“I’m so sorry, but there’s no heartbeat.” Some of the most heartbreaking words that can be uttered to expectant parents. But pregnancy loss and miscarriage is sadly more common than you think. In Singapore, one in four pregnancies will end in miscarriage, most of which will occur before the first 12 weeks. After 28 weeks of gestation, an in-utero foetal passing is deemed a stillborn here in Singapore, which occurs approximately in two out of every 1000 births. Most of the time, the exact causes of loss are unknown and difficult to pinpoint.
Despite this, many of us stay mum on the topic particularly before reaching the so-called “safe-zone” of the second trimester, myself included, ostensibly to be ‘responsible’ about it all, when realistically a shoulder or two to cry on would help diminish feelings of isolation and despair. Sometimes we stay silent because it is too painful to articulate. In any case, every year, on October 15, we remember the ones we didn’t get to hold, or were only held for too brief of a time
Here Vogue acknowledges four women’s personal stories on pregnancy loss and miscarriage.
Kimberley Soliano, 37
Mother of two with one on the way; Derivatives Broker, Singapore
“The first time we were six weeks pregnant. I had some light bleeding for a couple days and the night before I miscarried I had cramps very similar to those you get just before your period. I woke up in the morning and I saw quite a bit of blood and immediately knew. The second time was a little bit different. We were 12 weeks pregnant when the light bleeding started. I thought ‘here we go again’, but when we went to see our OBGYN, she reassured us that everything was all right. The heartbeat was still very strong and she gave me some progesterone to take which helped and after about four days the bleeding subsided.”
After the return of spotting and inconclusive Harmony (genetic testing) results, Soliano saw her OBGYN for another scan, one day short of 16 weeks. “After feeling reassured again, she said let’s just have a quick check and that was when everything changed. The tone of her voice changed. “Not good, not good” she repeated. My heart sank… She said, “No heartbeat.”
It was tough and very emotional. We had our son (who was two years old) in the room with us. In hindsight we should not have brought him, but we also didn’t think what happened was going to happen. My husband was devastated and had to leave the room with our son. I laid there, broken-hearted, shocked—in disbelief that this was happening to us. I was just trying to process it all. It’s hard for us, but also so hard for our husbands as they go through as much pain but at the same time feel so helpless, as physically it’s our body that goes through it.
With the first miscarriage we moved on quite quickly, we approached it with a very ‘science’ point of view. As my OBGYN said, “It was a chemical reaction that didn’t progress”. We had not reached the stage of a heartbeat, so that in itself was a relief. Second time round was different. As it was later on in the pregnancy, I delivered the baby and he was very small. We were not 100% sure of the gender but from a previous scan it looked like it was going to be a boy. My husband and I are both Catholic and we wanted to have him blessed, so we had our priest come into the hospital where we named him and said our goodbyes.
My husband and I had each other to lean on which helped us a lot. I consider ourselves lucky because within the same week we were given an answer as to why it happened, so we had closure. There are many, many others out there that still don’t know why they miscarried and I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for them. Of course, initially before any answers your immediate go-to thought is ‘It’s me’. You start questioning how healthy your body is, your age… All of a sudden you have thoughts of, ‘oh maybe I should have started trying for another baby sooner’ and ‘did I leave it too late?’
I found it extremely helpful talking about it openly, as sad as it was. It was my own therapy. I reached out to a friend who had been through something similar and found that through listening to her and how she healed, it all helped. Day by day talking about it, helped me come to terms with it and move forward. Accepting it was important.”
Alex Lowes, 40
Mother of three; Advertising, Singapore
Just days shy of reaching full-term, Lowes was little over 38 weeks pregnant when her world changed forever. “On the way to the appointment I was excited and apprehensive. I had been having Braxton Hicks at home for days and wanted some assurance. I remember everything about the appointment—all the people sitting outside in the waiting room, my appointment and then no heartbeat. They checked there was no heartbeat twice by sending us to a special clinic and then I had to go home to sit and wait until I could go to hospital that night to birth my baby.
“My daughter was named Matilda (Tilly) Susan Lowes and is a visible part of our family today. We talk about her, we celebrate her birthday and we open a present on Christmas Eve in memory of her with my two boys. After she was born we were assigned a social worker who is still part of our lives today. She encouraged us to take as many photos as possible (all of which I treasure of my baby) and have a ceremony. Tilly was cremated and then we had a ceremony with family and friends.
“The first few months the grief was overwhelming. I was so far along my pregnancy we had everything set up. The nursery was empty, I had left work to go on maternity leave—it was all too much to handle. Everywhere I looked I saw pregnant women and babies. The support network around me was everything—family, friends and professional therapists all of whom played a part for myself and my husband. Partners should not be forgotten—not only did my husband feel the pain of her death as much as me, but also he had to watch me go through labour, a trauma in itself.
“I share that our daughter was stillborn. For us, it has been important to speak her name and to be able to grieve. There is so much stigma around stillbirth, it is such a taboo topic and yet unfortunately a lot more common than people realise. I wish that my doctor and people around me had talked to me about late term pregnancy health. The doctor used to ask me, “Is the baby kicking?” and I used to say yes. But I never knew that your baby should kick or move 10 times in an hour or that you should track your baby’s kicks. My daughter was kicking less and some people said to me it was just because she was growing; that is absolutely not true. Count kicks, continue to monitor your pregnancy in late term. Many people talk about a mother’s intuition and I agree it plays an important role, but intuition grows with experience. This was my first pregnancy and I could have asked more questions. Never be afraid to ask questions and if you are concerned, it doesn’t matter how small—go and seek help.”
Words of advice on how to address people experiencing stillbirth: “There is a spectrum of what you can say and it really depends on whether the parents have openly talked about the stillbirth or named their baby. A good start is: “I am so sorry this has happened to you and you are going through this pain.” I believe it is important to acknowledge their loss and if they have named their baby to speak the baby’s name. Sometimes parents will reject help but always ask, “How can I help? What do you need?” Grief is ongoing and triggers remain for years so check in on them, not just that day, or the next day but weeks and months later. If they do not want to talk then leave food parcels, show them you care through actions not words and they will feel the support.”
On how she is now? “Grateful. I have a beautiful family who I love with all my heart. But not a day goes by where I don’t think of my daughter and long to see who she would have become. She would be seven now.”
Frederica Waddilove Bristow, 32
Mother of two, founder of Rica London, Singapore
“My first trip to the gynae around week seven wasn’t the experience I had in mind. Disappointingly no heartbeat could be detected, but of course it was still early days. Two weeks went by, which felt like a lifetime. But at my next scan, there she/he was…a little flashing beacon of light. My little beacon! I cried with relief and happiness! He assured me my uterus was in tip-top shape but then explained softly that my hormones were a little on the low side and sent me off with hormone medication and asked me to come back in another two weeks. As I got up to leave, he suggested I bring back my husband for the next appointment. “Why did my husband need to come?” It was the way he said it. My gut was telling me something wasn’t right. So many questions spiralled in my mind for the following fortnight—Googling did not help.
“At 11 weeks, I had my appointment in the afternoon. The whole morning I had felt sick and teary, I knew there was bad news coming and the wait was unbearable. The gynae greeted us with already sympathetic eyes. There it was—an empty black hole. My little beacon of light had gone out. We listened carefully to the process of removing the ‘foetus’ and agreed on the date, which was the following day, and with stifled tears and little words, took a taxi home. It was a very quiet day.
“I have a very supportive and wonderfully sensitive husband so I never felt alone. But I felt like no one understood exactly how I felt. We had just gone into full lockdown due to the pandemic. It was a very scary and unknown time for many and I didn’t want to burden people with more bad news. I briefly told my family and the friends who knew and assured them I was fine and decided that would be the last time I would talk about it (at least for a while).
“My husband, being an essential worker, had to go to the office so I spent a huge amount of time with my son Jack, helping with home tutoring, cooking and drawing. He was my little pillar of strength without him even knowing it. I’ve looked at Jack in a different light ever since. I’ll forever be grateful to him and grateful I was lucky enough to have another child at home to come back to.
“The phrase “it’s not meant to be” sounds a bit cold and vague. But that’s actually what I told myself and it really helped me. We can’t see into the future, but we can be positive and reassure women it will happen the next time. A big cuddle and reassuring words is as friends the best we can hope to offer.”
Bristowe was able to successfully conceive again but “the experience this time round though wasn’t easy. Unfortunately I suffered a tremendous amount of anxiety during my pregnancy. I found it hard to relax and even see people at times. I was adamant that something was going to go wrong—everyday I would worry. I look at my baby girl now (four months old) and I observe my son (turning five) looking at her with such pride that it makes my heart burst. I am truly lucky and not a day goes by where I’m not counting my lucky stars. I often think about how sad I was during my pregnancy and I think I carried over the heartbreak and anxiety of my miscarriage during this period without really realising it. I am blessed for Jack and Naomi and I will always carry my little flashing light in my heart.”
Kimberly Unwin, 37
Mother of two, member of Fertility Support SG, Singapore
At just over four months into her pregnancy, Kim discovered her baby had no heartbeat when she went in for her weekly scan and was told she had experienced a ‘missed miscarriage’. “I remember it like it was yesterday. My husband had asked if I wanted him to come with me and I said no because it was just a typical scan and blood test to check the baby’s gender etc. A few minutes after he set the probe on my tummy, he started looking worried and I suddenly realised I couldn’t hear a heartbeat on the monitor. I then asked him, ‘there’s no heartbeat, is there?’ and he nodded. The next hour was a blur of him telling me my options of how we would resolve the foetus and me crying uncontrollably over the phone to my husband and parents, before driving myself home in tears. To end the story, a dilation and curettage procedure (D&C) was planned for 2 weeks later on Valentine’s Day, but two nights before, I started getting serious contractions and ended up fainting and being brought to the A&E in pain at 3am, where they found that the foetus was stuck and that I required emergency surgery to get it removed.
I didn’t name the child because I didn’t end up finding out the gender, but in my heart I still feel that I have a child in heaven looking over us. I closed myself off for the next few weeks, not talking much, just crying non-stop. I felt such a deep loss and emptiness, constantly Googling why such a thing happened and whether it was my fault.
Only a few of my close family members knew of the loss and they shared the news for me with others because I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to talk about it. Only after a few months did I feel ready to share more. I think it’s a topic people don’t quite know how to react to and therefore it’s not talked about much. Only ladies who have gone through it truly understand how you feel.Prior to having a missed miscarriage, I didn’t even know what a ‘missed miscarriage’ was. At the start, part of me wished I had been more careful, less open about sharing about my pregnancy, but over time, I’ve learnt to accept that it wasn’t my fault and it simply was just not meant to be. But one thing it did make me want to do, was to offer support to other ladies going through this tough time.”
On what to say to someone who has just been through this, “I think being a bit more sensitive and not saying things like “oh, you can try again” or “you already have kids, so you shouldn’t feel that sad” etc. Simply just saying things like “I’m sorry for your loss” and giving a couple time to deal with their grief is the best thing you can do. Miscarriage happens more often then we think and nothing can prepare you for it. You will never forget your loss, but time does make it hurt less. Just don’t lose hope and your time will come.”
You are not alone. If you are struggling with pregnancy or infant loss, contact Fertility Support SG, a community for women experiencing fertility challenges, miscarriage, information on IVF and IUI and a resource for how to cope. You can also reach out to NUH’s Women’s Emotional Health Service, which offers education on parenting, emotional assessment and support during and after pregnancy, support for gynaecological cancer patients, fetal loss support, and individual and couple’s counselling. Support is also available at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital or your doctor. Your GP can recommend you to a therapist or counsellor.