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We need to talk about pregnancy loss

Up to 1 in 5 pregnancies typically end in loss. It’s a statistic that both blows your mind and leaves you bewildered. But how could that be? I don’t know anyone who’s had a miscarriage.

Only, it’s likely you do. You see, even though losing a baby is so common, we don’t talk about it. It isn’t coming up in the lunchroom at work or at the playground. And if we are talking about it, the words are spoken in hushed tones and quiet corners.

As a rule, grief and loss can feel difficult to discuss. But on top of that, pregnancy loss is often treated differently. We’re just not honouring that grieving process for parents.

There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Stigma surrounding announcing early pregnancy
  • Misconceptions regarding mental health and emotional wellbeing
  • Focusing on a future pregnancy
  • Giving sole attention to the physical health
  • Toxic positivity
  • Not wanting to make others feel uncomfortable

But the loss is real. The grief is real. And parents deserve to be supported through this time.

We are not just grieving a life; we are grieving an idea and a plan for what could have been. We are grieving a family.

On top of this, we’re possibly in shock, taking time off work to attend medical appointments for a pregnancy maybe no one knew about, talking to our children about what happened, telling friends and family, managing other people’s reactions, and picking up take away on the way home because it’s too hard to think about cooking tonight. It’s a lot.

I can’t tell you how many times I hear from parents who suffer a loss and then feel as though there is little room for their experience in parenting circles or within their friendship groups. There can be a tendency to avoid this conversation entirely. Maybe there’s a desire to seek the positive straight away and make comments such as: “At least you can get pregnant”, or “When are you going to try again?”.

Although often well-meaning, this can feel quite dismissive. If you’re hurting right now, that’s the last thing you want to hear. It can then just feel easier to stay quiet.

This can be a breeding ground for the sneaky stigma and isolation we talked about, and not exactly always a safe place to heal.

We need to talk about pregnancy loss

The more we talk about loss, the more we honour this experience for ourselves and for families not feeling quite so brave right now.

I know that it can feel scary, and you may feel vulnerable. But sharing your experience of pregnancy loss can be such a gift for your community. This is your family’s story and there is so much strength in vulnerability as we cultivate a platform for collective experiences and stories. We can actually create a new story surrounding loss. A story where parents feel held during what can be a very distressing time.

If sharing publicly is not where you’re at, keeping a journal or staying in touch with close friends and family can be so useful. Some parents find that writing a letter to the baby they lost is a beautiful way to connect with what’s happened too.

But it’s not just up to grieving parents to speak up. The same applies for asking your family and friends how they’re feeling if you know that this has been their experience. And definitely don’t forget dads!

There is no right or wrong way to grieve

There is no timeline. There is no right or wrong. Your experience of loss and your grief is a variation of normal; your normal.

It’s okay if it feels equal parts awkward, horrible and terrifying. We are within a parenting culture that emphasises motherhood. We don’t always make way for the things that aren’t often spoken about in mainstream media. But this is exactly why we need to keep talking.

Whatever and however you feel, it’s important that I tell you: losing a baby under such circumstances is never your fault.

Share your story, say their name

If you named your baby or would like to, that’s a beautiful thing and it’s okay to acknowledge your baby by using their name in conversation. It’s okay to say their name.

Talking about pregnancy loss can be an important first step to healing. We can heal entire communities with our shared experiences. How awesome is that? I want to picture a world where my daughters never have to suffer through this kind of grief alone. A world where their voice is never quietened. An experience such as loss is just as worthy and just as important as the other events within the parenting arena.

It’s time to lift the veil surrounding pregnancy loss and honour our grief appropriately. These stories deserve to be heard. You deserve to tell yours.

So, how do I seek support?

A supportive GP is a must. While midwives and other health professionals are often very knowledgeable and caring, parents often find that a supportive shoulder from a friend or family member is just as good. There are also a number of helplines that can offer a listening ear and a chance to debrief what has happened. The ripples of having your story listened to can be very healing.

Where to go

SANDS Australia

Miscarriage, Stillbirth & Newborn Death Support

24/7 phone support

1300 072 637 

www.sands.org.au

Pink Elephants Support Network

Free resources as well as peer, phone and groups

www.pinkelephants.org.au

Gidget Foundation

Perinatal Mental Health

Telehealth, virtual village and Gidget House support

1300 851 758

www.gidgetfoundation.org.au

Centre of Perinatal Excellence (COPE)

Perinatal Mental Health 

Resources and directory

www.cope.org.au

Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA)

PANDA National Helpline

Mon to Sat, 9am – 7.30pm AEST/AEDT

1300 726 306

www.panda.org.au

References

Bruijn, M., & Gould, D. (2016). How To Heal A Bad Birth. US: Birthtalk.org.

Frost, M., & Condon, J. (1996). The Psychological Sequelae of Miscarriage: A Critical Review of the Literature. Australian & New Zealand Journal Of Psychiatry, 30(1), 54-62.

Gidget Foundation. (2020). Miscarriage. Retrieved 21 November 2020, from https://gidgetfoundation.org.au/about-pnda/miscarriage/

Worden, J. (2009). Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy (4th ed.). New York: Springer Publishing Company.


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Expert Author: Zelma Tolley

Zelma Tolley is an award-winning social worker with a special interest in perinatal mental health and parenting support. When she’s not writing and seeing clients, she’s chasing a toddler down the hallway and making a copious number of snacks. You can find out more by visiting her website or following The Postnatal Project on Instagram.

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