Today’s lesson in Miscarriage 101: It doesn’t just go away. What I mean by this is it’s not as simple as one day you’re pregnant, the next day you’re not. Both physically and psychologically it’s messier than that.
When I had my first miscarriage there was a line from an old episode of Sex and the City, in which Charlotte and Harry lose a much-wanted baby, that kept popping into my head. When asked what happened, Harry, devastated, shrugs and says: ‘It just…you know…went away.’
I understand the choice of words under the circumstances; far easier to grope for the euphemism and say it just went away rather than ‘the baby died and we don’t know why’ or ‘well, there was a lot of blood and then we spent a nerve-shredding two hours in hospital waiting for a scan, which showed no heartbeat.’
I get it. And it’s only TV.
But I think there can be a perception – particularly with a so-called early loss (anything before 16 weeks) – that while, yes, a miscarriage is sad, that your pregnancy somehow evaporates, or that it was never really there in the first place; that at such an early stage it’s not really anything tangible. That it ‘just’ goes away.
The reality, as anyone who’s been through this knows, is rather different.
Physically, you don’t just snap straight back to a state of being Not Pregnant. Your hormones are still playing silly buggers. And after the initial horror show, you continue to bleed for days. So even as you busy yourself getting on with normal things once the miscarriage itself is technically over, getting back to your Not Pregnant life – work, the gym, drinks, whatever – and, let’s face it, probably pretending to most people you know that everything is fine, your body is still shedding the last vestiges of your pregnancy. Even if you could theoretically manage not to think about it, for at least a week you have a handy little reminder every time you go to change yet another super-maxi-mega-whopper pad.
And then there’s the nasty little twist that comes about two or three weeks later – you have to take a pregnancy test to confirm the miscarriage is complete. Doctors orders. This is to confirm that there’s no pregnancy hormone left, which could indicate what is horribly, clinically known as ‘retained product’ (essentially, any leftover pregnancy tissue) as this can cause complications such as infection or prolonged bleeding.
Fortunately, each time I’ve had to do this I’ve had a spare pregnancy test in the house. I say fortunately because the thought of having to go and buy one specifically for the purpose of confirming your miscarriage strikes me as a particularly cruel and unusual punishment.
Actually taking the test has, for me, been bittersweet. On the one hand seeing the little blank window or one solitary line cuts you to the quick, on the other it’s a line under the whole sorry affair. It’s officially, medically, over. You can try again, etc.
But there are still a thousand other little reminders. The folic acid tablets in the kitchen cupboard. Letters for midwife appointments pinned hopefully to the fridge. A book of baby names borrowed from a friend (such naivety!), now shoved somewhere under the bed along with the folders stuffed full of pregnancy leaflets and medical notes from the two first ‘booking in’ appointments we’ve attended.
Even months down the line, there’s no getting away from the milestones, which in our case are now a confusing tangle. Our first due date is coming up alarmingly fast, and we’d have just passed the 12-week point for the second pregnancy.
It’s not that I wander around thinking about these dates constantly, clinging to them in some sort of morbid, masochistic act. But I can’t forget them. The maths is just there, a bit like how you know your times tables.
We had a family party to go to last weekend, and at one stage we weren’t sure if we’d be able to make it, as it might be too long and uncomfortable drive at 8 months pregnant. Then, second time round, it had tentatively crept into my mind that we might be attending and breaking our good news.
In the event, we were perfectly able to attend, but with no happy announcement. The pain of being there in those circumstances took my breath away at times. Whenever someone asked us what we’d been up to lately…my cheery (I hope) replies felt like dust on my tongue.
It doesn’t just go away.