Words: Alicia Kirby
Photo: Fred North from the series ‘I’m not here’

In March 2014, at the age of 33, I had my first miscarriage. It wasn’t a planned pregnancy but I already had a beautiful two-year-old daughter and a new baby would have been a welcome addition. However, the day after I found out I was pregnant, I started bleeding – never a good sign. Part of me told me I should rest but as journalist I was booked to fly out to Milan. I did the story and went to hospital the next day, where they said it was too early in the pregnancy to draw anything conclusive from the scan. What followed was a drawn out, nausea-filled, four week waiting game until I was wheeled into the operating room under general anaesthetic to have my womb scraped of the remnants of an embryo that had failed to attach.

My obstetrician said everything would be OK, that the Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG) hormone levels would die down in an instant after the Dilation and Curettage (D & C) operation. They didn’t. I stupidly went to work the following day, but had to go home because of the hot flushes, the aggressive nausea and the uncontrollable hormone-induced weeping that suffocated me with its iron fist for weeks afterwards.

I had been eight weeks pregnant.

In September 2014, I had my second miscarriage. Again, it was an unexpected pregnancy and a less dramatic, less messy and more efficient affair. I was on assignment for a story in Vienna and the tell-tale signs of pregnancy – sore breasts, fatigue and a heightened sense of smell – were followed by the unwelcome miscarriage symptoms of cramping and spots of blood. I went back to London and didn’t miss a day’s work throughout the following four days as the embryo passed through my body. I was freelancing at an advertising agency and editing a magazine for a client. It was going to print, we were mid-production, and it felt like a weakness to tell anyone at the office or to give in to a common affliction that affects one in five women. I also felt I couldn’t let the team down. After the magazine went to press, I told my employers I had to take a month out to recuperate and luckily, they were incredibly supportive and understanding.

I had been five weeks pregnant.

The third miscarriage happened three months later, earlier this month. It was another unexpected pregnancy. Call it female intuition, I knew I was pregnant two weeks before it even showed up on the pregnancy test. I did think that I would be third time lucky, that the pregnancy would continue. It is still raw, there was a terrifying amount of blood over three days. Each time I ventured to the toilet, I experienced a sense of dread that is familiar to many women in this situation, because I knew what those lumps and clots of blood staring back at me  signified for the immediate future.

Despite the advice of loved ones, again I went to work through the bleeding. I had deadlines to meet and I forced myself to get on with it. I saw the doctor on the third day of bleeding and he told me that within those 72 hours, nature had done its job and my womb was nearly back to normal. But physically and emotionally, nothing was normal for weeks to come. Nausea, sleepless nights, panic attacks, hormonal weeping, hot flushes – it all happened all over again.

I had been six weeks pregnant.

The truth is that my story is not unusual. I am one of around a quarter of a million women who suffer miscarriage every year in Britain alone – the figure is around one million in the US. I am just a fraction of the one in 100 women who according to Tommy’s – an organisation which funds research into stillbirths, premature births and miscarriages – will experience recurrent miscarriage, which in the UK is defined as three or more consecutive miscarriages; in the U.S as two or more, though not necessarily consecutive. Unfortunately though, the majority of us choose to hold our heads high, suffer in silence, hush it up and glaze it over.

We need to share our stories to feel stronger, united and less isolated, because each experience is unique in its gut-wrenching grief

In a sense I am one of the lucky ones. I have also never had to experience the heartbreak of seeing the heartbeat or little fingers and toes of any of the three embryos that failed to develop. But the truth is, even with an unplanned pregnancy, no matter how early the miscarriage takes place, the sense of loss – of grief – you feel the moment you lose an unborn child, cuts deep. And with the swell of hormones that accompany the process, the sorrow is all the more vivid.

When you tell people you’ve had a miscarriage in your first trimester, of course they sympathise but generally it is regarded as a bad case of emotional flu, an affliction that needs a couple of weeks and a soothing, tender band-aid to heal. The truth is more complex. The fact that 20 per cent of women will experience a miscarriage in their lifetime doesn’t make your own, acutely personal, experience easier to bear. If anything, it makes it harder because it’s seen as “one of those things”. Employers are obliged to give people maternity leave, but perhaps miscarriage leave would be an equally appropriate policy to allow women time to heal, reflect and regain their strength.

Because the harsh reality is that if you make the same mistakes that I did and don’t take time out of work after a miscarriage, the physical upheaval of a failed pregnancy and the accompanying sadness, in whatever form, inevitably catches up with you. The emotional aftermath of any miscarriage comes hand-in-hand with a gaping loss that can unearth demons from the past and present. In my case, I grieved for the first time, not only for three unborn children, but the suicide of my mother when I was 16 years old, an event that I had never come to terms with until the miscarriages happened this year.

As women, we shouldn’t feel we have to keep these issues to ourselves. We need to share our stories to feel stronger, united and less isolated, because each experience is unique in its gut-wrenching grief. The Miscarriage Association has a staffed helpline providing support and information, as well as a network of telephone support volunteers and support groups, and an online forum. Although it may seem daunting when you’re in the depths of denial to share your experiences with strangers, it can be a great healing tool to meet people in similar situations

However early a miscarriage occurs in a pregnancy, women need to realise that we don’t need to feel weak for grieving or berate ourselves for feeling vulnerable at work or home. We live in a macho world of shame culture where performance is king, but if we stand up and come forward to share our stories, it can make our sense of loss seem that little bit easier to bear.

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