We need to talk about miscarriage

Alison Bender   Women/ motherhood  

I was standing in a tunnel at West Ham waiting for interviews, as I always do, as I have done for years. Negotiating with press officers, chatting to fellow reporters, memorising questions and joking with security, but something was different this time around. I was taking painkillers and experiencing terrible cramps and heavy bleeding after I had lost my first baby. I don’t want sympathy. The choice was mine to return to work, I wanted to take my mind off it, doing what I do is the best thing for me. My husband tried to stop me, but presenting gives me strength so off I went, microphone in hand, little secret in my head.

That’s the sad thing. The secret. I was afraid to tell anyone. If people knew I was trying for a baby maybe I wouldn’t get a new contract or another freelance gig. Most of my bosses and colleagues were male, would they understand? More importantly most people just don’t know what to say.

I don’t think my situation is unique at all and that’s why I wanted to share it. I’ve had two miscarriages at 12 weeks, one sadly dragged on a little longer, one before my first baby boy and one before my baby girl. Each was extremely painful, for very different reasons. I am incredibly lucky that I have two healthy children but something has been troubling me lately and it’s why I have chosen to write this blog on miscarriage.

I am surrounded by friends who are suffering this pain, some of them many times over, many of them struggling to conceive. Some are several rounds into IVF treatment and a few looking at other options including adoption. And those are just the ones I know about. The more I talk about it the more stories are shared with me. It seems we are all walking through this life with a lot of secrecy when it comes to starting a family. Surely this can’t last forever?

I know friends who have been so devastated they can’t bear to see another 12 week scan photo on Facebook, they can’t feel happiness towards another friend’s joy because it’s just too raw, and frankly they think they are going through it alone. They are all living in this secret world of sadness.

I want to tell you about my second miscarriage. When you have a child already you can’t help but plan your lives around this news, what the age gap will be, how they will interact. What work or holiday choices to make. This is a good point for me to say be careful when you talk to people about “age gaps”. What you think is a very innocent comment could well be reminding someone of a child that never was. I have a close friend who lost a baby at full term and you can’t imagine the amount of questions she gets about why her kids are so far apart in age. Seriously, just a little tip!

My body is not great during pregnancy, in fact I hated every second of being pregnant (another taboo that I’ll write about one day). I was bed bound and everything made me feel sick and dizzy. I threw out everything that was perfumed, my deodorant, even my moisturiser. I changed my diet completely, gave up caffeine and alcohol (no mean feat for me) and couldn’t walk let alone exercise. When I found out we had lost the baby I couldn’t help thinking that my poor body had carried for a total of 6 months without a baby to show at the end of it (again, I must point out here that two 12 week miscarriages is not atypical, sadly this can be “normal”).

When I found out the sad news this time I decided I would let nature take its course as it had the first time round. Unfortunately my body was not playing ball. I tried acupuncture and various things to help things along but each day that went past I noticed my tummy growing and my sickness increasing, even though I had lost the baby. It was a horrible feeling and I eventually I had to opt to have the D&C operation. Imagine all of this whilst trying to juggle work commitments (being on TV not least!) and not tell anyone what’s going on. I can tell you it’s not easy.

As I sat in the waiting room surrounded by women, another reminder of just how common this is, every girl looked sad, no one spoke. We waited for hours and no one said a thing. I just wanted to hug them all.

When I was young I didn’t want to hear about this stuff, it seemed negative and didn’t really affect me so what’s the point? I also thought I would be the exception. Well there is a point. We need to talk about it. Why? To normalise it, to educate, to make people realise it’s very common, and perhaps to alleviate some of the shock and pain that comes with it. 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage. That is a high number so why on earth does it come as such a shock to so many?

Even the hospitals need educating. When I turned up for my own scan the lady on the desk asked me if I could pay upfront for my baby scans. I said to her politely, I hope you don’t mind if we can do this after? What if I’ve had a miscarriage? I don’t really want to pay for a picture of sadness. I’ve been here before. She looked so confused and said she’d refund me if it was bad! I couldn’t quite believe her response. I was so nervous, I didn’t want to have to deal with this. Then as I walked away from the desk, she smiled “don’t worry, you’ll be fine!” How on earth can someone say that when there’s a 1 in 4 chance you will not be fine? As it turned out I was not fine, but of course I didn’t have the strength or the will to go back and tell her. It’s not her fault of course, this is the point, there is not enough education on the topic.

When I was at school it was all careers, league tables and university chat. We had sex education, but it all seemed to focus on just how easy it is to get pregnant and how it should be avoided at all costs rather than the reality. Not only that, many schools promoted careers and later family choices without speaking about what the flip side of that choice can look like.

I’ve spoken to a lot of friends about this. It’s become my “thing” I guess you could say, I want to help women (and their partners) but I want to do it right. One close friend pointed out to me “It’s great that you’re doing this Alison, but what’s your POINT? She had a good point, what IS my point? I guess I just want to start with knowledge, and education, that’s a start, and also just accepting life isn’t this rosy place where everything comes easily. I guess I want people to understand that pregnancy is not a right. Yes that’s easy coming from a mother of two kids, and I’m not here to preach or judge or change minds, but I do want to help.

I also want this to be a message to anyone who is making big family decisions based on work or other life commitments. I did it, planning in my head: how old the baby would be at the World Cup, telling everyone how I wanted to have fun with my husband for a few years before we decided to have kids, even speaking about how I wanted to drink at this wedding or that festival so we would wait until after to try. Will I have a summer baby or a winter baby? I’m afraid I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I hear girls talking like this. It is not that simple, and if you HAVE chosen to TRY and have a family, please don’t wait around for this occasion or that one, you may sadly miss the chance altogether.

I guess I hope that the conversation continues and one day there is a healthier attitude towards starting families. People won’t talk about women’s “body clocks” so negatively, even dating attitudes will be different. It has to start somewhere so why not here?

I want to end this blog by sending my love and strength to all the women and partners who are suffering the struggle of conceiving or miscarriage, it’s so tough and painful and I really do feel for you.

Ali x

I’d also like to say that the Miscarriage Association is an incredible organisation who are doing so much for miscarriage awareness. Please check out the site:
They have made a sad but wonderful animation, which helps understanding what to say to someone who has experienced a miscarriage.
Baby loss awareness week runs from 9-15th October. Please share your stories if you are able and help normalise this taboo subject.