In April 2018, we heard the words no couple ever wants to hear: “I’m really sorry, but there’s no heartbeat”.
As vets, we expect ourselves to be scientifically minded. I knew the statistic that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss. But I was young, slim and marathon fit; despite my evidence-based approach to life, it never occurred to me that anything might go wrong. It hit me like an absolute ton of bricks.
Pregnancy loss is a lonely place. We tend not to tell people about pregnancies straight away in case something “goes wrong”, with the very implication that therefore loss is something that we shouldn’t talk about.
My miscarriage was absolutely devastating, but the silence surrounding it made it even harder. I went back to work after my surgery, and nobody knew that anything had happened. In fact, without my knowledge they’d been told that I’d been off with tonsillitis. When I wasn’t myself, colleagues and clients started to complain. As a veterinary surgeon, you cannot go back to work and keep your head down for a few weeks. Our job demands too much of us emotionally. But how do people know to support you if they don’t know that anything has happened?
When I first found out I was pregnant I decided I wanted to write a blog about staying active during pregnancy. When we lost the baby this was another part of life that wasn’t going to happen. But I realised that there was nothing stopping me. I started writing, completely anonymously at first, under the name This Vet Runs. I wrote about my experiences of pregnancy loss, and how running helped me deal with it. Writing allowed me to process what I was feeling when it still felt like something we couldn’t talk about.
Gradually it grew and grew and became less anonymous. Women from across the world started contacting me to share their experiences and say how much what I’d written had helped them. I was invited to write articles, be interviewed on podcasts, and speak at events about my experiences and why we should break the silence around pregnancy loss. Realising I wasn’t alone and feeling like I was helping others was a huge part of my recovery.
For some reason though, I didn’t feel brave enough to share it in the vet world – somehow the entire internet feels a lot less scary than your professional peers! But I began to realise that baby loss is a lot like loneliness: you can be in a room full of people yet feel totally alone – until one person shares how they feel, and suddenly everyone else does too. Before you know it you all realise that none of you are alone, and you have a huge support network sat right next to you. But it takes a few people to start.
So, one year on, I decided to share my story in the veterinary community for the first time. The response was overwhelming. It became clear not just how many of us are affected, but what an incredible support network we can offer each other. It was here, that with the support of Emily Gregson, the idea for Vet MINDS was born.
We have already created a wonderful community, and I’ve been overwhelmed by how many people have felt able to share their own stories. These are such personal and complicated issues and talking about them with your peers is a huge deal, but also offers a very unique support network.
I found going back to life as a vet incredibly tough after
my loss, and I’m still finding my way. I hope that by starting these
conversations and creating a support network, that future colleagues affected
by these issues might find it just a tiny bit easier. If you see someone
wearing a Vet MINDS pin badge this week, try talking to them about it. It can
be really hard to know the right words, but with tough topics like this, you
can’t go wrong with a little kindness. As they say, it can go a long way.
Let’s break the silence around baby loss and infertility in the veterinary community.