I had my first miscarriage in 1999, before the Internet. It was brutal in every way. Physically, I felt destroyed. At 19 weeks my body was preparing to welcome a baby. After she died inside me, after she was removed while I was under anaesthetic – I wince even now all these years later when I type the word ‘remove’ because it’s so brutally different from the way I’d wanted her to come into the world… to give birth to her… to hold her in my arms.
My empty arms.
The first thing I do when someone I know loses a baby is to tell them to go and buy a beautiful stuffed toy, something soft, and hold it, hug it. The maternal need to hold something after giving birth is primal. And so it can be after having that possibility snatched away from you. I was bleeding, just like after giving birth to a live baby. My stomach was swollen. I was hormonal.
And the milk. Nobody told me about the milk. As I stood in the shower, sobbing, the day after I’d had day surgery and said a tearful goodbye to my daughter while holding my stomach on the way into the operating theatre I was shocked to see milk mixing with the water and my tears on the floor. What the actual…
My body was confused. It wanted to hold a baby. It wanted to feed a baby. And I had… nothing. A cavernous empty hole in my heart where all my hopes and dreams for this baby had lived just a few days earlier.
There was nobody who understood. Oh they tried. They tried so hard. My husband. My mother and father. My best friend. They all tried to talk to me, to hug me, to console me. But I was unreachable. My grief was part bubble, part prison. I couldn’t escape from it and neither did I want to, frankly. All I wanted was to talk with and listen to other women who had experienced what I was going through. It was 1999 though, and I had no way to find them.
LISTEN: Monique Bowley opens up about her miscarriage on Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below.
I went to bookshops, self-consciously standing in the health and self-help aisles, looking desperately for books about miscarriage. There were none. I had no friends who had experienced pregnancy loss. They were still in the trying-not-to-make-a-baby phase of their lives as was my sister in law. My other sister in law was pregnant. I couldn’t talk to her. My mum hadn’t been through it. I was alone and isolated by my tragedy and these feelings amplified the crushing sense of failure that so often accompanies pregnancy loss.
I’ve never forgotten how I felt in the aftermath of my miscarriage and it was fundamental in why I went on to create Mamamia eight years later… so that no matter what a woman was going through, she could find information and first-person stories from women who had been through it too. So she felt seen, understood, included, normal, reassured, safe.