Last year, thousands of women told us about their experiences of mental health problems during and after pregnancy – including those who lost their babies.
As part of Baby Loss Awareness Week we are sharing some of these stories people have shared with us about the impact of miscarriage and still birth on their mental health, and the call from women for more opportunities to talk about their mental health.
This year, Baby Loss Awareness Week focuses on the lack of timely access to psychological therapies for people who need extra mental health support following pregnancy or baby loss and calling for quicker access to support for bereaved parents.
Throughout our project exploring mental health and the journey to parenthood, we’ve heard about the effect that different experiences can have on people’s wellbeing. Here we share some of the stories people have shared with us about the impact of miscarriage and still birth on their mental health.
Jennifer and her husband have had four miscarriages. Jennifer is currently 31 weeks pregnant.
“When I look back we were so naïve, we had no idea what can go wrong in pregnancy. Robert* and I started trying for a family in December 2017, six months after we got married, and we had our first positive test in January. But a few days later I started to bleed and assumed it was my period, that I’d made a mistake.
"In March, we had another positive test. We had scans following some spotting. At 11 weeks exactly, I remember sitting waiting for a scan with Robert, talking about how we would share our happy news with family and friends. Then, in the room, the sonographer turned the screen around and went quiet."
"Even now, when I say those words, I feel like I’m back there. You just can’t take it all in, you don’t understand. She asked if we wanted the scan picture, but I said no.
"Then we were in a room talking about options. I remember someone telling me we needed to get ‘it’ out or it would make me ill and I felt so angry, that was my baby. A lot of the language used was very cold.
"We went back the next day for surgery and I found out the sonographer had printed off the pictures for us anyway. I’m glad now that we’ve got them.
"We were on holiday in June when I found out I was pregnant again. On the way back to the airport I started bleeding heavily and feeling a lot of pain. My husband tried to make me feel better, but I think, deep down, we both knew."
"Back home we went to the GP and because I’d had three losses, we were referred to a consultant which took a while. Before we had that appointment, I discovered I was pregnant for a fourth time. I started to bleed on and off from early on, but an early scan showed there were two sacs. They didn’t know if that meant twins or an ectopic pregnancy and all I could think was how completely different those outcomes would be, one incredible, one heartbreaking.
"A week later we had another scan and it showed just one sac - if there’d been twins, one of them had passed, but we still had one baby in there. We had hope. I continued spotting and bleeding. Two weeks later I’d convinced myself before the scan that there wouldn’t be anything there and it was confirmed. Again, I had surgery.
"It was at that point when I told my husband that I didn’t want to be anymore, I couldn’t continue living like this. He was completely devastated. It was the first time that I’d been honest about how I was feeling.
"That sense of hopelessness had started with the third loss and increased with the fourth. I just didn’t see any way forward. The statistics are one in four women suffer miscarriage, but the risk usually decreases. I’d just suffered my fourth miscarriage and I couldn’t see any point in anything.
"The last baby was sent off for testing, I had blood tests and we saw a consultant. I tested high for APS, a disorder of the immune system which increases the risk of developing blood clots and can lead to multiple miscarriages.
"The secretary gave us the results and suggested we get in touch when we got our next positive test to talk about treatment. I called her the following day after a positive test which left me petrified and in tears as I thought we’d got pregnant too soon and it would end in another loss.
"I started taking aspirin straight away. At seven weeks a scan showed a heartbeat and I started on Fragmin injections every day. The consultant told us we now had a 70% chance of a successful pregnancy and we finally had hope. I’m now 31 weeks and feeling a little more at ease."
I can’t fault the physical support of the hospital, but there’s such a lack of mental health support. Every miscarriage I was given the same leaflet, and nobody knew we had multiple losses until they asked, ‘Was this your first pregnancy?’ There’s just no dedicated support for women like me.
The general attitude just seems to be ‘It’s normal to feel anxious’ and generally just get on with it. It’s like nobody is listening.
My husband is the only person I’ve been completely open with. I didn’t want to upset my parents. Even with my husband sometimes I don’t want to be too honest as he’s been going through this too. There is even less support for men when it comes to miscarriage.
I’d like for there to be someone in hospitals for women who suffer loss, not necessarily a mental health expert, just someone who can talk about how you feel and offer to refer you to services that can help. There should also be a follow-up in the weeks after loss because it can take some time for the emotion to hit you.”
Alex has had five miscarriages, including two ectopic pregnancies. As a result, she has little chance of conceiving naturally.
“My partner and I had been together for six months before I fell pregnant in December 2015 and my world just changed. I was so happy.
Four weeks later I was at work when I started bleeding, friends said not to worry but it continued. I remember waking up with a shooting pain right up my body. The next morning, I went to the GP, they felt my tummy and said everything was fine. I felt something was wrong but, at that point, I didn’t really know anything about miscarriage. Bleeding continued and in the end they said I needed to end the pregnancy, so I went for a D&C.
Sitting in the waiting room is the worst thing, just heartbreaking, sitting there with pregnant women while you’re bleeding, miscarrying.
"By June 2016 I was pregnant again but then, after a heavy bleed, I did a pregnancy test that came back negative. I never went to my GP.
"Later that year I had another positive pregnancy test. I was excited, not scared, I just didn’t think it could happen to me again, but it did.
"I knew I needed to focus on my mental health, I was pretty messed up. I hadn’t had any counselling, just leaflets with each loss, so I went to see my GP who prescribed anti-depressants, but I never took them.
"It was a year later when I fell pregnant again in October 2017 and this was, mentally, the hardest loss. I had a scan around eight weeks and they couldn’t see anything, the pregnancy was failing. I went to A&E at the weekend when the bleeding became too much, and the pain was unbearable. They said there was nothing that they could do, no examination, no scan.
"I told the nurse that it was my fourth miscarriage, that it felt different and I was really concerned, but I was sent home. I went back to hospital on Monday afternoon and a scan confirmed it was an ectopic pregnancy. They performed keyhole surgery and found my left tube had become infected, so they had to remove it completely. It had also wrapped around part of my bladder, which also had to be removed. I couldn’t help thinking that if they’d listened to me two days earlier I may not have been forced to have surgery. It’s so hard when they don’t listen, I’d lost three babies, I knew my body.
"I’d been told that the surgery would leave three holes, but I had four and wanted to know why. The nurse said the doctor was delivering babies and didn’t have time to see me.
"Afterwards I could feel myself sinking lower and lower but wouldn’t admit it was depression. I found out later that, after that fourth loss, my notes read that I was distressed and recommended counselling, but nobody told me that at the time. Nobody suggested it to me. Eventually I did go to speak to someone and it really helped.
"It was February 2019 before I got pregnant again, and then pain and bleeding started at four weeks. It was another ectopic pregnancy. I’ve been told that my chances of conceiving now are very slim. I consider myself infertile, it’s better not to have hope.
"I’m recovering mentally but I do struggle with depression and low self-esteem. I haven’t asked for support, I just feel like they will offer anti-depressants. I’ve been through five losses and I’m now infertile. My whole life is different, it’s changed.
"Miscarriage is so alienating - friends, family, they don’t really understand. There’s a lack of support across the board and when you consider how many women miscarry there should be so much more. It just feels like nobody cares, you’re sent away to manage on your own.”
What did people say about their experiences?
Although only a small proportion of the women we heard from had suffered baby loss, there are some common themes to the experiences they shared.
- They felt that they were left alone to deal with the aftermath of what happened – just given a leaflet and expected to get on with it.
- That services didn’t always follow up with them and see if they needed mental health support.
- That there was a lack of information about how people should expect to feel when they lose a baby.
- That there is a big gap between how well you’re treated physically, and how much consideration is given to your mental health.
What changes would people like to see?
- Proactive support from professionals – don’t expect people to be able to identify the support they need for themselves.
- More than a leaflet – people need space to talk about how they’re feeling.
- Support for partners.
- Better communication so staff know if people have experienced multiple miscarriages
Share your experience
Do you have an experience you’d like to share? Get in touch with your local Healthwatch.
Thanks to Tommy's for sharing these women's experiences with us. Take a look at their campaign for Baby Loss Awareness Weeks - Tell Me Why and help raise awareness today.
*Please note that the names in these stories are not their real names and have been anonymised.