‘My Miscarriages Have Shaped Me… And I Think I’m Ok With That’

For Amy Swales, it was only when she accepted that her miscarriages have had a profound, lasting impact on her that she was able to come to terms with her grief.

Recurrent miscarriage ptsd

by Amy Swales |
Updated on

I’ve had five miscarriages. I find I can usually say it out loud without crying these days, though it sometimes comes out fast and I’ve noticed I tend to clamp my mouth shut just after, closing the door after the horse has bolted.

Five times I was pregnant. Five times my body flooded with hormones, started restructuring, tried growing a baby. Five times, at some point, the growing stopped. Sometimes there was a flickering heartbeat that disappeared between scans. Sometimes there was bleeding and pain, sometimes nothing but a too-quiet sonographer. Sometimes I was loudly hysterical with grief and anger. Sometimes still, miserable, empty.

It took us six months to get pregnant the first time, but we thought we were having a baby, we really did. Each subsequent pregnancy was harder to believe in. Feeling bruised and gullible, we’d move quietly, carefully through our lives for however many weeks we had before once again, it was over.

It took a long time for me to recognise this recurrent loss as an experience that could, and did, scar. Now I can say with certainty that having five miscarriages in 18 months changed me, changed my partner. And even with the pain, the grief, the severe lows and what I later learned were most likely symptoms of PTSD, I think I’m OK with that.

It might seem an odd thing to say, on the face of it. But accepting that miscarriage has had a profound, lasting impact on us is to accept pregnancy loss as a trauma, as a bona fide Big Thing.

Though the conversation is getting there, thanks to celebrities discussing their experiences, campaigns for better workplace policies and events such as Baby Loss Awareness Week, pregnancy loss – particularly early miscarriage (before 12 weeks) – isn't always taken that seriously. And that's largely down to not being spoken about enough.

It begins with the 12-week ‘rule’ – which at its core translates to ‘don’t tell anyone about your pregnancy in case you have a miscarriage’ – and it’s a cycle. The lack of open discussion means people don’t know what pregnancy loss can involve, physically or emotionally. Thus, it’s easy to feel guilt and shame at being unable to simply ‘get over it’ and find support from others lacking.

Which, it turns out, is not exactly conducive to talking openly.

So we stay quiet, tell ourselves we must be overreacting or dramatic, that we must be the only ones who can’t cope. ‘It wasn’t really a baby’, ‘At least you were only a few weeks along’, ‘There’s always next time’. Others minimise, so we minimise too, and compound trauma with isolation.

We suffered through three alone before we spoke to anyone about what we were going through. I remember around that time I would fantasize about a future with good scans and celebrations, and I’d see myself casually tell someone we’d “struggled a bit” or some such, then go back to cooing at my baby in my arms – like I thought if I imagined hard enough, I really could conjure a me who was able to brush it off like everyone else did, like it was nothing.

I’m here to tell you it’s not nothing. It’s not nothing.

You are not being dramatic, or ‘letting’ it affect you too much, or ignoring that there are worse experiences to have in this world. You are simply in understandable pain.

I found it traumatic because my experience was traumatic. I can tell you that there were times I was mentally paralysed and physically exhausted. That I had vivid flashbacks and physical reactions to the smallest of triggers. It took a long time, longer than it should have done, to understand my response was a perfectly valid one.

There are plenty of reasons why someone might say they won’t let a traumatic experience define them, and that’s more than understandable. Half a decade later, my own pain is no longer so raw, so all-consuming.

But there’s no denying it’s left its mark – and taught me plenty.

I’ve learnt that often you need to feel the sadness and the hurt, however hard it is, rather than hurry yourself past it. I’ve learnt that asking for help is OK, and that talking is always, always the way through. I try to be kinder to myself when I’m struggling, to trust my own feelings, to be aware that repeating ‘things could be worse’ slips too easily from gaining perspective to diminishing pain.

I also now know first-hand the huge value in having your grief acknowledged, how legitimising it is to hear others feel the way you do.

Which is why this me, the one changed by recurrent miscarriage, is still banging the same old drum five years later, inviting people to read and to talk and to listen. I’m buoyed by the power of words, by the cliché of my pain possibly helping others. The me who spoke to no-one for a year and thought I was losing my mind? There’s loads of them, saving tears for the bus home, running out of excuses to lock themselves away, looking for someone to say, “Yes, it does hurt a lot, doesn’t it?”


For info and support on miscarriages, you can visit the Miscarriage Association, Tommy'sand Babylossawareness.orgfor more info on Baby Loss Awareness Week 2021.

You can find more information on PTSD and pregnancy loss by the National Institute for Health Researchhere, and more info on workplace miscarriage policies here.

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