Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The truth about miscarriage

Up to one in four women lose their unborn child during pregnancy. Often they feel to blame and worry it will happen again.

To the people around them in the tearoom, James and Clare Roberts and nine-month-old Thomas look like any new family. Laughing together, they are a little unit of happiness.

It's impossible to tell that James and Clare's journey to parenthood has been tinged with pain. That just a year before Thomas was born, Clare was facing the loss of her first child.

At 10 and a half weeks pregnant, Clare started bleeding. She soon found herself in hospital, miscarrying her baby.

"I was only a fortnight off that 12-week deadline. I felt like I was nearly into that zone where I'd be able to tell people I was pregnant," Clare, 35, from South London says.

"In hospital I couldn't look at the scan and see nothing there. James and I just held each other, and I cried. We were both numb."

Sadly, Clare's story isn't unusual. In fact, one in four women will miscarry at some point.

According to premature baby charity Tommy's, around 15 per cent of known pregnancies result in miscarriage. The miscarriage rate for women under 35 is around six per cent. This rises to about 25 cent for those aged over 40 because the chance of chromosomal abnormality increases with age.

There are a variety of causes for miscarriage.

The baby may be unable to develop because of genetic abnormality, or for reasons including problems with the blood vessels supplying the placenta, infections or less common causes such as an irregularly-shaped womb.

And sometimes it happens for no apparent reason at all.

Dr Victoria Beckett, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Bradford Hospital, says: "A miscarriage is a failed pregnancy. There are different types - sometimes the body loses the baby and the woman feels nothing more than if she'd had a period.

"Other times doctors will need to operate to help 'deliver' the baby."

Clare was fortunate not to need any surgery.

"I was lucky because I had a natural miscarriage and the baby had left my body completely, they didn't need to do a d&c (dilatation and curettage - a surgical procedure similar to a termination) to clear my womb," Clare says.

The severity of the symptoms can depend on how far along you were with the pregnancy. But most women suffer bleeding and abdominal pains.

"Back home, I was very tired and weak, it was similar to getting sick with food poisoning," explains Clare. "I was drained and I bled for several days - it was like having a long period.

"I went back to work after two and a half weeks but I found it hard to cope. I saw a counsellor and James and I talked very openly. But it was difficult going from being a couple where we supported each other equally to one where he supported me more.

"I was using so much emotional energy on myself I didn't have much left for James. I was in a cocoon as this was the first time I'd experienced this kind of loss."

Ruth Bender Atik, national director of the Miscarriage Association, says it is common for women to close off emotionally when they miscarry.

She says: "Women feel shock. They didn't expect it to happen and they didn't know it was so common. They also feel guilt, especially if there's no obvious cause. They think 'it must be something I did'. And there's anxiety about it happening again."

As tempting as it can be to try to conceive again immediately, gynaecologist Victoria advises women to wait.

"Once the womb is empty, the body is ready for pregnancy again but we recommend women don't start trying for a baby until they have had another period because otherwise it's hard to time the new pregnancy," she says.

Clare conceived again six months after her first miscarriage.

But, like other women in the same position, she feared that it would happen again.

Her anxiety was confirmed when she miscarried a second time at five weeks. "I hadn't had as long to get my hopes up about the baby, and it was easier physically, with less pain," she says.

But the loss still hurt. Many women, who have suffered more than one miscarriage, get caught in a cycle of self-blame.

Ruth explains: "Some women take miscarriage in their stride, some don't. And every couple is different, too.

"It may be the first time they've had to deal with a crisis. Some couples find the whole experience brings them closer together, while some go through very tough times. For others, it's the last straw - and they separate."

For Clare, there was still hope. She and James decided to try again for another baby as soon as they could - and six months on she was pregnant with Thomas, who was born in November last year.

Clare says: "It was hard to envisage having a baby because I had waited so long for the moment when I would hold my child in my arms.

"I knew I had to tell myself that even though I'd had a miscarriage I couldn't spend the rest of my pregnancy walking on eggshells."

Talking to other mums and her friends meant she didn't have to deal with her emotions alone.

"I made a little scrapbook and wrote down my memories, like a diary," she says. "So rather than feeling like this baby had come and gone and never was, it made it official. There would be a baby that I would always remember.

"I'd been on parenting and pregnancy chatrooms talking about being pregnant, and I spent time telling the people I'd made friends with on forums that I'd lost the baby. I felt a great sense of support when they sympathised, and it really helped.

"I don't think: 'poor me' because what I've been through has had some positive effect. I have spoken to friends and learned that some of them have had similar experiences.

"It makes you realise that it's not as unusual as you think, and makes you feel less isolated as a woman."


Martine McCutcheon, below, lost a baby in November 1999. "One minute I was two months pregnant and going to be a mum. The next it was all over. I'm devastated. It's so hard to deal with."

Apprentice winner Michelle Dewberry admitted she fell to pieces when she lost her baby in 2006. "It was a hard time and I still get sad about it now."

Former EastEnder Elaine Lordan was six weeks pregnant. "I don't want to sound heartless but it was early days and Pete and I decided it was nature's way of saying something wasn't right."


1. Talk to each other. Many women say they need to talk about their experience over and over again.

2. Acknowledge the loss. The baby may have represented your hopes and dreams for the future. Try not to pretend they never existed.

3. Don't be afraid to cry or to see your partner cry - it's sometimes just what's needed.

4. Accept your differences. Your feelings may be different now or change in time. Be understanding.

5. Take stock. Accept that your relationship may be affected by what has happened but remember that you can influence whether it is for better or worse.


Miscarriage Association helpline: 01924 200799, www.miscarriageassociation.org.uk

Babyloss - www.babyloss.com or email: support@babyloss.com

Tommy's - To talk to a midwife directly about miscarriage call 0870 777 30 60 or email: midwife@tommys.org , or visit www.tommys.org

Source: http://www.mirror.co.uk/showbiz/yourlife/2007/08/28/the-truth-about-miscarriage-89520-19697169/

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