The Unfathomable Pain Of My Miscarriage Inspired Me To Start A Campaign To Help Women Tell Their Stories Of Baby Loss

I'm a clinical psychologist specialising in women's health, but even I couldn't truly grasp the anguish of losing a baby until it happened to me

This week HuffPost UK, with the World Health Organisation, is hosting a week’s worth of personal blogs reflecting on what it’s like to experience baby loss across the world: in the UK, USA, Nigeria, Colombia, and India.

Warning: This piece includes graphic descriptions of what it’s like to experience miscarriage, which may be triggering for some readers

A few years after having my first child, my husband and I decided to expand our family. At 16 weeks along, I began to have some light bleeding, called ‘spotting’. I went directly to my doctor’s office and all looked well.

Two days later the spotting increased, and I was in extreme pain. I didn’t realise until afterwards that this was the pain of imminent labour/delivery. That Thursday, on October 11, 2012, the first annual International Day of the Girl, my baby fell from my body while I was home alone.

The trauma of this experience - having to cut the cord myself, coached over the phone by my doctor, subsequently hemorrhaging and needing to get myself and the baby to my doctor’s office immediately – made an indelible impact. The loss of blood was so great, I required an unmedicated dilation and curettage (D&C). The trauma and the physical and psychological pain continued as I navigated life after loss. The resulting grief was unfathomable.

My husband and I were devastated, but we grieved in different ways and initially struggled to find common ground. He didn’t experience haunting dreams, lactating breasts, or spiking hormones, and could go about his day uninterrupted by piercing flashbacks. He didn’t go off to work in a body that looked pregnant but wasn’t. So because it happened in my body, not his, we had quite different experiences. But, emotionally speaking, it was harrowing for him as well, to see me undergo this trauma and to lose our would-be daughter. Ultimately, we came to understand one another, our respective grieving processes, and made sure to create ways to honour our loss, together.

A few months later, I became pregnant again. I walked on pins and needles for nine months until my healthy daughter was born.

As a clinical psychologist, I specialise in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health and have done so for over a decade. It wasn’t until I experienced this 16-week miscarriage first-hand that I could truly grasp the anguish and the circuitousness of grief I had heard my patients speak of for so many years.

After my miscarriage, I pored over the research which shows that a majority of women report experiencing feelings of shame, self-blame and guilt following pregnancy loss. Patients had spoken about these feelings during our sessions together, but after undergoing this profound loss myself, I became incensed: why do women feel so alone, isolated, and badly about themselves when the science clearly states that pregnancy loss is not a fault of their own? I wanted to somehow make a dent in this cultural conundrum.

In 2014, I launched the #IHadAMiscarriage campaign to address these global stories. The outpouring of compassion and candor was noteworthy. It was deeply heartening to witness women of all generations sharing stories they previously felt they shouldn’t. There’s something profoundly liberating in that. Then in 2015, I started the @IHadAMiscarriage Instagram account, where women can submit their own stories of pregnancy loss and life after, as a source of community, normalisation, and connectivity. I wanted to create what I wish existed in the world after my own miscarriage. I began writing extensively on the topic, and have a book due out in late 2020.

We need a framework for grieving and for honouring ourselves and the babies we’ve lost. In moving away from the antiquated silence whilst moving toward a culture of openness, representing our stories is tantamount. I want women to feel, not just intellectually know, they are not alone and that there is absolutely no shame in loss.

We know what to do after the loss of a parent or grandparent, whether that’s sending a card, attending a funeral, or providing support. But when it comes to the loss of an imagined family member, there’s nothing tangible we can turn to. Because we don’t have standardized rituals in our culture to honour these losses, we stumble. We go numb, we turn inward, we too often feel alone.

As if it wasn’t hard enough to lose my pregnancy, I was dumbfounded by the reactions of those around me, or more accurately, the inactions of some. A handful of people who comforted the bruised places in my heart and bore the pain alongside me helped restore me. But, for the most part, people seemed to vanish. Where did they go? I wondered to myself in the immediate aftermath of this mind-bending loss. With few exceptions, it seemed that people around me—old friends and new friends alike—feared contamination. However, I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by loads of loving support from family and friends alike.

I am grateful to have received a tremendous amount of support from my doctor and her skilled staff. They were kind, considerate, and respectful. Unfortunately, I have heard countless stories from women and families, in my clinical practice, who felt their losses were minimized and/or medicalized and who yearned for additional empathy in the hospital setting.

Society is so focused on “happy endings” that losses are often minimized or forgotten about by others once a healthy baby arrives. This experience can leave women and families feeling that much more isolated and alienated from their communities as they navigate motherhood after loss. There is no timeline for grief. A healthy baby does not replace or erase our losses. But culture prefers to focus on the “bright side” (the live birth) rather than simultaneously acknowledging the pain.

People often don’t know what to say when it comes to pregnancy loss, and too many well-meaning strangers and loved ones say things like: “Everything happens for a reason”, “At least you know you can get pregnant”, “Be grateful for what you have”, “God has a plan”, “At least you weren’t very far along”, It wasn’t meant to be”. When we are met with comments like these, it can be tempting to shut down or worse, to feel ashamed of our losses and our grief.

It can be challenging to know what to say but I suggest simply saying things like, “I’m deeply sorry for your loss.”, “Grief knows no timeline, take all the time you need.”, “I’m here for you, always.” We need to remain open to hearing whatever it is women feel without rushing to change something or attempting to make things better. It’s important to let people know you are there for them to explore their feelings, vent, or to even do something completely distracting together, if that’s what they’d prefer. We shouldn’t assume what women feel when they lose a baby – they don’t need platitudes, or ‘compare and contrast’ loss stories. Women, and their partners, need our thoughtfulness, compassion and empathy.

Jessica Zucker is a writer and clinical therapist

For more information, visit the WHO website