This blog is inspired by three-week-old baby Ottilie and her mum Alice.
Ottilie is a rainbow baby.
If you’re not familiar with this expression, a rainbow baby is one that follows miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal loss. It signifies a rainbow after a storm – something beautiful after a difficult time.
It’s not always easy to talk about baby loss, and sadly, it’s more common than many realise.
In this blog we will focus on miscarriage. One in four couples experience a miscarriage and confirming the news that a baby has been lost is a devastating part of my job as an obstetrician and gynaecology doctor, where I scan women in early pregnancy who are having concerning symptoms.
I always wish we had more time to spend with families. At first, there are so many raw emotions and people aren’t always ready to ask questions or to talk about the future.
So, clinical psychologist Emma Svanberg (a.k.a. Mumologist) and I have decided to put together this blog for anyone who has experienced loss, is pregnant after loss or just wants to be there for someone who has.
And we couldn’t have done it without Alice, who it going to share her story with you.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN…
I had a feeling I was pregnant towards the end of our honeymoon, but couldn’t believe we could be so lucky to get pregnant so quickly. It felt so right and I already felt like I had started my journey into motherhood. We told my parents and about four of my close girlfriends.
But, at around 7 weeks, on 15th February 2018, I noticed a small amount of blood. It really wasn’t very much, but an alarm went off inside my head.
As I sat down in the local early pregnancy department to wait for a scan, I was filled with dread. Almost every woman who came out of that door was in tears.
The doctor couldn’t say 100% whether my baby would survive. So, we decided to prepare for the worst.
Over the next few days the bleeding increased and sadly I did miscarry our tiny first baby. I wanted to cry, to sob, to let out all my fears and feelings of failure. I stayed at home, surrounded myself with the family and friends who knew we had been pregnant, and quite simply allowed myself to grieve.
Miscarriage, even early on in a pregnancy, can be devastating. When we find out we are pregnant, we begin immediately to create an idea in our minds of the person we are carrying – our fantasy baby.
It can be made more difficult because miscarriage is still seen as a taboo subject. When you go through a miscarriage it can be hard to know where to turn. If you have had a miscarriage early on in your pregnancy, you may find that people are dismissive of the impact. You may not have told anyone you were pregnant, which can make it difficult to seek support. If you have a miscarriage later in pregnancy, it can be shocking to discover how little support there is once you return home.
But when you do start to talk about what you’ve been through, you’ll be amazed to find out how many others have had a similar experience. It can be really helpful to talk to others who understand the feelings you are having. These may range from sadness and regret to anger. Often people feel guilty, as Will explains…
Dr Will @happyparents.happybaby
The first question many people ask me after having a miscarriage is, why?
Some blame themselves, and ask if there is anything different they could have done.
But miscarriage is very unlikely to have happened because of something somebody did or didn’t do. Most are due to a chance genetic problem and could never have been prevented.
Other less common reasons for miscarriage include blood clotting problems, hormonal imbalances, infection and abnormalities with the shape of the womb.
Sometimes the reason is clear, for example we see an obvious problem with the womb on ultrasound scan or there is a clear history on an infection.
But there aren’t always clear-cut answers and we know this can make things even harder to come to terms with.
THOUGHTS OF THE FUTURE
Dr Will @happyparents.happybaby
Losing a baby is a deeply personal experience and everyone copes with their loss in their own way.
Not everyone feels ready to talk about the future straight away, but those that do will often ask when they are able to try to get pregnant again.
For most, the answer is whenever you feel emotionally and physically ready.
The risk of miscarriage is not increased if you fall pregnant soon after a loss.
People often ask if they should wait for their next period to try again. There is no medical reason to wait, but if you fall pregnant before your next period, the first ultrasound scan may be inconclusive and you may require a second scan to confirm the pregnancy is developing normally. Having just had a miscarriage, this period of waiting may cause anxiety.
Many people want to know if they are at higher risk of miscarriage next time.
You aren’t at a higher risk of another miscarriage if you have had one or two miscarriages in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Most miscarriages happen as a one-off event and couples will go on to have a successful pregnancy next time.
When a miscarriage has happened three of more times in a row, it is called recurrent miscarriage. Couples are then referred to a specialist clinic and offered blood tests, ultrasound scans, genetic testing and swabs for infection. You may be given medication to take before getting pregnant again.
I can’t quite remember how long it took for me to feel ready to try for another baby, but it wasn’t very long – probably about 6-8 weeks. I just felt slightly/very obsessed about having another chance at being a mother.
I spent so much money on pregnancy tests and ovulation kits and I was obsessively taking my temperature every morning to ensure I knew exactly when I was ovulating.
It was all a coping mechanism for the loss – I think I felt that because I couldn’t control the outcome of the last pregnancy, I needed to do everything I could to feel in control of getting pregnant again.
It certainly wasn’t a particularly romantic couple of months – nothing like conceiving our first on our honeymoon in Sri Lanka!
It might take you some time to feel ready to go through trying to conceive again, or like Alice you might want to do so sooner to help you feel you are moving forward. It can be helpful to make sure that you have taken some time to work through your feelings of grief and loss, whether that is with friends and family or with a professional. Some people find it helpful to mark their loss in some way, whether that’s entering their baby into a hospital remembrance book or planting a tree in remembrance.
When you do start trying again you may find you are more anxious about the process of trying for a baby. This of course can impact on how you feel about having sex again. It’s really important to keep the lines of conversation open with your partner, so that you can both go through this part of the journey together and discuss any difficult feelings you might both be having. Making sure that intimacy remains just as important as sex itself can help you remain close during what can be a stressful time.
THE RAINBOW AFTER A STORM
It took a few days to accept that I really was pregnant again and I didn’t feel anywhere near the same emotions as I did the first time. I didn’t feel excited, I didn’t feel elated. I felt cautiously relieved that all my controlling behaviour had paid off!
At the 6-week scan, I was a bag of nerves. I was gripping my husband’s hand so tightly, and tears were already running down my cheeks. I couldn’t bear the thought it would be bad news. Amazingly, it wasn’t. Everything was as it should be for the 6-week mark, and although I couldn’t really see through my tears, we were shown the screen and talked through all the different images – there was our rainbow baby, growing safely and securely with no reason for concern.
We also had a 9-week scan, and again, I was in floods of tears while lying on the bed waiting to hear the news that there was no heartbeat… but again, we were given positive news. After these scans I would be relieved and happy for a few days, but then a sense of fear would hit me again and the wait between scans was agonising.
For at least the first 6 months I was nervous, fearful and didn’t really believe that it would go to term. I remember asking at the 12-week and 20-week scan “is it alive?” – those were the first words I asked because I really didn’t believe this baby would survive. Once my bump started showing and I could feel the baby moving I gradually became more confident because we were getting past important milestones. However, even up my due date, every single time I went to the loo I would check for blood, and every single time my heart leapt a little just before checking. It was a very straight forward, uncomplicated pregnancy – apart from inside my head!
It’s so common to feel increased anxiety during a pregnancy after loss, and that anxiety is so normal given what you have been through.
If you find that your anxiety is colouring your experience of pregnancy, it can be useful to speak to a mental health professional. Sometimes normal worry can tip over into anxiety and affect our day to day life. You may find you are seeking a lot of reassurance from others like your GP or midwife, that you check your pregnancy a lot (e.g. frequent trips to the toilet, taking multiple pregnancy tests) or that you have other symptoms of anxiety like feeling that your heart is racing, you feel sweaty and hot, feeling that something bad is going to happen. If this is the case, please do speak to your GP or midwife about how you are feeling. You might be able to access specialist support that can help you manage those symptoms and hopefully enjoy your pregnancy a little more.
Dr Will @happyparents.happybaby
If feelings of anxiety are troubling you, speak to your antenatal team to see what help they can offer you. Your local Early Pregnancy Unit will be able to give you more information and let you know what additional services they offer, including the possibility of extra ultrasound scans.
There are lots of fantastic charities that can also support you through this time if you feel you need it. The Miscarriage Association and Tommy’s are two of the best known but there are also hundreds of smaller groups in local towns and on sites such as Facebook.
Remember, asking for help is a sign of strength and not weakness. So, make sure you get the support you deserve.
I’ve been writing this while our rainbow baby, Ottilie, is lying on my chest aged just 3 and a half weeks old. I don’t know whether having a miscarriage has affected these early days but I found the first 10 days of her life really difficult. I was extremely anxious that she wouldn’t survive.
Thankfully, with a few weeks under my belt I’ve realised that in actual fact she’s pretty resilient. But I think that heavy sense of loss I felt when we miscarried our first will probably always stay with me, deep down, and probably will shape how I parent Ottilie.
I feel it’s really important to talk about miscarriage and pregnancy loss of any kind. I knew it was a possibility but I really didn’t think it would happen to us, and once it did, I realised just how many people in my circle of family and friends have been through the same.
It felt really important to me that I was allowed to grieve for that tiny baby, and that others also recognised the loss in some way. If you find yourself in the same position, find the help you need, there is so much out there. There’s no right or wrong way to feel about a subsequent pregnancy after loss – just go with your emotions, find people you can talk to about how you’re feeling, because it’s so much better to air those feelings rather than keep them hidden. And most importantly, know that you’re not alone.
Dr Will @happyparents.happybaby & Emma @mumologist
Thanks for reading this blog. If you’ve been personally affected by anything we have discussed, please look after yourself and find the help you need.
The following organisations may be useful:
We always love to hear your thoughts, so please do get in touch.
Dr Will @happyparents.happybaby & Emma @mumologist