As a GP I have supported many women through miscarriage. I have counselled them, dealt with their medical issues and held back my own tears when I’ve seen their pain and anguish at the loss of their baby. I’ve seen women miscarry several days after a positive pregnancy test and women present after a routine scan where I’ve had to break the news that there was no heartbeat. I have seen it in every shape and form as a doctor.
But then it happened to me. In early 2015 my husband and I had our world turned upside down.
I had the moment of “shit – this isn’t supposed to happen to me.” I know I’m no different to anyone else BUT when you see so much of something you start thinking dumb things like maybe your immune.
I’m a doctor and I asked the same questions of myself that my patients do – “Did I do something wrong?” “Should I not have gone to the gym?”“Did I drink too much coffee?”“Should we not have had sex?” “Is there something wrong with me?” “Will it happen again?” “Does this absolute devastation ever pass or will I stay in this dark hole forever?”
I started reading journal articles on coffee consumption in pregnancy to see if it was something I had done. My colleagues at work were forever telling me – “you know this Preeya – you haven’t done anything to cause this.” I became slightly obsessed and my husband, who was also struggling, and mum ended up lugging me through a very dark and muddy time. The guilt and hopelessness in the moments following a miscarriage are devastating and debilitating for some. I am a strong resilient woman and I crumbled beneath the weight of my own thoughts.
The truth – miscarriage is seriously common and affects up to a third of pregnancies. There is often NOTHING that a woman can do to prevent it in the early stages. And most importantly, it is no one’s fault.
The most significant thing I learnt from my experience was that I am not alone and that SO many women have been through this before me and survived. I remember deciding to tell some girlfriends (to explain my month of social absence) – the response was overwhelming and the comment “oh my gosh, it happened to me too – its awful” was constant. Why don’t we talk about it? How did I not know half my friends had been through this? Who else didn’t I know about? And how many of my friends had missed out on my support when they likely needed it most?
I really do believe that through this experience I am stronger, and have a whole new understanding for women who go through this process. It’s definitely made me a better woman, friend and doctor.
If you’re reading this thinking “I don’t know anyone who’s had a miscarriage” – think again, perhaps people don’t want to talk about it or perhaps you haven’t asked the right questions. And if it’s happened to you – I 100% understand the 1000 thoughts that plague your mind, the self-blame and the utter devastation. But, trust me on this, you will survive and with time you will move forward.
I’ve had women sit across from me devastated at their loss. And only since my own experience can I truly sympathise. I don’t know why but there is some sort of comfort that comes when a person says they’ve experienced a similar loss – you look at them, I know I did, and think “that gives me some hope, maybe I will survive this too.” Recently I’ve told 2 patients that I suffered a miscarriage but now have a healthy daughter – I saw the hope on their face, I saw their shoulders go back just an inch – I had given them a glimmer of hope in a dark time and perhaps that’s the best therapy of all.
Sharing our stories (if we feel comfortable) can help. It’s hard as a doctor sharing our own journeys with patients– there are some of my colleagues who would look at me sharing this or my story of anxiety on my blog and think I’m pushing the boundary. There are lots who are supportive though. My personal view is that a doctor is no different to anyone else. I am not immune to anything and I don’t want to portray that to my patients. I respect the doctor-patient relationship and its boundaries but I also know that sharing the right story at the right time might just give someone the hope to get through. Sometimes it’s the human aspect of being a GP that is the best treatment – no pills or treatments, just an ear to listen to and a shoulder to lean on.
There should be no shame in sharing our stories of miscarriage. To the woman who might be reading this drenched in tears thinking “will I survive this?” – you will. It takes time, lots of it, and the emotional scar remains but you will survive. Boxing Day is always a day Will and I have a moment to reflect on our loss, but also be grateful for our beautiful gain in Miss S.