Story of #miscourage by Rachel Zaltzman,
It’s amazing the difference between one, two and three. All by myself. Just the two of us. You, me and baby makes three. 15% of pregnant women have one miscarriage; 2% have two back-to-back miscarriages; and 1% have three miscarriages in a row.
Once is chance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is a pattern (or, to quote James Bond, three times is enemy action).
The leap between two and three seems huge. After my second miscarriage (yes, I’ve been here before https://www.tommys.org/miscarriage-stories/deja-vu) I was told that two wasn’t uncommon, two was perfectly normal. After two, a sympathetic GP, which I had, might tinker around the edges but it’s only after the third miscarriage that you’ll get a full investigation into what might be wrong - unless you can afford to pay for it.
After two losses, becoming pregnant for a third time seemed far from normal. The normal response to pregnancy is joy, happiness. The response to my third pregnancy was fear and concern. Largely unspoken, but you could see it in the wide eyes and raised eyebrows of everyone we told. I don’t blame them, I was terrified too.
Truth be told, I’d been terrified every day since my first miscarriage. It’s impossible to quantify the amount of energy I had to put into just staying on an even keel. I’d slap a brave face on but ask the right question and you’d hear the tremble in my voice. You just had to scratch the surface to find the tears.
Return to work after my second miscarriage required a Herculean effort. I’d been temporarily promoted to cover my boss’ maternity leave. It wasn’t just staying on an even keel, I had to raise my game. I was asked to apply for the promotion while on leave for my second miscarriage.
I was still bleeding, popping Codeine to ease the pain in my body and sleeping pills to block out the pain in my head. In hindsight, it was madness. There was no easing myself back in gently - one week back at work and I was doing my new job, my old job and covering two and a half other jobs as well. By the time I was pregnant for a third time I’d reduced my load to just three jobs; I’d had one day of leave in six months; and spent most days prioritising whether I would carve out time to have lunch or go to the toilet. I was exhausted. I asked myself whether I was doing the right thing and even asked to step down at one point but was talked out of it. I wanted my life to move forward but was progressing at work worth risking my chances of getting pregnant again, of having the family we so desperately want?
It’s a miracle that we got pregnant again at all, but we did. Pregnancy made me more exhausted, hungry, and in need of the toilet A LOT. And, pregnancy meant my anxiety levels were off the scale. Every single day, I battled anxiety that threatened to consume me. Emails asking whether I had or whether I could do this or that seemed to be accompanied by pointing or strumming fingers. Meetings about who should take forward a piece of work all seemed to result in colleagues looking at me, with the voices in my head taunting me that I wasn’t pulling my weight but if I took on more would I be putting my pregnancy at risk?
The feelings of inadequacy and fear of loss (not just of a pregnancy but loss of everything: my relationship, my job - did I deserve any of it?) that I’d carried since my first miscarriage were amplified in my third. If I could have wrapped myself in cotton wool for 36weeks, I would have done it. I saw risks and the spectre of the unknown everywhere. I hesitated over committing to holidays: I may or may not be pregnant at that point; we may or may not have a four month old at that point. I declined the advances of a headhunter because I may or may not be going on maternity leave 3months after they wanted me to start. Decision paralysis was the name of the game, and the House won every time.
The fear of hospitals that had dogged me since my first miscarriage was overwhelming. Why do they put everything pregnancy-related on the same floor? You go left if your having a good day, and right if you’re having a bad one, but you still have to get yourself to that floor. I was so anxious the day of my booking-in appointment that I started hyperventilating in the lift and had to get out and climb the eight flights of stairs to the antenatal clinic instead. I broke down and cried on the way to the early scan we had in week nine - my partner nudged and sometimes dragged me through the crowds of rush hour commuters.
We needed this pregnancy to be different and, in a lot of ways, it was. The midwife treated me differently: I was classified as high-risk and referred to an antenatal consultant. I was told after one miscarriage, your chance of a second is 14-21%. After two in a row, your chance of a third rises to 24-29% (there’s that leap again). My first two miscarriages had happened on the same day (one year apart) which was now our due date and just after my temporary promotion was due to finish - that had to be a sign! All of my pregnancy symptoms were reassuringly stronger this time. And, unlike my first two pregnancies, I didn’t have any spotting - right up until the end.
The other difference was that this time, I didn’t make it to week 12. A week after that early scan where we’d seen our jellybean on the screen and counted 122 heartbeats per minute, it was all over. Perhaps counter-intuitively, when I realised I was miscarrying for the third time the anxiety melted away. I don’t think I’d appreciated the size of the load I’d been carrying until it wasn’t there anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I howled that first day; the sense of loss was just as acute as it had been with the first two. But the fear of the unknown had diminished; I’d been put out of my misery - in the short-term anyway. If there are any advantages to having three miscarriages, they include knowing what’s going to happen. We were more prepared, informed and in control than before. We decided how much we could manage ourselves at home and when it was time to go to the hospital. In that way, it was far less traumatic than the first two.
I was prepared to ask “what happens next?” but I didn’t have to. I hadn’t even put my underwear back on before the Sonographer who confirmed my third miscarriage (the same woman who had confirmed my second) asked if I wanted to investigate. There were no platitudes, no suggestion of trying again in a couple of months (indeed we were told not to). I’d hit the magic number that automatically opened the door to the Recurrent Miscarriage Clinic. Well, almost - there’s a waiting list. Only 1% of pregnant women experience recurrent miscarriage and yet there’s a waiting list for the clinic...
I think another reason why I feel a little lighter after my third miscarriage is that, for want of a better word, I’ve been vindicated in some way. After the first miscarriage, I felt, deep down, that something was fundamentally wrong.
I hadn’t been comforted by the platitudes or the statistics. I knew it wasn’t normal.
Maybe now we’ll find out why.
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