Updated: Dec 13, 2019
If you've been wondering where I've been recently, you may well have guessed from the title of this post exactly what happened. I am not writing this for sympathy, or for comments, but rather because there was a lot I didn't know and didn't understand about miscarriage. I was told by the nurse who scanned me for the final time that the likelihood of first trimester miscarriage stands at one in four women, and yet it is never really spoken about. I hope that if someone, who may feel as lost and shocked as I did, finds not exactly comfort, but something solid in my words; an anchor in a time of crisis, then something positive can grow out of this experience.
It started when we booked an early scan. Because I am an anxious sort of person, I wanted to make sure everything was okay, so we went for a private scan at what should have been 7 weeks.
Prior to 7 weeks, you might find that nothing really shows up on a scan, so it's really not worth going before then, or you'll worry yourself sick that nothing was there and then have to wait a week for your next scan.
In my case, I was told that the gestational sac and the yolk had formed, which were both good signs.
For those, like me, who didn't have a clue, the gestational sac is where the baby grows, the yolk provides nutrients for the baby until the placenta starts feeding it. It looks like this:
After that forms, or while that is forming, you should begin to see something called a foetal pole, which is the beginning of your baby. It looks like a white lump next to the yolk sac.
We were told there was no foetal pole and that we would need to re-scan in a week. We wondered if we could have got our dates wrong by a couple of weeks. I convinced myself I had, though this was an impossibility - I was tracking everything on an app called Clue. The wait was absolutely agonising.
Meanwhile, pregnancy symptoms had hit full force. I felt nausea all of the time, my breasts were extremely sore and seemed to have doubled in size, I went off tea, and the only time I didn't feel sick is when I was eating. My uterus was hurting as it grew and the muscles relaxed, and my usual IBS became unbearable.
When you're pregnant a hormone called Relaxin - the name of which always makes me think of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air - makes your muscles relax, which slows down your digestive system
so I had extremely uncomfortable bloating for days on end. I took all of this as a good sign, but swore I never wanted to be pregnant again - every day seemed to bring something new to contend with - I was glad that we'd both agreed we're only having one child and that I'd only have to go through it once. I honestly hated it - I do not like being too ill to concentrate, to do your job, especially when you're self-employed. For a while I couldn't even scroll down my phone because it made me feel motion sick.
We went back the next week for the scan - I was pretty sure they'd find something, otherwise why was I going through all of this?
They didn't find anything. The baby had died and at some point, been re-absorbed. This was probably due to a chromosomal abnormality.
At this early stage it is extremely unlikely to have any outside cause - if you're reading this and wondering why, it is absolutely not your fault. If there is something seriously wrong with the way your baby is forming, then your body will terminate the pregnancy of its own volition.
Nevertheless, it broke our hearts.
I was told to visit the doctor and call my midwife, both of which I did the next day as early as I could, crying the whole time. The midwife was wonderful, had suffered a miscarriage herself and assured me that she would cancel all my appointments relating to the midwifery aspect, told me that after a miscarriage the body is more fertile, and that I would be able to get pregnant again.
This is something that still scares me - it's my first pregnancy, so I don't know if I'm able to carry a baby to term, but the odds are in your favour - it's unlikely that a woman will suffer two miscarriages in a row. But of course, is still possible, so my mind won't stay as quiet as I would like it to.
The doctor told me that it was likely I'd miscarry soon, as I'd experienced some cramping - though I was convinced these were IBS cramps, and not the cramps of a uterus miscarrying - you will know the difference if you've ever had a painful period and know what gas feels like! (I was proved right.) He told me to wait a bit and if nothing had happened I could go straight to the Early Pregnancy Unit at East Surrey Hospital and get some management for it. I chose to wait a week.
There are 3 ways to manage a miscarriage:
1. Naturally - you can wait for it to happen, and it will
2. Medically - you can be assessed by the EPU and given a pill to take which will speed up the process
3. Surgery - you can have the inside of your uterus removed surgically
As far as I could tell through limited research they all have the same effect and none damage your chances for later conception, it's just up to you which one you feel the most comfortable with.
A week later I turned up at the EPU, as the doctor had said I should, ready to take my pill and be done - it had been 3 weeks by this point, 3 weeks in which I'd known I was carrying nothing inside me anymore and still suffering all the pregnancy symptoms.
Pregnancy symptoms can continue for as long as your body takes to realise the baby has died. Meaning you may get to 12 weeks without realising you've had a miscarriage, which is termed a 'Missed Miscarriage.'
My husband had taken time off to stay with me through the afternoon as I had read that it would be very painful.
If you lose too much blood - by which I mean you soak through a large pad an hour or more - you may also need to go to A&E
So he would be on hand if anything like that happened.
I turned up early in the morning because the pill can take a few hours to kick in and I wanted it working by lunch time so that I'd have a chance to get some sleep.
However, I was told not only that it is not a walk in service, as the doctor had said, but that the NHS do not accept private scans and that they would have to re-scan me. They had one slot left at 2.30 for a scan, which would throw our whole timetable out, but I thought that Joe could come with me at least, and that it was unlikely I'd get any other time soon, so I took it.
I returned at 2.30 in the afternoon and went in for my scan. The lady who scanned me finished scanning, then turned to me and said in a very sympathetic voice 'there's nothing there'. By this point I was pretty angry - this was something I knew, I didn't need to be told yet again. Then she said that my gestational sac wasn't big enough for them to give me the pill.
Your gestational sac needs to measure 25mm before the NHS give up on the baby and you are able to manage the miscarriage. You need a second scan a week later to confirm that it's not growing if it doesn't reach this measurement
Great in some rare cases where the baby turns up with - miraculously - a hearbeat. Not so great if you're like me, you've had 2 scans so you know for certain there's nothing there, but the NHS won't accept the private scan so they make you wait yet another week in order to scan you again. I just cried floods and floods of tears. I felt overwhelmingly like I needed to end the nightmare and I couldn't - it was completely beyond anything I could control.
I left the hospital with no way to finish it, still experiencing all pregnancy symptoms, and with an appointment for another week's time.
Unfortunately, when I turned up last Tuesday, it was without all the forward planning Joe and I had done previously. Joe had a parent's evening, so would be at work until 8, which meant I had to do it alone, and a load of work had come in for me that I needed to get done, so I was worrying about that, whereas the week before I had managed to clear most of it.
The result of the fourth scan - a month after I'd found out there was no baby and three weeks after it had been confirmed - was that I finally managed to get the pill.
I went home. I made certain I had a snack, that the bedroom was tidy, that I had water by the bed, a hot water bottle, a book and my laptop. I got into comfy pjs, pulled up Queer Eye on Netflix, took the pill and waited.
It wasn't long.
If this is the route you take they say it can take up to 24 hours for it to kick in. If you get to 24 hours and nothing has happened they give you a second dose. If nothing happens then, then your only choice is a surgical miscarriage.
It started a few hours later. It wasn't as bad as I'd read it could be. I'd read all sorts of awful things about the pain that had scared the crap out of me. However, while it was very, very painful, it wasn't unmanageable - I suppose this is where years of extremely painful periods finally become useful. I bled a lot. I continued to bleed heavily for 5 days afterwards. The cramps came and went over those 5 days. I was so tired of them by the 5th day. I'd been crying on and off. I didn't mourn the baby so much as the dreams that had died with it. I was lucky there was nothing really to pass. Stabbing pains occur, which is your uterus starting to shrink again.
BUT finally, FINALLY the pregnancy symptoms disappeared. I was so absurdly grateful to be able to eat normally again, my desire for tea (my comfort drink) has returned and I'm so happy for that.
I'm waiting now - I have to wait 2 weeks after the bleeding has stopped, then I have to take a pregnancy test and, in some kind of sick reversal, hope for a negative, which will mean that all of the tissue is gone from my body. If it's not a negative then I may have some tissue still there, which will need to be surgically removed. There is also a risk of infection, of which some of the warning signs are: consistent heavy bleeding, smelly discharge and consistent pain that continues after a week.
You can try again after your first normal period returns, which could be in 4-6 weeks time.
So there we are, my entire miscarriage experience. I do not blame the nurses who refused me the pill - the NHS is so bound up in red tape that may or may not be necessary, that they often can't do anything at all, even in a clear cut situation like mine. They were calm, understanding and kind throughout, even when I was distraught and may not have told them how grateful I was for that. They were wonderful.
Now I am trying to put some good habits in place before we try again: I want to be happy and healthy, and I don't want to lose myself to the nausea as I did last time. I want a morning routine that I stick to whatever happens, and a more balanced, healthy diet that sees me through the worst of it without the need for me to resort to fatty, greasy or sugary foods. I wasn't offered counselling, though I'm sure if I asked I would be given it. I'm working on making sure I take some time for myself in the morning, on slowing down. And I'm writing this, to purge and to share, and to hope that it helps someone feel less scared and alone.
If you are going through this or have gone through this, my thoughts are with you.