In the news · Word of the week

Word of the week: miscarriage

You will find very few statements related to politics on this Blog. There are hints and occasional oblique references. There may be enough material, if you look really closely, for you to work out my political views. But if I really wanted you to know my views about politics, here in the UK and elsewhere, I would write about them.

In the UK, among certain parts of the population, there is now an increased mistrust of politicians. It is exactly 10 years since the parliamentary “expenses scandal” broke. As the details emerged, about second homes, dodgy invoices and duck houses, I did not share the sense of outrage that some of my fellow voters might have felt, and were encouraged to feel. I was more concerned about the intentions of those leaking the information, and the likely consequences for democracy in this country. Yes, even then. In my view, the increased hostility towards politicians and the diminished respect for the work of parliament have been direct consequences of those leaks, and might well have been desired outcomes for the people leaking the information. Here is a viewpoint that you will never hear me express, because I do not share it: “Politicians, they’re all the same, aren’t they?” They are not. You cannot compare the likes of Jess Phillips, Angela Rayner and Stella Creasy with the person who is most likely to become the next leader of the Conservative party, and thereby the next prime minister.

Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow, has been in the news lately for reasons not related to her politics, but related to the work that she does. Her article in the Guardian from last month is well worth reading. She is pregnant for a third time, having suffered two miscarriages. As the title of the piece says, she is “pregnant and forced to choose between being an MP and a mum”. In case you haven’t followed the link above, I will quote a couple of paragraphs:

“During my first miscarriage, aching and bleeding, I joined a protest for the extradition of a man who had raped and murdered a constituent. The day after I found out that another baby’s heartbeat had stopped, I led a public meeting on gang crime. I even scheduled the procedure to remove the body on a day I didn’t have a constituency advice surgery. Heartbroken by all the years that I have struggled with fertility, I’ve kept these events to myself and made sure my constituents have never been affected.

“Now I’m pregnant once more and terrified – not just that it will go wrong again, but because I know that my resolve to keep my private and professional lives separate has become impossible. I’m coming forward publicly to talk about it because, as for far too many women, the personal inevitably becomes political when reproduction is involved.”

I wish her well, and the rest of this piece reflects on my own experiences with miscarriage.

Yesterday I wrote about my recent realization that I’m no good at medical chat. and even while drafting that piece I didn’t work out the most likely reason for it: I have never been ill. If I had been on some regime of treatments and medication stretching back over months or years I would probably be on top of all the details, but I have enjoyed good health throughout my life. Where I have gained any detailed knowledge about diagnoses and treatments it has been through those close to me. I accompanied my mother three times through the cycle of cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy, each time hoping for the same outcome, for her and for me: get through it and move on. Before we had children, my wife had four miscarriages and my aim was similar with each one: get through it, move on, hope for a different result next time.

Because of these experiences I know a bit more about bowel cancer and miscarriage than, say, epilepsy or dementia, but both conditions are firmly in my past, and I hope that they stay there. My mother died in 1997. My wife’s last miscarriage was in 2003. After that we had two healthy children. The longest piece on this Blog (9,000 words, here) recounts in some detail the eight months between that last miscarriage and the beginning of the next pregnancy. I’d be grateful if you read it. Reading View in Microsoft Edge suggests it will take 36 minutes. The Firefox equivalent suggests a reading time of 49-62 minutes. However long it takes, the events recounted took place over 15 years ago.

The extent to which people are affected by miscarriage inevitably depends on how the story ends. Four miscarriages followed by two full-term pregnancies and two healthy children is a very different ending to one that involves multiple miscarriages and no healthy children. Pop star Lily Allen miscarried at least twice before she became a mum. The word miscarriage hardly does justice to the second of these losses, 6 months into her pregnancy. I recall a newspaper column at the time by a mother-of-three supposedly empathizing with the singer for her loss, because she too had miscarried (between the second and third of her children as I recall). She still felt the pain. There was even a photo of the journalist surrounded by her healthy brood, looking a bit glum. It seemed in rather poor taste to me. A childless person who is miscarrying, and who might never have children, is not the same as a parent who miscarries at some point after the birth of her first, second or third child.

I probably pick up on news stories about miscarriage more readily than people who haven’t been through the experience. Even so, looking back over the last 16 years I can only recall a handful of high-profile reports, in addition to Stella Creasy and Lily Allen: Courteney Cox (Courteney Cox Arquette at the time), Ffion Hague, Barbara Taylor Bradford.  Of these three only Courteney Cox became a mother. Barbara Taylor Bradford’s miscarriages didn’t really count as news stories. She mentioned them on “Desert Island Discs” (broadcast in July 2003) and there was a brief reference to them in this Guardian piece in 2013:

“I had two miscarriages and never got pregnant again. But regrets are fruitless and you don’t miss a child you’ve never known. I would have liked a child; I didn’t have one. What am I going to do? I’ve got Bob.”

We might not have known about William and Ffion Hague’s multiple miscarriages but he decided to make them public in 2010 when he was the newly-appointed foreign secretary. This piece by Michael White at the time (“Coverage of William Hague story is a shaming day for Fleet Street”) explains the circumstances, and his reaction to it: “I cringed when I realised that William Hague had been forced to issue a humiliating personal statement about his wife’s fertility to prove he was not carrying on with a male member of his staff.”

Further down in the article White compares former Tory party leader Hague with the party’s then-leader David Cameron: “his [Hague’s] severing of the Tory links with the European People’s party (EPP) struck me as both cynical and foolish – done for internal party tactics – so I went off him. Luckily David Cameron is proving wiser on Europe now he is in office.”

It looks like I’ve moved from miscarriage back to politics, so let me repeat those last few words from 2010: “David Cameron is proving wiser on Europe now he is in office.” Did that story have a happy ending?




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