Last week I read an article in the NY Times written by the Dutchess of Sussex about the recent miscarriage she and Prince Harry experienced.
It made me realise now is the time to publish this post I started writing months ago and never got round to finishing.
As a girl growing up a miscarriage was this awful and upsetting thing that seemed super rare and would never actually happen to you.
It was something that happened in soap opera’s, to people who were unlucky. It wasn’t something I anticipated I would go through or that I should expect many people I knew to experience.
This post is not the story of my miscarriage, although I do talk about it. It is to highlight how we manage miscarriage in this country. From the GP to the hospital early pregnancy assessment unit and how we as society, friends, family and women deal with it.
It was January 2015. Si and I had been trying to conceive for a year and we finally got that little pink line on the test we were waiting for. We were ecstatic. For a week it was like a dream. Feeling like a superhero. This magical thing was happening inside of me and I was finally going to become a mum.
Six days later on 15th January I was working a late shift at the hospital and I started to bleed.
I didn’t know what to do. I was the nurse in charge, it was a busy evening full of patients and nobody even knew I was pregnant. I sat in the bathroom, I messaged Si, shoved a sanitary towel on and carried on working. There was only an hour left I told myself.
After work Si met me at the station. I remember I cried. I remember we both cried. I remember very little else of that evening. I’ve tried very hard to recall the events and really silly things like how did I manage the bleeding? Was it a lot? Was I in pain? I cannot retrieve it because I buried it deep within myself and locked it away.
The next day we went to the GP. The earliest they could see me was late afternoon. They took a urine test and told me the pregnancy hormone was low and it was a miscarriage. I needed to go to the early pregnancy assessment centre at the hospital but it was closed at the weekend so I would need to wait until Monday (because if your miscarriage doesn’t fall neatly within a Monday to Friday 9-5 slot, you’re on your own!).
They gave me a leaflet and said if the bleeding got heavy or I passed any clots bigger than a 50p I should go to A&E, and was sent on our way.
I don’t recall being asked if I was ok. I don’t recall feeling cared for. I was merely a vessel, one that was now empty and there was nothing more to it than that.
I have no idea how we managed that weekend and again I don’t even remember it really. I was devastated. So was Si but in that moment despite his reassurance and love I was on an island of grief that nobody could access. Not even me 5 years on.
What I do remember with clarity was going to the hospital on the Monday and the inhumane way in which hospitals manage miscarriage as standard.
I imagined I was going to a special place where I would be met with kindness, support and understanding. I held myself together all weekend with hopes of releasing it all to a professional who knew how to help. The reality is you aren’t. You at the moment of absolute grief, whilst you lose your long anticipated and yearned for baby are sent to the very same place expectant parents are sent.
Yes that’s right, The early pregnancy assessment centre is the very same place newly pregnant couples go to have their scans and new parents take their babies to be weighed.
We sat there in the waiting room full of beaming parents-to-be clutching their baby books. Couples clutching baby scans. Parents holding newborn babies. Happiness everywhere.
On the small TV, adverts for baby products play and little videos about caring for your ‘bundle of joy’. Other womens eyes meet mine and they are all smiles. They think I am here for the same reason as them. They don’t know the truth.
My name is called and I am directed to a second waiting room. This is a very different place. It’s small, the chairs are no longer the comfy ones for expectant mums, no! Standard hard chairs for those losing babies.
I am allocated a number. Number 18. From here I am no longer a person with a name. Each time I am called I am now number 18.
Nobody tells you anything. You don’t know what to expect.
We first are called to speak to a lady who asks some questions about the date we took a test and my last period. I would have been about 6 weeks pregnant she works out.
“Miscarriages happen all the time” she says, “we wouldn’t normally know we would just think our period was a little late and our period a little heavier”.
“You might even have had one before and never even knew.
It’s the trouble with all these early detection pregnancy tests you see. People finding out too early and when the pregnancy isn’t viable they go through the upset unnecessarily.”
We are sent back to the waiting room to get a blood test. They need to check there is no pregnancy hormone and it’s returned to normal. To make sure all of the embryo has come out. Some mutterings about otherwise needing to have it removed. The nurse will call you im told.
I’m asked to pull up my sleeve. I say I don’t really like blood tests and the nurse pulls a face that makes me feels like im being silly. As I leave I ask if that’s it, whether I can go home. I need to wait for the result.
We wait a good half hour.
We are told it’s “good news” as it’s all back to normal and that’s it. Back into the world.
The whole NHS journey though the miscarriage was a whole new trauma on top of the existing one. It was beyond me then and still is now, that anyone could ever think it is appropriate to place a woman having a miscarriage besides one who is having a scan or a new mother and baby. That isn’t only heartbreaking and devastating it is inhumane and cruel.
It is an outrage that services to manage miscarriages are only available Monday-Friday 9-5.
My womb is not an office worker!
It saddens me to hear only a year ago from a friend who had the exact same experience that this is still standard practice.
It is increasingly talked about that miscarriage, like many things related to womens bodies and health, is a tabboo subject. One we don’t like to talk about. Like periods and menopause.
Why is that?
As someone who has had a miscarriage, even at so early a stage, I needed to talk about it. It’s the only way to get support. But the whole system around early pregancy and miscarriage is set up to make you feel unable to talk, and that its almost silly and a burden on others to even be grieving.
We find out we are pregnant and want to shout from the rooftops with joy, but society tells us we must not disclose our joy or share our news until after the 12 week scan ‘in case’.
In case of what?
Miscarriage, serious medical complications?
Surely this is exactly why people SHOULD know!?
So you can access the support required when such devastating news is delivered. But no.
The unsaid message here is that those things are YOUR problem. One’s you shouldn’t discuss and ones you must manage alone.
It is incredibly difficult to tell someone you have had a miscarriage when nobody even knows you are pregnant.
You find yourself firstly having to tell people you were pregnant and then quciky having to tell them you lost it before the smiles and congratulations ensue. And then you see the look on their face. They don’t know what to say, why would they? There are no words, and you then feel bad for even bringing it up.
Of course the world wants to make everything better and nobody likes discomfort, so you get given all the reasurrances that “don’t worry you’ll get pregnant again straight away” because everyone knows a friend whos aunty had a miscarriage and they fell pregnant within a few months.
Sitting with the pain and discomfort is awful and so, instead, it is often the grieving would-be parent who sits with it alone.
The reality is you may very well fall pregnant again. I did. But the trauma of a miscarriage or loss doesn’t go away. It rears its head all over again.
I found myself terrified to celebrate, terrified to allow myself to connect with being pregnant. In fear of being excited in case it ended in loss. I was scared anything I did could contribute to me losing my baby. I refused to buy anything until I was 6 months pregnant. Wanting to put off as long as possible.
I was lucky in that my miscarriage, although heartbreaking, did happen early on and I did conceive again. I am aware this isn’t the case for everyone.
A loss late in pregnancy or in early infancy I can only imagine would shatter your world. How does one process such a trauma? How does one support someone who for all sense and purposes is a parent, a mother, a father….. without a child?
Something needs to change.
Like most things connected to women and women’s bodies, society has served to keep us uninformed and feeling unable to talk about it openly.
WE SHOULD NOT BE ASHAMED! Miscarriage is not a secret burden to carry.
In silence we only serve to perpetuate the expectation that the grief of miscarriage should occur behind closed doors. That is is so taboo that we don’t even want to provide an adequate service with an appropriate name and location for those experiencing it. We just shove all those pregnant and no longer pregnant women in one place, hiding the loss in plain sight.
Our bodies bleed and that’s normal.
Our breasts can feed and that’s normal.
Our bodies carry babies and sometimes they do not survive full term. That is unfortunately normal.
We grieve that loss and that is normal!
Let’s talk about it.