For anyone who has suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth, you’ve probably heard the words, “don’t worry, you still have time, you’re not that old, you can just try again”, then turned your back and cursed the person who said it.
To those who have used those words…let me tell you, it’s not that easy. When you suffer the loss of something you so longed for, when you experience the agony of passing your tiny baby at home on the toilet and then have to bring yourself to pull that toilet chain (yes, this is how the vast majority of early miscarriages happen) / have surgery to remove a baby that has died in the womb / endure labour and deliver your lifeless baby, you’re left with scars whether you like to admit it or not. And the thought of ‘trying again’ can cause a heap of emotions like stress, fear and anxiety. You’re surrounded by thoughts of what happened last time…and in my case, the time before that, and the time before that, and the time before that…you get the picture.
I’ve had doctors tell me it was fine to start trying almost straight after my miscarriages and in fact there is advice out there saying you are most fertile after a miscarriage! But the truth is, while the body may bounce back pretty quickly, the memories and emotions attached to your loss are what hold you back.
When I gave birth to Jiya at almost 22 weeks, when I held her for the first time, when I spent the night with her, when I had to say goodbye and leave her in the hospital mortuary, when I pressed the button to send her into the furnace at the crematorium, I said I could never do this again. At that time I felt completely defeated, numb and as though I could take no more on this unrelenting journey to motherhood. But, that was the grief and emotions talking. I took the time needed to process my loss(es), I had counselling for the first time, I turned straight to God to help rebuild my strength, I practised mindfulness and I released my secret suffering by starting this blog. All of these actions contributed to my healing and ability to look to the past with gratitude and to the future with hope. So, relatively soon after Jiya’s birth, I knew I still had it in me to try again. The timing is what I was unsure about. Being 33, I remained conscious of the ticking biological clock, but also knew the importance of letting my body and mind heal fully.
Even when we felt ready to embark on the journey again, the decision of when to start trying was partly taken out of our hands by my consultant. He wanted to perform a 3D scan of my uterine cavity to see if there was anything untoward going on in there. So, I had to wait for that appointment. He discovered a uterine septum, which isn’t known to be a cause of miscarriage, but considering my history my consultant advised that I have surgery to remove it. So I did. That caused a further delay along with the healing time post-surgery. So however ready I thought I was, there were a number of things that needed to happen before we could start ‘trying again’.
A number of people have sent me messages looking for advice on how to know if or when to take the decision to try again…my advice (from experience, rather than any professional judgement) would be:
- Look inside yourself for the answer. I just knew I had it in me to try again, but not everyone feels this way. We often assume everyone will want to try again after they’ve experienced the loss of a baby because they must still long to be parents. But this just isn’t the case. The longing doesn’t go away, but some people have had such a traumatic time, that they choose not to put themselves through the agony of another pregnancy. And, if that’s you, that’s fine. You don’t need to justify your decision to anyone. No one knows what you have been through, they can’t judge you. Make the right decision for you and you alone (and your partner of course!)
- Don’t rush or feel pressured to get right back to it. You’ve been through a traumatic experience and it may have all got a bit too much. So, just give yourself a break if you need one. Take a holiday. Take a break from ‘trying’…I know people who have set themselves a timed break, for example, a year of no trying, a year of no baby-talk, a year of just trying to be normal, doing normal things and remembering all the other things they have going for them.
- Give yourself time to heal physically. Losing a baby at any stage takes its toll on your body. Rest. Accept help from friends and family. Don’t rush to get back to your normal routine, give your body the time it needs to feel strong again. This will vary for each person so just listen to your body, it will tell you what it needs. After one of my early miscarriages, I got straight back to it, went to work, threw myself into my daily routine, didn’t take enough time to rest and while this helped me in the immediate aftermath of the miscarriage, it did me no good in the long run. On this particular occasion, I started to feel run down and felt pretty ill. I ended up with pneumonia and it got so bad I was hospitalised. Sounds extreme doesn’t it? And I’m not saying you’ll get pneumonia if you don’t rest, I’m just saying, your body has a way of telling you to stop, slow down, rest and heal. So don’t ignore it as it can get a whole lot worse if you do!
- Give yourself time to heal mentally. More important than physical healing in my view, is mental healing. This is all about processing what has happened in the past and all the emotions, be they pain, grief, guilt, anger, envy, etc that can often linger. When it comes to my emotions, I am an analyst, I like, no I need to get to the bottom of things before I can move on. I have found that my best healing happens when I confront the emotions that can easily be locked away in a cupboard after a traumatic event; for that’s so much easier than what might be unearthed if you opened the cupboard door and let them spill out uncontrollably. If I felt sad, I’d cry. If I felt angry, I’d vent. If I felt pained, I’d seek solitude. Basically, I gave in to my emotions, I just let them be and in doing so removed them from my body.
- Confide in someone you trust. My husband is my confidante and I am his. Just offloading our feelings to each other is like therapy, it always makes us feel better and in a weird way it brings us closer than if we hadn’t experienced the tragedy in the first place. If you feel you can’t truly open up to your husband/partner, I’d suggest turning to a trusted friend, family member, colleague, joining a local support group or reaching out to a counsellor. In my opinion, talking really is the best therapy. Then, when you think you’ve processed the emotions from your loss and are ready to start on the journey again, give yourself just a bit more time to make sure you’re in a good place to embrace another pregnancy and give it the loving care it so deserves.
- Wait for the results of any tests or investigations into your previous loss. After a miscarriage, in particular after multiple miscarriages or a late miscarriage/stillbirth, you are likely to have some tests performed on yourself, maybe even your partner, or on the baby you have lost. I’d advise you to wait for the results of those tests before trying again, because you never know, they may reveal a cause for your baby loss which can be treated through medicine or uterine surgery. This treatment could be the thing that changes the outcome of your next pregnancy, so my advice would be to wait until all the tests are in and you know where you stand medically.
- If you decide to try again, spend time preparing yourself for conception. It sounds silly doesn’t it? We spend most of the time thinking about what we should and shouldn’t do in pregnancy, not how we can prepare for conception. But I believe there is a real case for investing in your pre-conception health to give your pregnancy the best shot at success. I suppose I talk from experience here as I didn’t pay too much attention to pre-conception health in my first 6 pregnancies. Then, in my 7th pregnancy, I did a number of things before conception that I think helped that pregnancy to progress as far as it did. I know that pregnancy didn’t end the way I’d hoped, but we got to 22 weeks, that’s 12 weeks further than any pregnancy before it, so it must have helped in some way. I’ll blog about the pre-conception advice I’ve received in a future blog post.
- Once you’ve made your decision, you don’t have to be bound to it. A bit of time, space and perspective can often make you see things in a different light, so don’t feel like you can’t change your mind further down the line…just like I did.
Don’t forget, this journey to parenthood is yours and yours alone. Make decisions that are right for you, don’t succumb to the pressure that family and friends will no doubt exert on you…for they haven’t walked a day in your shoes. Do what is right for you, make peace with your past and find hope in your future. And good luck, with whatever path you choose…