On a Saturday morning, I found out that I was pregnant for the first time.
I’d had an inkling that I was pregnant about a week before I took the test. But having had an erratic menstrual cycle since coming off the contraceptive injection 12 months previously, I knew that there was every chance that I was simply late. I had done tests before when I was one or two days overdue with the excitement that the possibility brought, but had always been met with the single pink line. So this time, I was patient.
Exactly 1 week after I should have started a new period, I took the test. I woke up with butterflies knowing that today could be the day that I received that life-changing news. I remember trying not to get too excited; I had been wrong before, and this could simply be another one of those moments. Mike I had been ‘not trying, not preventing’ for about 8 months; which in reality, meant that we were trying, but attempting not to think too hard about it. In the beginning I had tried ovulation sticks to try and pinpoint the optimum time to try; which, as per the aforementioned erratic cycle, proved to be completely pointless. I would look at the little sticks which gave me absolutely no indication that I was ovulating when I thought I might be. But when I started to question whether I was ovulating at all, and unhelpful thoughts such as “What if the contraceptive injection has made me infertile?!?!” started to enter my head, I ditched the ovulation sticks in favour of a period-tracking app.
Now this was something that I could get on board with. The app allowed me to track not only my periods, but my moods, diet, weight, water intake, physical symptoms – you name it – with the intention that this would help give you a comprehensive overview of your menstrual cycle. The app plotted my periods and told me when it thought I was ovulating – brilliant! This allowed me a small amount of control and knowledge, without being too much information. I could see when the app thought the optimum time to try would be, without the sad little ‘blank’ where a smiley face should be.
So, 8 months later, I crept out of bed in the morning to take the test. I read through the instructions carefully (despite having done pregnancy tests in the past, I knew to pee on the stick) but this didn’t stop me making a mistake – peeing on the window! The instructions state specifically not to pee on the window!! Better take another one, just in case.
I remember feeling nervous, but also sensing a strange sense of calm. I looked over to the first test and there it was, clear as day. A pink line, and a softer, faded pink line. But there it was! And another, on test 2.
I was pregnant. Right.
I took the tests and put everything away neatly so that if Mike came into the bathroom, he’d be none the wiser, and went downstairs to make a brew. There was something special to me about having that little moment of knowing I was going to be a mother, but no one else in the world knowing my special secret. But as soon as I heard Mike shuffling about in the bedroom, I couldn’t wait to tell him. I wrote daddy-to-be a message using the magnetic Scrabble tiles on the fridge whilst I waited for him to come downstairs, perching next to my fridge-announcement.
Unbelievably, he couldn’t sense that something monumental had happened simply by looking at me as he pottered about getting his porridge, so I motioned heavily to the side of the fridge. We were going to be parents!
Throughout the first few weeks of my pregnancy, I felt sensational. Despite the horror stories that you hear about that first trimester, I felt amazing. I knew exactly what I was doing and why I was doing it – I was going to be a mum, and this was my life now as I knew it. I was so happy, I absolutely adored my husband, I had wonderful friends and family around me. Life felt brilliant.
Now don’t get me wrong, I had my negative feelings towards the pregnancy. I suddenly knew the truth of how I would feel when my independence was taken away from me. Would I still see my friends? Would I be able to travel where I wanted? Would I have time to pursue my career, or for hobbies any more? I had rose-tinted visions of my husband and I strapping our baby to us and continuing to travel, to live our lives as we had done throughout our twenties. But having watched my sister have her little girl the year before, I knew that this was possible, but wouldn’t be easy. It would be hard, it would be an adjustment, but it would be okay.
Around 8 weeks into the pregnancy, something started to bother me. Whilst I had been feeling a little tired, I had very few pregnancy symptoms. I waited every day for something to kick in – sore boobs, nausea, anything. I no longer had a sense of complete elation, and anxiety started to creep in.
I should mention at this point that I suffer, like many others, from Generalised Anxiety Disorder. This started in my late teens, and I first noticed it after going onto the contraceptive pill. The trouble with it is that it can be triggered by lots of things, but for me, often has a root that is sometimes very hard to find. It makes thoughts that a normal person can deal with and put away seem extremely overwhelming. I’ve only been diagnosed with this for the last 2 years, but in reality, I’ve dealt with it for more than 12 years. CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) and more recently, antidepressants, have been a godsend.
But, what this meant for me was, that I attributed my feelings of uncertainty to my anxiety. I spoke to the people around me about my worries; my husband, my mum, my sister, our midwife. My mum and sister shared stories of their own pregnancies and how they didn’t have a great deal of symptoms either, which was a small comfort. It was possible that my pregnancy would be similar to the women in my family, wouldn’t it? I also asked our midwife about it, who told me “Don’t worry about it, everyone’s pregnancy is different. Enjoy it while it lasts. You’re one of the lucky ones.” But I didn’t want to enjoy it, and I certainly didn’t feel lucky – I wanted my body to give me a damn sign that something was happening. But I steeled myself with patience and continued to wait for symptoms to come.
On a Wednesday evening at about 9 and a half weeks pregnant, I saw what every pregnant woman dreads the most – blood. Albeit a very small amount. As I tried to remain calm I could feel the panic sweeping over me. I called to Mike and we decided to call our local Health On Call team for some advice, who called us into the hospital that night.
We were greeted by the on-call doctor; a lovely man who should teach bedside manner because I felt instantly comfortable in his presence. I described my symptoms to him and he reassured us that this sort of thing at this stage in pregnancy is extremely common and almost always nothing to worry about.
Wait – bleeding in pregnancy is common?
After waiting for some sort of reassurance, THIS is the symptom I’m getting? You’ve got to be kidding. But nevertheless, the doctor prescribed bedrest for 48 hours as a precaution.
The bleeding continued, lightly, but on the Sunday, whilst having Sunday lunch with my family, the spotting started more heavily. I tried desperately not to get upset but I couldn’t get past the fear that something was wrong. My sister put me in touch with a friend of hers who had experienced bleeding during the early stages of her pregnancy and had gone on to have a healthy baby boy, so I sent her a message with all the gory details in the hope that she would tell me that our symptoms matched exactly; which she did. She sent me some lovely, heartfelt messages and did everything she could to reassure me that everything was likely to be absolutely fine. But still, I wasn’t consoled. We went back to the hospital that afternoon.
This time, the doctor asked to do an internal examination and because it was a Sunday, booked me in for a scan the next day. I was elated; finally, we’d be able to see for sure that something was happening and we wouldn’t have to wait until 14 weeks (the date that my first scan was booked for) to find out. The relief of just knowing that we had the scan was enough to calm me. And after the internal examination, the doctor confirmed that there was no indication of anything untoward; my cervix was closed which indicated a continuing healthy pregnancy.
The next morning, I waited for the scan. I remember sitting in the hospital waiting room trying to keep calm, but my nerves were all over the place. We were called into a small room for the scan where 2 ladies quietly explained what was about to happen. My partner sat to my side and I reached for his hand as the nurse moved the device over my lower abdomen. She said a number – 22.5, and then explained that she couldn’t see very much from this position and that she would try with an internal scan. I was sent to the bathroom to empty my bladder before the next scan.
Waiting to get into the loo at that moment as I waited for it to be unoccupied seemed to take forever.
When I returned, the internal examination was over quickly. She gently explained that she could see a sac, but no fetal pole and no heartbeat. “I’m very sorry”, she said. I had managed to keep it together up to this point, and thought about all the women outside the door waiting for their scans; I couldn’t let them see me upset, it would be terrifying to them. But as Mike put his arms around me, I cried.
We were taken to the Antenatal and Gynaecology ward, where we were placed in a quiet room and left alone for a while. I sobbed. I had been right, there was no baby. I sobbed with grief, for myself and for my partner; but also, with the strange sense of relief that I could let go of the worrying. I knew now what was happening. It was devastating, but I knew now what I was coping with. My head bounced between grief and relief as I tried to take it all in.
Mike was sensational. After I’d stopped crying for a moment he made me laugh by telling me “You can have a Maccies, if you want”. For context, we’re not big on fast-food and we only ever get McDonald’s once a year (it’s our hungover on New Year’s Day tradition) so the offer was extra-special, and it made me smile and glow with love for him. It sounds utterly daft, but it was one of the moments that helped me to see that we would be okay. As I watched him I was concerned that he hadn’t cried yet, but I knew he would be waiting to deal with his grief privately. This moment was for him to show his support to me, and I loved him for it.
Shortly after, we were joined by a consultant and a nurse. Upon seeing me at first, the consultant asked me why I was crying. Whilst this seemed like an absolutely absurd thing to ask, she explained that as I hadn’t shown any signs of a miscarriage, there was still a chance that the baby may be fine. They planned to scan me in another week to see if the sac had grown (I now understood the reference to 22.5). If it had, they there was a chance everything was fine if they could also detect a heartbeat. It may have just been too small to see.
But, the more likely occurrence is that I had experienced a ‘missed miscarriage’. This basically means that at some point in the pregnancy, the baby stopped developing, but my body had continued as if I was still pregnant.
I remember hearing this news and at the time, I understood it, but I had never heard of anything like a ‘missed miscarriage’. Didn’t your body just do its thing and end it if there was something wrong? Apparently not.
The nurse explained to me that she had experienced the same thing; she had a missed miscarriage and found out at 14 weeks. There was some comfort in speaking with this woman who had experienced the same thing; and, had gone on to have healthy babies. I wondered at the possibility of something being there when we had the scan the following week and felt confused; although it had only been 45 minutes or so, I felt that I had come to terms with the fact that I had been right, and there was no baby. I felt so sure, because what I came to believe was my instinct, my intuition, had been right. But here they were telling me that there was a chance something may be there. Though this would have been a personal miracle, and I would have loved it to be true, I knew that another week of ‘not knowing’ would be hard to take; and more that this, I just didn’t believe it. The nurse gently told us that in her opinion, she believed that to send us away with that belief would be to give us false hope. I was grateful for her honesty.
I will never be able to fully explain my gratitude to this woman who said so many things to me that day that I didn’t even know that I needed to hear. Although I knew, she told me “It’s absolutely nothing that you have done.” And topped it off with “Unless you’re taking drugs, smoking 40 a day and getting leathered every night”. She also told me that she was going to charge for the used tissues. She was brilliant for lightening the mood. But most importantly to me, she gently explained what would happen next.
She told me that they would do the next scan in a week to see if the sac had grown; but that in the meantime, there is a chance that I could miscarry. I knew in my heart that there was no baby and that this would happen sooner or later – but what if it didn’t? What if my body didn’t do what it needed to do? What would happen then? Or – what if it did? Was I on the brink of an impending miscarriage? When would it happen? What would happen? The images that your mind conjures in that moment do not bear thinking about, and the nurse knew this. “You won’t see anything formed” she said. Once again, the relief was palpable. I could have hugged her.
As we prepared to leave, the nurse gave us some advice. “Get some new shoes, a new handbag, and go on holiday”, she said. “And then try again.” I took her advice on the retail therapy and have new boots and a handbag (and a few other bits, I’m not going to lie) to show for it.
The rest of that afternoon is a blur. I have no idea what we did. I think we watched some TV but the emotion was so raw, I can barely remember. After what felt like days of crying and looking at each other (but was actually later that night), one of my closest friends popped in to see us. She was a dream. After we explained everything that had happened, she talked to us about normal things – her day, a bit of gossip, what she was planning for the weekend. It was a tonic and we felt our spirits lift. My husband turned to me then and said “I know we’re tired, but I think we should get out of the house”. He was right, it felt good to be doing something so normal, but also to get out of the clothes we had been in all day and to move from the sofa pit of tissues. So we invited ourselves round to our friends house (we’re very much an open-door policy type friendship) and she welcomed us with cups of tea and a mountain of biscuits. It’s the best thing we could have done that night.
In the early hours of the Wednesday morning, the miscarriage started naturally. Throughout that following day, I had pain that came and went. They came a little like period pains but were more severe, and would radiate into my back. I could tolerate it through the afternoon, but later that night (is it just me that finds things like this always happen at night??) the pain became unbearable. My husband bundled me into the car and took me straight into A&E.
I remember gripping the desk in A&E and asking for help. They found me a wheelchair as by this point I could barely walk, and I remember inwardly laughing at the absurdity of it all as my husband desperately tried to navigate this wheelchair that was worse that a shopping trolley that just does what it wants. This was further exacerbated by the fact that as we were wheeled into to see the on-call doctor, “Hillbilly Rock” played casually overhead. Despite being in the most pain I have ever felt in my life, I still laughed at that.
I was seen by an absolutely lovely doctor, who after mistakenly addressing me with ‘Hello Kimberly, tell me about your rib pain’ and narrowly avoiding a swing from me, took me to the Antenatal and Gynaecology ward. Along the way he assured me, saying it was okay, my body is trying to do what it needs to do. He explained that he had been through the same thing earlier that very day with another patient who was now absolutely fine, she had got through it. And that he had been through the same thing with his wife, a few times.
There was a strange sense of comfort, hearing about all these women going through this same experience. A strange sense of ‘we are women, and this is what we do in order to one day have our children’.
Once on the Antenatal and Gynaecology ward, we were greeted by friendly doctors and nurses who smiled sympathetically and explained what would happen next. I was to be internally examined to determine how the miscarriage was progressing. If it appeared that I would not be able to pass the miscarriage naturally, I would be taken to theatre.
As I was inspected, the cramps continued. I remember one of the nurses so clearly telling me “You hold that fella’s hand”, and I did. I buried myself into him and leaned on him for comfort and strength. It felt right that he was with me; although I was the one in pain, we were both losing a baby that night. As we held each other I felt that we were going through this together, rather than feeling like I was in it alone.
A kind, young doctor told me that she could see that something was on its way, but that she would need help removing it. She called for the Registrar, who within a few minutes of entering the room, helped me to pass the miscarriage. The pain at the time felt horrendous, but it was over so quickly, I believe that the Registrar saved me what may have been a much longer ordeal.
The Registrar asked me matter-of-factly if I would like to see the pregnancy. Wait, what? I could see it? This option made me pause. Did I want to see? Would it give me some kind of closure? I thought the nurse last week said there would be nothing to see? Would I feel guilty if I didn’t? But when I looked at Mike, my instinct kicked in; I knew if I saw the pregnancy, I would never get the image out of my mind. I knew that even if I looked, what I saw wouldn’t be a baby. I needed to be able to distance myself from this pregnancy, so that when it came time to try again, I wouldn’t be haunted by the memory of this tiny image of what may have been. But as the kidney dish was taken away, I felt a pang of guilt and a draw towards it – they were taking my baby away. I wrestled with these feelings, between what was two instinctive drives; to protect myself, and to protect what was, or would have been, my child.
Afterwards, we were given the option of staying in hospital overnight, which we accepted; they had the good drugs, after all. And we’d be in the right place if I needed any further help. We were shown to a private room, which was a huge relief; the space away from other people was exactly what I needed in that moment. And what was more, Mike could stay with me. I wouldn’t have to face the sadness of that night alone.
Mike left shortly afterwards to pick up a bag of overnight things. During this time a kind young nurse, who had been with me during the procedure, brought me a small bag and a handful of leaflets. “You don’t have to look at or use all or even any of these if you don’t want to, but if you want them, they’re there to help”. I glanced through the bag; two tiny, knitted jumpers, about the size of a Christmas tree decoration. Soap, tea bags, tissues. A candle. A hanging pendant with the word ‘love’ engraved into it. And a leaflet titled “coping with the loss of your precious baby”. My gut kicked in again. This was too much. To me, yes, I had lost something extremely precious to me. Yes, I had lost a baby. But in some ways, I felt that what I had lost hadn’t been a baby yet, and so mourning for it like a child didn’t feel like the right way to grieve. I turned to the handful of leaflets which talked about the types of thoughts and feelings that you may be having, and that all of them are okay. This felt right; I would respond to my instinct. I wouldn’t feel guilty for not attaching myself to the despair of losing a child, and rather, I would mourn the loss of my pregnancy as I felt was right for me. I would respond as my instincts told me to.
At this point in my journey, I knew that my anxiety disorder (or rather, the counselling that I had had as a result of my anxiety disorder) would help me. I had, very clearly, experienced a gut reaction. And I had, off the back of that, had a million thoughts about what that gut feeling meant. But the clarity that this gave me was that I knew that they were all equally valid, but that I didn’t have to attach myself to any of them. I felt guilt, but I didn’t have to consume myself with it. I felt sadness, but I didn’t have to wallow forever. I could just watch my thoughts and feelings, and let my body do what it needed to do. And whenever I felt myself going into a spiral of negative thoughts, I could very clearly bring myself back and see them for what they are. This sense of clarity made me realise how strong I truly am; to go through the a truly heartbreaking moment in my life, and come out of it feeling immensely strong. I am enormously proud of myself for that. After my procedure, still lying on hospital bed, as the doctors and nurses cleaned up around us, I told Mike “I’d do it again. If it meant that at some point, we will have a baby, I’d do it again.” And I meant it, wholeheartedly. I knew that my body could cope, my mind could cope, my relationship could cope. I knew, we would be okay. It was one of the strongest moments of my life.
Mike and I left the hospital the next day. When I got home, out of pure exhaustion, I slept for around 15 hours.
The next couple of weeks were a blur of loved ones faces, tears, flowers, gift hampers, and the living room sofa. But each day, we grew stronger. Every time we told our story, it felt easier. I felt emotional, but clear headed and strong. I remember one day watching TV and hearing the phrase, “you have taken one of life’s sourest lemons. And all you can do is try to turn it into something resembling lemonade”. And I think that’s what we’re trying to do.
Our family and friends have been absolutely wonderful. But being able to speak openly and to find people going through the same thing would have brought us some comfort. We’re reaching out and just letting you know, that no matter who you are, what you’re going through, it’s important to do what you feel is right for you. Don’t worry about other people’s perceptions, but take comfort in the knowledge that you’re never alone in your experiences.
The biggest thing that I’ve learned in it all is that in early pregnancy, as frustrating as it is, you simply don’t know what’s going on. Perhaps my anxiety was what made me wind myself up with thoughts of not feeling pregnant, and we didn’t actually lose the baby until the miscarriage started. After all, all signs indicated a healthy pregnancy. Perhaps I was right and I had an instinct for it. But we’ll never know at what point that baby stopped developing. And I could drive myself mad with questioning every niggle, every bodily change. But by doing that, I wouldn’t be allowing myself to enjoy any future pregnancies. I’m by no means good at it, but I’m working to get better at letting it go. The lack of control can be hard to cope with, but trying to control it only exacerbated my anxiety. What will be will be.
Talk to those you trust and love and never worry that you’re not coping “the way you’re supposed to”. Everyone’s experiences are different. In the bizarreness of it all, I actually found comfort in the wise words of drag queen RuPaul Charles; “feelings are not facts”. I went through so many thoughts that freaked me out, included but not limited to “What if this keeps happening? What if I can’t have kids? What if I keep miscarrying because secretly, I don’t want children? What if I have a baby but then don’t love it?” It took me a long time to work through my guilt to realise that these are thoughts, and not reality – and that they’re perfectly normal things to consider given the circumstances. I remember talking to a friend of mine who without even telling her listed all of those worries and that she knew that they would be running through my head and the emotional place it would take me to. And then she said “We won’t let you live there”. These mantras, and knowing I had unwavering support from close friends and family really helped me to let the intrusive thoughts go.
I hope that in time, we can address the painful subject of miscarriage and anxiety during pregnancy more openly. From both the mother’s and the partners perspectives. As a society we’re so much better now at opening up, but I still feel that this still somewhat subject to secrecy and is shrouded in mystery. It makes the unknowns about miscarriage terrifying, especially for couples trying to conceive for the first time; and incredibly lonely for the couples it happens to. I hope that by reading this, it might open the door to those conversations.
I feel so much stronger now than I have done for years. I have no doubt that experiencing miscarriage has helped to build the person I am now. I don’t know what will happen next. Perhaps our next pregnancy will be successful, perhaps it won’t. But I know that I’m strong, and ready to find out what life has in store next.
All my love,