Rose, a midwife, shares her experience of having a missed miscarriage including details of the physical process. Rose also talks about how she will remember her baby.
No amount of midwifery knowledge can reassure you... How had we come from the absolute height of joy only a few weeks earlier to now arrive in this bottomless pit of despair?
Finding out that Sean and I were expecting our first baby will always be one of the happiest and most precious memories of my entire life. We had conceived easily on our second month of ‘trying’ and I surprised him with the positive pregnancy test one Saturday morning when he got back from a training session. We hugged and cried together in the kitchen, completely overwhelmed with excitement and absolute joy.
After the miserable cancellation of our wedding the previous year due to the pandemic, this finally felt like things were looking up for us. The initial due date was my birthday – the most special birthday gift I would ever receive. It felt like it was meant to be, written in the stars.
The first fortnight passed smoothly. I felt relatively well with minimal nausea. The thought of my baby growing inside me kept me going every day and I carried on my work as a midwife, feeling excited that I was experiencing the same amazing process as the women I looked after.
A very early scan confirmed baby was growing in the right place (I previously had a pregnancy of unknown location so requested this scan via the early pregnancy unit) and we chose to tell our parents the wonderful news. Everyone was so happy for us and shared in the fun of speculating whether it would be a boy or a girl. We tentatively spoke about potential names for the baby and I daydreamed about how we could decorate our small spare room when the time came.
November 6th – getting ready to meet a friend for dinner, I had a quick wee before leaving the house. Brown. Spotting. Instant fear coursed through my body. No amount of midwifery knowledge can reassure you in this instance. Everything is so different when it’s your own baby. I fumbled my way through dinner with my friend, hyper alert to any vague or minor sensation which might indicate the worst.
Sean was away that night so I told him in the morning. No further bleeding. We headed off to Brighton for the day. Another quick wee in a pub before the train back. Brown. Spotting. More this time. Surely brown blood was ok? That’s always old blood, right? I tried to reason with myself and stay rational.
The majority of what Google told me, as the average, anxious, pregnant woman, was that spotting happened very often and didn’t necessarily mean you needed to worry. My midwife brain tried to remember what I would advise someone else if they asked about similar symptoms. I hung on in this way over the next few days and went to work as normal. The spotting increased to a slightly heavier brown loss. I called the early pregnancy unit (EPU) and they told me it was probably nothing to worry about, but booked me a scan to check things over in a few days time.
November 11th – harsh as it may sound, I had convinced myself the scan was going to reveal bad news. It was the only way I could get through the days beforehand. In the waiting room I felt physically sick with nerves. Nothing Sean said could convince me otherwise. I walked into the scan room in tears, immediately telling the nurse that I was extremely worried and that I had been bleeding. “Let’s have a look what’s going on” she said and started the scan.
“There’s a baby and a heartbeat” were the next words I heard. Sean was stroking my hand. I couldn’t believe it. The nurse moved the screen so we could see for ourselves – and there it was; a tiny, gentle flickering of the baby’s heart beating inside me. Finally, I could breathe again. The baby was ok and that was all I cared about.
The nurse explained that my dates matched the size of the baby perfectly and that there was a small haematoma which had formed when the embryo had implanted, which was the cause of the bleeding I had been having. What a relief to have some sort of explanation. She told me to expect more and not to worry as long as it was brown in colour. We walked out of the EPU with a scan report, a photo of our tiny baby and instructions to book our pregnancy appointments.
The brown spotting continued over the next week or so. Some days there was virtually nothing and some days there was a fair bit more. It was always brown and I tried to focus on that. Until the 23rd. Cooking dinner as usual and a suspicious sensation like I was starting my period immediately had me panicking.
I was right to panic because this bleeding was not brown. This was bright red and terrifying. I shouted for Sean, already sweating and on the verge of tears. We drove immediately to A&E. I checked in with the triage nurse and told her what was happening, barely able to speak through crying. A&E was busy for a Tuesday night but I was assessed pretty quickly, first by another nurse, then bloods were taken by a phlebotomist and then we waited to see the doctor.
I went to the toilet to provide a urine sample and was surprised to not see a sanitary pad soaked through with blood. Maybe everything was going to be ok? Needless to say I was again convinced I was losing the pregnancy but it was hard to not cling onto even the tiniest potential for hope. Vital signs – normal. Bloods – normal. Scan booked for the next day at midday. This time I’d be attending alone, Sean unable to get out of work and short notice cancellation being much more complicated in his self-employed set up.
The hours crawled by until it was time to attend the scan. I didn’t sleep well and was upset when Sean had to leave for work that morning. Sitting in the waiting room brought the now familiar feelings of fear and worry. The same nurse called me through. We briefly spoke about why I had been to A&E and what had happened. She started the scan and I stared at the ceiling above me, unable to make eye contact with her or search for clues on her face, willing her to say something positive.
I knew it was bad news before she said anything. That pause lasted an entire lifetime. “I’m so sorry…there is no heartbeat”. My worst fears confirmed. I knew in my heart they would be. She explained the baby had probably stopped growing around a week ago. I was ushered into a side room, the sort of room you’re only shown to when it’s the worst type of news imaginable, either to be delivered or processed, and cried. The nurses were so kind and they did what they could to console me. Of course for anyone in this position, myself included, you are simply inconsolable.
Why me? Why us? Endless questions surged through my mind, none of them with any answer. How had we come from the absolute height of joy only a few weeks earlier to now arrive in this bottomless pit of despair?
I was spoken to by a doctor about my options in managing the process of a missed miscarriage – the reality of the baby dying but the miscarriage not yet happening felt even more cruel and bitterly unfair. Like adding insult to injury or rubbing salt into an already gaping wound. My initial feelings were that I didn’t want to be interfered with, poked or prodded. I just wanted to be left alone to cope with what had happened with support from Sean. I chose expectant management, or letting my body deal with the process naturally, and left the hospital with the reassurance that I could change my mind if I wished.
Sean came home from work early that evening. Unable to get through to him on the phone, I had already sent a text telling him it wasn’t good news. We cried and cried. I explained that the baby had died but the miscarriage hadn’t happened yet. It is truly impossible to put into words exactly how devastated we were. The evening passed in a blur of grief and tearful phone calls to our parents.
I woke up the following morning exhausted, 24th November – a month until Christmas Eve. A quick, mindless scroll of Instagram told me the festive countdown was in full swing. Could we ever be happy again? How could we enjoy Christmas? I had been so excited to be pregnant at Christmas and we would have had our 12 week scan just 10 days before Christmas Day. It had felt too good to be true. And clearly it was. Waking up every morning from then on was torturous. It was like reliving the pain again and again as I remembered each time that I was no longer pregnant.
The next few days are hazy in my memory. Flowers arrived from kind friends and relatives. My mind span with questions and fears. Slowly it started to sink in. We weren’t having a baby anymore. The hurt this caused me seemed to increase every day.
I wasn’t coping with the “watch and wait” approach and felt tied to the house, too fearful to go anywhere, see anyone or do anything in case the miscarriage started. I felt that the already awful situation was just getting worse and worse. Another tearful call to the EPU and I was invited in to discuss my options again. I then chose medical management – pills to take at home to encourage the process to start. Hopefully a halfway compromise between letting nature take its course and having surgery and an anaesthetic.
As always, Sean was my absolute constant during this process of decision-making and supported me to do what felt right. I couldn’t be more grateful for how he cared for me during this stage, never pressuring me to make up my mind and only ever offering words of balanced encouragement.
Tuesday 30th – I took the miscarriage pills and waited for the well-documented effects. Nothing happened for around 5 hours and I worried they weren’t going to work. I needn’t have panicked because as the evening drew in there was a gradual build up of an extremely strong ache in my lower tummy; it wouldn’t go away and I felt the need to run to the toilet. Cue vomit, diarrhoea and dizziness. So dizzy, in fact, I couldn’t stand from the kitchen floor for an hour and rocked back and forward as if I was in labour. To me, it felt like it. Sean looked after me, rubbing my back, fetching me water and watching over me as I fell into an exhausted state of sleep. I honestly couldn’t have gone through the pain without knowing he would be there.
In the morning I got up and went to the toilet – red blood. And clots. This must be it? I tucked myself back into bed with an empty feeling taking hold of me. I think the baby had left my body. Another scan the following day back at EPU confirmed this. The pills had worked. It’s the strangest sense of relief I’ve ever had. Relief that the process had worked and I didn’t need further intervention. Relief that I had somehow managed to trust my body to manage this part of the process on it’s own, with a little prompting. Relief that now, perhaps I could draw a line under the physical experience of the miscarriage and start healing emotionally?
How long does emotional healing take? How long does it take to get over a miscarriage? The loss of a longed for pregnancy. I don’t have the answers to that. And in truth, I don’t want to ever get over it, or forget about it. The experience of miscarriage has been one of the most profoundly sad things I have ever been through.
I want to always remember this baby who never was, who we never got to meet. I’ll remember them whenever I touch my tummy where they once were, whenever I feel at peace I will think of them, when I look upon a beautiful sea or a starry sky. I will never forget how we loved you despite never knowing who you were. And I will never forget how happy you made us in the shortest space of time.