TW – loss and blood talk
Disclaimer – this is my experience, I cannot pretend to understand all stories, especially not those of couples who have lost more further along pregnancies 😦
Sometimes I joke about my miscarriage. In fact I was joking before my miscarriage (Nurse on call asked if I had back pain and I replied “Well, I do, but I just vacuumed!) and during it (“Tell the boss I won’t make the interview I’m meant to be having now!”), and sometimes that shocks people. But what else can I do? Break down in tears? Blame and hate myself? Humour is a means of dealing with stuff for me, as is sharing my story.
Please understand I am not writing this to garner sympathy or pity. I am sharing to work through what is the most confusingly painful thing I have ever had to deal with, and share for others who have also experienced or are experiencing miscarriage. Perhaps loved ones might better understand how miscarriage might have affected those close to them.
I would also like to at this point admit that having not been pregnant before, and not experienced this, I previously had no idea what this would be like for others. I had no idea. I have previously been completely unaware of the pain and loss involved and have, I am sure, said totally the wrong thing in the past and certainly had a very uneducated view on how this could feel.
Surprisingly large amounts of people are unaware (I certainly was) that early miscarriage can be so painful. I think they think you go to the toilet and see blood and go ‘oh!’ I was bleeding for 2 days before, and was not in pain until cramps set in and progressively worsened. When the real pain hit 15 minutes before school ended on a Friday, I knew that it was happening. That morning I had gone to a job interview in the city before heading to my school. I had another interview lined up at the other campus principal after school at 3:15. I was lucky to be team teaching at the time and told my colleague (who knew I was pregnant, and knew I was bleeding – yeah, we’re close) “I think it’s happening” and ran out of the classroom.
What ensued was the worst pain I have ever experienced. The first contractions went about 30 or 40 minutes. Possibly more or less, I don’t really know. A colleague called my husband and told him how to get to school (once again, I joked through my tears “he’s never been here, look for a tall man with a bright red beard!”) and as my principal was guiding the paramedics over the phone he learnt that I was 11 weeks pregnant. Poor guy, that was awkward.
I have had migraines that have made me bang the heel of my hand into my head so hard, hoping that a different pain would take the migraine away. In terms of a pain threshold, I thought I was pretty strong. The contractions were full on. Not like a ‘bad period’. Much worse. When I have migraines I know it’s bad if every so often my feet kick involuntarily. During this, I had to consciously stop both my legs from thrashing out every minute or so. A colleague sourced a heat bag for me. After a certain amount of time, the paramedic said “do you want to come and sit on the toilet now?” She was calm and supportive, and amazing that she knew just then that the time had come. I passed blood and tissue, and would pass more at home later. This woman talked me through it all, and was there to check whether I was having any abnormal bleeding or symptoms.
The other night, when my partner thought I was asleep, and I should have been – I said with a start – “Maybe the paramedic lady asked to check the blood so that she would flush the toilet and not me?!” Hubby was just like “…what are you talking about?” I just had realised that in that act she had saved me from flushing my future baby down the toilet. The toilet I would continue to frequent during my working life. I actually don’t remember if she did flush or if I did, but I can’t remember doing it, so maybe she did. And doing that I think, was a really thoughtful thing.
The next day I actually felt relieved. I felt like the weight had been lifted as the anxiety of unexplained bleeding had ceased. We had good friends around. I drank Gin. I felt great (although I did cry later I think, drunk). I was in a sort of rebound high post pregnancy. I sent out an email to every colleague I had told and let them know what had happened so that they wouldn’t feel awkward later asking me about my pregnancy. I stopped bleeding very quickly. I congratulated myself on the efficiency of my uterus, so quick to dispel every part of the obviously faulty pregnancy.
I won’t go into it too much, but there was an interesting day where my hormones and post trauma brain led me on a thought excursion that can only be described as delusional. The doctor noted that a blood test to ensure my hormone levels were dropping might be in order due to the fact that there had been two foetuses in there originally. With my breasts and belly still feeling big, a sick day at home allowed me the chance to cook up the craziest belief that one had survived. The internet willingly confirmed the possibility of this. I knew it was crazy but I still indulged my damaged brain. (When the Doc mentioned the possibility of one of the beans surviving, I said “well, it might be soaked in Gin!” – seriously what’s wrong with me!?) The next day my body deflated and I looked back at my mind’s workings the day before with amazement.
The good friends checked in via text message every few days to check that I was ok. Many colleagues shared their own stories with me. Immediately, so many women and men came and shared their experiences. Most of my workmates would just give me a little squeeze on my arm as they passed, or a sympathetic ‘you ok?’ half smile. This was the best. The office ladies left a cute orchid on my desk. The librarian freaked out when I asked for the key to the toilet there, “Is every thing ok!?” which was cute. The worst thing that people could do was bail me up in a corner and ask me very pointedly, HOW ARE YOU? ARE YOU OKAY? I found myself in the photocopy room with my two principals who (wanting to be supportive) proceeded to very caringly interrogate me with their thoughtful words. I sacrificed my photocopying and got out of there pretty quickly.
The best thing someone said to me was that one day I would be able to offer support and love to another woman who was feeling how I was feeling. And I know she is right. The colleague who happened to be next to me in the toilets (I could hear her always jingling bangles) when I said “Hey _____, I think I’m miscarrying, can you help me?” was able to support me and help me through the experience until the paramedics arrived because she had also miscarried before.
The worst thing someone said to me (which honestly, I had probably said something similar myself when I had no clue) was “11 weeks. So still pretty early.” That is like a punch in the guts. How dare we minimise the potential new life and family member to a timeline of dates and landmark developments? I don’t feel like I lost a child. But I feel the greatest loss I have ever felt. It is the loss of what could have been. Saying, “You’ll get pregnant again” (again, something I have thought or said myself) is a useless statement. I am not pining for a baby. I am dealing with a loss. If a family member or friend died, you would not imply that they could be replaced. No, all you need to understand about how I am feeling now, is great loss.
I kept hearing “It’s very common”, “1 in 4 pregnancies”, but I didn’t know anyone in my family who had had a miscarriage. If it is so common, how come it is not talked of more? Once the heartbeat was seen on the 8 week ultra sound, I lived by the mantra “once you see the heartbeat, the chance of miscarriage drastically drops”. I will not do that again, nor will I tell so many people so early. But – I do not regret that I did.
However, at the moment the thought of pregnancy is a highly anxious point with me. I find myself saying the word ‘anxious’ a lot at the moment. The smell of the toilet where it happened gives me an anxious jump, menstrual bleeding brings with it a deep anxiety and I have had many sleepless nights kept awake by my active mind. Sometimes I am reliving the event, and other times ‘pre-living’ me being pregnant again. That brings an actually quite hilarious situation of me being anxious, about being anxious. I stress about finding out, feeling pregnant, going through that first trimester where I will be always, always vexed about the possibility of experiencing what I did, again. I picture myself breaking down at the 10 week mark, or spending the entire first trimester in a hole, not seeing anyone, and not even moving unless I have to.
This does not necessarily mean we should wait before trying again – whenever we reach this point again I will have to deal with these emotions. And yes, I know that one miscarriage does not necessarily mean more.
Some nights I have lain awake asking myself every WHAT IF and WHY question I could. WAS IT BECAUSE I went on water slides, WAS IT BECAUSE we had two in there and the loss of the unviable (urgh, I hate that word!) twin brought about the end of the healthy one? Was it because we got pregnant super quick and maybe my body allows ‘bad’ eggs to be fertilised? Was it because I unknowingly exposed myself to the Slap Cheek virus that was around in my family? Was it because my partner and I are genetically incompatible? Was it because I don’t eat meat or much dairy? Was it because I lifted all those school books or that big bag of dog food those times…?
In the end, whatever reason our little bean decided to depart was due to something I most likely could not have prevented. More importantly, there is nothing good that is brought on by considering all these questions.
I do not in any way apologise for making people feel uncomfortable when I tell them that we miscarried. Especially when people (often good friends) ask when we are going to have children. Are we planning to have kids? Is there any news? If they ask this, we either smile and nod and say “Yeah, hope so soon!” or (depending how I am feeling) I tell them (poor hubby, I don’t often give him a choice, but he said that if writing or talking about it helps me, then he is okay with it – dammit I love him!). Often people respond by telling me their own miscarriage story and I wonder why they would feel that it was right to ask the question then! Have they forgotten the pain they felt?
We need to talk about miscarriage as a death that has been experienced. It is a death of a dream and the loss of a life that was yet to be validated in the way that being brought into the world makes us ‘alive’ and human, even though couples who lose further along pregnancies of course know that the little one inside them is alive and literally kicking. It is a death. It should be respected. But it is a hard death to mourn, and a type of mourning that is hard to understand from the outside looking in.
I am glad that people knew that I was pregnant and knew about the loss. I felt supported and loved. In your first trimester you are feeling sick, tired, and experiencing a weird and wonderful event inside your body. Losing that, I felt empty, fat, and tired. And people around me understood this. I have suffered physically since then with pain that has rendered me sluggish and sore, unable to exercise, and emotionally deflated and sad.
And how can I expect people to always be sensitive to what we have felt? People will always, of course, talk about babies. You will be shown pictures of their kids, you will see pregnant ladies walking down the street, and Facebook will inundate you with ultra sounds, announcements and #nesting and #eatingfortwo. I can’t expect people to stop doing this, and I don’t want them to. I can always walk away from the screen, or people talking. Just the other day I listened as women chatted away in front of me about how horrible being pregnant in summer would be. I would have been at the end of my second trimester then! In that situation, I just moved away.
I am sensitive, and good friends recognise this. At work in the days following the miscarriage a “Kid’s Party” themed morning tea was held by the English team. Replete with a musical performance of that Wiggles song that you sing your kids when you are trying to get them to sleep. This was followed by the coincidental announcement that the AP was leaving because his baby was being born… A beautiful friend at work texted me the night before, telling me he could get the whole theme changed… Hell no, I said. All good. Yes, it wasn’t easy. Yes, many awkward eyes darted at me throughout the song, and the announcement. But yes, I smiled and laughed and pretended I was fine.
Thank you for reading all of this.
I am sending out a lot of love to all those who have had to bear the loss of an unborn child. To those who lost, anywhere between conception and full term. My heart breaks for you as my heart broke. But it, and yours I hope, will heal.
I know that this had made me stronger. More importantly it made me realise my strength. It has also however, made me realise the flaws in always keeping the strong face on, when you are struggling. I always smile, even when I am in pain. And this may have resulted in people thinking I am fine. Which I am clearly not. But I am getting better. And if I feel that I need to talk to someone professionally, I will. This episode has left me with the very, very strong belief that you should always, always share your stories. For yourself, for mothers, mothers to be, partners of those women, and for all women everywhere. We are the village and we need to support each other.
After the miscarriage, the paramedics left the school grounds, my principal waved goodbye with last words of “Take as much time as you need, ” and my husband helped me out to the car. Before we walked out though, he suddenly stopped “Wait!”, and tilted my face towards his. He wiped the tear driven mascara from my cheeks and all the black from under my eyes. I had put on a lot of makeup that day for my interviews! What a man, I thought. Later he would run into the milk bar for sanitary items and come out with Tena pads. “Those are for people who CAN’T CONTROL THEIR BLADDERS!!” Even though I was writhing in pain in the front passenger seat, with contractions still coursing through my body, this seems hilarious to me now.