It was while listening to an interview on the High Low podcast with Vanity Fair and New Yorker editor, Tina Brown, that I began thinking about writing this post. While you may not be familiar with the name, you will certainly be familiar with Brown’s work. She was the editor responsible for the 1991 Vanity Fair cover featuring the Annie Leibovitz photograph of a heavily pregnant, naked, Demi Moore. This image, now a right of passage pose for every pregnant celeb, was ground-breaking in its time and marked a massive shift in the public presentation of pregnancy. No longer were women expected to hide their expanding waistlines beneath floral smocks; now they could wear their baby bump with pride. And why not?
But while in recent years the full bloom of pregnancy appears to be something that society can stomach, we still tiptoe around the 12 weeks (that’s almost a third of the pregnancy) prior to the first scan when women must go to ridiculous lengths to conceal their condition. We find ourselves dodging glasses of wine and cups of coffee like bullets, with every social occasion posing a risk of exposure. Work offers little sanctuary either, as you’re forced to hold it together when all you want to do is throw up, fall asleep under your desk or cry.
And why do we go to such lengths to conceal what is, in all probability, glaringly obvious to anyone close to us? (When I turn down a free glass of wine and go cold turkey on coffee anyone who knows me at all knows something is awry).
The answer, for many of us, is that in those high risk, eternally long 12 weeks, we might lose the baby and have to share that fact with others. And yet, as it turned out for me, the one thing that would have made going through a miscarriage worse than it already was, would have been going through it alone and in silence.
The truth is that 1 in 4 women will experience a miscarriage in their lifetime. Yet this seems to be a statistic that the social presentation of pregnancy and the public dialogue around miscarriage conceals.
I found that learning more about the prevalence of miscarriage and hearing about the experiences of other women who had struggled to conceive or who had also miscarried helped to make me feel less like the anomaly – less like the one failure where all other women seemed to have succeeded. Yet it wasn’t until I had made this rite of passage into the 1 in 4 club that these stories were shared with me.
We discovered that I’d lost our baby at the 12 week scan. I had a ‘missed miscarriage’ – no symptoms, no pain, no blood – at 9 weeks our baby’s heart had stopped beating but my body just wouldn’t let it go.
The scan was on a Monday morning and I’d planned to go straight to the office afterwards, ultrasound picture at the ready to show off to friends and family. Instead, we found ourselves sitting in the Early Pregnancy Unit, waiting for hours upon hours, watching a silent TV screen, consumed by the horrible gut-wrenching knowledge that all of the plans we had made for the next nine months and beyond had been torn away.
In the three days that followed between the ultrasound and having surgery to take the baby away I felt like an empty vessel. I spent a day at home and my mum came to visit, I then, rather selfishly (as I was no use to anyone) spent two days at work, sitting in front of my computer, occasionally crying and just trying not to think about what was happening. The team in the EPU, the surgical team and all of the nurses we encountered at UCLH were amazing throughout that awful week. Even more amazing were our family, friends and colleagues who rallied round and supported us more than we ever could have wished for.
We hadn’t told our friends or colleagues about the pregnancy but circumstance meant that we had to tell those closest to us about the miscarriage. And yet now I can’t imagine how we would have got through the weeks that followed without them on our side. My boss was an absolute powerhouse and let me go through the whole spectrum of emotions from the comfort of my desk. My friends and family let me talk and cry and talk some more, and held me close even when I tried to push them away.
I don’t think I was ready for the onslaught of emotions I had after the miscarriage. The initial feeling was one of failure on my part – that I had let my husband and myself down by not carrying our baby to term. I suddenly found it difficult to be around pregnant women and felt a bitter sting every time I gave up my seat on the tube to a woman brandishing a ‘baby on board’ badge. I found myself sobbing in the toilet every time someone announced that they were pregnant and then overwhelmed with guilt for feeling so sad and selfish. Weeks later I felt annoyed at myself for still feeling so sad and told myself that I should be over the grief and that I needed to pull myself together. Later still I went to see a therapist about how I was dealing (or not dealing) with what had happened.
Going through a miscarriage is a very personal experience and while it isn’t something that everyone wants to share one of the most valuable things for me was being able to talk openly to friends and family about the experience, as well as reading other women’s blog posts about what they had been through. Listening to others helped me to realise that experiencing so many mixed emotions is totally normal and not something to feel guilty or ashamed about. While my husband was such a rock throughout and while the experience welded us even more firmly together, we were both glad of the support and perspective that being able to talk to others offered us. While at the moment I still can’t imagine having a successful pregnancy, what this experience has taught me is that even if this does happen again we will be ok; we will be stronger together, and the amazing support network that we have built will be there to catch us if we do trip and fall.