Have you ever had one of those mind-bending conversations, the kind you can only really have with a small child?
‘Why are there clouds in the sky?’ Small child asks.
‘Well…’ You rack your tired brain, dusting down factoids filed away under Year 8 Geography, before mumbling something about rain and water droplet evaporation.
Small child considers this for a moment. ‘But why?’
And on it goes – But why? But why? – until you simply don’t have another answer for them, at least, not without consulting A Brief History Of Time.
This, essentially, is what happens to your brain after you lose a baby. It short-circuits to six-year-old brain: But why?
But why. But why. But why.
And none of the grown-ups can answer you. Not the sonographer. Not your GP. Not the midwives. Not even the specialist you see, when one miscarriage turns into two, into three, into four… Why did this happen? Why does this keep happening?
You may as well have asked them: Why are there fish? Or: Why is a colour a colour?
After a miscarriage or any other kind of pregnancy loss – after you walk into a scanning room pregnant and walk out 20 minutes later, unceremoniously un-pregnant, with a clutch of leaflets written in careful medicalese, but which ultimately boil down to ‘what to do about your dead baby’ – there are many questions that compete for space in your head: Why didn’t anyone warn me? Why had no one told me this kind of grief could hurt so much?
Why don’t we talk about this more?
But simply ‘why’ is the most urgent of all. I’ve had four miscarriages now and we are no closer to anyone being able to give us an explanation as to why – this is the case for 71 per cent of women who lose a child during pregnancy or a premature birth, according to a recent survey by the charity Tommy’s.
We have been tested at one of the NHS’s specialist recurrent miscarriage clinics and, so far, everything has come back ‘normal’. My blood clots normally. The structure of my womb seems fine. After our fourth loss, we were able to have the embryo tested, which did reveal a chromosomal abnormality – a non-inherited problem called a triploidy. It essentially means the baby had three sets of chromosomes, rather than two. It is supposedly completely random. One cause is an egg being fertilised by two sperm, rather than one.
However, our doctors still cannot tell us for certain that this is the only reason for the miscarriage. Or that I won’t miscarry again, even with a healthy embryo.
The trouble with ‘why’ is that it’s a black hole in your brain. ‘Why?’ Without answers, the creeping black tentacles of that word worm their way in and around. They blot out logic and common sense. You question everything. Was it the glass of wine I had before I knew I was pregnant? Because I got my nails done? Because I caught a cold? Did I exercise too much… or not enough? Because I ‘jinxed it’ by telling people before 12 weeks? Or because I was too circumspect, convinced something would go wrong?
After all, if no one can tell you why, then why not?
There is also a guilt-edged pressure that you should somehow be able to find answers for yourself. The NHS can’t fix it, but could that private doctor, with the office lined with photos of ‘miracle’ babies? You are wide open and vulnerable to experimental tests and treatments and peddlers of fertility diets and over-priced supplements.
It’s exhausting. I am a journalist, specialising in health, and sometimes the pressure to know what to do threatens to capsize me. There is a nasty little voice that creeps in, telling me that if only I tried harder, or were more deserving of a baby… If I were a better person, a better wife, better at my job I’d have found the answers by now.
Unfortunately, you could be Woodward, Bernstein, the presenters of the Today programme and Jeremy Paxman all rolled into one, and still only elicit perfunctory and evasive answers when it comes to miscarriage.
‘It’s just one of those things.’
‘We don’t know why it happens sometimes.’
‘It’s Nature’s way.’
But some experts, doctors and researchers believe this kind of nihilism is no longer good enough. And I urge you to have a look at the new Tell Me Why campaign from Tommy’s, the baby charity, calling for more funding into research into the causes of miscarriage, stillbirth and preterm birth.
Only with properly funded, prioritised pregnancy research is there a hope of ever answering the question that haunts me – and thousands like me – every day. Questions that accost us at every turn, in every café, on every tube carriage, at every christening or birthday party:
Why is their baby over there, breathing, smiling and squishing raisins into its left nostril, while mine is not?