Can miscarriage be made better by a campaign?

Mumsnet is in the middle of a campaign for Better Miscarriage Care, and I’ve been mulling over whether to blog about it, or not.

Not because I think miscarriage is taboo (one in three women will have a miscarriage at some point, so it’s about as taboo as driving a Ford Focus) but because, actually, my experience of miscarriage care in the NHS was pretty positive, overall.

Sometimes it was amazing, sometimes a bit less so. But what made the difference wasn’t practice, policies, facilities, or anything of the kind – it’s people.

I started bleeding on a Friday, the day before my wedding, when I was about 7 or 8 weeks pregnant. I visited my GP, who couldn’t see a problem, but booked me a scan for first thing Tuesday morning (it was a Bank Holiday weekend) and told me I was absolutely allowed to drink champagne on my wedding day and it wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference to anything.

When I had the scan on the Tuesday morning, the doctor kindly explained it didn’t look good, but she wanted to wait a week to be absolutely positive that the pregnancy had failed before booking me in for surgery. “We want to give the pregnancy every chance to succeed,” she said.

One cancelled honeymoon and day surgery later, I came around from a general  anaesthetic to the sound of 'The Tide is High' and a nurse stroking my hair and telling me that it would be okay, it was a fresh start.

Returning from a delayed honeymoon two months later, I was pregnant again and it all went fine. For about two weeks. Then I started to bleed. Not discreet, ladylike bleeding either – at regular intervals throughout my pregnancy I’d find myself standing in a pool of blood. Bit stressful.

I had around 12 ‘threatened miscarriages’ during my pregnancy, and it wasn’t the most fun time of my life. Flea’s middle name is ‘Hope’ because I reckoned some days that was about all that got us through.

There were a lot of scans, a lot of tests, a lot of people peering at my cervix with torches. But the people who cared for us made the experience so much easier.

There was the nurse who hugged me after my first emergency scan, when I realised I was still pregnant, and my legs almost buckled under me.

There was the consultant who held my hand while he scanned my abdomen after another heavy bleed, and said, “Don’t worry. Getting pregnant is the hard bit, your baby’s beautiful and it’s my job to keep her that way.”

Not all the staff we met were equally understanding – I remember asking a stand-in GP whether it was safe to fly to the West Coast of the US, and being told, “Well, you could have a miscarriage, or a miscarriage and a holiday – I know what I’d rather!” (I’d rather have punched him in the face, but that’s probably just because I was hormonal  *cough*).

Then there was the doctor at A&E who advised me to “keep anything meaningful in a plastic bag”. Which was nice.

I suppose what I think is that there’s no way to make miscarriage anything other than a sad and fairly horrible experience, and it’s one that’s shared by millions of other women. But I think what makes that kind of experience better is people – not policy. 

When I look back on my miscarriage, and subsequent threatened miscarriages, I don't remember the waiting time for the scan, or whether I was given a good or bad leaflet to take home with me. I can't remember if I was in the right or wrong waiting room, or whether anyone gave me a telephone number for a support group.

I do remember that the consultant held my hand when I was terrified, and it made that moment a little easier. I'm just not sure how you legislate for that. 


Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

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  1. 11th October 2011 / 11:38 am

    Whilst it isn’t nice to read it is nice to hear that some people in the NHS have it right. I hope this makes sense.

  2. 11th October 2011 / 12:27 pm

    Interesting post and I’m really pleased you were dealt with with care, sympathy and respect during such difficult times. Sadly my experience of miscarriage wasn’t the same, I felt rushed and hurried out and was made to feel very small by a Doctor who asked me why I was crying and told me to go home and enjoy Christmas, after a scan which showed my baby has stopped growing 3 weeks previously and was not viable, so I do remember the long wait, they inpersonal, way I was spoken to etc. It’s like anything though, different people are greeted by different staff and a totally different experience. Very good points raised in your post as usual 🙂

  3. 11th October 2011 / 12:51 pm

    I have had numerous miscarriages in the past and have to say that I too have been very lucky and the way I was treated by the NHS was second to none. Upon losing twins at 20 weeks, the care I got was understanding, heartfelt and more importantly very timely. I do remember feeling very upset at the medical terms (evaluation and products) at the time, but I have learn’t that these are just terms that the doctors use. It took 10 years and too numerous m/c to get my gorgeous boys and each and every time I had scans and great care.

  4. 11th October 2011 / 1:25 pm

    Interesting post – I’m not sure you can legislate for people to be caring and that has been what has always shocked me, just how callous some of the medical staff you encounter can be – I know they see it everyday but even so
    I dithered over whether to post but hopefully it will raise awareness if nothing else

  5. MmeLindor
    11th October 2011 / 8:49 pm

    Interesting post, and a similar conclusion to which I have come to today – more than anything the kindness of the medical staff that is important.
    At the same time, change will only be achieved when those in positions of power know that women are being badly treated and that there is a need for change.
    If you read the blog posts that have been linked to on my blog you will see that many women have had bad experiences with miscarriage care (and do feel free to add your link to the bloghop as all discussion about the campaign is welcome).
    For me, the miscarriage itself was horrible but it was made so much worse by the uncaring staff. It took me a long time to get over the experience, and even now I am recalling things that happened that I had forgotten or repressed.
    So, I guess my opinion is that the campaign is worthwhile as it brings to the attention of the general public the care that women need when going through a miscarriage. And that the miscarriage itself is hard enough to deal with, without having external forces making the situation worse.

  6. 11th October 2011 / 8:03 pm

    Totally. I just think that the right people make a bad situation much better, and I’m not sure how a campaign does that – some people just do lack a sensitivity chip.

  7. 11th October 2011 / 8:05 pm

    Gosh, sounds like you had a horrible time of it – I’m sorry to hear it. I think fundamentally the problems with scans and waits seem even worse if you’re not being cared for by sympathetic staff, as you clearly weren’t. Horrible.

  8. 11th October 2011 / 8:08 pm

    I think the terminology sometimes is really unfortunate – evacuation of retained products of conception is one that stuck with me – how horrible!

  9. 11th October 2011 / 8:10 pm

    I do agree, it can be shocking sometimes to see the lack of tact among medical staff and I guess for me I felt that’s what makes the biggest difference in terms of post-miscarriage care – just a little sympathy and support was what helped me, more than the medical process itself.

  10. 11th October 2011 / 8:19 pm

    Interesting post, and an interesting campaign. Whilst I agree that miscarriage is a horrible thing to have to go through, I do think it’s just one of a number of medical conditions that requires sensitive handling. It seems that everyone I know who has talked about this stuff has experienced good staff and not so good staff, and as Muddling Along says I’m not sure you can legislate for that.
    What I do believe is that talking about this stuff helps. I am fortunate to not know about miscarriage, but I compare it to my experiences of infertility, in that the minute I started talking about mine, loads of people I knew opened up and started sharing their experiences. The more we talk about this stuff, the more we understand the feelings of people going through it, and the more likely we all are to be able to respond sensitively and in a caring manner to those going through it. I’m still never sure what to say to someone who has experienced miscarriage, but the more posts I read like this, the better equipped I am.
    Thanks for sharing your story.

  11. 11th October 2011 / 8:35 pm

    I think the one area where awareness needs to be raised is just how ‘normal’ it is to have a miscarriage. I was horrified when it happened to my friend, and then gutted when it happened twice to me, all the more so because I thought there was something wrong with me! Then I talked, and virtually everyone I know said they had been through it too, and the relief was immense.
    I’m sure some medical professionals are dismissive of earlier miscarriages because they see so many, whereas those who treat the traumas of a later miscarriage, pregnancy complications and stillbirths know that this is a terrible thing.
    Not that any miscarriage isn’t terrible, it just isn’t that uncommon, and once women can talk openly about it that’s where the support is, so any campaign that brings people’s experiences to the fore has to be good.

  12. 11th October 2011 / 9:42 pm

    The one and only time I ever got pregnant was after IVF and it didn’t stick around. Sadly there was no support, nobody to talk to, and only the hormone results to check & make sure that it hadn’t gone ectopic.
    It wasn’t a good experience, but it could have been so different if there had been someone to talk to. I only remember having a shower in the morning sobbing my heart out and going to work while I bled all day. I think miscarriages can be more positive experiences (if you can call them that) when medical staff are supportive.

  13. 12th October 2011 / 1:58 am

    I don’t think some medical people realise that you connect with a pregnancy like you would with a baby (duh). With one of mine, (USA) I went into a false labour at 5 months, went into the hospital to be told that because it was under a certain number of weeks, it would “not be treated as a premature birth”, ie that it would be left to die. While my brain told me that was right (and thank god it didn’t happen) I was still going to lose something that resembled a baby and not a pile of friggin’ dog food.
    A family member had a horrific time with the NHS about 10 years ago. Had a miscarriage at about 4 months, and was left with her husband, in the A&E, sitting on a bucket while it expelled! I know that the staff probably thought she was in no real danger and the baby was gone, so they had to move on to another patient, but really. She was very scarred by the experience.
    As the song goes, “Try a little tenderness”.

  14. Nikki
    12th October 2011 / 9:59 pm

    It’s an interesting and emotive subject Sally. For every person with a positive experience, there will always, unfortunately, be those with bad times. I think it’s still a slightly taboo topic, the White elephant in the room perhaps, but no harm can come from raising awareness of the issues involved and training needed to empathise with patients.
    I too remember the nurse who held my hand but i also recall the cold and unfriendly consultant who examined me – mid-miscarriage, removing my “waste product”. The exam room was in the middle of the maternity ward and I slept there that night to the sound of new babies crying, happy dads arriving to celebrate arrivals etc. I positively encourage a review of training and practices as every pregnancy and baby – regardless of stage is important and each parent deserves to be treated in the best possible fashion.

  15. 13th October 2011 / 10:59 am

    I wonder if a campaign can make it better?
    I think it can, if it gets people talking. If talking means people explore the words they use and the thought processes behind it and if that leads to conversation that becomes education. Education is key i think, because people can say the crassest and most terrible things and when you are low and in pain and grief stricken, they can be dreadful blows and very damaging.
    I’ve not had a miscarriage as such but our experience in SCBU was an eye-opener. The nurses, from the benefit of experience and having listened and talked and held mothers and fathers over the years, were largely excellent.They rarely put a foot wrong. Compared to one doctor, who spoke of my son like he was an inconvenient lump of meat and me like I was an inert irritation to the process, they were a godsend. Really though I only realised quite how good they were after we left. The day after I rang up, asking for some help with funeral arrangements and got a young and new one. She was brisk and unfeeling and it felt terribly callous, even though it probably wasn’t meant that way.
    Then there are the just awfully thoughtless things people say – “at least you have the others, “it was probably for the best”, “you just need to have another one and it will be okay”. Anything that makes people think a bit more, listen and not just emit platitudes through ignorance and discomfort, has to be worthwhile.
    It’s more likely to help than not.
    Your nurses sound lovely. But I’m sorry you went through that, it just sucks.

  16. Two Magpies
    13th October 2011 / 9:07 pm

    I can’t read anything about miscarriages without getting upset; for the person telling their own sad tale and for conjuring up all the feelings I have around my own miscarriages.
    My babe is just 10 weeks old, and I still can’t believe that he is actually real and here with me. My previous miscarriages made me completely numb throughout the whole pregnancy, so that I darent even think that it was going to be ok. The psychological effect they have is crushingly powerful!
    It is such a sensitive and personal area, well done for sharing, and hopefully this will raise awareness and improve the care received.

  17. 14th October 2011 / 9:36 pm

    I’m glad your treatment was supportive. I’m on the opposite side of the fence though – my (female, and yes, i think that makes it worse) GP told me it was ‘fine’ that I was miscarrying, at least I knew I could fall pregnant. I’d been off the pill for FIVE years, and this was my first pregnancy. I bled for 20 weeks, believing I’d be losing my baby any day because I was told the bleeding would continue till I miscarried. During that time my Hyperemesis Gravidarum was also badly mismannaged, so I was DESPERATELY ill, losing bucket loads of weight, and in a bad way and my doctor kept telling me to suck it up and there was nothing wrong with me. When I went for my 3rd scan at 13 weeks, there was Kyra bouncing up and down, and I sobbed. And the sonographer thought I had issues. It’s good to know there are positive experiences, but mine led me to homebirthing and all that goes with it, ’cause I have no trust left in the medical model of childbirth 🙁
    Either way, you’ve dealt with the subject sensitively, and that’s all any of us can hope for in that situation.