Miscarriage: Andrea Byrne on the 'hidden' grief and social stigma of pregnancy loss
Having experienced miscarriage herself, ITV Wales presenter Andrea Byrne has been on a personal journey to see if support and treatment can be improved
Over the last couple of years, I’ve written a few pieces about my experiences with infertility. It was a long - and often lonely - road for my husband Lee and I to have our daughter, Jemima and I felt compelled to share a little of what we went through to try to help others feel less isolated.
After a time, I also started a podcast, ‘Making Babies', which allowed me to speak to other people about their wide-ranging journeys trying to start a family. Those conversations have included exploring issues around surrogacy and sperm donation, the conditions people struggle with like fibroids, endometriosis and polycystic ovaries and it’s been an opportunity to look at fertility through different lenses.
For me though, of all the things I have personal experience of in terms of fertility, miscarriage is possibly the greatest taboo of them all. It’s a topic that rarely gets spoken about because it entangles all sorts of emotions that many of us find difficult to confront.
Grief is not something as a society we find it easy to address, and when the grieving is for a new life and the loss of the future you'd both envisaged, it becomes even more awkward.
The stigma is also fuelled by pregnancy generally not being spoken about until after couples reach the 12-week mark. Miscarriage can happen at any point up to 23 weeks of pregnancy, but it’s most common in the first 3 months. What this means is that if a couple loses their baby in the first trimester, very few people will have known they were pregnant and in turn very few people will know they are grieving. For so many, miscarriage is a hidden loss.
For me, it was very much that way. It’s strange to think after so many years trying to start a family and being unable to fall pregnant, I have now been pregnant six times. One of those - luckily for us - resulted in our daughter Jemima; two were miscarriages shortly before 12 weeks of pregnancy; and the others were what’s known as a chemical pregnancy - or a very early failure.
Since those experiences, and talking to others who have lost babies, I realised how lost many people felt when they miscarried. It wasn’t only that their grief was largely hidden, but there were also varying experiences of the medical treatment that’s available and a feeling that there could be more consistency in after-care, both mental and physical.
It’s important to say that everyone’s experience of miscarriage is very different and circumstances vary wildly. For me, even the two losses we had, neither felt the same - one was a lot harder physically and one harder emotionally for some reason. But, whether it’s something you want to talk about, or something you’d rather keep private, one thing remains true - everyone needs a certain level of support to be available to help them through.
Miscarriage: Who can I speak to for support?
Miscarriage: Who can I speak to for support?
Tommy’s online and on 020 7398 3400.
Sands online 0808 164 3332.
The Miscarriage Association online and on 01924 200799.
Fertility Network online and on 0121 323 505.
On the other hand, there are aspects to be hopeful about. Although it’s a slow process, the science is progressing all the time to be able to decipher what causes miscarriage and to be able to decipher the reason early enough in the process of trying to conceive that couples do not have to go through multiple miscarriages before they get answers. There’s also growing pressure to provide a more graded level of treatment and support for couples, which would not mean they have to wait for three recurrent miscarriages for help and investigation.
In Wales, the Health Minister told me she is committed to rebalancing the way women’s health issues are addressed and she is prepared to alter her budget accordingly. At the moment we don’t know what this will mean in reality. But, the first ever Women’s Health Strategy is due to be published here before the end of the year, so we will have to wait to see how far that goes in endorsing the recommendations for miscarriage from peer-reviewed medical journals.
As a journalist, it’s my job to tell people’s stories, though it’s not very often I talk about my own, especially when it’s something so personal. But, perhaps changing the way miscarriage is viewed and changing the way support is thought about, starts simply by talking. So, thank you for reading.
Also, thank you to ITV Cymru Wales for helping me to make a programme about such a sensitive subject; to Nicola Hendy for producing it so expertly; and, most importantly, to all the people who trusted me to share their experiences of baby loss and fertility - Danielle, Anna, Vanessa, Geoff, Jude and all those at the charity Morgan’s Wings, who welcomed me to their group.
Miscarriage: The Hidden Loss will be broadcast on Thursday, October 6 at 9pm on ITV Cymru Wales. You can catch up afterwards here.