Miscarriage is the most common reason for losing a baby during pregnancy. It happens to up to 15% of women who knew they were pregnant. Photo credit: UNSPLASH / Claudia Wolff.ABUJA, Dec. 29 (IPS) – Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, recently wrote an article about her miscarriage. As I clutched my firstborn child, I knew I was losing my second, She wrote. She is part of a growing list of celebrities who have publicly shared their experiences of miscarriages.
Model Chrissy Teigen also recently shared the pain she and her husband singer John Legend felt over the miscarriage of their third pregnancy. While celebrities are posting messages to share their personal grief, they are not alone when it comes to reliving them.
Miscarriage is the most common reason for losing a baby during pregnancy. It happens to up to 15% of women who knew they were pregnant. According to the World Health Organization, a baby who dies before 28 weeks of pregnancy is called a miscarriage, and babies who die after or after 28 weeks are stillbirths. Most miscarriages are due to chromosomal abnormalities. The risk of miscarriages increases with age.
Regardless of when it occurs or how old the pregnant woman is, a miscarriage places enormous psychological stress on women and their families.
When I tweeted about Markle’s play, Martha Ngodoo from Abuja replied to my tweet: “This is a part that many women who have gone through a loss are never asked or talked about. I read hers and I remember mine. We all just learn to live with it. If I’m ever going to write a book, I’ll do it for myself”.
After reading Ngodoo’s tweet, I was forced to hear her story. She said she experienced both a miscarriage and a stillbirth. She is now a 40 year old mother of three.
Her first experience was a stillbirth that occurred 16 years ago during her first pregnancy at the age of 24. This was a case of poorly treated preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy). She went into labor and was taken to the hospital. She was at work 72 hours. The medical team tried to induce labor with oxytocin but was unsuccessful. Her dead baby was eventually pulled out by hand in an assisted delivery.
Her second experience was a miscarriage that happened five years later. She was 29 years old at the time, and the miscarriage occurred in her twenty-second week of pregnancy. She had a fever during this pregnancy. One night she woke up wanting to urinate. When she tried, her baby came out in pieces. She was then taken to the hospital and the baby was fully expelled. It was a terrible experience, she said.
Both experiences made Ngodoo wonder twice what she had done to deserve such pain. Although her husband was very supportive, she was concerned about giving him dead babies from her pregnancies. Some cultural beliefs made this difficult. Her husband suggested that she move to his parents’ home for additional support. However, this proved very unhelpful. For example, her father-in-law wanted her to go on with her life as if nothing had happened after the stillbirth.
Ngodoo is stronger now, and after many years and three successful pregnancies, she can talk about her experiences without feeling sad. When I asked her what she recommended to help women manage the pain of miscarriage and stillbirth, she shared three suggestions.
First of all, don’t tell a woman that it is “okay” if she loses a pregnancy and let go of what she went through. Women are subject to physical and psychological changes during pregnancy. They develop deep bonds with their unborn babies and it is painful to lose one. It’s okay for a woman who has lost a pregnancy to feel wrong.
Fourteen years later, Ngodoo is still wondering what her daughter would look like now if the pregnancy didn’t end in stillbirth. She still doesn’t know where her daughter was buried. These are thoughts that still plague her mind even though she is no longer as devastated as it was before. She has learned that speaking about such experiences allows victims to exhale and then let the healing process begin.
Second, women who lose pregnancies need psychological support. Ngodoo wants more women to have the kind of psychological support that allows them to talk about their experiences. One way to do this is to train counselors to lead victim support groups.
These support groups could be in communities, health care facilities, or professional associations. There are lessons from the UK-based Miscarriage Association. The association has a network of volunteer helpers who have had experiences with pregnancy loss themselves and who can offer genuine understanding and an open ear. This is done physically or virtually via Zoom meetings.
Third, families of victims of miscarriage should be safe havens, especially when others may not even have known about the pregnancy, let alone about the loss. Unfortunately this is not always the case.
After their wedding, Ngodoo lived with her in-laws (in the family house). She believes that her in-laws should have understood her loss better and shouldn’t have tried to get her to resume normal activities immediately. She wishes the house visitors hadn’t told her to go on with her life because she isn’t the first woman to lose a pregnancy.
Ngodoo is now the mother of a daughter and two sons. Her daughter is 7 years old and her sons are 13 years and 10 years old, respectively. She describes her two sons as rainbow babies – born immediately after a miscarriage. You are the sunshine we are blessed with after a loss, she said.
With support, women can begin healing after a miscarriage. When women feel strong enough to share their miscarriage stories, it inspires others. The Duchess of Sussex inspires women by telling her story. This should be the norm.
Dr. Ifeanyi McWilliams Nsofor is a graduate of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. He is a Senior New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute and a Senior Atlantic Fellow in Health Equity at George Washington University. Ifeanyi is Director Policy and Advocacy at Nigeria Health Watch.
(2020) – All rights reserved