I have had five miscarriages. The first followed an accidental pregnancy when I was 19. I had never wanted to have a baby. I was one of those people who had never really thought about parenthood, but then I was still very young. I was living with my boyfriend at the time in a student house, it wasn’t the perfect situation in which to raise a child but within just 3 weeks I was starting to really bond with the idea of becoming a parent. Being young and foolish we told our friends, all of whom were very excited. But then as I was travelling to London for my sister’s birthday I began to bleed, heavily. I won’t go into details about the actual miscarriage except to say that it left me bereft. I spent most of the next fortnight in bed, occasionally breaking out into fits of tears. This led to an almost obsessive desire to have a baby. I felt that the only thing that could possibly heal the emptiness I felt would be to become pregnant again. It seems so strange now that a 7 week long pregnancy turned me from someone who had never wanted children, into a 19 year old actively trying for a baby. My boyfriend, who was older than me, had made no secret of his desire to become a father, even before we were together, but this was new for me and it was a frenzied desire.
Within three months I was pregnant again. I was so happy that I went out right away and bought pregnancy vitamins and a baby magazine. Within days I was knitting a baby blanket. I felt whole again, and the pain I hadn’t been able to dodge since my miscarriage finally subsided. It was a happiness I was only able to enjoy for a few weeks because at 11 weeks it all went wrong again. The pains started hours before the bleeding began. It was a dull ache in my womb, like period pain. I had a bath and prayed that the pain would subside. It didn’t. After my experience with my first pregnancy, and miscarriage, I was in an absolute state of panic. My boyfriend called the GP who advised me to lie down in bed and that hopefully the pain would subside. A few hours later the bleeding began. I was hysterical. My boyfriend called the GP again, this time he spoke to a different doctor. He couldn’t understand why my partner was calling. “Well what do you want me to do about it?,” he snapped, before hanging up the phone. That was it. I expected, from what I’d read, to be offered a scan, or a D&C, where they ensure there is nothing left in the womb which could lead to haemorrhage. I understood that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage but for him to be disinterested to the point of cruel took me back.
After this pregnancy we decided we would wait longer before trying again. We were going to give my body time to heal and I needed an emotional break before I could face potential grief again. Who knows, perhaps if I gave myself time to emotionally recover my desire to fill the hole with another pregnancy would abate altogether. There was a dark void within me though, and I couldn’t shake it. The blanket I was making was still in the corner of the room where I had left it and I would just lie in bed staring at it as If it was my lost baby, crying silently to myself. I dreamt, every night, either about having a baby, or of the blood. It seemed as if the world had become suddenly populated almost entirely by babies. In every other television programme a woman was either pregnant or had a baby, or on panel shows the discussion turned to babies. I noticed every baby, buggy and pregnancy bump on the high street and every single one felt like a sucker punch.
A couple of months later I still hadn’t had another period, I was still feeling queasy, and I still “felt” pregnant. I performed a pregnancy test, just to be certain, and I was astonished to see the blue line. I went to see the doctor and explained to her what had been happening, she felt that perhaps I had never stopped being pregnant, that maybe it had been twins. I was sent to the hospital for a scan the following day.
The night before I kept feeling my abdomen and willing myself to be pregnant. Every wave of nausea was a welcome sign that maybe, just maybe, I was still pregnant. When I arrived at the hospital hope gave way to an overwhelming anxiety. I was invited into the scan room and with trepidation laid down and lifted my shirt. The cold cream signalled to my heart that it was time to panic. The radiographer worked in silence. The grainy black and white picture on the screen looked like nothing more than static. “I’m afraid I can’t see anything”. I felt a wave of anguish wash over me as bile began to rise in my throat. “We’ll have to do a transvaginal scan. Can you go behind the curtain and remove your underwear please.”
As I removed my clothes I willed myself not to cry, “you will cope, all is not lost, you will cope”. I returned to the couch and laid down placing my heels together and dropping my knees. The transvaginal scanner (or whatever it’s called), looked like a long white, 1970s microphone. She told me to take a deep breath as she pushed it inside of me, bending it to one side and then the next creating a dull ache deep inside of me. I couldn’t look at the screen for fear of breaking down so instead I looked at the opposite wall. “Please see my baby”, I thought, “I can’t go through this anymore, please see my baby”. I gulped as if it would stop the tears from flowing. “Right”, the radiographer said, “please take a seat outside and someone will come to see you”. I waited in the corridor, wringing my hands in trepidation.
“What’s happening?” I asked my partner.
“I don’t know”
“Did you see anything on the screen?”
He shook his head. A few minutes later a nurse came and escorted me to a cubicle. “Please wait here and the doctor will come to see you.” Another 20 minutes passed before the nurse returned and gave me a blood form that had been filled in by a doctor I was yet to meet and I was told to go downstairs to the phlebotomy department. The corridor was long, cold and grey. People passed through on their way to other departments. A woman walked by with her husbands. She was pregnant and one hand stroked her bump whilst the other was hooked around her husband’s arm. The tears I had been willing away suddenly began to flow as if they would never end. I could no longer control myself. My cries sounded like those of a small child howling in pain.
After half an hour it was my turn for my blood to be taken. The phlebotomist looked at my red, puffy face and patted me on the arm. “Bad news darling?” she asked. I couldn’t speak for fear I would start crying all over again.
I waited for an hour back on the unit until I was eventually seen by a doctor. It was 3 hours since I had first arrived, expecting to see my baby for the first time. The doctor was cold and clinical. “You are no longer pregnant”, he stated, “the scans showed that though there is some matter, there is no baby in your womb. What you are feeling are probably just the hormones left over from your pregnancy and they’re simply taking a long time to abate. We’ve had the results of your blood test and your hormone level is here”, he pointed with his pen to an area midway up his clipboard. “We will need to take your hormone levels again in a few days and we expect them to be here”, this time he pointed with his pen to the bottom of his clipboard.” With that he walked off without another word. I waited, confused, until eventually yet another nurse came and gave me a blood form.
In the car on the way home I fell apart again. I just couldn’t process it. I went in expecting to see a 16 week old baby on the screen and instead I was being told that it was just a long miscarriage. However, when I had the next blood test a few days later my hormones didn’t do what they expected. In fact they had increased by rather a lot.
A week later I was back in the hospital for another transvaginal scan. This time not knowing what to expect. Was it a phantom pregnancy? Cancer? What had they seen in my womb if not a baby? I daren’t entertain the thought that I was actually pregnant. This time I watched the monitor during the scan. Sure enough this tiny little seed, with this tiny little flutter was on the screen. The radiographer turned to me, “That little thing there,” she said as she pointed at the screen, “is your baby. Looking at the measurements you are 6 weeks pregnant.” She printed off a copy of the picture for me and once again I was ushered outside to wait to see a doctor. The doctor told me not to get my hopes up, that they wanted to scan me again in a fortnight, and that after my next miscarriage they would begin to look into the reasons why I was unable to sustain a pregnancy. I didn’t know what to think, a part of me was so happy and I kept looking at the picture over and again, but at the same time I willed myself not to think of it as a baby because the pain would be too unbearable. The nurse told me to put the picture in the envelope so as not to upset anyone who might have had bad news and off we went on our way home.
During the two week wait before my next scan we went on holiday to Devon. The whole time I was being sick, and even the smell of toast made me feel unwell. I kept telling myself it was a good sign and then hearing the doctor’s voice in my head telling me not to become too excited. But sure enough when I went back for my next scan a little 8 week old baby, with a little heart beeping away appeared on the monitor. The doctors told me that the matter they had seen on the monitor before was probably left over from my last pregnancy and that it would probably be consumed by the new baby.
In February the following year my eldest son was born. We both nearly lost our lives and he was in intensive care for a month, but thankfully he has grown into a strapping boy of eleven. Ten months later his brother was born. I named him after the name I favoured for the baby I had lost before: Alex.
Since the birth of my eldest sons I have had 3 more miscarriages. I was told that if I lost three pregnancies they would investigate why but because my miscarriages have been interceded by the births of my three sons no one has bothered to discover why. I have never been offered counselling and no one has ever treated me gently, other than the one phlebotomist described above. Indeed I have had bleeding during the pregnancies of my two younger sons. When I was pregnant with Alex I began to bleed at 25 weeks, days after my then husband left me for another woman, after spending a few hours in the hospital when the bleeding continued I was simply told to go home, that there was nothing they could do to save a baby at that age and that it was better I went through it at home rather than in a hospital. I was a single mother to a 7 month old at this stage and for some reason they didn’t see the impracticalities of me losing a 25 week old baby at home alone. Thankfully my mum came to stay with me and within 24 hours the bleeding had stopped and a scan a couple of days later revealed that he was still hanging in there. However, I was simply lucky. The hospital had no way of knowing we would be okay.
The failings in my care are why I am supporting Mumsnet’s campaign for better treatment of people who have experienced miscarriages. For a hospital the loss of a pregnancy is routine, it needs to be remembered that for those who experience them it is not. It is the loss, not just of a baby, but of all of the hopes and dreams you have invested in a foetus. It is, for many, a wonderful fullness being replaced with an awful void. It is therefore imperative that miscarriages are treated with more sensitivity and greater post-miscarriage support. The miscarriages I have experienced have definitely had a large negative impact upon my emotional well-being. Better support might have mitigated against that.