If I’m being completely honest, I have been putting off writing this post for months. The thought of reliving every minute detail of the physical and emotional trauma involved with losing a baby was too painful. Too raw. But it has been a long time since the bleeding stopped and life began to return to some kind of normal, albeit a ‘new’ normal in these strange Covid-19 times. The time finally feels right to share my account of what it was like to realise I was losing a baby during a pandemic.
Loss of symptoms
I was in my eighth week of pregnancy when things began to go wrong. I had noticed for a week or so that my pregnancy symptoms seemed to be changing. They hadn’t disappeared completely but they had definitely eased. This made me nervous but I was reassured by those who love me that pregnancy symptoms can come and go and this wasn’t an indication of anything being wrong. Which, in most pregnancies, is probably the case.
The week I had my first ever positive pregnancy test I had noticed that I had developed a superhuman sense of smell. I kept remarking on the drain smell coming from the bathroom, the food smell coming from the bin or a doggy smell coming from Doug, our pug. I was incredibly nauseous, particularly in the mornings and the evenings, and I felt a little faint doing ordinary jobs around the house. I had stopped walking Doug because, being a stubborn pug, he is prone to pulling on the lead with a surprising force given his size. Whenever he did this, I could feel a pull across my stomach that I’d never experienced before. As if my uterus was being stretched! So, I decided to let my husband take over dogwalking duties until I was further along and more familiar with the pulls and twinges associated with pregnancy. I had barely any appetite and the thought of chocolate or anything sweet and sugary was no longer appealing. Until week seven.
Throughout week seven I noticed that I actually began to crave chocolate again. I replaced my healthy porridge for a sugary children’s cereal and snacked on breakfast bars and biscuits instead of fruit. My appetite in general began to return. I found this strange but, never having been pregnant before, I assumed it was natural for symptoms to change throughout the weeks. I also noticed that my energy levels were returning and household chores no longer tired me out as they had. I began to do more and more and eat more and more and thought my body was simply adjusting to being pregnant. I also developed a slight pain across my stomach. At first, it presented as a pain in my side – too far to the side to be related to the pregnancy, surely? But as I headed into week eight, this was replaced by a sharper pain, much lower down on my left side. Prime pregnancy area. The pain wasn’t excruciating. It wasn’t even enough to take paracetamol for and so, yet again, I assured myself there was nothing to worry about. As my husband kept telling me: if 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, that means there is a 3 in 4 chance that this won’t. He also felt that we needn’t worry too much unless we saw blood. Which we hadn’t. Yet.
The bleeding begins
8 weeks and 3 days into the pregnancy, I served up our evening meal and quickly nipped upstairs to the toilet so I could enjoy the dish without feeling the urge to use the bathroom throughout. As any pregnant woman will tell you, and perhaps particularly those who have struggled to conceive, every wipe is studied before discarding into the toilet basin. I had done this on each toilet visit for the previous 8 weeks and 3 days and all had been well so I expected no different. But this time when I performed my routine check I gasped. There on the paper was a perfectly round drop of blood. Small but obvious. My heart sank. I knew this was going to happen. I expected it to happen. I’d spent most of my pregnancy googling all of the things that can go wrong. Maybe I had somehow caused this?
Early in my pregnancy I had been gifted a few celebrity pregnancy diaries, none of which mentioned feeling concerned about losing their baby. Maybe then, my obsession with what could go wrong was where I had gone wrong? Maybe I sat in the sun for too long? Did I eat the wrong thing? I realise now that these thoughts and feelings are a natural reaction to miscarriage. It is incredibly sad but seemingly quite common for women who experience a miscarriage to mistakenly blame themselves for the loss of their pregnancy. As if the event itself isn’t traumatic enough.
Sorry, we’re closed
Now, it can be difficult to access medical help for non-life-threatening issues at certain times of the day and on certain days of the week, in normal times. Accessing medical help in a pandemic added another layer of unwelcome complexity to the problem. I was bleeding but I wasn’t quite sure what to do about it. I wasn’t bleeding heavily so my husband did his best to reassure me that it was merely spotting and more than likely completely normal. Strangely though, it was he who appeared to be the most panicked at the situation. I felt inexplicably calm. I had worried for weeks about it happening, so now that it actually was, it felt as though there was a certain sense of inevitability about it. All of the angst of worrying about what could go wrong disappeared: it HAD gone wrong so I now had to work out my next move. Quickly.
I rang 111 to explain the situation and was told that they would leave a message for my GP to contact me in the morning. I spent the evening googling the opening hours for my local Early Pregnancy Unit and reassured myself that I’d be seen the next day and we’d have an answer to what was going on. Only, due to the pandemic (and unbeknownst to me), the EPU was operating a reduced timetable and only open a few days a week, for shorter periods of time than usual. The next morning, my GP rang with the bad news. She had contacted the EPU on my behalf and heard a recorded message stating that, owing to Covid-19, they were closed today. She asked a few questions about my symptoms and told me that the EPU would contact me the next day. 36 hours after I started bleeding.
At this point, I hadn’t told a single person about what was happening for two reasons: I didn’t want to worry them and I didn’t want to admit that things were going wrong with the pregnancy. So, I muddled through the morning, attempting to distract myself as best I could, whilst my husband worked. The bleeding hadn’t stopped but I reasoned that it also hadn’t worsened, which was a good sign. Until my next toilet visit confirmed my worst fears. Bright red fresh blood. And lots of it.
Not just a ‘heavy period’
I remember this day as being the most traumatic. There were horrendous days to come, and definitely worse days in terms of physical pain, but the intense sense of loss and the overwhelming grief on that lonely day where I stared at bloody toilet tissue for hours in the bathroom and cried about the unfairness of it all still haunts me slightly now. I knew the statistics. I knew that 1 in 4 pregnancies ended in loss. I therefore knew that lots of other women had either gone through this or were going through this at the exact same time, yet, the only way I can describe how I felt on that day is abject loneliness.
We cried a lot that day. Possibly more than any other day throughout the ordeal. And I use that term very intentionally. It was an ordeal. A lengthy and painful ordeal. Miscarriage is not ‘just a heavy period’. It is not always quick and not always straight-forward. It is not simply ceasing to be pregnant. It is physically gruelling and emotionally draining. And in my case, a six-week-long process. I will talk more about the EPU appointments and the physical process of losing a baby in my next post. But, for now, I will simply end with the beautiful words of baby loss specialist Zoe Clark-Coates:
The world seemed different the day after they were gone… It took me some time before I realised the world hadn’t changed, I had.
Zoe Clark-Coates runs sayinggoodbye.org – providing comprehensive information, advice, support and much more to anyone who has suffered the loss of a baby, at any stage of pregnancy, at birth or in infancy. I found it really useful during this period.