An estimated 14,000 women endure a miscarriage in Ireland every year and many feel it’s taboo to talk about their loss, writes Sharon Ní Chonchúir.
KATHRYN THOMAS opened up to the nation when she appeared on last week’s Late Late Show. The TV presenter spoke candidly about experiencing two miscarriages in the past three years that left her feeling low and defeated.
Now pregnant, with her baby due in April, she described miscarriage as a ‘taboo subject’ in Ireland and that many couples feel they have to suffer their loss in silence. She hoped to change that by sharing her story.
Deirdre Pierce-McDonnell, chairperson of the Miscarriage Association of Ireland, is glad she did. “She normalised miscarriage,” she says. “She made others realise it’s OK for them to acknowledge their grief, to acknowledge that they’ve lost their baby and that they can and should talk about it.”
According to GP Dr Kevin Ryle from the Ashe Street Clinic in Tralee, more than one-in-five pregnancies ends in miscarriage. That’s approximately 14,000 women in Ireland every year.
“Some occur before the woman even knows she is pregnant,” says Dr Ryle. “She has a period that seems heavier than usual and never suspects it’s a miscarried pregnancy. Others occur later and may involve bleeding and cramping or it could be the case that there are no symptoms but an antenatal scan reveals the foetus no longer has a heartbeat. Whatever the case, there can be significant emotional impact and the woman or couple need time to grieve and process the feelings that come with the loss.”
Andrea Mara, an author, freelance writer and blogger from Dublin, knows this from personal experience. The 43-year-old mum of three had a miscarriage at the age of 36.
“I had already had my two girls and was pregnant for the third time,” she says. “The first two pregnancies had been such plain sailing that I thought I knew what I was doing.”
She had followed all of the usual conventions with her first two, such as waiting until after the 12-week scan before telling anyone she was pregnant.
“This time, I told some family and friends at eight weeks,” she says. “I also bought a maternity dress at nine weeks. That dress haunted me afterwards.”
Mara and her husband were so relaxed that he didn’t even accompany her to the 12-week scan. “It took place at my GP’s office but with a doctor I didn’t really know,” she says. “I still remember the words he used when he saw the scan. He said he could see ‘foetal matter’. That sounded so clinical, like a slap in the face. Then he said there was no heartbeat.”
She immediately arranged another scan at the maternity hospital. There she was told that the baby had stopped developing at eight weeks.
“I started thinking maybe my dates were wrong and that was why the baby was small,” she says. “I was in denial.”
Self-blame also began to kick in. “I had stopped feeling sick at eight weeks,” she says. “Maybe I should have known that something was wrong.”
Physically, she recovered from the surgery quickly and was back at work in a few days. But because it had been her third pregnancy, she had already developed a bump and that didn’t disappear immediately.
“I was already angry at my body for duping me and for not letting me know I had miscarried,” she says. “The bump staying there after the miscarriage felt like a further betrayal.”
She also had to tell people about the miscarriage. “It was horrible,” she says. “I asked myself why I hadn’t waited until the scan was over to tell them. But in hindsight, I’m glad they knew. It meant they could support me through it.
“Kathryn Thomas is right when she says that people don’t know what to say about it,” she says. “Hearing her story made me realise the time had come to share mine. Real-life stories have power. They can help other people to understand that others have felt the way they do, which can be of some comfort.”
For Mara, the emotional damage caused by her miscarriage lessened when she had her third child.
“I was angry and upset until I became pregnant again five months later,” she says. “That pregnancy was an anxious one with lots of scans and worrying. I never fully relaxed until he was born but when he was, that was our happy ending.”
Not everybody’s story will end as happily but Dr Ryle reassures women who have miscarried that the majority of them will go on to have babies in the future.
“It usually takes two to three months for a woman’s menstrual cycle to resume and then she is physically ready to have a baby again,” he says. “But she should give herself time to grieve. Women and couples need it in order to be ready for the emotional rollercoaster that is involved in being pregnant and bringing a baby into the world.”
In the meantime, Pierce-McDonnell of the Miscarriage Association urges those women and couples to talk.
“Talk about your feelings and know you’re not alone,” she says. “If you need help, our association is run by women who have been where you are now. We’re here to listen so you don’t have to suffer your loss in silence.”
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