We need to end the silence around miscarriage

On World Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, Jennifer Stevens recalls her own experience and speaks to the women who contributed to Miscarriage in Ireland, an Irish Examiner special report, earlier this year
We need to end the silence around miscarriage

Picture: iStock 

Loss was a recurrent theme in my life for almost five years. It was there through every celebration, every family gathering, birthdays, Christmases, holidays. Like a shadow following me on a sunny day, it was something I couldn’t shake.

Between 2013 and 2017 I had four miscarriages.

When we started working on Miscarriage in Ireland at the start of the summer, we asked readers if they would like to share their stories of loss. I knew only too well that many women experience the heartbreak alone.

In Ireland around 14,000 women a year experience miscarriage. Everyone has heard that ‘one in five pregnancies end this way’ but nobody expects it to happen to them.

More than 80 women got in touch with the Irish Examiner over the space of just four days to tell their stories. For some, the heartbreak was recent, sadness and isolation compounded by a pandemic and restrictions that seemed unnecessarily cruel and shockingly, still continue.

For others, a miscarriage happened five, eight, ten years ago but has never been forgotten. And never will.

Working on such a big piece on pregnancy loss was very emotional, but through the sadness I was proud to be part of a team putting together a resource for women experiencing miscarriage. When it happened to me, I spent hours and hours Googling, searching for hope and comfort on forums and message boards where people in panic were asking about cramping and spotting and getting no answers. 

To think there would now be somewhere that Irish women could find comfort and comradery was what got me through.

"It's just not talked about enough"

Sharon Weldon: “I was proud for puttingmyself out there, but even though mymiscarriage was a long time ago, you stillremember how awful it was.” Picture: Denis Byrne
Sharon Weldon: “I was proud for puttingmyself out there, but even though mymiscarriage was a long time ago, you stillremember how awful it was.” Picture: Denis Byrne

“At first, when I submitted the piece, I was really nervous, and I started to think what if people know me. And then I thought about it, and I realised that we all know someone who has had a miscarriage, and not everybody talks about it. I think there's such a stigma and shame around it and I don't know why that is," she says. 

"We should be able to embrace and support each other but for some reason, it's just not talked about enough. After I did the piece, I was proud for putting myself out there, but even though my miscarriage was a long time ago, you still remember your due date, you still remember how awful it was, those, lonely, empty feelings. I just don’t think you ever forget it.” 

Kate O’Dwyer: “You’re a bit embarrassed that your body couldn’t handle having a child or you wonder what you did wrong.” Picture: Moya Nolan
Kate O’Dwyer: “You’re a bit embarrassed that your body couldn’t handle having a child or you wonder what you did wrong.” Picture: Moya Nolan

When Kate O’Dwyer got in touch with her story of loss she was eight months pregnant with baby Luna who arrived safely this summer. She told us about her beautiful baby boy Joe who was born asleep in 2020.

“When the article came out, I was anxious enough because people didn’t really know the experience that we had gone through. People knew that we had lost our son, but they didn't know the ins and outs of certain things or that we've been pregnant four times. To see it written down in black and white was a bit tough," she says. 

"When it happens you’re anxious, and you're a bit embarrassed that your body couldn't handle having a child or you wonder what you did wrong. You trick yourself into thinking that you feel one way, when actually there's a whole other way going on. So, it probably helped me to kind of overcome that a little bit by sharing my experience.” 

Gráinne O’Toole hopes sharing her storyearlier this year her story will open a conversation around miscarriage for future generations. Picture: Paul Mealey
Gráinne O’Toole hopes sharing her storyearlier this year her story will open a conversation around miscarriage for future generations. Picture: Paul Mealey

“I felt really proud of the piece. I don't think it's a topic discussed enough given the impact how common it is for women. I have two little girls, so I hope that I made some small difference," she says.

"I was really happy to contribute and share my experience and hopefully help someone else feel not so alone.” 

I had to walk past heavily pregnant women 

Jennifer Stevens: “The miscarriage clinic Iattended is in the same area where couples go to have their first scan. Twice I had to walk back out into that waiting room.”
Jennifer Stevens: “The miscarriage clinic Iattended is in the same area where couples go to have their first scan. Twice I had to walk back out into that waiting room.”

My own experiences of miscarriage were before Covid, so I was rarely alone but even in moments that I was, I felt very cared for. There was so much empathy and kindness from the teams. A midwife in the early pregnancy unit I had to go to every week for five weeks came to work one day even though her own child was sick at home because she didn’t want me to have to explain my situation to another staff member. I will never forget her.

But there was a lot wrong too. The miscarriage clinic I attended is in the same area where couples go to have their first scan. Twice I had to walk back out into that waiting room having been told there was no longer a heartbeat. Waiting for a D&C two days before Christmas, I walked to theatre past heavily pregnant women waiting to give birth and woke from surgery in the same recovery room as women who had just had a Caesarean section.

Kate says there is no disputing the kindness you experience but feels that a lot can be done to change how hospitals treat couples who've had a miscarriage. 

She recalls walking out the same door as parents carrying their new baby in a car seat while "we’re carrying a purple box". 

"You’re going through the worst thing that could happen to you, how hard would it be to be allowed leave by a different door?” 

How you were cared for is often what you remember most after a trauma. Gráinne was given a pill in a Dublin maternity hospital to bring on her miscarriage and because it was a couple of days before Christmas, she brought it home with her to Mayo. Sadly, things were not straightforward, and an ambulance had to be called to take her to the local hospital. 

“The paramedics and teams in A&E were so amazing and when I was admitted to the ward for a D&C the nursing staff were stunning. Some came to see me, to hold my hand and say it had happened to them or that I was going to be OK," she says. 

"But then I found the surgical team to be very cold, it was very procedural and there was really no sympathising as such, for the loss. I suppose when you're kind of reeling from it all you remember that. Everything went fine and the procedure went well but that stuff sticks with you.”

Jenny Murphy says her experience was made more difficult by the pandemic restrictions that continue to surround maternity care. Picture: Moya Nolan
Jenny Murphy says her experience was made more difficult by the pandemic restrictions that continue to surround maternity care. Picture: Moya Nolan

Jenny Murphy who shared her experience of miscarriage in a pandemic feels that her experience was made more difficult by the restrictions that continue to surround maternity care and is angry that they’re still in place.

“When I miscarried, it was horrific that I had to go into hospital myself. The biggest thing that has stood out for me, having lost our baby, was sitting in the waiting room in the Rotunda. It’s where I felt the most lost, the most sadness. I don’t think about the other things that happened around it, I picture myself in that waiting room, alone.

"I’m no different than any other woman in that experience. We’ll all have a shared understanding forever. I’m just so sad that it’s still happening. How many women will walk into a maternity hospital today who will miscarry and won’t have their partner with them?”

For support and information contact the Miscarriage Association of Ireland, www.miscarriage.ie

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