Unsurprisingly, I slept terribly that night. I knew I would probably be seen by The Early Pregnancy Unit (EPU) the following day, yet I also knew that this would probably confirm my suspicions. Whilst some women do bleed in pregnancy, it seemed unlikely that the amount of blood I was losing could be explained away. So, rather than sleep, I spent most of the night listening to podcasts discussing baby loss – purely to feel less alone. I listened to a pregnancy loss episode on Katherine Ryan’s ‘Telling Everybody Everything’ on repeat. Because she’d recently lost a baby at a similar stage of gestation, I found it oddly comforting. All I wanted at that time was to connect with other women who had experienced pregnancy loss. Something that is surprisingly difficult when the social norm is to silence women until the 12 weeks mark.
Finally – a hospital appointment
The EPU rang early the next morning and said they could see me within the next hour, which was exactly what I wanted to hear. Thirty seconds after hanging up, my phone rang again from the same number. The nurse on the other end explained that I would have to come alone as, owing to the pandemic, partners were no longer allowed to attend appointments. This shocked me slightly, as I did think exceptions would be made in situations where patients would be likely to experience extreme trauma, but I was so desperate to get there and get the answers we so desperately needed that I chose to solely focus on getting to the hospital on time.
We raced outside and into the car, carefully avoiding our chatty elderly neighbour – now really was NOT the time – and got to the hospital as fast as was safely possible. My husband dropped me outside and drove off to find free parking so he could wait in the car. I assured him I’d be back out within ten to fifteen minutes. Oh, the naivety.
As I reached the front desk at the sonography department, I was asked what I was there for. “A scan,” I replied. I was then asked what the scan was for. My eyes darted nervously around the waiting room… men, men and more men. Which made shouting “TO CHECK IF I’M HAVING A MISCARRIAGE” through my face mask all the more awkward.
“I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat”
Once in the room, I was asked about the bleeding and cramping. I was scanned externally before being told I would need an internal scan. At nearly 9 weeks, this indicated that my worst fears were coming true. And, within minutes, the confirmation came… “I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat.”
Now I know that this is a horribly traumatic experience. I would have known it before experiencing it. But when those words left the sonographer’s mouth I remember thinking I mustn’t make her feel any worse than she already must feel delivering such bad news. So, I calmly said, “No, I didn’t think there would be because of all the bleeding…” whilst she continued to examine my womb. “Do you want to see?” she asked. This was unexpected. I had prepared myself for bad news. I knew that I was likely to be told that the pregnancy was ending. I really hadn’t considered being asked whether I wanted to look at the screen or not. Yet, in that moment, it made perfect sense for me to look. This was the only time I had ever been pregnant in my life. It may be the one and only time I will ever be pregnant in my life. Without hesitation, I asked to see the screen. And there it was. My beautiful little baby. Nestled into my womb, just as it should be. Still. Silent. My everything, yet, in the eyes of others, nothing. A little life that should have been but would never be.
I was told to head straight up to the EPU so they could advise me on what happens next. Upon entering, I quickly realised the waiting room etiquette was the same as that of IVF clinics: pretend you cannot see the other people in the room waiting with you. I had an excruciatingly long wait. Women came and went whilst I whiled away the time listening to the music playing on the tiny radio in the corner; inappropriately, Ace of Base’s ‘All That She Wants (Is Another Baby)’. A truly terrible choice for a waiting room full of anxious and grieving women but then, I suppose the local radio station weren’t to know.
Finally, an hour and fifteen minutes later a nurse appeared and said she would call down to the sonography department to see what had happened to my notes. Despite optimistically telling my husband that I’d be back out within fifteen minutes, the appointment actually took ninety minutes. Not ninety minutes of investigation. Not ninety minutes of counselling. Not ninety minutes spent planning our next steps and arranging further scans. No. Ninety minutes because, for some reason, the copy of the scan that had to be emailed from the sonographer to the EPU nurse, didn’t arrive.
When I eventually saw the nurse I was told that, despite seeing a small baby without a heartbeat, I wouldn’t be able to move forwards with any medical management or surgery options as they only had my word as to the gestational age of the baby which, they reasoned, could be incorrect. I knew 100% that my dates were absolutely correct but, as the NHS only offers 12-week scans, I had no proof. So, I was told I needed to wait another two weeks before being scanned again and making a plan.
Mentally, this was the hardest part. The worst had happened. My deepest darkest fears had come true and this precious little baby that we’d prayed so hard for over the past two and a half years had died. Yet I couldn’t prove that the baby was dead rather than just too tiny to have a heartbeat and I was therefore left with no other option than to continue to go about my daily life knowing I had a dead baby inside me.
In Katherine Ryan’s podcast, she had talked about an overwhelming desire to tell everybody with whom she came into contact about the dead baby she was carrying inside her. It may sound blunt. Callous even. But I knew EXACTLY what she meant. It’s such a strange situation to be in – such a secret situation – and yet, you have a burning desire to blurt it out at every given opportunity. You don’t, of course, as social conventions don’t really allow for that level of candidness, particularly when the recipient of the news would be the man who is currently in your house wallpapering your (no longer needed) nursery. It’s now an office in case anyone was wondering. But it really is like a form of taboo Tourette’s.
I left the hospital with no information about what to expect. I was told that I couldn’t be given any of the leaflets about the medical or surgical options available to me until the gestational age had been confirmed at the next scan, a fortnight away. The nurse did warn me that my body may miscarry naturally before this. When I asked if it would be painful, she replied, “It can be, yes.” Knowing what I know now, this may well be the biggest understatement in history.
I rang my husband the minute I left the hospital. As he pulled up in the car to pick me up I realised that, for the past ninety minutes, he had had no clue what was going on and for all he knew everything could be fine. I sunk into the passenger seat and told him our baby didn’t have a heartbeat as he pulled away from the hospital. And that rather neatly sums up how the fathers of babies lost in lockdown were treated. No voice. No involvement. No importance. Yet, at this point, people were free to go to a hairdresser or have a few pints in the pub. Priorities, anyone?
Katherine Ryan’s ‘Telling Everybody Everything’ podcast (8th April 2020) https://play.acast.com/s/katherine-ryan-telling-everybody-everything/pregnancyloss
I found the many different stories documented on the Miscarriage Association website https://www.miscarriageassociation.org.uk/your-feelings/your-stories/ invaluable during this time.