To Eastwing Miscarriage Support Site
Speech of Thursday 23rd November 2000
Firstly id like to thank Leonie for inviting me here today and giving me the opportunity to talk to you.
My name's Angie Alexander and in September last year I suffered a miscarriage.
In a way i wish I didnt have to use that particular word.
As soon as its mentioned a large portion of people dismiss the loss...they see it as unimportant,its assumed thet something of little consequence has occurred .
Ive spoken to many women about it since my own loss and in general those of us who have been through it want to say my BABY DIED!! But it feels like no-one will listen.
I was 'only' 9 and 1/2 weeks.
'It was no big deal 'people will say.
'It wasnt really a baby.'
'It was for the best.'
'Nature takes care of her mistakes.'
Are these comments helpful?
Do they offer support or comfort to people trying to deal with the death of their baby?
They intensify the pain. They add to the trauma.
No wonder miscarriage is known as the 'secret' pain,the hidden loss. Women often comment they feel like theyve joined a club after they lose a baby this way - a secret club.
Miscarriage seems to be tucked away, not talked about, like a shameful thing.
More often than not people are SCARED to talk about their miscarriages.
Vulnerable and grieving they are ill equipped to deal with the multitude of well meaning but oh so hurtful comments that are commonly met by survivors of miscarriage all over the world .
Statistics on miscarriage vary widely according to whom you speak to - which survey results you choose to believe.
Personally I was told 1 in 4 pregnancies end in a loss. Others have been told 1 in 3.
Recent research claims incredibly that the figure may be even higher - an amazing 50% of pregnancies will end with the baby dieing before birth.
(This last study takes into account pregnancies which end so early the mother is not even aware or sure of pregnancy. the only hint being a late,rather heavy period - but how they count these events I have no idea!)
However im not here to say which result i think is right and regardless of which figure you choose to believe one thing is obvious.
Miscarriage is a Very Common Occurence.
What about those of us here today - how many have suffered the loss of a baby through miscarriage?
Since I miscarried myself and discovered that it is a very big deal...I have created an online miscarriage support site and via that have 'spoken' with dozens of women and a few men who have been through the loss of a baby who never even got to be born...
I have learnt another important thing
Miscarriage is not only common - it is very painful.
the emotions during and in the early weeks after the loss are intense. Grieving is active and can be overwhelming.
The active stage of grieving commonly lasts 6 months to a year, often 2 years - depending on the individual and the particular circumstances.
By active I mean regular crying, ...thinking about the loss is painful....
it may be hard to be around pregnant women or new mothers.
For some the intensity of emotions and depth of negative thoughts and feelings can be frightening.....
Everyone is different and the experience will be harder for some people than others.
After the 'active ' phase...What happens?
Do they just 'get over it' forget it - return to normal- get on with their lives?
The pain of loss remains.
Most people learn to live with it and so on to live productive happy lives. But they are changed.
I am changed.
Miscarriage is a loss of innocence
It is certainly possible for post traumatic growth to occur - the person emerges stronger,feeling more mature,full of empathy and compassion....
But for some depression and negative behavious can set in.
This can sometimes result in substance abuse or destructive relationships.
Women may secretly wish harm to other pregnant mothers.... Who would admit to that!?
Then they wallow in black depression and mind numbing guilt that they could think such a thing.
And why do they think things like that?
Partly because they long to have someone to share their pain ; someone who will understand.
So.... We know its common, its devastating - its effects can be long lasting and can cause emotional and mental turmoil.
Therefore we can assume we have a problem of reasonable note in any community anywhere around the world.
We can also assume it is of importance to healthcare professional? Right?.
Well..Lets consdier what normally happens when a women presents at a hospital in the proces of miscarrying...
No... first lets look back at the attitudes such a lady encountered 50 years ago (as told to me recently by a lady in Cobden whose baby died at 16 weeks gestation)
"Its natural dear..." "You'll get over it" "You'll be back in a year with a healthy baby" "Off you go and try again"
-"its for the best"
And this woman... a grieving bereaved mother was sent home. there was no support offered, no sympathy...
Her baby was not acknowledged. Her loss was not sympathised. She was not offered the chance to view her baby or given the option of taking it for burial.
She was NOT given permission to grieve.
This person carries her grief for 50 years.
She thinks about her baby which died every day.
She has children, they grow up have children, their children have children.
She still remembers her lost baby.
She never forgets.
She still remembers the pain, the loss, the grief.
She still remembers that baby and the hopes and dreams she had for it.
One day someone acknowledges her loss - gives her permission to grieve, tells her they know her baby was real and special and important and they know she grieves for it and that she has a right and a need to do so.
This old lady - this great grandmother - crys.
The grief of a so called insignificant event 50 years before pours out in blessed relief.
Is it all better then?
Does she forget? No of course not, but she is stronger and feels a sense of release and relief.
So - that was 50 years ago.
We are more..enlightened now....Right?
I miscarried 15 months ago. I was told by health professionals
"Nature takes care of her mistakes" - "Its a natural process" - "You can have another"
These things are true but they dont help , they dont address the emotional trauma.
The attitude was clinical I felt so alone.
One nurse knew better, she gave me a cuddle and whispered ;" I lost a baby last year, it hurts doesnt it"
She gave me permission to grieve and cry and she comforted me.
I wasnt alone.
The Dr present at the ultrasound very gently explained
"Baby is there but not living ; we cant find a heartbeat, im so very sorry"
He made the effort to use the term "BABY" and to let us know we had a right to grieve.....
Which attitudes helped us?
The 2 people who took the time to use a personal approach ..who called our baby "A Baby" and said "Sorry for your Loss"
But what im trying to illustrate is that in 50 years NOT MUCH HAS CHANGED
I was sent home with no support, no after care strategies.
I asked to take my baby home for burial and this was refused. This was something which caused me incredible anguish for many months. Only now - nearly 15 months later am I strong enough to stand up and try to do something to stop similar hurtful things happening to others.
So What would I like to see happen?
Well the following things are what I see as important and numerous people who have gone through miscarriage have agreed....
1) Public awareness needs to be raised as to the painful emotional reality of miscarriage.
It should be recognised ,accepted as a real and painful loss.
The death of a baby before it can be born.
2) Health professionals should have grief and bereavement training included in their general training. I always assumed that it would be - but i was recently told that this is not the case...
Doctors, Nurses, Midwifes should know basic treatment for parents going through miscarriage.. Im talking about emotional treatment of course....
Has anyone here received grief and bereavement training? Was it part of your general training?
The first thing to realise is
You Cant Fix the Problem!
Words wont bring the baby back - nor will they diminish or end the grief.
Its better to say nothing than the wrong thing.
All thats necessary is a kind touch and a gentle word.
As simple as that. "Im sorry for your loss" " It hurts, take time to grieve, your baby has died".
More than anything the grieving parents want their baby back
They cant get that so the next best thing - the most important thing you can do...is to show their baby respect
- acknowledge it as real.
And respect the parents,their grief,their loss.
3) id like to see every woman who miscarries being presented with a support pack such as the one ive put together here. At the time of Loss.
Including a memorial certificate and plenty of support OPTIONS.
(for instance online resources, telephone contacts, option of support group...pen pal...home visitor..what ever works for the individual)
4)An area of hospital grounds set aside as a memorial garden dedicated to babies who have died before birth.
The majority of parents who have lost a baby through miscarriage have no grave to visit, little or no tangible remains of that fleeting life.
A garden would not only provide somewhere to go - but it is a public acknowledgement of the loss as real and important.
(Therefore it serves the added purpose of raising community awareness.
5) Finally a very important issue which as i mentioned previously caused me a great deal of extra pain.
The issue of what happens to the baby's remains.
This SHOULD be discussed with the parents and the OPTION of them taking their baby home for burial be discussed and offered.
Whatever option is chosen the parents should have to sign a consent form. Including before pathology.
Because there is a further political issue involved here.
We are talking about genetic material which belongs to the parents.
I certainly never signed any papers allowing anyone to do anything with mine....
So .... In my view the issues of importance...
*To raise public awareness of the importance and pain of a miscarriage. To let people know a Baby has died.
* To let parents know their loss is real and important . They have a right and need to grieve.
* To Acknowledge these babies as real and important.
* To memoralise these babies.
That the parents be handled with compassion and respect.
Their rights and options discussed and attended to - and an opportunity given for their babies to be remembered and memoralised.
I have offered these support packs to the Local healthcare service .
I will do all I can to help where I can and I hope to establish a support network of penpals, telephone contacts and meetings.
I need help and support to acheive these aims. I am hoping for funding to help with the venture to reach those who need support.
Thank you for listening.
I believe Miscarriage after care is very important and Support of some type should be available.
.."A Moment may last a lifetime ~ A Lifetime may be but a moment"
In Memory of Sweetpea
Due April 7th 2000
Died Sept 5th 1999