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Miscarriage – I never thought it would happen to me

Helen talks about having a missed miscarriage following an earlier successful pregnancy.

I replay the following few minutes again and again in my head. “What?” I said. “What can you see?” She wouldn’t meet my eyes. Then she turned to face me. “I’m very sorry, Helen. The baby has no heartbeat.”

I was one of those people who never thought it would happen to me. Maybe most women are until it actually does happen to them, unless they’ve been close to someone else suffering in this way. Or maybe I was lulled into a false sense of security after having my daughter in 2006 so I assumed everything would go well in a second pregnancy.

Someone wrote once that we always defend ourselves against the wrong thing and I certainly did in the first ten weeks of my second pregnancy. After the traumatic birth of my daughter, which involved a dash through the hospital corridors to theatre, the bed bumping into the wall as we went, followed by a blood transfusion, I used to lie awake at night after I found out I was pregnant again, worrying about the method of delivery for this second baby. It never occurred to me to worry that we might not even get to that point.

I look back now and marvel at my optimism, which in retrospect seems like folly. I bought a book of “cool” baby names and mentally mapped out the following months in pregnancy milestones. My husband and I even had low-level bickering about names. We had a nickname for the baby. In the event, we never got as far as delivery or any of the other milestones I’d noted – June for the dating scan, July for first fetal movements and anomaly scan, October when I’d stop work. It no longer matters that I liked a name he thought pretentious.

I got my first hint that this worrying would prove futile when I started bleeding in the 11th week of pregnancy. But even then, I didn’t want to think the worst. I’d had bleeding in pregnancy before, expecting my daughter, and all still went well. I reasoned with myself that this baby might still be okay.

Others weren’t so sure. When I told my GP of the bleeding he arranged an emergency scan the next day. In the darkened scan room the sonographer warned me before we began that she might say nothing for a short time as she located the baby. But the silence stretched on…. Still, she said nothing as she gazed into her screen. I replay the following few minutes again and again in my head. “What?” I said. “What can you see?” She wouldn’t meet my eyes. Then she turned to face me. “I’m very sorry, Helen. The baby has no heartbeat.”

It’s hard to describe how it feels when your world falls in on you, though I suppose many of you reading this now might well have a good idea of what I’m talking about. My husband stumbled up from his chair to hug me, when he heard the sonographer’s words, but I couldn’t bear him to touch me, I felt so unlovable and inadequate, as if I’d failed and deserved to be punished, not comforted. “Was it something I did?” I asked. My voice came out strangely, like it belonged to someone else. “No, no, you mustn’t think that. It was nothing you did,” she told me.

Why is there so often something bathetic at these turning points in life? I’d been drinking water since early that morning to have a full bladder for the scan, as instructed. A few seconds after I heard the news, I remember thinking there was no longer any point in lying there, full to bursting, for the sake of a scan that gave only bad news. I shook off my husband’s arm and rushed to the toilet. He tried to follow me and I shouted at him to go away. I am normally a quiet person, private and reserved; I abhor public displays, yet I was shrieking like a banshee.

Afterwards I was in shock, numb with disbelief and pain, going through forms, arranging for a D&C four days later. Those four days were among the worst of my life, knowing the baby inside me was dead, seeing a steady trickle of blood, yet not wanting to lose the little that remained of him or her with the D&C. The day before the operation I said goodbye quietly to the baby, on my own. In the event, having the procedure and leaving hospital gave me some closure on what had happened, as if I could draw a line and begin my grieving properly.

The worst times have been when I couldn’t cry, but felt quite numb. And despite so many people telling me I did nothing wrong, the self-recriminating voices in my head show no sign of letting up.

An event like this casts a shadow backwards, souring happy times in the past. I wasn’t nearly as sick in this second pregnancy as in my first, which at the time I thought a good thing. A nurse later told me the lack of nausea was perhaps because the pregnancy hasn’t taken such a strong hold this time and there weren’t so many hormones circulating in my body, making me throw up. Now it’s a bittersweet memory when I remember laughing with my husband about not being so sick.

As I slowly get my head together, I think the hardest thing is learning to live with the fact I might never have a reason for what happened, why this pregnancy ended like this. No-one seems to know what happened, beyond talk of the embryo not implanting properly or frightening “genetic abnormalities”. Nobody except me and my husband seems very interested in finding out more.

The result is that miscarriage has caused me to re-evaluate my belief that we live in an ordered, controllable world in which our behaviour determines the outcome of our actions. Following my miscarriage, I feel out of control of my own life, vulnerable in a way I haven’t for years, fragile and exposed. Nobody could give me a reason for my miscarriage, just statistics revealing how tragically common it can be.

Like most women, I followed all the pregnancy guidelines, ate my folic acid, avoided soft cheeses and liver, swore off alcohol and rested. I stayed away from paint fumes, even asking our obliging neighbours not to paint their front door till I was past the 12-week mark. I did my best for the baby, yet it still went wrong. The result is a feeling of painful powerlessness over my own body.

I even blame myself now for being so excited about the baby. In a moment of foolish optimism I started knitting a blanket and jacket for him or her. I’ve thought of throwing away the unfinished knitting as painful reminders of loss, but in the end I’ve kept the four squares of cream blanket I made, including one that I never cast off, the stitches still needing finishing; some balls of red wool for a hooded jacket. They remind me that there was once a baby, that we had those hopes and dreams, if only for a short time.

Sometimes kind people try to comfort me by saying at least I have my daughter, and there’s truth in what they say. But for now, when I look at her I see not just my beautiful girl, but a big sister robbed of a little brother or sister to torment and tease, and a reminder of the other child I lost.

I hope that time will soften these harsh feelings; I still hope that in time we will be lucky enough to be blessed with another child, but I won’t be counting on anything now. I often wonder about my optimism over that second pregnancy. I know now that just as I was excited and happy, agonising about whether cheese was pasteurised or not, debating trendy colours for hooded jackets, the baby’s short life was already ended. Nurses told me the baby probably died around seven weeks, four weeks before I realised anything was wrong. Four weeks in which I was marching around with a big smile on my face.

Still, how could I have known? Is there any shame in hoping for the best? And would life be easier to bear if I’d spent the entire short pregnancy convinced disaster was waiting around the corner? Yes, I was mistaken in my optimism, but if I had to do it all over again, I’d still enjoy the belief I was going to have a baby.

It’s in my nature to be optimistic, even in the face of these setbacks and blows. Miscarriage has robbed me of my unborn child, shaken my belief system and shattered my faith in my own body. But somehow, I will find the strength to pick myself up, dust myself down and try again, when the times is right, because the hope of a child is enough to outweigh my terror of this happening again.