Thursday, July 05, 2007

Bidding farewell to baby

A miscarriage can have a devastating impact on any relationship - especially when a woman is expected to simply ‘move on’ after a short period of mourning, says Claire Coughlan

WHETHER you love her or loathe her, you'd be inhuman if you didn't feel sorry for reality TV star Jade Goody at the moment. The mum-of-two recently miscarried her baby, by boyfriend Jack Tweed, at just over three months, and is understandably said to be ‘devastated’.

However, the 25-year-old loudmouth is said to be ‘putting on a brave face’ and has since sat her driving test and even appeared in court to face a former childminder accused of stealing cheques from her. And this doesn't seem to be unusual — many women are expected to ‘get on with things’ and shrug off a miscarriage like a bout of tonsillitis. However, in truth, a miscarriage often affects a woman or couple as badly as any bereavement would.

“Everybody deals with things in different ways and some people don’t react and that’s ok — it’s different for everybody,” says June O'Toole, chairperson of the Miscarriage Association of Ireland, a charity which holds monthly support meetings for miscarriage sufferers, as well as running a support helpline.

“But the loss of a baby is huge and it isn't something that you could possibly minimise — it’s something so big that it’s bound to have an effect on you.”

All of the personnel at the Association have some personal experience with miscarriage. It was originally founded in 1988, by Dublin woman Hilary Frazer who left hospital with nothing following her miscarriage and placed an ad in the paper looking for someone who’d been through a similar experience to talk to.

The organisation grew from there, but it’s shocking to think that there was little or no support for women who suffered miscarriages as recently as 20 years ago.

“Years ago, back in our grandparents’ and parents’ time, you were told to get on with it and in those days, the babies often weren’t mentioned, and stillborn babies were taken away in the middle of the night and buried and you weren’t allowed talk about it. I do feel that, years ago, when you heard about people ‘suffering from their nerves’ they had every reason to because it’s so important to talk — it’s very healing,” says June.

Miscarriage is something that’s unique for every individual and the physical side can vary greatly from person to person. For Isla McGuckin, the emotional upheaval of a miscarriage she suffered four years ago far outweighed the physical and she's written a book called Pink for a Girl (Hay House, €15) about her — and her husband Paul’s — battle against unexplained infertility.

“For me, the physical experience wasn’t particularly painful — it was no worse than a period. But it had taken so long to get there and I was so relieved at getting a positive pregnancy test that I didn’t imagine anything going wrong. It was a real shock when a few weeks later the pregnancy started to fail — I still feel shocked by it, actually.”

For ‘Sarah’ (not her real name), the amount of pain she suffered was a shock.

“During [the miscarriage] it was incredibly painful — I was at the start of my second trimester and it was more physical than I could have imagined it was going to be,” she says.

Irene, a mum-of-five, has experienced two late miscarriages (both were at 20 weeks), which were very tough physically.

“For the first baby we lost I didn't know that there was something wrong and I went to have an ordinary check-up and the doctor who'd seen me for the first two said, ‘I think we should send you up for a scan’. So I went for the scan — at that stage they didn't do them as routine, which they do now — and a very nice doctor examined me and eventually said, ‘I'm sorry, but we can't find a heartbeat'. So, with that, we had to wait and let nature take its course because there was a danger that I would haemorrhage if they intervened.”

The widespread assumption that a miscarriage is something you can get over very quickly is something that many women find hurtful.

‘Jane' (not her real name) has had four miscarriages, all at about 10 weeks, and says that not everyone outside her immediate circle was understanding.

“I certainly felt at the time that, apart from a close circle of family and friends, people expect that you should bounce back after a month or six weeks. The reality for me was that at the time this was the point where I would have hit rock bottom.”

Anne (not her real name) has had two miscarriages and says that not everyone was understanding and thought that it was something she shouldn't need to talk about.

“Most people didn't really understand the depth of feeling and also the length of recovery time. One sister-in-law thought I shouldn’t talk about it at all and it should be forgotten about.”

Then there’s the added pressure that you should be back at work or on your feet in no time. Anne says that she didn't take enough time off after the first miscarriage.

“I went straight back to work after I had my miscarriage confirmed — that was two weeks after the initial bleeding. However, I ended up having to take three weeks off after a few weeks back.”

And amidst the obvious devastation a miscarriage can inflict on a woman, it can be easy to forget that there’s another person who’s every bit as devastated by the baby's loss — that is the man in the relationship.

“My husband was very supportive, but heartbroken, and it's very difficult for men at the best of times because they don't know what it's like physically, but emotionally, they're heartbroken too,” Says Irene.

When it comes to ‘getting over' the devastation of losing a baby, naming and remembering him or her is something that grieving parents are, these days, encouraged to do. As well as having a Book of Remembrance, the MAI also holds an annual Service of Remembrance every November, which is something that Jane says she found hugely helpful.

“We did eventually give the babies names — when we lost our last baby we were advised that there was a service coming up — and I would have felt a turning point where we actually had a chance to openly grieve for the babies.” So is it something you ever ‘get over’? No, seems to be the general consensus, but you get by. Jane sums it up when she says: “It never goes away, but like any grief in your life, it reaches an acceptable level. You eventually get to the stage when your life develops a normal pattern — but it’s a different sort of normal.”

What causes miscarriage?

It’s not always clear and sometimes they occur for no apparent reason.

Is it my fault?

Many women blame themselves after miscarrying, but generally it isn’t their fault and is often pre-determined from conception.

Will I still be able to have children after miscarrying?

Yes, however, it’s important to give yourself enough time to rest in order to allow both mental and physical recovery.

For support: The Miscarriage Association of Ireland; Tel: 01 873 5702/01 872 5550/01 872 2914; or log onto


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