It Wasn’t Meant To Be — Miscarriage and Aftermath
Trigger warning — graphic discussion about pregnancy loss
11:00 a.m., Tuesday morning. Preparing for a client to come in for a therapy session, a hot wave rushes over me, followed by what I thought was the most intense period pain I’d ever experienced in my life. Having already changed tampons five times that morning, I go back into the restroom at work (which is, funnily enough, a restored convent) to see how much further damage had been done to my underwear. I sit on the plastic toilet cover seat, careful to not make a mess of the shared lavatories, when I suddenly feel it. The pain. The mass passing. The organs inside my body I’d never felt before, simultaneously contracting to expel this bloody mess from my body. I look into the toilet bowl, with one hand covering my eyes with enough space through the fingers so I could see what just came out of me. The once-white porcelain was now a deep red, with a solid mass in the centre. Horrified, I let out a quick cry, changed tampons and went back to work.
It is five months earlier. My partner and I had decided earlier in the week to remove my contraceptive implant. “We’re financially secure, we own multiple properties, we’re settled in our current locations, maternity and paternity leave is offered by both of our employers — we’re ready”, we told ourselves. We tell our families that we are going to start trying — we are both the eldest in our respective generations, so our parents are thrilled at the prospect of having the first set of grandchildren soon to be on the way. Suddenly, there is anticipation, there is expectation, there is pressure.
I am lying on the surgical bed in the doctor’s office, waiting for the incision to remove the hormonal rod from my arm. I tell the doctor we are excited, we are ready to start trying. We are 29 and 30 — the perfect age, we have convinced ourselves. The doctor looks at me with a mixture of delight and concern — “just remember”, she says. “It may take time to become pregnant. It probably won’t happen straight away”. Nodding in understanding, I rush home and excitedly tell my partner that we need to begin trying straight away. We both let out childish giggles at the thought.
The doctor’s advice went right over my head. After the first week, I bought a box of pregnancy tests and had my heart sink when the results came back as “negative”. I look back on this and laugh — how is it, that at 29 and well-educated, I knew absolutely nothing about a woman’s reproductive cycle and ovulation? Regardless, we keep trying.
We try until I become so disheartened by the entire process, that we stop “trying”. We stop scheduling sex, and just continue with our pre- “trying” routine. I stop buying pregnancy tests, and let out a sigh when my monthly period arrives. I comment to my partner that, since removing my contraceptive implant, my flow is lighter, more like spotting. He says “okay”, as though he even understands slightly what I am talking about. He does not, for he is even more clueless about reproduction than I am. I ask him if he’s noticed my breasts growing even more — already a large 12F/G cup, they swell to an even greater size. He says “I don’t know”, and I reside myself to the fact that coming off contraception after years of being on it is having an even greater impact on my body than I had anticipated.
I concede that, perhaps, the doctor was right. Perhaps it would take a while for my body to accept a pregnancy. Never mind, I tell myself. I continue playing a contact sport, I continue drinking and socialising with friends. I learn about ovulation and reproductive cycles in further detail, but ignore the advice on “when” to have sex, and enjoy intimacy with my partner on our whims. In other words, I continue living my life, and do not let “trying” consume me.
It is the Saturday before that Tuesday. I am at a sporting tournament with my roller derby team. My light spotting becomes heavier, and I ask my team-mate for a tampon. She laughs and says “you’re the fourth girl on our team that has her period right now! We must be syncing”. I laugh, and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with being in an all-women’s sporting team. We can talk about periods. We can talk about bizarre body functions. We go out to play the round-robin tournament, and then have a training session afterwards.
I begin to feel sharp pains in what I think is my abdomen. The team-mate who gave me the tampon looks at me with concern, and asks “are you okay?”. I tell her I am just experiencing bad period pain, but that I’ll continue training — I am taught from a young age that this is all part of being a woman, and that we are stronger than the lining of our uterus shedding. The pain immediately becomes so unbearable that I have no choice but to sit out — to do otherwise would cause injury risk to my friends, as I feel no control over my lower body during these agonising pangs. I look at my team, and feel a sense of failure come over me. I begin to cry. My friends come to console me, but I cannot give them a reason that I am so emotional. “Fucking periods”, I tell them. “It sucks being a woman”.
2:00 p.m., Tuesday afternoon. The pain is so overwhelming that I cannot stay at work. I tell my boss that I have to go to the doctor, fearing that I have endometriosis (thank you, Google doctor). The doctor, the same woman who took out my implant, agrees to see me immediately. She asks “could you be pregnant?”, the first time this question has been asked. I tell her, shocked, “I….I don’t know”. She administers a pregnancy urine test. I lie on the same surgical bed that I had my contraception removed on. She asks me to remove my underwear for an examination — I am embarrassed, as I lay there bleeding on the layers of towel she has placed underneath me. I don’t know which was worse at that point — my body failing me, or the feeling of shame that I could have been pregnant and did not know. The doctor looks at the pH stick which was processing. “I’m sorry”, she tells me. “You were pregnant, and I think you’ve had a miscarriage”.
She gives me space to call my partner. He doesn’t answer his phone. A workaholic, I learn over the years of our relationship that I am not to expect him to answer the phone while he is on the job. I text and email him, with the subject “YOU NEED TO CALL ME THIS IS FUCKING IMPORTANT”. He calls exactly four minutes later — “What’s wrong?” He asks. I tell him “I had a miscarriage. You need to come here now”. I can hear the confusion and disbelief in his silence. He finally speaks, and says “how could this happen? I’m coming right away”. I hang up, get back on the surgical bed, and cry. I cry for my stupidity in not knowing I was pregnant. I cry for the pain I felt. I cry because I finally had what I wanted — and now it was gone. I cry because I have a doctor’s entire hand in my reproductive system and it hurts. I cry because I have no fucking idea what to do.
5:00 p.m., Tuesday evening. I am lying, waiting for an ultrasound to confirm that I had expelled all fetal remains. I was quietly confident that I had, judging by what I witnessed in the work bathroom earlier in the day. The radiography worker coats what looks like a giant dildo in what looks like an even more giant condom, and inserts it into me. The discomfort I feel is nothing compared to the embarrassment that washes over me, as I apologise to her and ask her to not judge me for the amount of blood I am producing. She reassures me this is normal. My partner is with me the entire time, holding my hand. I am grateful for this when the worker tells us “there are no fetal remains left”. We both cry, letting out fat tears. We reflect on this afterwards, and cannot understand why — we didn’t even know I was pregnant. How could we feel something for that which was non-existent? I ask the sonographer if she can tell me how far along I was. She explains that she cannot be certain, but from the state of my reproductive organs, I was “about three months”.
All of a sudden, the spotting made sense. My breasts swelling. My increased libido. My ferocious appetite. It was all coming into place. I continue to cry, angry with myself for not coming to this conclusion earlier. We go home, and I begin the painful process of telling family and those closest to me. The disbelief continued.
Over the next few days, I begin to take stock of the last three months and ask what I did to cause this. The self-blame is strong — I drank too much. I played too much roller derby. I didn’t eat well enough. How could I be so stupid to not know my body was going through this? My doctor calls me to check up. I tell her I am okay, but she insists I come in and speak to her. I go in, and immediately blurt everything out. She look at me with sadness in her eyes. She tells me that she, too, has experienced miscarriage, that approximately one in four women do. I tell her that I know this — I am a therapist and have worked with women who have experienced pregnancy and infant loss. I’m not an idiot. She reminds me that it’s different when you go through it than it is to empathise with someone. I tell her about my guilt — that I caused this with my lifestyle choices. She tells me that this is not the case — that, while it was probably a chromosomal abnormality, we will never know exactly what caused my miscarriage, but that it was not my fault. This is what I have told women so many times as a counsellor. She tells me to take time and let my body recover, to not start trying again for a while. I tell her okay.
Family and friends are supportive. So many of them tell me “I went through the same thing”. Others tell me “it wasn’t meant to be”. Some words were more helpful than others, but all came from a place of love, care and a wish that it hadn’t happened. After time has passed, I begin to wonder why I didn’t know that my friends and loved ones had experienced this pain. I am informed that “nobody talks about it”, and “if it’s sooner than three months, people don’t consider it the loss of a child”. I find this, frankly, absurd. This is a time where a woman feels isolated and needs more support. Why is it so taboo to talk about?
This is why I am sharing my experience. Because I have the platform to. Because I am one of the over 30% of women who will experience a miscarriage or infant loss. Because I know the pain, I know the guilt, and I know the stigma associated with it.