Government must use the women’s health strategy to finally fix gaping holes in miscarriage support
A re-focus on miscarriage is desperately needed, and long overdue. The days of leaving women to suffer in silence must be a thing of the past.
Last summer I started hearing worrying stories from constituents forced to find out they had miscarried, alone, due to Covid-19 rules preventing partners from attending maternity appointments. I raised my concerns with ministers but little did I know I would be having the same experience later that summer, having to tell my partner the news we had miscarried in a hospital car park.
Thankfully, the rules have now changed. But the fact that these rules were ever put in place is reflective of a wider problem. Despite 1 in 4 pregnancies ending in miscarriage, support for these women has remained an afterthought.
The quality of support is hugely varied, with some experiencing great support whilst others are told they haven’t had “enough” miscarriages
As many will know, having a miscarriage is the most isolating experience. I have never been so floored by something in my life. It was unexpected. I buried myself in my work and tried to forget about it.
In October, I attended the Baby Loss Awareness debate in Parliament, intending to speak about the experiences of my constituents. After hearing the brave speeches of my colleagues, I ripped up my speech and decided to share my own experience.
In the days and weeks that followed, I was overwhelmed by people across the country contacting me. I began to realise there was something much bigger going on - that it wasn’t Covid rules preventing people accessing support. I was moved to tears by families recent experiences, many still suffering 20-30 years later. Some had never told anyone about their miscarriage. This is deep trauma.
And yet miscarriage is a taboo subject, one we expect people to deal with on their own. The quality of support is hugely varied, with some experiencing great support whilst others are told they haven’t had “enough” miscarriages to receive something as simple as a blood test or scan. What also became clear is that mental health support is often non-existent.
According to current NHS guidelines, you are only entitled to support or care after you have had three consecutive miscarriages. But we wouldn’t wait for someone to have three heart attacks before finding out what’s going wrong, so why is this ok for miscarriage?
I’ve been moved by the individuals and groups coming together to fill in the gaps. From national groups like Tommy’s and Sands, to the Sheffield Maternity Cooperative in my own city - who work together to provide care, support and information for women going through pregnancy. But it shouldn’t be down to them.
The Lancet's 2021 series on miscarriage, published in April this year, has shone a light on the scale of the problem. The report’s authors call for a “comprehensive overhaul of medical care and advice offered to women who have miscarriages”, proposing a graded model of care, where women receive care after every miscarriage. This would be a substantial move away from the current fragmented system of care, which has left so many unable to access support.
But to truly readdress this crisis, it isn’t just care pathways we need to reform. We must shift the whole narrative about miscarriage, and challenge the idea, which is ideological not evidence based, that miscarriage, like other women's reproductive health issues, should be managed with minimal medical intervention. In other words, no woman should ever again be told to “just try again”. Only by doing this, will miscarriage research receive the attention, and level of funding, it deserves.
National miscarriage data should also be recorded, like we already do for stillbirth, premature birth and neonatal death, to not only improve our understanding but to spare the pain of having to, in the case of my constituent, explain to five different doctors that they have had multiple miscarriages, as they weren’t recorded anywhere in her hospital notes.
These are the findings, and solutions, I will be putting to the Minister for Women’s Health, Nadine Dorries, in my adjournment debate today.
The government must step in and use their Women’s Health Strategy to fix the gaping holes in care, so that the days of leaving women to suffer in silence are well and truly a thing of the past. A re-focus on miscarriage is desperately needed, and long overdue.
Olivia Blake is the Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam.
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