real life

First trimester miscarriage: Why do we act as though it's no big deal?

I measure grief. Even without meaning to.

Other people’s. My own.

We all do.

A miscarriage. An ectopic pregnancy. A couple of failed IVF attempts. A stillbirth. We all have equations as to which tragedy is the worst and which mother should get to cry the most.

When I heard the Today Show‘s Georgie Gardner speak so frankly about her miscarriage and the pain she had suffered privately (you can watch that interview here), my heart sank.

Georgie Gardner on Show and Tell Online.

In an interview with Show 'n Tell online, Georgie said, "I know no malice is intended, but people are often ready to dismiss it a bit ... I’m sure at 39 weeks of course it would be a lot harder, it would be a lot more harrowing than nine or 10 weeks, which was what I was.”

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But for some, it isn't. It's true that a pregnancy lost further down the track is one that more people have invested in. Plans have been made, friends know. But that doesn't mean women who lose a baby in the first trimester aren't 'allowed' to be devastated. Or 'as devastated' as someone who experiences a stillbirth.

Without even realising it, in her moving interview Georgie Gardner perfectly articulated the fear many mothers have around the various ways pregnancy, lost pregnancy and even no pregnancy at all, can hurt us. We hide our grief, we feel perhaps people might not understand, we worry it is not 'enough' to be rendered devastated, unable to function as a result.

But here's the thing: Grief isn't a competition.

Pain is pain. And when you are invested in that new life … it hurts whenever it is that they slip away. It hurts even if they never existed at all.

There isn't a grid that calculates 'appropriate grief'.

"It really rocked me, absolutely rocked me," Georgie said. "Some women I know have miscarriages and are very accepting and say that’s OK, that’s nature taking its course but, my god, it really took me to a very deep and dark place actually."

And that's the worst part. Explaining the grief to others. Explaining the grief to yourself.

Making it real. Legitimate. OK. Acceptable.

And doubts over how worthy your grief might be hang over all the other factors. It was an early miscarriage that Georgie suffered and Georgie already had two young children. But does this make her loss any less painful? Some people think, yes. Others, quite the opposite.

(stock image)
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There's a sad space in a mothers heart for a pregnancy lost and it would be perfect if it could be filled by the blossoming of other already-thriving children, but it never will be.

The space is never filled, it's just forgotten. In other words, the complexities don't just lie in what's gone but what's already been.

About one in four women will experience miscarriage. That's about 147,000 Australian women each year. It can happen at any point before 20 weeks gestation.

The stats are high. I remember them being read to me, countless times. Does it make it less painful knowing that you're one in four? It's a cold comfort perhaps. It's as if someone is saying, 'you're not alone. And because you're not alone - in fact, quite the opposite - because you're one of many, you need to get on with your life just like the others have.'

But when you're in that moment - for however many days, months and years. It's so hard seeing the other 'survivors'. The women who've come before you. They're on another planet. They're doing normal things like driving to work, eating lunch, wearing lipstick.

And all you can think is, 'how do I get to your planet?  This one is foul.' Some women get to that planet in a NASA rocket and some get there on an anti-gravitational, floating space station piloted by a stoned Russian.

Alissa Warren
Alissa Warren (image supplied).

Even once you're on that sparkly, happy planet, most of us still see the old one orbiting around. I have a girlfriend who miscarried quite early in her pregnancy about ten years ago and while she's well and truly got on with her life in every sense, she once put her fingers under her chin and said to me, "It's still here. Right here at the back of my throat."

I gulped when she told me. I could hear her sadness. I feel it still.

I imagine Georgie Gardner feels the same. She says two of her sisters-in-law had babies at the time of her miscarriage and she still looks at them with a bittersweet grief and longing. Many women feel the same about their loved ones and families. There's always going to be a baby that was born when another wasn't.

One of my girlfriends articulated her journey quite beautifully when she told me that "the grief is always there. The sadness has never left. But I think about it less often".

Her words are a reminder that the only way to be guided in how to help someone grieve is to look to the one who is doing the grieving. Their hopes. Their dreams. Their expectations.

I hope to respect that. For her. For me.

And all the other mothers with that memory – no matter how significant in her life.

Have you ever experienced a pregnancy loss or a pregnancy that never was? How did you handle the situation?

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