I’m part of a club I never wanted to join. And each year 55,000 women in Australia are unwillingly granted exclusive membership. They are forced to join the Baby Loss Club.
After my third pregnancy ended in miscarriage, I wanted to process the experience and work through the grief by talking to those around me. But I quickly discovered that miscarriage is a taboo topic. It makes people uncomfortable. They avoid the subject or attempt to offer up the reassurance of a silver lining: It was probably for the best. You wouldn’t want a deformed child anyway. At least you know you can get pregnant. You already have two children. At least you weren’t further along. Don’t worry, you’ll have another one.
But these words don’t offer comfort. They deny the right to mourn the loss of that baby. So women grieve alone, misunderstood by those closest to them. We are expected to move on – quickly, quietly – to get over what was just a biological glitch. Life goes on.
And it does go on. But many women silently carry the wound of a miscarriage with them. The problem is, if we don’t talk openly about miscarriage then it will always remain this secret unspeakable thing. A hidden wound.
If you’re lucky, you get pregnant again, as I did. People around you celebrate gratefully. That awkward thing called a miscarriage can now be forgotten, because another baby is proudly pressing your belly outwards. But babies are not like broken objects that can be discarded and upgraded. One baby doesn’t replace another.
During the miscarriage, as I spent weeks bleeding, I experienced conflicting emotions. ‘I never want to have another baby,’ I cried adamantly. ‘Never.’ But then days later: ‘I want another baby so desperately. I want to be pregnant again. Now.’ After it was over I discovered equilibrium. I grieved, I let go. And I felt ready to try for a baby again. But my husband didn’t.
Men are often forgotten in the grief of a miscarriage, as if because they weren’t carrying the baby it somehow didn’t matter as much to them. But my husband couldn’t bear the thought of it going wrong all over again, and he didn’t want to move on. He was angry that we had lost our baby and he felt that if he let go of those emotions it meant he was okay with what happened. So that was it. Even though we’d always wanted three children, he was out.
Then one evening we were watching a terribly sappy romantic comedy. On screen three adult children sat around a table with their parents. My husband imagined himself into the future with only two grown children and realised our family would be incomplete. Suddenly we were both ready, and I quickly fell pregnant again. We were thrilled.
Then at six weeks I had a blood test to check my hormone levels. It was a blood test with low hormone levels that began the process of my miscarriage. This time everything was fine, everything was normal. But this is actually when I started to get anxious. Over the next few weeks I booked myself in for two more blood tests to check that the levels were continuing to rise. They were. The doctor said: ‘You don’t need to come back for another test.’ I got the message; I was being ridiculous. So I didn’t go back, even though I wanted to. Then at twelve weeks there was an ultrasound and a beautiful beating heart. Still the worries continued intermittently. Then the kicking began, and they mostly went away. Mostly.
On a trip interstate I visited Rhea Dempsey, a family friend who is a birth educator and counsellor. We talked for some time about my miscarriage. I felt calm, I felt rational. She explained that pregnant women who have previously miscarried often feel guilty about their grief for the lost child, or guilty about their happiness for the one they are carrying. I didn’t feel guilt about the happiness, but I did about the grief. I didn’t want my baby to be affected by those emotions. I was full of joy for the gift of this baby, but occasionally I would read, hear, or see something and the grief would flood me. Like turning a page in my diary and discovering a forgotten marking – ‘Baby due!’ – for the one I’d lost.
Rhea said to me: ‘You have to give yourself permission to grieve.’ And that hit me. I cried then, because she was right. And I wasn’t giving myself permission. But from that moment I did, and everything changed. Somehow the grief just left me. My baby arrived and I instantly fell madly in love with him. It quickly felt as if he had always been a part of our family. We had our three. And yet I have carried and loved four babies. For me, there will always be four.
Women heal from miscarriage in different ways. When you miscarry a baby there is no funeral, there are no rites of farewell. It can almost feel as if that baby never was. But there are many ways to acknowledge that lost child. Some women buy jewellery with their baby’s birth stone, others create a memorial in their garden, or hold their own farewell ceremony, and many give their baby a name (as we did). There are websites which will light a candle for your baby, or write their name on a beach at sunset and send you a photographic record, or offer you a place to write a public tribute. And there are books like The Sound of Silence
which can help women feel that they are not alone.
My hope on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day tomorrow is that we can begin to lift the taboo surrounding miscarriage and acknowledge all those babies we will never forget.
Irma Gold is the editor of a number of anthologies, including The Sound of Silence , featuring 22 women’s stories of miscarriage. She is also the author of two children’s books and a collection of short fiction, Two Steps Forward, released last month. She blogs for Overland literary journal.
The Sound of Silence is being launched in Canberra today at 2pm in the National Library of Australia. It will be a family-friendly event. The editor and some of the authors will be present. All welcome. You can purchase the book here.
Have you had a miscarriage? What was your experience? How did you grieve and acknowledge your baby?