Earlier this week, I was honoured to chair a moving session at the arts festival Fertility Fest looking at miscarriage. The evening began with four artists with personal experience of miscarriage presenting their work. Julia Bueno, a psychotherapist, read a passage from her new book about miscarriage, The Brink of Being, which is published today. Visual artist Foz Foster talked about the wonderful 76 foot scroll he produced to celebrate the three children he lost through miscarriage. Finally, theatre company Open Sky, writer Lisle Turner and director Claire Coaché, showed a section of their powerful new show Cold about a couple who experience miscarriage.
After the artists had presented their work, we had a discussion session with the National Director of the Miscarriage Association, Ruth Bender Atik, and the Medical Director of Herts and Essex Fertility Clinic, David Ogutu. The discussion raised some fascinating issues, about the reality of experiencing a miscarriage which we so rarely acknowledge, about the taboos around pregnancy loss and the fact that we assume it is somehow a women’s issue. My only regret was that we ran out of time as there were so many more things we could have talked about, and we had a fabulous panel.
If you’ve been affected by miscarriage, I would recommend Julia’s new book – and if you are ever able to see Foz’s work or catch Claire and Lisle’s show, make sure you take the opportunity. Most importantly, do get in touch with the Miscarriage Association who offer both support and information. They have a factsheet written for anyone who has been through a miscarriage after fertility issues, which feel as if it is the cruellest blow. It is sometimes hard to reach out for support, but it really can make all the difference to talk to someone who understands the experience.
If you’ve experienced pregnancy loss or have been uncertain what to say to a friend who has had a miscarriage, the new campaign from the Miscarriage Association will be welcome. They’re aiming to help people respond to someone who has been through a miscarriage or an ectopic or molar pregnancy. Often people are so worried about saying the wrong thing that they end up trying not to talk about the miscarriage at all, which isn’t a helpful response.
The Miscarriage Association campaign is called Simply Say and aims to make it easier for people to have the conversations that they sometimes avoid. They are encouraging family, friends and colleagues to acknowledge the loss and then to listen, and the campaign aims to help them to know what to say – and what not to say.
The charity has spoken to women and their partners about the things they’ve found helpful and the things that can be particularly upsetting. They conclude that everyone is different and that it can be hard to find the right words to comfort someone, but acknowledging their loss is one way that you can help anyone who has been through this. Simply saying that you are sorry is one of the most important things you can do.
The things that can be particularly upsetting are well-meant comments which aim to put a positive spin on the experience – for example “Don’t worry, you can always have another baby” or ““It wasn’t meant to be”. For people who have had a miscarriage after spending some time trying to get pregnant, it’s the “well, at least you know now that you can get pregnant” comments which can be really hurtful. Although people may just be trying to find something positive to say, it is particularly unhelpful when you may feel that you don’t know if you will be able to get pregnant again.
The Miscarriage Association have produced an animation and infographics as well as a downloadable leaflet with more detailed information, and you can get involved in their #SimplySay campaign on social media. Do support this important campaign!
Thanks to The Guardian’s Hadley Freeman for this article about her experience of miscarriage. It is raw, honest and very moving, and she raises important questions about why it is that we don’t talk abut miscarriage. Why is it that women are often encouraged not to mention that they are pregnant until they reach 12 weeks because of the risk of miscarriage? It assumes that we would want to keep losing a baby secret, that it is something to be hidden and not talked about. For some people, this may make things easier but for many others, not being able to talk about something so heartbreaking can make it even harder to cope.
Miscarriage is devastating whenever it happens in pregnancy – and if you’ve taken time to get pregnant in the first place, it can feel even more overwhelming. If you, or anyone you know, is affected by miscarriage, the Miscarriage Association, can offer support and advice and is a really helpful source of information.