Anyone who has fallen pregnant has experienced the hope and anxiety of getting through that first trimester. You count the days, praying your baby is healthy and you can get to that 12 week scan and move into the safer months of pregnancy. Sadly what isn’t made clear to women is the chance that you’ll get to your 12 week scan, without any miscarriage signs, and be told that your baby doesn’t have a heartbeat.
What is a Missed Miscarriage?
It is estimated 1-5% of pregnancies end with a missed miscarriage. A missed miscarriage is a miscarriage that occurs when a foetus is no longer alive but the body doesn’t recognise the loss. As a result the pregnancy hormones remain high and women can still feel pregnant. These high hormone levels mean the foetus is retained in the womb and women can even produce a positive pregnancy test at this time.
In my experience, miscarriage is a subject rarely discussed and missed miscarriage even less so. As a result many women are terribly underprepared for the possibility that you can have no symptoms of a miscarriage at all, yet still be told at your 12 week scan that your little one simply hasn’t made it… and like any type of miscarriage, it’s devastating news to receive.
The 12 Week Scan
Missed miscarriages are usually discovered at a 12 week scan, which is a real shock to mums who have experienced no signs of a miscarriage. For 12 weeks you have walked around, thinking all is well because nothing has hinted otherwise. Then suddenly you are at your 12 week appointment, looking at a screen that doesn’t resemble a typical baby scan and being told your baby has no heartbeat. It’s a lot to process having spent 12 weeks believing you were pregnant, planning for your baby to arrive and more recently thinking you are entering safer territory.
What makes the experience worse, is that you then need to leave the quiet confines of that scan room and step back through the waiting area into reality, and face the room full of pregnant bellies and happy mums to be. In that split second you can feel like an outsider, that you no longer belong in this club that you were a part of moments before… in a matter of minutes you go from being happy and excited to feeling completely empty and lost.
Often the time that follows this moment is a blur. Hospital staff usually escort you to a different area to discuss the next steps. The level of care and attention during this process varies hugely. I know couples who have been left for hours in a room without a kind word or a cup of tea, clutching a leaflet about miscarriage and feeling completely alone. Yet others have had brilliant care and felt fully supported by nurses and the medical team. If this situation ever touches you I hope your experiences will be the latter.
At some-point you will be given information to try and make sense of it all and have an opportunity to ask questions. Once you have an understanding of what is happening, there will be a conversation about what can be done next to manage the miscarriage process; natural management, medical management or surgical procedure. I am not going to go into the details of these as they warrant thorough explanations, but the miscarriage association explains them well and their link is at the bottom of the page. I will add that it is important to feel well informed, ask as many questions as you need to and make the decision that is best for you.
People cope with missed miscarriages in very different ways depending on their personalities, life experience and support networks. There is no right way to deal with a miscarriage and no timeline for you to grieve. Miscarriage can create a real mix of emotions for women, their partners and other members of the family too. Some people find it comforting to talk about their feelings while others find it too painful.
How you are feeling emotionally, as well as physically, will impact on your work and you will need to decide whether you need some time off. If you need time to recuperate, take it. Losing a baby is a grieving process, whatever stage of pregnancy you were at, and you need time to come to terms with the experience.
Everybody is different and it is important to follow the path that suits you best when it comes to emotional support and your return to work. I have included links at the bottom of the page for advice and seek support from your GP if you feel you need time off.
Some people find it comforting to mark their missed miscarriage and ensure their baby is remembered. I am one of those people and my way of remembering was to plant two roses in my garden; one pink and one blue (as I wasn’t sure if I carried a boy or a girl). They bloom beautifully every year and when I planted them they gave me a focus - something to nurture and look after.
There are many different ways to mark the loss of a baby. It isn’t for everyone, but it can be comforting for some and like the management of emotions, simply go with what feels right for you when it comes to remembrance.
Once you have taken the time you need to move forward emotionally, you might consider whether to try again. Hopefully your medical team have advised whether you need to wait for a period of time to allow your body to recover physically.
The process of trying again can be difficult and a pregnancy following a miscarriage is often harder because you have experienced a loss and the emotions that go with it. Miscarriages happen for a wide range of reasons and having one doesn’t necessarily mean you are at risk of another. Only 1% of women who have a miscarriage go on to have repeated miscarriage (which means they have 3 or more).
If you do fall pregnant again, be honest with your medical team and communicate how you are feeling so they can offer support when you need it. If you feel overwhelmed simply take the pregnancy day by day, and after each successful appointment you will hopefully feel more secure.
Of course you will always remember your missed miscarriage experience and the baby you lost. That grief can catch you unexpectedly, even years down the line, but you will develop ways to cope with it and move forwards. If this has recently happened to you please seek support and know that the grief can become easier to manage as time goes on.
Final Thought - Keep Talking
The reason I have written this blog is to raise awareness of missed miscarriages and to encourage women to talk and share their experiences. I certainly don’t want to frighten anyone who is pregnant or planning a family and it is important to remember that the chances of a missed miscarriage are small. What I do hope is that women will at least know that it does happen, so it isn’t a total shock if they find themselves faced with upsetting news at their 12 week scan.
I also hope that women will start to open up and share their experiences with each other. Miscarriage seems to be a taboo subject. There could be many reasons for this including the fact it is too upsetting to discuss. Some women seem to feel ashamed that they couldn’t carry their baby to term, especially if they are surrounded by friends who are also pregnant and managing to carry their babies just fine. Others prefer to keep it a secret because if you share the experience you are also letting people know that you were pregnant and obviously trying for a baby. Then it can feel like all eyes are then on you, waiting for you to get pregnant again and nobody likes that pressure.
Whatever the reasons behind it, we need to break the silence. If you feel you can, talk about it and share your experiences. Let’s make sure we don’t miss opportunities to support each other through missed miscarriage.
These links provide more information and support, however there are many more places that can support you too. Be sure to ask seek help is you need it.