearing?
My second pregnancy ended at 6 weeks at home. It was the only time that felt similar to what I imagined miscarriage would be like, except itwasn’t. Flushing, what was supposed to be our baby, down the toilet became like a reoccurring nightmare every time I had my period. I still have flashbacks sometimes. they just don’t hit as hard anymore. It took four weeks for the bleeding to stop.
Third time lucky I ended up admitted to hospital, after days and phases of extreme pain. I had been there for a night already, waiting for my body to finally let go of the dead foetus as the pain started slowly and increased dramatically. On my way to get the attention of the nurses, I collapsed on the floor in pain unable to move. I remember nurses rushing around asking questions, I remember groaning, I remember my friend’s voice: “Claudia, remember this pain is only temporary.“ and I remember the stillness of the wheel of my bed in front of me telling me, “You can do this.” An hour later the remains of my last and final pregnancy passed through me, falling into the toilet. This time I made sure, the remains were fished out and sent for testing. TRISOMY 20 was the reason for the loss of our girl.
I am told that the reason people don’t talk about miscarriages is because child bearing issues are intensely private. But this code of privacy only seems to apply when difficulties occur. I’m told that the silence serves to protect the women, who have suffered. I’m asking myself, protect me from what? As this kind of a social code is only needed in a society that still blames women for their miscarriages and views infertility as being a personal failure. This idea of protection seems highly dubious to me. There is an urgent need for the public discourse on miscarriages to change, as the continuing silence and lack of education is potentially harmful to all of us. But for a meaningful discussion to take place, there needs to be sufficient space to explore a more complicated narrative around child bearing. One that includes difficulties and doesn’t solely focus on the celebration of success stories and born children. To celebrate and honour the existence of my babies that never were, I had a tattoo done. I am currently trying to figure out what to say, when people ask me if I have children as a “Yes” feels not right, but a “No” doesn’t feel quite right either.