In honour of Baby Loss Awareness Week, I’d like to share a post which I wrote over a year ago but never published. I drafted it a week after I lost my first baby because I felt that people who haven’t experienced a miscarriage don’t know enough about it. Until it happened to me, I had no idea what women have to go through after that little heart stops beating and I thought it was something that should be talked about more widely. I didn’t publish it at the time as I’m aware that my family, friends and colleagues read this blog and didn’t want them to worry, feel guilty or feel like they had to talk to me about it. I’ve decided to publish it now as over the last few months I have become more aware of people talking more freely about their experiences and I feel able to join this conversation. So here’s the post, in full and unedited.
You try for a baby for a few months. Each time your period is a couple of days late, you get your hopes up, thinking this is it. Then, one day, you realise you’re late but you haven’t had a chance to pick up a test. A week later you manage to pick one up. You wait for the longest two minutes of your life and can’t quite believe it when you see that beautiful cross in the window. You’re pregnant! But what happens when it doesn’t work out?
I found out I was pregnant on a Saturday, got it confirmed by my GP on the Monday and by the Thursday I was in the Early Pregnancy Unit having an emergency scan. I had some light bleeding and to be on the safe side I went for an internal scan. It turned out the bleeding was nothing to be worried about (side effects of the cervical erosion I had the previous year – the things us women have to go through!) but they had issues finding something on the scan. I have the pleasure of irregular periods, so the initial theory was that I may have been earlier in the pregnancy than already predicted (about four weeks). Cue blood tests and more scans to rule out an ectopic pregnancy.
Over the course of the next month, I had a total of seven hospital appointments, the final being an operation to empty my womb. It was the most nerve-wracking and stressful month of my life. By the time I had my third scan, there was a heartbeat. I was so excited to finally find out that my baby was growing in the right place, but I was warned that it was a lot smaller than expected. The sonographer told me that at that stage, she expected an embryo of approximately 14mm and mine was just 1.1mm. I had to go back a week later to see if it had grown. It had. To 4mm. But somewhere along the way its little heart had stopped beating. I couldn’t believe it. For the past three weeks I had been suffering with unbearable morning sickness, heaving my guts up two or three times a day and battling constant nausea during every waking moment. How could its heart have stopped beating if I still felt pregnant?
The sonographer doled out the expected apologies and told me to get dressed so we could discuss what happens next. We had already booked and paid for a long weekend away, for which we were due to leave in a few hours. I was determined to still go – it was likely to be the only holiday we could afford for the year and I didn’t want the weekend to be remembered as The One Where I Lost Our Baby. The nurse sensitively explained that I had a decision to make. I could wait to miscarry naturally, which could take up to a couple of weeks, I could take some tablets to kickstart it, or I could come in to have it done surgically, either with local or general anesthetic. I didn’t have to decide then and there. I could still go away as planned and call with the decision when I get home. But how the hell do you make that kind of decision?! During the scan, I didn’t even think about what happened next. The fact that what is inside you has to come out is something that is too much to comprehend.
It turned out that it only took an hour or two for me to make my decision. When the nurse explained how a ‘natural’ miscarriage worked, that it’s heavier and more painful than a normal period, and is like a mini labour, I realised that the best option for me would be to go to sleep and wake up with it all over. But that wasn’t all I had to deal with. In the six days between finding out and the surgery, I still had morning sickness. And I went on holiday, walking around with a dead baby inside of me. It felt so unfair that I still felt pregnant when the little person I had helped create was no longer living inside of me. Not only that, when I went for my pre-op assessment the day before the surgery, I had another big decision to make – what did I want to do with the fetus and pregnancy tissue? I could have a group cremation, a single cremation, or take it home in a box and bury it in my garden!
I couldn’t believe that I didn’t realise what was involved when a woman has an ‘early’ miscarriage. A friend of mine had miscarried a couple of years before at around four months, and what she went through then broke my heart – having to go through labour, expressing milk afterwards, etc. But I had no idea just how traumatic it would be losing a baby at eight weeks. When my pregnancy was confirmed by my GP, I was warned that not all pregnancies make it through to the 12 week scan and it was just one of those things that happened. If I were to bleed, let them know and they would send me for a scan. But I didn’t bleed – at least not when the baby’s heart had stopped beating. And I didn’t know that when you have your miscarriage dealt with by ‘surgical evacuation’ that they literally suck the fetus and pregnancy tissue out of you and dispose of it. And the morning sickness issues I was having? That could last a further week after surgery as it takes a few days for the pregnancy hormones to leave your system.
I opted for the group cremation – at least then my baby wouldn’t be alone – but it didn’t occur to me until after I woke up from the surgery that I didn’t ask what happened to the ashes. A lovely nurse rang around for me to find out and it turned out that they went in a baby memorial garden. I liked that idea – that the babies had somewhere beautiful to go. I just couldn’t help feeling guilty, like I’d picked the easy way out by choosing to go to sleep and wake up as if nothing had happened, and then sent what was left of my baby off alone.
The whole time I was fighting the urge to be sick at the start of the pregnancy, I vowed to myself and my boyfriend that I wouldn’t be doing this again. One baby would be enough. The constant vomiting and nausea was more than I could handle. But now that my first pregnancy didn’t make it to full term, I’m willing to try again. I want to be a mother. I want to raise a family with the man I love more than anything in the world. My biggest fear was that the same thing could happen again. There was a poster in the examination room where I had my four scans which declared that one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. One in four! That’s a lot of heartbreak in the world. But there is a strong chance that if you had an unsuccessful first pregnancy that you’ll have a happier outcome the second time around.
It’s now a week since my surgery and, until I started writing this article, I am able to think about what I’ve been through without having to bite my bottom lip to keep it from quivering. After a miscarriage, you can bleed for up to three weeks and your periods should return after up to six weeks, but then you’re medically fit to try again. Me? I’m going to spend these next few weeks eating all of my favourite foods without throwing them straight back up afterwards and treasuring the time I get to spend with my boyfriend on our own. He has been a total rock throughout these difficult few weeks and, if it’s possible, I love him more now than ever before. And it makes me more determined to bring a new life or two into this world with him. Sure, it’s scary not knowing what’s going to happen, but sometimes you’ve just got to take a leap of faith.
You can find out more about Baby Loss Awareness Week and how you can get involved on the Baby Loss website.