I have decided that it is time to share with everyone what I have been going through this past year. Some of you I have told, others I haven’t – either because I haven’t seen you or it hasn’t felt right. There is no real good time to message someone and say hey, by the way I had a miscarriage in December and have PTSD as a result.
I have wondered for some time about whether to share my experience with others, as I am sure some might think I should keep this to myself. 1 in 4 pregnancies result in miscarriage which means a huge number of the women I know have likely experienced this. The traditional approach to pregnancy is not to tell anyone until after 12 weeks ‘just in case’ but this approach just hides the pain and grief that so many parents are experiencing.
I decided to write down my experience for 3 reasons:
- To break the taboo over keeping miscarriage hidden and quiet. And to share the reality, the interpretation of miscarriage on TV is very sanitised from the real experience. Although my experience was unusually traumatic for how early I was in the pregnancy, it is much worse for parents that are further along and those that experience still birth.
- To help others. If sharing my experience makes even a single person feel less alone, helps someone to share their experience or feel heard, and if anyone I know goes through this in the future, they know they can reach out to me
- To help me. I am still healing but talking helps. It helps to have people know what I have been through, what I have lost and how I have changed.
Trigger warning: I go into some detail here both about the physical and mental effects so if you are triggered by blood, talk of PTSD and depression, miscarriage, hospitals then please take care as you may find this upsetting.
On 18th December my biggest concern when I woke up was Ofsted being in for a monitoring visit. I started having some paint in my right side, feeling dizzy and vomiting so I took myself home and later that evening took myself to A&E. I was thinking appendicitis or a ruptured ovarian cyst but discovered I was pregnant and was booked in for a scan two days later. It was a huge shock, as I had split from my ex and was on the pill. Luckily I am still very close with my ex who picked me up from hospital and promised to support me what ever happened. I spent the next two days in a sort of fugue state, in shock but also in pain and scared that something was wrong. Wondering how I could not have noticed and why I hadn’t had morning sickness or sore boobs etc.
On 20th December we arrived at the Early Pregnancy Unit for my scan. I don’t really remember the small talk or how long it took. But I remember her telling me that the pregnancy was in the right place and the sac was measuring 8 weeks, 5 days but at that size they should be able to see a baby but she couldn’t. The sac was empty. I burst into tears and at that moment realised just how much I had wanted everything be OK and how much I wanted that baby.
We were taken into a small side room by a nurse who said she was so sorry for our bad news and explained that it was an anembryonic pregnancy or blighted ovum (I hate this term). Essentially I had been pregnant but early on something was wrong and the embryo died and was either too small to see or had been reabsorbed by my body, but my body didn’t know and carried on as if I was pregnant developing the sac and the placenta. This is called a missed miscarriage. I asked questions – was this my fault? I hadn’t known and had been drinking lots at Christmas parties, eating blue cheese and rare steak, but I was told it had started out this way and there’s nothing I could have done to change the outcome.
The three options are: 1. Wait and See – see if the body miscarries naturally, but this can take time. 2. Medical management – given medication to start the process. Or 3. Surgical Management – general anaesthetic and surgery to remove the pregnancy, but the only date they had for this was Christmas Eve. My ex and I both agreed that medical management sounded the best option so I could be at my home; so we were given the medication and some leaflets to take away.
Without going into too much detail, it did not go well and was the worst night of my life. The nurses and forms said it would be like a heavy period and some period like pain. It was not. I had contractions that I could time to the second, lost huge amounts of blood and was passing pieces of tissue up to the size of my hand. I was on my hands and knees, crying and screaming in pain, lost so much blood that around 5am my ex called an ambulance as my contractions were longer, more painful and closer together, my lips were turning blue and I was not responding to him asking me questions. I don’t really remember my first ever ambulance ride but apparently I was giggling my tits off whilst on the gas and air.
When we arrived at hospital my BP was so low and I was so dehydrated from the blood loss it took numerous attempts to get a vein to take my blood and hook me up to fluids. Once they confirmed I was being admitted my ex rested his head on my bed and burst into tears, I think from relief that I was being taken care of and he could finally show how scared he had been. I was admitted to a ward and given morphine, and he was finally able to go home to get some rest, leaving me in the care of the nurses. I had various examinations and was told I had done the right thing coming in with my level of blood loss. In the morning I had a scan and they told me that the majority had passed and I just had ‘blood and clots’ left in my uterus which should pass in time, so I was allowed to go home.
Over Christmas and New Year I dissolved into a pit of depression, I spent time with my family and my ex took me up to spend time with his. He took care of me every day but I couldn’t snap out of the pain and the shock from everything I had been through. I cried constantly and I was still in pain, bleeding, being sick, my boobs hurt. I felt completely lost. I couldn’t understand how I could feel so sad and miss something I never even knew I had. Most nights I couldn’t sleep, and when I did sleep I had nightmares or flashbacks and woke up crying. Eventually my ex had to return to work, but I was still on leave. I hated being in my house as it reminded me of everything that had happened and I hated being alone, especially at night. I was bloated and swollen and felt more pregnant than I ever had when I was, I was constantly bleeding and carried a hot water bottle everywhere I went.
I went to the GP in early January as I was still bleeding and did not feel capable of going back to work. The doctor told me he suspected PTSD due to my issues with nightmares and flashbacks, I had already found myself a private therapist as I didn’t want to be referred on the NHS and wait, so he was happy that I had identified the need for this myself. I was signed off for a number of weeks, and sent for an examination which confirmed a uterine infection, and put on two broad spectrum antibiotics for a week. One antibiotic gave me a really bad reaction so I was covered in an itchy rash all over my body which exacerbated the not sleeping and at this point my ex had had to go back to work and was back at his house. No my nights were even harder with no one to talk to when I couldn’t sleep or had a nightmare.
In my second week off, mid-January, I took a pregnancy test as instructed – 3 weeks after the miscarriage to confirm my hormone levels have dropped. It was positive. I rang the EPU and was booked in for a scan a few days later. My third time back in the room where I first had the awful news. The scan took some time – the sonographer had to do both internal and external scan, both twice, calling in the consultant to have a look. It turned out that they were wrong at the last scan – it wasn’t just blood and clots left – the gestational sac was trapped in my cervix and my body still thought I was pregnant. This made sense to me that something was there since I was still in pain, still spotting, hormones were crazy and I had the infection.
They told me I would potentially need a D&C to remove the sac, but that would need anaesthesia and booking in at a future date. So they wanted to see if they could visualise the sac to remove it. My ex was with me, holding my hand, through a procedure that was almost as traumatic as the original miscarriage. No pain killers, no medication to soften the cervix – it was painful and brutal and horrific. I could barely walk or stand afterwards; we had to request a wheelchair to get me to the car. And the sac had been acting as a plug so more bleeding and clots and cramping, like going through the miscarriage all over again. I felt like my bottom half had been hit by a car, all I could do was lie on the sofa and cry. Again. I spent a further two weeks off work, to recover physically and was having my counselling weekly. My work allowed my to phase back over a number of weeks, and my friends and family that knew were super supportive.
My therapy was a life line that helped me get through it. The psychotherapist I found used to be a midwife and specialised in women’s health. She helped me process the shock, trauma and the grief I felt for my loss. I felt like I didn’t have any right to be as sad as I was, as I hadn’t been trying and I know so many women who try for years and have needed IVF, and I didn’t know I was pregnant and wondered constantly if I had known could I have taken better care of myself and this not happened. I saw pregnant women and babies everywhere I went. They were always there but now they were all I could see and I felt so much pain wishing I was still pregnant, wishing for my baby. My sister was pregnant and although I was so happy for her, I just kept wishing I was too and wanting to be experiencing our pregnancies together. My therapist helped me deal with all emotions I couldn’t understand and helped me realise just how much I want to be a parent, and that I have been using my career as blinkers to focus on something I can control, as relationships are something I can’t control, She also helped me with my self compassion, to be kinder to myself and to stop trying to be superwoman, to focus on the achievements I have made and try to be happy with where I am.
I had 6 months of counselling which finished in late June, and I am finally at a place of acceptance. But I don’t think I will ever entirely get over my loss. On what would have been my due date in July my ex and I went to the beach, and I painted a pebble with the date of the miscarriage and threw it into the ocean. I also have a tattoo to commemorate the loss, and I have created a memory box with dried flowers, letters and other items. I still have bad days and flashbacks or nightmares sometimes, the things that trigger me can be very surprising and not the things I would expect. Some days I am fine, and grateful for all the positives in my life; some days the hole in my life feels unbearable and I grieve for the child I will never get to meet. But I now know the bad days will pass, and I hope that there will be more good days ahead.
The experience has changed me as a person, in part thanks to the counselling. I try to focus on the things that are important in my life like friends, family and hobbies instead of work, and hopefully at some point a relationship and family of my own. I feel like I don’t get as stressed or upset about the small stuff, as there are more important things in life and although at times it is hard, I try to be optimistic about the future, which is hard, but I feel like going through something so painful has given me new perspective.
I know my ex has had concerns about me sharing my story, worried that people will judge him because we aren’t together. But we had already split up when we found out and he could have easily run a mile, but he didn’t. He was there by my side every second, every appointment, holding my hand and crying with me. He has been more supportive than I ever could have hoped for, and going through something like this together is quite profound. But being together out a sense of responsibility is not a reason to be in relationship. He is wonderful person and continues to support in whatever ways he can. In a way he is family now, and we remain close friends.
I am so grateful to my friends and family who have supported me through this, when at times I thought the crying would never stop and the grief would swallow me whole. From friends spending hours on the phone with me, even all the way from the US; friends who came to sit with me, just to eat pizza and listen as I cried; friends who sent me cards and brought me presents on the due date just because; friends who messaged me to check how I was, including people I didn’t consider all that close but cared enough to remember and reach out; friends who made me laugh again when I thought that might never be possible and the new friends I have made through the miscarriage support group, amazing, strong, incredible women who listen, support and never judge. I am incredibly lucky to have so much love in my life no matter how far away they might be, and I know that if I am ever lucky enough to have a child of my own that they will be so fortunate to be surround by so many wonderful people.