Charlotte writes about her experience of having a missed miscarriage, including details of the physical process.
I’d never thought of a miscarriage as something that could go several weeks undetected... Growing inside of me was a future I had wanted for years, a person I was desperate to nurture and get to know, now that was gone, and I was left with a sense of emptiness.
When I miscarried, stories on the Miscarriage Association website provided great guidance and reassurance. I want to share my own story, in part to help me process the complex grief and heal, but mostly for others in the hope they too find comfort in my words and know they are not alone.
Babies on the Brain
I’ve had babies on the brain for over five years, but it was never the ‘right’ time. Education and careers had always taken precedence for my partner and I. We eventually conceded that there would never be a ‘right’ time for kids so agreed that we would start trying, no matter what our situation, on my 31st birthday. I found myself taking a militant approach to sex, marching him upstairs during my fertile windows.
During Christmas celebrations 2021, we got some wonderful news from my partner’s sister, she was expecting. We shared our less exciting news, that we were trying and made the joke that we would try a little harder as it would be wonderful to have the kids grow up at the same time. I was also in my fertile window that day so when we got back home, we gave it a good old try, and the day after that, and the day after that. Our efforts that week paid off.
I was at work on the 13th of January 2022 when I found myself sprinting for the toilet as a sudden wave of nausea hit me, I was also a few days late with my period which wasn’t unusual, but the two signs together were enough for me to leave work early and race back home to take a pregnancy test. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic I dreaded the possibility of seeing two lines on a lateral flow test, at best I would face isolation and cold like symptoms, at worst a prolonged and painful death; so it felt somewhat uncanny to be looking down at two lines on a pregnancy test in exaltation.
That evening I ordered prenatal vitamins and started bookmarking webpages about pregnancy and baby products. To say I was excited would have been the understatement of the century.
The morning sickness was hell. The term morning sickness doesn’t do the condition justice, a more accurate term would be ‘all day debilitating nausea’. Prescription anti-sickness tablets were not the miracle drug I’d hope they’d be. I only vomited once but in a twisted way that was worse as I felt I got no relief from it. My hormones also meant that frustration felt more like utter despair. Despite having years of practice dealing with nausea thanks to my travel sickness I was not coping well. So, when the morning sickness stopped at about 9 weeks pregnant the relief was immense.
On the 4th of March 2022, at about 10 weeks pregnant, my partner and I headed to the hospital excited to see the baby for the first time. I’d been impatiently waiting for this day. So far, the only visible signs of pregnancy I’d experienced was a positive pregnancy test and unbearable nausea, getting to see the little bean growing inside I knew would have a profound effect on me. I wasn’t nervous, only excited.
As the sonographer began her search, my eyes glued to the screen, she soon found what we were looking for, but even before the words came out of her mouth my heart sank, it didn’t look right. She squeezed my shoulder as she said, ‘I’ll not waste any time in telling you, there’s no heartbeat, baby’s passed away.’
Words to describe the pain I felt in that moment escape me, maybe there are none, maybe I’ll find the words one day. So, I’ll stick with the facts. Tears filled my eyes as the sonographer finished her examination. When she left the room, I vocalised my pain and wailed as my partner embraced me, the only words I could find to say were ‘I’m heartbroken’.
We sat in our grief and anger in a hospital counselling room for I don’t know how long. As we sat there in tearful silence, I put together the pieces of what had happened. The sonographer had dated the pregnancy at 8 weeks and 6 days. I was certain I was a little under ten weeks. Then it dawned on me. A week before the scan my morning sickness had switched off, I’d been so relieved I hadn’t realised the sudden nature of it and that all my pregnancy symptoms had switched off, the tender breasts, the hormones. It was only in hindsight that I came to acknowledge, I hadn’t ‘felt pregnant’ for a week.
Knowledge is Power
In the days following I delved into literature on miscarriage. As a researcher in global health, I had access to literature shielded to many by paywalls. I read vast amounts, from NHS guidelines and scientific publications to personal accounts. While at times the language could be dehumanising and the words difficult to read, the knowledge became a powerful tool to process and understand what had happened and what would likely happen in my immediate future.
From my reading, and the memory of the scan, I learnt I had experienced a missed or delayed miscarriage. Until now I’d never thought of a miscarriage as something that could go several weeks undetected. I eventually reached a point where I felt like I was in limbo, desperate to move on from this ordeal but trapped while the lifeless fetus remained inside me.
Five days after my first scan I was back in hospital for a second scan to confirm the diagnosis and discuss my treatment options. Having waded through the literature I knew exactly which treatment route I wanted to take and felt prepared, albeit a little nervous, for the results of the scan.
The sonographer this time, while not the most compassionate, took the time to talk through the diagnostic procedure, explain what he was looking at and show me the screen at my request. The more I faced the reality of the situation, the more I understood what was happening to my body, the better able I felt to endure and survive this ordeal.
My first choice for ending the pregnancy was to undergo surgery under local anaesthesia, but that option wasn’t available to me at my local hospital. So, I went to my second choice, surgery under general anaesthesia, I was provisionally booked in for the following Monday in four days time. Two days before the surgery I started getting abdominal cramps. That same day I was informed by the hospital they could no longer operate on Monday and the earliest I could go into surgery was next Friday, seven days away. I knew then I wouldn’t be getting the surgery, but I had no idea of the physical and prolonged pain I was about to face as my body took control over ending the pregnancy.
Five Days of Labour
Despite the physical pain increasing by the hour, I endeavoured to carry on with life as normal. By Saturday afternoon the cramps evolved into contractions, and I discovered what it was like to be in labour. I was essentially in labour for five days.
The struggles of morning sickness paled in comparison to what I experienced during miscarriage. Over the counter painkiller didn’t touch the pain. My only respite was the time between contractions, which at best lasted around 20 minutes and at worst was no time at all. The pain kept me up all night. By the third day I was mentally and physically depleted and afraid this ordeal was still far from over. I’d been bleeding but hadn’t passed any tissue.
On the fourth day as I writhed in excruciating pain I felt my waters break, I spent the next four hours either on the toilet or in the shower hoping my partner would hear the thud and rescue me if I passed out from the blood loss. As the hours passed the pain and tissue loss eased, I started to feel hopeful that my body had done the job and that the worst of the pain was behind me. I was sadly wrong. At 2am the contractions started again, more painful than ever. I’m not a religious person yet I found myself praying for the suffering to end to any deity that would hear my cries.
I went to hospital on the fifth day for a pain review, a shell of my usual self. A doctor poked my abdomen, asked where the pain was and gave me a prescription for codeine. He then advised we pick the medication up at our local pharmacy to avoid the wait time at the hospital pharmacy. This was terrible advice as our local pharmacy don’t accept hospital prescriptions. Thanks to the receptionist at my GP, a bit of luck and by playing the ‘I’m having a miscarriage’ card, I was able to get a last-minute prescription from my GP at 5pm on a Wednesday and the good drugs to ease the pain. I got my first full night’s sleep in five days.
Still Hurt but Thankful
I was back in the hospital the following morning for a scan to see what my body had achieved. To my relief they couldn’t see any obvious pregnancy tissue. I was told to expect the bleeding to continue for at least another week but that the worst of the pain should be behind me. It was a strange relief because it brought with it renewed feelings of grief and loss. Growing inside of me was a future I had wanted for years, a person I was desperate to nurture and get to know, now that was gone, and I was left with a sense of emptiness.
I am still angry with nature’s cruelty and what it took away from me. I still feel a pang of jealously at every baby and pregnant woman I see and hurt that I can’t revel in the joy of others. I am still confused over feelings of grief for someone I’ve never met. I feel certain those feelings will always be there, I can only hope they fade with time.
I am fortunately not without thanks. I am thankful for my partner and the strength of our relationship. I am thankful for the compassionate NHS staff, who I do not blame for being denied surgery. I am thankful I can get pregnant and that the odds are good for me to have a healthy pregnancy one day. I am thankful to all those who shared their stories of loss with me in solidarity and to those who took the time to hear mine.