Mother to 3 year old daughter and 2 month old son.
I have been asked to write a little something about miscarriages, as I had two myself. A lot has been written about miscarriages, but it is still something that we don’t discuss much openly. This is surprising as recent findings suggest that a significant amount of women experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorders after such an event.
I met my partner late in life and when we decided we wanted children, we knew with our rational brain that it could be difficult, as we were both just over 35. You try all your life not to become pregnant and nothing quite prepares you for how actually complex it can be to become pregnant! After few months of ‘lets see what happens’ to then ‘ok lets have sex a bit more around this week’ to, ‘OK, I AM BOOKING YOU IN FOR SEX TONIGHT AND I MIGHT EVEN RAISE MY LEGS UP AFTER FOR FIFTEEN MINUTES TO ENCOURAGE YOUR LAZY TADPOLES TO SWIM IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION!’ we became pregnant with our first child and this pregnancy was actually pretty smooth and easy. I gave birth to our beautiful baby girl and she was perfect in every single way, minus a little defect of fabrication, which meant she had to undergo a life saving open heart surgery at three and a half months old. She is now well and living a very normal life, (if toddler stage can be normal in any way!)
Having gone through this and the irrational guilt of having done something that could have created her hole in her heart we decided to go for seconds… Nothing can be as hard as having to wait a few months for a surgery that may kill your child or spending a few nights in intensive care right? (Actually yes, as most children in the unit were in a much worst state than our little girl).
We decided that we would stop using protection and see what happened. Now this sounds vaguely familiar!! Anyhow, as it took us a year the first time we were thinking that it would take roughly the same time, if not longer, as we were few years older than during the first trial. Surprise surprise – (or shock horror) it worked the first time and I was pregnant without having still finished breastfeeding my baby girl. I was in Canada, my homeland, when we heard the news and after few days of thinking shhh**** we decided that we were so lucky it worked and started to get excited about the news. Anyhow, two weeks later, I started to have abdominal pain and bleed intensively. I knew I was no longer pregnant, but I was told it was important to go to the hospital to check that the baby was gone or it was not a rare complication of something more serious. Being no longer resident of the country, it was a logistical nightmare to be seen and in during the whole process no one mentioned miscarriage or asked me if I was alright. I was lucky to be surrounded by my family and old friends who were very supportive and my partner who is always very pragmatic about these things. Nevertheless, I was wondering if there was something wrong with me – one serious congenital heart problem and one miscarriage… It gets in your brain. All these things. I was born catholic.. We like the guilt…
I recovered quite well from this because I was not expecting to be pregnant so quickly, I already had a little girl, I knew I was pregnant for such a short period, the experience wasn’t very traumatic as I just bled heavily and I had lots of support around. These were the thoughts that made me get through it. Coping strategies they say. Milk the situation a psychologist colleague would say.
Come the second time around. Four months later I felt pregnant again! Happiness, happiness! I am a baby making machine! After three episodes, I know I am pregnant when I can hear my heartbeat at night and when my poo changes to rabbit poo. Sorry for the too much details but I have newly potty trained toddler so there is a lot of talk of bowel movements at present. Anyhow, confirmed pregnancy with the GP who tells me I am a bit early – yes mam I know what can happen, but at the time there was a logistic reason why I had to go to the GP at 6 weeks… All good, there is a big part of my brain which is terrified, but I am trying to use the rational part – I like this part – to remind me one day at a time, you are pregnant – it will be ok. Then after a very busy day I am sitting on the floor, folding clothes (the details one can remember), I feel something very wet coming down my leg and, on rushing to the toilet, a quite large amount of blood. Call my partner – it is happening again. Call the GP who was kind enough to see me urgently and reassure me that it may not have been a miscarriage and book me to my local early pregnancy unit. A few days later it is confirmed by a scan that at 7 weeks, there is a baby and a heartbeat and that the blood was a moderate size hematoma which was trying to get out. I am being told it is relatively common, mine is not small which is not the greatest news but we can just wait and see. I need to rest – how can you rest with a toddler – not lift the toddler – and try not to worry. So the big worry starts. First, I feel bad I thought the baby was already dead whilst he was kicking and alive. Second, I may have done too much. Third, why am I not able to produce a healthy baby? Did I mention the catholic guilt?
I am offered a randomised controlled trial with pessary that might help prevent another miscarriage. Every day, I have to put a pessary in the morning and evening, which may or may not be full of hormones. These are pretty messy and it feels like if my daughter and I are teaming against climate change with the number of sanitary napkins and nappy in our bins. More importantly, I am scared each and every single time I have to go to the loo. First mild post-traumatic stress symptom of this episode. I am scanned again the following week and the following week I get used to saying ‘Hi!’ to this little baby which seems to be growing normally, despite my haematoma, which seems not very good at getting smaller. The radiographer says that at nine weeks, and with his normal growth, the risk of having a miscarriage because of the haematoma is now similar to any other normal pregnancy. I start to relax and I also stop reading the internet for all things haematoma related.
Then one weekend, the last of the May Bank holiday, I started bleeding again. Spotting to start with, then abdominal pain and increasingly more blood. I have friends over for a BBQ. They both have a new born. There are babies everywhere when you struggle to make babies. I take my partner aside and mention the blood. The doctor told me I would certainly bleed again but I have a bad feeling about this. It is not the same, I have cramps, my poo is normal again (sorry). I have my normal 12 weeks scan appointment in five days. I decide to go to for an urgent scan at the early pregnancy walk-in unit. My partner can’t come as he has a very important meeting at work. I decide to go anyway because I am just going for reassurance right? What’s the worst that can happen? The worst case scenario is a miscarriage, and I have gone through one of those already. I am a resilient human being. The radiographer told me off for showing up as she told me to stop worrying two weeks ago. She starts the scan and goes silent. I work in the health system – did I say. I have to give bad news sometimes. Not as bad – mind you everything is relative, but still, I know the drill. I said, “The baby is dead, isn’t it.” She said, “I am ever so sorry.” She really is. She asks me if I want to see and I say yes. I know it is part of the grieving process (rational brain appearance again). She spends time with me, explaining the options, trying to answer questions to which we both know there are no answers. There are statistics and they are helpful until you realise you are on the wrong side of the statistics. We have lived this with my daughter, it is happening again.
A very warm midwife took me in a room – the crying room I think it is called, and explains the options again. I can have an intervention or let things go on their own. Less risks with the second option. I have given birth before, it is the preferred option – I go with the flow. I’ve done this before – unfortunately. I am numb. My partner rushes home to be with me. I take the tube crying. I bump into a patient of mine – Damn. At home everything feels numb and bleak. Rational brain is not helping. Partner is not helping. I feel so alone in this. I keep seeing my baby – like I have seen him so many times in the scan but not moving. His legs are up in the air, motionless. I can still draw this picture to this day. Second episode of post-traumatic stress symptoms.
Oh did I mentioned that I stopped bleeding? There is a tiny amount of spotting but I know I have a dead baby in me and I am really hoping for it to come out so I can move on. Two weeks pass. Strangely I go to work to help me not to think about it, but also in the fear that I will bleed in the middle of a treatment session. Then it starts one weekend – thank god for that. I bleed heavily for three days but I feel so relieved. I do not look in the toilet. I can’t. Then it stops.
Two days later, by a nice and sunny day I decide for the first time to go and have a long walk with my daughter. I haven’t done anything strenuous since six weeks pregnant and I miss running around. It is sunny and god knows why I put a dress on. I play, I run and also talk about my miscarriage to a friend I meet and discover she also went through one. I have a 20 minute’s walk home but it is sunny. My daughter is happy to see her mama running around. Then I start to have intense abdominal rhythmic pain, like a milder version of final birth contractions. I basically give birth to a hard ball of something – presumably a dead baby – in the middle of the street. It stays in my underwear and my panty liner. I have a little bit of blood running down my legs. I have absolutely no idea what to do. I am far from home, my partner is abroad, my daughter is really hungry and starts to moan and I am really not ready to go and explore what is in my pants in the local café. So, I walk very slowly to make sure it doesn’t fall on the pavement. It takes me 30 minutes with a bit of blood running down my legs. Strangely, this walk is really good as I go over all scenarios in my head and assess my reaction and take time to calm down. I arrive home, put “the thing” (I still haven’t looked at it) in a Tupperware box, feed my daughter, put her to sleep and then start to cry. And I cry… a lot. There is this box to deal with. Again, I feel it is part of the grieving process to have a look at it. And I look. It is not like a dead baby. It is more like a hard ball. It seems the placenta and all the hard material has wrapped itself around the baby. Or this is what internet says. It is amazing the amount of pictures of dead foetuses you can find on the internet. The last thing I want to do is to take a picture. Perhaps I should keep it – bury it – bring it to the hospital (this is also on the internet). I say bye and put it back in the toilet. Is this bad? I still don’t know. It was the best option for me at the time. I call my partner and do a little bit more crying. I go out and get a little pissed with a non baby friend. It feels better after few weeks.
Was this the most traumatising part? I would say not, graphic and difficult to rationalise, but never as bad as the day I saw the baby not moving on the scan. Not as difficult as the six weeks I feared going to the toilet and seeing more blood. Nothing as difficult as the constant questioning about your ability of conceiving, the doubts. Nothing as depressing as going on internet to read all these recipes for fertility, etc. (Do Not Read The Internet).
There is a positive end to this story. I am pregnant again. I have been pregnant for the last 18 months minus a few months. But this time there should be a healthy baby in five weeks. A boy. We are thrilled and overjoyed and perhaps a bit more conscious of how lucky we are and how delicate life is. Because of our daughter, we have had extra scans to rule out any other congenital problem. Each and every single one traumatised the hell of out me. I have a potential further scan this week and despite my baby and my previous miscarriage experience I’m hoping everything will be ok.
I have a friend who had 8 miscarriages before she gave birth.
I have a friend who had a still birth at 39 weeks.
I have a friend who still hasn’t managed to have a baby after several years of hard work and a few courses of IVF.
I have lots of friends who went on to have normal pregnancies, no miscarriage and relatively few issues. Lots of friends who had IVF.
I guess this is life. Sometimes it is shit. Most of the time it is beautiful. Perhaps the idea is to have people around who are supportive. Miscarriages are a mourning process and we all do it in our very personal way. Perhaps the idea is to be able to milk every situation (after a lot of crying) and to find something positive in all the darkness. I guess hearing more about others situation can help, hence me writing this up. Hopefully this helps someone else out there get through, because, thankfully you can.