I was really fortunate, earlier in the year, to do a study weekend with an extraordinary woman and psychologist, Anna Verwaal. Her work is primarily around prenatal and perinatal psychology – a lot of what she had to say was extremely challenging as she believes that babies are affected and informed by the pregnancy they experience and the birth they go through. Not so great to hear for anyone whose experiences during those times are less than positive. However, the message I took away was that women (and families) need emotional and practical support not just in preparation for birth, but also in preparation for pregnancy. What a lovely idea to have fertility doulas, particularly for those who are treading that difficult path of fertility treatment, exploratory tests and miscarriage.
Mumsnet did some research a few months ago on the subject of miscarriage, which highlighted the lack of empathy and support for women who go through such an ordeal. The sad thing is that we, as a nation, have become very uncomfortable around grief and loss. We don’t know what to say – and often the news is a double shock because we didn’t know that the mother was pregnant due to our traditions of not announcing pregnancy until the 12 week scan. Comments such as “at least you know you can get pregnant” or “at least you weren’t far along” or “at least you already have a child/children” completely disrespect and disallow the connection the mother (and partner) had with her baby. It is the loss of a child, whether she had the privilege of meeting that child or not. Sadly, the medics often don’t have the appropriate language to relate to mothers either – women don’t want to hear that they are having a medical procedure to “remove the products of conception” – what a chilling phrase to use, and that is just one that I am aware of. In my work I become more and more aware of the power of language and the devastating effect words can have. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” – what a load of rubbish!
It’s really important that we don’t forget the partners too. There was some rumbling after the Mumsnet articles that the feelings of the partners were not included and that they are no less valid or important than the mother’s feelings. In fact, the Miscarriage Association (http://www.miscarriageassociation.org.uk/support/feelings-after-pregnancy-loss/support-for-partners/) says that a quarter of men don’t discuss their feelings about the miscarriage with their partner because they don’t want to upset her further or say the wrong thing. Surely, these men need support too – they need someone to listen to them and give them permission to share their feelings – the good, the bad and the ugly.
So, what are my conclusions?
That people need to think about language – how powerful and damaging words can be. Let’s consider what is or isn’t appropriate to say to a family who have just miscarried.
That giving someone the opportunity to share how they feel is often beneficial (and shown to be positive by the research carried out by the Miscarriage Association) and that we can listen without feeling the need to give advice or judgement.
And, as ever, that doulas can be valuable before, during and after pregnancy.