This dirty word

Baby footThis 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.

Irma Gold

Irma Gold is an award-winning writer and editor. Her short fiction has been widely published in Australian journals and her debut collection of short fiction, Two Steps Forward, was released in September 2011 (Affirm Press). She is also the author of two children’s books and is currently working on her first novel. You can follow her on Facebook.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Related articles & Essays

Contribute to the conversation

  1. Thank you Irma. But I don’t feel like walking away. I feel like settling in over a cup of tea, or a sad-gentle walk by the river.

    There are many of us – I will put out the word.

  2. Thanks for telling this story so beautifully and movingly, Irma. I’m so sorry to hear it but you’re right, it’s good to speak.

  3. This post struck a chord with me. My second baby is due in three weeks. My sister’s first, which was due two months ago, she lost at five and a half months pregnant. This pregnancy, for me, has been bittersweet. I approach the birth of my baby completely anguished by the birth which she endured. You’re right: this topic is all too taboo.

    1. That’s a really tough burden to carry through your pregnancy. Wishing you positive thoughts for your baby’s birth and a safe arrival.

  4. Brilliant. So delicately said.
    I completely agree with you. I have just recently had my book
    printed about my journey with 2 miscarriages, & was so
    compelled to write it to ‘break the silence’.
    The silence is what makes the suffering even harder.
    How ironic.

  5. So true. At the moment I’m reading through all the submissions for the miscarriage anthology I’m editing and the need to break the silence, to acknowledge those babies that the medical professional (mostly) seem to so readily dismiss, is very evident.

  6. So beautifully expressed, Irma. Breaking the silence – and finding community in other women through sharing – is one of the few things that help heal.

  7. What a sad story — I’m so sorry you went through that, but so glad you have written about it and will help other women with your work on this all-too-taboo subject.

  8. Irma, the spring always returns with hope and renewal. Your story is told with poignantly clarity.

  9. The miscarriage anthology (now titled The Sound of Silence) is on the shelves as of this week looking beautiful.

    If you feel like coming along to one of the launches we’re launching in Melbourne this Sunday 9 October at 2pm in the CERES Community Environment Park. The CEO of SIDS and Kids, Leanne Raven, will be doing the launching honours. All welcome (including kids).

    Then we’ll be launching in Canberra for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day on Saturday 15 October at 2pm in the National Library of Australia. Kylie Sheffield, Editor of Birth Matters mag, will be doing the honours. All welcome again.

    Hope to see some of you there!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *