Around one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, so many will have experienced the grief and loss, writes Ruth Bender Atik, National Director of The Miscarriage Association. In this guest blog at the start of Baby Loss Awareness Week Ruth offers empathy and links to support.
The statistics are stark – pregnancy loss (including miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy and molar pregnancy) is very common. Perhaps that’s why many people assume that it isn’t a big deal: it’s just one of those things, it’s not really a baby, there was probably something wrong with it and it will probably be fine next time.
That’s rarely the lived experience of those who experience it, though. For many – if not most – miscarriage or ectopic or molar pregnancy means the loss of their baby, of hopes, dreams and plans. Feelings of grief, loss, self-blame and failure are common – and the physicality of loss can be shocking and deeply distressing. If others don’t understand what they are going through, they can feel very isolated and unsupported.
Much of the above paragraph could be written equally for those facing fertility problems, or who need assisted conception for other reasons. They too face disappointment, dashed hopes, uncertainty and pain – and in many cases a lack of understanding from others.
A double blow
Sadly, some people experience both fertility problems and pregnancy loss – a double blow that can be desperately hard to bear.
Perhaps they have conceived after many years of trying and then had a miscarriage. They may feel that this is even crueller than not conceiving, as the joy of becoming pregnant is followed by the distress of loss. Others’ comments, meant to comfort (‘At least you know you can get pregnant’) may be far from helpful, especially if you think you may not have that chance again.
Others find they are unable to conceive naturally after pregnancy loss, whether for no obvious reason or, for example, after one or more ectopic pregnancies. They may have conceived easily previously and never expected that they would have problems in the future. That future may now feel bleak.
Finding a way through
Alas, there is no sure-fire recipe for finding one’s way through either pregnancy loss or fertility problems, or indeed the combination of both. But what you can be sure of is that whatever your situation, your gender or relationship status, you are not alone.
There are others who are going or have gone through something very similar. And many of them are happy to provide a listening ear (or its digital equivalent) without judgement, without assuming they know what’s best for you, and without the dreaded words ‘At least…’.
You can find them through Fertility Network UK and through the Miscarriage Association (the M.A.): peer support volunteers, support groups (including those meeting on Zoom), Facebook groups and, in the case of the M.A., online forums.
Some will have shared their stories, through blogs or on our websites, as here. There will almost certainly be some that strike a chord with you and just reading them can help you feel less alone.
You’ll also find support from both FNUK and the M.A. themselves (click on those links for information). Both charities can signpost you to other sources of support too, from specialist organisations to counselling services.
Increasingly, workplaces are now beginning to create policies that recognise the needs of people facing fertility issues and/or pregnancy loss, offering anything from flexible working to bereavement leave and pay.
So there are sources of support out there, people and organisations that can help you and your partner if you have one.
It may be that talking is what helps, or it might be aromatherapy, or running, or gardening, or kick-boxing… allowing yourself to feel what you feel, recognising that those feelings (sadness, loss, anger, jealousy) are completely understandable, knowing that there will be times when they hit you out of the blue, and knowing when to seek help – all this can help you through too.
Above all, know that you really don’t have to go through this alone.