For most parents-to-be, the unwritten rule is to keep pregnancy top secret for the first 12 weeks. Wait until it’s “safe”, we’re told. But there’s good reason to rethink that societal norm.
After two devastating miscarriages in as many months, Sydney woman Felicity Frankish desperately wanted to talk about her and other women’s losses.
“We found out when we were 10 weeks along that we’d lost the (first) baby at nine weeks,” she says. “I never got my period again and found out I was pregnant straight away. I lost that one too at five weeks.”
Felicity had told friends and family of her first pregnancy at nine weeks, deciding to ignore the tradition of waiting until the end of the first trimester. And she’s so glad she did.
“It made going through the miscarriage so much easier,” she says. “Friends came over with fruit baskets, work understood, they sent flowers and allowed me the time off, didn’t question it. If I hadn’t told anyone, I would feel really lonely.
“It was much more awkward with the friends who I hadn’t gotten around to telling about the pregnancy. It was a lot more difficult to tell them, ‘I had a miscarriage; just wanted you to know.’ It made it easier for the ones who knew to share with me and support me. Why are we waiting until the 12-week mark? Why is it so taboo?”
Felicity joined a supportive online miscarriage forum, but found no one was really sharing stories of early miscarriage. Discussion and information websites centre more around later pregnancy or infant loss, she says.
“It was really hard reading through them because I thought, ‘Should I not be feeling this way, should I just move on?’,” she says. “But I had thought about the future with this baby and that was taken from me, no matter how far along I was.”
She started asking other women on the forum whether they’d be interested in telling their stories, and they “jumped at it”. So set up a website, Let’s Talk About Miscarriage, and a Facebook page for women to share stories of one or multiple miscarriages, and to support each other through losses.
“For me it helps to read about other women who have had more than two miscarriages and gone on to have healthy babies,” she says. “After my second miscarriage I was in a bad place, but reading those stories was what brought me out of it. It doesn’t mean I have a problem, it’s just really sucky, really bad luck. I don’t feel like I just have to get over it, it is a thing we can talk about, get support for and speak to other women to know there’s still hope you’re going to have a healthy baby in the future.”
Miscarriage, pregnancy and newborn loss support group Sands says about one in six pregnancies is unsuccessful, though miscarriage figures are hard to establish as they are often not reported or women don’t know they are having one. The vast majority happen in the first trimester.
Sands Victoria network co-ordinator Anne Bowers says women and their partners need all the support they can get after a miscarriage, so it’s good to tell people about the pregnancy early. “If something does happen, people have shared in the happy news and they’re there to support you if you have bad news to tell them,” she says.
But because miscarriage has long been kept private, people aren’t used to talking about it – so their reactions can be bemusing.
“The loss can be quite minimised when it’s a miscarriage because a lot of people are thinking it’s not really a baby, the parents are not really attached,” Anne says. “But you get attached from the day you get your positive result back, you can’t help it.
“A lot of people have the life of that child mapped out in that first week. They’re looking forward to all the things the baby brings to the family. How different Christmas will be, how different my birthday will be, I’m going to be able to celebrate Mother’s Day. You’re grieving the loss of that future as well as the loss of that baby.”
How to help someone who’s had a miscarriage
Anne says it’s also important to remember that every miscarriage is difficult. “People seem to be less (supportive) as you have more miscarriages,” she says. “I think the perception is she’s been through it before so she’ll be fine. They’re not even thinking by the time someone might have had three that they are really feeling distressed, ‘Maybe there’s something wrong with me’.”
She says well-meaning throwaway lines such as “it just wasn’t meant to be” or “you can always have another one” can be hurtful. “The best thing to say is, ‘I’m really sorry to hear about what’s happened, I don’t know what else to say’, instead of coming up with an answer or a solution. You’re acknowledging there’s been a baby, there’s been a loss. You don’t have to add anything else.”
Anne says many women who have a miscarriage find the time around what would have been the baby’s due date very sad. “That’s when they would have been meeting that baby and taking it home and looking after it,” she says. “That really is a difficult period for some people.”
She says finding someone who will really listen without judgment or commentary, whether it’s a friend, support group, helpline or online forum, is vital. “If it’s a blog and you have other people with similar stories at least you realise you’re not by yourself, because you can feel isolated even thought you know it can happen to other people,” she says.
Felicity is inviting more women to share their stories of miscarriage on her website and to join her Let’s Talk About Miscarriage Facebook support page. Stories on the website are divided into women who have suffered one, two or more than three miscarriages.
Did you wait 12 weeks to announce your pregnancy? Would you consider doing it sooner? Tell us below.