Why I was ashamed of my miscarriages

By Lizzie Lowrie

I felt lonely and guilty because I couldn't be around friends who were new mothers or going through pregnancy easily. Photo / Getty
I felt lonely and guilty because I couldn't be around friends who were new mothers or going through pregnancy easily. Photo / Getty

When failed pregnancies left Lizzie Lowrie distraught, she found solace helping other women facing similar turmoil.

The days after my third miscarriage are the loneliest I can recall. It was October 2010 and I had begun bleeding spontaneously, at 10 weeks. I was at the University of Chester in the UK, where I worked as an administrative officer, and quickly taken to A&E. Afterwards, I went back to work and cried at my desk, unable to process what had happened.

At home, my husband, Dave, a vicar in the Church of England, now 34 years old, was supportive, but unable to comfort me. When I shouted at him for not crying enough, he replied that he was really sad, too, but wanted to be strong for me.

Looking back, we hadn't the vocabulary to enable us to share our feelings; we couldn't express our grief properly. We didn't know how common our experience was - that one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage.

We felt hopeless because no one seemed to know what was going wrong. So news earlier this month that scientists at the University of Sheffield have made a breakthrough in miscarriage research feels a little cheering. They have identified a protein that helps embryos stick to the lining of the uterus, opening the possibility of new therapies. For Dave and I, after eight years of trying, this is momentous news - even if the therapy is not developed in time for us.

We began our first pregnancy with no expectation anything would go wrong. We had married in 2008, when I was 26, and I became pregnant the following January. We told our families and a few friends, and relaxed. But at about six weeks, I miscarried. It was quite a shock, but we took our cue from the doctor, who was matter of fact, so we felt we had to be. I was aware of an expectation that I should move on, so I tried to.

I had an idea that you could be sad for "this long" or "that many weeks", but I didn't know who to ask. I bottled up my feelings when people said insensitive things such as, "Oh, at least you can get pregnant." With hindsight, what I needed was permission to feel properly sad and to grieve for as long as it took.

In April 2010, I became pregnant, and swiftly miscarried again. I can hardly remember anything about the second time. I didn't take time off work, I just tried to blot it out and move on.

The third miscarriage felt worse as we made it to 10 weeks and I was juggling feelings of excitement and fear. The experience was painful physically as well as mentally. I felt lonely and guilty because I couldn't be around friends who were new mothers or going through pregnancy easily.

In 2012, we moved to Cambridge so Dave could go to theological college, and I found it difficult to make new friends, as everyone seemed to be having babies. I began having serious migraines which forced me to give up work.

Everything came to a head at someone's house, sitting with a group of women whose husbands were all studying theology, and I broke down in tears. You imagine how people will behave - how they may judge you - but I was treated with such empathy and kindness, it really helped.

Then I got pregnant again. At six weeks, a sonographer couldn't find a heartbeat and I miscarried shortly afterwards. But this time, I had a community. My new friends came around, listened, brought food and didn't offer platitudes. Feeling braver, I sought help from the Miscarriage Association and it was recommended to see a counsellor, Karen Burgess, who runs a specialist practice, Petals, for women struggling with miscarriage, infertility and stillbirth.

She understood our situation, talked about grief and isolation, and helped us articulate what we were feeling. I realised I had felt there was something wrong with me - I was ashamed of my inability to carry a child.

Meanwhile, another trainee vicar's wife set up a support group bringing together a few of us with similar experiences. We talked without judgment - it was transformative.

One thing I had never been able to share was how painful and horrendous the experience of miscarriage can be. Yet when I miscarried for the fifth time in February 2012, again at 10 weeks, my experience was transformed when two of my new friends came in to hospital to support me. Their presence meant nothing was hidden anymore. That gave me so much confidence to talk about what I had gone through.

In April 2013, I became pregnant for a sixth time, but once again, at 10 weeks, we were told the baby had died. I had to go through a process called a medically managed miscarriage, as it had not happened spontaneously. Doctors were still unable to explain what was going wrong.

That night our house was full of friends. They sat and cried with us - it was so different from our first lonely experiences; powerful and humbling that someone could feel our pain in that way. It taught us that we needed to share our experience more widely, and we told our story via a blog called saltwaterandhoney.org so that anyone feeling isolated might find our experience and be comforted.We wanted the blog to be written during our experience, not afterwards.

Within a year, the site had received more than 20,000 hits, which has now risen to 28,000. We have been contacted by so many women who need that extra help, and need to know you shouldn't feel ashamed, guilty or isolated after miscarriage.

Dave and I are taking a break from trying and have settled into a parish in Crosby, Merseyside. We are reimagining what life and family could look like in a new way. Part of that is knowing now that my fertility doesn't define me; that there are lots of ways to have a happy ending. We just don't know what ours is yet.

• As told to Victoria Lambert

- Daily Telegraph UK

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf03 at 25 Sep 2016 16:54:30 Processing Time: 909ms