How to help a woman cope with pain of losing a baby
Although a quarter of pregnancies end in miscarriage, little is known about the causes. Pregnancy charity Tommy's tells Lisa Salmon about the new centre which hopes to uncover why they happen.
The devastating, often unexplained, loss of a pregnancy through miscarriage can leave many women blaming themselves.
Research suggests more than three-quarters (79%) of women who experience miscarriage feel like a failure afterwards, and 70% feel guilt.
Some of those feelings may stem from the fact it's often not known what causes one in four pregnancies to end in miscarriage. Now, in a bid to find out more, a major new miscarriage research centre is about to be opened by baby charity Tommy's.
The centre is being opened in collaboration with Imperial College London, and Warwick and Birmingham universities at the end of April. It will be the UK's only national research centre dedicated to preventing early miscarriage, and the biggest of its kind in Europe. Located in the universities that have helped create it, and their associated hospitals, the centre will bring doctors, scientists and patients together to research early miscarriage and find ways of preventing it.
Tommy's chief executive Jane Brewin says: "Medical science doesn't fully understand miscarriage. Our centre will identify women at risk, focus on those that need most help, and ask how medical science can improve antenatal care to prevent miscarriages. It will also improve care for women who have experienced miscarriage.
"If you're given no reason for a miscarriage, then how can you put it right and understand why it's happened in the first place?
"One of the first objectives of the new centre is to make sure every woman has a reason for her miscarriage."
Brewin points out that current policy is that women must experience three miscarriages before being referred for further medical investigations.
Those investigations may never pin down what caused the miscarriages - hence the need for further research - or may identify one of the few current known causes of miscarriage, including thyroid problems and blood clotting disorders.
"If those miscarriages were all caused by something, we can do something about it. It seems brutal to make women go through three when it could have been sorted out after the first one," says Brewin.
Professor Phillip Bennett, director of the Institute for Reproductive and Developmental Biology at Imperial College London, adds: "As a doctor, I wish I could give my patients the answers they're looking for. The thing is, we have the expertise, the technology, the drive, we just need the funding.
"Tommy's new centre is the most promising chance yet of making breakthroughs in our understanding of early miscarriage."
Alongside the opening of the new centre, Tommy's is running its #misCOURAGE campaign, which aims to encourage all those who've experienced miscarriage, directly or indirectly, to share their stories.
Research for the campaign found two-thirds of women who'd miscarried found it hard to talk about, and 85% didn't think people understood what they'd gone through.
Sadly, 67% of women felt they couldn't talk to their best friend about their miscarriage, and 35% couldn't even talk to the father about it. Brewin says: "At least a quarter of a million women a year have a miscarriage, so there's an enormous number of women that have been through this traumatic experience and are isolated and not talking about it.
"The #misCOURAGE campaign is encouraging those women to tell their stories, and share them with other women to break the taboo that exists, and make women realise they're not alone."
To make matters worse, the research found that when women did try to talk about what they were going through, they felt a lack of understanding meant many people didn't know what to say, with more than a third receiving well-meaning but hurtful comments that the baby they'd lost 'wasn't really a baby' and 'wasn't meant to be'.
"People don't mean to be hurtful," says Brewin.
"The best way to deal with it is to talk to the person affected, empathise and give them a hug.
"The silence that surrounds miscarriage makes it difficult for women to be open about the wide range of reactions they might be experiencing,
"Silence creates an implicit assumption that all women feel the same - but there might be a wide range of subtle feelings and experiences that depend on circumstances.
"We hope that by encouraging women to speak about their miscarriages, we can move to a deeper understanding of their experiences, which will in turn make it much easier for us to engage in research."
- For more information about #misCOURAGE, visit www.facebook.com/tommys and twitter.com/tommys_baby
Ask the expert
Q: "My six-year-old son doesn't have many friends at school and is very distant and unaffectionate with us. He prefers playing on his own, and putting all his toys in order. Could he be autistic, or am I just being paranoid?"
A: Carol Povey, director of the Centre for Autism at the National Autistic Society, says: "Autistic children and adults see and feel the world in a different way to others, their brains are wired differently and so autistic children often react, develop and play in different ways to non-autistic children.
"While every autistic child is different and will develop in their own way, it's quite common for them to prefer playing repetitive games on their own, rather than joining in with others and trying to make friends.
"If you think your child could be on the autism spectrum, book an appointment with your GP to discuss this and the things that you've been noticing that seem different to other children of his age. It may help to write some of these down before your appointment.
"Autism is a lifelong condition, but a diagnosis can be the crucial key to unlocking the right support.
"Awareness of autism is higher than ever - over 99% of people have heard of it. But autistic people and their families still tell us they don't think the public understand enough about autism. That's why the National Autistic Society is launching a major new campaign this World Autism Awareness Day (April 2), aiming to show how overwhelming the world can feel to an autistic person."
- For more information about autism, visit www.autism.org.uk
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