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Misunderstandings of Miscarriage (MuM) film a labour of love for Caringbah's Tahyna MacManus

Miscarriage support: Filmmaker Tahnya MacManus says she was ill-prepared for the guilt and shame that comes with pregnancy loss, and wants to make the road easier for other women. Picture: Chris Lane
Miscarriage support: Filmmaker Tahnya MacManus says she was ill-prepared for the guilt and shame that comes with pregnancy loss, and wants to make the road easier for other women. Picture: Chris Lane

Caringbah-based filmmaker Tahyna MacManus has drawn on her own heartbreaking experiences of miscarriage in her first documentary film.

Misunderstandings of Miscarriage (MuM) debuts on Stan next month to coincide with Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.

Described as an intimate journey into the "physical, emotional and psychological impacts of miscarriage", it features interviews with actors Claire Holt, Teresa Palmer and Deborra-Lee Furness, everyday Australians, and experts in the field of miscarriage and pregnancy loss support.

The documentary also emphasises the role of professionals and organisations in helping remove the guilt and shame often felt by women following a miscarriage.

Filming it was a labour of love for MacManus (nee Tozzi), a former model and actress turned director and filmmaker, who suffered her first miscarriage in 2015.

Living in Los Angeles at the time with husband Tristan, now the host of Studio 10 and a judge on Dancing with the Stars, thousands of kilometres from their families in Australia and Ireland, their joy at expecting their first child was short lived.

"I woke up and went to the bathroom and started bleeding everywhere," she said.

"Tristan rushed me to a medical centre and a scan, and the sonographer said 'There is nothing there'."

In pain and distressed, MacManus was advised to "go home and take a Panadol". She was stunned by the lack of information or support.

"I was given nothing. No literature. There was no support from the sonographer. She left the room and that was it," she said.

"I went home and for days after I just felt broken. It was like the pregnancy had never happened."

MacManus turned to the internet and social media. She was shocked to find she was not alone - in fact one in four pregnancies end in miscarrage, yet it was hardly spoken about.

"I was so naive," she said.

The couple went on to have daughter Echo in 2016. But when it came time to expand their family in 2018, they were in for more heartbreak. When MacManus went for her 12-week scan she was told there was no heartbeat.

In the weeks that followed, she urged Tristan to start filming her. At the time, she thought a video diary could help with her grief and maybe one day help others.

She mentioned the videos to her film production partner, who encouraged her to explore the idea.

She said it "started snowballing" and soon she was speaking with family and friends, and to Tristan, which made her realise the pain partners go through as a result of miscarriage.

"I took my camera and started to film with Tristan," she said. "Then I filmed a close friend. Then I started to think 'if I could find enough women maybe we could weave their stories together'."

Misunderstandings of Miscarriage: The official trailer for the documentary.

She put out a call through social media for people willing to share their stories and was overwhelmed by the response, not just from those wanting to take part but others who simply thanked her for "lifting the lid" about miscarriage.

She said editing the film was a "mammoth task", made more difficult by the fact she wanted to honour the women who had shared "the most traumatic experience" of their lives with her.

MacManus went on to suffer a third miscarriage before falling pregnant again, with son Oisin, now one.

She said the work being done by organisations such as The Pink Elephants Support Network was important in raising awareness of miscarriage and making women feel more supported.

While the medical profession often used clinical terms for early pregnancies, this did not align with how women felt after they miscarried.

"To them it is not just a group of cells. It's your baby and you are allowed to grieve that," she said, adding she hoped the documentary normalised pregnancy loss and brought about further change.

"I don't know what this film will do yet. I am waiting to see. But I do hope it starts a conversation," she said.

"My video diaries turned into a documentary film. For me, it was a coping mechanism. It was part of healing and honouring that loss."

Details: Misunderstandings of Miscarriage will premiere Thursday, October 1, 2020, on Stan.