women in health & safety
‘Miscarriage should not be a taboo subject’ – a personal account of recurrent miscarriage, in conversation with Jacqui Hunt
Jacqui Hunt has had eight, painful miscarriages. The earliest was at around 9 weeks pregnancy, the latest at 20 weeks. She spent years trying for children and emotionally, went through a lot of it alone. Jacqui found people struggled to talk to her about what she was going through and still thinks we don’t hear enough conversations about miscarriage. So, she is telling her story in the hope it becomes less of a taboo topic. She wants women who have experienced miscarriage to feel empowered to share their own stories (whether that’s very openly or just with someone close to them) and for others to understand how important it is to listen.
Jacqui Hunt is the health and safety manager for a housing association where she has worked for around two years. She manages a team of three, made up of a principal designer, a health and safety advisor and a health and safety technician. Prior to joining the housing association, she spent nine years working within health & safety at the Ministry of Defense. She has also worked in food manufacturing and heavy engineering and holds a NEBOSH diploma and NEBOSH environmental diploma.
This interview is part of a series for Women in Health and Safety. As a member of the committee my goal is to amplify the voices of women in the profession. Some of the topics covered affect women more than men. Some are deeply personal. It’s my belief that we bring our whole selves to work and therefore should be able to talk about all sorts of issues that affect us, day-to-day, in a work setting.
Two things have struck me throughout this series. 1) We all have so much in common. 2) People are often very willing to open up, if they’re given a safe opportunity to do so with someone who is willing to listen without judgement. So, my hope is that issues discussed in this series resonate with readers, perhaps making some feel less alone, perhaps even giving some the confidence to share their own stories. I also hope readers will be encouraged to check in on colleagues, talk about the whole selves we bring to work and be there to listen.
Read more from this Women in Health & Safety interview series.
First miscarriage – 20 weeks pregnant
I first got involved in health and safety in 1993. And my history with miscarriage stems right back to that time as well. I got married in 1992 and fell pregnant very quickly. Sadly, we lost that baby, which I know was a little boy, when I was about 20 weeks pregnant.
I was sitting an exam at the time I realized I was starting to miscarry. I was taken into hospital and that experience is probably the worst experience of my life. I was 23 years old, and I didn’t know what was happening to me.
Because I was 20 weeks, I had to go through an induced labor, with morphine and injections to actually get me to a position where I was able to give birth to a dead child. It was horrendous. Even now, years later, it brings back really horrible memories.
Didn’t know how common it was
I was told one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage; they now say 1 in 4. So effectively every other woman you see on the street has miscarried. But at that time, I knew of nobody who had had a miscarriage. As I told people what had happened to me, I was gob smacked to find out that actually it had happened to a lot of women close to me. People just don’t talk about it – it’s been a completely taboo subject.
Anyway, my husband and I were told it wasn’t unusual. We were told ‘you’re young, you’re healthy, just go and try again’. And we did.
Second, third and fourth miscarriages
I had my second miscarriage around 18 months later, followed by a third miscarriage. By that time, I was getting quite angry because I didn’t know why it was happening. There was a feeling of dread that this was all I was ever going to experience. Emotionally I couldn’t deal with it.
The response I got from the medical professionals at the time was not to worry about it, just keep trying. But I thought ‘no, I can’t keep doing this’. It takes an emotional toll every time it happens.
On my fourth pregnancy, when I suspected I was starting to miscarry again I called my GP and he came out to the house. He didn’t examine me, he just sat down next to me asked me what I thought was happening. He rang the hospital and my D&C was arranged. And my GP told me to be more forceful with the hospital consultants and tell them I needed to find out what was going on.
Pushing for an explanation
I was more forceful, and I saw a doctor, Doctor Ben, who promised they would find out why it was happening. He assured me they would take everything they needed from the D&C to investigate it. But then my follow up appointment was with a consultant who was old school and very dismissive. I told him what had happened, and that Doctor Ben had said they’d taken all necessary blood tests and biopsies for testing. And he said ‘No, no. Those tests wouldn’t be done yet.’ I pushed him and said ‘yes, they should have been, I checked when I was in D&C recovery’. So, he went to check and eventually called me and my husband back into his room and said ‘you’re correct, the samples were sent off. And what I can tell you is you’re showing signs of antiphospholipid antibody syndrome, which is an autoimmune condition’ (also known as Hughes syndrome).
The way I explain it, is my own immune system is attacking the fetus when I’m pregnant, as if it’s a foreign body. So, I’m over producing an immune response, resulting in blood clotting, which starves the fetus in the womb.
It’s part of the lupus genome. Lots of people have lupus, where they have parts of their body that gets attacked by their own blood cells. And that’s effectively what was happening to me, each time I was pregnant.
Trying again, with medication
After the diagnosis we took a few months to decide what we wanted to do next, because the opportunity for me to have a normal pregnancy was quite remote. However, we wanted to try again. So, we did, and it was with a regime of taking aspirin, which makes your blood less sticky, and a daily self-injection of warfarin, which makes your blood thinner.
It didn’t work, I miscarried again.
We kept trying and I used hormone pessaries to try to increase my hormones. All in all, by the time I got to the early 2000s I’d been pregnant seven times and miscarried seven times. In each of the pregnancies my body would react more quickly to the fact that was pregnant. So, in my first pregnancy I was 20 weeks when I miscarried. With the seventh one, I was about nine weeks.
Surrogacy, adoption, and marriage break-up
My youngest sister never wanted children and she offered to be a surrogate for me. But by that time, my marriage was going downhill, and the last thing I wanted was to put that pressure on as well.
My husband and I also looked at adoption. And it was when we were talking to adoption agencies that it really cemented for me that my marriage wasn’t going to survive. So, I stopped that process.
He couldn’t find a way to talk to me about everything that was happening. We tried Relate marriage counselling, but we couldn’t find a way forward and we separated.
New relationship and more options
I met somebody else and remarried. (We’re celebrating our 16th wedding anniversary this year.) He already had children, and after his last child was born, he had a vasectomy. So, the chances of us having a family were pretty remote. However, we talked about it he agreed to have a reversal.
I got pregnant again. But it ended in miscarriage. That pregnancy was described as not viable though, which was probably due to his vasectomy reversal.
After my eighth miscarriage the consultant said we could get involved in trials – there are two specialist hospitals, one in Liverpool, one in London, that do research into the condition I have. However, we knew all of our appointments (and there would have been a lot of them) would be held in London or Liverpool (and we are based in the South West). We discussed it and that would have been a huge imposition on our lives. We decided not to go through with the trials and I’ve not been pregnant again since.
So, I’ve had eight miscarriages in my life, no children and a career instead. I was able to put time and effort into my qualifications and build everything around me as a substitute.
Accepting life without children
I’ve had to deal with other people in my family having children and that’s ok. I can have kids around me, and it doesn’t stop me loving children. Recently my youngest stepdaughter has had her first child, a little boy, which has brought joy to the whole family. For me though, I’ve just had to accept I won’t have my own.
I have toyed with the idea of fostering as I’ve got a bit older. But it would be difficult for my husband because of his family situation. If I was on my own, I would probably foster but because of my relationship I won’t.
I ask myself if there’s anything I could have done differently, and the answer is ‘no’. I did everything I possibly could. I went through a very, very hard time for many years, trying to have a family. It just didn’t happen for me. I’ve accepted that now, but it doesn’t mean I don’t still get emotional about it.
Working full time throughout
From a very personal perspective, I was dealing with it on my own most of the time. I didn’t have any form of counselling apart from a few Relate marriage counselling sessions and I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it. Family and friends found it difficult to talk to me.
The way that I dealt with it was throwing myself into work. I worked full time throughout. I’d have around a week off after each miscarriage just to get over the physical side of it. And I did all my NEBOSH qualifications at that time too.
Being open with colleagues
People at work knew what I was going through. I’ve never been one to not to talk about it. When I’d come back into work following a miscarriage people would ask ‘Are you okay?’ And I’d say ‘No, I’m not okay. But I’m dealing with it’. And sometimes we’d go for a coffee and chat.
Because I found that nobody really talked about miscarriage, I made a conscious decision that if someone asked me, I would be completely upfront. If that empowers somebody else to turn around and say to me, ‘yes, I’ve been through the same, but I didn’t have the courage to tell anybody’ or ‘I felt that it wasn’t a subject that we could talk about’ that’s a good thing.
I’ve worked in a lot of male-orientated businesses. But that hasn’t stopped me being open and frank with my line manager or male colleagues. They’ve got wives, girlfriends, daughters, sisters etc. And if I can be honest about why I’ve had time off work, they could be more understanding if women close to them are ever in the same situation.
Best way to support colleagues
If you work with someone who has had a miscarriage, my advice is give them space. Not everybody is like me, not everyone wants to talk about it. Give them time. But give them your time too.
Someone who would just say to me, ‘let’s go and have a cup of tea’ would mean a lot. I just needed someone to listen to me. And just say ‘Yes, it’s shit. It’s hard. And there’s nothing that we can do’.
And it doesn’t have to be a female work colleague, either. I sometimes found it easier to talk to men, because they wouldn’t have their own story to compare mine with.
What I hope comes out of this interview
The whole reason for me doing this interview is that if someone has read my story, as hard as it is, and feels empowered to talk about their own, or find someone that will listen, that’s what I want.
This should not be a taboo subject. It affects too many people and too many families. If anybody reads this story and it makes them think, actually I need to talk to somebody, please just reach out. I will talk to anybody about miscarriage because I just think there’s not enough one-on-one help out there. We still don’t talk about it enough. We still don’t hear about it. And we should because it affects every other woman on the street.
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Read more from this Women in Health & Safety interview series.
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