It started with the words, “I’m sorry there is no heartbeat” at a routine scan in August 2015. We had lost our baby.
Given my nearly 2-year old was in the room, I put on a brave face and left in a blur trying to hide my pain and push back the tears. A deep seated sadness sat inside me, my husband sent a text to our close family and friends and they sent their condolences. We grieved alone but together at home.
My attention turned to my little girl who was everything to me and lifted my spirits gradually each day. I returned to work and focused on an upcoming holiday and preparing for Christmas. In January 2016 I discovered I was pregnant again but this time, instead of joy and anticipation, I experienced elevated anxiety and fear of another loss.
Nevertheless statistics were on my side. I’d had my 1 in 4 and this would be our second baby earth-side, due in September when Georgie would be nearly 3. Our first scan revealed a strong heartbeat and we began sharing our happy news with family and friends.
On holiday a few weeks later I started to spot. Lightly at first, and I prayed and willed this baby to be OK and for it to be nothing more than normal pregnancy spotting. However with each day it became heavier and I just knew I was losing this baby too. I didn’t share what was happening with anyone on holiday – not even my husband – as I didn’t want to spoil their holiday with grief and loss. As soon as we arrived home I broke down and confided in my husband that I was losing the baby and the next day it was confirmed via ultrasound. I left that appointment in a flood of tears walking back to my GP with so much self blame. What had I done to deserve this?
That night at 3am I woke up with contractions and hopped in the shower to ease the pain. It was then that I passed my baby, alone in the shower. It was horrific. I had no idea how much blood was normal or what a 10 week old fetus would look like, or if I should flush it or should I keep it and bury it? No one had told me what to expect. No medical professional had offered me a place to find support. Google was the only place I could find answers.
A few weeks after the initial stage of grief had lifted I was ANGRY at the lack of support and validation of my experience that I had received. It was not OK that I had been sent home to pass my baby alone and not referred for any emotional support.
I knew I wasn’t the only one. I’d seen at least 10 other women in the EPAS clinic the day my loss was confirmed and that was just one clinic in one hospital in one country! How many more women must there be suffering in silence?
Thankfully I reached out through social media and found Gabbi. She too had been through loss and understood my pain. We met for a coffee and she gave me the support I needed when no-one else could. We both agreed that women needed and deserved more.
We wanted to create a community where women could come together and grieve. A safe place to be supported and nurtured, a central place with reliable information that would be delivered in a sensitive and empathetic way.
We were alarmed to discover that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss, which in Australia is 283 women a day or 103,000 couples a year, with the majority occurring within the first 12 weeks. Yet we could not find the type of support we wanted anywhere, we even struggled to find research around the emotional impact of early pregnancy loss.
We poured our heart and soul into mapping out the support women needed and what resources we could offer them. We wrote content and had it designed beautifully. Our brand aesthetic is intentional. It’s designed to be a virtual hug when a woman needs it most. Our resources were peer reviewed not only by other women who’d experienced loss, but also by front line medical professionals, and we were heart-warmed with the overwhelmingly positive responses.
We launched our social media channels with an aim to raise awareness into the impact of early pregnancy loss, to dispel the myths, to challenge the cultural norms and to break the silence. Gradually our communities grew and word spread of our support service specific to early pregnancy loss. Every day more women engaged with our content, downloaded our resources and joined our online communities.
We conducted a research piece where we surveyed 1700 women and discovered that 75% felt unsupported through miscarriage.
We developed our personalised peer support program where we give women access to a mentor for six free phone sessions to help support them through loss. This was an innovative peer support service like no other in that you could build a meaningful connection and relationship with an ambassador who understood your pain. Again the feedback was incredible and this program continues to grow and develop.
In the background over the initial two years of building Pink Elephants I fell pregnant again. This was to be my rainbow baby Johnny and it was the hardest journey of my life. I experienced crippling anxiety each and every day of the pregnancy and I did not enjoy any of it. I disassociated with the baby constantly fearing I would lose it. We didn’t find out the gender, we didn’t make plans.
Just when I was coming to accept that this baby may be born alive, we unexpectedly lost our nephew in a horrific car crash, and two weeks before Johnny was born we lost my father in law. It felt like grief was everywhere around us and that we would never be happy again.
Despite it all, our beautiful rainbow baby was born healthy, however I secretly struggled with postpartum anxiety that gradually became worse. I feared everything and I believed that Johnny would die.
I masked it well. After all, I was now supporting others going through the grief of miscarriage. I was the poster girl, I’d come out the other side with my rainbow baby – except I hadn’t. By not processing my grief or seeking support, I’d compartmentalised it all and it was crippling me trying to contain it. I quickly spiralled, exacerbated by a lack of sleep and sheer exhaustion of permanently being in fight or flight mode. After finally seeking help and taking medication I took baby steps to being well again and being able to enjoy my son.
He’s now nearly three and I am in a much better place. I’m strong and I am driven to change the system. My experience is not unique, I deserved better support as do the 283 other women and their partners who will hear the words, “I’m sorry there is no heartbeat” today.
Pink Elephants has grown phenomenally because of the overwhelming need for what we offer and I am incredibly proud of all that we have achieved in such a short space of time. We have worked every day on it’s growth and we have built our community over time. We have shared our vision with our supporters and engaged many different stakeholders who play their role in championing change. We have new programs driving cultural change in unexpected places through our Fertility in the Workplace program and our Leave for Loss campaign.
If early pregnancy loss impacts so many of us, it’s definitely time for change. More research is being conducted into highlighting the psychosocial impact of loss directly linking miscarriage to increased and long lasting trauma and anxiety. An early intervention peer support model such as the Pink Elephants is critical in reducing these rates.
Our #circleofsupport has come a long way since my experience of loss, since I dared to take one step at a time to make change. I’m incredibly privileged to be the leader of The Pink Elephants and to be driving the change necessary here in Australia.