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Miscarriage in a pandemic

Helen shares her experience of having a miscarriage during the coronavirus pandemic, with a detailed description of the physical loss.

It’s been three months now, and I am still devastated by the loss of my first baby. I’m also recovering from the trauma of the experience.

It was 1am, my first pregnancy and just two days before my 12 week scan. This wasn’t the first time I’d felt pain, but before, I was able to talk myself out of the worry. Not this time. The unusual pressure I felt in my tummy just hours earlier was growing more intense, and the pain was now enough to wake me from my sleep. I slipped out of bed, and there it was, on my tissue, the light red spotting I had dreaded. All I could do was panic.

I started to cry, which woke my partner, and between sobs, I talked him through what was happening. I dialled the 24hr number given to me by my local birthing centre. No answer. I tried again. Still no answer. I hadn’t prepared for this situation and didn’t know where to turn. We decided to call NHS 111. I got through to a lady in a matter of minutes, but she had some technical difficulties with her system and left us on hold. Twenty minutes passed. Finally, she answered; I explained my symptoms, staying as calm as I could muster. She told me to seek urgent help at our local medical centre.

We got in the car and drove to the hospital. We talked about staying calm, but inside I was falling apart. When we arrived, there was a note on the emergency room door asking patients to enter alone due to COVID-19 restrictions. I felt helpless. I left my partner outside, he hugged me and told me it would be okay, and I stepped into reception alone.

A triage nurse saw me soon after arriving. She seemed to have had a long night, and I sensed her impatience. She explained that with this being my first pregnancy, I would naturally overreact to these ‘normal’ symptoms and tried to make small talk with me by criticising the company I work for.

Her words made me feel like a burden, like I shouldn’t be there. She told me that in her previous hospital, they would scan a woman with my symptoms right away, but here, I would have to wait. I had become a victim of the postcode lottery for NHS support, and it was devastating. After a pleading call from the nurse to OBGYN, a kind midwife offered to come and speak to me personally. She gave me a physical examination, using a speculum. She had five attempts to see my cervix, but the view was ‘unclear’.

Then things changed. I could tell her tone was off. She told me she was sorry, then it became real. She explained she could see active bleeding, but it was inconclusive, and that was all she could do tonight. If I lost my baby, there was nothing she or I could do. She told me that I shouldn’t blame myself and I had done nothing wrong and after fetching me tea went back to her job.

The midwife told me to go home and see what happened. I have never felt more scared and lonely than when writing those words in a text to my partner from an empty hospital room. I needed to leave to be with him. I was walking from the hospital when suddenly I felt a rush of fluid down my leg. I wanted to shout for help but felt like people were too busy to deal with me. I ran into the toilet, and right there, right in front of me, was my baby. I was frozen, so completely shocked. It had happened right there, and I had no idea what to do. So I got dressed and left.

It took us 25 excruciating minutes to get home. I had heard it described as a heavy period – that now seems so diluted. Nowhere had I read how the contraction like urges would force my pregnancy tissue out of my body with intense pain. It was terrifying. I had no control over my body. It didn’t feel normal. I wanted to go back to the hospital, but they had sent me home; they didn’t want me. All I could do was stand in the shower until the worst of it stopped. And when it finally did, I was too shocked even to cry. I still have flashbacks of standing there, helpless.

I had a whole day to wait before my scan. But we already knew what was coming. The thought of revisiting the building I’d been to just the previous night made me feel sick. I just wanted to forget everything that had happened. But still, we went. The midwife escorted us into a private room, and she said with a smile on her face, “12-week scan, you must be excited”. My heart sank. The hospital had no note of my previous visit, and the thought of reliving the experience was overwhelming.

Luckily my partner did most of the talking. The sonographer found no baby. We were given leaflets on miscarriage and left with the sentiment ‘better luck next time’. That was the end of the support we were offered.

My miscarriage lasted another four days, excruciating waves of contractions and the passing of unnervingly large pieces of me. It wasn’t until the physical effects finally stopped that I even had time to begin processing emotionally.

It’s been three months now, and I am still devastated by the loss of my first baby. I’m also recovering from the trauma of the experience. Counselling has been helping – I’m lucky enough to receive free sessions with my work health plan and I don’t know how I would have pulled myself together without it.

Recently, we’ve been trying again. But honestly, I’m scared. I don’t know if I could live through this experience again.