When we decide we want children, whatever age that may be, we have a certain expectation of how that’s going to work out. We’ll find someone to raise a child with, get pregnant, and then it’ll just happen. We might be aware that 1 in 7 couples have difficulty conceiving, we might know that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, but we never quite think it’s going to happen to _us_. This was the case for Anna Whitehouse, author and campaigner who you might know better as Mother Pukka on Instagram.
‘I went into pregnancy thinking that there’s an element of control to it,’ Anna says, ‘you make the decision, like getting married or what job you do, you have a control over these elements of your life and I'd wrongly assumed this was just one of those things that would happen.’
While Anna was able to get pregnant, she suffered a miscarriage at seven weeks, and went on to have four more in pursuit of her family. She now has two daughters, having had three miscarriages before her first daughter, Mae, and two before her second, Eve. Using her website Mother Pukka to talk about all things parenthood, Anna has chosen be open about her recurrent miscarriages. Because, as we saw just last week with Zara and Mike Tindall’s story, there is a stifling silence around miscarriages.
Zara revealed she had suffered a second miscarriage, having only publicy addressed her first in 2016, telling The Times ‘you need to go through a period where you don’t talk about it because it’s too raw, but, as with everything, time’s a great healer.’
It was her ability to mourn the second loss in private that she was grateful for, explaining to the publication that telling everyone was ‘the hardest bit’ of the entire experience. And while those of us that aren’t royals don’t have to publicly discuss deeply personal, harrowing experiences, she touched on a subject that many couples who experience miscarriage can relate to.
‘I hid the first two from almost everyone,’ says Anna, ‘I barely talked about it to my husband, it was just something we had to manage individually.’ It wasn’t until her third miscarriage that she realised she needed to talk to someone about what she was going through and turned to her husband to fix what was ultimately causing them to ‘break as a unit’.
Because, while talking about miscarriage is an extremely personal decision, it’s something that can help a lot of people come to terms with what is often demeaned as a ‘common’ experience. ‘I just kept hearing that its “common”, Anna continued, ‘and even though it is common, I couldn’t find any information out there, I couldn’t find much that helped me unite all of those who had gone through something that was so “common”’
For Anna, being told that miscarriages are “common” by doctors, as many of the couples we have spoken to were, only goes so far in consoling you. ‘Saying “it’s common” feels like it belittles what you’re going through,’ she continued, ‘that that supposed to be the answer, but actually what you need is professional care. It helps to a degree that you don’t feel alone, but ultimately you are alone until you find those other people and then you realise that “its common” is not a substitute for not grieving.’
Because, for those couples who experience miscarriages, and recurrent ones at that, dealing with the grief is a complicated emotional rollercoaster that seems to be glazed over by medical professionals.
‘With every loss there’s a grief,’ says Jo Peck, who suffered six miscarriages before giving birth to twins, Barney and Harriet, this year. ‘and you never get over it you just learn to live with it, and we've learnt to live with six losses in quite a short space of time.’
‘I never saw the pregnancies as babies because I never got far enough along,’ she continued, ‘but I was grieving for the future, for the life that Steve [her husband] and I had planned’.
For Anna, grieving for the possibilities of a future life is all too familiar. ‘You’re grieving for someone you probably named,’ she says, ‘someone that you had dreams for and potentially considered how their nursery is going to look, where they’re going to live, who they’re going to be.’
And to go through that not one, not two, but multiple times, it has a long-lasting impact that can then cause intense fear- even during pregnancies that end up being successful. ‘Every day I woke up thinking “am I going to get through today?”, says Jo, ‘you've got this bump, but people wouldn't really congratulate you because everyone is on egg shells that until you’ve got the baby in your arms, you don't want to get that hope up that it is finally going happen.’
For Jo’s husband Steve, he didn’t let himself get excited about the pregnancy until seven months in, ‘it was 29 weeks by the time we let ourselves believe it was going to happen,’ he says, ‘but we didn’t have any baby stuff in the house, we didn’t buy any cots or clothes.’
In Anna’s case, it was this kind-of ongoing intense fear that made her realise she needed to get professional help from a pregnancy advice counsellor. ‘My fear every time I went to the toilet to check for blood in my pants was there every day,’ she says, ‘every single time I went into that bathroom, and it was crippling in many ways, debilitating, so that was when I sought help but that was probably too late.’
‘You don't realise until you're crying looking at a pampers ad on the tube,’ she continued, ‘with grief it's not there in your face 24/7, it’s in the background waiting to come to the foreground at a moment when you’re not prepared.’
And while couples who suffer multiple miscarriages are coping this fear and grief every day, their experiences are pushed under the rug, as we blindly accept the archaic 12-week rule of not telling anybody as the norm- despite it pushing notion that we should avoid difficult conversations, something we now know can be detrimental to our mental health.
‘I remember when we found out the first time, my mum was always saying “oh don’t tell anyone until 12 weeks because you don’t want to have to tell people if it’s gone wrong”, says Steve, ’there’s this whole mindset that you don’t want people to know it’s gone wrong, and if it has its almost a bad thing, and it is terrible, I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, but it happens and if people did talk about it, it wouldn’t become so much of an issue.’
Steve, Jo and Anna have all experienced the long term emotional impact of recurrent miscarriages, all of them stating that they think about what they’ve been through to have a family every single day. Anna in particular is reminded of one specific miscarriage every time she visits her daughters nursery.
'I have moments where I can't function,' says Anna, 'the last miscarriage I had before my second daughter, I miscarried in the toilet at my daughters nursery, and every time I go to the nursery now I remember sitting on the toilet losing a child, listening to the noises of other children around me. My daughter was in the toilet with me when it happened and it was just complete trauma.'
But for all of them, opening up is important to ensure that more people hear their stories and find comfort in knowing they’re experiencing the same things. ‘I spent a lot of time on google and whenever I found a story where someone was going through what I was going through I took a little bit of solace in that,’ says Jo, ‘I thought “it’s ok to feel the way I do because that’s what others are to”, “its ok if I want to shut the doors and hide away” because you’ve found someone who is doing the same thing.’
And while all of them have had to cope with multiple losses in a short period of time, they all consider themselves to have happy endings. Anna says she ‘feels lucky’ that of her seven pregnancies she’s had two children, Steve feels that as his and Jo’s story has ended happily he too feels grateful.
‘In a lot of ways, we're the lucky ones,’ he said, ‘there were some children in special care who were seriously ill, so we look at our kids and we are so lucky we've gone through all of this and have two healthy babies. We've came out of the other side with success and there’s a lot of people that don’t and have to go down other routes. Ours was a long road and it was hard but we ended up were we wanted to be.’
For support in coping with miscarriage, visit www.Tommys.org
To hear more about Jo and Steve Peck’s story, listen to season 8, episode 3 of The Modern Mann podcast, Unlucky Ones and to keep up to date with Anna's story, visit www.motherpukka.co.uk