I suffered a miscarriage
So many of us have but we never seem to talk about it. So I thought I’d share my story.
“I’m sorry, your baby doesn’t have a heartbeat.”
I didn’t really react. I heard Andrew gasp in shock. The sonographer was holding my hand and looking at me to make sure I was ok, Andrew was holding my other hand, very, very tightly. “It’s very common in the first trimester for babies not to develop a heartbeat. You’ll need to see your GP or midwife as soon as possible to discuss the next steps, I’ll write a report for you to make it easier. Do you understand?” I think I nodded. She was very kind. The only thing I said was a quiet “no, thank you” when she offered us the pictures of our baby from the ultrasound.
We left. I used the bathroom to clean up the last of the ultrasound jelly. We walked to the car. We sat down. And fell apart.
We found out we were pregnant at the beginning of September, in Eindhoven, 20 minutes before Andrew was due to get on a bus to go and speak at a conference. I’d been due my period around that time and was feeling especially hormonal and under the weather. Andrew was very perceptive of my mood and symptoms and he sneaked off in the early hours to a 24-hour-pharmacy to pick up a pregnancy test. When I woke up he handed me the test and said “I think you might be pregnant”. I laughed and said I really didn’t think I was but fine, sure, I’ll pee on a stick. I was feeling like I had a cold coming on and just wanted to get back into bed and sleep. I peed on the stick, handed it back to him and crawled back under the covers. Andrew was making coffee and kept glancing at the stick. He brought me a glass of orange juice and said I needed the vitamin C with a weird look on his face. He glanced at the stick again and his face changed.
“What? What does it say? I’m not pregnant, am I. I didn’t think I was.” He gave me the test stick without saying anything.
I was pregnant. We were pregnant. We were going to have a baby. I didn’t believe it. I kept looking at him, then at the test, and back again. “It can’t be true! It can’t be true!” I was crying with happiness, inconsolably, by this point and Andrew put his arms round me, laughing, and hugged me.
“We’re going to have a baby” he said.
Married for 9 years, together for fifteen, I’d assumed for a long time that we’d probably never conceive naturally as we have an uncommon sub-fertility issue. In January of this year we’d started along the long road of fertility investigations and potential treatment. Which is in itself a whole other painful and difficult story that I won’t go into here.
I’d always said to myself that it would be fine if we never had children. We’d be fine. We have a strong relationship, we love each other very much, we have lots of friends and two loving and supportive families, our life is pretty much exactly what I’d always dreamed it would be. We didn’t need children.
I think I was trying to convince myself.
We want to have children. Especially as we’re getting older. And when most of our friends have families now. And when another pregnancy announcement appears on Facebook. And when we see a new family in the street and see the way the baby is looking up at its parents. When we see pictures of friends on Facebook with rapidly developing bumps. When we visit our nephews and niece. We want all of that.
I was resigned to the fact that we probably never would have that. Not naturally anyway. And it hurt. It hurt so much. It still does. But I’ve learned to live with it. Have a little cry every once in awhile and then carry on.
I’d been preparing myself for a mythical pregnancy since we were first seen at the fertility clinic in January. Taking daily folic acid and a preconception vitamin, cutting out caffeine, drinking alcohol rarely, exercising regularly, reducing medication that I’d been on long-term that might cause birth defects were I to conceive.
When I became pregnant and we’d returned from Eindhoven, all of this carried on but took on a heightened meaning. I wasn’t just looking after myself now, but a tiny human growing inside of me.
I had back ache. I was sick. I had cramps. I was sick. I didn’t get periods — yay! I was sick. My boobs really, really hurt. I was very sick.
I was pregnant.
We told our families, and a handful of friends. Everyone was SO excited. More so than I was. It was strange. I think I’d believed for so long that this would never happen, that my head still believed that it wasn’t really happening, it was all a trick. And then there were the stats. 1 in 4–5 pregnancies result in miscarriage. They’re not massively great odds, and I’m a bit of a worrier at the best of times. I felt that I couldn’t relax into the pregnancy until I’d at least seen the baby on a screen and that everything was developing as it should. So we booked an early reassurance scan for when I was just over 9 weeks pregnant.
Our baby died at 8 weeks and 2 days.
The baby didn’t miscarry naturally. I had what is known as a ‘missed miscarriage’ where you only find out that the pregnancy is ‘nonviable’ when you have a scan. Our GP booked us an appointment with the Gynaecology Assessment Unit at the local hospital, and after a second scan to confirm the miscarriage, we had three options available to us. Wait, and see if I miscarried naturally; have a medicine induced miscarriage where I took tablets and within a few hours start to miscarry; or surgical management where I’d be put to sleep and a surgeon removes everything, the recovery time is said to be quick. It was already ten days since the baby had died by this point so they were pretty sure I wasn’t going to miscarry naturally, so there were two options remaining to us, both of which were pretty awful. The medicine option could be very painful, very traumatic and the bleeding and pain could be very severe and last up to three weeks, but I could be at home. But there was the risk that I’d see the baby, and also that my body wouldn’t pass all of the pregnancy tissue, so I’d need surgery anyway.
So we opted for surgery.
The day of the surgery was the second most terrifying day of my life (the first was when Andrew nearly died in a cycling accident a few years ago). I was so scared my hands were shaking all day. The medical team I was under were incredible though, and really made every effort to keep me calm and well informed of everything that was going to happen.
After my anaesthetist, Sarah, had been to see me to explain what would happen, I remember apologising to Andrew for any annoying future behaviour after the surgery were I to have a stroke whilst under the anaesthetic. Just in case.
After waiting all morning and most of the afternoon for my surgery, I was taken to theatre at about 4pm. I’d been given tablets earlier to relax my cervix that were making me feel sick and giving me awful cramps. The top of my hand had been numbed in preparation for the cannula. But there was nothing anyone could give me to take the fear away.
Andrew kissed me and I was wheeled away on a bed. I wished he could have come with me.
The theatre was different to how I’d imagined it. Smaller, more cluttered, not as shiny as the rooms I’d seen on House. To be expected I guess! My anaesthetist was there with her team, and they were so very kind to me, kept me talking, trying to take my mind off what was happening. The cannula was put into my hand and Sarah gave me something to relax me, which really helped. The last thing I remember was her putting an oxygen mask over my face and asking me to take a few deep breaths.
When I woke up on the recovery ward, it was in fits and starts. I was in a lot of pain. There was some blood. There was a nurse sitting next to me holding my hand and saying my name and explaining where I was and who she was. The first thing I said to her was “I wanted my baby so much” and started crying. She stroked my head with tears in her eyes and said that she knew I did. I think I drifted off again.
I cried when I saw Andrew. I cried when I went to the bathroom and I was bleeding. I cried when I said goodbye to my nurse, Nikki. I cried on the way home. I cried when I got home. I cried for three days.
I was in physical pain for a while and bled (heavily at first then lightly) for about two weeks following the surgery. The emotional pain was unlike anything I’d ever known in my life. It was different to depression, of which I’ve had more than my fair share. This was white hot grief, that spilled hot tears most days. At first I thought it was the idea of a baby that we were grieving for, the future that we’d started planning, the child the baby was going to be.
But there was a moment where I realised that it wasn’t that at all. I was in the supermarket, going through the motions, picking up a few things for dinner, and thought I’d look and see if there was anything there that might be suitable for my friend’s little girl for Christmas. I wandered through the toy section and found myself in the children’s clothes section. I picked up a tiny pair of red velvet dolly shoes, like the old fashioned Mary Janes, and something inside me broke. I had to leave quickly before I fell apart. I sat in the car, sobbing, and I realised I was grieving for my baby, not an idea of a baby, but my baby, that I’d seen with my own eyes on a screen. I’d seen him/her and they had died and I’d never get them back.
It’s slowly getting easier.
The physical symptoms post-surgery have gone now, finally. It took a full three weeks for them to settle completely, and my body thought it was still pregnant for a couple of weeks, as I still had pregnancy hormones running rampant. I still get the odd cramp and a tiny bit of blood if I over-exert myself or if we go for a walk and I walk for too long.
The emotional side of things is a different story. It’s been 4 weeks since my surgery, and I’m still not able to speak about the miscarriage without crying, and I’ve cried everyday since it happened. It’s not the first thing I think of when I wake up anymore, but it’s always there, and hits me out of nowhere. I find myself reliving the ultrasound when we found out, or waking up from surgery and realising that the baby was gone.
The hardest thing for me was the realisation that the world carries on turning, that life simply carries on. I haven’t looked at Facebook in about 4 weeks, I just can’t face it yet. Pictures of children, babies, pregnancy announcements — it’s like picking at a wound that hasn’t had time to heal. A real physical pain deep in my chest, a huge weight that slows me down, red swollen eyes from crying. It hurts all over and inside of me.
We’ve found that because nobody really talks about miscarriage, it’s hard to know what to expect when it happens. We decided that if anyone asks us about it, we’ll talk about it. It’s not a secret to be kept hidden. It’s very real, very painful, and very common. Once the shock has subsided, what you’re left with is grief. And as with all grief, it doesn’t get less painful or any easier when you think about it, but you gradually think about it less often.
I have a tiny oak tree that has grown from an acorn I found this time last year. A friend suggested that I plant something in memory of the baby, and I think this little tree will be it. May it grow strong and tall.