Story of #miscourage by Kirsty Tither,
“It hasn’t been three minutes yet”.
I’d done several pregnancy tests before and hung on, as per the instructions, for the full three minutes, pleading that the second line would emerge in the little window…it never had. But this time was different. The two lines, indicating a ‘positive’ pregnancy result, had shown up instantly. So as Philip opened the bathroom door to check on the progress, I was biding my time waiting for this miraculous second line to vanish and dash our hopes once more. It didn’t. This was it. Philip said that he’d known from the look on my face that it had to be good news this time, even though I was trying to play it cool.
For context, I’m 34 and married to Philip, who’s 35. Our relationship has played out as follows: we found each other, moved in together, got ourselves a dog and then got married. We’re at the stage of life where you start to realise that your social media timelines have gradually transitioned from posts of nights out, holidays and weddings to the latest baby announcements.
At the positive test phase I was already about 6 weeks into ‘being pregnant’ — although working that out for the first time all seemed quite bizarre. You start counting from the first day of your last period?! Who knew? Well, not me. Even though we’d been hoping and trying for this, it turned out that we really didn’t know the first thing about anything.
What did we do now? Calling our GP surgery clarified that we actually had to register at our local hospital instead. This process played out through a website with a long referral form promising a response within 14 days. In the meantime we could try to catch up with ourselves. I was already taking iron tablets, but now I had to get going on the folic acid, quick quick! We’d missed out on weeks of good preparation because we didn’t want to take a pregnancy test too early and face the disappointment of a negative result again.
The accompanying signs of pregnancy kicked in soon after, with an horrific introduction to morning sickness, which involved gagging into an empty dog poo bag that I happened to have in a coat pocket while I walked to the station to catch my train to work. Yay.
We’d also carelessly arranged a holiday to Antigua for ourselves, which now had to be reassessed given that this was an area where Zika Virus was a threat to unborn babies. How were we going to explain that? And would we even get a refund? Incredibly British Airways was completely understanding, only asking for a ‘certificate of pregnancy’ as proof. Wow, were you awarded a certificate when you got pregnant?! We assumed that this wasn’t actually the case — it seemed too ludicrous, so we were hoping that the invitation to our first appointment would suffice (thankfully it did and we managed to receive a refund and book in a swift alternative holiday. Phew).
We were on the road to having a child and were both utterly thrilled. From day one Philip stepped into Father/Doting Husband mode and was affectionate and attentive in all things. The foot and back rubs started, as did the appearance of scented creams, taking care of housework (what he refers to as ‘his chores’) while I was work, and catering to my specific and monotonous dietary cravings. Oh perfect, jacket potatoes for dinner again, just what I was hoping for! Another slice of toast and Marmite for you? Sure.
The hospital didn’t get back to our initial referral form within the promised 14 days, so we filled in the full form again and waited once more. A week after this was sent I decided to try calling the unit to check that things were going through the motions. We hadn’t heard anything from them and I wasn’t even sure that these forms were submitting. The phone contact was equally painful and uncertain, being left on hold in ‘position 1 in the queue’ for 10 minutes before being bumped onto an answer machine message. Eventually I got through to someone who assured me that a letter was in the post, but let me know that I was being invited to my registration appointment at the antenatal unit within the week. She was sending an updated letter out. Both letters arrived together two days later — hmm.
Our booking in appointment was frenetic. We were handed a honking great blue folder that had sections and paperwork that would take us through to after the birth of our baby, as well as a ‘Bounty’ welcome pack full of deals, vouchers and handouts. There were a lot of forms to fill in, along with providing a urine sample and bloods later on.
We were bombarded and showered in congratulations and welcomes. Swept up the baby focused momentum, the only direction was forwards. Onwards! To birth! In this first session it felt as though we were expected to know how we were going to deliver the baby and where. Oh, had we not received the leaflet about home birth? But you are a perfect low risk candidate! Home birth it must be, I’ll set up contact with the home-birthing midwife team. Oh, but we’ll pop in an appointment with your local midwife unit too, just in case. And we’ll get your dating scan booked in and and the blood tests to follow that. Ah, and given your history with mental health troubles, we’ll get an appointment set up with the mental health team too.
go Go GO! We could barely take a word in. But it was definitely happening!
Part of me couldn’t quite believe it, because the evidence seemed so flimsy. A little 3 minute test I’d carried out myself at home, and that was that. I had no clue what was going on inside me, so we just had to hope that everything was doing what it should be.
So then came the discussions about who to tell and when. As so many of our friends and family had done, we decided to keep it a surprise from everyone until we were at the first scan. The only exception being work, because I was suffering with such extreme tiredness, general sickness, feeling distracted and lacking the ability to focus, I wasn’t sure I could keep on going with this unnoticed. So I shared the news with my manager. He had recently announced that he was set to become a father, so it was comforting to confide in him and he was totally supportive. I also chose to speak to HR so that I could get prepared for the next stages and how and when to spread the word more formally. This raised questions about maternity leave; when might I take my leave and for how long, what might my plan be when I returned to work? Thinking at that level of detail so far into the future is not in my nature, but making these plans seemed to be a necessary part of the process early on.
At 10 weeks pregnant, all these questions hanging on the horizon got Philip and I thinking about our finances and what other life admin needed taking care of before our new arrival. We could do with having the bathroom done. And the carpet in the bedroom is a state. AND the spare room will need a complete clear out before we can even start to imagine it as a nursery. So much to do! So the ‘to do’ lists started to get drawn up. Trying to pay off my student loan had been top of the list until now, but that was looking unlikely now, funds would need re-directing for more pressing matters!
I knew that friends had had a lot of fun with pregnancy apps, comparing the size of their in-utero baby with fruit and vegetables, and I wanted in on this. Working in app design I had to be a bit careful, because I use my phone to test out some of our products and it was being used quite a bit at this time. The last thing I wanted was for a BIG BABY NOTIFICATION to pop up and give the game away, so I held off installing any apps until this moment, at which stage baby was a tart kumquat.
We managed to celebrate our little one becoming a sprout at week 11, which coincided with letting our families in on the big secret. But half-way through the following week I started ‘spotting’. It happened when I was at work, and I panicked. Until now, although I’d had fear of finding discharge or blood, none had occurred. I didn’t know what this meant, but I didn’t feel good about it. Philip and I read up and there were reams of stories saying what a natural part of pregnancy it was, totally normal and not an indication of any trouble. I felt completely consumed with the thought of what might be happening. Real fear. I tried ringing around — the maternity unit was closed and you would only be connected to triage if you were 19 weeks pregnant or more with an emergency. So I waited to see what would happen.
The brown discharge continued to be light for a couple of days, and when it turned pink I worried more. Suddenly I found that I really fancied and enjoyed eating salad, something that I couldn’t have touched during the carb-fest that was the first 11 weeks of pregnancy. It felt as though my body was changing, but I hoped it might be the natural shift into the second trimester, at the point when cravings typically subside. I spoke to NHS 111, who advised that I speak to my GP. My GP gave me a telephone consultation and said to wait for my prearranged 12 week dating scan in 3 days time, unless symptoms changed, and then I’d be best to go to A&E. The receptionist from the doctor’s surgery was sweet and comforting, making a note of me and calling back to check how I was a few days later. “Stay strong dear” were words that stayed with me.
That evening I started to feel cramps in my lower abdomen and in the middle of the night I started bleeding. Waking Philip with the news was heart-breaking, as we stumbled around in a state of mild panic-stricken uncertainty, and made our way to A&E in the eerie silence of the early hours. The bleeding worsened, now revealing large clots, but we were told that the only option was to wait for our scan, because it was a weekend and nothing else could be done. I was given a once over, but now we had to bide our time. The bleeding was heavy and I lost all hope. Part of me checked out at that stage. I had to wait for 3 days and I was pretty sure that I was losing my baby. I had to cancel all my plans and ‘rest’, but really I felt like I was wallowing and just passing through the motions. We shared the news with family and people remained hopeful for us, wishing us well for the scan. Philip had read some miracle stories of babies being fine after the mother experienced substantial bleeding, but I didn’t feel so optimistic.
It was during these few days that my pregnancy tracking app sent me a notification to say that our baby was now the size of an apricot. That was too painful to dwell on.
We limped through to scan day. Welcomed onto the maternity ward as though nothing was wrong, and even ushered into the scan in a swoosh of positivity — hooray it’s your dating scan! No notes had been passed on from our visit to A&E, my talk with 111 or the GP. So I thought I should let the lady carrying out the scan know how our weekend had played out. She was relaxed and dismissive of my descriptions, asking me to lie down and proceeding with her usual ultrasound process. Nothing was explained — by chance I’d had an ultrasound previously, unrelated to pregnancy, so I had a sense of what was happening. She squeezed the lubricant onto my lower abdomen and started moving the device around whilst focusing on the screen. She did say she might be quiet for a while as she worked out what was where. But she stayed quiet for more than a while. And finally uttered the words “I can’t see anything”……“I’ll need to do an internal scan”. So I was sent to de-robe as I sobbed. I tentatively removed underwear fearing the bleeding that was still in progress. Then back for more scanning as I cried and Philip held my hand, holding back his own tears. We couldn’t help hoping that by some form of magic we would hear a tiny heartbeat and see the silhouette of our baby.
“There’s nothing there”. Right….
She asked me to “clean myself up”, which left me feeling dirty and as though I’d had some kind of sordid one night stand with someone who was disgusted by me and wanted me out of their flat. She left the scanning room to find ‘someone to talk to us’ and Philip and I hugged. It felt as though she didn’t know how to react to this situation, as if it were happening for the first time. It all felt unknown and unprepared. Quick, put them somewhere!
We were shown to a ‘quiet room’. The junk room. The box room. The forgotten room. ‘The Room Of Broken Things’. And I was also a broken thing. For company we had a broken white board, a broken light fitting, a broken radiator, a wet floor sign and a box of tissues. We waited. After some time a lady was brought to take us somewhere else in the hospital. She said she was going to lead us the quiet way. The ‘quiet way’ translated to the trademan’s hidden exit, where we had to negotiate palettes of deliveries and trolleys. We weren’t sure whether this was for our benefit, so that I didn’t feel the shame of crying in public, or whether they wanted to keep us from upsetting the happily pregnant ladies all around us. I think it was the former, but it felt a little like the latter given our state of confusion and upset. We found ourselves in the Early Pregnancy unit and were shown to another soulless quiet room, that was filled with too many chairs and nothing else. Again we waited. We waited for a long time, not knowing who for and what they were going to share with us.
A timid doctor arrived. She introduced herself and said in a slow and measured voice “So, you’ve had a miscarriage”. She stared at us for a while, looking as though she was trying not to laugh (I know that dealing with difficult situations can trigger a laughter reflex in humans, it’s a quirky reaction to something awful that I’ve experienced myself, so I know it can’t be helped). I broke down again. She handed me a leaflet about miscarriage.
“There’s still some tissue remaining, which has to pass out of you, so we need you to come back for a scan in about 10 days.”
Tissue? Where do you start with that?!
And then everything else…what happens to this MASSIVE ball that’s been set into motion? All the appointments lined up, what happens to those? (She had to check, but they said they would cancel them for me — that was a relief to hear, but I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t information instantly volunteered to reassure us). And my big blue pregnancy folder was taken away.
She did let me know that it wasn’t my fault and that this is a common occurrence, which was of some comfort, but really didn’t address what we were feeling right at that moment. But it made me wonder why we hadn’t heard more about miscarriage before having to actually go through it, if it was something that had a high probability of happening to us. Why hadn’t that seemed worth mentioning?
In a matter of minutes the whole future that everyone had been creating with us, had been snatched away. Our plans to meet our baby in only a matter of months — shattered. Everything we had been starting to craft and look forward to — whipped away from underneath us. And partly it felt strange that losing something we had never seen was having such a profound effect, but nobody seemed to be acknowledging the gravity of our feelings. We felt completely abandoned and in the dark. I just had to go away and wait for some tissue to pass though me. OK.
So that’s what we did.
And we grieved and we shared our news, because that’s what felt right. We’d been gearing up to spread the wonderful news that we were parents-to-be, so we felt we might burst if we couldn’t let people know something. And people gathered in beautiful support and to my surprise so many stories worked their way out of the woodwork of other miscarriages that had never been discussed. Somehow now the secrets could be shared.
I also had to let work know. Grappling with how to write down this news felt impossible. Every time I read my words back they sounded lifeless and far too much to the point:
“I’m in the process of having a miscarriage” just sounded horrific. It didn’t seem fair to send those words to anybody to read in black and white.
This fitted in with the timing of our holiday to Italy (previously Antigua); Bittersweet in its timing. We’d rearranged these plans for something that was no longer a factor. And while this escape gave us time to be away from work and the everyday stresses and routine of our jobs and commuting, we were still waiting for the inevitable process to play out and both feeling raw.
Returning for our scan at the Early Pregnancy department 14 days later we were shown to yet another bleak waiting room of sad blue chairs, ceiling damp, faded posters and pictures of sailing boats in 1980s picture frames. It was another long wait. Before being beckoned with an incorrect name. The lady in the scanning room introduced herself and said that another lady would be sitting in — she didn’t say why. I didn’t know what type of scan I was going to be having, whether they could do this externally or internally. It wasn’t explained, but inferred when I was asked to undress and put on the hospital gown. I was asked if I needed the toilet — I didn’t. She inserted the wand to start taking a look around and then abruptly said “You need to go to the toilet, your bladder is SO full”. I felt embarrassed. She’d never said that I needed an empty bladder, she only asked if I needed the toilet. And actually I’m able to hold a fair bit in my bladder, so what she considered to be full, isn’t something that would bother me. I returned and she joked “Maybe I’ll be able to see something now!”. Hardy har har — I’m an idiot with no knickers on feeling incredibly vulnerable. Let’s all have a laugh.
There were comments about the shape of my womb. ‘Bicornuate’ was mentioned. I glanced up, not knowing what this meant but instantly feeling worried. The supporting lady in the room looked down at me and said “Did they mention that they thought they’d seen an abnormality on the previous scan?”. I replied that they hadn’t and this was the first I’d heard. This lady was the one shining light, she explained that they thought they had identified a heart-shaped womb, but in fact it looked as though that was mistaken. I thanked her for being the first person to explain anything and started to tear up again. She came around to my side with tissues and asked more about the first scan and whether I’d known what was happening. My first experience of genuine warmth and care, rather than someone going through well trodden motions that are taken for granted as second nature when you know the job you’re doing back-to-front.
I was given confusing instructions to readjust myself so that they could try to locate my left ovary that seemed reluctant to present itself. The little snippets of technical chatter were unnerving but I was told I could “Clean myself up” again and go to wait in another joyless quiet room. Philip joined me and we waited for the doctor. We were checked up on a couple of times and assured that the doctor would come. It was at this moment that I chose to watch a TED talk about miscarriage, which felt incredibly poignant in this moment, as I waited to be given the go ahead to crack on with life afresh.
The same doctor as before came in. “Everything has passed through, so that’s that” (awkwardly followed up by) “…….for this pregnancy”
“Do you have any questions?”
So that’s the raw emotional story as it was, retold with the sadness, anger and sarcasm that pulled me through the experience. But here are my reflections:
I know that so many people live similar experiences to this, and far far worse. Mine is one of many. But in going through this I wasn’t sure whether to talk about it, and then who to share it with. I felt as though we hadn’t been prepared for this in any way. I get that it feels negative to wave the flag of potential loss when you’re revelling in the excitement of a new pregnancy, but absolutely everything said to us confirmed ‘you will be having this baby on 25th March 2018’ — so that’s where we aimed ourselves. And then it felt as though our world was starting to crumble when that turned out to be a fantasy.
Uninstall the apps, unsubscribe from the emails, unenroll from the classes, cancel the appointments. You’re back at the beginning again. It was heartbreaking.
This process actually brought some of the most warming and tender responses from people that we had never met, who acknowledged our rather stark e-mails saying versions of “sorry, we can’t attend this class anymore because we’ve had a miscarriage”.
Women running NCT and pregnancy focused exercise classes (that I had eagerly begun signing up for) responded with such compassionate sympathy and care. They offered advice, links to the Miscarriage Association, and words of great comfort. These ladies didn’t play down our loss, but encouraged us to grieve and mend ourselves. It made my confusing feelings seem more valid, and not like an overreaction. The lack of acknowledgement from the hospital left me feeling as though I could dust myself off quickly as I walked out of the Pregnancy unit and emerge into the outside world with a brave face slapped on.
The TED talk that I watched in the Early Pregnancy quiet room was “Let’s Talk Parenting Taboos” by Rufus Griscom and his wife Alisa Volkman. It had been sent to me by my oldest friend, and spoke right to the core of me. Number 3 on their list of taboos is ‘talking about having a miscarriage’, and they sum up so beautifully how being unprepared for this, as well as so many parenting scenarios, makes it that much harder to deal with what then presents itself. You feel blind-sided and caught off guard. You don’t know where to turn or how to deal with what’s playing out all around you — and within you. That was our experience, having been so focused on the end goal. Baby.
But along with that we sadly felt as though there were some fundamental human elements that were lacking in our care at the hospital. Time and again we felt dumped and abandoned in unloved rooms, having to wait without knowing what was happening. This continual state of uncertainty was excruciating, and compounded by the addition of unfortunate turns of phrase and word choices. We were, and are, well aware of how stretched the NHS is, and we are champions of the tireless work carried out that we have access to 24/7. It’s an incredible service, and it has seen us through this experience. But maybe it’s worth remembering that just because professionals are exceptionally good at their trade and know how to carry out their job efficiently, it doesn’t mean that the ordinary people on the receiving end know the first thing about what they are going through and being subjected to. Everything felt new and unfamiliar to me, it was scary. And unfortunately I didn’t feel as though I was guided through with sensitivity and care. Of course I’ve been feeling particularly emotional and tender, full of the toxic mix of grieving emotions (probably the worst type of patient to have to handle), so I was ultra receptive to any wrong footing. Empathy and compassion go such a long way in these circumstances, and when I felt a glimmer of that in my second scan, it meant the world to me. Instantly I felt heard and understood by the one lady who could see that I felt scared and alone in this process.
Revisiting the decision to keep our pregnancy quiet until the 3 month watershed, I wondered why we had been swept along with this notion. If we had been through our loss in secret, we would have been isolated; grieving in mysterious silence. I have to assume that one of the reasons why pregnancies are often announced further down the line — when the chances of miscarrying have been reduced — is to avoid having to deal with it publicly, instead coping behind closed doors. Everyone remains none the wiser, we compose ourselves and move on. Who are we protecting with this approach? I have been painfully aware that sharing this news isn’t easy for anyone: me, Philip, friends, family, anyone on the receiving end. By telling this story I didn’t want people to feel uncomfortable or upset, I just hoped to be honest. To explain myself and perhaps shed some light on something that so many of us have been through, will go through, or will be touched by in some way. To start more of a conversation.
We’re a week on now, and life has gone on, but Philip and I are still grieving and coming to terms with things in our own ways. Feelings hit us at different moments, or something will trigger us to both think simultaneously of our baby that couldn’t be. Talking and sharing has helped us both through, and made us both feel passionately about the wider awareness and understanding of miscarriage in society. Having said that I also think that the true weight of the experience is hard to grasp, as it is so often unseen from an external standpoint.
We’ll keep talking and grieving, and as my mum said “We’ll never forget that little one”.
Please note that the opinions expressed by users in Tommy’s Book of #misCOURAGE are solely those of the user, who is unlikely to have had medical training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of Tommy’s and are not advice from Tommy's. Reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment from a qualified health care provider. We strongly advise readers not to take drugs that are not prescribed by your qualified healthcare provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor, midwife or hospital immediately. Read full disclaimer