Before continuing to read this please note it may be triggering for those who have experience of baby loss…..please bear this in mind and take care of yourselves before reading further. This is an incredibly personal post so please note all experiences are based on my experience of miscarriage.
I recognize I am a person who processes life events by writing about them. I realized quite soon after my miscarriage that I would need to write about it to help me grieve but now the time has come I don’t really know where to start. I do know I want to reflect on my experience as a student midwife grieving over my lost baby and how I felt/feel.
I started this blog post by doing a quick search for research and other blogs written by midwives who had experienced baby loss but the area is quite sparse. I was surprised by this as midwifery is dominated by women and as miscarriage effects 200,000 couples each year and 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage (Tommys.org.uk) the chances are a lot of midwives are touched by miscarriage.
I feel like midwives losing babies is a subject not really talked about. Maybe it is discussed among colleagues, friends and peers but my experience is it all feels a little taboo…..like if I talk about it I may be judged as not being able to do my job or might fall apart when taking care of pregnant women….I can’t really verbalise my feelings regarding this other than this was my personal experience of miscarriage as a student midwife. I felt like I needed to just carry on as taking time off may be perceived as a sign of weakness (this is not something I was told by anybody but it was how I felt). This degree is relentless…if I took time off I may never go back so I felt I needed to be ok…to show resilience, put my head down and ‘power through’.
I started my midwifery degree with 3 school age children and felt my family was complete. Both my lovely husband and I were both told, for various reasons, our individual fertility was irreparably damaged so as a couple our chances of conceiving were zilch….which was fine! After a particularly gruelling schedule of placement, exams, essay deadlines, family pressures etc I felt ill…..really ill. More than tired ill and more than stressed ill…I felt dreadful. I have been pregnant 3 times so I recognise the signs. I returned home after my first exam and did a pregnancy test……which was positive!!! I was stunned! Being a StMw (Student Midwife) the first thing I did was calculate my EDD (estimated due date)……our baby was due on our 13th wedding anniversary…..surely this was a sign that the little miracle bean growing inside me was meant to be?
After the shock settled for both me and my husband we started to get excited….this was a door that was firmly closed, bolted, locked and double padlocked! We had been given a chance! I knew the stats….I am 41 for goodness sake! I recited the stats to my husband to try to keep us grounded in the reality that this pregnancy was unlikely to continue but we had got pregnant against the odds so surely I would be ok?!
I went through a whole array of emotions and my thoughts were racing:
I wouldn’t graduate with my cohort which was gutting BUT I would have a much wanted baby…. which was wonderful!
We had no money…..no answer to that really except we would manage!
We are OLD – our youngest is 7 so we would be starting again when all our friends had similar aged children to ours….we didn’t care, we love babies and children!
….and many many more random thoughts…but most of all we were thrilled and, as all couples who are pregnant with a longed for child do, we made plans. We planned when we would tell people, when I would leave uni, when I would return, how I would cope with the pressures of a full on degree when pregnant in my 40’s, who would do my booking as I know all the community midwives in my area? Would people judge us as irresponsible and foolish? The odds of having a healthy baby were not in our favour so would family/ friends/ fellow midwives judge us for getting pregnant especially given all my husband’s health issues and my ever depressing age?! Do you know what?….we didn’t care! We felt so happy and blessed!
I grew our baby for 10 days….10 remarkable, wonderful days when I felt fertile and hopeful and excited. 10 days of hope and dreams and of improving stats (I found an app that showed the likelihood of me miscarrying reducing by the day)…I fell in love.
We were going away for a few days to end my 3 sons’ fortnight holiday from school. I had 2 exams and an essay deadline during this fortnight so the boys had been bribed to tolerate my emotional absence and grumpiness with promises of having 100% mummy for 4 days at the end of their holiday. On the Friday morning we were going away I started to bleed. By Sunday night it was pretty much all over. The hcg line on the pregnancy test had gone from a strong line to a faded line only visible when held up to the light. I was inconsolable and angry….why let me get pregnant for this to happen? I felt my body had let me down. I felt foolish for hoping….this was an incredibly early miscarriage and in a cold, clinical light I could accept that my very efficient body had dealt with a non-viable pregnancy quickly and with little fuss; but this knowledge did little to stop my heart from breaking.
I called my local EPU (early pregnancy unit) on the Monday morning we were leaving our mini break to confirm what I already knew. The very lovely, kind sounding nurse confirmed I was likely miscarrying and informed me to repeat the pregnancy test a week later to ensure all the ‘products of conception’ had gone and to ring immediately if I started to haemorrhage, have severe pain or pass large clots. My pregnancy was all but over. When we returned home I found the pregnancy test with the strong hcg positive line and I sobbed; that proved our baby had been real, albeit momentarily.
I was on placement in the community the next day and was also scheduled to attend a 20 week ultrasound anomaly scan with one of my caseholding couples.
Would I be ok?
Part of me felt silly for being so upset…this was very early (I was about 6 weeks) and people lose babies at all stages of pregnancy how dare I be so upset about such an early loss? But I was…it was the loss of hope and loss of a future we had dreamed of and imagined. The loss of us being parents to 4 children and being a family of 6 ….or more! We had joked it may be twins (my age and a family history of twins increased this possibility).
I was a counsellor before training as a midwife and during my 15 years as a practising counsellor I experienced major personal life traumas but, with increased support from my supervisor I maintained my practice throughout. I know I am able to acknowledge my own feelings whilst also allowing the space within myself to empathise and be present for others in a professional capacity. For this reason I felt I would be okay to attend placement but remain mindful and aware of my own emotions whilst staying grounded in my role as ‘student midwife’. I have always felt it is my role as a professional to empathise not identify. Allow an individual to experience their own situation without inflicting my personal feelings and experience on them.
I sat in the 20 week ultrasound scan with one of my caseholding couples and I was genuinely excited for them. Their baby looked healthy and they were told they were likely having a baby girl. I was thrilled for them and felt emotional and privileged at being able to experience such a lovely, personal moment. I went home after finishing the rest of my shift and felt ok but the poignancy of the situation was not lost on me as I could still feel my body dealing with the loss of my baby.
So what can we do as midwives?
…….Baby loss is a fact of life…the stats prove this. The stats don’t show the women and their partners behind that loss. The stats don’t show how many midwives experience baby loss. The stats don’t give you the tools to manage that loss. I have coping mechanisms thanks to my previous career but I am not made of stone…..what I found hard was not a 20 week ultrasound scan but an 8 week booking appointment when I would have been 8 weeks pregnant and it would have been around the time of my own booking appointment. I didn’t fall apart and I was (I believe) fully present for the couple during that booking appointment but did I go and have a cry on the toilet after it?…. Yes I did.
What needs to change?
……I am not sure……more talking amongst midwives of their own experiences of baby loss (hence this blog…..very few people knew I was pregnant so I feel quite exposed writing this but I am trying, in my own small way, to challenge the perceived taboo) and an acknowledgement that miscarriages, even very early ones like mine, leave a footprint. Our wedding anniversary will come and go and we will acknowledge our baby existed for however short that amount of time was.
Miscarriage is discussed in a very clinical way with terms like ‘products of conception’, ’tissue’ and ‘chemical pregnancy’ but I needed to talk about my ‘baby’ and ‘hope’. I needed to talk about how I felt about my 3 beautiful sons not having the chance to meet their baby brother or sister. I needed to sob & sob and not feel guilty for crying over somebody who only existed for a short space of time. I am not a Christian or a particularly spiritual person but our baby existed to me & my husband and we need time to be sad. My husband was quite pragmatic until we did the final (negative) pregnancy test …until that point he must have been carrying some hope (I was not; the test for me was a relief that my body had dealt with everything and I didn’t need to go to hospital and have any medical procedures) and he cried. I was shocked…..I am embarrassed that I was shocked as I feel like I should know better but I was genuinely surprised he was so upset. Fathers need acknowledgement within baby loss too and they tend to grieve differently. My experience as a counsellor is it seems to take longer for men to acknowledge loss and therefore grieve. This is worth bearing in mind when supporting families with loss.
If you are working with women and their partners following baby loss, please acknowledge the loss; acknowledge the sadness and grief. Being told “well it was very early” is unhelpful as it undermines a couple’s grief, we needed permission to be sad not platitudes in an aim to ‘cheer us up’. Being told “well at least you can get pregnant” is also unhelpful as that does not acknowledge the loss of this pregnancy and this baby which is what we were experiencing. What helped me was my amazing trio of fellow Student Midwives who were my friends. They were not clinical or ‘midwifey’ they were my friends and gave me permission to grieve.
Thank you for reading.