#misCOURAGE stories, 04/07/2017, by Rachel Zaltzman
I've had two miscarriages on the same day, one year apart.
My first miscarriage was fast and furious. I was 3,000 miles from home, on a work trip. After a 12 hour flight my colleague and I freshened up in the Ladies at Arrivals. Everything was fine. We withdrew some cash for the week ahead from an ATM and flagged down a taxi. Our driver was a lunatic and his car lacked suspension.
Unhinged. Unsprung. After one bump too many I felt something drop and then a hot rush between by legs. Everything was not fine.
When we arrived at our hotel, I paid the driver before casually marching across the hotel lobby to the Ladies. There was blood and there were clots. Clots the size of grapes. I managed to pull myself together and got to reception where I asked for a Doctor. I explained that I was 12 weeks pregnant and that I thought I was having a miscarriage. This was all brand new information to my colleague but without missing a beat she asked for an ambulance to take us to the best hospital in town. I had insurance, it would be covered.
We arrived at the hospital and I was lifted from one trolley to another, leaving puddles of blood in my wake. It may have been the best hospital in town, but no one spoke English. Why should they? In pigeon English, I was asked where my husband was. When I explained that I didn't have a husband, I had a partner, they eyed my tall, blonde colleague with suspicion. I should be so lucky!
I had an ultrasound. The sonographer said nothing. She didn't even look at me. She just did her thing, stood up and wheeled the ultrasound trolley away. I was presented with a consent form to sign, in Cyrillic. I didn't know what I was consenting to. I looked down at the growing pool of blood between my legs, braced myself for the next contraction and just signed on the dotted line. Enough English was mustered to ask if I had money - cash - to pay for my treatment and I had to show it to them before they'd proceed. (I'd say "God bless the NHS" if I hadn't subsequently seen a couple being interrogated about their nationality at the Early Pregnancy Unit (EPU) at home).
It was only when the oxygen mask loomed over my face that I realised I was going to have an operation. In the four or five seconds before I lost consciousness, my mind raced. I honed in on a memory of my Dad telling me that when my Mum had been raced to hospital with a molar pregnancy over forty years before, he'd had to consent to her having a hysterectomy to save her life. What had I signed? What were they going to do to me? I felt "done to" for a very long time afterwards. Violated.
While I was sleeping, my colleague spoke to my partner. It was the middle of the night at home and abroad. I don't know what was said, but I know it was rough on both of them.
It was three long, lonely days before I could fly home. A mother was cradling a tiny baby in the seat behind me on the first leg of the journey. We both cried all the way up and all the way down. I was still teary when we went through security for our connection. Despite not setting off the metal detector (I rarely do, I'm a good flier - or at least I used to be) I was pulled aside and patted down. I was stiff as a board and every pat was like a punch. I don't remember being asked to spread my legs but, when I didn't, they were kicked apart. I felt violated all over again.
While the flow of blood had been stemmed, the contractions continued unabated when I got home. It wasn't long before I was back in hospital. It was only then that I was told what had been done to me. I still had a womb. They showed it to me on the ultrasound screen, just to be sure. But they also showed me that not all of the "remains" (their words not mine) had been removed during the D&C I had undergone. It was too soon for me to be put under a general anaesthetic again, so I was sent home with Codeine and advised it could take some time. Two weeks to be precise.
I was unfit for work; people had to be told. Not always by me, and not always with my prior knowledge or consent. We found this deeply uncomfortable. It was a bit about guarding the silence that surrounds miscarriage. But a lot about protecting our right to privacy. Ironic, if you know what I do for a living.
My second miscarriage was slow and painful. When we'd got pregnant again, we realised we were on exactly the same timeline as the year before. It was either a really good omen, and we were being given a second chance, or it was a really bad one. It was a bad one. I bled, from time to time, the whole way through the pregnancy. I was told this was perfectly "normal." It wasn't and added to a deep sense of anxiety. If I'm honest, I'd expected another loss before this pregnancy had even begun. Loss was all I knew.
One evening, after a long, hot day at work not only was I bleeding, I was cramping too. The EPU was about to close for the night, and I couldn't face A&E - I don't like hospitals anymore. I called my partner and we agreed to go home and see what the morning brought.
I didn't sleep that night, nor the 12 nights that followed. I knew the drill at the EPU the following morning. I filled out the forms and gave my water sample with an eerie calmness. Tests showed that I had an infection that might explain the cramps, but an ectopic pregnancy needed to be ruled out. While the ultrasound showed the pregnancy was in the right place, it looked like I was much earlier than the 10 weeks plus 3 that we'd calculated. I was sent home with antibiotics, an appointment card for two weeks later and a little bit of hope.
I was back within two days with heavy bleeding, small clots and what I was sure were contractions. I'd felt them before. It was too soon for another scan, so I had an internal examination. Like a smear test but much, much worse. My cervix was closed, so the pregnancy was still considered to be viable. Nevertheless, this time I was sent home with Codeine and an appointment card for two days later - unless the pain became unbearable or I passed clots the size of my hand in the meantime.
That night - exactly a year to the day since my first miscarriage - the weather was biblical. As the rain started to hammer down, I stood up to close the window only to look down to see I'd left a puddle of my own on the (leather and therefore wipeable) sofa. The contractions and blood came thick and fast all night. My partner kept saying "one more contraction like that and we're going to the hospital." I refused. Even when I nearly passed out through pain and loss, I refused. I didn't want another midnight dash to hospital. I didn't want to be "done to" again.
Around 1am my partner finally coaxed me into bed. I lay on one towel and covered myself with another to protect the sheets. I needn't have bothered. The storm was still raging as I lay awake all night listening to the thunder and watching lightening flash across the sky. I couldn't help but wonder whether the universe was trying to tell me something.
The next day began much as the one before had ended, with a slow march between the bedroom and bathroom. As the day went on, the march slowed until I believed, I hoped, the worst was over. I was wrong. A scan the following day showed the pregnancy sac was still in place, but the consultant finally conceded what we had accepted days before: "miscarriage inevitable."
We were ushered into a quiet room, with fake flowers, a box of tissues and a sick bowl - just in case. A nurse explained our options. I was actually being consulted. What did I want to do? I didn't know. In a daze, I nodded along as I was being steered towards the recommended option of letting nature take its course over the next couple of weeks. Just as I was being asked to confirm my decision, my partner asked if we could have the room.
As the door closed quietly, he took my hand and looked me in the eyes. He reminded me that I hadn't slept in five nights. I was exhausted, physically and emotionally. He didn't think I had the strength to carry on for another two weeks, and he didn't have the strength to watch me. A D&C wasn't really an option: I was still dealing with the trauma of the last one. We decided to let medicine intervene to bring our ordeal to an end sooner rather than later. The nurse and consultant agreed; it was my decision, our decision. That was important to us. I picked up my prescription and we went home.
I was 11 weeks plus 6 days when my body finally let go of my second pregnancy. I'd carried my dead baby for at least 12 days. It ought to be unbearable but somehow I was deemed able to cope. I'm not sure how I did, or if I have. We'd been warned of the unpleasant side-effects. I'd had them all for days before the main event (and for days afterwards, which added insult to injury). I'd also been warned be the nurse to expect clots the size of my palm and by my GP (who I'd visited for a second opinion when nothing seemed to have happened after five days) that I'd know it when I saw it. But I don't think anything could have prepared me for when my persistent contractions were suddenly accompanied by a desire to push. The sensation seemed counter-factual. Having not been confronted with it first time around, I certainly wasn't prepared for delivering my pregnancy, intact. It was alien; the size of my fist.
The immunity I'd built up to the blood and pain over the past twelve days melted away. I was shocked. I was horrified. I was devastated all over again. I went from assuring my boss (and kidding myself) that I'd be "back to normal" in a couple of days, to sobbing to my GP that he had to help me find some sleep because I couldn't be awake anymore. I couldn't cope with 3am knowing all of my darkest fears. He agreed to help me, on the condition that I'd rest for a couple of weeks, rather than a couple of days. Bizarrely, he asked what I wanted the fit note to say: miscarriage. It is what it is. Isn't anything else fraud? says the lawyer in me. I've never been a good liar. If anything I'm too honest, often to my own detriment.
Again, people had to be told. But this time, I wanted to be the one to do it. I was less concerned about breaking the silence. How would people understand the trauma I'd been through if I didn't give it a voice? How would people appreciate that there's a reason I smile less than I used to, and that it's not reason enough to hold back my career? Besides, as every medical practitioner I have spoke to has assured me that two miscarriages isn't "unusual" surely people have these difficult conversations all the time. Don't they?
Shouldn't they? Sleep is the best healer and, a few days on, I'm feeling more human. The stronger I feel, the more my partner lets me see his grief. If I'd been glass half-empty about this pregnancy, he'd been glass half-full. While I've endured the physical pain, his emotional journey has probably been harder - he had further to go. But, he's continued to be glass half-full, dismissing the guilt - the failure - the second a confession crosses my lips. He's been incredibly strong for me, for us, for weeks now. Doled out pills when I've lost track of time, filled up hot water bottles, rubbed my back, and made copious cups of tea. He's held me while I've howled, without shedding tears of his own. Until now. I need to be strong for him now, strong for us.
The NHS usually waits for three in a row before diagnosing "recurrent" miscarriage. But my GP has offered, when we're ready, to refer us to a fertility clinic, in particular for genetic testing and counselling. There's a lot of hope, he says, the problem is clearly not conception. (So many people have said that to me: it's good that you know you can get pregnant. Is it? Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?) We've got mixed feelings about taking this step right now. Neither of us feel like we can face the pain of another miscarriage. I think my GP can see that too - the fear in my eyes, the tremble in my voice. I guess we're among the lucky ones who aren't made to wait, but this feels like a step towards another kind of darkness. Maybe things will feel a bit brighter in a few months and we'll see a rainbow.
I hope so.
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By Anonymous (not verified) on 7 Jul 2017 - 21:06
I'm so sorry to read what you have been through. I feel some of your pain, with a very similar experience. Nobody tells you what to expect and even then it's easy to feel overwhelmed with confusion. Please know you're not alone. Stay strong xxx
By Anonymous (not verified) on 7 Jul 2017 - 17:31
Thank you for telling your story. It is amazing how you can find the strength when you need to cope with such unthinkable pain. I have been there and urge you to keep going. I hope with all my heart you have your happy ending.