18 February 2019

Discovering my maternal strength through the loss of a much wanted and much loved, yet unborn child.

Disclaimer, my story does not hold back any detail and contains strong language (sorry mum!).

*I have changed names to protect the identity of those involved.

This is a long account, so I’ve given it chapters. If you just want to know the detail of my experiences of the “natural miscarriage” at home, skip to Chapter 4.

1)            Tuesday – first signs of a problem

2)            Wednesday – waiting

3)            Thursday morning – the scan

4)            Thursday afternoon – the unexpected “natural miscarriage” at home

5)            Thursday evening – a myriad of sensations and emotions

6)            Friday – what happens with the remains?

7)            Monday – I thought it was over….

 

1) Tuesday – first signs of a problem

Tuesday the 24th of July started as a normal day. I had a meeting in York, an hour away from my usual office in Leeds. The meeting went well and I felt good.

I’d been feeling good for over a week. I was 10weeks+3days, and the nausea had gone. I thought “Great! Maybe I’m in the 2nd trimester already?!, maybe my dates are further than I thought?”. People had been saying I looked really well. And I felt it! But sadly, hindsight would tell me that it wasn’t the glowing stage the 2nd trimester that was making me feel so well. It was because my pregnancy hormones had already started to drop…

This 2nd pregnancy was a much-wanted pregnancy. The first time we got pregnant, it was only 3 months after we’d got married, we weren’t properly trying, it just happened. 1st month off the pill and boom, a Son. A beautiful, delightful son. We didn’t think it would be so quick!

But this time round, month after month went by, negative test after negative test. My NCT friends from my first pregnancy started to have their 2nd pregnancies, which turned into 2nd children. I muted the group chats (sorry guys) because their joyful updates of doting older siblings were just too painful to read.  Then finally it happened, we were pregnant again! Utter joy!

We decided to not let convention dictate when we told people. So, we told people as and when we felt it appropriate. Parents straight away, colleagues as I needed to explain my constant tiredness, my best (and pregnant!) friend. The list of people got bigger and bigger. I don’t regret it. This was my support network.

After my meeting I went to the loo…

Blood. Lots of it. Like a heavy period, with clots. Wipe after wipe, another clot. Another clot. SHIT.

I called my husband. Then I called the midwife…no answer. I called the community midwives number, no answer. Then I called the emergency line that the midwives had on their answerphone and got through to Calderdale Labour ward. They told me to get to my nearest A&E, in York straight away. It was a drive away, I’d arrived to the office by train…

I went to tell a colleague who sprung into action, she called a taxi to get me to the hospital, offered to pack up my stuff and walked me to the car.

I got to York A&E, and was surprised that despite the “3 hour wait” sign, my name was called almost straight away, I spoke to a robotic, emotionless nurse, right there in the middle of the waiting room in front of the broken legs and the bruised eyes. “name?” “DOB?”, “how many weeks are you?”, “what are your symptoms?”, “are you in pain?” then … “I’m afraid there’s not much we can do here, you’ll have to wait for a scan which can take up to a week, but we’ll take a few measurements, blood pressure etc then we’ll get you booked in” I explained that I wasn’t from the area and in response I was told to simply get in touch with my midwife to sort out something local.

It all felt so impersonal, so public, so robotic.

I went to the loo, the bleeding had pretty much stopped! Relief, confusion. I wasn’t in any pain, so maybe this was just “one of those things” you hear the “bleeding isn’t uncommon in the first trimester” line…

Then my line manager called *Dave, who just happened to also be in York, but at a different meeting a wonderful coincidence. Dave offered to drive me anywhere I needed to go. So after much ringing round of midwife/ward I eventually got a referral to see someone at the Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit in Barnsley and he drove me there.

Half way there, I needed the loo. I had a pee sample pot in my pocket and as they ALWAYS ask for one no matter what the appointment or situation. Dave pulled over at a MacDonald’s. I then filled the pot, wrapped it in a maccyD’s napkin and put it in my pocket. The surreal-ness of the situation slapped me in the face, there I was, sat in my line manager’s car, with a warm pee sample wrapped in a MacDonald’s napkin in my pocket, likely experiencing the miscarriage and loss of my much wanted second child. And we were chatting about my chartership application and home improvements.

At the early assessment unit in Barnsley, the Midwife *Claire kindly sat me down and explained to me that whilst they couldn’t scan me that day, they would get me in for a scan as soon as possible. And reassured me that bleeding often happens in the first trimester. I told her that I’d stopped bleeding already, and that I felt foolish for panicking. She told me that bleeding like this can mean all sorts, and whilst there’s a good chance it’s nothing to worry about, it must be checked over. I was spoken to with compassion and such kindness. I was put completely at ease.

Whilst waiting for an internal examination, I sat in the waiting room sharing birth stories with the other, scared early expecting mothers in the room. One girl, a true Barnsley lass, regaled the hilarious story of a friend who, managed to very quickly push her baby out when told that she might have to have an episiotomy. “No bleedin’ wonder!! If they’d told me they wo gonna cut me dahn theer if ah didn’t push streit awey, I’d’uv been able to push aaht a bluddy car!” We laughed (yet we were all ultimately sat there in fear).

The Dr doing the examination was kind and gentle with me. I was told my cervix was closed, so it was safe to go home. They booked me a scan for Thursday.

 

2) Wednesday – waiting

Wednesday morning the bleeding started again. Then stopped by lunchtime.

I had lunch with two friends, one of whom had had a miscarriage at a similar gestation.  She openly told me about her experiences, about her induction and her successful pregnancy within 6 months of her loss. Yet another reminder of how common miscarriage is, and how it doesn’t mean the end of growing my family. Whilst it didn’t completely alleviate my fears, it grew my network of support.

Then the bleeding started again in the afternoon, this time more clots, and lots of them. The bleeding didn’t stop.

My colleague called me to see how I was in the evening, when I told her the bleeding was worse, she urged me to call the hospital. So I did, I spoke to Claire again, she said to not worry unless I am in pain that can’t be managed by ibuprofen/paracetamol or if the bleeding was saturating a sanitary towel more than once per hour. It wasn’t so I went to bed and braced myself for bad news in the morning.

 

3) Thursday morning – the scan

The next morning my husband came with me for the scan.

After a long wait we went in. The Sonographer told me that she would be going quiet for a few minutes whilst she had a look, and turned the screen away so I could not see.

They tell you to come with a full bladder, but mine was too full, so I went to partially empty it. Still the sonographer could not see what she needed to see so she asked if I was OK with an internal scan. I was.

Click…click…slight movement of the equipment, click…click. Then she put her hand gently on my knee.

I knew straight away. “I have some bad news…I cannot find a heartbeat.”

Silent tears started streaming down my face, I turned to my husband “I knew it” I told him.

The sonographer said she’d check once more. Compassion and regret in her voice and in her facial expression, she clearly did not want to be telling us this, but she had to.

Click…click…click… (the clicks were so loud!!) “I’m so very sorry, but there is no heartbeat, would you like to see?”

We did. She showed us the sac, and the two blobs showing the head and torso of our unmoving baby. The last time we’d seen an image like this, our beautiful son was wriggling around making it difficult for the sonographer to measure him, how we laughed tears of joy as we saw the frantic heartbeat and wriggling legs. How so very different this was.

“It’s measuring 8 weeks plus” she said. “would you like a picture?” We weren’t sure, so she offered to print one in case we’d changed our minds.

siwan

We were guided into the “Quiet Room” and told that someone would be with us shortly, my husband grabbed a handful of leaflets on the different options of miscarriage, and we started reading. I was adamant that I did NOT want to go through an induction. I’d been induced with my son’s birth and it was not a pleasant experience.

Claire then came in to speak to us, she told us she was sorry, and with patience, and gentleness she discussed our options. 1) “natural miscarriage” at home (could take weeks) 2) ”medically managed miscarriage” (essentially induction) 3) “surgically assisted miscarriage” otherwise known as a D&C. We were warned that all of the options would likely involve pain and bleeding for a number of weeks.

The D&C was supposed to only take 20mins then that’s it, everything is removed job done. But it had risks, perforated womb, damage to the placenta, infection. We already knew that we wanted to try again, the risks felt too high.

I couldn’t face the thought of delivering with no medical support at home with no clue as to when it might happen. Knowing that my dead child was inside me, for up to 3 weeks!

So much to my dread and fear, we chose option 2) To be induced, at least this way the risks were reduced and I would have a definite date, and soon. An appointment was made for Saturday – 2 days away.

We went home and picked up our son from nursery. He’s nearly 4, and up until now, didn’t know about the pregnancy.

We sat him down and brought him up to speed. As parents we firmly believe in being honest about life and death with our son. “mummy has a baby inside her tummy” “Sadly the baby has died”, “no it wont wake up again”, “Mummy will have to go into hospital so the doctors can help get the baby out”, “no you’re not dying”, “no you’re not going to live forever”

He was clearly saddened, but seemed to understand what we were saying. Fearful for his own mortality he asked lots of questions. We honestly answered them all.

We arranged to stay at my parent’s house that night until the Saturday, a 45min drive away, so that we could be fed and looked after until I needed to go into hospital, at which point they could have my Son for a day or two. So we packed the car and at 4pm we were ready to go.

Just before we set off, I reached out to a local Facebook parenting community to explain what had happened, that I was due to go into hospital to be induced and did anyone have any advice.

 

4) Thursday afternoon – the unexpected “natural miscarriage” at home

We set off to Bradford to my parents, son in the back and bags packed for a few days whilst we waited for the induction appointment on Saturday.

After 5mins in the car, the pain started. Excruciating pain in my lower abdomen, right in my pelvic cavity. I thought “it will go away soon” and we stopped to pick up some ice creams on the way. We were in the middle of the July Heatwave of 2018. I said I’d go get the ice creams as I wanted to move around to see if I could get rid of this pain. I couldn’t.

But on we drove. The pain got worse.

“Shit, we’re going to have to stop” I said. “I can’t cope with this”.

The pain got worse.

It never eased off, a constant pain, like a contraction that never goes away.

A message pinged up on my phone, from someone I’d never met but from a facebook group I’d reached out to. ….*Helen ”…I miscarried naturally, but would have had a medically managed one if not, let me know if you want to talk about it”

I did!  Me, “I’ve just started having intense pain in my lower abdomen, its not like a contraction, its constant, did you get something like this with your natural miscarriage?”

I’d read multiple stories of miscarriage in the previous 2 days, none had mentioned this constant pain…

Helen, “Yes, it was like a strong period pain”

Me, “How long did it last?” I asked.

Helen, “..maybe an hour or so? …are you bleeding”

Me, “spotting but not much…” …”what did you do with the ‘remains’, are you OK talking about this?”

Helen, “Yes I’m ok 😉 I buried them in the garden”

Me, “how did you, urm, catch them”

Helen, “I was at home on the toilet and I could feel the fetus come out so I caught it”

I then told my husband to pull over, there was a pub. I ran in to the toilets expecting it to be happening and I called the hospital. As I wasn’t bleeding heavily, they simply told me to take some ibuprofen and to call them back in half an hour if it wasn’t taking the pain away. So I made it back to the car, and got him to turn the car round and take us home. I had the house key in my hand, ready to run in and upstairs to the bath. He took our son round to a neighbour, I was later told that my son frankly proclaimed to the neighbour’s 3yo daughter “My mummy has a dead baby in her tummy!!”. Kids are so matter-of fact, and deal with things I think a lot better than most adults!!

I ran upstairs, stripped and got into the bath. Hoping that the warm water would help with the pain.

It didn’t.

I tried lying down, squatting, standing up and swaying from side to side. The constant pain didn’t budge. It didn’t get better it didn’t get worse.

Helen on FB messenger, “sounds like it might be happening”

I could no longer respond to her messages.

I was tense, afraid and in so much pain. At least with contractions you get a breather!

I told my husband to grab 2 bowls, 1 for me to be sick in, and 1 to house anything that “came out”

I didn’t know how long this was going to last, crying, moaning and writhing, nothing helping. My husband sat helplessly looking at me. He’d tried to stroke my back but I brushed him off. I couldn’t stand his touch, or his staring.  “You need to go” I said, “maybe go in another room and search on your phone for some advice”

He went, and came back later telling me that some people experience this kind of pain on and off for 3 days before they finally deliver, for some it’s like contractions of normal labour, sometimes it’s over within hours.

Terrified of how long this was going to last I lay sideways in a foetal position and cried.

I then became aware of how tense I was, and thought of the things I’d read about labour and birthing last time around, how tension doesn’t help. I needed to relax so that I could “open up”. I tried to recall some of my mindfulness meditation techniques. The standard breathing methods didn’t work. Then I thought of it… I needed to focus in on the pain. I needed to be curious of it, to examine it. So I did.

Almost immediately I relaxed, I turned my thoughts to curiosity of the pain…

where EXACTLY was it? (deep in the pelvis) Is that the size of my uterus right now? (possibly) Is the pain just the constant contraction of my uterus? (likely) was it the same all over? (it wasn’t, there were two stronger pin points) Was it actually constant or was I imagining it (it was constant).

Question after question all whilst my breathing slowed and became less erratic.

The pain became bearable. It became interesting. It was like some scientific research.

I could cope with this.

Then I realised I was falling asleep.

The pain had gone.

I called out to my husband, I heard him jerk awake from the room next door, how long had it been?! About an hour. I sent him off to go get my Son from the neighbours, my parents would be here soon.

As my parents arrived, I got out of the bath, and came and sat on the sofa. My parents squeezed me tightly and expressed what sympathy they could. My mum had been through this three times 3over 30 years ago, she couldn’t remember much detail only that it was awful, and she empathised with how I was feeling.

After two hours of talking, hugging (them eating fish and chips) we decided that they would take my son home for the night in case I had another painful turn or needed to go into hospital.

My husband got my son in the shower (He’d had a wee accident earlier with the neighbours) and I went to the loo as my parents started preparing to leave.

As I sat on the loo I felt it, light pressure of something leaving my body. Painlessly it dropped out and splashed into the bowl.

That.was.my.baby.

FUCK.

I went into shock, I started to hyperventilate. I had to retrieve it, all I could see in the bowl was blood. I put my hand in, and felt it, the size of your average chicken egg, but soft. I pulled it out of the toilet and put it into the bowl that I’d earlier asked my husband to retrieve.

The soft egg shape of the sac was a combination of white/transparent tissue, and deep dark red clot-like tissue. I couldn’t see the body. I ran into my husband mid-shower of my son. I couldn’t speak. Hitting him on the shoulder, I just sobbed between hyperventilating and pointed at the bathroom. He came and looked.

Having left my son in the shower, he went back to attend to him. My parents then came upstairs, they both saw it, then I asked my dad to go deal with my son.

My husband held me as I sobbed and sobbed. I think he sobbed too, I can’t remember.

It was over.

 

5) Thursday evening – a myriad of sensations and emotions

My breathing slowed, and my feelings of horror and shock turned to relief. It was over! I didn’t have to wait 2 more days with my dead child inside of me.

I didn’t have to have 3 days of repeated fucking awful hour long contractions or whatever version of a “natural miscarriage” I was due to experience.

My baby’s sac was out, with the baby inside. The whole human. The human child, who, books tell me had a (once beating) heart, 10 fingers, 10 toes. Eyelids (fused), who, at a mere 8.5 weeks of existence was once kicking its legs and moving around to get comfortable.

My child. Not a foetus. Not a collection of cells. My unborn child. I knew then, that I would name them, and remember them as a part of my family.

My child, less than 2cm long, in a sac of tissue, in a plastic bowl in my bathroom. How fucking ridiculous was that?!?!

But I felt relief! No, worse than that, I felt elated! I felt strong. I felt like I could run for miles. I WANTED to run for miles. But I had to get my shit together.

I yearned to hold my son, so I went to him, and we embraced. I asked him for a “squeezy cuddle, mummy really needs one right now” he happily, and joyfully obliged in his delightful way. It was so healing.

My feelings of elation turned to joy, with the adrenaline and the love hormone oxytocin from my son’s embrace coursing through my veins. I felt like I could take on the world.

I’d just pulled my dead child out of the toilet bowl, put them into a plastic bowl and I felt like I could take on world? What the actual FUCK?!

After a quick discussion with my parents we decided that they would take my son to their house for the night so my husband and I could figure out what to do next. My husband started to get the car seat into their car then the thunderstorm happened.

Lightning, thunder and the heaviest rain I can remember! I ran outside, hands held up and head facing the sky and laughed!!

My son was laughing too, wanting to join me but didn’t want to get his clothes wet, so I stripped him to his underpants and we both ran out on to the lawn, laughing, spinning and whooping.

(utterly ridiculous considering what had happened and what I was holding only 10/15 minutes ago)

After my parents and son left, I called the hospital. They said that if I was feeling OK I could come in in the morning, and that I had to bring in “the remains” so that they could examine them, as well as me.

My husband poured us both a sloe gin and we discussed how to transport the sac, our child. Our dead child.

In the end I decided to put it into a sandwich bag (A FUCKING SANDWICH BAG FOR A HUMAN?!) and put it into an opaque box. Then put the box into another sandwich bag.

I explained the plan to my husband and asked if he wanted to help. He didn’t feel up to the task. So I dealt with it. Afterwards he asked me how it was that I was coping with this so well. I shrugged and told him it was probably hormones and adrenaline.

I placed it into the fridge as I knew it was going to be a warm night.

Then I messaged *Helen again

Me “Fuck me, it’s out. A kinder egg sized sac. Just popped out painlessly when I went to the loo”

Helen, “Sorry, that’s just made me laugh”

Me “It must be the adrenaline, but I feel kind of elated”

Helen “Yes, I had the same. Pain, then nothing, then kinder surprise….” “… there’s no right or wrong way to feel. Just take time to do whatever you need to…I certainly had a glass of wine afterwards”

So naturally, I sent her a selfie of me drinking the sloe gin, with my wet, post-dancing-in-the-rain hair and told her that she’d been like a guardian angel to me in the last few hours.

Helen, “You’re brilliant!….”

My husband and I then stood in the garden, looking at the stars and the oddly orange moon, hunting for satellites and discussing everything, and nothing. Sometimes the conversation turned to laughter, at other times, we cried.

 

6) Friday – what happens with the remains?

I couldn’t sleep that night. I spent the night googling what happens with the remains, and read many things. As a Catholic, I spent a good deal of time looking up what the Church’s stance was on a child of this gestation. I couldn’t find a clear source of information. But most seemed to point to burial and a funeral.

At the bottom of one of those “catholic guidance for miscarriage” pages, I saw the reference to a Saint Gianna Beretta Molla, a paediatrician who had had 2 miscarriages and then died shortly after the birth of her 4th child due to complications of the birth. She had been beatified as the patron saint of unborn children.

My mum was born in Italy and had a cousin Gianna, so I decided I wanted the name of my child to relate to this. As my husband is welsh I found the welsh form of Gianna (English is “Joanna”) Welsh: Siwan (pronounced Sho-Anne) I discussed it with him the next day and he agreed. Siwan it was, quite possibly a daughter, but we would never know.

In the morning I found the number of the Hospital’s catholic chaplain, he reassured me that the hospital policies have been drawn up sensitively with differing religions in mind, and that they were generally agreeable to the church (the Catholic church is apparently not so down on cremation anymore).

We went to the hospital, first they took my baby-in-a-bag-in-a-box-in-a-bag into another room to examine the remains.

The nurse (Claire again!) came back and again with that kindness and compassion of hers, she told us that the sac was whole, and that some if not most of the placenta was attached. Which was good news because in the case that some tissue remains in the uterus, this can cause infection. So there’s a good chance I’d be OK.

She left us with some information and some options re: the cremation. 1)the hospital would arrange to cremate and scatter the ashes in a garden. We would not be told of the date of the cremation. 2) the hospital would arrange the cremation and we could collect the ashes. 3)we would make our own arrangements.

We cried. And cried. And discussed. And cried.

We decided to go with option 2. We were told that some samples of the placenta would be taken for future records (in case we go on to have recurrent miscarriages so they can check for any pattern) our baby’s body would be checked for any abnormalities, and if there was any specific and obvious abnormality, they would let us know. Then they would arrange for the cremation. The whole process could take a number of weeks.

We don’t know yet what we’ll do with the ashes. But there wont be a funeral, maybe a small service, or some prayers. But nothing too OTT.

Siwan will remain in our hearts, she will be remembered a part of our family, 9 weeks or 90 weeks, it doesn’t matter. She was there, and a whole human. My son would know that we were expecting her, but that she died before any of us got to meet her.

I’m writing this on Saturday night. 2 days after my experience.

I at first thought my feelings of elation, and strength were simply a result of the shock, adrenaline, hormones. Yet those emptions are still there. Nights are the worst, I’m not sleeping, but I’m not exactly “grieving” in the traditional sense. Is there a traditional sense?

People around me are expressing their condolences and sadness, some in tears. Yet I feel OK, better than that I feel strong.

I am tired, so so very tired. I can’t sleep at the moment. I am hoping that writing this account will help.  But the lingering feeling of strength which comes from my awe at what my body and brain has achieved in the last few days. I feel like I can face anything.

We will try again.

This may happen again (it did for my poor mother 3 times in a row, but then she had 3 children). I hope I don’t follow her pattern. But I am prepared.

I hope this feeling of strength doesn’t crash down, there’s probably plenty hormones still flying about right now. I am fearful for the time when my neighbours (3 of whom are currently pregnant) all start to give birth, at time when I should have been meeting and holding my Siwan. I am fearful for how I’ll feel at my annual Easter pilgrimage break, where I’d already discussed with my brother which room was best for me with a newborn. There’s no way, even if we conceive again quickly that I’ll have a newborn at that time. I am fearful for how I’ll feel if this happens again, or we fail to conceive.

But for now pragmatism, and the wonder of the miracle I’ve witnessed and been the host body to (and probably a few remaining hormones) are making me feel positive.

I kind of feel guilty for not feeling the devastating grief that I see on others’ accounts. But as one person wrote in response to me reaching out on social media “it’s ok, to let yourself feel ok” So I’m going to stick with that for now.

 

7) Monday – I thought it was over….

By Sunday night I’d stopped bleeding. What a relief. So I went to bed that night with no sanitary towel. Such comfort! Then Monday morning I woke up with bad period pain. Damn.

I went to the loo, and a familiar sensation took me back to that Friday evening as the sac left my body. A pressure as something began to exit… This time I captured it with some loo roll. A large clump of tissue, definitely not a clot, and it had a tube like thing on one end. The placenta. Great.

I felt like I’d plunged backwards, physically and emotionally. Soon afterwards, my whole body began to ache. A flu like ache, particularly bad in my legs and back. I felt shattered, weary, drained and down.

With some caffeine and painkillers, things began to ease. But then I went on facebook. Big mistake, all the positive posts of friends with babies, and all of the breastfeeding groups that I hadn’t stopped following since I stoped breastfeeding my son 2 years ago. So I pondered quitting facebook. I decided not to, as it had been such a support over the last few days. Through facebook, I’d ended up with a joyful impromptu lunch with some friends both miles away from our homes in Devon (we’d come down to visit the in-laws) as well as the myriad of support from friends. So I decided to do a mega “unfollow”, mostly of parenting groups, but the odd friend (with newborn or pregnancy) has sadly made the list. I’ll re-follow them when I’m feeling stronger. I also changed my add preferences to avoid any family related adverts, and did a quick scan of any other adverts in my feed making sure to click “I do not want to see adverts like this”.

Its now Tuesday and with the help of some Nytol and a couple of comforting glasses of tipple, I’ve been able to get some good sleep. And facebook this morning due to my unfollow last night is full of morris dancing, folk festivals and pictures of cats.

The recovery continues.

 

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