The totally unexpected trauma of a missed miscarriage

Sally, 38, is a veterinary nurse and lives in Kent with her partner, Tim. Having always been anxious about the possibility of a pregnancy going wrong, Sally was devastated when she had a missed miscarriage earlier this year. She found the process to be very traumatic, and wants to raise awareness around the physical experience of miscarriage. This is Sally’s story.

Anxious about pregnancy and loss

Throughout my adult life, I have been afraid of something not going ‘to plan’ during pregnancy. Friends of mine have experienced baby loss, and articles, TV shows and radio programmes involving miscarriage seem to have been vividly absorbed and concentrated into the single thought that to lose a baby at any stage in pregnancy would be too much to bear. But, 2 years ago, I met Tim. 6 months ago, we decided to try for a baby, having already discussed for a long time, possible names, the design of their room… 

We found out we were over 5 weeks pregnant on 10 January. The feeling was totally surreal. Irrational downplaying of any sort of positive outcome until I’d had a definitive scan muddled my mind and happiness. Tim kept asking what was wrong, and I wondered if he was scared that I had somehow changed my mind.

Over the coming days as I registered as pregnant, I became more and more excited, but was still frightened.  We found ourselves looking at outfits, prams, cots, but I would save an item on an app and then un-save it, worrying that our baby dream would be jinxed.  

Our first scan

On 28 January 2021, when I was just under 9 weeks, I had my first appointment. The student midwife seemed confused when she asked whether I felt excited, and my answer was not a simple ‘Yes!’. She asked if this was my first pregnancy – presumably to determine if I was this scared because I had previously had a miscarriage.  

I left with future appointments booked, scans requested, a ‘baby on board’ badge, and no mention that things might not go to plan.

On 1 February, I noticed a peachy-coloured discharge – and this is when things started to go downhill. A couple of days later, Tim drove me to A&E after my nightshift, as I was bleeding heavily. I had my first internal ultrasound. The ultrasonographers mentioned that they could see my “pregnancy”, but they didn’t refer to it as anything further. They could see my distress and comforted me, but this didn’t help. They said that ‘it’ only looked 5-6 weeks developed, and I had to wait for another scan.    

Heartbreaking news

On 8 February, at 10 weeks, I was sitting on the sofa when warm blood started gushing out of me through layers of clothes. When I made it to the bathroom, I fished things out of the toilet, trawling through Google to find out what miscarriage tissue looks like at 5-6 weeks. Tim drove me to A&E, but  the gynaecologist could not internally examine me as there was so much blood. I had to wait for my next scan. 

Two days later, I had my second scan and a silent ultrasonographer announced she would ask a second ultrasonographer into the room for verification. Verification for what? She briefed him that I was supposed to be 10 weeks pregnant.

He turned to me to say, ‘I’m sorry, but there is no heartbeat.’ What could they see? What was happening? Through my tears I was silently furious.

Afterwards, the Early Pregnancy Nurse discussed passing what remained. I was stunned again – I had not thought about needing to remove what was there. I chose Surgical Management (SMM) as the process was crushing me.

More pain and heartbreak

We’d had our first official scan booked in on 13 February, and I sat and cried at the time it should have happened. We were not going to be announcing our good news today – we had not made it to that point.

A couple of days later, I spent 4 hours in agony, having to control my breathing and feeling my body push with contractions, just passing vast quantities of blood and clots.

Tim sat helplessly outside the bathroom, talking to me, and feeding me a spoonful of honey at my weakest point.

On 17 February, I had my third scan – and by this time I had had enough of sitting in waiting rooms surround by baby bumps, purple folders and the sound of a baby’s heartbeat through a doppler in a room. “Can you see anything?” I asked, after some time had passed during the scan. “No”, was the single word response from my ultrasonographer. There were “Retained Products of Conception”, including a fetal pole according to the report, and SMM was booked for that Friday.

Another trip to the hospital

The next day, I passed something big at home – about 12cm long and 5cm wide. I scooped it out of the toilet – it felt so warm and I felt so petrified. It was solid tissue and I desperately tried to see an identifiable shape. I felt so sad that I could not, crying hysterically in confusion on the bathroom floor.  I assumed this was the fetal pole. I packed “it” up to take to hospital with me the next day.

On 19 February I arrived at hospital at 7am and had my fourth and final scan to check that after passing something the day before, the SMM was still necessary – it was.  

To my relief, the ultrasonographer actually talked me through what she could see. The procedure and time pre- and post- in a hospital room were a peaceful end to the physical side of this trauma.   

Lasting impact on my mental health

After what I went through, I called various helplines, started counselling, and worked through a complex mixture of thoughts towards anything or anyone pregnancy-related…

I was upset at Tim’s experience – having to wait outside during all that happened inside the hospital – and fuming at those petrifyingly silent scans and the inappropriate places I was expected to wait in.

I felt traumatised by the weeks of constant bleeding, and I couldn’t get the sight of the fetal pole I passed out of my head.

I wrote this to process what happened, and to help those who may be going through a missed miscarriage to be more informed about the scope of the process – it’s not often discussed in detail. There is a lot of support out there and I could not be more grateful for that at least.