An ultrasound image of a foetus in the womb, viewed at 12 weeks of pregnancy (Image via)
I started to miscarry nine weeks into my pregnancy. After two weeks of bleeding, the baby was gone.
Right from the beginning the pregnancy hadn't felt right – in my head, at least. I'd been paranoid that something was wrong the whole time, experiencing a rushing feeling between my legs a few times a day. I'd dash to the toilet expecting to see blood and wouldn't see it, but the fear would remain. It's something I still can't explain. Then, one morning, I woke up knowing instinctively that things were fraying, like the aura you get before a migraine. There was a small show of blood when I went to pee and I was starting to get slight cramping pains.
When I first realised I was spotting I went into a complete panic, frantically googling my symptoms day and night, reading every single story that contained the words "spotting" and "miscarriage". I hardly slept, spending my days laid in bed playing Candy Crush (if I hear the theme tune now it makes me feel very sad). Speaking to a few midwives and friends who'd had babies, all reassured me that it could be very normal, but advised me to keep an eye on the colour of the blood. If it became bright red (fresh), I was to call the hospital.
Apart from the odd, cramp-y twinge here and there, nothing seriously worrying manifested until the end of the second week, when the blood came hard and fast. I was in agony. I called the hospital, telling them I was sure I was losing my baby, and they sent an ambulance to my house, monitoring me on our way to the hospital.
When I arrived, I was put on a stretcher right by the reception area and was waiting for about five hours to be seen. They brought me gas and air for the pain – which didn't work – and, every time I went to the toilet, I lost more clotted blood. I was terrified.
Finally, they got me in a cubicle, put me on a drip and did lots of tests. "Lots of women can bleed like this throughout their pregnancies," the nurses told me. I was in an unspeakable amount of pain by this point. I knew I was losing the baby and just wanted it to happen as fast as possible.
About eight or nine hours later I was taken up to the maternity ward, where they wanted to do an internal examination. I was brought to a small side room and asked to lie down, but before they started I had what felt like an overwhelming urge to poo, so shuffled to the loo. This time, when I sat down, I knew that whatever had slid out of me (I was too scared to look) was the embryo. I walked back into the room in a complete daze for the examination, where two lovely nurses got my legs up in stirrups. I took a lot of deep breaths and just held onto my boyfriend's hand. I had no idea what was going on.
After they'd cleaned me up, the medical team explained that the embryo was very small and that, even though I'd had a miscarriage, it didn't mean I wouldn't have children in the future. "It's just very unlucky," they said. "There was probably something wrong with the baby." We were asked to sign a form that allowed the hospital to cremate the remains of the baby. I was in complete shock. Too shocked to cry, even.
We left the hospital with a huge bag of codeine and walked, in a daze, to the bus stop, where I began texting and calling friends and family about what had happened. Then I switched my phone off. Once off the bus, walking home, I had to duck into bushes every so often to sob. The tears came in violent, retching heaves. It was a huge relief, knowing that the nightmare I knew was happening had finally happened, but I also felt completely stripped of my female-ness. It was a very odd, alien feeling. I felt like viscera. Nothing more.
Despite managing the grief by talking to a handful of friends and family each day, I became convinced that my womb was poisonous, that I could never carry a child. It became an obsession. I felt horrible and huge – the little bump that had swelled was still there, as well as the big, veiny boobs, and every time I looked in the mirror and saw my silhouette, I was reminded of the loss.
Somehow, I found the impetus to start exercising again, and that's what pulled me from my pit of despair. Changing my physicality felt powerful. I ran and swam in the sea every day, edging my way back to the body I recognised before all the pain. Still, even though I could control my body, my mind carried on speeding.
The author, finding power in exercise
Being around friends who were pregnant, or had young babies, was impossible. My jealousy raged. Every baby I saw who was born around last November (when I was due) would stop me in my tracks. I became quietly obsessive again, looking up online how big my bump would have been on a certain week – even images of what the embryo might have looked like. To this day, I wish I'd looked down the toilet.
My partner helped me focus on the future and we talked about trying again at some point. I had to believe I was fertile, that I was just unlucky. I wanted to rush, but he helped me not push it – I needed to get my mind, if not my body, back into shape. My impatience couldn't eclipse my need – both our needs – to process the loss. When I went to sleep at night, I thought, 'I'd pay every penny I had – sell all my possessions – to be nursing a big, snuffly baby.' But I knew that couldn't happen.
At the beginning of this year I began taking folic acid again and carried on with my life, knowing that, one day, I might get – and stay – pregnant again. And, if I didn't, that we could adopt, and that would be fine, too. I recently gave birth to my first child, my beautiful daughter, on my living room floor, with no drugs and barely any input from the midwife (the gas and air stayed in a huge sports bag in the hallway). She said I was a warrior. And, despite a few despairing moments where I felt unable to carry on another second – let alone another few hours – I felt like a warrior. Writing this piece while breastfeeding my big, snuffly baby, I still do.
If I could say anything to a woman who has recently miscarried, it would be one word: talk. I still talk openly about how traumatic the whole experience was, even though I have a child, because it cannot be removed from the dialogue of my life.
For every person reading this who says, "Ew, that's disgusting, too much information! Keep it to yourself!" there will be a woman lying in a hospital bed (or not) somewhere, bewildered and in pain, as the new life she held inside of her – that pure magic – bleeds away. And for anyone who thinks these things shouldn't be talked about on a public platform, there is a woman carrying the guilt, shame and confusion of losing a baby around her neck like an anvil, who might want to relay the story, blow-by-blow, so she isn't just re-living it in her head, alone.
Everyone processes trauma in a different way, and everyone has the right to share as much or as little as they want or feel comfortable to. That's a given. Like The Miscarriage Association says: "There should be no shoulds." But the fact that it took being open about my miscarriage to make women I know share such a staining, emotional experience also made me believe, firmly, that the taboo-ness surrounding discussion of miscarriage must be removed. It happens every second, every minute, every day, all around us, in around 15 to 20 percent of recognised pregnancies. It's a sad act of nature that is not dictated by creed, race or age. It's universal.
When I began talking about what had happened with people, friends shared experiences I'd never known they'd had – how they, too, had miscarried, or had someone close to them go through it. Shared experience is an enormous comfort, even if you're raw with pain. It's a flicker of sunlight through the storm clouds, a little voice that says, "You're in hell, girl. But you will recover."
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