Not every pregnancy has a happy ending. Annmarie Reaney investigates miscarriage, and what to do when bump doesn’t equal baby.
For many women, giving birth is the ultimate rite of passage. Being a mother brings with it some of the greatest highs of your life. The truth is, however, that 20 per cent of women will suffer a miscarriage at some point, while an estimated 50 per cent of early pregnancies end in miscarriages that remain undetected.
But tragically, some happen later, when plans have been made and dreams are becoming a reality. So how do you cope with loss if you are living far away from friends and family? Is Dubai equipped to help those in need?
SANDS-Dubai is one group that can help. The UK charity’s local branch is run by parents, for parents. Primarily, they deal with still-birth or neo-natal death but Angela, ‘a befriender’ at SANDS, and the other volunteers, welcome calls from anyone who grieves for a child. She says, ‘It is hard to be apart from friends and family at a time like this, but there are people who will be only too happy to help you. It might be a difficult subject but there are people out there who know what you are dealing with.’
She adds: ‘Miscarriage is a very sensitive subject for all concerned. Everyone perceives situations differently and deals with emotions their own way,’ says holistic therapist Melany Oliver, who points to all the classic signs of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. ‘It is very important for the woman to take time to grieve her loss. It is quite acceptable and normal to be sad, hurt and disappointed. Often the emotional scars are much greater and take longer to heal than the physical ones.’
The reaction to miscarriage can vary greatly in the community, because most people have no idea how common it is, explains Dr Sayhi-Kouteich Saoussan, an obstetrician and gynecologist from the Belgium Medical Clinic in Dubai Healthcare City. ‘People can react awkwardly, especially employers. I know one woman whose boss told her the miscarriage was good for her career.’
If the miscarriage happens before 12 weeks it is likely that friends don’t even know about it. So, is that a benefit or burden? Karen, 40, was elated at being pregnant again and for her, it was impossible to hide; at 13 weeks she looked closer to 24 weeks. Most people suspected she was expecting. Unfortunately, some light bleeding and an emergency scan gave rise to her worst fears. It was bad news; suddenly, she had to tell people that there was once a baby, but not any longer.
‘It is true to say that taboos surround the subject of loss,’ she explains. ‘You tell people, but many don’t know how to approach the subject. They are sorry but don’t really know what to say. Any awareness that is brought our way is a bonus. Even now I think about what could have been. I silently acknowledged his due date last week.
I just wished somebody had said, “Hey, are you ok?” But, no one did.’ The taboo is far-reaching and the effect is just as strong for fathers. Paul tells his story- ‘My wife and I were thrilled when we became pregnant after IVF treatment. Everything was going very well until the 20th week. Upon returning from a relaxing holiday, Amber went into early labour. We rushed to hospital and the baby was born alive, but we lost our boy James very soon afterwards and it was devastating. What hurt the most was that, even after the delivery, we were not allowed to bury him. Our son was taken from us immediately. It still hurts, and that was eight years ago.’
Despite the taboo, people are willing to share their history and about how they got through the toughest time. Paul remembers telling people what had happened. ‘Really, the greatest surprise of all was how many people had also been affected by miscarriage. But nobody raises the subject unless you do,’ he says. ‘You almost get a sense of relief from them that somebody has brought the subject up. People were so supportive – it really is good to talk.’
Every woman has her own history and reacts differently to miscarriage,’ adds Dr Saoussan. Your job, your support system and whether you already have children can bear significantly on recovery time. ‘Around 20 per cent of pregnancies will end in miscarriage, but doctors will start to look into the underlying causes after two or three consecutive ones.’
For those trying again, there is hope. New research says that waiting for one cycle before conceiving again is perfectly fine and in fact, if emotionally ready, it is also the most fertile time. Even after successive miscarriages, a woman has a 75 per cent chance of carrying to term and the odds get better every year with new treatments and preventative medicines. Help is at hand, be it counselling, medical or spiritual guidance.
Karen continues: ‘I discovered that I could do more nice things for myself, and why not? I cannot change what happened, so I use the time I have for positive experiences: new developments in my job, a holiday with my husband and son and occasionally, little treats for myself – I feel I need that sometimes. It was such a hard time but I consider myself lucky. I will never forget Heath, but I already have a beautiful boy and I am so grateful.’
SANDS Dubai helps parents who have experienced still-birth, neo-natal death and can also provide support for those who have experienced miscarriage. 055 393 2804 www.dubai-sands.org. For information visit: www.tommys.org and www.miscarriageassociation.org.uk