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Having a miscarriage while working as a midwife

Paige talks about her experience of having a miscarriage while working as a midwife through the Coronavirus pandemic.

After a year of being the sole supporter of women in my job during a pandemic, I’m on the other side... desperately searching for the reassuring look behind the mask of the nurses.

Working as a Midwife through a pandemic gave me a new sense of perspective on my job.

Suddenly, I was not just the Midwife. I was the partner holding a clammy hand during induction or the early stages of labour and the lifeline to a terrified woman, trying to share a smile behind a mask and steamed up goggles. At points, I was the only person they had at that defining moment of their life when a virus meant their loved ones couldn’t be there too.

I don’t think I ever really understood the huge privilege I had and the importance of my role to those women, until I found out I was pregnant. It was a new, very scary perspective of obstetrics I hadn’t encountered before.

It had been months of trying and I’d become too familiar with the burn of disappointment when a flash of crimson confirmed my fears, usually to the soundtrack of labouring women in the adjacent rooms on the ward. As a Midwife, I’d push the sadness to the back of my mind, and go back to being the support in someone’s journey as they bought their new addition into the world.

A positive test was our early Christmas present, and with 2 weeks until the big day, I was still hoping I’d get the opportunity to tell my family the news in person. It had been a tough year for everyone and we’d managed to keep the planned baby a surprise. I knew how badly my parents wanted a grandchild and I was over the moon that I could give them just that. The next few weeks we were in a bubble of excitement, although this excitement was soon destroyed by the clamping down of restrictions as case numbers surged, meaning we would have to deliver the news to the family over zoom, rather than in person.

My midwifery knowledge went out the window during this time and I often spent evenings googling what to expect over the coming weeks – the exact thing I had told countless patients to avoid doing. I booked myself a private scan so we could see that everything was ok before I went to work and told my managers. I was nervous about being pregnant and caring for Covid patients so we wanted to make sure everything was normal.

It had been a month of knowing about this miracle when the bombshell was dropped. With a short and awkward exchange I was told that the scan result was inconclusive and to contact EPAU at the hospital. We were devastated.

The next week I remained off work, trolling through google and reports trying to find an answer. I didn’t have the heart to see others with their babies, but the lockdown meant I couldn’t have the support from family and friends in person and I spent the week home alone while my fiancé worked 12 hours shifts as a Doctor on ICU. During the few hours I would see him between shifts I was surprised at how much this had been affecting him too.

We constantly reminded ourselves that life could be worse, but, with the mutterings of miscarriage from the early pregnancy nurses, I was in unknown territory. Suddenly, I was in a clinic, scared, and desperately searching for the reassuring look behind the mask of the nurses. I had scan after scan alone, weeks apart and as I sat with the nurse for the final time I wished more than anything I had the hand of my partner to hold as I heard the words “I’m so so sorry for your loss”.

I was left alone for a little while to call and break the news to my partner over the phone. He too, was desperate for a successful pregnancy and I hurt that I felt he was robbed of ever seeing the flicker of a heartbeat that once appeared on the screen.

I was supported that day by the kindest of nurses, who gave me those sympathy looks, cups of tea and sat with me for nearly 2 hours while I decided what next step was best. They encouraged me to remove my Midwife hat and deal with the situation as a pregnant woman and a mum, which is something I really needed to hear.

The next few days were a blur. I felt like I was being punished for something, knowing there was no longer a beating heart but spending days with my head over the toilet bowl with debilitating sickness. I chose to have a surgical management (alone), saw the nurse (alone) and attended the hospital for surgery (alone) with just a wave from the entrance from my partner. As a doctor, he had also thrown himself into the medical side, ensuring I was prepared for surgery, knew what medical problems to highlight to his anaesthetic colleagues and got pain relief for me for the post op period. This time he also had no control, and after dropping me off he had to drive away from his place of work, alone, leaving me in the hands of his workmates.

Just like all my other appointments, I was greeted by the smiling eyes on unfamiliar faces. The reality of having a pregnancy removed that was so longed for hurt, and I was scared. This time, the loneliness seemed endless. I hoped desperately, someone would pop their head in for a chat to distract me for a short time but I went hours at a time without seeing a single person. I was lucky that the anaesthetist made a special trip to see me after speaking to my partner the night before and knowing how nervous I was.

After nearly 7 hours of waiting behind a curtain on my own, with no food or drinks for over 18 hours, I received the devastating blow that my surgery had been cancelled as my Covid swab expired an hour before. This time I just felt angry. Covid had robbed me of the support of my partner during all the appointments and had now robbed me of the ERPC that meant I could move on. I felt rage that my partner and I had worked so hard to provide care for patients and their families and yet we didn’t get our happy ending and were failed by the disorganised hospital system. I was told to return in a few days and call someone to collect me.

After a year of being the sole supporter of women in my job, I’m on the other side. The night before returning, I thought about how I’d ended up relying on the care and kindness of strangers to help me get through. They equally may not have realised the importance of their role, like I didn’t until now. The sympathetic look, squeeze of the shoulder, the “are you ok?”. The porter’s friendly banter easing my nerves and the look of disappointment and sadness on the registrar’s face as I cried when she told me to get dressed and go home.

I returned a few days later with the too familiar wave from the entrance, but thankfully, the surgery went well. The care I received that day from my NHS colleagues was outstanding and I was able to go home that evening. I was greeted by my wonderful partner who spent the next few days being by my side and providing hugs and hot water bottles.

We never anticipated how badly the heartache would hit a few days later and while I recovered physically I felt like I was breaking emotionally. There is a point where life needs to go back to normal and while I watched those around me continue, there was a realisation that suddenly, I wasn’t pregnant anymore. While physically there was no longer a baby, my hormones were saying otherwise. I was devastated and I felt completely unprepared by how floored I felt in the week that followed.

The heartache of losing a baby during a pandemic can feel like the loneliest place in the world. I’m grateful for the early pregnancy nurses at the end of the phone for me when I’ve needed them and for treating me like a friend after regular visits. They see miscarriages multiple times a day but have made me feel like I’m the only person going through this and have given me so much support.

I always thought I’d keep my pregnancy a secret in case something goes wrong, however, having the support of my amazing friends and wonderful family has been a lifeline. Most of all, I’m grateful every day for my partner. He seems to have known exactly what to say when. He’s sat in bed with me as I’ve cried, dragged me for walks when I haven’t left the house for days and organised date nights at home to take my mind off things. He’s constantly reassured me even though I felt like I failed us and while we’ve lost this baby, we’ve gained a closer bond than I thought was ever possible.

When I eventually go back to work, I’ll have a new appreciation for what others are going through. I’ll understand the privilege of my job and the responsibility to support other women while I care for them because I know how much it means. Midwife means “with women” and that’s never resonated with me more. I never thought I’d be working on the front line as well as being a patient during a global pandemic, but I’ve learnt how important kindness really is.

As for now, I hope that I have the strength to move on and one day welcome my own bundle of joy. I hope my partner can be with me to see the flicker of the heartbeat and to be told all looks ok.

I still feel fear this will happen again and I’ll have to deal with it on my own.  No-one understands the true devastation of suffering a miscarriage alone until you’ve been through it.

I hope I can show there is no shame to losing a pregnancy, and no shame to feeling hurt when it happens. Reaching out to others and telling them how you feel can be a lifeline that keeps you going. As for now, I will continue to focus on myself and my partner to get through each week, knowing how lucky we are to have once had a little heartbeat there and maybe one day we will again.