It’s one of those things you aren’t supposed to talk about, isn’t it? “Wait until your first ultrasound scan at 12 weeks to announce, that way you don’t have to tell anyone if you lose the baby.” It’s one of those great, unspoken secrets that so many of us experience, and yet we speak of it in hushed tones–if we speak of it at all.
Well, today I reached a meaningful personal milestone, so I’m going to talk about it–social taboo or not. I’ll come back to the milestone later, because it has a lot to do with where I’m at now in this journey, but I need to share my story first for it to be understood. This will likely be one of my most personal posts, so bear with me.
In some ways, I imagine I was supposed to feel lucky. I hadn’t realised I was pregnant. We certainly weren’t planning on another baby. I wasn’t even sure if my body could handle another pregnancy. When I hadn’t had a period, I took a home pregnancy test, but it came back negative, so I didn’t think more of it, and I’d had what I thought was a light period just after that. So when I started piling on weight, was exhausted and was having odd neurological and GI symptoms getting stronger, I started to worry. That started a stream of tests. Thyroid, B12, diabetes, hormones, really anything the doctor could think of, but everything came back as normal. Obviously there was one thing the doctor didn’t check.
Then came October 26th. I had been having what I believed to be a period for eight days. My husband was in Cardiff on business, and I was home alone with my girls. I went to the kitchen to prepare breakfast, when suddenly something gushed. I felt wetness in my clothes. Huh? I had just put in a tampon? This . . . can’t . . be! My world slowed to a crawl but I ran. I only just made it to the toilet as my extra pad filled too. I could barely think. I didn’t dare move. The only sounds around me were my breathing and my children, playing on the other side of the closed door. I needed to do something, but couldn’t think what, so I sat there wiping over and over as they played innocently, watching the blood that was now pouring out of me.
Finally I called NHS Direct and explained what was happening, that my children were alone with me, and I didn’t know what to do. They sent an ambulance. I sat there trying to clear my head, while my children played and tapped on the door, then my mind finally cleared enough to realise I better prepare them that somebody was coming so they wouldn’t be afraid when paramedics rushed in. I managed to get hold of my next-door neighbours, who took the girls over to their house.
I was transported to the Royal Gwent Hospital, accident and emergency unit. I’d never been in an ambulance before. Everything seemed hazy during that ride, until I suddenly realized that I hadn’t thought to flush the toilet in the rush out. You wouldn’t think that was important, but in that moment, it dawned on me that the sight of all that blood would be what greeted my husband, who had abandoned work with my call. I grieved that I might add to the emotional burden of that day. I know it wasn’t fair to put that on myself, but it’s what was running through my hazy mind in the ambulance nonetheless.
At the hospital, as they drew a blood sample to run tests, I told the triage nurse that something didn’t feel right, and the next thing I knew I was slumped over the side of a wheelchair. I woke up uncertain of what had happened. There were many voices around me, but I thought there had only been one nurse. It took me a while to realise I had fainted and others had run to ensure I was safe. They moved me into a bed in a private room. They had asked if I could be pregnant, I had to acknowledge it must be possible, but told them that I really did not believe I was, or even that I could be, pregnant.
Later, my nurse returned and sat down with me. My blood test results were back. I was pregnant. I was being transferred to the early pregnancy unit for assessment where they could tell me what was happening. My nurse sat with me while I stammered in confusion. “If it were me, I’d want to know now, not wait.” It was a moment of tender kindness that I’m still thankful for. I love good nurses.
Somehow, in that moment though, I wanted nothing more than that little baby I hadn’t even known was there.
There was still no way to be certain that I had miscarried. I kept reliving an experience when I was driving across the United States in 1992 with a young couple expecting their first baby. I could still hear clearly in my mind, the moment she had screamed in horror “pull over!” then rolled over and I saw her seat was covered in blood. We rushed her across empty Nebraska plains at 100 miles an hour to a Wyoming border hospital, assuming the worst, but that baby had miraculously survived. Maybe that was happening to me now? That could be me too, right?
And then came the waiting. My hormone levels were low enough that they didn’t feel they’d see the baby in an ultrasound, so I had no choice but to wait and retest my blood levels another day to see if the pregnancy hormones dropped instead of rising. It was torture. In my heart of hearts, I knew I had most likely lost the baby, but there was this bit of hope, that recurring scream in my ear from Nebraska and the memory of holding that healthy child six months later . . . and this overwhelming longing to have my own baby with me six months later, to know my baby would be alright, to hold him in my arms, to kiss her tiny cheeks.
I was in hospital overnight. I had spent most of it grateful for the quiet space to think and sometimes cry in. Thankful for a moment that my little girls weren’t jumping up to play while I just didn’t have it in me to give back to them. I kept speaking regularly with my husband through the phone. We had talked about it and our girls were frightened and needed someone. We thought hard about it, but decided to have him stay with them. The coming days after he brought me home were full of emotions and exhaustion.
One point that is often not talked about with miscarriage is that it impacts men too. Somehow it was comforting to me in the coming days when my husband also broke down in tears and just held me. He was suffering grief too, and while I had a number of people who knew what was happening reaching out to me, I’m not sure people recognize that men can also be deeply impacted, even if they don’t go through the physical side of things. I think the helplessness of it must be immense sometimes. I’m thankful for him being there with me. We both processed our loss in different ways and in different time, but it was no less real for him. I will never forget the sound of him crying out the day we got the word back from the hospital that the test results had shown we had indeed lost the baby. His grief pierced my own heart that day.
Eventually my mood stabilized some, and I had no choice but to move back in to my normal life, even though I kept randomly bursting into tears for a while. My children still needed me. I was grateful for church friends who brought a couple days worth of meals (and some flowers) so we didn’t have to worry about cooking for a few days. Even though I knew the statistics, I was surprised, after I told close friends and family of our loss, how many shared that they had also had miscarriages, and offered sympathy for our family. I’m glad I didn’t keep it a total secret as some do. Although I’m so glad everyone hadn’t known I was pregnant, forcing me to keep telling people over and over that I’d lost the baby. From that side, I guess I can somewhat understand the whole cultural “wait until 12 weeks” thing.
However, the moments that helped me start to feel tender healing came as a few friends put their arms around me, not expecting me to push my feelings aside. One friend sat silently by my side while our children played at a Halloween party a few days later. Slowly she began telling me some of how she felt following her own miscarriage. What she shared echoed my own feelings in so many ways. We spoke of thinking we weren’t having any more children, but then suddenly the news of the pregnancy leaving my heart open and longing for one more, and the confusion that brought. We spoke of sadness, of loss. I cried with my husband when I needed to grieve. I shared with these women when I needed understanding. There are some things only women can share.
My friend also carefully confided that another woman we knew had also miscarried the same weekend as I did. Someone must have told her about my loss too, because when I approached her tentatively a few weeks later, I simply said that I understood we had shared an experience recently. She nodded, and we didn’t need to say more to be understood. In the coming weeks, we would see each other periodically and if we got a quiet moment, we’d ask “how are you doing, really?” Both cautious, both raw, but those moments helped some.
What I wasn’t prepared for was how long the physical process carried on for. Despite the heavy blood loss that day, I kept bleeding for the remainder of the month, enough so that I kept having to go in for follow-ups, just to be told everything looked okay in cervical exams. When it finally stopped, the bleeding started again a week later and went on for another month, then it stopped for a week again and started up for yet another three weeks. One week after that, I had yet another 1.5 week long ‘period,’ so they finally decided I needed to be scanned after all and scheduled an appointment for that.
During one of the early visits, I remember a nurse muttering, “why do you keep getting dragged back to the hospital? It’s hard enough without having to keep coming here! Surely there’s a less-intrusive way like going to the G.P. for a blood test rather than an exam in hospital,” but I didn’t want to be transferred to G.P. care. I had this inexplicable doubt that I was done with the miscarriage. While doctors kept telling me, “yes, it can sometimes go on for a while, but this is probably just a heavy first period after your miscarriage,” One doctor had said something about finishing the process and “being able to draw a line under it.” I knew somehow they were wrong. The bleeding that just didn’t seem to end made that fear more palpable.
It felt like the ultimate betrayal of my body. First loss, then three months of bleeding. When I wanted to try to return to some degree of normalcy, it was cruel to have this ongoing reminder that my body had failed somehow.
I had my scan in January, and later that week I suddenly passed something one morning. With one look, I knew it was the baby–about an inch long, not well-formed, but with a little cord trailing from the middle section. I showed it to my husband, who immediately gasped and recognized what I was holding.
I called the early pregnancy unit that had been treating me through the process, and said I hadn’t received the letter yet saying the results of the scan, but that I needed to know what it said. As I explained myself on the phone, my emotions at suddenly and unexpectedly being thrown back into my miscarriage came back with force, and I couldn’t help but begin to cry. I was told that the scan had been that of a “perfectly normal, post-miscarriage woman” and there was no evidence that I had anything remaining.
But this was wrong! It had to be the baby! (I’m not calling it “foetus,”–just feels too impersonal), something that big would have shown up on the scan, she replied and suggested I see a therapist for grief counselling. I assured her that as a therapist myself, I had access to counselling resources and would avail myself of what was needed, but could she not understand that after feeling I had been moving forward, it was traumatic to suddenly pass what I believed to be my baby with no warning and to then call the hospital ten minutes later and have to verbalize what was happening in an impersonal call? Could she not see that my emotion was a natural response? She suggested I call my G.P. for help. She didn’t feel it was necessary for the unit to do anything further. It was clear that she was uncomfortable with my emotions, and she possibly didn’t believe me.
I did ring my G.P. He was sensitive and took time to talk to me about my concerns. He said that he probably wouldn’t be able to tell us in a glance if this was a foetus or not, but that he would be happy to have the hospital lab do an analysis for us, if we wanted to.
But my husband and I talked about it, and agreed. We didn’t want to send it off to some impersonal lab to be cut apart and analysed. Believing it was indeed our baby provided great comfort to us both. We had gone through three months of being told that the body had probably been too small to see in my clots, which meant it had either been flushed or binned. Better the comfort of finishing instead with something we could honour and lay to rest together. It brought us much more peace, so we chose a beautiful, small, carved wooden box and buried her with a patch of deep blue flowers above her.
I now believe I was further along than had been indicated in that first blood test. While my hormone levels had led them to believe that I was approximately five or six weeks along, I had been bleeding for a week before that, so I don’t really know at what point those levels began to drop. I wish I had been given a scan in the beginning, even if it had shown nothing, just to be certain. My body changes and weight gain were certainly further than I’d have expected at that point. In fact, when I told my closer friends that I had miscarried, the majority of them confided that they had already figured out that I must be expecting by my appearance, but had waited to say something until I decided to share our news. I don’t harbour bad feelings towards those early decisions to not subject me to more tests though. I was treated with kindness and caring by most of the professionals I worked with.
My one resentment was that call to the unit after I passed the baby’s remains. My bleeding and cycles immediately returned to normal after that day, allowing me to move forward again. That change reinforced that something was different now. Shortly after that conversation though, I received the results letter from the hospital unit. It stated that my scan had shown that something was still there, and asked for me to undergo further testing. Reading that took my breath away. Clearly whatever report the nurse had read while she was on the phone was not the same one this letter referred to. It was a blatant error while my heart was already aching, and I’m still astounded that she made it. She was trying to be sensitive, but remembering what felt like her politely questioning my emotional stability as she told me I was wrong and that everything in the scan was “perfectly normal” still burns.
So, I mentioned reaching an important milestone today, and I want to share it, because it is interwoven so closely with my memories of this day, but the process of remembering has turned into more than I anticipated, and I have treasured going back through these memories. Part II is the story of struggling with my body image and loss, and working through that process in a way that changed everything for me–bringing me now to this journey I’m sharing in my blog. It’s all an integral part of who I am now, so please return, and I’ll link here to that continued story when I finish it.
Yesterday I noticed my husband standing for some time in the garden, looking at those Senetti deep blue flowers we planted. He stayed there in silence, then came in and quietly asked if I’d realized that had I carried the baby to term, we’d be due to have her around now. Maybe that’s part of what has driven me to remember and share my experience. I know to some my experience was a common clinical one, but to us, it was a life, and it was precious. I remember my father, speaking of the miscarriages he and my mother experienced. He told me that the bit that was lost wouldn’t ever really go away, there would always be an empty place in my heart when I remembered these days, but the pressing ache would change. It was one of the condolences that had the most meaning to me. It gave me permission to grieve and hurt. It helped me remember to honour my husband’s loss too, and it helped me know this process would change me, but I wouldn’t want it another way. This life still had meaning and purpose for me. So today, I honour her.