Miscarriage heartbreak: 3 women open up about the loss of their unborn babies – ‘we need to break the silence’
- Three women in Hong Kong share their miscarriage stories to raise awareness and help destigmatise pregnancy loss
- About one in 10 women will have a miscarriage over a lifetime – representing 23 million pregnancies lost annually
In 2012, Hongkonger May Lynn Funnell had just returned from her honeymoon at the Canadian ski resort of Whistler when she discovered she was pregnant.
“I was excited and imagined my future and how things were going to change,” says Funnell, who was 28 at the time.
At nine-and-a-half weeks, she went for her first ultrasound. But during the scan the doctor went quiet and the nurse let out a gasp. She knew something was wrong.
“I just wanted to get out of there,” she recalls. “It wasn’t until I was in the waiting room, when my husband looked at me, that I broke down.”
Funnell was referred to the Queen Mary Hospital. “That was tough because I had to say out loud, ‘I’ve been told I’m having a miscarriage’ after just getting used to saying ‘I’m pregnant’. I had another scan, which was difficult … I couldn’t look this time, I didn’t want to see the still image.”
Funnell was given two options: take medication to stimulate the expulsion of the fetus from the womb or undergo dilation and curettage (D&C) surgery, a procedure to remove tissue from the uterus.
“I’m petrified of hospitals so I opted for the tablets. After three days at home, nothing happened so I had to go back in for the operation,” she recalls. “I had to lie alone in bed waiting for the cramps to come. That was my darkest time – just really sad, really lonely,” she says. “It’s a loss and you still mourn.”
Today, Funnell feels grateful for her three healthy children but admits it was tough during her pregnancy with her child, Jack.
“I listened to the baby all the time,” she says. “When I stopped feeling him kick, I would visit my doctor and get a scan.” Or she would drink orange juice – the natural sugar it contains effectively spurs fetal movement.
“It was exhausting. That was probably the toughest part, because the closer you get to this baby being a real thing, the more fearful you are of losing it.”
October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, and to honour the occasion, a “Wave of Light” candle-lighting ceremony will be held globally at 7pm (Hong Kong time).
Julie Aswani will light a candle. In 2020, she miscarried at 10 weeks.
“I bought tiny clothes in preparation for my first baby’s birth, and shared the exciting news with my family,” says Aswani, who was born and raised in Hong Kong.
She had been excited about her first pregnancy because she has a rare physical condition, arthrogryposis, that she’d been told would make her unable to conceive. Arthrogryposis occurs in about one in every 3,000 children, and causes stiff joints and abnormal muscle development, leading to a limited range of motion.
“In 2019, several gynaecologists told me that I wouldn’t be able to conceive because of my physical condition, which shocked me because my condition is not about infertility but lack of mobility. I was shattered.”
Aswani fell pregnant after one round but, a couple of months in, she noticed some light spotting. Then came the cramps and bleeding.
“I was at home and it felt like something was collapsing inside me. I was screaming in pain.
“I knew I had lost the baby. I didn’t know how to grieve and felt helpless and angry because life has never been easy for me.
“I didn’t want to just ‘flush it’ and move on. And I didn’t want to hear comments from friends and family like ‘it’s OK, you can try again’.”
Determined to remove the stigma around miscarriage, Aswani – who in 2021 gave birth to a girl and is expecting her second child in December, both conceived through IUI – talks openly about her pregnancy loss.
“I discovered that many women had experienced it, but few talked about it,” she says, adding there is also a lot of taboo around pregnancy loss in the Indian community.
The classification of miscarriage varies from place to place – in Hong Kong, a miscarriage is defined as the death of an embryo before 24 weeks of pregnancy.
And it is common: about one in 10 women will have a miscarriage over a lifetime, a statistic that represents 23 million pregnancies lost annually, or 44 per minute worldwide, according to a series of articles in British medical journal The Lancet.
Eva Lind-Mallo wants more open conversations about miscarriages. “People should not feel afraid, embarrassed or inadequate, or feel that their body is betraying them,” she says.
Lind-Mallo was living in New York when her first pregnancy ended in a blighted ovum, a type of early miscarriage that occurs when a fertilised egg implants into the uterus but does not develop into an embryo.
“My OB-GYN was like, ‘try not to worry about it, just keep practising and hopefully the next one is going to work out’,” she says.
“Obviously I was depressed, because you’ve got hormones wreaking havoc on your body and you have this feeling of inadequacy. It’s heartbreaking – and it puts a strain on a marriage.
“In 2007, we visited a fertility clinic and I learned how to do all types of injections and take all types of drugs. I had two IUIs and one round of IVF, but nothing worked. At that point, I said enough is enough.”
After returning from a holiday in India, Lind-Mallo discovered she was pregnant but was again devastated when a scan could not detect a heartbeat.
“That’s why Theodore is a divine gift,” she says of her “miracle son” who turns 14 on October 16 in what has been a challenging year.
“In October last year, my husband died in a boating accident,” says Lind-Mallo of Daniel, 53, who drowned after the catamaran he was on board with a friend capsized off Beaufort Island, southeast of Hong Kong Island.
“I’ve been dealing with a lot of trauma but talking about it has helped. That’s why we should normalise discussions about pregnancy loss and not hide in shame in the shadows … we need to break the silence.”