“People say crass things when you’re trying to conceive . . . everything from ‘Just relax!’, ‘Maybe it’s not meant to be’, ‘Oh, you can have my children!’” Jessica worked at a high level in theatre, but always knew she wanted both a career and a family. By 39 she had gone through six failed rounds of IVF. One “little jelly bean” was dubbed “mini Molly”, but never came to term. Jessica is one of the interviewees in Janice Sutherland’s sensitively handled and painful film, broadcast on Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
A quarter of all UK pregnancies ends in miscarriage, yet to some extent it remains a taboo subject, or something women are expected to bounce back from. Take Jane, a TV actress you may recognise. She already had two children, so others often failed to understand her devastation when a third pregnancy ended in miscarriage. But that baby, she protests, was just as much wanted as her first two. Anna, a journalist, got pregnant accidentally six weeks after meeting her partner. They made the decision to have an abortion, but her body pre-empted the decision. The emotion this caused took her by surprise. “I was losing something I thought I didn’t want.” It turned out to be a bad omen.
The experiences the couples relate don’t paint an altogether happy picture of the NHS’s handling of miscarriage, with phrases like “unviable foetus” bandied around. A crucial moment is the 12-week scan, when couples who have just been perfunctorily told there’s no heartbeat wait in the same area as the joyfully pregnant. Anna and Jessica were sent home to await the inevitable, which in Jessica’s case took place during the interval of a play. “I went back and watched the second half.” Anna was nonplussed to be assured: “You can flush it down the toilet,” astounded that “you have that baby and have to dispose of it yourself.”
It’s tough on the men too. “You just become this gormless bystander,” says Matt, Anna’s partner. David, partner of Lisa, who’s been told she has a very high level of “natural killer cells”, is a psychotherapist utterly baffled at his own emotional shutdown where this is concerned. After multiple miscarriages, Natasha, a newsreader you’ll probably recognise, feels her partner’s pain acutely, and is haunted by the fear that “I was never going to make him a father.” There is another worry: how come tabloid newspapers know of each loss even before she’s told her family?
The programme’s broad trajectory is of happiness, crushing despair, and eventual joy, though sadly not for everyone. Everyone agrees miscarriage should be discussed more. Even the bootee-averse should find the closing moments uplifting.
On Channel 5 from October 15 at 10pm
Follow @FTLifeArts on Twitter to find out about our latest stories first
Get alerts on Television when a new story is published