Early miscarriage: Does it even count?

Were you aware that, back in the day, early miscarriages never used to happen? Or rather, they did, but they were not remarked upon, ever. The average woman would get up in the morning and make her way t’mill, wading through cobbled streets knee-deep in embryos carelessly dropped along the way. Perhaps she, too, would deposit one as she went along. She wouldn’t notice, mind. These were the days before First Response and Clearblue would make pregnant women aware of their condition with such unseemly haste. And even if our olden days woman had noticed – missed periods, vomiting, tits as hard as boulders – she wouldn’t have paid any heed, not even when it culminated in a massive hemorrhage outside the local workhouse. Women were made of harder stuff back then.

It’s all different now, you know. I blame the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Now women get upset at the drop of a hat, or even a fetus. I should know; I did it myself when I had a miscarriage at 10 weeks. I mean, 10 weeks isn’t as pathetic as five or six, but still, it’s not great going. Indeed, sometimes I have been tempted to add on a couple of weeks, to at least make it sound like I had a scan and – sniff – saw a heart beating. Otherwise it’s a bit like the whole miscarriage trauma happened in my stupid, pampered head.

Modern sensibilities aside, I am nevertheless surprised that some people, when you tell them that you found your early miscarriage upsetting, still see fit to inform you that years ago, no one would have given a shit. I mean, it’s not quite the same as them saying that they don’t give a shit. But it comes close enough. Close enough to make you feel that if you’ve not actually had a stillbirth, you really should shut the fuck up.

The trouble is, I really have tried to manage my emotions on this one. I know the statistics and long before I even got pregnant I came up with a plan for expectation management, just so I’d avoid being one of those people who gets carried away and makes a complete prat of themselves. I’m not sure how to embed PowerPoints in blog posts, so here’s the bullet pointed version:

Trying for a baby: The competition metaphor

  1. Having unprotected sex = Entering the contest
  2. Missing a period = Getting longlisted for the Baby Prize
  3. Passing the 12-week mark = Getting onto the shortlist
  4. Getting into your final trimester = Reaching the final
  5. Having a live birth = Congratulations! You won!

In theory, this all makes sense to me. Best not get too excited – you’re not a mummy yet. Unfortunately, though, this never works in practice. As soon as I’ve had my first condom-free shag I’m in there, thinking “was that it? Could this be the one?? What’s the date 38 weeks from now???” It’s awful, and is precisely why trying for a baby, regardless of how much shagging it involves, ends up being totally crap.

Whenever I’ve been pregnant I’ve told people way before the 12-week mark. I know this is against “the rules”, but I don’t give a toss. The only people who really understood how devastated I was post-miscarriage were the ones who’d known how excited I’d been. As far as everyone else was concerned, it was a miscarriage, but never a potential baby. Responses to the loss included “I presume it was an accident” (my dad) and “had you decided whether to keep it?” (my boss). I guess it’s reasonable; they’d never had to think of me as a pregnant person. But sometimes, I can’t help thinking: when it comes to keeping quiet for the first twelve weeks, whose feelings are we really sparing? Silence doesn’t make a pregnancy less real for the person experiencing it, but it can let everyone else off the hook when it comes to engaging with miscarriage as a common yet painful reality.

I’m not suggesting that an early miscarriage is as heartrending as a stillbirth, or even that it needs to be distressing at all (for instance, if the pregnancy is unwanted, the Penelope Trunk response seems to me to be perfectly reasonable). I do however feel that a huge amount of stigma surrounds early miscarriage and how it can affect people if the pregnancy was wanted. I actually feel embarrassed that I couldn’t at least have miscarried later. How dare I get so upset! Who the hell do I think I am? But I was upset. I might have only known it for a few weeks, but the difference between a life and a nothingness is overwhelming.

I find it interesting that while in recent years several celebrities – Kelly Brook, Kym Marsh, Lily Allen, Amanda Holden – have discussed late miscarriage and stillbirth quite openly, very few women in the public eye mention early losses. And there must be loads more who’ve experienced these. Perhaps you’re just meant to dust yourself down and get on with it. But it doesn’t seem right, or helpful, to me (not that I’m begging for a Heat “miscarriage hell” exposé, complete with “how I lost my first trimester weight”. Just a culture which recognises that something very sad is happening to a lot of people every day, and respects their right to discuss it openly).

Anyhow, I’m thinking of all this because last night I was reading the Mumsnet Campaign for Better Miscarriage Care talkboard. Five years since my own miscarriage it is strange to be reminded of all the pain and uncertainty miscarrying women go through, and also sad to know how hard it is to say anything that can make these women feel better. But just as an initial suggestion, “we never had this in the old days” and “it’s down to all these early pregnancy tests” is not the best place to start.

POSTSCRIPT: This piece by Maggie Koerth-Baker is absolutely heartbreaking and brilliant. Really recommend reading, just to know you are not alone.


15 thoughts on “Early miscarriage: Does it even count?

  1. Brilliant post. I had a similar response to my miscarriage at 9 weeks. “You wouldn’t have known it was a miscarriage in the old days”, or words to that effect. This coming from someone who never experienced one. People do think it’s like having a heavy period. Like hell it is. I found great support online when I needed it. An early pregnancy loss is still a loss. Comparing it with later losses or stillbirths is ridiculous. It’s not a competition. (I like the analogy).

    1. I’m so sorry that happened to you as well. I rememeber when I went back to work a colleague who knew said “shall I tell everyone else you’ve just had flu?” And I didn’t want to say that, but I went along with it because it felt like I was meant to, and that telling the truth would be unprofessional. I really hate how hidden and almost shameful it’s meant to be!

      1. Because of a series of circumstances, I told work at 10 weeks so when I miscarried everyone knew. I didn’t really mind because they were really lovely & supportive but I hated how embarrassed I felt. As if I had set to do something & failed royally in front of everyone. Why?????

        1. There seems to be a very fixed narrative surrounding pregnancy and how it’s meant to go, despite the fact that in a huge proportion of cases it doesn’t work out. I can totally identify with that sense of failure. I also felt as though I was casting a huge shadow over everyone’s stories of pregnancy and baby joy. Pregnancy is almost seen as an achievement, perhaps because it’s too frightening to admit that so much of it’s random luck.

  2. Brilliant post. I miscarried at 12 weeks and I felt a) ashamed at how upset I was & b) embarrassed for having told people before the first scan (I hate that fucking ‘rule’). But even now I wonder if I would have been expected to hide the miscarriage from those that didn’t know, as if it were some shameful, secret failure…

    However, I do think that (most) people say things with the best intention. They are trying to comfort their loved ones in a situation that is rarely openly discussed or talked about. I remember thinking that it just felt SO awkward for everyone. Being told ‘cheer up, love, it could have been a stillbirth’ is not what you need to hear & whoever is saying it most probably doesn’t mean to make you feel stupid for being sad. What we need, as you say, it’s ‘a culture which recognises that something very sad is happening to a lot of people every day, and respects their right to discuss it openly’.

    That way, we might find it easier to ask for the support we actually need & our family, friends & colleagues would be able actually help, which I’m sure it’s what they mean to do in the first place.

  3. I had a miscarriage at 8 weeks. I had one child already but was absolutely devastated. I had imagined a whole life for that child in those 4 weeks and mine with that child in it. Luckily I got pregnant the next month and so got over it quite quickly. I think if I had been childless or not had another soon after, it might have been different.

    But (controversially) I have been very surprised by some reactions to extremely early miscarriage, and I mean, period a few days late with a few added symptoms. I am sure this has happened to most of us. Certainly me. But a few weeks ago I read a blog post written by someone, with children, who wasn’t trying for another child, who had a late period. When the period arrived, she looked back and realised it *may* have been an early miscarriage. She didn’t have a positive pregnancy test. She then proceeded to write an entire blogpost about how devastated she was about it and how unsympathetic her Dr had been about it. To be honest, I did find that to be a little strange, if not, dare I say it, self-indulgent. For me the whole desperate sadness came from knowing you were carrying a baby, and imagining my life with that baby.

    This may seem a little harsh and I would argue that even a miscarriage at 5 weeks can be devastating but such a reaction for just a ‘suspected miscarriage’ just seemed too much.

  4. Thank you for writing this post.

    I had an early miscarriage and I felt gutted. I grieved for a potential child.

    We’d told people that I was pregnant (including my boss) and started to discuss names. I know you’re supposed to wait until 12 weeks, but that seemed unduly pessimistic.

    As it was, I was glad I had told people about the pregnancy. People who cared about me helped to comfort me following the miscarriage.

  5. I have had 14 early miscarriages. And an ectopic pregnancy that nearly killed me. Each one was my baby. I saw the line turn blue. I pondered names. I browsed baby clothes and pushchairs. I imagined holding them, feeding them, taking them to nursery, to school, watching them graduate, marry and I held their children. I held in my womb a whole lifetime. And suddenly it was gone. No amount of “it wasn’t meant to be” “at least you can get pregnant” “its very early, in the old days you wouldn’t have known” or “there was something wrong with it” makes that better. Ever.

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  7. Thank you for writing a great piece. I miscarried 3 times at 11 weeks and was always made to feel that I shouldn’t be so upset and sad. It still hits hard at such early stage , especially when it was so desperately wanted. When I think about it even now, 20 years on it brings back sad emotions.

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