I have never had a miscarriage before. My first pregnancy when I was 28 went from the excitement of looking at the two lines on the stick, to a straightforward pregnancy and finally the birth of my beautiful, now 8 year old daughter, Charlotte.
Fast forward a few years past an unhealthy marriage, divorce, single parenthood and losing my house to a devastating earthquake, I finally met a man who changed my world. After a short but magical period of time, we got married in November last year. Imagine our joy when we found out a week before we got married that we would be having a baby together! There was no way of keeping it secret from close family and friends – they were responsible for secretly drinking all my alcohol at the hens party and wedding!
I’ve never understood those stories where people don’t know that they’re pregnant until the baby arrives. The minute my HCG levels start rising, I get nauseous, have sore and enlarged breasts and I get ravenously hungry. I felt our baby’s presence the whole way through our wedding day and Charlotte was also overwhelmed with joy at having a baby sister or brother on the way. Her dream was finally coming true!
Those first weeks of pregnancy were filled with joy, love and hope. Hours were spent dreaming of what our baby would look like and be called. Each week we got an update from a website descibing our baby’s development and size. We affectionally named our baby Poppy. I was anxious to hear our baby’s heartbeat and the doctor referred us for an 8 week scan. I marked off the days on my calendar and imagined Dan’s face when he saw and heard his baby’s heartbeat for the first time.
When the day came, we sat in the waiting room holding hands for what seemed like an eternity before we were called in for an ultrasound. The sonographer warned us that we might need a trans-vaginal ultrasound if the external one did not pick anything up. We watched the screen eagerly as she pressed and moved the cold wand into my belly taking photographs. I searched the screen desperately for signs of a heartbeat but could see nothing. The sonographer’s silence was deafening to me. She then asked me to go and empty my bladder so that she could give me an internal ultrasound and at this point she reassured us in a fairly detached manner that it is common to need to do this at this early stage. Still hopeful and excited, I got back on to the seat and the internal ultrasound began. I searched the silent screen as she snapped shot after shot. I searched Dan’s face for reassurance – he squeezed my hand. The sonographer explained what she was taking photographs of and showed us what she then called the “fetal pole.” Is this our baby? She then dated us at 5 weeks and 3 days and told us it was too early for a heartbeat and told us to come back in 10 days.
Suddenly my mind was a whirlwind of confusion. Five weeks and three days? We knew our dates exactly, we had been trying for a baby. My baby was eight weeks old. She cooly told us to get dressed and we were free to go. I sat stunned and refused to go. We stayed in that room until she sent someone to get us out. We requested that she come back and answer some questions that she was clearly trying to avoid. She reluctantly returned and we finally heard the words that cut deeper than I ever thought possible. She conceded that yes, if our dates were correct it could be a “failed” pregnancy. We left that room broken. Dan was in a state of complete denial, clinging to the impossibility that our dates were all wrong, but in my heart I knew it was all over.
I cannot begin to explain the next few days, they are soaked in a blur of grief, loss, anger and confusion. Within a blink of an eye, our joy had turned to deep sadness. Suddenly we were faced with losing our baby and all the dreams that went with her.
My mind whirled with questions. What did we do wrong? When did it happen? When will I miscarry? What will it be like? Will it be the heavy period I had looked up on Google or will I hemorrhage my baby and need to go to hospital for a transfusion?
We then started on a hellish medical journey where suddenly our precious baby became a “product of conception.” The nurse confirmed that my HCG levels were dropping and had told me that I could expect to start bleeding in the next couple of days, then glibly wished me a “great weekend” as I walked out of the door in tears.
No counselling services were offered and I had to ask for a leaflet on miscarriage. I went home and stared at my menu of options:
1. Wait to miscarry naturally;
2. Wait ten days for a scan to confirm a failed pregnancy, then go to hospital and take a pill to start contractions and bleeding;
3 . After re-scanning I could go for a surgical evacuation at the hospital.
Each option carried a list of risk factors.
So began the dreadful wait. Every twinge in my tummy made me scared. Every trip to the toilet was to check if the bleeding had started. I had a desperate urge to deny what was happening and each morning started with a sinking sadness that threatened to drown me.
In order to face up to our new reality I started to tell people even though the words did not seem real. Somehow it helped me to process the information. I then became aware of secret miscarriages that I had not known had happened to the people around me. I became aware of the terrifying statistics – one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. 25%! Why did I not know this? As it is so common, should I be allowed to feel such sorrow? Should I hide my grief for the sake of others comfort levels?
Nobody had told me that I would still feel pregnant. My breasts were still swollen and sore. I still felt sick I still felt so pregnant, yet I had been told I have no life inside me anymore.
After nearly 3 dreadful weeks of this suffocating wait I suddenly miscarried. I was standing in a mall. We had finally decided to leave the house on a brief trip, in an attempt to resume some normality. I was standing there and suddenly felt a gush of warm blood falling and despite wearing a thick maternity pad ‘just in case’, I felt it go down my legs. I felt faint and shaky and terrified. Dan helped me to the public toilets and that is where my miscarriage started. He ran off to get the car and luckily my Mum had come over from Australia to be with us and she was able to stay with me while I waited. It came in waves and I was horrified at the blood and the thought of my baby going down the public toilet in a mall. Using toilet paper I tried to catch what I could from falling into the toilet I was crying out in horror at the trauma of it all. When the first wave ended I somehow made it down through the mall to the car and numbly sat there with blood on my jeans until we got home. I continued misscarrying on and off over the next couple of days at home before it tailed off to light bleeding. I assumed that the worst was over and we buried our Poppy under a beautiful rose given to us by Dan’s mum which is called the ‘4th of July’ and which was Poppies due date.
What we didn’t know was that it wasn’t over and over 3 weeks later just before Christmas I was still bleeding and after another scan, they diagnosed me as having a ‘missed miscarriage’. They said they would possibly intervene medically and booked me in to the hospital the next day. That night though, before I got to the hospital, I started bleeding heavily again and by the time I went to the hospital they felt that it was probably over naturally.
Fast forward to now. Life has carried on. We go to work, we play with Charlotte, we laugh and we live but we are changed. All the kind platitudes that we have heard like, “at least you know you can get pregnant” are well-meaning but empty. Poppy can never be replaced and it is our lost baby and lost dreams that we grieve.
Everybody copes in a unique way and cultures deal with it differently but sadly in our culture, there is no tradition to grieve for our lost babies. Miscarriage is barely acknowledged.
I share my story in the hope to join other women breaking the taboo and the silence surrounding miscarriage, to allow others to acknowledge the significance and enormity of their loss and to grieve freely.
Sadly, since then we have had a second miscarriage but we continue to hope that our rainbow baby will come. In the meantime I wear a necklace close to my heart with two pearls that signify our two lost babies. I talk to and tend to our plant where Poppy is buried and I talk openly with friends, family and others about our journey of grief which helps us on our way to a journey of hope.
A Guest Blog from Claire Blackall
Claire is a 37 year old who lives in Christchurch, New Zealand with her husband Dan, and 8 year-old daughter Charlotte. She is Occupational Therapist who works with people who have a neurological condition. She also has a part-time photography business. Claire loves family life, her pets, walking/running in the hills and sharing the odd glass of good red wine with friends.