I have had four miscarriages: two in 2017 (4.5w, 7.5w), one in 2018 (5w) and one in 2019 (8w – trisomy 11). We also have a daughter born in 2015 with no prior losses. We are currently going through IVF in the hope that science makes better embryos than we do.
This journey would possibly be easier if the emotions associated with it were a continuum. Once you’d gone through one stage of emotions, you’d know that was the end of it and also what you’d be facing next. But it seems as soon as you feel as though you are moving forwards emotionally, you can instantly take 10 steps straight back. It might be a pregnancy announcement, a throwaway ‘at least’ comment about your situation, or a stranger intruding on your family planning. Or it might be nothing at all, which only adds to the confusion of your current emotional state.
Here’s a round-up of the emotions I have experienced at any one time in this journey, sometimes in the space of a single day. Hopefully it helps to normalise some of the things you may also be going through.
An obvious place to start. Whether loss or infertility or both, you are grieving the loss of something. The loss of the future you dreamed of and hoped for. The loss of pregnancy being a glorious and innocently beautiful time. The loss of hope, the loss of the person you used to be. In the case of miscarriage and also assisted reproduction cycle failure, there is a definitive starting point for the stages of grief themselves.
There are people who don’t understand how you can grieve someone who never existed as a person. While the way you grieve a person might be different to the way you grieve a pregnancy loss, there is still the loss of a future person and someone who would have been a part of your own future. You grieve the fact that you won’t get to know your own child. You have lost a life that you created, no matter how much time they spent with you.
You will most likely get angry at some point, sometimes irrationally. Angry at your own body. Angry at yourself for doing/not doing x, for not being able to ‘get over it’, for the choices you may have made. Angry at your partner, for many, many different reasons. Angry at your doctors or health care providers (this was certainly the case with my fourth loss). Angry at every other person who is able to get pregnant by being in the same room as their partner (it will seem as though everyone is pregnant when you no longer are). Angry at people who abuse or neglect their children, or seem to take them for granted.
Many of my angry moments have been punctuated by asking no-one in particular, ‘What have I done to deserve this?’
One of the things I have been most proud about in my life is my ability/choice to live without regret. Everything in life is a learning experience and you gain something from everything. That all changed when I started losing babies. I regretted the choices I had made in terms of family planning and regretted not being more insistent about our family planning choices. My gut had told me a long time ago that I was probably going to struggle to have babies, but as I had no real evidence to back that up, I continually shrugged it off.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I find myself often wishing for a crystal ball to know how this chapter of my life ends. You cannot plan ahead for everything, and if you are not surrounded by people who openly talk about baby loss and infertility (as the vast majority of us aren’t) then you are less likely to factor it into your future considerations.
Once you have lost a baby, there seems to be an undercurrent of fear. You fear both getting pregnant and not getting pregnant. If you get pregnant, then you risk losing again. If you don’t get pregnant you won’t ever get the child you so desperately want.
Fear of the unknown is also a factor here. My last loss was chromosomal, but the previous three were unknown. We have suspicions but no way of knowing. I fear that not knowing this information means we could be missing a link to the puzzle that may complete our story. And there is the very real fear that not knowing means we are at risk of whatever it is happening again.
I find myself doing a fair amount of wishing and hoping, reflecting and bargaining. No amount of gratefulness in those moments can counteract the feeling that you wish with all your heart that things were different and your baby was currently safe in your arms. This seems to be one of those emotions that tends to circulate, rather than being a stage of recovery.
Oh, the guilt. Guilt that you put on yourself and guilt that gets heaped on you by others (often innocently and inadvertently). Guilt for being sad when there are other people who’ve lost babies at full term (my second brother was stillborn and I did have it suggested to me while in the throes of miscarrying for the second time that that was worse than what I was experiencing). Guilt because there are people who can’t get pregnant at all. Guilt because someone has implied that you’re not ‘grateful’ enough for what you do have, or that you’re taking too long to ‘get over it’.
I read a wonderful thread on Reddit recently that summed up this situation perfectly. That someone will always have it worse than you, and there is one person in the world has it the worst of all. That person is not the only person who is entitled to complain about their situation. There is no hierarchy of grief.
I personally have been very lucky throughout this journey. I already have one amazing child (which in some ways makes this harder for many reasons) so my dreams of being a parent at all have been realised. I have a stable relationship. I have a supportive family. I have the most amazing GP ever, and it has been awful to hear through recent research that 75% of women experiencing miscarriage have not received adequate support from their healthcare providers. I’ve also had no medical complications with any of my miscarriages.
Experiencing negative and hard emotions does not mean you are not grateful for the things you do have, which has been suggested to me (‘don’t forget about your little girl’, among other helpful reminders). At the same time, remembering the things you have that are positive may help provide a flicker of light on the dark days, but gratefulness is something you need to experience yourself in your own time, not something you need to be reminded about by others. Gratitude and grief are NOT mutually exclusive.
This one is the one that has surprised me the most, I think. I come from a line of emotionally strong and stubborn women. My maternal grandmother seemed to have almost every medical condition known to man. Diabetes, kidney failure, diverticulitis, endometriosis, clotting disorders, and that’s just what I remember. You’d never have known it. She was very Victorian in her manner and blunt about life.
My second loss was my hardest. My first, I didn’t know I was pregnant until I had started miscarrying. My second was a constant merry-go-round of bleeding, cramping, positive news, negative news, until it all ended at 7.5 weeks. My fourth, from a medical point of view, was the most traumatic but I coped with it the best. I knew a lot of what to expect and I also knew that I did best with a clear plan for the future, which we had in place before that fourth pregnancy.
After my third loss, my GP referred me to a fertility specialist and suggested we might need to go down the IVF path. At first I was almost offended, but my determination and ability to rationalise won over and we are currently going through our first cycle. Needles don’t bother me but the idea of actually injecting several times a day was a little daunting. Now I’m doing the shots myself. The strangest part is, I’m so focused on the process that I’ve almost forgotten what the end goal is. I’ve just put on my ‘this is what I’ve got to do’ pants and got on with it, which I wasn’t expecting. My GP said that from an emotional standpoint, after everything we’ve been through, that IVF would likely not be any harder than what we’ve already experienced, and so far that has been the case.
There is nothing wrong with you and nothing to be ashamed of if right now you don’t feel you have the ability to move on or work through processes. But for those who may have got to that point, it is also normal. And it may also come with other baggage, like feeling as though you are forgetting your babies, or that maybe you should still be grieving somewhat.
Pregnancy loss and infertility are still taboos. I have been fairly open with most people, but even then, people will only talk to my husband about it, never with me directly. I recently announced our loss and infertility journey to a small group of friends on social media, in a post which also made mention of the recent passing of my husband’s mother (her passing had coincided with the beginning of our IVF cycle). Almost all comments and personal messages I received afterwards only made mention of my MIL’s passing, nothing of our four angels and IVF. Those who did mention it did so somewhat cryptically. None of our friends would have done this with any intention or malice, but society still wants us to keep such things behind closed doors.
It is not surprising then that loneliness would factor in among the emotions you may feel. It seems like no one else is suffering the same fate. Yet, talk to other women and many will tell you that they too have had a miscarriage. Most people don’t seem comfortable admitting this until many years later, which doesn’t paint a realistic picture for someone who is experiencing it right now.
Social media is starting to break down these barriers. It is much easier to be candid via text. You can get your thoughts in order. You can meet people you’d never meet in real life due to location. A group of people going through exactly what you are can meet in one place. My hope for the future is that physical support groups will emerge from these social media networks to truly humanise and personalise the interaction.