Soft play centres can be pretty horrific. Never more so than a wet day in London during school holidays. So when I found myself at one on a rainy summer day with my mum-in-law and son, waiting to miscarry and hoping it wouldn’t happen there, I had to shake my head at the absurdity.
I’ve been in limbo before: waiting to find out whether I was BRCA positive, waiting for my UK Indefinite Leave to Remain application to be approved, waiting for mortgage approval and an offer to be accepted and for the agent to hand us the keys.
But the limbo between being told you’ve had a missed miscarriage, and the appointment to surgically manage everything, is a strange and upsetting period I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
When hubby and I went for our 12 week scan I told him I was feeling anxious and I didn’t know why.
‘What’s there to be anxious about?’ he said, giving my hand a squeeze. ‘We’ve done this before, it’s just a baby’.
Except that it wasn’t.
As soon as we saw the empty black space on the screen, we knew. And as the technician focused on a very small, very still embryo – nothing like the wiggly, vibrant baby that was our first – the news settled in.
The technician, a gentle, older, European man in training, handed us some tissues and excused himself to confirm the situation. Another technician arrived shortly after, and explained to us that the baby had passed some time ago. That my body still thought it was pregnant, and without a scan and for unknown reasons, might keep preparing for a baby right up to 15-17 weeks. A missed miscarriage.
We were taken to a private room to discuss the situation with a midwife, and told to return to the Early Pregnancy Unit (EPU) first thing in the morning.
And limbo truly began.
Because while I looked and felt pregnant, I now knew I wasn’t. My womb was still growing and my body was awash with hormones, but the most important bit, the little ‘spark’, was missing.
Hubby and I are fairly pragmatic people, and we could look at the situation philosophically. I was comfortable that nature, and my body, recognised something was wrong. I could accept that this pregnancy stopped, and that the baby didn’t develop beyond a certain point. We were sad, and felt the loss, but could accept it.
What I found harder was the limbo. Five days waiting for the surgery. I desperately wanted my body back. I wanted it to be over. The ghost-pregnancy was the cruellest trick of all, and I felt so tired and nauseous. Drained, and like a fraud. How I thought, am I supposed to continue carrying a baby who isn’t alive? Who hasn’t been alive for weeks?
I felt like curling up in bed all day watching Netflix and sleeping. Except I couldn’t, because I have an almost-toddler and we had visitors at the time.
The morning after the scan we found ourselves sitting at the EPU at our hospital. It was a waiting area for multiple services, and I’d been a few times before for blood tests. This time I could spot the couples here for early pregnancy concerns, or like us, miscarriages.
As we’d left the house earlier I’d noticed that hubby and I were dressed similarly, in dark jeans and black tops. I said to him we looked like we were in mourning. It was the same at the hospital. One couple in matching windbreakers. Another couple wearing hoodies and converse. And yet another couple, huddled together in skinny jeans and fitted tops. I wondered if subconsciously we’d all reached out for our partners in a primal and instinctual way. As if we were ‘one’ and the pain was physically shared. It was a comforting thought in an otherwise uncomfortable situation.
I looked at the other couples discreetly and wondered about their situation, very careful not to make eye contact. It’s hard enough to pretend you have any kind of privacy in a large waiting room, without strangers staring at you. I also didn’t want to make eye contact for my own reasons. Namely out of fear that they’d take one look at me and they’d know. Because while I find writing about and sharing my own experiences cathartic, I don’t like to show weakness in real life. I don’t like the fuss or the attention. If I fall apart I do it behind closed doors, on my own and on my own terms.
Silly maybe, but I did my best to look okay as I sat in that hard plastic chair. Like I was waiting for something routine. And when we were eventually called in, and subsequently walked back past all those couples, having scheduled day surgery in 5 days’ time to medically manage the miscarriage, I did so with my head high and a neutral expression. Just another routine appointment.
I didn’t make eye contact though.
That day I stuck to my routine as normal. Husband went to work. I took my son to soft play. Did a little shopping and light tidying. Watched TV later as he slept. My mum-in-law helped a lot, and I was grateful.
But that night I crashed. In bed by 6.30pm and no dinner. Maintaining the charade all day had been strange and exhausting. I’d forget for a moment, only for my mind to snap back to the situation. I wanted it over, but it was out of my hands, and I couldn’t escape my own body.
The next few days were very hard. I felt like I was fading, and I’m not even sure how to explain what that means. When I lay on my bed, it felt like I was a part of the bed. Like I was just another inanimate object. When I moved it was as if I moved through syrup. My limbs were heavy, and I was so scared that things would get moving naturally, every little twinge or pain had me in a panic. While some women need the closure of a natural miscarriage, I didn’t want to go through any more pain and heartache. I wanted it over.
I did get the luxury of spending most of one day in bed. I told my husband I needed the time out. A ‘bed day’. Space to drop the charade and just ‘be’. Another day we went to a theme park, which sounds strange even as I write it. But my lovely in-laws had one more day with us before flying home, and my son didn’t understand what was going on. We spent a distracting day out, and at the end of it I took myself off to bed again for some privacy. Room to breathe, and to rest, and to try and process everything.
Saying farewell to my in-laws was bittersweet. It’s hard living so far away from family, and I missed them as soon as they left. It also felt like a weight off my shoulders. I’d felt so much guilt at the situation, and that I’d ruined the end of their holiday. At the same time I had space to breath, and grieve, in privacy. It was a difficult time for everyone, and their grief was real too.
I woke on the day of surgery feeling much lighter than I had in days. The wait was over and that was the hardest part for me. I’ve been to my hospital many times, and had major surgery there, so felt no anxiety about the procedure or the general anaesthetic.
Hubby dropped me off mid-morning. I didn’t need him there with me, although he took the day off and did some work from home just in case. I know how much waiting is involved with any hospital procedure, and I was comfortable to do it on my own, not worrying about someone else.
I was prepared for the blood tests and the repeated questions. I knew it would be hot and crowded (I think the temperature hit 31 degrees). And I’d researched the procedure, so was aware of the risks and recovery times.
The only time I faltered was when the doctor asked how I wanted to dispose of the remains. I honestly hadn’t thought about what happens afterwards, and was at a bit of a loss. He explained that they send the tissue away to be tested. That I could choose to take the remains with me, or the hospital could take care of that. I opted for the latter – a cremation alongside other pregnancy remains – because I didn’t know what I’d do with the remains myself, and there was some comfort knowing those much-wanted babies would leave the world together.
All up I was at the hospital for around 7 hours, for a 15 minute procedure. I’d do it again though, and am so glad I didn’t miscarry naturally. It’s definitely not for everyone, and I have so much love and respect for the mothers who choose to go the natural route, or who go through it without a choice.
I was met with kindness and empathy at the hospital, which I’m grateful for, as not every woman experiences this. I also have an amazing, caring support network around me. As I get older I really appreciate women, and female friendships. Your partner – no matter how supportive and understanding – can’t always be everything you need, and it sometimes takes another woman to ‘get it’. To let you vent, or rage, or question yourself.
Which is why I think we need to encourage open dialogue around conception and miscarriage and infertility.
When my son was younger I caught up with an old friend online. We’d been close many years before, and stayed in touch intermittently over the years. As we went back and forth I said I thought for sure she’d have a child with her new husband by now. She already had children, and was a wonderful mum, and I can hand on heart say I posed the question with kind intention.
And even now it makes me cringe. She explained that she had struggled to conceive, and further testing had revealed her egg stores were low. She was pre-menopausal and it was unlikely she’d have another child. I was so disappointed in myself and how inconsiderate I’d been. I apologised profusely. She was gracious and open, and accepted my apology.
It was a very good lesson. But not quite how you might think.
Before I miscarried I read with interest articles and blogs that talked about a woman’s fertility being a private and personal matter – not general fodder for the world to discuss and dissect and judge. I agreed to a point, and still do now, but in some ways I think we’re doing ourselves a disservice.
Miscarriage is such a taboo topic. Women are expected to recover emotionally as soon as they’ve recovered physically. It can be an isolating experience. We’re told not to tell anyone before 12 weeks, in case the worse should happen, but what then if the worse does happen? We’re expected to dust ourselves off and get on with it, with no one else the wiser. We’re told it’s a very common occurrence, often by other women, as if by that frequency and those statistics it’s some trivial matter. It’s almost like we’ve created this culture of secrecy, and isolated ourselves in the process.
I’m not sure what the answer is, and I appreciate many people deal with something like miscarriage very privately. I’m just not sure how we can provide women with the support they need if we discourage open dialogue.
I should not have asked my old friend about her situation. We were no longer close enough for me to discuss such a personal topic. And I absolutely should not have done so in such an off-hand manner, good intention or not. I haven’t quite forgiven myself, even if she has.
However if we are close to someone and if it is appropriate, I think we should encourage candid discussion. I’d like to think that women younger than me might have more awareness than I did about pregnancy and childbirth and loss. I’ve had friends mention their experiences to me in hushed tones or when drunk. A quiet aside, for something so monumental. A partner worried that his wife wasn’t coping, and had no one to talk to, after their own experience. Another woman speaking of an acquaintances miscarriage as ‘just another miscarriage, they’re very common, she’ll be fine’.
Like I said, I don’t know the answer, but it has to be something better than this. If there were I might not have to wait 5 days for surgical intervention. My friend’s wife might not have felt so isolated. And I might have realised sooner the level of hurt I might inflict with a simple, unthinking email.
As for me, the recovery has been straightforward so far. I feel such relief that it’s (physically) over, and I woke the morning after surgery with almost no pregnancy symptoms. I can’t tell you how good that felt.
I’m angry about the pregnancy weight I gained, but it will go in time. I plan to spend the next few months focusing on my health. Getting a bit fitter, eating a bit better, and taking some time out for me. Showing myself some kindness, and giving my body time to heal.
Because of my BRCA status I’m in the unusual position of knowing I need a hysterectomy around the age of 40, to remove the risk of ovarian cancer (which is very hard to diagnose, and whose symptoms can mimic those of my IBS). I could let myself worry about time running out. I could panic knowing that some professionals recommend surgery around the age of 35 (I’m 36). But for now I choose to believe I have time. That my body can do this. That our time will come.
I’m good though, I really am. I’m getting there day by day and that’s all anyone can do.
But some of you aren’t good. And I know while I’m feeling okay now, I’ll have my low points too. So if you’ve had a miscarriage and you’re drowning? Let someone be the hand that pulls you up. Or at least tread water with you for a while, to keep you from sinking. Reach out. You’re not alone. You’ve joined a miserable, shitty club, but you’re not alone. So many women are rooting for you and you don’t have to carry the burden on your own.
Baby dust to you all.