I had quite a naive understanding of pregnancy when I first discovered I was going to be a Mum. My own mum had worked in a maternity ward for 10 years so I did know that sometimes babies don't make it. I just didn't realise how common it was. When my doctor confirmed my pregnancy with Ché she did say to me that one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage. It still didn't register.
It wasn't until I started teaching pre-natal yoga, creating a safe space for women to celebrate their pregnancies and let go of their fears that I became aware of just how many women experience miscarriage. If one woman talked about it, others would too. What was most surprising is that it was the first time these women had openly discussed their past pregnancies. Sometimes babies aren't ready for this world and sometimes Mums have to say goodbye too soon. I cannot imagine the deep pain of such an experience but whenever I am confronted by it I always say that I am sorry for their loss. It seems to me that it is a secret society that no one wants to be a part of - and family and friends have no idea how to make it better for the woman who has lost. Hence, it is rarely acknowledged or discussed.
Thank goodness author Zoe Taylor set about writing a book about pregnancy loss. Through her own experience of multiple miscarriages she has interviewed countless women who have experienced miscarriage and/or stillbirth. While some parts of the book are confronting and difficult to read, Zoe has creating a resource that delves into the medical and emotional aspects of pregnancy loss including stories of survival and hope. No doubt it will offer comfort to those parents who have experienced loss and will give carers, doctors, midwives, doulas, friends and family a better understanding of how to offer support.
I was lucky enough to interview Zoe (see Q&A below). HarperCollins Publishers are also giving away 5 copies to my readers so if you are interested in owning a copy please leave a comment below.
You must have gained so much insight into this facet of pregnancy since you decided to write this book. Women love to talk - but why don't they talk about miscarriage and stillbirth?
Women do love to talk and I think that given the opportunity many would open up and talk about their experience of miscarriage and stillbirth, but there are several factors that often make them reluctant.
They may be worried about upsetting other people, I have heard many stories from women who have spoken about their loss and then ended up having to comfort other people who find it too difficult to deal with.
There is often too a justified fear of having to deal with insensitive remarks – ‘Oh, well, you can try again,’ ‘At least it happened now rather than later’ ‘Well it wasn’t a real baby was it?’. These kinds of comments – although not said maliciously – are incredibly difficult to deal with. They also add to a sense of guilt and shame around pregnancy loss – a feeling that you must have done something wrong and failed your baby – which again might prevent women from opening up.
But at the same time, many women have a craving to talk about their baby. And why wouldn’t they? Every other woman who has been through a pregnancy does. The difficulty is in finding the courage and opportunity and also in trying to articulate such complex emotions. And I think this is why it is common for women to find other ways to express themselves, such as through writing, scrapbooking or sharing stories online.
While researching, interviewing and writing did you approach the book as a journalist or as a mother who had experienced loss? Or both?
I approached the book as a writer. Obviously, my personal experience helped in many ways. I think the fact that I had some level of understanding meant that people were more relaxed and willing to open up about their own experiences. But this was never going to be a book about what happened to me. I included one chapter on my own experience, mainly as a way to describe how the book came to life.
I have been researching and writing health and human interest stories for many years, so writing the book was a natural extension of that – although much, much bigger than anything I had attempted before!
However, it wasn’t until the project was almost completed, and I went back to re-write the chapter about my own journey that I realised how important the process had been for my own grieving. It allowed me to ask questions and to accept that my emotions were very common and normal, despite my struggles at times to explain them to friends and family. It gave purpose to my pain and it reminded me daily that many people go through much more than I have and they pick themselves up and get on with life. They survive. I think they were all very important and healing lessons.
Was there ever a moment when you thought that it was too hard for you to write it?
Yes, there were moments when I had doubts. I felt a huge sense of responsibility. People had provided me with intimate details of some of the most traumatic and significant moments in their lives and I was desperate to reward their trust. I was also sometimes overwhelmed by the scope of the brief I had set myself – ‘everything about surviving pregnancy loss’. I worried that I would make an important omission, particularly on the medical research side, which is constantly changing and prone to the differences in expert opinion that you come across in all types of medicine.
I was also fitting in writing around raising my family and other work commitments and when people commented ‘I don’t know how you do it’ I would often silently agree with them.
If so, what encouraged you to keep going?
It was without doubt the most difficult thing I have ever done. But while I had moments where I struggled and thought I was not up to it, I never considered giving up. And I was encouraged by amazing support from friends and strangers alike. People I approached about contributing to the book were constantly reinforcing my belief that this was something that was desperately needed. And on a personal level I had people around me who believed I could do it. That was invaluable.
You mention that so many women find a safe space to discuss their loss in forums and blogs. It's also a way for them to document the memory of their baby. How did online media help these women in their journey?
This was quite a revelation for me. I had never seen myself as someone who would be interested in blogs, chat rooms or online forums. But as I went through my own journey and started the process of writing the book, my eyes were really opened to the incredible amount of support and comfort that can be found online.
Like many, I suspect, to begin with I would cruise the forums about grief and loss on parenting websites, only rarely contributing but reading other people’s stories. The appeal of this is difficult to explain. But there is something comforting about knowing you are not alone, because pregnancy loss can be so isolating. Many women find very little opportunity to talk about their feelings in everyday life – particularly as it is common for men not to want to discuss it.
All those feelings of guilt, of worrying that others will misinterpret your comments as being self-pitying or self-indulgent, of not wanting to upset others, of finding the courage to speak up, start to drop away online. You can share your pain without having to expose yourself so much. And I think many women also gain comfort from being able to reach out to others and offer support.
What is the best way someone can offer support to a woman who has experienced miscarriage and/or stillbirth?
I think the most important thing is to acknowledge the baby. Too often people cannot think of the ‘right’ words to say, and so say nothing at all. There are no right words. Nobody will expect you to understand their pain. Even if you have had a similar experience, the most carefully chosen words may not seem enough. But you might be surprised at how much a simple ‘I am so sorry this has happened’ can mean.
Do try to understand that this is a life experience that people do not ‘get over’, it will always be there and grief may come and go and be triggered by things like significant dates or awkward social situations.
What are your hopes for "Pregnancy Loss"?
I hope the book will provide comfort, information and support to survivors of pregnancy loss. But I also hope it might offer some insights to others – friends relatives, health professionals, into the complex emotional fallout of a baby dying during pregnancy, which seems to be often overlooked.
I would also love to contribute to breaking down the taboos and making it more acceptable to talk about babies that die and for more public attention to be focused on research and prevention, in the hope of reducing the number of families that are touched by this tragedy.
For more information please visit Zoe's website - www.pregnancylossbook.com