ALTHOUGH around a quarter of pregnancies end in miscarriage, baby loss isn’t something that’s discussed openly or easily. And that silence often adds to the pain of the loss.
Having been through the heartbreak themselves, mother-of-one Laura Buckingham — who’s lost nine babies — and mother-of-three Bex Gunn — who’s lost one baby — decided it was time to break the taboo surrounding miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death and other types of baby loss, by launching a podcast series called The Worst Girl Gang Ever.
“Why don’t we talk about miscarriage and why do we shy away from it?” asks Gunn, a wedding photographer.
“Losing my baby took the bottom out of my world - I couldn’t believe there was such a lack of conversation surrounding it when it was so painful.”
Gunn, aged 36, opened up about her feelings on social media, and that’s how she met Buckingham, a nurse and mother to son Bertie, who’d had multiple miscarriages.
“I struggled to talk about my losses because I found people very invalidating of my feelings,” says Buckingham, aged 35.
“People would often say, ‘It’ll happen’. I didn’t feel anyone could understand the enormity of my loss, so I turned to online communities.
“I’m open about it now because I felt so isolated and lonely - as though I didn’t have a space to grieve. I know that from being open I’ve been able to process my grief and it’s no longer as overwhelming as it was. I want to help other people through the journey now to make it a little easier for them.”
Here, the duo discuss their own experiences, and why it’s so important to open up the conversation.
Buckingham says: “I lost seven pregnancies prior to having Bertie, including a partial molar, ectopic, chemical and missed miscarriage. My routine recurrent miscarriage testing showed no abnormalities other than uterine septum, which was repaired. But following a reproductive immunologist consultation I was found to have antibodies in my blood which meant my body was rejecting the babies.”
Since her son’s birth, Buckingham has lost another two babies.
“Each loss affected me differently,” she says. “Experiencing recurrent loss took its toll on me, my relationship, us as a couple and my mental health. I withdrew from friends and family and was no longer able to recognise who I’d become.”
Gunn, who’s expecting her fourth child in a few weeks, says: “I fell pregnant in March last year, and having already got so many kids I was sort of cocky about it. I went to my 12-week scan alone because of Covid and was told my baby had no heartbeat. It was a ‘missed miscarriage’ and labelled as ‘one of those things’.
“I didn’t know what to do, and I couldn’t believe the pain I felt was what every woman who’d had a miscarriage felt.”
“The only comfort I could gain was by talking to a couple of friends who’d been through it themselves,” says Gunn. “A bereavement midwife came to see me, but she was in her early twenties and didn’t have kids and it just didn’t resonate with me - I felt, to my core, that she had no idea what I was talking about or anything about the pain I felt. That was a real push to make me do something because I couldn’t bear the thought of other women going through the same pain as I went through without having anyone to talk to.”
For Buckingham, the desire to have her own child carried her through the pain. “People often ask me how I had the strength to keep going,” she says, “but it wasn’t strength, it was desperation. I was so desperate to become a mum that I didn’t process the losses, I was too eager to start trying again to stop and recognise what I’d been through.”
“People don’t know how to respond,” explains Gunn. “It’s taboo because of the related shame, which is completely misplaced, but it makes you feel like less of a woman - if you can’t carry a baby to term it can make you feel like your body’s not working as it should. And when there’s that kind of misconception, you don’t want to talk about it.”
Added to that misconception is the simple truth that many people just aren’t comfortable discussing other people’s fertility.
“Anything to do with a woman’s fertility and reproductive health is considered taboo,” observes Buckingham.
“There’s a huge misconception that if your baby dies before he or she is born, it doesn’t count,” Gunn says. “It’s swept under the carpet because it never made it to the real world, when in fact your baby doesn’t become real at the point of birth, it becomes real at the point of conception, and even before that, when you’re young and you’re dreaming about that baby.
“That’s when it becomes real in your mind, and when you have a miscarriage, the pregnancy is a reality you’ve been imagining not for just months but for years and years, and it’s completely ripped away from you.”
And that’s just one of the problems, she stresses, pointing out that because other people don’t know what to say, they often say the wrong thing.
“People say things like, ‘At least it was early’, or, ‘At least you’ve already got children’, but it completely invalidates your experience as a mother and makes you feel you’re completely wrong and not entitled to the grief you feel.
“All we need is for people to say, ‘I’m so sorry, that’s absolutely horrible, what can I do?’
“We’ve just lost our baby and most of our dreams, and you can’t sweep that under the carpet, so don’t try.”
“We felt there were no rules with regards to the grief that follows baby loss, and no-one seems to know how to respond to the people who’ve gone through it,” says Gunn.
“The only support you can find is very informative and clinical, but there doesn’t seem to be anything peer-to-peer.
“We want to tell women and couples and the wider community their grief is valid. The mental health implications of denying yourself the ability to grieve because you’re told this baby wasn’t a person and wasn’t real, are so far-reaching and long-lasting - 30% of women that have miscarriages go on to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“I don’t think you’ll ever be able to understand baby loss from an emotional perspective unless you actually go through it.
“Speak to other people who’ve been through it - you’re not alone, and together we’re stronger. If there’s one thing that’s become unbelievably apparent, it’s how important this conversation is.”
You can listen to The Worst Girl Gang Ever on Apple Podcasts.