Womanhood can be complex and sensitive and even more difficult if you are trying to make the step into parenthood. Becoming a parent for some families can be a very tough and emotional road to follow with many hurdles along the way. We take a look at some key topics that families are struggling with such as miscarriage, Infertility and IVF treatment.
When a baby passes away because of stillbirth or neonatal death, it’s very sad. There’s no right way for you and your partner to feel or to grieve the death of your baby. People deal with this grief in their own ways.
Research from the British Miscarriage Association suggests that more than 50% of all pregnancies end in a miscarriage or stillbirth, but that almost half of all men whose partners miscarry never speak about their grief with their partner for fear of saying the wrong thing.
We all grieve differently, and this can be difficult for couples when their baby passes away. Most relationships come under pressure with the loss of a loved one and the overwhelming grief after the death of a child can drive couples apart as much as it can bring them together.
The Electrical Industries Charity (EIC) understands how important a support network can be to those who are facing the darkest of times and this is why it launched the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to help deal with challenges during bereavement. The Charity’s Programme ensures that employees and their immediate family members have a shoulder to lean on at the most difficult times, by offering them vital support services including bereavement counselling, legal advice and financial assistance and grants. One example where the Charity has offered a helping hand in a time of need is in the case of John and his family.
A traumatic bereavement is emotionally crippling and can cause recurrent pain and suffering. Your grief can blind you to your partner’s pain, especially if they have different ways of dealing with the grief. John initially came to the charity for support after the tragic loss his little baby girl Rosie who was stillborn.
When stillbirth occurs, it's traumatic for all the family and can result in family trauma. The loss of Rosie caused significant distress to John, his wife and their young daughter. John’s experience of stillbirth had a detrimental effect on his relationship and own wellbeing. Men often grieve loss as intensely as women. They just have fewer opportunities to express this. As a result, great sadness may sometimes morph into anger. To manage the psychological distress, John had closed himself off and shut down his feelings and consequently engaged in self-harming behaviours to relieve the pain and trauma he was going through in losing his daughter.
The EIC stepped in to provide John with care and support with regards to his self-harming and the charity also sourced and funded bereavement therapy with a specialist counsellor for both John and his wife to regularly attend and provided support in the form of a child psychologist for their daughter. The therapy and counselling the EIC provided was instrumental in giving the family an individual space to discuss the pain they were experiencing.
Men generally grieve differently to women, whenever the miscarriage happens, or stillbirth, many men feel they must be the stable rock, the provider who keeps the family going. Women are much more open with their grief, they talk to friends, they lie on the bed and cry. Men tend to be more internal; they keep themselves busy with work or physical activity for example. Recent research suggests that men are more likely to engage in increased alcohol consumption to deal with the loss. Furthermore, men tend to engage in behaviours of avoidance which can lead to a relationship breakdown and prolonged grief.
John completed a psychiatric assessment and was diagnosed with a mood disorder. John’s circumstances were further complicated by relationship difficulties which had started due to past intermittent substance misuse and a previous history of personal trauma.
However now dealing with the severe trauma of losing their child, John and his wife had found they were struggling with their relationship even more so. John had communicated that he and his wife had always been turbulent however, the relationship had become dysfunctional. Couples try to ‘be strong’ for one another - sometimes inadvertently distancing one another at the very moment they most need to be together.
Their destructive relationship persisted until after months of therapy John decided he felt strong enough and able to break from the cycle. He unfortunately left the family home and found a space of his own, he also limited communication with his now ‘ex’ partner and maintains a civil relationship for their daughters’ sake.
John has periods of ups and downs, but he is managing well, and the Electrical Industries Charity sourced further assistance for John in the form of EDMR therapy which is defined as “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy, in which he attends regular sessions. This is an interactive psychotherapy technique used to relieve psychological stress. During EMDR therapy sessions, you relive traumatic or triggering experiences in brief doses while the therapist directs your eye movements.
The EIC maintain regular communication with John, and he recently completed his psychiatric follow-up. These follow-ups are important as it allows us to track changes and progress. John is doing much better and feels more in control of his life.
Thanks to support from the industry, every year the Electrical Industries Charity is able to offer hundreds of our industry colleagues both practical and emotional support during their time of need.
Infertility is a medical condition that can touch every aspect of your life -- from the way you feel about yourself, to your relationship with your partner, to your overall perspective on living. It can also be particularly stressful in that it creates a great deal of uncertainty and emotional upheaval in a couple's day-to-day world.
These were the feelings that Suzanne was going through when she first approached the Electrical Industries Charity for assistance. Suzanne had become ill with anxiety and depression that had unfortunately become so bad she was consequently signed off from work and it had become clear that fertility and the ability to have a baby were at the root of her issues.
The Electrical Industries Charity (EIC) provides support in the most challenging of circumstances, whether it is health-related problems for you or a loved one, a relationship breakdown or financial difficulties. The Charity covers these eventualities through their Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).
Through EAP, the Charity offers vital support services including, face to face and telephone counselling, legal and debt advice, financial grants and assistance and practical support to help those who are struggling with life’s difficulties to overcome their emotional and physical hurdles.
Suzanne and her husband had been trying for approximately 5 years and within that struggle Suzanne had discovered that she had a slight polycystic ovary tendency, which is known as Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and is a common condition that affects how a woman's ovaries work. PCOS can cause irregular periods, excess androgen – high levels of "male" hormones in your body and polycystic ovaries, where your ovaries become enlarged and contain many fluid-filled sacs (follicles) that surround the eggs.
Alongside dealing with the news of having PCOS, Suzanne had also been informed that she was quite overweight. Her GP was very supportive, and she was referred to a gynaecologist but regrettably, they refused further investigation into her fertility until she lost weight.
Most people know that being overweight or obese increases the risk of health problems such as heart disease and diabetes. But many are unaware that this also reduces fertility and the chance of having a healthy baby. Being an unhealthy weight can affect a woman’s fertility by causing hormonal imbalances and problems with ovulation (releasing an egg from the ovaries). Obesity is also associated with the diagnosis Suzanne had been given of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common cause of low fertility or infertility.
Following this news, Suzanne went away and worked tirelessly to bring her weight down, which she accomplished and managed to lose 5 stone. Sadly, when Suzanne returned to see her GP and gynaecologist, she was woefully told that this was not enough and once again they refused further assistance to Suzanne at this time.
Suzanne and her husband had been seriously considering IVF privately as the NHS were also refusing to assist them due to Suzanne’s current health and weight, however the continuing knock-backs had by this time caused Suzanne to hit rock bottom emotionally and she was now experiencing severe anxiety, depression and worry over her weight. Her husband was also struggling with the emotional trauma of dealing with their fertility situation. Although he was very supportive towards Suzanne, he would find it difficult to be in the company of friends who were expecting and found it hard when other family members announced a new baby.
Trying to conceive can be an emotional journey – especially when you are coping with infertility. The effects of infertility can have an impact on every area of your life, making it difficult to focus on anything else. It can cause conflicts in your relationship with your partner, communication with friends, mental health and your overall perspective of living. Infertility is an upheaval of the plans you had for your life and, if you’re struggling with infertility, you are no stranger to the disappointment it can cause.
Suzanne recognised that she needed help to deal with her anxiety and depression and so the EIC stepped in to provide both her and her husband with face to face therapy and counselling. The charity also assisted Suzanne with her struggles regarding eating and diet and provided specialist support to help with her fertility. After a while Suzanne eventually started to feel better in herself and she is learning to cope with the emotional turmoil that comes with infertility.
Both Suzanne and her husband feel stronger and in a much better place both physically and mentally and feel they are able to cope with whatever their future may hold. They are still open to considering the option of IVF possibly in the future and hope they can deal with the outcome if this is not to be.
Infertility affects all areas of life and can be extremely difficult to overcome, it is estimated that it can affect 1 in 7 couples in the UK but with the right level of support it is possible to manage the outcomes and create a positive future for yourself and your family.
If you would like to show your support and give someone like Suzanne, the hope and assistance they need, then sign up to become a partner of EIC’s Employee Assistance Programme today or take part in powerLottery by downloading the EIC’s powerLottery app and tap the app to play.
- Grief is all the feelings you have when someone close to you passes away.
- You may have a lot of feelings as you grieve. You may feel angry, sad and confused. You and your partner may show your feelings differently.
- You and your family can get help as you grieve from your provider, a social worker, a grief counsellor or a support group.
- Take care of yourself to help you heal. Your body and your emotions need time to recover after pregnancy.
- Find special ways for you and your family to remember your baby.
What is grief?
Grief is all the feelings you have when someone close to you passes away. You may find it hard to believe that your baby passed away. You may want to shout or scream or cry. You may want to blame someone. Or you may want to hide under the covers and never come out. At times, your feelings may seem more than you can handle. You may feel sad, depressed, angry or guilty. You may get sick easily with colds and stomach aches and have trouble concentrating. All of these are part of grief.
When your baby passes away from miscarriage, stillbirth or at or after birth, your hope of being a parent passes away, too. The dreams you had of holding your baby and watching them grow are gone. So much of what you wanted and planned for are lost. This can leave a large, empty space inside you. It may take a long time to heal this space.
The death of a baby is one of the most painful things that can happen to a family. You may never really get over your baby’s death. But you can move through your grief to healing. As time passes, your pain eases. You can make a place in your heart and mind for the memories of your baby. You may grieve for your baby for a long time, maybe even your whole life. There’s no right amount of time to grieve. It takes as long as it takes for you. Over time, you can find peace and become ready to think about the future.
How do men and women grieve?
Everyone grieves in their own way. Men and women often show grief in different ways. Even if you and your partner agree on lots of things, you may feel and show your grief differently.
Different ways of dealing with grief may cause problems for you and your partner. For example, you may think your partner isn’t as upset about your baby’s death as you are. You may think he doesn’t care as much. This may make you angry. At the same time, your partner may feel that you’re too emotional. He may not want to hear about your feelings so often, and he may think you’ll never get over your grief. He also may feel left out of all the support you’re getting. Everyone may ask him how you’re doing but forget to ask how he’s doing.
You have a special bond with your baby during pregnancy. Your baby is very real to you. You may feel a strong attachment to your baby. Your partner may not feel as close to your baby during pregnancy. He doesn’t carry the baby in his body, so the baby may seem less real to him. He may become more attached to the baby later in pregnancy when he feels the baby kick or sees the baby on an ultrasound. Your partner may be more attached to your baby if your baby passes away shortly after birth.
In general, here's how you may show your grief:
- You may want to talk about the death of your baby often and with many people.
- You may show your feelings more often. You may cry or get angry a lot.
- You may be more likely to ask your partner, family or friends for help. Or you may go to your place of worship or to a support group.
In general, here’s how your partner may show his grief:
- He may grieve by himself. He may not want to talk about his loss. He may spend more time at work or do things away from home to keep his mind off the loss.
- He may feel like he’s supposed to be strong and tough and protect his family. He may not know how to show his feelings. He may think that talking about his feelings makes him seem weak.
- He may try to work through his grief on his own rather than ask for help.
Showing grief doesn’t have any rules or instructions. Men and women often may show grief in these ways. But there’s really no right or wrong way for you or your partner to grieve or share your feelings. It’s OK to show your pain and grief in different ways. Be patient and caring with each other. Try to talk about your thoughts and feelings and how you want to remember your baby.
Miscarriage - information and support
Suffering a miscarriage can be a very sad, scary or lonely experience. A miscarriage is the loss of a pregnancy during the first 24 weeks. The loss of a baby after 24 weeks is called a stillbirth. If the baby is born alive from week 24-37 it is called premature birth.
Often the underlying cause is the same, particularly between late miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth, and this is why Tommy's funds research across all types of loss and complications.
Miscarriages are often referred to as early or late.
What is early miscarriage?
An early miscarriage is one that happens in the first trimester (until 13 weeks of pregnancy). After 13 weeks, the risk of miscarriage drops. Early miscarriages are more common than you may realise, often occurring before the mother even realises, she is pregnant. Many early losses happen to mothers who simply assume the bleeding is a normal period. Find out more about early miscarriage and what can cause it.
What is late miscarriage?
A late miscarriage occurs between weeks 14 to 24 of pregnancy. This is much less common. Find out more about late miscarriage and what can cause it.
How common is miscarriage?
Miscarriage is more common than people realise. Up to 1 in 4 women will experience a miscarriage in their lifetime. Many miscarriages are unreported, and some go unnoticed as it happens so soon. Among women who know they are pregnant; it is estimated that 1 in 6 pregnancies end in miscarriage.
What are the symptoms of miscarriage?
Experiences of miscarriage can be different, but common symptoms include the following:
- vaginal discharge of fluid
- a loss of pregnancy symptoms
Miscarriage is a traumatic event which affects every woman differently, but can lead to grief, anxiety, depression, and even symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
While maternal health professionals have advanced care for the physical effects of pregnancy loss, FIGO highlights a glaring oversight in the well-being of women who have experienced miscarriage: practices for psychological care are significantly less well developed.
Globally, about 12–15 percent of recognised pregnancies end in miscarriage. Studies suggest that after a miscarriage 30 – 50 percent of women experience anxiety and 10 –15 percent experience depression, typically lasting up to four months.
According to the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in the UK, grief following miscarriage is “comparable in nature, intensity, and duration” to grief reactions in people suffering other types of major loss.
A 2016 study calls attention to the traumatic nature of a lost pregnancy: it found that four in ten women experienced PTSD symptoms within three months following either a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. PTSD symptoms reported by the study's participants included nightmares, flashbacks, and re-experiencing feelings associated with the loss. Some women also noted they attempted to avoid situations that would remind them of their loss, such as pregnant friends or relatives.
Far less is known — and said — about miscarriage and men, and until that changes, men like Tom, who said he had no one to really speak with about his experience, all too often grapple with the emotional fallout of miscarriage largely on their own.
“This still tends to be considered strictly a woman’s topic by a lot of people, including mental health professionals,” David Diamond, a psychologist and an associate professor with the California School of Professional Psychology said. “But men have lots of different kinds of reactions, and they are affected by these sorts of things — sometimes very deeply affected,” he said.
A typically different way of processing emotions
With virtually no research on how men process miscarriage, mental health experts have to rely on anecdotal experiences to understand the issue. And while it’s inaccurate to speak in generalizations about gender and mental health, experts said they recognize certain common patterns in how many men respond to miscarriage.
“Men often express many emotional reactions in different ways than women, so if a man is suffering from grief, he doesn’t necessarily cry or emote about it in a way that therapists or their wives might be looking for,” Diamond said. “They take action. They avoid. They become workaholics sometimes to cope or alcoholics. Men don’t always show their reactions as grief or loss, and sometimes the people around them — and they themselves — don’t connect that with the real source when it’s a miscarriage.”
In Tom’s case, his early tears in the ultrasound exam room almost immediately gave way to a sense that he needed to be his wife’s rock.
“I don’t want to say I felt like I couldn’t have my own emotions, because no one ever said that,” Tom said. “But I felt like I had to put them aside. She needed me to be strong for her.”
Dan Singley, a San Diego–based psychologist who focuses on men’s mental health and reproductive psychology, said men in our culture are socialized to be stoic.
“One common reaction that I see with the dads who experience a miscarriage is a profound sense of guilt,” he said. “And the guilt is very often the result of the fact that he himself is struggling. He’s got a lot of anxiety and depression but doesn’t feel entitled to it — kind of like, `Hey, I’m not the one who lost the baby, so what right do I have to be taking up her emotional bandwidth with my issues?’ That dynamic gets to a much broader social phenomenon in which we train boys, adolescents and men.”
The challenge, then, is that men who are really struggling after a miscarriage often fail to get help. This is in part because they do not necessarily present their grief in a way that others recognize. Male depression often goes undiagnosed because men often show different signs and coping mechanisms from women and are generally less likely than women to seek help for mental health problems when they crop up.
And also, because there is a perception that miscarriage, pregnancy, infertility — all of it — are primarily women’s issues, not men.
“It’s almost a call to action,” said Kate Kripke, a clinical social worker. “We need more outreach to help men with loss and to get the right kind of support. It’s a problem, for sure.”
A difficult path for couples to walk down
Kripke said that in her private practice she has worked with many couples and has encountered a common split: For many women, the experience of miscarriage is emotional; they mourn the loss of something they already felt deeply connected to. For many men, it’s more logistical; they see a change in circumstances (my wife was pregnant, now she’s not) and a problem they try and work through by talking about next steps, like trying to get conceive again. Singley said there has not really been any research looking at this in a quantitative or even qualitative way — how common a reaction that is, to what extent it is primarily true in heterosexual couples or whether, say, a lesbian couple might experience a similar divide.
Around those different reactions, problems can arise.
“What can be tricky to help a couple understand is that that reaction doesn’t necessarily mean that the father didn’t want the baby as much as the mother wanted the baby,” echoed Kripke. “But the experience of actually being pregnant can be so different that expecting both partners to have the exact same experience around loss, particularly early on, is incredibly unrealistic.”
Around 1 in 90 pregnancies in the UK are ectopic. The huge majority (over 95%) happen in a fallopian tube, known as a “tubal pregnancy”. They can also occur in an ovary, in the abdominal space or in the cervix, but this is rare.
Ectopic pregnancy creates a potentially life-threatening situation for a mother, so it is very important that it is treated quickly.
Signs and symptoms of ectopic pregnancy
If you are pregnant and you experience the following symptoms, you should urgently seek medical attention at your nearest Accident and Emergency department as it could be a sign of ectopic pregnancy.
- Bleeding from the vagina which is dark and watery
- Pain on one side of your tummy
- Sudden severe pain spreading across your tummy
- Shoulder tip pain
- Fainting, dizziness, and paleness
- Diarrhoea and pain when going to the toilet
These symptoms are not always caused by an ectopic pregnancy – they can sometimes be caused by other things, such as a tummy bug, but if you are pregnant and you have any of the signs and symptoms listed above get advice right away as ectopic pregnancy is a medical emergency.
How does an ectopic pregnancy happen?
In a normal pregnancy, the egg is fertilised by the sperm in one of the two fallopian tubes connecting the ovaries to the womb. This fertilised egg is “wafted” along the fallopian tube by tiny hairs, until it enters the womb. There it implants and develops into the embryo and the placenta.
An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilised egg attaches itself somewhere outside of the womb. An ectopic pregnancy results in a miscarriage because this sort of pregnancy cannot survive.
When a baby passes away after 24 weeks of pregnancy and before or during birth, it is known as a stillbirth. The loss of a baby before 24 weeks of pregnancy is classed as a miscarriage. However, this is simply terminology for legal purposes. Many mums who have a late miscarriage also give birth to their baby and, understandably, feel that it should be called a stillbirth.
In 2016, there were 3,430 stillbirths in the UK. This means that 1 in every 225 births ended in a stillbirth. That's 9 babies every day.
In many cases when a baby is stillborn no cause can be found. The death of these babies’ deaths remain ‘unexplained’, which can be particularly hard for grieving parents who want to understand what happened to their baby. However, whilst many stillbirths remain unexplained, there are a number of possible causes.
Failure of the placenta is the most commonly known reason for a baby to be stillborn. About half of all stillbirths are linked to complications with the placenta.
The placenta provides nutrients (food) and oxygen for the baby when he or she is growing in the womb, connecting the baby to its mother’s blood supply. It’s essentially the baby’s lifeline, crucial to growth and development.
If the placenta doesn't work properly, the baby won’t receive enough nutrients or oxygen and fails to grow or develop. This is called intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) or fetal growth restriction (FGR).
Many stillborn babies affected by failure of the placenta seem otherwise healthy but are born smaller than expected.
Reduced fetal movements
Reduced fetal movements is not a cause of stillbirth but it is one if the signs that a baby may not be getting enough food or oxygen. Reduced foetal movement is noticed by the mother in around half of stillbirths.
This is why health professionals ask pregnant women to monitor the pattern of their baby's movements from 16-22 weeks onwards.
If you notice a change in your baby’s pattern of movements get in touch with the hospital immediately. Never go to bed at night worried about your babies’ movements. Read more about how to monitor your baby's movements in pregnancy here.
It is possible for the placenta to separate from the womb before the baby is born, this is called placental abruption and can lead to stillbirth as it means the placenta is not working as it should.
Placental abruption can be caused by a blow or impact to the stomach, or it could be linked to a condition such as pre-eclampsia or intrauterine growth restriction or IUGR. Sometimes placental abruption occurs without any clear reason why this has happened.
The symptoms of placental abruption are:
- pain in the back and abdomen
- tender womb
- vaginal bleeding
- Around 1 in 7 couples may have difficulty conceiving.
- About 84% of couples will conceive naturally within a year if they have regular unprotected sex (every 2 or 3 days).
- For couples who've been trying to conceive for more than 3 years without success, the likelihood of getting pregnant naturally within the next year is 25% or less.
Infertility is only usually diagnosed when a couple haven't managed to conceive after a year of trying.
There are 2 types of infertility:
- primary infertility – where someone who's never conceived a child in the past has difficulty conceiving
- secondary infertility – where someone has had 1 or more pregnancies in the past, but is having difficulty conceiving again
There are many possible causes of infertility, and fertility problems can affect either the man or the woman. But in a quarter of cases it isn't possible to identify the cause.
In women, common causes of infertility include:
- lack of regular ovulation, the monthly release of an egg
- blocked or damaged fallopian tubes
- endometriosis – where tissue that behaves like the lining of the womb (the endometrium) is found outside the womb
Although most men with male infertility do not notice symptoms other than the inability to conceive a child, signs and symptoms associated with male infertility include:
- Problems with sexual function — for example, difficulty with ejaculation or small volumes of fluid ejaculated, reduced sexual desire, or difficulty maintaining an erection (erectile dysfunction)
- Pain, swelling or a lump in the testicle area
- Recurrent respiratory infections
- Inability to smell
- Abnormal breast growth (gynecomastia)
- Decreased facial or body hair or other signs of a chromosomal or hormonal abnormality
- A lower than normal sperm count (fewer than 15 million sperm per millilitre of semen or a total sperm count of less than 39 million per ejaculate)
Infertility is a medical condition that can touch every aspect of your life -- from the way you feel about yourself, to your relationship with your partner, to your overall perspective on living. It can also be particularly stressful in that it creates a great deal of uncertainty and emotional upheaval in a couple's day-to-day world. If you've been struggling with infertility, you're probably no stranger to stress. But as overwhelming as your situation may seem at times, there are ways to reduce your anxiety. Here are 12 steps to focus attention on your mind and body -- and bring a calmer perspective to your life.
3. Allow yourself to cry and be angry
4. Allow yourself to grieve
6. Stay connected to family and friends
7. Communicate with youur partner
8. Try a little tenderness
9. Get informed
12. Watch your diet
Usually in IVF, the woman has medicines (fertility hormones) to stimulate the ovaries to produce several eggs. The eggs are then collected and mixed with sperm in a laboratory.
IVF is carried out when the sperm quality is considered to be ‘normal’ If there are issues with the sperm quality such as low motility or numbers, a procedure called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) may instead be used – this is where a single sperm is injected into the egg by an embryologist. If fertilisation is successful, the embryos are allowed to develop for between two and six days. This helps the embryologist to select the strongest embryo, which is then transferred back to the woman’s womb to hopefully continue to a successful birth.
Often several good quality embryos will be created. In these cases, it's normally best practice to freeze the remaining embryos because putting two embryos back in the womb increases your chance of having twins or triplets, which carries health risks. You can use your frozen embryos later on if your first cycle is unsuccessful or you want to try for another baby.
Five million babies have been born worldwide since 1978 thanks to IVF. But few people talk of the many more times the treatment doesn't work, said Lisa Jardine, the departing chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), in the article.
Fertility problems are estimated to affect one in six or one in seven couples in the UK - approximately 3.5 million people.
Around 60,000 fertility treatments are performed in UK licensed clinics per year, with the live birth rate after IVF about a quarter, according to latest figures (2010) from the HFEA.
The latest HFEA figures show that for every cycle of IVF, fewer than a third of patients under the age of the 35 will be successful. And the percentages decrease as women get older.
Moreover, costs are high - 60% of IVF treatment in Britain is carried out in private clinics.