Monday, 10 October 2011

M - Miscarriage

This week (commencing the 10th of October) Mumsnet is launching its Campaign for Better Miscarriage Care This is not just about making sure all women are taken through a code of care  if experiencing a miscarriage  (which in itself is vital), but also about breaking the taboo - talking about something that we normally gloss over; taking it out of from under the carpet and letting it breath in the open. This post and many others will be linked up across several blogs this week via MmeLindor's site.

At first, I wondered if this was the right place to share my story. My blogged encyclopaedia seemed so light hearted for such a strong and sensitive topic. But, it is such a massive part of my journey into Motherhood I felt it belonged on here.

In the space of 5 months, between mine and my partner's family, we lost 5 babies through miscarriage - one of them was ours.

By my calculations I was eight weeks pregnant, I had my sample confirmed by the doctor and had a few weeks to wait before my first midwife appointment. We were unbearably excited, we had been trying to concieve for 9 months and the long build up had started to spread doubts about our fertility. But the blue cross on the white stick had told us another story; we were going to have a baby. We only told close family, you know, because that's "what you do".

You cannot underestimate the attachment you make to your unborn child in those first few weeks. And for the woman, not one minute of the waking day goes by without being aware that a baby is growing inside your womb; the sickness that lingers in the pit of your stomach, the slightest movements which trigger your tender breasts to throb and the tiredness, like a drug, willing you to sleep.

I was at a country pub, enjoying dinner with a colleague when it happened. All through the meal I was desperate to tell her, unable to focus on the conversation or food. But will power gripped me and I held it in. When we had both finished I went to the bathroom. There was a moment, before I looked down, when I knew it was there: the blood. It's a sight, as a woman, we are so accustomed to; the spotting of blood on your underwear, the start of a period - it's a monthly ritual. But for a pregnant woman it is a chilling vision that snaps the breath from your lungs. Red. Warning. Danger.

I held my head in my hands, got myself together, cleaned myself up, pulled on a mask  and headed back to the table. I smiled. We paid the bill. I said goodbye. I drove home. Crying. Or trying not to. When I got in I told my partner, we rang the doctors and he booked us in for a scan at the hospital the next day. Then the pains started, and my body told me again, something wasn't right.

Neither of us slept well. I woke early, a wave of nausea passed over me and the tenderness in my breasts throbbed as I rolled over. Then I remembered what I had to do today and I started to prepare myself for bad news. I'd rang my line manager the night before, but I still had to go through the correct system for calling in sick.  I had to ring a stranger and tell them the reason I couldn't come into work. I wasn't going to lie, why should I? But my voice broke on the phone and I couldn't say the words out loud. I passed the phone to my partner who finished the call.

I don't remember the time of the scan, but I know we had a long, painful wait throughout the day. When we arrived at the hospital, at the entrance to the women's and children’s unit, two heavily pregnant woman were stood in dressing gowns, smoking. I couldn't even look at them. "How come they get to keep theirs?"  I asked my partner, tears burning against my eye sockets. "It's so unfair."

We sat in the same waiting room as healthy pregnant woman, brandishing a range of bumps and blue folders. "Do you have your blue notes?" a midwife asked me. I shook my head; I hadn't got that far.

In a small room with a bed, chair and scanning machine, we waited for a midwife. She came in, introduced herself and took us through the procedure. There were a thousand questions to answer about the bleed and the pains I had felt. Then she said "let’s have a look," I lay on the bed, she squirted cold gel on my stomach which caused goosebumps to flutter under my skin.  I watched her carefully turn the monitor away from us, unsure of what she was going to find.

A couple of minutes later, she said she had found a pregnancy sack, but it was too small to see if there was a heartbeat. This would suggest I was less than eight weeks pregnant. Not a good sign. She had to do an internal inspection with an internal scanner.

As she prodded inside me, with what can only be described as a long, pencil-thin dildo, my partner squeezed my hand, unsure of where to look. Once again the results were inconclusive. They talked me through the size of the sack and that they were concerned that it could be a sign that there was an ectopic pregnancy. At this point, I'm sure they were aware that the pregnancy had failed, but nobody told me that, instead I was scurried off into a small room with two chairs in in (in another life the room could have been used as a cupboard). They tested my urine sample, took blood tests and left us there, as they were snowed under, as midwives often are.

We sat through a shift change and a new midwife came to see us. She explained my urine sample still showed up with a pregnancy hormone, and the same pregnancy hormone was present in my blood, but I had to wait 24 hours to have my blood tests done again. This would show if the hormone had increased (suggesting a healthy pregnancy) or dropped (pregnancy failed). But in the meantime I was told of the signs to watch out for in case it was ectopic and had to make sure I was not on my own during the next 24 hours.

24 hours later I went to the same waiting room, sat amongst bumps and blue folders and had my bloods taken. I was talked through the ectopic symptoms again and sent away, being told someone would ring me.

That afternoon they telephoned me to tell me the hormone level had stayed the same. An outcome not expected "What does that mean? “I asked.
“It means we still need to monitor you in case it is an ectopic pregnancy and you need to come back for blood tests tomorrow and seek medical advice immediately if you show any of the other symptoms.” Hours later, I was in agony writhing on the sofa.  My sister rang the hospital. She wanted to know what we were to do. What was to happen next?

"Does she realise the pregnancy has failed?" the midwife asked.
"I think she has worked that out for herself. But it's nice for someone to finally confirm it."
"Tell her to take some paracetamol and call us back if she runs a temperature or has any pain in her shoulder".

The third blood tests showed a fall in the hormone. I was told to be prepared for a very heavy period, a lot of cramping and sent away.

Now my baby, in medical terms, may have only been a sack of cells that stopped growing at less than 6 weeks, but in my head I had been eight weeks pregnant. For the last three and half weeks I had been a Mum and now I wasn't.

I took a couple of days off work, got drunk over the weekend and went back to work on the Monday. On the following Wednesday, the school held an open evening. It was the last thing I felt like doing, but all staff were expected to stay and I didn't want to play the "miscarriage" card. Some colleagues knew, some didn't. Everyone was sympathetic smiles, but no words. "What do you say?"

It was at this open evening I passed my baby. I had been bleeding heavily since my last visit to the hospital. I had three roped year 7 girls into helping me get the classroom ready and show school work to prospective parents. As we were setting up the classroom, I felt sickening cramps in my lower belly and shooting pains up my back. I went into my classroom cupboard. Closed the door.  Crouched down. Held my fist in mymouth to stop me screaming and felt something pass out of me.

I headed straight for the school toilets where I flushed it away. I sat silently weeping for a few minutes then took a deep breath, cleaned myself up, pulled on a mask and went back to the open evening.

Two days later I was sat in the staff room at break time. I felt faint, nauseous and breathless. "I don't feel well," I announced from nowhere, standing up. "I need to ring the hospital" I said heading to the office phone. I tried to dial the number I head memorised, but tears pounded against my glasses and I couldn't see the keys. "I can't remember the number" I said turning to a silent room. Tears flooding from my eyes. A friend led me out, got someone to cover my classes, gave me a drink of water and then told me I needed to go home. She offered to give me a lift or ring someone, but I was adamant I could drive. As I walked across the car park the tears were rolling into my hair, down my top, dripping from my nose. I had no control over them. I got into my car, put my head into the steering wheel and wailed.

At home I was alone; an unfortunate afternoon when everyone in my support network was unavailable. I rang my partner's school and sobbed down the phone to the secretary. He was home within the hour. But it felt like much longer. I sat on the stairs howling; uncontrollable wails and groans left my body. This was my first experience of unexpected loss and the grief that follows. It's dirty hands held me in their grasp. My partner found me there and I sobbed into his shoulder that I wanted our baby back. "Me too" he wept "Me too".

My experience was mixed; positives and negatives arose from the hospital treatment. But nobody had prepared me for the emotional impact and when it hit me, it left me broken. Part of the biggest problem is that I felt I had to carry on as normal. That a miscarriage was hushed over, so I pushed the emotions deep inside. But everything surfaces at some point and it's about time Miscarriage was allowed to, in whatever form it comes, from whatever source. It is not something that should be hidden or masked. 25% pregnancies end in a miscarriage. This is happening to women every day and the support and care provided needs to be addressed, but equally, as a society it is something we need to cope with better.

Today, I have two boys and am seven months pregnant with my third. My first pregnancy after the miscarriage was not straightforward either. I had a bleed at eight weeks and was scanned and saw my first tiny heartbeat. Then, at 13 weeks I woke in the middle of night and instinctively felt that the sheets beneath me were wet. I switched on the light to discover it was blood. We went straight to the hospital; it was the early hours of Saturday morning. We were sent away because they don't have sonographers on duty over the weekend and were given an appointment for the following Monday evening. Not knowing just meant I relived the miscarriage for every second of that weekend. Fortunately, Monday arrived with good news and the rest of the pregnancy went smoothly.

But this isn't always the case. I have been lucky enough to go on and have children. The miscarriage and its pain has faded. But the experience will never be forgotten. Five years later, I was surprised how familiar it felt to write about it. How the tears burned the same way as before.  How the grief was raw and harrowing. How, 5 years ago, it consumed me; the emptiness, the loss. Each of my following pregnancies have started with the same way, with the same angst, the same worry, the same grip of fear. Knowing that there is 25% chance that I'll have to go through it again. Fortunately, I haven't. But other women have.Still are Today. Tomorrow. And what care and support will they receive? What will be the reaction from the health service? From society? From themselves? How can they be prepared to deal with something that is never spoken about? How can any of us?


  1. A very moving post. I can't believe they sent you home when bleeding at 13 weeks the wait until the Monday must have been awful.

  2. Thank you. I know, that weekend was horrific. I always remember my partner saying "If it was Victoria Beckham I'm sure they'd find a bloody sonographer" at which point I replied "I don't think she does NHS" But he was right. Doctors are trained to use the scanners too.

  3. You're right. Miscarriage shouldn't be masked and not spoken about. It's as though, when you've had a live baby, it sort of cancels the others out: which in a way, it does, but that loss is still there, and it's still part of you, as you've so eloquently said.

  4. Thank you Jane. A few years later, when I was teaching a GCSE class the poem "On my First sonne" I tried to get them to emotionally engage with the father's grief at losing a child. Unexpectanatly, I found myself disclosing I had a miscarriage and how the grief I had felt had consumed me and made me feel I was being punished for wanting the baby too much - like Ben Jonson says 'my sinne was too much hope for thee'. They were stunned and a little uncomfortable. I immediatley questioned myself: had I gone too far? Was that inappropriate? But As I looked round the room at 30 teenage faces I thought, well statistics say that a third of you in this room are likely to suffer a miscarriage. Someone's got to talk about it. That night I was unable to sleep - worried that I would have a parental complaint waiting for me in the morning. Ridiculous huh?

  5. No, I don't think it was ridiculous, but I absolutely identify with what you felt. When we did the NCT Miscarriage issue in our branch, we did it in fear and trepidation. Most of the comments were positive, but some alas weren't. Someone's got to talk about it. You're right. I think you did absolutely the right thing for those teenagers.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.