One in four pregnancies end in loss: meet the Aussie mums helping others through their grief

Samantha Payne (left) and Gabbi Armstrong Photo: supplied
Samantha Payne (left) and Gabbi Armstrong Photo: supplied 

Samantha Payne was alone in a hotel room on the other side of the world when she had her second miscarriage. 

"It was awful, because I'd had a scan at eight weeks that confirmed a heartbeat," she tells Essential Baby

"Everything was looking great. And then I went on holiday with friends and started to bleed in the middle of the night. I just knew I was losing the baby."

Samantha was having what is called a natural miscarriage, which includes period-like cramps that can be extremely painful, and labour-like contractions as the uterus squeezes tightly to push its contents out. 

Her first miscarriage six months earlier had been a missed miscarriage, which is when the foetus didn't form or has died, but the placenta and embryonic tissues remain in the uterus and there are no cramps or bleeding.

Every day, 282 women in Australia experience early pregnancy loss before 20 weeks gestation. That's 103,000 couples a year. 

Feeling distraught, Samantha searched for some kind of solace online, but all she found were unhelpful horror stories from bloggers.

"I was really struggling. There was nowhere to turn for support so I was internalising everything. I felt really anxious about the future. I didn't know if I would be able to conceive a sibling for our son." 

When Samantha returned home to Sydney, she went to see her doctor – but was told that she needed to have another miscarriage before any testing would be done.

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"It made me angry. I knew something wasn't quite right because we'd had our first child so easily," she recalls. 

Samantha was still drowning in grief when she saw a comment on a Facebook post about miscarriage by a mutual friend. Samantha reached out and soon found herself having a coffee with Gabbi Armstrong.

She immediately felt comforted because Gabbi knew exactly what she was going through. Gabbi had suffered six miscarriages.

The women agreed that there was a total lack of support services for women who had experienced an early miscarriage, and in 2016 they set up the Pink Elephants Support Network.

"There are [stillbirth] charities and they're amazing what they do, but I didn't feel comfortable contacting them," says Samantha. "I felt that because my babies were only eight and 10 weeks old, my grief would be invalidated." 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Last year the charity undertook a survey of 1700 women, and found that 75 per cent felt unsupported through miscarriage. It remains something of a taboo topic, and women who confide in others are often hurt by the response they get.

"People meant well, but the comments were really unhelpful," says Gabbi. "They'd say things to me like, 'There was probably something wrong with it anyway' or 'It wasn't really a baby.' It made me feel like I was the one that was in the wrong for feeling so awful." 

Samantha eventually had a second child, but she was anxious throughout her pregnancy and developed full-blown postpartum anxiety soon after giving birth. 

"I don't have a history of anxiety or depression. But because there was no support service for early pregnancy loss, my grief was never dealt with. I lost the first four months of my son's life in a fog of anxiety."

Talk to someone who gets it

To date, the charity has provided support to 15,000 women through its online resources, pamphlets and online community.

In July last year it launched a peer network, providing women with six free counselling sessions with a trained 'Peer Support Ambassador' — a woman who has experienced a miscarriage. Each ambassador has stopped trying for a baby, as talking about it could otherwise prove too distressing.

Gabbi says that of all her miscarriages, it was the first that hurt the most. Her second child was seven-months-old when she discovered she was pregnant again, having had her first child in a previous marriage while she was in her twenties. After years of IVF, she was ecstatic at her good fortune of falling pregnant naturally. 

"There was no reason to think that anything was wrong. I just went to the toilet one day and there was the tiniest spot of blood. I bled for the first 17 weeks of my second pregnancy and the clinic said it was probably nothing. But I thought I'd just rather be reassured. And then when I went to the scan, they told me sorry, there's no heartbeat." 

Gabbi was inconsolable and had a dilatation and curettage (D&C) procedure to scrape away the womb lining two days later.

"I remember bawling my eyes out on the table before they put me under. I was saying, 'Can we just check again, in case it was a mistake?' But I think it was the beginning of starting to realise what had happened. The baby is gone. I'm not pregnant anymore." 

She then used a frozen embryo from IVF, which became her third son. Feeling that something was still missing from their lives, Gabbi and her husband later tried for another baby. But after five miscarriages within the space of 18 months, the couple made the heartbreaking decision to stop trying.

"I wasn't there for the children I had. I'd just turned 42, so age wasn't on my side. And it was taking its toll emotionally. The decision was made with my doctor that I couldn't keep putting my family or body through it."

Gabbi with her two children.

Gabbi with her children. Photo: Supplied

When asked how to decide when it's time to stop trying, Gabbi says, "You're the only one who can answer that. I know for myself that I was stubborn and just keep going."

She recommends first asking an obstetrician or fertility specialist to run a raft of tests that could reveal an underlying problem like clotting that can be treated. 

"I always say that it's time to stop when the pain of trying seems greater than the pain of stopping," she says. 

"And maybe it's not even stopping, but giving yourself a break. You can get so caught up in striving for it that you lose sight of the rest of your life, and even your partner. It's about giving yourself some space to heal and gather some strength. Because it takes a little piece of your heart every time it happens."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Miscarriage can be isolating, talking about baby loss makes many uncomfortable but not us. We have been there, we understand and we are here for you. We are part of your #circleofsupport Join one of our online communities to connect with other women who have navigated miscarriage and pregnancy loss - Miscarriage Support - Pink Elephants Visit our website www.miscarriagesupport.org.au and find trusted and relevant information that can support your emotional wellbeing. Request to speak with one of our Peer Support Ambassadors who have been through their own experiences of miscarriage. You are not alone #miscarriage #miscarriagematters #pregnancyloss #grief #support #circleofsupport

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Find out more about Pink Elephant at www.miscarriagesupport.org.au

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. A time to honour and remember the babies that have left this world much too soon and the mothers that have lost them. Do you have a story you want to share? Email us editor@essentialbaby.com.au