A guest post by Cerys
I had my first miscarriage in November 2017. An early private scan, just because we’re naturally cautious, showed at seven weeks that we had an embryo measuring just five. Going private (as the NHS won’t scan that early without specific reasons) made the experience so much worse: we didn’t know what to do or who to call next – and they didn’t seem to either. Their focus was entirely on flogging us keyrings and fridge magnets, until it all went wrong, at which point we were quickly ushered out of the building so as not scare everyone in the waiting room with our tear-stained faces (thus ruining future keyring and fridge magnet sales). I remember standing outside the clinic in floods of tears, wailing that I didn’t want another baby, I wanted this one.
All in all, it was a textbook missed miscarriage. I’m just grateful that our cautious approach meant we found out as soon as we did. I powered through the fortnight between follow-up NHS scans (required to confirm the miscarriage) going away with work and presenting at a conference with the knowledge that I was carrying our lost hope inside me the whole time. We made it through to the ERPC, welcomed back to consciousness afterwards by kind nurses and a life-saving cheese sandwich for both me and my husband.
By Christmas, we both felt positive about trying again, and hopeful that 2018 would give us what we wanted.
Early April brought us a positive pregnancy test, but with it a certainty that it was meaningless. Nevertheless, as much as I tried not to, I quickly envisaged the Christmas due date, a pile of presents stacked up for a newborn baby, family photos by the tree, a special new little bauble hung from the branches. We never talked about it, but I know my husband was tentatively imagining the same things.
A week later, I started bleeding. That day in the office, as I rushed to and from the bathroom hastily changing pads, a colleague brought her little son into work, and he handed us gingerbread men and coloured-in cartoons. I felt furious with her for flaunting him in front of us all. But, of course, how could she know?
June brought a second pink line once more, but this time a darker one, much earlier. I remember standing in the kitchen making dinner and saying to my husband that I felt really positive this time; that at the very least, probability must be on our side. I had an odd, calm, safe feeling that this was our turn, that I’d be cramming alcohol-free wine into the suitcase for our summer holiday, that I’d be huge by Christmas, that in the snow and ice of February we’d have our little bundle to bring home with us.
Given our history, we were referred to the early pregnancy unit for a scan at seven weeks. Whilst it was emotional to be back in the same place where our first miscarriage had been confirmed, in the waiting room I held that calm, safe feeling inside me. At the same time, I reasoned that whatever happened, we had each other and we’d be fine. We knew the ropes. If it ended with another dose of general anaesthetic, well, at least we’d have those magical cheese sandwiches to look forward to.
But, where early pregnancy is concerned, you really can never count on anything. This time, it wasn’t a straightforward yes or no / true or false / good or bad. It wasn’t even a ‘you’re measuring a bit behind, but you may well catch up so here come two weeks of agonising limbo…’
The first word our sonographer said was ‘no’. That was it for me: it was over. I felt like a prize idiot for ever believing we’d have been lucky enough to conceive anything with a heartbeat. I should have known.
But I’d missed the sonographer’s tone. She wasn’t saying ‘no, it’s not working’ – it was accompanied by a gasp of disbelief. She’d seen quadruple what any of us had expected: four pregnancy sacs. Four individual sacs with dubious foetal poles. A one in 700,000 chance, when conceived ‘spontaneously’ – that’s 0.0001 per cent.
Two of them measured around five weeks, the other two less. But I knew without any doubt that I was seven weeks pregnant. How many hours I spent obsessively googling ‘two weeks behind measurements early pregnancy’, how desperately I held onto the tiny handful of Mumsnet stories I found that said ‘my Alfie was tiny to start with but he caught up’ or ‘measurements in your first weeks can be misleading – trust your instincts’!
But I knew deep down that a baby measuring five weeks when they should be seven was unlikely to survive. I also knew there was no way, despite the sonographer’s insistence, that I may have ovulated later than I thought. Still, my heart held on to the hope that it just might be true.
During the two long weeks that followed, waiting for our next scan, two friends announced their pregnancies. Cue a flurry of excited group WhatsApps about how awful morning sickness must be in this heatwave and how were they coping with their commute. Meanwhile, I was doing the same, nearly passing out on the packed Central Line twice a day from grim, suffocating nausea, but feeling too silly to ask for a seat or wear a badge – after all, there isn’t one that says ‘Baby That’s Died on Board (risk of throwing up still present)’.
There was no growth at the next scan. We returned one final week later just to check, but no. How could they all have just stopped? And why is my body so utterly incapable of recognising this…?
All I could think was: I’m so bad at miscarrying that even drugs designed to make me miscarry don’t work
An ERPC was scheduled. We were prepared. I’d seen it all before. Although the week after the procedure was marred by painful cramps, I ploughed through at work again. I discovered a ‘sick room’ in the office where I could go and lock the door, lie down, cry, and breathe through the cramps whilst waiting for the Nurofen to kick in. I believed it was over and booked myself little treats – a haircut and colour, acrylic nails, a spray tan. These became fixations: when I had them at the weekend, I’d know I was better, I’d feel sparkly and shiny and myself again.
I had a final check-up on Friday morning, and I was feeling quite positive, ready to start putting everything in the past and to get to the hairdressers. The relatively jovial mood in the room was quickly punctured when we got to the scan. Retained products of conception. Leftover tissue. Risk of infection. A cancelled appointment, no new shiny nails, no bright blonde hair, just a weekend of misoprostol to try to induce miscarriage.
I failed at that too. The tablets themselves did absolutely nothing. All I could think was: I’m so bad at miscarrying that even drugs designed to make me miscarry don’t work. I had my third ERPC the next day.
Our summer holiday had been booked months previously for the following evening, and after being cleared to get on a plane by the hospital doctors, we flew to Italy. We’d rented a villa for a week and whilst being with brilliant, hilarious friends and drinking wine was wonderful medicine, I still had to watch them splash around in the pool and bake in the sun while I was banned from the first and feeling too ill to contemplate the latter. I lay in the shade and read and wished things were different.
I returned home to find a lot of anxiety and unhappiness waiting for me. We stopped trying while tests were carried out – a relief for a while. I enjoyed every glass of red wine and every hot bath, and was grateful that a little Christmas mini-break we had wasn’t marred by remnants of morning sickness or crashing hormones.
Having said that, our January of ‘starting to try again’ clashed head-on with four confident and happy 12-week pregnancy announcements from friends in one single week. And then a new baby announcement the week after. This was all swiftly followed by a negative pregnancy test of our own. That white-hot pregnancy jealousy was almost unbearable at times.
Even now, seven months on and miraculously 24 weeks pregnant (thank you aspirin – which I took after being diagnosed with a clotting disorder) I’m still plagued by pregnancy jealousy. I still relate so much better to miscarriage than to a healthy pregnancy – despite everything looking to be going well so far. I’d imagined that if I ever had a successful 12-week scan, the hurt and anxiety would vanish on the spot: instead, I’ve found myself avoiding other pregnant women, feeling like a fraud every time I go near the antenatal clinic, and every fresh pregnancy announcement still feels like a stab through the heart.
The nine-week ‘booking’ appointment was particularly torturous. We sat waiting in a creaky little Portakabin surrounded by beaming, excited couples who hadn’t even had a scan yet. I’d had three scans already by that stage – how could these other people not know about missed miscarriage? In that moment, I was so worried that their babies would have died. I cried buckets, for me and for them.
When I met my first, actual midwife, mascara streaked down my cheeks and snotty tissue balled up in my fist, she asked why I was crying and when I explained she just said: “Aw, never mind”. As if none of it mattered. As if our babies didn’t matter.
I turned up for another appointment only to be confronted with a circle of chairs occupied by smiling pregnant ladies with big bumps, comparing notes on prams and baby massage. Horrified, I assumed I must be in the wrong place: there was no way I could possibly belong with all of these properly pregnant people! Turns out our borough operates ‘group’ midwife appointments, and not only was I very much meant to be there, but I was two weeks further along than all of the bump-cradlers; a fact revealed in an agonising ‘ice breaker’ session where we gave our names and how many weeks we were. I ended up being removed from the session in floods of tears when I described myself as ‘19 weeks and 6 days’ and was greeted with a chorus of giggling and a brassy, bossy midwife laughing at ‘first timers counting the days! Bloody hell, by my second I’d forgotten I was pregnant most of the time!’.
Slowly, cognitive behavioural therapy has helped me to believe that there might be a baby at the end of this and that it’s essential to try and bond with them (my ‘homework’ has included things like buying a Babygro at 18 weeks along). I’ve started to and it’s more magical than I could have ever imagined. I think experiencing recurrent miscarriage carries the danger of making you believe you don’t deserve to expect any better. We all really, really do.
- Cerys’s daughter was born safe and well in November. She describes her as ‘amazing’.