This week is National Baby Loss Awareness Week. The campaign runs every year from 9-15th October, and aims to start a national conversation about pregnancy loss due to miscarriage, stillbirth and infant death.
Miscarriage still seems to be on of the biggest social taboos, yet affects about one in 4-5 pregnancies end in miscarriage; around 250,000 in the UK every year, with 80% occurring before 12 weeks. Yet a surprising number of women do not talk to their family or friends about their experience. Many patients I meet feel so alone because they think it's only happening to them. In a society where people are willing to go on TV programmes to talk about their sex lives and their labia, why is a topic such as miscarriage such a taboo?
Every week I meet countless women who are going through a miscarriage, or who have had one or more in the past. Each and every women has a different reaction and coping mechanism. A patient I saw recently gave me an interesting insight into how she was coping...whilst preparing her for theatre for surgical management of her miscarriage I asked her why she had opted for an operation over medication to help the body complete the miscarriage. She told me in a very matter-of-fact manner that it meant she could go back to work straight away and therefore wouldn’t have to tell anyone what had happened. And not because she didn’t want her colleagues to know she was trying for a baby, but because she ‘didn’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable’. It struck me as an ironic situation that this woman, going through probably one of the worst experiences of her life, was so concerned about upsetting anyone around her.
Why do we as a society flinch so much at a natural, and quite frankly frequent occurrence? Why should these women, and in fact men as well, feel they have to hide their experience like a dirty secret? A greater proportion of women can look me in the eye and tell me they’ve had Chlamydia than a miscarriage. Of course it is painful to talk about, especially to a relative stranger. But from my experience, I believe that some of these women feel ashamed, and many have a lingering doubt that they may have done something to cause their miscarriage, even years and years after the event. It’s probably the question I get asked the most...”What could I have done to prevent this?”. The honest answer: absolutely nothing. In the vast majority of cases, miscarriage happens due to an abnormality with the pregnancy, rather than a problem with either parent or any kind of wrong-doing. So it’s usually natures way of sorting out a pregnancy that would not be healthy. In a world where we are so in tune with our bodies and our health, I often find it quite difficult to explain to women that I can’t tell them exactly why their miscarriage has happened, because even with the most advanced technology it's impossible to determine the cause in most cases. But I always try to take the time to reassure them that they are most certainly not to blame. Until we can support these women and their partners to remove this feeling of guilt, and explore other factors preventing them from speaking out at the point that they feel ready, we are not going to be able to break the taboo and talk openly about miscarriage.
Tonight you can join the wave of light at 7pm local time and light a candle and leave it burning for at least an hour to remember all the babies who left us too soon.