Thursday, August 16, 2007

Miscarriage - a death with no sympathy card

Over one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage: that's about 250,000 in this country annually, according to the Miscarriage Association.

A further one per cent is an ectopic pregnancy, where the fertilised egg lodges in the Fallopian tube (if it grows, it will usually rupture the tube causing heavy internal bleeding, which is a medical emergency).

The sense of sadness and emptiness can be overwhelming but, in a study of 300 women in the UK who'd lost a pregnancy, only 29 per cent felt well cared for emotionally.

"It's still a taboo - women talk about sex more openly than a miscarriage," says Margot Toole, 32, who miscarried at eight to nine weeks in 1997 after having a daughter two years before.

"But it's vital that women are allowed to express their feelings. Emotionally I hit rock bottom - I wanted my baby back. I felt lost for a good year and I cried all the time. Miscarriage is a death with no sympathy card.

"If you had a funeral, people would sympathise but they just expect you to get over a miscarriage. I'm not a big churchgoer but I started to light candles at the church across the road. I had to believe in something."

Among the things that helped Margot were planting a crimson remembrance rose in her garden – "it's like having a headstone – and the flowers are so beautiful" – and being a telephone support volunteer for the Miscarriage Association.

"I don’t think I will ever get over the loss but I had to make it mean something. Over the past nine years, more than 100 total strangers have poured out their hearts to me. I feel privileged."

Consultant gynaecologist Mr Michael Dooley agrees that often neither dedicated medical nor emotional help is available for women who have miscarried: "it's a very difficult time and there should be specialised teams."

He points out too that "men can find it as distressing – they’re often the silent partner and feel they can’t mourn. I wish there were more who are not afraid to mourn openly like the big burly men who would come into the ward of a hospital I worked at in Limerick, and cry their eyes out for a lost pregnancy."

(Among its useful leaflets, the Miscarriage Association has one called "Men & Miscarriage".)

When I lost a baby through an ectopic pregnancy and also became infertile, I remember weeping with relief as I read a book called Miscarriage: Women's Experiences and Needs by Christine Moulder, and learned that other women had felt the same emotional chaos.

Mr Dooley also recommends a more medical (but accessible) book by Professor Lesley Regan, called Miscarriage: What Every Woman Needs to Know.

• For further information, call The Miscarriage Association, helpline tel. 01924 200799, Scottish helpline 0131 334 8883

• To order a copy of Miscarriage: Women’s Experiences and Needs by Christine Moulder (pub. Routledge) for £10.20 plus 0.99p p&p (usual price £11.99), or Miscarriage: What Every Woman Needs to Know by Lesley Regan (pub. Orion) for £7.65 plus 0.99 p&p (usual price £8.99)


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