It was so cathartic to open up about the miscarriage I had over a decade ago on my podcast, The Capsule, to mark Baby Loss Awareness Week.
My miscarriage was something I had kept secret and felt ashamed of for so long, but it’s part of me and in many respects it’s made me who I am today. Not really being able to acknowledge that part of my life made me feel like I was carrying around something bad, something that I’d failed at, and should be kept a secret. Over the years that impacted my sense of self worth, confidence and mental health. I feel much better talking about what happened now as our conversations around mental health are changing, but I felt at the time that there was still a stigma attached when it came to talking about such personal things.
I have huge admiration for women like Chrissy Teigan, who bravely posted about the stillbirth of her baby son last year. For Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, who wrote about her miscarriage in the New York Times and Myleene Klass, for her recent documentary about the experience of her own miscarriages. All of these women are using their voices to highlight the devastation of pregnancy loss and bring the issue to fore to let other women know that it is OK to talk about their experience if they want to. They don’t have to feel alone. It also means we can challenge the way pregnancy loss is dealt with.
People weren’t ready to have those sorts of conversations a decade ago, because it seemed as though it was just too depressing, emotional and honest to talk about that sort of thing.
This is why having these conversations now is so important, to make sure people know their experience is valid and that they matter. They also need to know they aren’t alone. I hope that our podcast with Zoë Clark-Coates, who co-founded the baby loss charity Saying Goodbye, will make it easier for people to discuss the subject. I hope it will help them to come forward and process that grief, their emotions and the trauma of their experience so they can get to a place of healing quicker and not carry it around with them for decades, impacting the way they see themselves and their mental health.
When I lost my baby in January 2010, I suffered a ‘missed miscarriage’. I didn’t know I’d lost our baby until during one of our scans. Hearing the words ‘I’m sorry there’s no heartbeat, the baby has died’ was absolutely heartbreaking. I was in denial as I hadn’t experienced any of the typical miscarriage symptoms to tell me there could be a problem. I then had to wait a week to see if I would miscarry naturally. Walking around knowing my baby had died inside me was the most horrendous feeling. My body couldn’t look after my baby. I’d failed it.
Eventually I had to go into hospital to have a procedure to induce a miscarriage. As I explain in the podcast, women who are having terminations (which I fully support as a choice) and women experiencing loss are often put together on wards which was the case for me, something that caused me so much emotional pain. And once I’d lost the baby, that seemed to be it. I felt there was nowhere for me to go, and I really didn’t receive much in the way of after care, which just added to the trauma. I was simply given a leaflet and sent home. I don't want to speak badly about our NHS because they are incredible, but I do feel there is a real lack of support and compassion for women and parents who have lost babies. I know how abandoned I felt when it happened to me.
I want to help change things. Challenge the language, the practices, the after care and protect the mental health of women and parents going through baby loss.
When I look back on my loss, I now realise I didn’t cope very well and that it was the trigger for much of the anxiety I experienced later on in life. I went straight back to work afterwards. I was working in the West End performing to 3,000 people every night. I was living on my own during the week as my husband was in Leeds and I became quite insular and just threw myself into work to try and forget about it. But as with anything, if you don’t deal with it or process it, it chips away at you. I think lots of my anxiety and feelings of low self-worth stemmed from that time, because I never got the chance to talk about it properly.
Zoe’s charity never reveals the gestation period because a loss is a loss and it shouldn’t matter how many weeks into your pregnancy you were. Those first 12 weeks are actually so significant but the medical profession advises us to not tell people at that time because one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage in the first three months.
Emotionally I’ve come a long way since, however, as with all grief, it sometimes creeps up unexpectedly. Our son Fred, who is nine, has recently been asking about a sibling and that’s brought it all to the surface again. There would have been two years between my first child and Fred, which would have been the perfect age gap.
I remember how anxious I was when I became pregnant again with Fred. I went for extra scans and wouldn’t let my mum buy anything for him until I was eight months pregnant. It made me understand how fragile life could be and cemented how lucky I was to have a healthy baby.
Zoe said in the podcast that we shouldn’t shield children from talking about grief. If we want them to have open conversations in the future then it starts now. Fred was so sweet and understanding when I told him about my miscarriage, and said, ‘Mummy, that must have been awful for you.’
I’ve kept the picture of that last scan and put it in a box with Fred’s things. It’s got the date on it and when I look at it, it transports me back to that time, to that room and to that pain. One minute I can feel absolutely fine, but when I look at that photo it brings it all back.
Going forward, I’m hoping to become an ambassador for the Saying Goodbye charity. It’s so important to allow people to feel their pain so that they can then truly start to heal.
Natalie Anderson is an actress, presenter, writer and founder of The Capsule in Conversation podcast
As told to Georgina Fuller