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Stuart Findlay: A sudden miscarriage shattered our world – but talking about it helped us to cope

The loss of a baby at any time is painful, and people shouldn't be forced to pretend that miscarriage is no big deal.

The unexpected loss of a pregnancy turns a dream into a nightmare in an instant (Image: Jayaprasanna TL/Shutterstock)
The unexpected loss of a pregnancy turns a dream into a nightmare in an instant (Image: Jayaprasanna TL/Shutterstock)

Just before it happened, I took a great video in the crisp aisle at Tesco.

Music blared over the PA, and our toddler daughter started dancing her little heart out. Her mum, three months pregnant at the time and starting to show, was laughing and bobbing along with her.

Though it had been a stressful couple of months, we were content, basking in the afterglow of telling those closest to us that our little family was growing. But, a few hours after capturing that spontaneous moment of happiness and carefree joy on my phone, we were sitting in a hospital room.

A nurse asked us if we’d prefer burial or cremation.

Throughout my wife Ann’s first pregnancy, we were terrified. We pored over statistics and said a little prayer every time another week passed without incident.

A difficult journey to get to that joyous, positive pregnancy test convinced us that something was bound to go wrong. Thankfully, it didn’t.

After a far smoother pregnancy and labour than we expected, our baby girl was born happy and healthy in October 2021.

But, the second time around, we weren’t so lucky.

The 12-week mark came and went, and everything was fine, giving us the green light to share our happy news with family and friends. Then – in an instant – everything changed.

Ann told me she’d had some bleeding. “That’s OK,” I reassured her. It had happened earlier in the pregnancy, but it stopped and our scan showed that everything was hunky-dory.

I have a habit of being relentlessly positive in situations like this. In the wrong light, I can see why it can be infuriating.

But there was fear in Ann’s eyes. This time was different: she was in pain and it was getting worse.

One minute we were daydreaming about the future, the next we were broken

We phoned the hospital. “Keep an eye on it,” they said. “And phone again if the pain becomes unbearable.”

I still felt sure everything would be all right.

But I was wrong. Things got worse, and they got worse very quickly.

Ann was effectively in labour. Within the hour, we had both seen things we hoped we never would.

It was so sudden. And not at all like I imagined it would be.

I had visions of a sonographer doing a scan and breaking the news that our little one didn’t have a heartbeat anymore. Instead, our baby was born with no chance of survival on our bathroom floor.

There wasn’t even a chance to hope for the best. One minute we were daydreaming about the future, the next we were broken.

No more making plans to paint the spare room. No more imagining how our daughter would react to seeing her baby brother or sister for the first time. All of those dreams just… gone.

Dealing with pain and guilt

The pain didn’t arrive straight away for me. I was on autopilot, arranging emergency childcare and taking Ann to the hospital so they could make sure her own health wasn’t in jeopardy.

It sank in later, when she had to stay in overnight and I had to come home to look after our little girl.

A mere three hours after suffering a serious trauma, and we were separated, with a long night ahead to play it over and over again in our heads.

The next few weeks were a bit of a blur. On top of all the emotional turmoil, Ann had the physical stuff to deal with, too.

Outside of supporting her and looking after our wee girl, I found myself withdrawing from everything.

The physical and emotional effects of miscarriage are often overwhelming (Image: fizkes/Shutterstock)

We’d just moved into a new house and were planning a party for the following weekend to celebrate. We cancelled it.

I stopped exercising. Eating became a chore.

And then came the guilt as we spent time replaying things in our head.

There’s so much doctors still don’t know about miscarriage, but you’re given a checklist of what not to do. When you follow that to the letter and it still goes wrong, you feel cheated.

Did the house move cause too much stress? Should I have done all the dog-walking myself, because sometimes our labrador pulls too hard on the lead?

And why am I letting this affect me so much when it’s only a fraction of what my wife has gone through?

Stigma around miscarriage must end

Work was very supportive when I broke the news. I was given time away to recover and look after Ann until I felt ready to return. Unfortunately, not every employer is like this.

A friend of mine had been through something similar and visited his GP because he didn’t feel ready to go back to work.

“Partners don’t get sick leave for miscarriage,” he was told. Followed by a reminder that an estimated one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage. As if he was just supposed to say: “OK, fair point. Dunno what I was worried about”, and throw himself back into work with his mental health hanging by a thread.

It’s a loss, and people shouldn’t be forced to pretend that it’s no big deal. It’s trauma. It’s grief. And it isn’t a contest

There is, undoubtedly, still stigma around miscarriage.

For whatever reason, the long-held view was that you just don’t talk about it. But it’s a loss, and people shouldn’t be forced to pretend that it’s no big deal.

It’s trauma. It’s grief. And it isn’t a contest.

If you want to throw yourself straight back into work as a distraction, listen to Tears In Heaven on repeat, or run until you puke, the only person deciding if that is OK should be you.

We have to talk about baby loss more

As the numbness faded, anger about how unfair this all felt arrived to replace it.

Apparently, on the day we lost our baby, there was a 98% chance of the pregnancy progressing to a successful birth. The hospital carried out tests, but ultimately reported back to us that there was no obvious reason for what happened.

Seeing gushing parents with a newborn in the supermarket felt like a punch to the stomach. I’d spot strangers barking at their kids and it made me want to scream at them that they didn’t realise how lucky they were.

But what snapped me out of that stage was talking openly about what happened to us, and reading about others who had been through similar things. After hearing about women who’d suffered seven consecutive miscarriages, gone through the pain of stillbirth, or lost a child in infancy, I started to reframe what I was seeing.

We’d been fortunate enough to have our daughter and, undoubtedly, there will have been people then who looked at us and wished they’d had our luck.

Now, when I see those parents clutching their newborns, I remind myself that I have absolutely no idea what they’ve been through to get to that point. That’s their miracle baby, and they deserve every ounce of happiness that comes with their arrival.

Sometimes people go through loss like this and then go on to have another child, or even several more. Sometimes they don’t.

Sharing our happy news with so many friends and family meant that there were a lot of difficult conversations to have when things went wrong.

It was really tough. But we don’t regret doing that now. It gave more people the chance to support us when we needed it the most.

Charities like SiMba, Sands and Tommy’s are all doing really important work around helping people who have suffered the loss of a child. We need to talk about it more.

It’s always going to be painful to remember what happened. But, one day, I’ll be ready to watch that happy video from the crisp aisle.

Stuart Findlay is a journalist for The Press and Journal, based in the north of Scotland