In the UK, 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage. This means most of us will know someone - a friend, colleague or loved one - who has to cope with the heartbreak and devastation it causes. Miscarriage is by far the biggest cause of pregnancy loss and currently, there are no universal screening tests and few treatments to prevent it. It’s also the least understood by both medical science and society,
We were delighted when the EastEnders team got in contact to discuss Whitney’s storyline, not just from a medical perspective, but also to understand the emotional devastation miscarriage can cause and how Whitney and Lee are feeling. TV is good at brushing miscarriage off very efficiently, it’s been really heartening that the research and writing teams have been so sensitive and honest about the topic!
One of the main aspects we consulted on were the early signs of movement Whitney felt while she was still pregnant, which she describes as a ‘fluttery feeling’. Most women feel their baby move from 16 weeks onwards, so while at only 14 weeks pregnant, these feelings were early, it’s a vital public health message to encourage women to monitor and recognise their own babies’ pattern of movement. We also advised for Whitney and Lee not to use a home doppler as they can give false reassurance and we were concerned that including this in the storyline may normalise it.
After the traumatic events of the miscarriage, Whitney and Lee are keen to understand how and why it happened, but no conclusive or definitive answer can be given. Unfortunately, this is true for so many parents-to-be, who like Whitney and Lee, are often told ‘it’s just one of those things’ and receive no answers when it happens. However, the reality is that with more research, babies’ lives could be saved. Current health guidelines mean a couple need to endure three miscarriages before they see a specialist. At Tommy’s, we think things need to change; our CEO, Jane Brewin, says:
“It is not acceptable to a couple through this much suffering and uncertainty. We would like to see an immediate reduction to two and ultimately our aim is that every miscarriage is taken seriously and thoroughly investigated.”
By funding medical research, we aim to break the silence and halve the number of miscarriages by 2030.
The silence that surrounds miscarriage makes it difficult for women to be open about the wide range of reactions that they might be experiencing. Silence creates an implicit assumption that all women feel the same - but there are a wide range of deep feelings and experiences. Miscarriage is still such a silenced, taboo subject. We know from the women we speak to many harbour unexpressed feelings of failure, anger, shame, confusion, isolation, guilt and even depression and Post Traumatic Stress.
Our #misCOURAGE campaign (which started with a poll of over 5,500 women) found that 85% of people said they didn’t think people understood what they had gone through and 79% felt like a failure after losing a pregnancy. The Tommy’s Book of #misCOURAGE is now a permanent digital home for the hundreds of stories that women continue to share with us every day about their personal miscarriage experiences. It is the UK’s first archive of miscarriage stories, providing comfort and support for thousands of women as well as giving a voice to this unspoken issue. Working with EastEnders, such a high profile platform, to sensitively show the trauma surrounding miscarriage is just another brilliant step forwards to start breaking the silence, funding more research and saving babies’s lives.
Earlier this year, Tommy’s opened the country’s first national research centre dedicated to early miscarriage. A partnership of three universities and their affiliated NHS trusts, the centre runs specialist clinics enabling 24,000 women per year to participate in Tommy’s research studies, alongside their treatment. This national networkseeks to understand why miscarriage happens, if it is likely to happen again and how toprevent it. Tommy’s is also investing in research to better support women and their families following a miscarriage.
Suffering a miscarriage can be a very sad, scary or lonely experience. If you’ve been affected by Whitney and Lee’s story, or have experienced miscarriage, please visit our website and see our #misCOURAGE campaign or call our free PregnancyLine where Tommy’s midwives can speak with you on 0800 0147 800 which is open 9-5, Monday to Friday.
Do you want to see the videos that we released in tandem with this episode of EastEnders? Watch our videos that touch on the issues raised by this story line and show real people who've suffered miscarriage talk about their experiences.