Today is International Women’s Day and the theme for this year is “Choose to Challenge”. Someone I hold in the highest possible regard is a most impressive woman, choosing to challenge the conversation around miscarriage against a backdrop of a tiny, but loud minority who seek to silence discussion.
As I write, the news is full of Megan Markle, just one of a few famous women who has chosen to speak out about her miscarriage. She, along with others like Chrissy Teigen, received a lot of ire for discussing their losses. So why is Laura Buckingham, one of the founders of award-winning podcast “The Worst Girl Gang Ever”, choosing to dedicate her spare time to talking about it? She’s written a book, It Will Happen, published by Austin Macauley Publishers and started a podcast about her experience of recurrent loss.
I first met Laura when I started working alongside the NHS, collating feedback on midwifery services as a Maternity Voices Partnership Chair. She came to our meetings with senior midwives and other clinicians and bravely and openly talked about her recurrent miscarriages before she had her son, Bertie. She detailed the pain she had experienced when she was breezily asked by staff “is this your first baby” and talked frankly about what those miscarriages had meant to her.
“We are so sorry you are here, but so happy you’ve found us”
The good thing about a podcast, she says, that if you’re not as keen as she is to discuss your miscarriage openly, you can just listen to other people’s experiences and feel like you’re part of something. Even if that belonging is to what she has called “The Worst Girl Gang Ever”, which is the title of her up-and-coming podcast. Just two days ago, it won the Glomama UK award for “best podcast”.
Other winners included “Pregnant then Screwed” for best campaign and Stacey Solomon for Best Instagram Page.
Since she launched the podcast in July last year, after the tumultuous changes in perinatal care that lockdown brought, she’s had an increasing amount of supportive messages that express gratitude that someone out there was talking about this. She started the podcast after meeting her co-host, Bex Gunn, online.
With 42 episodes available to download and a 5 star rating, the podcast has gone from nothing to a place to discuss grief, togetherness, support and a way to voice “honest conversations about unspoken experiences”. Laura is proud to have been able to interview lots of big names – influencers who are known to speak openly about their experiences of loss. They’ve spoken to the Midwifery Manager from Tommy’s, the Director of the Miscarriage association and Zo Clark-Coates, the best selling author of four books and “grief specialist” for both ITV and the BBC.
The podcast has over 37.5k downloads (11,000 in the last 30 days) and going from strength to strength, with no sign of stopping. But why is no one else talking about this?
That was the question that struck Laura’s co-host Bex, when she experienced a miscarriage. She simply couldn’t believe that she was feeling so awful but couldn’t really find others feeling the same. Bex had what’s known as a “missed miscarriage” in lockdown. A missed miscarriage is where the baby has died or stopped developing but there are no obvious signs that this has occurred. If you have a missed miscarriage it’s likely that you will continue to experience pregnancy symptoms as the placenta still releases hormones. Missed miscarriages are most often discovered at a routine pregnancy scan, around 12 weeks.
As one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, Bex simply couldn’t understand that there wasn’t a national conversation going on – there was just no one to turn to and no community. So she set one up herself on Facebook and – overnight – she was simply inundated with around 2000 messages. Her message was simply – no one should be going through this alone.
“It is so painful to watch your dreams play out in the lives of others”
Laura was one of the women that messaged and after some discussions they decided to get together and start talking about all the feelings they have experienced. Some of which, she says, are ugly feelings. It’s hard, she says, when you’re experiencing grief over a loss, to see others around you getting pregnant. Bitterness and resentment are ugly feelings that people feel ashamed to feel, however normal they might be.
The stigma around miscarriage is something that Bex understands a little better, having thought of herself originally as “not someone who has miscarriages”, having previously had no issues with getting pregnant and carrying 3 babies to term already – her miscarriage was her fourth pregnancy. Bex is currently pregnant and has admitted that it’s hard to deal with feelings about pregnancy after loss. Letting go of fears and dealing with your own trauma is difficult enough, but hearing stories of miscarriage every day when you’re running a podcast must be incredibly challenging.
It is tough, at times, to hear these stories of loss, admits Laura. She says her recurrent miscarriages have made her quite hardened to the experiences and she and Bex are able to have a frank and supportive exchange. They manage to compartmentalise a lot of the feelings and the fact that she regularly wakes up to 5-10 messages every day commending her on her work and thanking her for what she’s doing makes it all worth it.
So how should we talk about miscarriage?
If someone close to you experiences a miscarriage, says Laura, silence is the worst thing. You might feel concerned about how to discuss someone’s loss but not saying anything at all is the worst thing of all. The problem is, says Laura, is that our natural inclination when someone is upset is to make them feel better. Yet there is nothing anyone can do or say to close the hole in that’s person’s life or quieten the sadness that dwells inside them.
“You can’t pull us from our trenches”
Toxic positivity and the phrase “at least” are highest on Laura’s DO NOT SAY list. “You can’t pull us from our trenches” she says, poignantly. What you can do, however, is get down in them with us. Acknowledge that it happened. Acknowledge that it’s really shit. “At least” is never a good way to start a conversation about miscarriage – “at least it was early”, “at least you’re still young”, “at least you do have already have a baby”… it all feels so invalidating. Does that really make anything better? Does that mean I shouldn’t feel sad? So many are silenced by these phrases and they feel they can’t feel sad because it’s before a certain cut off point. From the time you see that line on a pregnancy test, you’ve already imagined their cheeky grin, those Christmases together, their time with their grandparents. The grief you feel when you miscarry is a grief without memories or nostalgia. You have a loss without a past: when that’s dismissed, it silences people.
Sex education is also ignoring discussion around fertility, Laura says. We should be more realistic when talking about what’s normal and this idea of a standard 28 day cycle and the fear of getting pregnant as soon as you look at a penis – that belies the reality that a third of women don’t get pregnant within the first 6 months of trying. The reality is that you have about a one in 5 chance of getting pregnant every cycle and it’s not as easy as the scaremongering of sex ed would have you believe.
We should be teaching young women about tracking their ovulation and talking about the realities of understanding your cycle. Cervical mucous is another one that’s never discussed. When it comes to getting pregnant, it’s not until you have difficulties with conception that you start to learn about how important it is. When you’re a teenager you’re frightened to talk about discharge. Even want others to believe you don’t get it. We just wouldn’t feel as abnormal if we were taught that there are variations on what we learn in the most basic sex education.
So what’s the best way to support someone?
“Just acknowledge it happened. Saying nothing invalidates the emotions around it – just acknowledge she’s hurting, let her know you’re there for her. It’s ok to just say “I’m sorry. It’s shit, I know how much you wanted that baby.” Bring wine. Maybe chocolate. Be prepared to cry with her and for her. Just be there, however you support her, just be there”.
For more information on The Worst Girl Gang Ever, visit their linktree: https://linktr.ee/theworstgirlgangever/
Buy Laura’s book: https://www.austinmacauley.com/book/it-will-happen
You can also follow Laura on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/it_will_happen_19/