the greatest loss

The greatest loss

Sometimes the joy of a pregnancy is eclipsed by the trauma of miscarriage. But as Una Rice writes, there is help for you…

The greatest loss

The vast majority of pregnancies result in a joyful conclusion, a healthy baby. But in more than one in five pregnancies a miscarriage occurs. Just as each woman is unique, so too is the experience of miscarriage and the healing journey beyond. It can feel frightening, isolating and lifechanging.

You may not ever know why you miscarried. Perhaps you didn’t even know you were pregnant. An early miscarriage is one that occurs up to 14 weeks. Recurrent miscarriages are investigated, and you may or may not be offered treatment/surgery, depending on what’s found. Possible reasons for early miscarriage include, anti-phospholipid syndrome, a rare blood clotting condition (sticky blood), inherited blood clotting disorders, abnormal chromosomes in the baby, polycystic ovary syndrome, an infection like rubella or toxoplasmosis, immune problems, or an abnormality of the uterus. Sometimes, although it may magnify your pain, there is no reason, it’s down to chance and may be called ‘unexplained.’

the greatest loss

Late miscarriages are also investigated. Again, you may or may not be offered treatment or surgery, depending on the cause. Late miscarriage, from 14-24 weeks, is thankfully rare, but deeply disturbing. By then you’ll have surely felt your baby kick and wriggling, you may have names picked or a nursery decorated.

Sometimes a late miscarriage occurs due to an incompetent or weak cervix (that causes the cervix to dilate too early), a one off or a genetic abnormality, an existing chronic illness (eg: kidney disease) or thyroid problems, a uterus abnormality that may be corrected through surgery, fibroids, a severe infection that can affect the baby or amniotic fluid, or an abnormality in the baby. A loss from 24 weeks on is classed as stillbirth.


Whatever the time, whatever the reason, your loss is deep and very real and how you cope is a personal journey. The Miscarriage Association of Ireland offers support to mums and dads. Deirdre Pierce McDonnell is chairman and engages with couples who have lost their baby at various stages and in various ways.

She says of miscarriage: “It can be a long drawn out process, or a couple of days or a couple of weeks, it depends on the circumstances. It can be complicated or straightforward. And then there’s the physical side – there can be period pain or painful contractions.”

The emotion that is paramount in miscarriage is that of shock. “The words ‘’there is no heartbeat” are the most mind numbing, shocking words you hear, especially if it is a missed miscarriage and there have been no other signs (such as bleeding) of anything being amiss,” says Deirdre. “Other feelings that surface can be guilt, anger, disbelief and hopefully acceptance at some point. There is no timeframe on how long you will grieve.”

Supporting each other

In the midst of the physical miscarriage, where the woman is obviously the main focus, the dad is often forgotten. “But it is his baby too,” says Deirdre. “And I suggest that in the hospital ask can your partner be present if and where possible and be involved in the discussion about what treatment and options are being given.”

the greatest loss

“After the physical side of things is over, men and women often find themselves at different stages of grief. This can cause tension between couples,” Deirdre explains. “Just try and understand where each person is coming from and be kind to each other. There is no blame to be laid anywhere.”

Hope for the future

A miscarriage can trigger a sense of fear for future pregnancies. Depending on circumstances and the number and type of miscarriage, it may warrant further medical investigation, or you may be encouraged to simply try again.

The “One hopes that a sympathetic ‘’I am sorry for the loss of your baby’’ would be the first words that a doctor, nurse or GP would say to a couple who have just lost their baby,” says Deirdre. “This can be followed up with some literature such as our information book and practical advice as to what might be the treatment of the miscarriage, for instance, wait for nature to take its course, or a D & C.”


You won’t ever forget your miscarriage. There are always reminders of your precious loss. Dates on the calendar, a fall of snow, an anniversary or birthday, or friends who were pregnant at the same time and went on to have a baby. But remembering is important, whatever way you chose to do it. You might release a balloon on an important day, or bake a cake, light a candle, talk to a friend. Whatever you decide to do, it’s okay. Vitally, it is never too late to reach out for help if you can’t cope with your sadness.

the greatest loss

“Some people contact the Association immediately when they get the news as they have questions as to what might happen next or alternatively it can be months or even years after when the support from family and friends has maybe waned, but the feelings of isolation are still there and there is a need to reach out to people who have been through similar experiences,” says Deirdre.

“Remembrance is a big part of giving support and of the healing process. The Association has baby remembrance blessings, book marks and our logo as a pin which we can send out to people. Also an entry can be made in our Book of Remembrance.” Poignantly, the Association’s logo is of a little leaf falling from a tree, representing the baby who you will always hold dear in your heart.

For further information:

The Miscarriage Association of Ireland


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Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.


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Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….