When it finally happened, just over two weeks after my scan, nothing could have prepared me for this miscarriage. The clinic’s simple instruction to ‘go home and miscarry’, and even my previous experiences were insufficient. I feel it’s important to share some of the details of my miscarriage here on this blog, not to wallow in the gory details, but simply to pass on something of what a miscarriage can be like (please be aware that every single one is different and every miscarriage will require its own pathway of treatment) because so often women are ill-prepared and uncertain of what their body might do. If you’re at all squeamish, now is the time to look away and flick over to a different page because I feel I need to get graphic to explain what it can be like.
When it comes to miscarriage, from what I have gleaned, there are different medical options to help the woman’s body to let go. Please remember I’m not medically trained (although I’m beginning to feel like I could be after all these years inside hospitals!). Once a failing pregnancy is diagnosed, some women go through a procedure called a D&C (Dilation and Curettage), under general anaesthetic, where the tissue is removed from the uterus by a doctor. Others might be offered some form of medication – often a tablet – which tells the uterus to contract and release what’s inside. Others – like me – are encouraged to wait and miscarry naturally. And here in lies the problem with the latter option: for me miscarrying naturally would always be my preferred option and it can go very smoothly, but it doesn’t always and knowing what constitutes as a normal amount of bleeding and when to call for an ambulance can feel a scary fineline to figure out when the bleeding starts. Previous to this occasion I hadn’t talked to many women about their actual experiences of miscarrying: it’s a personal and private line that seems unnecessary to cross and it can be accompanied by such trauma that the act of reliving it causes unnecessary emotional pain. I had only really heard the horror stories so knew how bad they could be, but I had been given no indication by the medical team of where my own situation might sit on the spectrum, and even trying to use online forums to diagnose as I waited didn’t help.
I knew there might be a problem when the first few days of light bleeding shifted one evening into a very different kind of bleeding. As I went to the toilet, it seemed as though the blood was running out of me. The only way I know how to describe it is that it was like I was peeing but it was blood being released in a steady stream. On top of that my body started to violently expel huge clots of uterus lining – a sensation I have never experienced before and pray I never experience again. For me the sensation was a bit like how it feels to have uncontrollable, explosive diarrhoea. There was nothing I could do to stop the blood or the clots from being released. When I thought the worst was over I put on the biggest overnight sanitary towel I had, but within 15 minutes it was soaked through to overflowing. In the end the safest place was to sit on the toilet to let me body release what was inside without making a mess. I sat there for an hour before finally thinking that perhaps this wasn’t ok, and that’s when I picked up the telephone to a friend who had miscarried some years previously.
This phone call is what changed things for me. Had I not had her advice to recognise the warning signs, the tipping point between safe and unsafe, between my body coping with a normal amount of blood loss and too much, I wouldn’t have felt confident to dial the hospital’s number. Within minutes of chatting with the emergency ward (NB: as it turns out fully saturating a fresh sanitary towel with blood within 15 minutes is a warning sign), we were in the car (I turned down the offer of an ambulance for fear of wasting valuable national resources) and on our way to the Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit. One other tiny detail I want to note in all of this also made a huge difference. A second friend had given me some unused incontinence knickers from her post-labour period and I had thrown them in the back of the bathroom cupboard for when my turn came. These knickers ended up being an absolute dignity-saver. As I waddled from the car to the hospital, full of shame and fear, these pants caught pretty much everything as the blood and clots continued to flow. We arrived into the treatment room in the nick of time, as they too were saturated and heavy from catching my miscarriage.
All this time I was anxious that despite my fears in our bathroom, I was wasting precious medical time. Isn’t that how we often feel, that we really don’t want to be a bother?! As it turns out, we were right to trust that the miscarriage had moved from manageable-at-home to unsafe. I arrived dizzy and faint from the blood loss. The medical team whipped into action, hooking me up to a drip, administering pain meds and monitoring my blood pressure (which had dropped) and checking over my internals. After a time I was found a bed and instructed to rest. If I needed the toilet I was told to catch everything that came out of my body in paper trays that sat in the toilet bowl so that it could be monitored. The team kept returning to check me over and to keep an eye on the amount of bleeding. Over the course of a few hours it slowed and I slept briefly.
I had hoped the worst was over but knew that I had to have a scan the following morning to see how much of the miscarriage had left my body. The internal ultrasound showed that although the majority had come out, there was still some left and the doctors gave me a series of pessaries to encourage my uterus to contract and release the remaining lining. (I later learnt that this drug is given to women who choose to have abortions. This fact is something that I am still struggling to digest, given how far from my own desire an abortion could ever be). Once again, we were given little information as to what to expect when the drug kicked in. I was offered anti-sickness and pain meds but turned them down, assuming I would continue to simply experience the milder menstrual pains that I could cope with.
An hour later I was back on the toilet, retching into a paper bowl and writhing in agony as the drug took hold. Looking back, I can only assume that I experienced a form of labour, as my uterus contracted and wave after wave of nauseating pain rippled through the lower half of my body. Locked into the ward toilet with me, my poor husband who had been with me throughout, rubbed my back and stroked my sweaty hair, listening to me oscillate between moans of pain and speaking in tongues as my exhausted body and mind tried to battle through. No amount of him trying to coax me back to my bed (on a public ward with three sweet elderly ladies) would work and after an hour or so a nurse was brought into the stinking room to administer the drugs I had previously resisted. After another half an hour, with the drugs now circulating, I relaxed enough to be taken back to bed to sleep.
As it turned out, the drug had not worked. Although both front and back passages had experienced contractions and emissions, the drug had not fulfilled its aim. I slept in an exhausted state. After several hours I was told that the worst was over and that over time my body would release whatever was left inside. I didn’t need anymore scans, only iron tablets and a pregnancy test to take in three weeks time (the quickest, cheapest method to check that my pregnancy hormone level had returned to zero). By this stage, a night in my own bed felt like a wonderful option. It’s the first time I have ever spent a night in hospital (I know, I’m a lucky girl) and I am full of admiration for both patients and staff who find themselves in this environment day after day. Although still a little wary, I knew that the worst was over and we were able to go home where I could spend the following days weak, weary and still bleeding, but definitely now in recovery.
In an emergency situation, it’s often necessary to switch to the practical coping strategies which cause head to over-rule heart. I am aware that I haven’t touched on how we felt, what our hearts were battling in all of this. As I lay unable to sleep in my hospital bed, I thought of every woman like me, and wondered at the bravery, resilience and strength that gets us through such situations. And the partners, the valiant men who have to watch from a chair by the bed as their mate goes through the horror and physical pain of losing the tiny life or lives that had been so precious to them both. Miscarriage can be traumatic, heartbreaking and incredibly frightening; an awful way to see a dreamy, exciting future disappear.
I flicked onto social media that night as I lay awake in my hospital bed and was sucker punched by an update by a lady from our old church announcing twins. The due date was close to ours. It hurt deeply even as I was glad for her. As I lay there I thought over how God’s willingness to bless her family – so many families – with new life, while our hopes of family continued to drag us to deep, dark places of pain and fear confounded me. I joked with a friend yesterday that if I have to unfollow one more woman on social media announcing a baby or showing off a newborn, I’ll have no-one left to follow at all! We do what we do to cope when we have to – and there is no shame in that. I am still numb and at a loss for words in my sadness. There are so many whys which will remain unanswered.
Last time we miscarried my husband and I struggled to know how to pull together in our grief. This time it is different, and perhaps that’s because this time neither of us knows what to say to God. We have no reserves of hope to fall back on. Our faith that God will redeem the future is buried under a mountain of pain and anger. We feel the loss keenly and our bodies have experienced horrors we have never known before. We really have reached the end of ourselves this time.
I have found two Psalms to be incredibly helpful and I share them with you here. They have given me the words that I don’t have.
I yell out to my God, I yell with all my might,
I yell at the top of my lungs. He listens.
I found myself in trouble and went looking for my Lord;
my life was an open wound that wouldn’t heal.
When friends said, “Everything will turn out all right,”
I didn’t believe a word they said.
I remember God—and shake my head.
I bow my head—then wring my hands.
I’m awake all night—not a wink of sleep;
I can’t even say what’s bothering me.
I go over the days one by one,
I ponder the years gone by.
I strum my lute all through the night,
wondering how to get my life together.
Will the Lord walk off and leave us for good?
Will he never smile again?
Is his love worn threadbare?
Has his salvation promise burned out?
Has God forgotten his manners?
Has he angrily stalked off and left us?
“Just my luck,” I said. “The High God goes out of business
just the moment I need him.”
Once again I’ll go over what God has done,
lay out on the table the ancient wonders;
I’ll ponder all the things you’ve accomplished,
and give a long, loving look at your acts.
O God! Your way is holy!
No god is great like God!
You’re the God who makes things happen;
you showed everyone what you can do—
You pulled your people out of the worst kind of trouble,
rescued the children of Jacob and Joseph.
I love God because he listened to me,
listened as I begged for mercy.
He listened so intently
as I laid out my case before him.
Death stared me in the face,
hell was hard on my heels.
Up against it, I didn’t know which way to turn;
then I called out to God for help:
“Please, God!” I cried out.
“Save my life!”
God is gracious—it is he who makes things right,
our most compassionate God.
God takes the side of the helpless;
when I was at the end of my rope, he saved me.
I said to myself, “Relax and rest.
God has showered you with blessings.
Soul, you’ve been rescued from death;
Eye, you’ve been rescued from tears;
And you, Foot, were kept from stumbling.”
I’m striding in the presence of God,
alive in the land of the living!
I stayed faithful, though bedeviled,
and despite a ton of bad luck,
Despite giving up on the human race,
saying, “They’re all liars and cheats.”
What can I give back to God
for the blessings he’s poured out on me?
I’ll lift high the cup of salvation—a toast to God!
I’ll pray in the name of God;
I’ll complete what I promised God I’d do,
and I’ll do it together with his people.
When they arrive at the gates of death,
God welcomes those who love him.
Oh, God, here I am, your servant,
your faithful servant: set me free for your service!
I’m ready to offer the thanksgiving sacrifice
and pray in the name of God.
I’ll complete what I promised God I’d do,
and I’ll do it in company with his people,
In the place of worship, in God’s house,
in Jerusalem, God’s city.
I don’t know how to give thanks to God in this place. I know there is still much to be grateful for, but the words of gratitude do not come thick and fast. I wake up with worship songs in my mouth and I sing them in the shower, but beyond that my heart feels like lead and I avoid our prayer room because I wonder whether those promises that I eagerly stuck on the walls are really just lies. We still wonder at this outcome when we believed we were set up for success by heaven this time. We are angry. We feel incredibly let down. We feel exhausted by the struggle.
Miscarriage takes time to recover from. We were never given any advice by the hospital team as we left. We weren’t directed towards counselling or told when to return to work. So much of this experience is poorly managed and badly handled. Among women who know they are pregnant, 1 in 6 pregnancies ends in miscarriage. I don’t tell you this to scare you, merely to highlight that this is incredibly common and we don’t talk about it enough. We will walk past men and women every day who know what it is to go through a miscarriage, and we’ll never know what it’s taken them to get up and keep going. So I’m talking about it just a little today. I’m sure there is much more to say. But this is me starting to share, and to say it’s ok to tell people that you’ve experienced a miscarriage and to need to find a way – or ways – to mark that loss and to grieve as openly as you need to. It’s ok not to bounce straight back from this. It’s ok to get angry or burst into tears for no apparent reason. It’s ok to find carrying on as normal a near impossible feat.
I have needed people around me to reach out, pray for us and love us as we hurt. It’s ok to say what you need and to ask for it – though I hope you don’t have to and that you will be found right where you are and given what helps you begin to heal.
For further advice, help and information on miscarriage, I have found The Miscarriage Association website to be incredibly helpful.