I had a miscarriage. I never thought I’d say those words. I never thought I’d have a need for them. After 15 (count ’em!) years of unexplained but very barren childlessness, without a sniff of a pregnancy, ever – I never thought that my first pregnancy would also become my first miscarriage.
At the age of 37 I joined a club that nobody wants to join.
15 May 2015: 12 of my slow-growing and stubborn eggs were harvested.
20 May 2015: Of my 6 fertilised eggs, 3 made it to day 3, and only one little hope-baby made it to day 5 transfer. I got straight on a train out of town to work 18 hour days on my horrible project.
18 June 2015: We saw our little blob’s heartbeat on the ultrasound at week 7.
25 June 2015: At our follow up ultrasound we started to have doubts because our baby didn’t seem to have grown. This was followed by the longest week of my life where I slowly dialled down my hope until the next scan.
2 July 2015: We were told at our second follow up that there was no heartbeat. I would lose the baby.
It gets worse
When your pregnancy isn’t viable, you learn a whole lot more stuff that you never wanted to know. The small insults, as I call them, started as soon as I stopped being a “blessed pregnant woman” (who seem generally to be treated fantastically by everyone in the world and also seem to be everywhere when you’re losing a pregnancy) and turned into a “missed miscarriage”.
The name missed miscarriage is an insult in itself. There was nothing missed about my miscarriage. When we found out that our baby was dead, even if he (or she, but we always thought of Pizza Baby as he) was “just a ball of cells” – we were on Day 84 of a long, hopeful, heartfelt process of IVF. We were – we thought – nearing the end of our “infertility journey” (another trip nobody wants to go on). We had been going through appointments, injections and waiting and hoping for three months and all the lead in to that… We’d been waiting and hoping for a lot longer than that.
There are three choices (or “choices” as I call them) when you find out your pregnancy isn’t going to continue.
- Let it happen naturally. In theory your body will miscarry naturally. This could take anything up to four weeks. Apparently it’s “like a heavy period”. (More on that later, for those of you with strong stomachs.)
- Drug induced miscarriage. This is similar to a natural miscarriage but you’re given drugs in hospital to induce your body to miscarry. It hurries the process along, so to speak.
- Surgical intervention. This is the attractively named Evacuation of the Retained Products of Conception (ERPC) under local or general anaesthetic in hospital.
There is more explanation of the options we are offered in the UK here. I’m a pretty un-squeamish person and I don’t have an issue with injections, operations or anaesthetic as I’ve had plenty of them. When I’d thought through all the options, I decided I wanted to go for option 3. I was booked in for this to happen the following week. I didn’t have much expectation that anything would happen naturally as I’d had no symptoms like bleeding or pain prior to the final doom-laden ultrasound.
Plus I had a cake to make. (I know, it sounds flippant… but trying to maintain a sense of hope and concentrating on things I like to do, like making cakes, is pretty much what has kept me sane during this whole awful experience.) I had a challenge from a friend for a milestone birthday themed around Dr Who (something I never watch myself… it’s not my thing) and themed around the episode where the doctor meets Van Gogh in the famous Starry Night painting. Now, I don’t want to link up my other accounts to this one because I find a certain amount of comfort in a little bit of anonymity… but if you want to see the cake, have a look on Instagram for starrynight and drwho cakes. It was a big job but I was pleased with how it turned out!
I wore a new dress to the party on Saturday night, and I felt like my stomach was really swollen when I tried to put on the dress. Fortunately it was a kind of 50s style dress which is quite forgiving – I’m never usually into retro because I think it’s a bit weird when you’re ethnic, but I love nautical stuff… it looked like this (though I look different!). The bit at the top is tight but stretchy and I felt a bit uncomfortable, like my stomach was all swollen up. This was a warning sign.
Fortunately, my body managed to hold up throughout the party. We didn’t tell anyone about the baby. I kind of tried to revel in being the cake artist (and the birthday boy thanked me in front of everyone, and I got a round of applause and everyone kept telling me how great the cakes were) so that took my mind off it a bit, and I drank bubbly (though didn’t get drunk) and had a nice time catching up with people. I’d been avoiding people and social occasions for a long time because I didn’t want to have to make excuses not to drink whilst I was pregnant, so it was just nice to try and act normal for a bit. Even though I knew my baby was dead inside of me.
They tell you that a natural miscarriage is “like a heavy period”. It isn’t.
Unfortunately for my best laid plans, I was asleep in bed having got back late on Saturday night/Sunday morning, when I woke up with stomach cramps. They got worse and worse, and I figured that it was most probably happening naturally.
If you don’t want to read the ugly truth then look away now.
I wanted to do a post on what a miscarriage is actually like. Because one of the worst parts of this experience is that I felt I was given hardly any information on what might happen and what it might feel like. At the EGU we had a brief chat with a foreign nurse who didn’t seem that interested and certainly didn’t recommend anything. During which chat we were in the “grief room” (signs on door saying Strictly no entry) when someone came bursting in carrying their lunch. It just wasn’t a sensitive kind of delivery, really, and the very basic leaflet we were given certainly didn’t give much of an idea of what a natural miscarriage might be like.
It was awful. It still is awful, and it’s now Thursday and this started in the early hours of Sunday morning. Just so you know, if anyone ever tells you that it’s “like a heavy period”, that is b*llocks.
I have heavy periods. My periods are so awful and heavy that sometimes I wonder how I can lose that much blood and be in that much pain every month. They are so bad that if I ever manage to have a baby, my next op will be to whip the whole lot out because I don’t want to have to go through that every month. Sometimes I have to work from home because I go through the most absorbent “protection” in less than an hour and it’s the worst feeling to be trying to be all corporate and cool-as-a-cucumber in an office whilst running to the bathroom every half an hour.
A miscarriage is not like a heavy period.
Unless you usually have contractions during a period. That’s right – it’s another small insult that my rubbish, not fit-for-purpose womb decided to have contractions to try and flush out the remains of my baby. They tell you that you should only use pads, which I never usually use, so that’s a whole nasty experience in itself. I usually don’t feel everything coming out of me… In this situation I had contractions, which were painful and horrible, and then I’d sit on the toilet and stuff would just gush out of me.
I have a low pain threshold at the best of times. The worst part, or one of the worst parts, was when I felt what must have been the pregnancy sac coming out of me. It felt big, and it was partly a relief and partly a big sadness. I’d already been told that they wouldn’t do any testing on the products evacuated during the operation (“because you did IVF” – apparently they almost expect it to go wrong – another small insult), so I didn’t try and save anything. I just flushed the toilet.
I flushed my baby down the toilet.
I know – he wasn’t a baby. A gestational sac. A heartbeat, vanished. By ultrasound estimations he stopped growing at 6 weeks, 3 days. I miscarried at 9 weeks, 3 days. Our little Pizza Baby.
The first time. Because here’s another thing they don’t tell you: you kind of think if it happens, it happens and then it’s done. But it isn’t. I carried on bleeding – not much, but enough to feel bad about it. I felt hugely tired, even though I couldn’t move far for a few days and have spent more time in bed and dozing than I usually do in a month, so by rights I should be full of energy. The first day, Sunday, I couldn’t even move out of bed apart from to hobble to the bathroom… bleed a bit… go back to bed.
Another small insult: I missed Dog’s starring role in the local dog show. Something I’d been looking forward to for weeks. A small joy (because there are some): He won two rosettes, for Most Handsome Hound and Best Fancy Dress. (T is anti-fancy dress, but he took him to the dog show anyway because I asked him to. Dog came third in both categories, which is pretty fantastic considering he’s a cross-breed and rather badly behaved at the best of times. Of course, to me he is definitely the most handsome hound, but I’m fine with them letting the other dogs have their glory because we all know Dog is best.) I was just kind of delirious throughout Sunday, but happy when T came back with Dog and put his two rosettes by the side of my bed.
On Monday I went to the Emergency Gynaecology Unit and they confirmed that I had miscarried by doing another internal scan (the last thing you want to do when you are bleeding… man, I could do a whole post on the awful EGU but suffice to say that they seem to employ the least sympathetic people on reception, considering you’re going through what must be one of the most traumatic experiences in your life). The scan showed there was still some blood and clots and whatnot left inside and they said I would probably pass those over time. I had to come back in two weeks to confirm that the miscarriage had completed. They advised against the operation due to risks of perforating the uterus (more good news!). I was sent home again. To wait. Because we haven’t done enough waiting…
Not before I had to go and get signed off by the doctor. It feels like every part of miscarrying is like another small insult… Having to explain to the receptionist at the GP that you need a sick note is another one. They generally want you to explain what you want in front of everyone in reception. The good news is that they do have sympathetic doctors when you actually get to see one. (At my surgery you have to get up early and go and queue up at the crack of dawn to get an on-the-day doctor’s appointment – they do walk ins too, which is good, but they can’t give you a sick note.) Another small insult: My work called me today to demand the sick note. Because they couldn’t possibly wait until I return to work. It’s not like I work all the hours G-d sends for them – they need me to account for my time off sick before I’m even back to work. They literally called all my phones… I didn’t even give them my personal number so who knows how they got hold of that.
After the horror of Sunday, on Monday and Tuesday it got gradually better and I could go for short walks. I took Dog round the block. Small joys: dogs, or my Dog in particular. It’s hard to be sad all the time when you have an expressive little face looking up at you (usually looking for food) and a small body that likes to snuggle. I’m lucky with that; at least when T’s at work I still have Dog. On Wednesday I thought that the bleeding was tailing off, but Wednesday night I got hit by such an attack of pain that T was contemplating calling an ambulance. I was lying on the bed, crying (well – wailing) and Dog was sitting guarding me and I was just in so much pain… My stomach was all swollen up again. And the bleeding restarted.
But you know what else hurts?
The idea that we won’t have a baby after all.
The small insults continue: Having to send back my NHS maternity exemption card, the card I really wanted that finally came through, without ever getting to use it [for free prescriptions whilst you’re pregnant and until your child is 1]. The day after I miscarried, on Monday, a big fat letter arrived from the NHS saying Congratulations on your pregnancy! and presumably giving a date for my first midwife appointment. I couldn’t read it. I will only read that letter if one day I have a viable pregnancy. T said he would deal with both of them.
Everywhere there are babies. The worst of the small insults is the fact that the EGU – where I have to go to deal with my miscarriage – is right next to the neonatal unit. So you’re surrounded by pregnant women. Happy couples hauling newborns and visiting toddlers whilst you wait to confirm that your baby is dead. The nastiest receptionist I think I’ve ever come across – so brusque that he made me feel like I was a criminal just for trying to get an answer about cancelling my ERPC procedure, loudly saying “I’ve had every lunatic in London on the phone today” and other snarky comments within earshot of everyone in EGU reception – who’s presumably called him today. Aside from that, it seems like everywhere you look in London there’s a massive pregnant belly staring you in the face. Oh and all our friends who recently got married are pregnant and wanting us to go and celebrate with them. I don’t feel like celebrating.
My GP said if the pain/bleeding got any worse I should go back to the EGU and I said that I didn’t want to go back there if I could help it. I told him what happened at the EGU and he was sympathetic. He said I should make a complaint about the receptionist. I said I’m sure that most of the people waiting there didn’t even understand what he was saying. (We have a large non-English speaking community – I live in the 7th most deprived local authority in the UK.) He was really nice and when I explained about how unsympathetic my work is, he gave me a sick note without the word miscarriage on it. The sad fact and another small insult is: My work would consider that a reason to treat me badly. I can’t share this with people at work. They’d think I’d brought it on myself.
And that’s a huge sadness… The idea that I won’t be able to quit (/take a break from) my really hard, not-much-fun job at Christmas. We’d worked out that with a due date in February that I would be able with holiday to leave at Christmas. It would be amazing. Now, we’re making small joys for ourselves. We’ve booked our trip to Orlando in October. (We won’t come round on the IVF list until at least then, probably.) We’ll have another grown up Christmas and it won’t be our last grown up Christmas without a baby, because we still aren’t having a baby.
My nine positive pregnancy tests are hidden in a drawer. I shoved my Crinone gel to the back of the bathroom cabinet. The scans and the letters are carefully hidden in the pregnancy book that I never filled in, next to the pregnancy milestone cards I never took photos with. (I felt somehow superstitious… the first picture was due at 8 weeks pregnant, and that’s when we were told to come back for another scan in a week, so I didn’t take the picture.) I’m living in the one-size up jeans that I bought to contain the baby-trying-IVF-drugs weight, and I expect when I go back to work that I’ll wear a few stretchy dresses before I try and lose the weight. The other day I went and spent about a hundred quid on makeup to make myself feel chirpier.
I feel tired.
I feel alone. T has been lovely, but I don’t think he fully appreciates what it’s like. It’s not his body that’s going through the pain of expelling a pregnancy. Apart from when I was whimpering with pain last night, all he knows is that I’m a bit subdued and a bit sad. He’s concentrating more on the trying again. He wants to help, but he can’t help. My body has failed me, as it has for all the years before this. I just feel tired.
The thought of starting another cycle of IVF is horrific. The side effects, the drugs, and with the miscarriage still happening and the pain… The thought is just not something I can contemplate right now. Anyway, the waiting list at our hospital means it won’t happen for around six months. We are lucky that the NHS will give us another two chances. I know this… but right now I don’t feel lucky.
My sister-in-law is pregnant with her second child. I’ll have another little baby in the family. I found it really hard to deal with the first one – I was going through operations for my various problems, and a separation from my husband, and I didn’t deal with it well. I have been trying to be a better aunt, to spend time with them, to be happy for them. And they’re easily having another one. Everything comes easy to my brother. He’s never had a problem in his life. I don’t resent him for this [any more] but it just makes me sad that I find it so hard to share the joy.
I couldn’t face telling my siblings so I asked my mum to do it for me. When I first told my parents about the baby, they were so happy. And when I had to tell them it wasn’t looking good, they still had hope. And when I told them that our baby had died, my mother was crying so hard that she couldn’t even speak with me on the phone. The awful thing about miscarriage is that it’s not just our baby that’s died. It’s my parent’s grandchild. It’s my siblings’ nephew or niece. My folks Skyped my youngest brother who lives overseas and told him, and he started to cry. My brother, the man. That made it almost worse to hear that.
The small kindnesses: A big bucket of flowers arriving from my brother across the other side of the world. Another bouquet from my sister. The few friends I told are sympathetic, even if they don’t know what to say. I wanted to tell them because I wanted them to understand that I wasn’t being antisocial, that I’m going through something. T cooking me pancakes with bacon and maple syrup because that was the only thing I could think of that I felt like eating. One of the only partners at work who’s nice sending me a text message to see how I was, because he was worried about me. My mum insisting on transferring me some money so I can go for a massage and facial to try and cheer me up. Having days to watch terrible wedding programmes (my guilty pleasure) and other trash TV. All you guys, my blogfriends, posting messages of support on my last couple of posts. It means a lot, and I’m sorry it took me so long to write this. The last week I’ve just felt a bit like I couldn’t face talking to anyone.
I’m not the only one going through this, even if it feels like I am. There are lots of people who have to experience this, and worse. I said to T, if a quarter of men had miscarriages, I’m sure there would be all sorts of processes to deal with it. You wouldn’t have to put up with mean receptionists, horrible work people hassling you, and the pain of having to deal with it in your own home. There would be some kind of miscarriage spa retreat that would be paid for by the government and everyone would eat Magnums and drink champagne whilst having spa treatments to get over it, and when you got back to work after a two month holiday, you’d have been promoted.
I’ll be okay. I know I will. I have T, and I have Dog, and I’m a bit broken but I will heal. I just need some time. And chocolate, rosé and dog licks.