Pregnancy loss as a Defence family

Trigger Warning: Pregnancy Loss

It’s the club no one wants to be a part of.

We had our first miscarriage early in a posting. We hardly knew anyone in the location, and we had a toddler with a chronic health condition. I can honestly say it was one of the most difficult and loneliest times in my life.

I remember going to the routine scan appointment without my husband as he was busy in his new job. We had no issues, so I was perfectly ok to do this. The sonographer kept going over and over my stomach with the ultrasound wand. She then went and got the doctor to check. I didn’t really understand what was going on, but I knew something wasn’t right.

“I’m sorry but I can’t locate a heartbeat. It would appear that you have lost this pregnancy.”

Stunned silence from me. Silent tears followed. I was offered some tissues and a cup of tea. I then had to walk out into a room of pregnant women, all waiting for their own scans.

I sat in the car and called my husband. At this point I was starting to sob. I could hear the sadness in his voice.

“I’m so sorry. I’m on my way. I’ll meet you at home”, he said. 

I called my sister. She told me to go and get a bottle of wine and packet of Tim Tams. She’s practical like that. She lived several hours away. We’re very close. I wished she was with me. I contemplated driving to her home.

In an emotional haze, I walked through the supermarket. It appeared like every single woman was either pregnant or had a new baby. My mind was trying to process what had just happened.

Fast forward 18 months later, we made a heartbreaking decision to terminate another very much wanted pregnancy as this baby had a fatal genetic condition. Again, we were alone, without family around and facing a trip to our closest capital city to have the procedure completed. I was 17 weeks pregnant. 

The absolute loneliness of pregnancy loss is hard to explain to someone who has not experienced it. Being in a military family exacerbates that loneliness. You might be in a new location, with a new doctor and without support from people that know you well.

The stigma and the silence that often surrounds pregnancy loss can make it difficult to disclose to others what you’re going through. Especially if you have only just arrived in a posting location.

My husband told a few people at work as he took some time off to be with me. One of the partners, who had herself experienced late term pregnancy loss reached out to me and I’ll never forget the kindness. We are good friends today although, as per Defence life, we live in different states!

Another mum from my mother’s group (only just joined) sent a cleaner around to clean my house. My sister ended up coming and staying with me for a few days to help with my toddler. She had her own family to care for so wasn’t able to stay long. The day we had the termination, my husband was promoted. In between sad messages about our situation, he was receiving congratulations messages from those who didn’t know what was happening.

Beck from Military Wife Life also experienced pregnancy loss as a Defence partner.

What happened?

When I found out the news that there was something seriously wrong with our second daughter, I had to leave a message on my husband’s work phone because his mobile didn’t work on the base.

It was the longest half an hour of my life waiting for him to get out of his meeting and call me back. We hadn’t been expecting bad news, you never do, and I had gone along to the appointment thinking it would be routine. It was one of the busiest times in my husband’s career and we had ‘been there done that’ and thought we knew what to expect so I hadn’t been too worried about him not being able to make the appointment. I didn’t have any family nearby or close friends by that stage so all I could do was sit at home on my own in shock.

We had follow-up appointments and further testing, so it was like I needed to save up my mum visiting until we really needed her to come and look after our daughter. She couldn’t just drive two hours for an appointment every few days, so I had to be brave and ask a friend to look after our 18-month-old. We hadn’t known each other very long and here I was asking if she could look after our toddler, time and time again.

That friend is now one of my best friends and our daughter’s godmother, but it was hard putting my hand up for help and putting my trust in someone.

We hadn’t announced our pregnancy yet, so it was a silent hell. Only close family and friends (who all lived away) knew what we were going through and as we waited for each medical appointment I got further and further along. I would go places and hope no one asked me how far along I was.

Our daughter Grace was born and died at 18 weeks.

Did you have any support?

My Mum came to stay for a few days to help out with our toddler and my husband had time off work. Then my mum left, and my husband went back to work and the world kept turning but was at a standstill at the same time.

But then you are stuck with this guilt that if you don’t talk about your baby it is like they never existed, and you are hiding them away or not even acknowledging them. But it feels like there is just never a right time when you make new military friends. “Hi, I’m Beck and I have three kids but our second daughter Grace died due to complex medical complications, nice to meet you.”

How do you open up and really form that friendship while still honouring the life of your baby but not getting into a D & M the first time you meet someone? You kind of have to make friends quick before they post out but opening up about that part of your life and story is so raw and real that sometimes it feels easier to keep it locked up. 

It does help to reach out. With one in four pregnancies ending in miscarriage it’s quite likely that you know someone who is in the ‘Club’ that no one want to join.

If there is no one in your immediate community, there are several organisations you can check in with. Please reach out to someone.

You never forget the experience of pregnancy loss. It becomes a part of who you are and a part of your story. Be kind to yourself. This is my story. I’m sure there are many others out there not unlike what Beck and I lived through.

Michelle Hoare
DFA National Communications Officer

Defence support

Defence Family Helpline 1800 624 608

– if your partner is deployed or absent from home, you can apply for compassionate leave.

Open Arms 1800 011 046 – for counselling support for you and your partner.

Other Support Services

Pregnancy Loss Australia

SANDS 1300 072 637 – is an independent organisation that provides support for newborn death, stillbirth and miscarriage.

Pregnancy Birth and Baby – 1800 882 436 – Call for advice and emotional support anytime 7 days a week.

Bears of Hope – 1300 11 HOPE Provides grief support and care for families who experience the loss of their baby.

Here are some helpful articles that look at how to support someone going through pregnancy loss.

https://theconversation.com/the-dos-and-donts-of-supporting-women-after-a-miscarriage-98163

https://www.abc.net.au/news/health/2018-05-27/how-to-support-someone-after-pregnancy-loss/9803578

Published by

Defence Families of Australia

National Advocacy body for current ADF families. We are all partners of current serving members.

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