When you have a miscarriage, it feels like you are the only woman in the entire world who can’t just sneeze and pop a baby out of nowhere. You venture out, and suddenly everywhere you look are babies, and baby things. Every woman you walk past instantly sprouts a baby bump. Once quirky cafes morph into the HQ of enormous NCT groups, shops fill up with tiny cute clothes, the pavements are littered with shiny new families, and social media becomes one long list of other people’s happy announcements. You feel like you’re the only one who’s body has let you down so completely.
But the statistics say something completely different: around 1 in 8 couples will have trouble conceiving, and 1 in 4 pregnancies will end in miscarriage. How can this be if you’re the only one?
The reality is that you really, really aren’t. But nobody talks about it and so nobody knows.
It is commonly agreed that it’s ‘best’ to wait until at least 12 weeks before announcing your pregnancy. I’d never thought about it much before, it seems sensible I guess, in case something goes wrong. But what this actually means is that it is commonly agreed that if something does ‘go wrong’ that its best that nobody knows. In a world that is gradually and cautiously coming around to the idea of talking about tough subjects such as mental health, for some reason miscarriage is still one of the great taboos.
Suffering a miscarriage was one of the hardest times of my life, and it is the tough times when you really need the support of your friends and family. But how can anyone support you if they don’t know that you’re struggling. I was already confused and upset by the fact that I felt like I was grieving something that had never existed, and what made that even harder is that to the outside world it never had. The pressure to feel normal again is never greater than when nobody knows that you aren’t.
When I went back to work everyone thought I’d been off with a nasty bout of tonsillitis. Seemingly endless people would come up to me each day with a smile on their face asking cheerily if I was “feeling better yet?”. I wasn’t. And I wanted to tell them all to shut up and stop asking me that stupid question. I felt angry at people who were just being nice, which made me feel even worse. Not only was I biologically inept, I was a horrible person too.
Over the coming few weeks we gradually took the decision that we needed to tell a few people around us, particularly because most of our friends are either pregnant or have had children recently. We needed their support, and we needed their sensitivity. With each person we told it felt like a little bit of the weight had been lifted. It felt like it actually was ‘ok to not be ok’, and that made me feel, well, more ok! But the greatest surprise was that nearly every woman I told had been there is some way too, whether personally or someone very close to them. The more people I told, the more people opened up to me and shared their stories – although always in hushed voices, after an over-the-shoulder glance that no-one was listening. And I began to realise that I wasn’t the only one – far from it. In fact, I’d go as far to say that the people who do get pregnant straight away, and go on to have an exciting and uneventful pregnancy culminating in a problem-free birth and a healthy baby are probably the odd ones out.
In my personal life I was starting to feel like I was gaining some control again, but I was still really struggling with work. I was called into a fairly unpleasant meeting with my seniors, who said that they knew I’d been having a tough time but my “negative ambience” was affecting the practice. I was absolutely devastated; if I’d been feeling negative about work before, I felt about a thousand times worse now.
For a few days I felt like this was something I simply wasn’t strong enough to bounce back from positively, I just couldn’t pretend to be the person everyone wanted me to be. But eventually I realised I needed to do something to take back control of my emotions and how I was feeling at work. So I did something pretty unorthodox. I sent an internal email around the entire staff team – people I was close to, and people that I wasn’t – and I told them what had happened. I apologised if I hadn’t been myself, and that it was not intended as an excuse, but I hoped it would help if people understood why. I didn’t need anyone to acknowledge what I’d written, or to feel like they needed to say something, but in fact nearly everyone did. And almost straight away I began to feel the huge pressure of trying to pretend everything as tip top sliding away. After apologising for not being myself, and people accepting this, I had taken the first step towards feeling like me again. It was such a huge relief. But they didn’t just say how sorry they were, almost every person said how brave it had been to send the message.
It was a brave thing to do, and I was terrified at the time that I was making a huge mistake – there is still a very British negativity around ‘airing your dirty laundry’. But isn’t it sad that it is considered so brave. Shouldn’t it be fairly normal to talk about something that affects 1 in 4 women in their lifetime, particularly at a time when you desperately need other peoples support, or at the very least their sensitivity.
I’m glad I waited a few weeks before beginning to open-up, because you have to reach a place where you can accept that you aren’t in control of other people’s reactions, and cope with this. That took me a little time. Some people won’t know what to say, and a few will probably say the wrong thing – and that doesn’t mean they don’t care. But the biggest thing I’ve learnt by sharing my experience (be it with close friends, work colleagues or strangers) is that 99% of people are kind. So really you don’t have to be that brave. It is honestly so much easier than the pressure of keeping it all inside.
Each time one woman is brave enough to share her story of miscarriage or infertility, they open the way for so many more to share theirs and little by little it becomes less scary, and more normal. I am absolutely not saying that it is the right thing for everyone to talk about, so nobody reading this should feel a pressure to do so, but it is definitely wrong for any woman (or man) to feel you can’t, or that you shouldn’t talk about miscarriage, and we need to change that.