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At the time of writing, it is exactly 2 months to the day that I gave birth to my stillborn son. Perfectly formed, yet utterly helpless at just 21 1/2 weeks’ gestation. Even writing those words now brings the emotion of the whole event welling back up, but I am glad to say that it is a only a feeling of healing that washes over me with the tears. There is no blackness to my memory of that day and of the weeks that followed, no dread or fear or trauma.
Even before I ever thought of having children myself, I could not mentally compute how a woman could survive the ‘horrors’ of pregnancy/childbirth followed by an emptiness – nothing to hold and nurture, nothing to show for all of the effort, all the months of expectancy. Why would you not just fall apart completely with the grief, the torture? How could you be expected to go on living life as normal afterwards?
My son’s birth was neither one thing or the other in medical terms: too late to be deemed a ‘regular’ miscarriage; too early to be ‘viable’ as a living, breathing human baby boy. In my mind, this was absolutely the worst part. To me, he was my baby, and he was absolutely healthy and perfect – yet the matter of a few weeks meant he just wasn’t ready for the world either biologically or bureaucratically. If he had just held on for 3 more weeks, all might have been very different. Equally, if it had happened earlier, I may not even have noticed him slipping away and it would have been sad, yet understandable – it is thought that about 1 in 7 known pregnancies end in miscarriage, and 8 out of 10 of those happen during the first 13 weeks.
Technically, our son was a “late miscarriage”. On our postnatal notes the midwives have recorded his birth as “stillborn”. Both terms are correct, but having spent the day giving birth to him, I feel that the midwives’ description does more justice to the event as well as the perfect little creature who arrived. We got to meet him, to say hello and goodbye at the same time. And I had all the usual postnatal recovery to go through, including milky boobs and uterine contractions. Still, it was a miscarriage, and like every woman who goes through this, my heart and head could only keep coming back to the same bewildered question: WHY?
In my case, nobody had the answer. I was ultra low-risk, had just had a very healthy looking 20-week scan, and everything looked great and bang on track. If I’d been a smoker or a drinker; if I’d been overweight or had a particularly unhealthy diet, the authorities may have pinned those down as possible factors. But no, one morning I woke up and my placenta had detached itself. Baby had died probably during the night as a result. End of story.
And this is what makes us animals. This is what takes us back to our roots. Because, hard as we find the truth to swallow, we are not infallible. Humans, like any animal, simply don’t always function to perfection, for whatever reason. Miscarriage is one of those things that just happens sometimes. Having a cerebral cortex and living in a world with the incredible capabilities of medical science cannot alter that fact.
That is why there is no doubt in my mind that any woman – and indeed any family – who goes through a miscarriage should see it as a rite of passage. The more that miscarriage is seen as horrific, as something which somehow could have been preventable, and is therefore blamed on the woman’s health, fitness or diet, the more we are denying ourselves as fallible animals. We are making women responsible somehow for these acts of nature. We are instilling guilt and fear, layer upon layer. The result is a woman, and by extension her family, who no longer trusts her body to do what is right. It must be faulty – it miscarried. Her body was not healthy enough, not experienced enough or somehow not adequately formed to be able to carry the pregnancy to full term.
This is not a healthy attitude to have, and can only result in more negative birth outcomes. One of the reasons I do not have a black tinge around my memories of my son’s birth is that, through it all, I trusted in my body. I did what I could, and although I couldn’t understand WHY it had happened, I came to accept that this time was just not meant to be. I am an animal, and I am fallible. This time I fell into the statistics of 1 in 7 pregnancies failing. There’s really no more to it – no guilt, no shame, no fear for future pregnancies; it’s just not appropriate.
Having gone through this whole process I now feel more of a woman. Yes, really. Not only have I experienced the horror myself, but I have had countless other women suddenly willing to share their own story with me. In a sad way I feel as if I have entered a secret club, something taboo and a bit shameful. I’m not really sure why nobody wants to discuss miscarriage, when it affects so many of us. If it were accepted as a rite of passage for any woman, as much as childbirth itself, I feel we’d all have a more positive outlook on all births, whatever the outcome.
Zoë Foster is a yoga teacher and real food ambassador, following her dreams in South Devon with her husband and two small children. Read more about her exploits, experiments and adventures at www.rawyogauk.com and giveanearthly.blogspot.co.uk, or find her on Facebook and Twitter under RawYogaUK.