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The pain of miscarriage

30 November, 1999

In the course of one year, Anne O’Leary and her husband John suffered two miscarriages. Anne describes their terrible pain and tells why they are determined to keep on trying for a baby brother or sister for their son James.

Every woman who gets pregnant knows that there’s a risk of having a miscarriage. She is warned by her doctor not to get too excited about the pregnancy until at least the first twelve weeks have passed. Research has found that one in four women have a miscarriage at some time in their lives, and that one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage. Some suggest that the figure is more like one in three pregnancies.

Miscarriage would appear to be on the increase. However, this may be due to the fact that in the past many women didn’t even know they were pregnant because the tests weren’t available that we have today, and therefore they wouldn’t have known that they had miscarried. Also women weren’t as open about the subject as they are today, and so it may have gone largely unreported.

Hard to believe or accept

My husband, John, and myself decided around last Christmas that we would like a brother or sister for our son James, who in now two. At that time, I was just about to finish a full-time course, and we were aware that time was of the essence, as I was almost 37. As it happened I was lucky to conceive in March, and we counted ourselves very fortunate indeed. My GP confirmed the pregnancy, and we were very excited. We told our families and a few close friends our good news. We were particularly delighted for James, as we didn’t want him to be an only child, and we didn’t want too much of an age gap between the children.

Then on an awful Sunday morning in May, six weeks into the pregnancy, I woke up to find I was bleeding. I knew immediately that I was having a miscarriage. I was shocked, frightened and bewildered, but remarkably calm at first. John was already up, tending to James. I called John, and he knew from the urgency in my voice what had happened.

I will never forget that Sunday. The two of us cried on and off all day, and in the evening my parents and sisters came to visit. They were also shocked and very sad. It really was a terrible loss for the whole family. We were grieving the loss of a potential child, as well as a potential grandchild for our parents. And I have to say I felt most of all for James, because he was being denied a friend to play with. By evening, I had cried most of the hurt and failure out of my system.

Try again

To our surprise and delight, I got pregnant again immediately. We were wary about telling anyone the news this time. However, my mother by now was in hospital, having had major surgery, and my sister had discovered that she was pregnant with her first child. I felt that my mother could do with some good news, and my sister would benefit from the support of knowing that she was not alone. So we told our immediate families only.

Dashed hopes

However, our hopes were dashed when nine weeks into the pregnancy I experienced a bit of spotting. This time I really hoped that everything might still be alright, as I had read that about SO per cent of women have some amount of bleeding during pregnancy, and still go on to have a normal pregnancy. But a scan revealed that there was no heartbeat, and I was advised to have a D and C.

I have to say that neither myself nor John took the second miscarriage as badly as the first. Of course it was a terrible blow, but when you have been through it once, you almost expect it in subsequent pregnancies. Your confidence goes. What I did feel more than anything, though, was sadness for James’ sake, because he would have to wait yet again for another possible sibling. Also, I was sad that my sister and I would not have a baby within a few months of each other after all. And this time I found that I lost total interest in having another baby, and in the whole business of pregnancy.

Confident still

I think it’s remarkable, but I am currently feeling confident enough to try a third time. I feel that somebody somewhere must be praying for me, and I think that it’s a testament to the human spirit that we keep on hoping and trying to succeed in what we have failed at. According to statistics, I still have an 85 per cent chance of carrying a baby to full term, despite having had two miscarriages. I would only be considered a problem case should I have a third. I believe that, sooner rather than later, we will have a second child, and James will have a brother or sister. And I draw solace and hope from the fact that most of the women I know who have suffered one or more miscarriages, have gone on to have another baby.

This article first appeared in Reality (January 2001), a publication of the Irish Redemptorists.

My first miscarriage was in May, and the second was last July. There is no known reason why this should have happened. It’s just bad luck. More than five months have elapsed since then. I think that I would have been happy to go merrily about my business for another while, and not think about pregnancy or miscarriages for some time to come, but unfortunately, my age dictates that I face up to the issue again soon.It was a nerve-wracking time. After what had happened before, I was constantly on tender-hooks, expecting a repeat of the experience. I was under a lot of pressure, working during the day, visiting my mother in hospital directly afterwards, and then going home to mind James in the evenings. But everything was going well, and after I passed the six week mark, I began to feel more confident about the pregnancy. I started to believe that I would carry this baby to full-term, and started to think about buying a few new baby things.I rang the hospital the next day, and the mid-wife listened to my story sympathetically, which made a lot of difference to me at the time. She tried to assure me that the pregnancy wasn’t necessarily terminated, but, in my heart, I knew it was over, and I had accepted the inevitable. We seemed to recover quite quickly from the trauma, and were determined to try again as soon as we could. We were told in the hospital that there was no physical reason why we should wait, and as long as we were emotionally ready, there was no problem.The reality is that most pregnancies are carried to full-term, and most pregnancies have a successful outcome. But for those women who are unfortunate enough to experience a miscarriage, the effects can be devastating. I know a number of women close to me who have had miscarriages, but when it happens to yourself, it’s very hard to believe, and even harder to accept.