One of the cruellest things about miscarriage is that you get to keep all the pregnancy symptoms for a while. So even while you are bleeding and your body is letting go of your precious baby, you still have the fatigue and the nausea which excited you just a few days ago because it meant all this was real.
I suffered my first miscarriage in August last year. I had only tested positive a few days earlier and we had conceived right away when we had planned to, so it hadn’t occurred to us that something like this could happen. We already have one little girl, and my friends kept reminding me of that. Let me explain this in simple terms: Having one or more children already does not make it easy or painless to subsequently have a miscarriage. Please do not assume that when attempting to comfort someone who just had one.
The worst thing at the time was the period of not knowing. People bleed during normal, healthy pregnancies too- I had- so you cling onto hope until they tell you that you can’t hope anymore. I had to have two scans, ten days apart. Those were the longest ten days of my life.
Part of me knew. The bleeding was getting progressively heavier and I had really bad cramping in my lower abdomen and back. I just didn’t want to accept it. When I was finally told by the loveliest midwife in the world that there was no hope, I crumpled into a psychological heap.
It isn’t usual to tell people about a pregnancy during the first trimester, and we hadn’t. My mother might have known if she was living, but she was not. This meant I had to grieve alone- because my husband, in my opinion bizarrely, wasn’t grieving. He came along to the miscarriage support group a few days later, but he barely spoke and he wasn’t there when I lit a candle in the hospital chapel in remembrance of our lost baby. Perhaps because all this hadn’t occurred in his body, he was able to detach himself from it. But I resented him for that.
We spent weeks blaming one another. Was it that cheese I ate or that argument we had or the long hours I was working in my new job? How could this have happened to us? I was having nightmares and bursting randomly into tears at work or at the supermarket. I spent hours looking at the commemoration certificate which the hospital had given me for my baby and sobbing because it wasn’t a birth certificate. I fantasised about what my baby would have looked like and been like and grown up to be. It took a long time to normalise.
Eventually, we resigned ourselves to what had happened. We had been told by all the medical professionals that there was a 1-in-3 chance of it happening in every pregnancy, and that it was very unlikely that it would happen the next time I conceived, so we prepared ourselves to try again.
This time I was looking over my shoulder from the start, but as the weeks progressed, I began to feel more relaxed. We started wondering if we might have a boy or another girl, we even began to dream up names. My Doctor was keen for us to have an early scan due to my previous miscarriage, and so on his advice, I went in for one.
I chatted away to other couples in the hospital waiting room. I’d come on my own because I was sure this was just going to be a formality. I’d had no bleeding and felt absolutely fine so this pregnancy was going to go perfectly. Anyway, I’d been told time and again that lightning doesn’t strike twice. Plus every woman I’d spoken to who’d had a miscarriage had then gone on to have a successful pregnancy next time. Why wouldn’t I?
As she rolled the ultrasound device over my tummy, the sonographer furrowed her brows. I didn’t like her expression- perhaps because I’d seen it before. My heart sank a little.
“The baby doesn’t have a heartbeat,” she finally said, “and it should really have a heartbeat by now.” My own heart nearly stopped when I heard this. It felt like time was standing still. Surely this couldn’t be happening again? She sent me away for a week. When I came back (having cried non-stop for a week) she told me the baby still didn’t have a heartbeat, but it had grown. Because this was unusual, she sent me away for another week. I came back. She said the baby had now stopped growing- and still didn’t have a heartbeat.
Why hadn’t I started bleeding? It seemed my dead baby was clinging onto me, not wanting to let go of his chance at life, just like I didn’t want to let go of him. The midwife recommended an operation to clear out the “products of conception.” I wished they would all call this my baby. It was my baby!
I asked them again and again if there was any chance my baby might be saved, and they told me again and again that it was over. I had just been really unlucky to have it happen to me twice. I should try again. It wouldn’t happen again.
A few days later, I went in for the operation. It was under general anaesthetic. Although I knew it hadn’t survived, I felt like I was betraying my baby by letting them pull it out of my body like this. I bled a lot and they kept me in overnight.
Because I was a little further along in this pregnancy, I had told my sister and some close friends, who were amazing during it all. My workplace was absolutely wonderful and gave me some time off to recover and stop bleeding before I came back. But one Asian friend who had just had a baby of her own refused to let me come and see her because I had miscarried and therefore was cursed in some way that might cast a shadow over her own baby! I will never forgive that. I was hurting enough already without being treated like a pariah because of my misfortune.
I already felt sub-woman, as if I wasn’t able to serve my basic purpose on the earth, reproductive failure. If I were a cow who repeatedly didn’t calve, I’d have been sent to slaughter by now. If I were living in some other societies, my husband would have replaced me with a more fertile wife by now. Meanwhile, everyone around me was happily giving birth to gorgeous healthy new babies- even the Duchess of Cambridge helpfully announced another pregnancy at around this time.
The physical pain afterwards was horrendous. It meant my ordinary life had to stop for a couple of weeks. No work, no shopping, no netball. It felt like somebody had pressed ‘pause’ on my life. I could only sit still and sob.
The psychological pain was worse. At this stage or pregnancy, the hospital disposes of the ‘products of conception’ by way of cremation if the parent does not want to take them home. It is horrendous having to come face to face with the remains of your baby which has been dragged out of your womb with medical instruments- but I had to. I couldn’t let my baby be cremated as this wasn’t in line with my beliefs. So I had to receive its remains, in a plastic bag inside a cardboard box, to take away with me and dispose of myself. I walked alone into a local park and put it into running water. Luckily it was raining heavily and nobody could see my tears. It was a barbaric experience and has indelibly scarred me.
I didn’t know if we should try again. It felt like however much I wanted a baby for my crib, all I kept doing was making more little angels for heaven. I didn’t want to keep making babies who died in my womb. It was breaking my heart totally. I hated my body for doing this. My body, with its great shape and great immune system, my body which I had always loved and trusted before, I hated it now and thought of it as the enemy.
Why was I not allowed another child? So many women in all sorts of circumstances have children every day, and I had waited until I could give them a good home but I couldn’t. It seemed, and seems, really unfair.
I spend hours looking at the ultrasound scan of this baby which they gave me to remember it by, kissing that little scrap of paper, totally unable to let this little person go. People don’t like to talk about miscarriage, and I don’t know why. If they have any other medical issues, they are happy to tell everyone about them but miscarriage embarrasses people so there is a wall of silence. That makes it a really lonely thing to go through and this isn’t how it should be. I needed my friends to rally round me at this time but people mainly slipped off quietly into the background of my life, leaving me to pull myself together, alone.
It took me much longer to pull myself together this time, but then my husband and I agreed that because we wanted to complete our family so very much, we would give it one last shot. I started on the pre-natals again and got myself in peak physical condition ready for pregnancy. It took us a while to conceive this time, but eventually we did. As soon as I tested positive, my husband made me sign up to a pregnancy website and started talking about baby clothes and buying a new car seat. I was too afraid to engage in all these discussions yet, but finally I was happy and hopeful.
Just a few days later, I started to bleed. To start with I prayed and I begged for mercy. But it is my second day of bleeding today and I know too well what is happening. It is difficult to describe the anguish of going through all this again, but I will tell you that it feels like a taste of death.
The reason I am writing this article is that I think women who suffer miscarriage, be that one or several miscarriages, need your love, kindness and support. As their friend, sister, mother or colleague, please give them room to talk and grieve. I have found the Asian community in particular to be superstitious, nervous, dismissive, and in one case actually hostile in relation to miscarriage. Most of us would happily die for our children, and I would have easily given my life to bring any of my lost children healthy and strong into the world. I didn’t have the choice. It wasn’t my fault.