Miscarriage – in the first trimester of pregnancy

We expect ourselves to be rational in the face of a profoundly physical and psychological experience. Give it due time and space

Mother’s day is coming up. But let’s also remain sensitive to the fact that becoming a mum is not necessarily an easy ride for everybody. Here, I remember the disappointment of losing my second pregnancy, and also talk to a friend who miscarried her first one.

Illustration design pattern drawing: Cells circles pregnancy

Cells. Laura Eades 2014

A year ago, two years after my first child’s birth, I lost a pregnancy at 11 weeks. I was astonished – I had taken it for granted, as my first pregnancy went well. It was pretty full-on at the time. A year on, it’s no longer painful to remember. But the complexity of a pregnancy working out (or not working out) is something I’d never take lightly again.

My own experience of miscarriage is this: We underestimate it.

We underestimate how profoundly emotional it is

We think, especially of early miscarriage: I should be rational about this. I can try again. At least I conceived. etc etc. Of course, all these thoughts are partially helpful.

But when I miscarried, I also felt a kind of nebulous grief that was unlike any kind of loss I’d experienced before. Like missing someone I’d never met, or ever get the chance to meet.

We underestimate how much we have, even in the first weeks of pregnancy, rethought the future

It also felt like psychological shock: the total inside-out reversal of expectation. Before the miscarriage, I’d experienced the pregnancy mainly by thinking many practical thoughts about moving to a flat with enough separate bedrooms; reorganising my expectations of my future and my projects; wrapping my head around the new timescale. I hadn’t even been conscious that I was doing that.

Of course, we can be very rational about silver linings too. Which is a wonder. Amazing: the brain’s capacity to optimistically turn around negative events. Perhaps I needed the extra time that getting over it took. I did some things I wouldn’t have been able to do if I were pregnant – I took on a running challenge, and lost some weight; dug into the blue cheese and seafood; had an active summer of cycling and being outdoors.

We underestimate our need for reasons

Did I miscarry because I had backache and had already rubbed myself with Tiger Balm (camphor – harmful!) before my husband Googled it? Did I have baths that were too hot? Did I lift up my toddler too boisterously?

I’ll never know. Not knowing why is hard. (But blaming yourself is too easy).

We underestimate how common it is

The NHS website says that among women who know they are pregnant, 1 in 7 pregnancies end in miscarriage.

I’d like to add in another voice here, of a friend who miscarried her first pregnancy at 10 weeks: “All the women come out from under the woodwork to tell their stories. I spent the first week (while I was still losing it) having massage and facials, and pedicures and relfexology; really trying to pamper myself. And every single beautician that I came in contact with had their own story –  ‘Oh yes, I had seven of them, but don’t worry I had five children afterwards’. There was community in the pain, and I found that so comforting. Women are so compassionate to each other about it.”

We underestimate how much it affects men as well as women

My husband was really sad. For quite a long time afterwards. It’s quite a hard experience to get a handle on: I went through it physically, but he experienced it on a different level. I think we hadn’t realised, until it happened, how frequently we’d thought of the baby, even during the first weeks.

We underestimate how much it’ll make us worry about subsequent pregnancies

And he was very jumpy about me lifting shopping when I conceived again. It seemed fussy to me at the time, but I have to respect that it must be difficult to be the passive partner in a pregnancy.

But we’ve been much more stressed and mistrustful of this pregnancy than we were of our first, unproblematic one. I’ve just accepted that worry goes with the territory.

My friend also says: “I was acutely senstive to people saying the wrong thing. I spoke to my father and he said ‘Let’s hope you can have a child one day’ in the least hopeful tone of voice. At that moment I wanted to reach my hand down the phone and strangle him. I really focused on negative comments like that. Because of course if it’s your first pregnancy, it is about possibly not being able to have a child ever.”

We underestimate how long the effects of it endure

I mean physically – the bleeding went on for a long time. But also the emotional echo of it… I’ve heard it said that if you or someone you know miscarries, watch out for yourself or them having wobbly feelings when your (or their) would-have-been-due-date comes up.

We underestimate how much solace can come from friends and family

I was glad, though initially I felt foolish, that I’d already told quite a few people about the pregnancy. They were so nice. It helped to speak of it.

The subsequent time I became pregnant, we didn’t announce it until after the 12-week scan. I’m not sure who this little societal habit is supposed to benefit really. I just felt like I was in denial about the pregnancy in general, mistrusting it, and distancing myself from my friends in the process. I think it’s better to be up front about it.

But we also underestimate how sensitive we might be to people’s words

What could we do to help out our friends who miscarry? Well, listen probably. I’d personally prefer if people don’t avoid mentioning it. I didn’t want anyone to feed the flames of paranoia either.

We talk about the positive things, but not the negative. Is that helpful?

My friend says: “Finally, I’ve removed all my friends who post regular photos of their babies from my newstream on Facebook, because again that almost feels like an attack on my lacking. So its an extremely sensitive and emotional issue and you start resenting people for their insensitivity.”
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Click on the grey dot under the blogpost to open up the comment thread. I’d love to hear your views on this tender topic.
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