Talking about miscarriage: a therapist’s perspective

Can discussing miscarriage publicly help to break taboos? (Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Can discussing miscarriage publicly help to break taboos? (Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

The response to Facebook CEO’s Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that he and his wife are to have a baby girl – after three miscarriages – has been astounding. Not only is someone talking openly and publicly about miscarriage – but that someone is a man, a famous man. To start a discussion about miscarriage, says Zuckerberg: “Brings us together. It creates understanding and tolerance, and it gives us hope.” The alternative – not talking about miscarriage at all – leaves couples struggling in silence. “Most people don’t discuss miscarriages because you worry your problems will distance you or reflect upon you – as if you’re defective or did something to cause this. So you struggle on your own,” adds Zuckerberg.

The fact someone so well-known has come out and spoken about his losses has already sparked debate about how hidden the topic of miscarriage is – and why it shouldn’t remain a taboo any longer. While an estimated one in five pregnancies will end in miscarriage, couples who have lost their baby during early to mid pregnancy rarely talk about it. The rule is that no one announces a pregnancy until the crucial 12-week scan, and so many early miscarriages are never known, revealed or discussed.

Zuckerberg is right when he says that discussing the topic can “distance you or reflect upon you – as if you’re defective or have done something to cause it”. As a counsellor working with women – and men – affected by miscarriage, a core theme to their loss is that other people really don’t want to know. They may show empathy at the start, when they discover the news, but will often feel awkward about it. The person who has miscarried frequently finds herself taking care of the feelings of others around her, because pregnancy loss is a difficult concept to understand or accept.

The tacit expectation is often that the couple are meant to “get over it” quickly because it “wasn’t an actual baby anyway”. Yet that little bundle of cells that became an embryo and started bringing symptoms of morning sickness – and then suddenly lost its heartbeat – contained the hopes and dreams of a couple planning for a real, live, actual human being to become part of their lives.

Therapists like me hear the stories of dozens of people affected by miscarriage, often because no one else around them (friends and sometimes family) wants to listen. Miscarriage is one of my specialist areas as a counsellor and psychotherapist. What I’ve learned is that ‘the world’ doesn’t/can’t/won’t understand that a miscarriage is a major loss and requires a process of grieving in order to come to terms with it. (more…)

Can there ever be a timescale for “getting over” a bereavement?

Is it possible to put a day and time on when you'll feel better after a bereavement?

Is it possible to put a day and time on when you’ll feel better after a bereavement?

I’ve always taken the view that bereavement has no timescale attached to it. The day will come when the pain alleviates, but it won’t disappear for good. Grief is for life. And we learn to live with it. I believe that we grieve for as long as we need to, even when the rest of the world believes we should be “getting over it”. Whatever “over it” means.

However, new research from a charity that offers end-of-life care is challenging my views. A survey of 2053 people by the Sue Ryder charity, which offers support and advice on death, dying and bereavement, has calculated the amount of time it takes to feel better after a bereavement: two years, one month and four days. Crucially, the research found that people who had someone to talk to about their grief would recover far more quickly than people who couldn’t open up about it. People with no support grieved, on average, for nearly three years (an extra eight months, three weeks and five days compared with people who could speak about their feelings).

Significant stats from the Sue Ryder survey include:

  • A third said bereavement had a negative effect on their wellbeing, with some considering suicide.
  • A quarter suffered in silence, bottling up emotions that would then explode at a later date.
  • People aged 45-54 took twice as long to feel better than 16-24-year-olds.
  • Women take longer than men to feel better: two years and four months compared with one year and nine months.
  • One in four men said they couldn’t talk about bereavement with anyone, compared with one in seven women.
  • One in 10 people were too embarrassed to admit they were scared or upset.

The Sue Ryder charity is offering an online forum for support following a bereavement, as it may be easier to open up anonymously if embarrassment kicks in at not being able to “cope”.

My view is that one’s bereavement is one’s bereavement. The length of time it takes to grieve depends on the circumstances of the death, the attachment you had to the person who’s died, and how you feel about yourself at the time. Reaching out for help can be a lifeline. But only you can know when the time is right for you.

Can you ‘do an Oprah’ and let go of claustrophobic clutter?

davanti clutter“Knowing what you need is more than knowing what you want,” says Oprah Winfrey in an article about clearing her clutter. Big words, big aim – but not making anyone immune to the anxiety that goes with clearing out the clutter of our lives that can keep us stuck.

Even Oprah admits to feeling some anxiety – and wanting to buy back some of her stuff – when dealing with the emotional impact of saying goodbye to some of her most prized possessions. Ultimately, her instincts were that “instead of feeling walled in by stuff, [she] want[ed] to feel surrounded by calm”.

Having a vision for a cleared space is admirable. Many of us want to feel less ‘walled in’ by our clutter, but there can be so much invested in the objects we hold dear – especially if those objects belonged to someone who is no longer in our lives.

Oprah’s point is that our stuff doesn’t have to own us, but it can be so hard to let go. Who’s to say when it’s time to let go of a particular object?

Experience of letting go shows that you more you’re able to release to the world, the more the world is able to release to you. Hold onto the objects that you’ve paid a fortune for, but you have no further need of, and work out what you will get in return. Release objects to people who really need them, instead of hoarding them yourself, surely has to be the opportunity we’ve been given: to bestow on others the gifts that we have been given ourselves.

In Oprah’s words – assuming we’re not wanting for our basic needs – then “less actually is so much more”.

More emotional support needed for the 6 in 10 mothers suffering postnatal depression

59% of new mothers suffer the baby blues, but 75% don't seek support from their midwife (image courtesy of m_bartosch/freedigitalimages.net)

59% of new mothers suffer the baby blues, but 75% don’t seek support from their midwife (image courtesy of m_bartosch/freedigitalimages.net)

Midwives believe that the main focus of postnatal care should supporting the new mum emotionally, and yet 75% of mothers do not turn to their midwives for help with the baby blues.

A Royal College of Midwives (RCM) survey has found that 75% of midwives think ‘organisational pressures’ determine the number of postnatal visits, while 60% think that mums need emotional support as a priority.

The percentage of women feeling down or depressed after giving birth  is 59%, says the survey, and midwives find themselves having to “paper over the cracks in an underfunded adn under-resourced postnatal environment”, which is having a “detrimental effect on the health of women and children”.

A quarter of the women who completed the RCM survey, carried out in conjunction with parenting website Netmums, say the maternity team had not asked them if they were coping during postnatal visits. Yet 24% of student midwives say they are adequately trained to deal with postnatal mental health issues, and 29% say they don’t feel confident enough to recognise mental illness or emotional illness in women who have recently given birth. The report recommends a review of midwifery training to ensure that they are equipped with the knowledge and skills to deal with these issues.

Sally Russell, co-founder of parenting website Netmums, says: “There is an urgent need for more support for new mums’ mental health. With over half the new mums in the UK suffering baby blues, we are in danger of letting vulnerable mothers slip through the net and suffer serious mental illness. Many women who are struggling often blame themselves for ‘not coping’, and so don’t necessarily know their midwife can help. As the RCM report shows, it’s vital we train more midwives to help vulnerable women at this crucial time. Every mum deserves to be treated with compassion and have the chance to talk about their mental health as well as their physical health.”

Postnatal depression can be an isolating and frightening experience for new mothers. If you feel you would like counselling support at this vulnerable time in your life, call 07956 823501 or email davanticounselling@gmail.com for a confidential appointment.