Having had an early miscarriage at 6 weeks in January 2020, we thought that the year couldn’t get any worse or cruel. I’d started bleeding on the Monday, saw the heartbeat on a scan Tuesday and by Thursday, I was having an internal probe where I was told there was no sign of a pregnancy.
In April 2020, we found out we were expecting our ‘rainbow’. I certainly didn’t expect to find myself pregnant again so soon, let alone in a pandemic. We were delighted and I did everything I was supposed to. At my booking appointment with the midwife, she said I was a model patient. Excellent blood pressure, not eating anything I shouldn’t, doing PE with Joe Wicks and a healthy weight. Then she said I’ll see you in July at 18 weeks, I replied ‘if I get that far’.
‘You will’ she firmly stated.
I had 2 ultra sounds as my dates were 2 weeks out. I had to attend them alone and was terrified. One was at 11 weeks and again, just to be thorough, at 13 weeks. No problems whatsoever. Everything absolutely fine. ‘An active baby’, the sonographer remarked. We told everyone - via FaceTime of course. My 3 year old daughter was thrilled at the prospect of being a big sister and would talk to my tummy. We’d had 2 ultrasounds and a string of crystal clear images.
We were past the ‘safe’ 12 week mark. Now was the time to relax, enjoy and start buying the odd thing here and there.
Well, the midwife was right. On Thursday 23rd July, I had made it that far and saw her again. With my incorrect dates, she had me at 18 weeks but I was actually 16.
‘We don’t usually find a heartbeat at 16 weeks with the handheld Doppler but we’ll have a go’. 10 minutes of prodding from the student midwife later and no heartbeat. ‘Never mind, we’ll see you again in 2 weeks when we’ll definitely find it. Don’t worry’. Off I went.
For an hour, I believed them. Then the worry set in. I set about trying to book a private scan. The idea of 2 week wait was torturous. There was no private scan available until Monday.
On Monday, I sat in the car in the gravel car park looking at a wooden shack and filled in a clipboard whilst brimming with dread. I think a bit of me knew. The lady running the shack was so kind and it was actually beautiful inside. She projected the ultra sound images onto the wall in front of the bed. The image flashed up and I gripped my husband’s hand. I almost asked of her if she could flick it to the setting where you can see the heartbeat. She spoke before I could ask. ‘I’m sorry but I can’t find a little heartbeat’.
I felt as though the floor had dropped out of the room. Like I was in a lift that had lost control and was just dropping. Winded. Punched.
Even though baby was still, I asked her to check twice then remove the image from the wall and check again. Nothing. ‘How long?’ I asked. ‘Within the last few days. It’s shit. I’m sorry for swearing but it is and there’s no other word for it’.
My next question. ‘How do I get it out?’ It sounds callous but I couldn’t stand the idea of carrying around a dead baby. I didn’t feel like I could begin the painful process of picking my life back up with the baby still there.
She talked me through the next steps, left the room to phone the hospital and we fell apart in her absence. I then went into a weird sort of mode which I think was a mixture of denial and shock. Autopilot maybe.
At the hospital, on the delivery suite of all places, they tried to tell me my husband couldn’t accompany me (Cheers, Covid). I got myself into a state and said I’d leave. A common sense midwife stepped in and said he could remain.
3 doctors looked on an ultrasound. No heartbeat. The consultant questioned why on Earth I hadn’t been sent straight to hospital when the student midwife couldn’t locate a heartbeat.
‘We’d have looked for you. You shouldn’t have paid’ he scolded. I suppose if I’d have not gone for a private scan, I’d have had to have heard the news alone. That thought is unbearable to me.
‘What is this, a missed miscarriage?’ I queried.
‘A mid trimester miscarriage’ was his response. ‘Very rare’. As if that was supposed to be of any comfort.
After taking drugs to soften the cervix and having multiple blood tests, I was told to return on the Wednesday morning to be induced and give birth.
I spent the Tuesday returning any clothes I’d bought the baby and boxing up my maternity clothes for the loft. We tried to act normal for my 3 year old. What else could we do?
I was admitted to the delivery suite on Wednesday 29th July. The bereavement midwife was phenomenal and talked me through everything. Induction drugs would be placed in the cervix every 4 hours for 12 hours. Hopefully things would move quickly. If not, I’d stay overnight and the whole process would begin again tomorrow. It was a strange mixture of wanting the labour to be finished but wanting to prolong it as then I’d still have my baby.
‘What will it look like’ I asked. ‘Will I be frightened?’
‘No, you’re Mum’, was her beautiful response.
Mercifully, my labour was only 6 hours. The midwives were lovely; they kept the rooms beside me empty so I’d not hear live babies or ‘real’ women, as I called them, in labour. They followed religiously the stupid birth plan I’d scribbled. No pet names, no sympathy and no pain relief. The physical pain of contractions was a welcome distraction from the grief and shock.
Just before 4pm, I got a VBAC but not the kind I’d wanted. Baby was born when the midwives had left us for a bit. In a panic, we put a sheet over my legs and rang the emergency bell. We just couldn’t look.
After being checked and delivering the placenta (which I did look at and even touched!), they wheeled in the dreaded cold cot.
It took a while for us to build ourselves up to peering over the edge of the cot. Eventually, we did, and spent 4 precious hours with our tiny yet perfect baby. We had them blessed and left at 9pm empty handed. Our lovely midwife took us out a back way, again to avoid any triggering sounds, and saw us to the main exit. It was a small but precious touch.
It took a few days before it sunk in. I’d wake up still thinking I was pregnant and my brain would run through all the prior events again. It was as though it was happening all over again. I phoned the bereavement midwife and asked to be allowed back to hold my baby. I wasn’t allowed due to Covid restrictions. Had it not been for our daughter, we’d not have got out of bed each morning.
‘Late’ miscarriages seem like the ones with the least amount of information. Baby loss limbo. Everyone knows and dreads stillbirth. People have anxiety before their 12 week scan. What about mid trimester? I don’t feel like I fit into either group. I’d felt movement, given birth and held my baby. Yet my baby didn’t warrant any official paperwork and I felt like a fraud mourning them.
I’m grateful that we were all treated with the same care and respect afforded to a full term infant however it breaks my heart that some parents do not experience this. Some hospitals don’t even have a bereavement midwife. I’ve heard too that some women at the same gestation as me might be offered a D&C and this option would mean you couldn’t see or hold your baby. I’m pleased that we saw through the entire process. I have found giving birth to be of comfort.
A post mortem revealed my baby was a girl and that there was no cause for her death. She was cremated at the end of August and I returned to work as a secondary school teacher the following week. It was far too early but I didn’t realise that at the time. Quite how I handled teaching lessons I don’t know.
I fell to bits when Chrissy Teigan lost her baby boy. The news was inescapable and too close to home. However I feel like after that, people had more of an understanding of what we’d endured.
The thing that’s helped me and my husband the most is talking. Due to lockdowns, we had no support. If we didn’t talk our feelings through together, we’d have bottled them up and I think that would’ve been a disaster for us both.
Initially, I felt anger towards my community midwife for not sending me straight for a scan at the hospital. I threw my energy into complaining to the head of midwifery and demanding to read their policies. I soon realised that although she was in the wrong, it wouldn’t have changed the outcome and it wasn’t a good use of my time or energy. I’ve been told that she was ‘beside herself’ at what had gone on and has been reminded of the policy. Apparently she had a migraine that day and was waiting to be relieved.
I read somewhere that grief isn’t a straight line. I have good days and bad days.
There are days I feel guilty if I laugh or don’t think of her. We drank champagne on my due date because I didn’t want to feel sad. Pregnancy announcements still sting although I wish they didn’t. I’m triggered by one of my oldest friends training as a midwife in the very unit I gave birth in.
I know why I didn’t talk about miscarriage before this. I thought if I did, it would happen to me. I’ve proven that wrong. The unfortunate thing is that it can happen to anyone and we shouldn’t have to suffer in silence or hold on to our grief to save the feelings of others.