“I feel like I see babies and pregnancies everywhere. TV commercials, baby shower invitations, and simply walking past the diaper aisle in the grocery store suddenly irritates me.
“I feel jealous of pregnant women and mothers of new babies, especially those who seem to get pregnant easily. I have been told countless times that my feelings are perfectly normal but knowing that has not made me feel better in any way.”
These are the words of Thandiwe (not real name), a young woman who recently had a second miscarriage and is finding the road to recovery, naturally, tremendously hectic.
Her in-laws are beginning to talk a lot of negative things about her and word doing the rounds in the community is that she has “eaten” her unborn babies.
Thandiwe’s situation is not an isolated case. It is what millions of women across the world go through.
Women suffer miscarriages. This is something that happens. And when it happens, instead of getting the kind of support they deserve, they get stigmatised.
For a woman to rejoice over a positive pregnancy test only to have to deal with the stress of a miscarriage afterwards is acutely painful.
Regardless of whether the first sign of the loss of a baby was slight spotting or heavy bleeding, the end of pregnancy symptoms, or no sign of a heartbeat on an ultrasound, a loss during pregnancy will affect her profoundly, often leaving the mother feeling depressed, deeply sad, angry, confused, and alone.
Coping with the pain of losing a baby coupled by the harsh power of insulting words can lead to suicide.
But what exactly is a miscarriage and how can women and communities handle the associated trauma?
“A miscarriage, or spontaneous abortion, is when the embryo or foetus is expelled from the uterus before it’s able to live outside. Any spontaneous pregnancy loss that occurs during the first 20 weeks of a pregnancy is considered a miscarriage (though the majority of such losses occur before weeks 12 to 14),” explains Tafadzwa Chigaramasimbe, a medical doctor based in Harare, Zimbabwe.
One in five known pregnancies ends in a miscarriage, and many experts believe that a very high number of women will miscarry sometime during her reproductive years.
Women have a million questions when they miscarry, and they are all down to this one: “Why me?”
It is advisable – though not easy it all – to accept the situation as it is and stop blaming oneself for the loss. A pregnancy loss can happen to anybody regardless of race, health, economic class, age, or any other factors that anyone can think of.
“Women should not turn the responsibility inward: It is not their fault when they miscarry, they are not to blame, and they didn’t do anything to deserve this.
“Certain factors may have increased the risk: Women over 35 are more likely to miscarry than women in their 20s, certain uterine abnormalities can play a role as can genetic or immune factors, and having certain diseases or disorders such as diabetes, lupus, or low progesterone may also contribute.
“But many perfectly healthy women have miscarriages every year. Be kind to yourself, and try not to compound your sadness with guilt. Any woman can wind up coping with a miscarriage, and few will ever know why,” adds another Zimbabwean doctor in Harare, Tawanda Mushawarima.
Husbands and other family members, as well as the wider community, should thus not add to the trauma women experience after miscarrying by stigmatising their loss.
Rebecca Chisamba, a popular Zimbabwean talk show host, believes that showing love to a woman who has miscarried is the greatest sign of appreciation family and friends can give her.
“Even if you never saw your baby, you knew that he or she was growing inside of you, and you formed a bond; however abstract the attachment, you felt it. The baby was responsible for your emotions during pregnancy.
“From the moment a woman finds out she is pregnant, she imagines herself a mother — and then, all the excitement of forthcoming months (and years, and decades) abruptly comes to a screeching halt. It’s understandably painful.
“It becomes painful if the ones who are supposed to give you hope accuse you of eating your children. People should support each other; give hope to the affected so that they feel loved. This is the most important step towards the recovery of a woman who has just suffered a miscarriage,” she points out.
Women should be able to turn to their partners and the larger community for support.
Men also mourn when their partners miscarry. However, men tend to show their grief in ways that are different to those shown by women, and thus many people assume that they do not feel the loss.
It is therefore important for the two partners to come together and support each other during the time of loss. Sharing feelings openly, something that is difficult for many men, rather than acting as if nothing has happened does not work. Both the man and the woman should not retreat into shells.
Bishop Divas Chakwenya of the Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe says that affected mothers can approach their religious leaders for counselling.
“If you are religious, ask your pastor, priest, rabbi, or spiritual leader for guidance. If you find the depression too difficult to bear, ask your practitioner to recommend a therapist or bereavement group to assist you through this difficult period.
Talking to others who have shared a similar loss can also help. In time, and with patience, your suffering will end; take as long as you need to mend your broken heart,” he advises.
If you are going through this rough patch, always remind yourself that you can become pregnant again and give birth to a healthy child.
For the vast majority of women, a miscarriage is a one-off occurrence and experts say it is actually an indication of future fertility.
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