‘What did I do wrong?’ must be one of the most common questions a woman asks herself when she finds out she’s having a miscarriage. And, of course, the answer is usually ‘nothing’. It’s just not easy to accept when you’re convinced it’s your fault.
I remember when I had my first missed miscarriage (when baby dies, but your body continues to think it’s pregnant). My immediate reaction was to think back to what I was doing when I was 8 weeks and 4 days pregnant – the size baby measured when it died.
Did I do something stupid? Did I exert myself too much? Did I eat something bad? My mum and dad had a new puppy and I worried that it was somehow linked to that, as I was 8 weeks and 4 days pregnant when we last visited them. Was that the day when I had a wobble about having a child and worried I wouldn’t be up to the job? Did those thoughts somehow translate into my body miscarrying? Was I too stressed? Did I stand too close when I was using the microwave? Did I forget to take a crucial day’s supplement? The worries and wonderings went on and on (and became more and more outlandish).
So why is it we find ourselves doing this?
For me, I think it’s all tied in to the fact I’m the one growing the baby and therefore, when something goes wrong, it must be my fault, because the role of ‘protector’ was my responsibility. And because, of course, in my mind, these babies are perfect and so anything that goes wrong must be down to me, rather than being a problem with them.
I also think there is an element of taking on the blame in order to provide an explanation for what has happened. If it is my fault, then I know why it happened and I don’t have to wonder about what caused it. My brain is desperately trying to assert control over a situation where I have none and this psychological trickery is its best effort.
Society also has its part to play, I think. From the second you are pregnant, you are inundated with advice – some welcome, some not – on what you should and shouldn’t eat, do and even think. ‘Definitely don’t allow yourself to get stressed!’ scream the headlines, because that is the worst thing ever, and will absolutely make everything go wrong. This is one of the most unhelpful beliefs anyone could perpetuate. Show me a woman who doesn’t experience some level of stress whilst pregnant, and I’ll show you a figment of your imagination. We really don’t need more reasons to feel bad about ourselves at a time when we are generally feeling vulnerable, and are sometimes completely overwhelmed with the enormity of what our body is doing.
It was only after my third miscarriage, which was surgically managed, that the foetus was sent for genetic testing. For the month it took the results to come back, I went through the same blame monologue over and over. Of course it was my fault.
But then, the results came and, oh! The baby had trisomy 21, an extra copy of chromosome 21 that causes Down’s syndrome. So what does that mean? That I couldn’t have done anything to change the outcome? Is that right? I sat with this thought, a slow feeling of absolution passing through me. It wasn’t my fault! I didn’t cause the death of my baby!
The relief was short-lived however, as we were then called in for blood tests to see if either myself or my husband have a translocation of chromosome 21 (where part of chromosome 21 has snapped off and attached to another chromosome, or where there is an extra part of chromosome 21 somewhere it shouldn’t be). If we were found to have this, it would increase our chances of having a baby with Down’s syndrome – and with that would come the increased risk of miscarriage.
There followed 6 more weeks of worry and blame. Of course one of us must have it! We’ve had 3 miscarriages now, why wouldn’t something else be wrong?
When I had the phone call from the nurse at St Mary’s hospital in Manchester a couple of weeks ago, I could have cried. Both our chromosome maps were showing as completely normal! Rightly or wrongly, I felt immediately lighter for being told I had done nothing wrong, even if it was something I had no control over.
So now, we move on. If and when we get pregnant again, I know that I will have the same worries I’ve had before, that I’m doing something wrong and that I might somehow cause the pregnancy to fail. I think this is now so deeply programmed in me that changing it will be a struggle.
But equally, I know now that I should question this automatic self-blame. Because I’m not being punished for something I’ve done wrong, and I don’t deserve this. Any of it.