This morning I stood in my sun-drenched garden thick with the perfume of jonquils. Everywhere around me was new life. The apple trees full of tight little buds, grass thick and bright from recent rain, the birch tree trailing bushy new growth. And on this day filled with lushness my baby was due to be born.
Except that he or she won’t be, because at 12 weeks I miscarried. But there in my diary, written in bold blue pen next to today’s date, is my happy exclamation: Baby due! I didn’t cross it out, liquid paper over it, try to wipe it from sight. I left it, as a kind of memorial I suppose. And today, reading those swooping words leaves me with a slow sifting sadness.
Until I experienced a miscarriage I had no idea what one actually entailed. Movies have turned it into a bloody blurt of a thing. But it isn’t, at least not always, and it certainly wasn’t for me. This discovery made me want to speak openly about it, to let people know, to break the silence. But I quickly discovered that no one wants to even hear the word ‘miscarriage’. It makes them uncomfortable. They don’t know what to say, how to respond. Their mouths fill with ums and ahs, they shift listlessly, they examine the floor or their fingernails or something indeterminate in the distance. ‘Miscarriage’, it seems, is a shameful word.
I don’t want to make people uncomfortable, but on the other hand if no one ever talks openly about miscarriage then it will always remain this secret unspeakable thing. A terrible club that you must forcibly join in order to fully understand. The solution, I’ve decided, is to write about it. That way you can read this and walk away without having to say a thing.
So to the core of it. Miscarriage is common. So common, in fact, that you’d know many women who’ve had one (even though they may not have told). My mother had two, my aunty also. In fact I am now aware, since being initiated into the club, that many women I know have lost at least one baby. The statistics bear this out. Up to fifty percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. Yes, that’s half. It is estimated that about 20 per cent of those occur before a women even knows she is pregnant – the miscarriage appears to be just a period, perhaps a little out of step with the usual cycle. But that still means that one in three known pregnancies end in miscarriage. Since I’d already had two healthy children it seems my number was up.
What I didn’t know was how horrendous miscarriages can be. Mine took two and a half weeks. During that time I lost approximately one-third of my blood as my body attempted to flush out the gestational sac. I bled constantly, experienced unrelenting labour-like pain, and suffered a series of manic bleeding episodes. In the end – because losing any more blood was too dangerous – my baby had to be scraped out of me. It was then sealed in a specimen jar, a meaty unrecognisable lump that would be dissected in pathology.
And then there’s the perception that it’s over. That it’s done. It wasn’t a ‘real’ child yet anyway. So you move on. In reality I was left with a stubborn little potbelly to work off, lethargy from loss of blood that can take months to abate, and the grief – not just of me and my husband, but of my children who had so readily embraced this new baby and the life we had already imagined. And then there’s the first period, which comes too soon and brings everything back. In its own small way, it’s another death.
During one of my many bouts in hospital I was handed a booklet on miscarriage. One woman’s words have stuck with me: ‘It seems like a wisp of time that you were here. Places ache inside as I silently mourn.’ It is this silent unspoken grief that women go through that has prompted me to speak and not hide. With this in mind, I am now editing an anthology of real-life stories about miscarriage to be published by Mostly for Mothers, an imprint of Wombat Books, and am currently calling for submissions. All the details are over at the Mostly for Mothers site.
So that’s it. I’ve shared my ‘secret’. You can walk away now, but I hope you will take this knowledge with you.