It’s getting to the point where I need to tell people about what happened.
I told my family on Monday. Himself told his folks today.
My friends, however, are another story. Some are wonderful. Some aren’t – not because they don’t care but just because miscarriage is such dangerous emotional territory. Anything to do with death is tricky but miscarriage is such an intangible type of bereavement.
So why tell people?
With each successive pregnancy and miscarriage, we’ve told fewer and fewer people (except when drunk). Fourth time round, I can’t bear the burden of keeping my loss a secret. It’s going to be a while before I can put on my armour and face the world again. I’m incapable of putting on a brave face anymore. I feel vulnerable and isolated and I desperately need some support. If I could surgically attach myself to Himself right now, I probably would but I can’t lean so hard on him. I don’t believe that’s fair. He’s hurting too.
Having said that, I dread the thought of sharing this news. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, because it’s so upsetting to recount. Secondly, no matter how well meaning people are, they can say some awfully stupid things. Thirdly (is that a word?), I am so raw that I don’t think I can cope with another badly judged remark. When I’m in turmoil, it’s hard to find a neutral way to say ‘What the fuck are you on about?’ I usually bite my tongue and try to rationalise that my friend means well but I have to admit that some comments have hurt me deeply.
And please remember – just because Himself hasn’t endured the physical aspects of a miscarriage doesn’t mean he isn’t hurting too. He’s not immune to what people say. It affects him too.
I remember two friends in particular who suffered miscarriages in the past. I wish I’d reacted better … I know now that I didn’t give them the support they needed purely because I was so scared of saying the wrong thing and making it worse. I wish I’d been braver.
We talk about miscarriage in hushed tones in Ireland. There’s very little guidance for people going through their first miscarriage and there’s hardly anything out there for friends and family. So, I’ve drafted my own Modern Guide to Miscarriage Etiquette. This is written entirely from my own experience and I do not speak for other women here. The intention of this guide is not to embarrass anyone who may have made a gaffe talking to a friend about their miscarriage. I just want you to understand why your comment may have hurt them so you don’t do it again. I also want you to know what friends have said that have helped me.
So let’s start with the ‘Don’ts’
THE MODERN GUIDE TO MISCARRIAGE ETIQUETTE – THE TOP 10 ‘DON’TS’
10. “Do you think it happened because you’re a vegetarian?”
This question implies that you think that it might be my fault that my baby died. I feel like such a failure already for not being able to carry to term. Please don’t give me another reason to blame myself.
9. “I’m so gutted for you. It’s not fair! Jesus, it’s so awful – I can’t stop sobbing uncontrollably.”
I know you feel my loss deeply but please don’t cry so hard.
It’s nice that you care so much but this is happening to me – not you. I shouldn’t have to pull myself together to console you about my bereavement.
8. “I’m avoiding you because I’m pregnant and I don’t want to make you sad ;-( “
Guess what, I’m already sad. In fact, my heart is broken.
If I’ve reached out to you during this difficult time, please be touched by that. Please don’t avoid me because it might be awkward or I might cry or because you feel guilty that your pregnancy has been a success so far.
I just lost a baby. I can’t afford to lose your friendship too.
7. “I don’t know how to tell you I’m pregnant so I’m going to do it in front of lots of other people.”
I would like to thank all the friends who have had the courage to call me up or invite me for a coffee or dinner to tell me their good news. Thank you for your sensitivity and for giving me the opportunity to be happy for you.
To my other friends, I know that you are doing best to deal with a very sensitive situation. But just so you know, I’ve found that it’s hard for me to hear the news when we’re surrounded by mutual friends who know my history. Once you share your big news, all eyes then turn to me to see how I’m coping. The pressure to smile and act so happy for you is just too much.
I can take good news but I can’t take being under the microscope when you share yours.
Personally speaking, I’ve learned that I like a phone call. My friend can tell me her good news. I can tell her I’m over the moon and then when the conversation comes to a natural end, I can hang up.
If I need to have a cry because I’m reminded of all those times I found out I was pregnant – that’s fine. I can do it in the comfort of my own home. That’s my business – not yours. All you need to know is that from the bottom of my heart, I love you and I’m happy for you.
6. “Your miscarriage totally reminds me of when I was in labour and – “
I understand there are parallels but there are a number of crucial differences between your labour and my miscarriage:
a) I was alone during my miscarriage. Did you give birth alone?
Quite a lot of people I’ve met (myself included) have miscarried alone (usually on their first). When you first learn you’re miscarrying, you don’t know how bad it may get. You may decide to let the miscarriage ‘pass’ naturally or have a medically induced miscarriage at home (i.e. the doctor gives you a pill to take).
Because this can take anywhere from two days to a week to happen, we send our partners or loved ones back to work. After all, it’s not like they can afford to take the time off and how bad can it be? It’s just like a bad period, right? Well, that depends on what stage your pregnancy is at and if it’s medically induced or not. Unfortunately, this is a rookie error loads of us make.
Miscarriages can be extraordinarily physically painful and of course, the passing of the foetus takes an enormous emotional toll. For those of us who miscarry alone, there is no partner at our side offering moral support and no doctor or midwife explaining what’s going on.
For friends who’ve done a solo miscarriage at home, they always refer to the small practicalities that nobody thought to advise them on at the time like having :-
– a well-stocked fridge
– keeping food and water within easy reach
– getting the doctor to prescribe some decent painkillers
– using old sheets or towels
– making sure a partner or loved one has their phone on and can ditch work when it gets too difficult to bear alone.
In these situations, you’re not just alone. You are completely responsible for your own welfare during a distressing, medical event that is happening to you but is completely outside your control.
b. Childbirth is defined as a ‘medical emergency’ – miscarriage isn’t.
What this means is that birth is the priority in an Irish maternity hospital – miscarriage isn’t. I ended up having my first partial miscarriage in a toilet of the Emergency Room in my hospital after waiting six hours to be seen by a doctor. We were only looking for a prescription for pain killers.
When I returned a week later for my D&C, I was left in a ward and started to miscarry again. I lost far more blood than I should have. I did manage to get pain relief this time but nobody checked in to see how I was doing. They didn’t need to – it was only a miscarriage.
I was stalled on my way to theater for the D&C. There was an emergency c-section that had to take precedence. I was ‘parked’, on my gurney, in what was the hospital’s equivalent of a stationery cupboard. For the next hour, as I lay on this gurney, various theater staff would rush in, tell me they were sorry for my loss and then awkwardly reach over me to find a utensil on one of the shelves surrounding me.
Please don’t misunderstand me. If your child is at risk during your labour, by all means, please the skip the queue. And as for hospital staff, I have enormous respect for their professionalism and for the compassion they show day in and day out. It’s not their fault that they work under such pressurised conditions with minimal resources.
But in a hospital situation, I am the second class citizen. To use another analogy – if we were in a garage, your birth would be treated like a ferrari and my miscarriage would be treated like a clapped out nissan micra.
c. Your labour and my miscarriage have very different outcomes.
We have both experienced tremendous physical pain and we have both been terrified but at the end of your journey, you held your baby in your arms. You don’t want to know where my baby ended up.
5. “I’m devastated too:
a. I’m having a boy instead of the girl I always dreamed of
b. I’ve just found out I can’t have a natural childbirth
c. I’m not able to breastfeed
d. My kids won’t sleep and they are driving me crazy!”
All of the above problems are valid and understandable.
However, if I’ve just told you that I’ve lost a pregnancy or if I’m still recovering from a miscarriage, it’s best if you share this problem with someone else.
That baby in your womb or in your home is healthy and well. I’m grieving for a baby that didn’t make it. Your problem sounds like paradise to me and it’s just too painful for me to sympathise right now.
In the meantime, I’m still available as a shoulder to cry on for terminal illnesses, delinquent teenagers, relationship break-ups, job losses, financial problems, fashion crises, difficult neighbours etc.
4. “I know I’m not supposed to know about your miscarriage but Johnny told Mary who told me and I just want to say …”
There are many reasons for not advertising a miscarriage. Sometimes we don’t tell people because it’s just too close to the bone. Not only does miscarriage bring up a lot of sadness for me but there’s also a lot of shame attached. I failed at something very dear to me and I feel vulnerable right now. Also, it’s a very traumatic event and can be incredibly tough to talk about.
I’m sorry you’re not in on the secret but I have good reasons for not sharing this with every single person I care about. In my experience, when people (who I didn’t tell) raise the subject of my pregnancy loss, I experience two overwhelming emotions:
a. Rage – how could someone close to me betray my confidence when I asked them not to tell anyone about my loss?
b. Shock – You have just reminded me of a very frightening and distressing experience completely out of the blue.
If I’m having a good day, I’ll bite my tongue and thank you for your sympathy. Then, I’ll quickly change the subject.
If I’m having a bad day, I may well break down in front of you and ball my eyes out for three hours. Are you prepared for that? Will you be able to give me the support that I need in that moment? I don’t think you’ve thought this through.
If I haven’t told you about my miscarriage, don’t push the subject. You may be close to me but it is none of your business. I’ll tell you if and when I’m ready.
3. “When can you visit me and my new baby? To be honest, I could do with a hand …”
In fairness, most friends have been great about this. However, for those of you who don’t get it, please know that I’m genuinely happy for you. I want to visit you and I promise I will be there as soon as I can. Just please give me time to heal and please don’t pressurise me.
And please, please please don’t presume that because some time has passed since my miscarriage(s) that I am in a place to help you with your beautiful child. You may think I should have gotten over my loss by now but grief doesn’t work like that.
Even being asked to help out with a newborn is incredibly distressing. For me to help you with your newborn baby right now would be the equivalent of slowly scraping my skin off with a razor. How can I tell you that without upsetting both you and me?
2. “There was obviously something wrong with the foetus. This is how nature deals with defects. Really, it’s for the best.“
Many people have said this to me. They say it kindly because they think it will console me.
I’ve lost something / someone very dear to me.
You mean so well but you underestimate the love I felt for that ‘defective’ embryo / foetus / baby of mine. I don’t think you understand how badly I wanted that baby.
Please don’t tell me that it’s a good thing that it died.
1. “At least you can get pregnant.”
About 80 per cent of friends and family have proffered this auld chestnut to me when they learned my news.
Do me a favour and imagine this:
You’ve just crashed your car. Just as the car is about to go up in flames, you’re pulled from the vehicle. You are dragged to safety but you’ve suffered some terrible injuries. It’s decided there and then that your two legs require amputation just below the knee.
The next day, you tell me about this horrific incident and the sudden loss of your limbs. I give you a comforting squeeze and say, ‘At least you’ve still got your thighs …’
At some point in the future, I’ll be ready to try again and I’ll come round to the conclusion that I’m very lucky to get pregnant. However, right now, I’m in terrible pain – please don’t force a silver lining upon me. It might make you feel better to say something positive but it makes me feel like shit.
And so, let us move on to more positive territory.
THE MODERN GUIDE TO MISCARRIAGE ETIQUETTE – THE TOP 3 ‘DO’S’
3. Please check in on me.
Even if I don’t pick up the phone, please call me or text me every couple of days to remind me that I’m not alone.
2. It’s the simple things you say that help me the most.
– I’m so sorry for your loss.
– That sounds awful.
– How are you coping today?
– How is Himself getting on?
– What do you need?
– What can I do?
– Would you like a visit?
– I’m going to the shops, can I pick up anything for you?
1. I’ll talk. You listen.
Irish people are awful with silence. We need to fill up every difficult emotional space with tonnes and tonnes of words – no matter how mindless they are.
With each pregnancy loss, I find the well meant conversations increasingly suffocating.
I yearn for a quiet moment with a friend who just listens, without judgement, about my experience. I don’t need someone to interrupt me, or to explain why I need to look on the bright side or to awkwardly change the subject because I’m upset.
Your words won’t heal me but your presence helps. Just sit here with me in the quiet and be with me during this very difficult time.
Really, I couldn’t ask for more.