The work of us midwives involves being surrounded by new life every day. We see women who have just found out they are expecting, we see women who are glowing during their second trimester, feeling excited about what’s to come. We see women who arrive at hospital with bags packed full of nappies, baby clothes and cotton wool, ready to be induced, and we see women in a cap and hospital gown, surrendering their body for a caesarean section. We see soft new-borns nestled into breasts as they feed for the first time and we see emotional new parents learning to adjust following their baby’s birth.
“When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan. When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower. When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them!” - Ronald Reagan, 1988
Life is so varied and can bring so much joy. But in our world, we know it can also bring so much pain - unexpected screening results, anxious decisions and families that fall apart before their baby arrives. We see the pain and strength a woman goes through during a long latent phase of labour; we see the pain in the woman’s eyes when birth doesn’t go as she expected. And sometimes, on really bad days, we go searching for a heartbeat and hope we might be wrong, when we don’t.
Most of our days are filled with life, but on the sad days they are filled with loss thereof. This is the burden a midwife must bear, it was a choice we made when we chose to walk with women, and to cherish the new life their powerful bodies bring into the world.
We see many things, but something that we as midwives often do not see is an early miscarriage. Miscarriage is not a topic many people discuss at work, socially or even with their close friends. 20% of couples who have a positive pregnancy test will go on to have an early miscarriage (where the pregnancy ends in the first three months). And yet it is a hidden experience, with many people only talking about it when someone else discloses their own loss to them.
In our culture it is considered usual to announce a pregnancy after around 12 weeks. Before this time, many women choose to keep this exciting news between their close family and their doctor. However, this also means that 20% of the time, women are experiencing silent miscarriages simply because no one else knows. Sharing this information is deeply personal to each woman and her family; it is such a common experience that it is questionable as to why it remains such a taboo. There is no shame in pregnancy loss, it does not mean our bodies have failed us. Many early miscarriages are one-off events and are thought to be the result of a problem with the baby’s chromosomes.
While it is true that many miscarriages do not require medical intervention, the emotional support a couple needs following a miscarriage is often overlooked. We often give advice on when they should be trying again for another baby, sometimes not giving these couples the chance to mourn their loss. Instead, we could tell them how common miscarriages are, and that they aren’t alone. That they should take the time to deal with their loss, to speak about it and to do something to remember it by - rather than burying it deep within themselves. There is a whole community out there who has experienced such a loss. It doesn’t matter at how many weeks you lose your baby - your baby mattered.
Midwifery is about the huge celebration of new life as much as it is about loss. We will always remember the babies gone too soon, the ones we wished we had been able to save, the ones who were too perfect for this world – they all matter