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Bophanie’s story: the pain and grief of miscarriage

Bophanie writes about her experience of a missed miscarriage. She shares her feelings and details of the physical process.

In messaging and telling family and friends there was no heartbeat, I felt a ripple effect of tiny heart aches.

I had not expected to grieve after a miscarriage. Ignoring the superstitious 12 week rule, we knew that if things didn’t work out, we would want to be honest about it. Though we were quietly excited, I was practical, had done my research and felt ready for the worst. I knew in detail what a missed miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy and molar pregnancy were but know now that miscarriage is not something that you can prepare for – physically or emotionally.

At a private scan at 11 weeks, the sonographer pressed hard and commented it ‘looked quite small’, talking aloud about people often getting dates wrong when suddenly “don’t be sad, you’re still young, you can try again” cut through. My husband rallied and reminded me that we should be asking all the questions we needed to but the only question I could think of and kept asking was “shouldn’t there be a heartbeat?”.

Generally, we found professionals unwilling to speak in plain phrases – “if you had come in two weeks ago, I would say this is a missed miscarriage but I am seeing you for the first time”. She told us to come back in 10 days but emphatically assured me, ‘you are pregnant though’. I realised later the reason she said that so forcefully. When you miscarry, you wonder if any of it was real. In the case of a missed miscarriage, your body continues to think it’s pregnant when the foetus has stopped growing – the gestational sac, your uterus, the placenta. Later, when I would blame my own body for growing to house nothing and question whether I should feel any grief, her firm ‘you are pregnant’ was the proof I needed.

In messaging and telling family and friends there was no heartbeat, I felt a ripple effect of tiny heart aches. We continued as normal for the week of waiting but, realising we didn’t want to continue privately, I diagnosed myself with a missed miscarriage and got a referral to the EPU. I was suddenly desperate to have everything removed. It felt ruthless but the limbo of waiting to miscarry naturally and monitoring as light spotting grew more heavy over the course of week was like watching a slow death. At the EPU, I was told for a second time there was no heartbeat but that they could not proceed without a second scan – the only option another purgatorial week of waiting to see if it would happen naturally. If I were to go through the process again, knowing two scans would be needed and private results would not be taken into account, I would have booked into the NHS immediately. As the sonographer booked me in for the next appointment, she pointedly asked, “why did you go private for an early scan?”. It was my first pregnancy and I had wanted my husband there, especially if something went wrong. I’m usually such a huge advocate of the NHS but (given that lockdown was easing) I found it hard to forgive eventually having to attend two intrusive and difficult to process scans on my own, feeling like a failure and having to relay information to my husband waiting outside the building.

Miscarriage feels like a gentle word. In reality, miscarriage is brutal – it is violent and visceral. I’ve been open with the details because official medical websites describing ‘a bad period’ feel misrepresentative of what it can be. Ten days after the first scan and in my twelfth week, I was halfway through writing an email when a wave of pain and a back spasm stopped me. Walking to the bathroom, I felt a large clot drop. I doubled over, the pain so acute that the only way to handle it was to crouch on the floor. Having read accounts of contractions during miscarriage, I knew what was happening as the pain started coming in regular intervals.

An hour and a half would follow, through which I lay on the floor contracting, passing blood, larger and larger clots and tissue every 10-15 minutes, each needing to be actively pushed out as I sat and wept on the toilet. The pain escalated and reached a peak when finally a ‘pop’ happened and huge surge of liquid and blood came in a gush (this image would keep coming back to me during sleepless nights that followed). For the next 4 hours, I’d continue to pass clots at 30 minute intervals.

The only guidance I had received was to go to hospital if bleeding exceeded two pads an hour but, in reality, there’s no way of measuring this and I was in too much pain to move. I’ve spoken since about the indignity of it all – experiencing that physical process at home alone. I can’t imagine a time when seeing blood in that bathroom again won’t be a trigger. There was nothing my husband could do so I insisted he carry on working as normal. Ultimately, miscarriage is a surreal, private, primal, lonely process that happens as life goes on around you. It would last 6 hours in total and, as I finally surfaced, I looked at the clock and realised it had stopped at the exact moment the miscarriage fully started. My friend later joked that I was my own Hiroshima and it did feel as though life, for a brief moment, had frozen with that experience.

I wanted confirmation that it was over but my scan, which couldn’t be moved, was still another 6 days away. The following evening another hour of passing clots went by followed by sleepless nights as I lay terrified that more or worse was still to come. By the time of the scan, I was exhausted. In what felt like the only good news in a 3 weeks, the much more empathetic sonographer confirmed that everything was gone. I left feeling empty and guilty at the thought of feeling relieved it was over. Another week of mid level bleeding and cramps would follow, the physical process lasting four weeks after that initial scan.

The grief of a miscarriage is real. I’d generally consider myself logical and steady and found myself thrown by how you can feel completely normal one moment and crushing emptiness the next. Sleeping was difficult as anxiety, feelings of failure and reliving the miscarriage itself crept in. Sometimes I ache to be pregnant again but the thought of being pregnant is equally terrifying. I’ve read about miscarriage being a different form of grief as a death that literally passes through your body and the physicality of it is definitely something that will stay with me. Ultimately, I know that this will pass – my hormones are dropping and life/work will continue but working through the ebbs and flows of loss was something that I needed to do.

We’re lucky to have an amazing support network. People messaging and checking in and we’ve truly appreciated every note – those who acknowledged it as a loss for both of us, those who simply said ‘I don’t know what to say but am thinking of you’. There have been a couple of less helpful ‘at least’ platitudes (at least you can get pregnant, at least it was early, at least it was while you were working from home). These are things that the logical side of my brain has already considered but, unfortunately, logic goes out the window once you start imagining a life the moment you have a positive pregnancy test.

We’ve been asked if we regret having told people before 12 weeks, which is ultimately asking do you regret now having to tell people you’ve had a miscarriage? We are advocates of candidacy – yes it took a while to get pregnant, yes we were excited and yes, we’ve now experienced miscarriage and all the complicated feelings that come with it. If we had had a family member die, no one would expect us to hide that. I’ve no doubt it does and will continue to make people feel uncomfortable when we discuss it but know that there’s some value in opening up the conversation for a type of grief so common yet unspoken about.

I wanted to share this with the Miscarriage Association as the ‘Stories’ I read were the lifebuoy I held on to in a sea of unknowns. They let me know what I could expect in a raw and honest way that medical sites barely touched the surface of. I’ve found comfort in reading, listening to and discussing experiences with others, so hope this helps someone else in their loneliest moment.