Miscarriage in a pandemic
Katrina writes about her experience of having a miscarriage during the coronavirus pandemic and her feelings afterwards.
My husband drove me to the hospital and sat outside in the car whilst I walked in. I would have given anything to have a familiar face by my side, as I struggled to fight back tears. It was the longest walk of my life. It was the longest wait in a car park of his.
For my husband and I the wider worries about the pandemic and our new lockdown world were totally eclipsed by the incredible joy we felt when I took my first pregnancy test and it came back positive. Being a type 1 diabetic* meant that I was acutely aware of the possible risks associated with pregnancy and COVID-19. This meant I ended up informing work and parents of my pregnancy early and the reality probably sunk in much sooner than it otherwise would have.
I was considered a higher risk pregnancy and was fortunate to receive amazing maternity care from the outset. Despite being used to having hospital appointments on my own, it wasn’t until I had my first seven week scan that I desperately wanted my husband by my side. It was magical to watch our baby growing and whilst at this point it really just looked like a blob, it was our blob, our baby and we felt connected to it.
It seemed bitterly unfair that my husband was going to be prevented from coming to our 12 week scan in particular. I had this prepped in my mind as one of the key milestones, so I called before the appointment desperate for any change in the hospital policy that would allow him to attend. For me, this baby wasn’t just mine, it was also equally his, and so I felt he should be part of that pregnancy process, not left out of it. I was sad for the loss of this important part of the pregnancy experience and was for the first time frustrated at the limitations set around the pandemic.
When the miscarriage began, starting with cramps whilst I was at work to the vaginal bleeding later, the conversations on the emergency pregnancy telephone line went from reassurance that I would get checked out the next day but usually everything is ok, to the words everyone dreads; ‘I’m so sorry.’ I put the phone down that last time and struggled to take in air. I remember the blind panic that followed, rushing to the bathroom and crying out loud for the bleeding to stop, that my baby would stay with me. My parents rushed over to our house in support. My husband and I both wept.
We knew that when I left to go to my scan appointment the next morning the news would not be good. My husband drove me to the hospital and sat outside in the car whilst I walked in. I would have given anything to have a familiar face by my side, as I struggled to fight back tears. It was the longest walk of my life. It was the longest wait in a car park of his. Sat in the waiting room of the emergency pregnancy clinic I remember looking around at the other women also there on their own, most of whom were clearly texting loved ones for some distant comfort. I found myself wanting to hug each of them and tell them they were not alone. Prevented by the 2 metre distancing rule and not wishing to intrude, I instead found myself praying for them.
I am thankful for the clinician who when scanning me instinctively thought to give my knee a squeeze when she told me she was sorry for my loss. That moment of empathy meant everything when I had no-one with me when receiving the worst news. Sitting waiting for the midwife to come and talk to me afterwards was one of the loneliest experiences of my life. I cannot fault the kindness and professionalism of the staff who took care of me, so I must say thank you to the NHS for this. Unfortunately the reality of receiving such personal and heartbreaking news means that the support of our healthcare workers is no substitute for the reassurance that our own loved ones can provide, who will instinctively know and understand how best to support you at your lowest.
I remember a midwife sitting with me as I cried through an entire tissue box, apologising sympathetically that she wasn’t allowed to give me a hug because of COVID-19. I was sent home and waited for information about when to come back to the unit. We were lucky that our parents were an amazing support throughout this, helping us both practically and emotionally whilst we struggled to process our feelings.
This experience is one I was definitely not prepared for physically or emotionally. I think the lack of social acceptance and conversation about miscarriage can be blamed for that. Whilst I thought miscarriage was just like a heavy period, for me, the physical reality was traumatic. Unfortunately later that day I ended up being taken to hospital in an ambulance with a few complications after my body decided to put itself into what I can only imagine is like labour. The last thing I saw as I left in the ambulance was a surreal image of my husband, holding our dog, waving goodbye and telling me he loved me. My husband would tell you that I left him in a state of shock, feeling completely helpless. For me, I got firsthand experience of the horrible isolation of being admitted to hospital during the pandemic without having anyone able to come with me for support. This meant I had to miscarry in a toilet in A&E on my own, with nurses helping after.
The next days were a whirlwind of emotions. The first was complete shock, quickly followed by overwhelming grief. I can’t really find the right words to describe the heartbreak, other than it was all-encompassing and my heart felt like a boiled sweet shattered into small pieces by a hammer.
My husband and I decided we could not go through this experience alone, and so we made the decision to tell our friends and wider family straight away. We have been praised for being ‘brave’, but really it saddens me that the stigma around miscarriage means that many do not feel able to disclose their loss and it remains a closely guarded secret that we should feel ashamed of. Making the decision to reach out meant we were surrounded by love and support, helping us through a horrible situation.
I learnt that not everyone knows what to say when someone miscarries, and so with the many messages of support we received, we did also encounter insensitive ones. I found preconceptions that the amount of grief I might feel would be directly proportional to the number of weeks pregnant I was, that I would soon be pregnant again and that my loss would be easily replaced. Let me be clear that experience of grief and pregnancy loss does not in any way depend on these factors. I learnt very quickly not to become frustrated with these comments, but to accept that people were trying to be kind when they didn’t always have the right words.
I was not prepared for the feelings of guilt and failure. Everyone around me told me that it wasn’t my fault, but I struggled to shake the feeling that my body had failed at the one thing it was meant to do. I went from being active, cycling or swimming daily, to finding moving around the house exhausting. It took a few weeks before I felt back to normal function.
Nobody warns you that after you have your miscarriage you are advised to take a pregnancy test to check it’s not positive. That’s a cruel blow. You are given a leaflet of where to look for support, but as there is no GP follow up, this may mean that much goes unrecognised or properly dealt with. In time, the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of countless women will be revealed.
I have over time been able to process our miscarriage, but there are moments when it is raw, particularly around key dates such as when I would have been due. To help this, we planted a rose in our garden to remember our baby. I have spent many moments wishing we were not so isolated from friends and family due to the Covid restrictions. I have learnt that my happy is just being me, enjoying the small things like heading outside for a dog walk and chatting with friends.
One day maybe the ending we want will come. I am thankful for a faith that helped me through this.
If this experience is similar to yours, you are not alone. I’d encourage you to reach out for support. If you know someone who has been through this, but the pandemic has meant you haven’t seen them in a while, pick up the phone. Checking-in makes a massive difference. Perhaps then, we can all pull through this pandemic together and the voices of women who have experienced a miscarriage will be heard clearly.
*For information about diabetes and pregnancy, please see: www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/related-conditions/existing-health-conditions/diabetes/