H writes about how the trauma of a miscarriage at 15 weeks has led to ongoing anxiety attacks and insomnia. She reflects on how it has changed her as a person.
I began to suffer huge anxiety attacks in crowds and enclosed spaces. I retreated into myself, avoiding social contact as much as possible.
I miscarried at 15 weeks. We were on a UK holiday in August 2018. I lost approximately two litres of blood and was airlifted to the local hospital where I delivered my baby. Later I discovered that I had only delivered my placenta and that I had lost the baby at some point in the four hours leading up to this moment (either in the holiday home, ambulance or air ambulance). I will never know where my baby lies. Devastated doesn’t begin to describe it.
Over the following 12 months, the aftermath of the trauma and the ongoing mental and physical effects dominated my life and derailed me entirely.
I considered myself to be a strong and confident woman with the tools to cope with anything. I was fiery, passionate and would wear my heart on my sleeve. I thought I knew exactly who I was. All of this changed overnight.
A lifetime of control came crashing down around me. I lost confidence in everything and was scared to do the most basic routines: go to work, do the school run, even teach a lesson. I was frightened, but I didn’t really know why. I began to suffer huge anxiety attacks in crowds and enclosed spaces. I retreated into myself, avoiding social contact as much as possible. I desperately tried to fight the feelings, to fight the loss of control, believing that I could push it away. I refused to believe that someone grounded in rational thought would be capable of such a reaction, or that it was related to the trauma I had been through.
After two months of struggling and fighting, therapy helped me to accept the pain and loss of control. I was signed off work. ‘Nothing can feel any worse,’ I repeated to myself as I spent pretty much a straight 72 hours in bed.
It’s my reaction after this point that has really thrown me. I wasn’t prepared for the response of my nervous system to what I had suffered. Whilst I felt my mind was determined to ‘get over’ and ‘deal’ with the grief, I felt my body had other plans. I know it’s not that simple and that the two are intrinsically linked, but it’s really not how it felt and continues to feel.
Going into town, rooms with lots of people, or enclosed spaces like shopping centres or supermarkets would trigger a weird kind of shaking. A cloud would descend over me. I couldn’t think straight and a voice in my head started telling me that no one loved me and I was making it all up. Over the year, this kind of ‘episode’ became more frequent. There’s no obvious trigger. Each time is horrible, frightening, mentally exhausting and draining.
Alongside the anxiety has been the lack of sleep. In the first few months, I would clock in approximately 3-4 broken hours per night and would rely on a sleeping pill at the weekend to try and ‘reset’. Now the broken nights come about 4-5 times per week. Getting to sleep is easy (I’m always mentally drained from the day) but staying asleep is hard. Again, there seems to be no trigger and my mind is not necessarily ‘racing’ with anything in particular.
There has also been a drastic change in my outlook on life and, essentially, my personality. I take a lot longer to process information and respond to last-minute changes in routines or social plans. I am much more introspective, less fiery and dare I admit, much less judgemental of people and situations. I don’t think I have a problem with this significant change in me but it has taken some getting used to. I don’t need/desire to be in the ‘thick’ of things and am happy to sit and observe quietly in conversations, rather than making the significant contributions I used to. I’m trying to embrace my feelings (both good and bad) more instead of pushing them away. I’ve learnt that I have to accept how I feel.
As the year anniversary approaches, the weight of grief bears down on me more than I could ever have imagined. All the same places and situations still trigger an episode but it looks a bit different. My chest tightens and I just want to cry. I’m suddenly reminded that I should have a six-month-old baby. But I don’t and what’s more, I will never know whether this baby was a boy or a girl, and I can’t even visit his/her place of rest, because essentially, there isn’t really one.
This heartache is something I will have to learn to live with because I have no choice. I’m certain I will always feel incomplete, whether I go on to have any more children or not. Despite having the overwhelming support of my husband, 6-year old son, my best friend and other truly close friends, this has been the loneliest experience of my life. To those in the same position, I currently have no words of wisdom but I hope that this reassures you that you are not the only one.