Rachel describes the pain of multiple miscarriages, both early and late in pregnancy, but reflects that whatever the future holds, she won’t be facing it alone.
Recurrent miscarriage for me has caused pain and grief I could never imagine, but it's made me draw from a deep well of resilience and strength I didn't know I had.
Having three miscarriages and two chemical pregnancies within the past 18 months, it’s hard to think of a more physically and emotionally draining period in my life.
My first miscarriage was confirmed at a nine-week scan following some spotting. While the pregnancy had ended almost as soon as it had begun, it was nevertheless devastating and shattered my simplistic view that because I was healthy, I would therefore have a healthy pregnancy. I opted for medical management and my body returned to normal a few weeks later. Despite that early blow, my husband and I were encouraged by stories from friends and family who had also had first time miscarriages and gone on to have healthy babies. Perhaps it was a rite of passage, I wondered.
I fell pregnant within two months after the miscarriage. This pregnancy felt different from the first. My symptoms were more unmistakable, which I took as a positive sign. The weeks passed without incident save some spotting around the nine-week mark.
While it seemed to take an eternity, we finally reached the all-important 12-week scan. After seeing the baby bounce around on the screen, we both breathed a sigh of relief. I started to believe this pregnancy would go the distance, so we began telling family, friends and colleagues.
At around 16 weeks, I started bleeding at work. Panicked, I told my boss and rushed to the nearest hospital emergency room. They didn’t offer a scan but a speculum examination showed the cervix was still closed, (as it should be) and a Doppler revealed the baby’s heartbeat loud and clear. Despite the reassurance, I remained on edge. My pregnancy was under threat – I just knew it. The following day, more heavy bleeding and cramping and another trip to the hospital concluded with hearing the baby’s heartbeat once again. I was told to go home and just rest until the bleeding settled.
I still couldn’t help but think something was being missed. Surely this isn’t how a normal pregnancy is meant to go. My worse fear was realised later that evening when my waters broke and I delivered my baby in the toilet at home. I was completely shell shocked. I just remember crying out ‘no’ ‘no’ no’, as though to convince myself this horrible nightmare just couldn’t be real. I was still actively miscarrying by the time I reached A&E and leaving a trail of blood in the reception. The trauma of that night still visits me from time to time.
After this loss, I began having therapy sessions, although they were short lived for me. What I really wanted was answers. How on earth could I lose a seemingly healthy pregnancy with next to no warning? Through our health insurance, I was able to have various investigations done privately; testing my antibodies, possible clotting disorders or infections etc. All thankfully came back negative but still no concrete answers.
The brilliant consultant who carried out the tests concluded it was possibly caused by a problem with the placenta which triggered a very early labour. She encouraged me to try again as soon as I was ready and agreed to take over my care from her NHS clinic once I was pregnant again. We took a break from trying to conceive so we could indulge over Christmas and have a couple of months of normality.
In late January, I discovered I was pregnant for the third time. There was no fanfare. I jealousy wished we could be those couples who assumed a positive test equalled a baby at the end. True to her word the consultant who had supported me following my second miscarriage offered me first-rate care with this pregnancy. She booked me in for early scans, prescribed me progesterone to support with placental development as well as baby aspirin and extra folic acid. Unfortunately, the pregnancy still wasn’t meant to be. Another missed miscarriage was diagnosed at nine weeks after the familiar spotting.
It all felt so routine now.
This time I had reached the ‘magic’ number of three miscarriages in a row which triggered further investigations via the NHS. I opted for an operation to remove the pregnancy just a week before the country went into lockdown. Hospital procedures were already tightening up. I was the only patient in Outpatient Care that day allowed to have my partner accompany me in the pre-op suite. I was extremely grateful for that compassionate dispensation.
I once again dabbled with therapy but found it didn’t work for me. I know it does for plenty of others though. For me the healing process is helped by getting answers, even if those answers raise more questions. Like many couples on a fertility journey, the pandemic has cruelly interrupted any progress in the quest to have a family.
Following delays in the Karyotyping tests due to Covid, I eventually found out that our baby boy (they unexpectedly reveal the sex in the post-mortem report) was missing a chromosome 21. This I’m told is extremely rare and almost certainly resulted in the miscarriage. It also raised the question as to whether my husband or I have a chromosomal translocation that could be contributing to the miscarriages. Equally, the miscarriages may have been a series of terrible coincidences, especially as the second miscarriage at 16 weeks was the outlier and had been a viable pregnancy. At the time of writing this, we face a couple more months of waiting for the results of those genetic tests.
Recurrent miscarriage for me has caused pain and grief I could never imagine, but it’s made me draw from a deep well of resilience and strength I didn’t know I had. The bad days can be very dark, leaving me feeling hopeless, anxious and angry. Angry that after multiple pregnancies, I’ve not been able to take even one of my babies home. Angry that my chance of motherhood might be slipping away, and terrified that I don’t have a Plan B that involves a future without a family.
The good days however can feel all the more special. Time spent enjoying the company of my family, friends and my beloved cats, reminds me that I am still capable of experiencing joy, and that my life is valuable and very much full of purpose even if parenthood eludes us for now. Whatever happens next, I know I won’t be facing it alone.
An update from Rachel, 29 June 2021
Following the miscarriage in March 2020, genetic investigations showed that the baby was missing a chromosome (monosomy 21), however parental karotyping on me and my husband came back normal which meant that the loss was down to chance.
We soon starting trying to conceive again and once I was pregnant, I received consultant-led care because of my recurrent miscarriage history. She put me on progesterone pessaries up to 32 weeks and aspirin, as well as provided extra scans in the second trimester to check the length of the cervix. The pregnancy progressed normally.
And on the 19th June, we welcomed a healthy baby girl – Zoe, which is the Greek meaning for ‘life’.