We returned home from the Early Pregnancy Unit like the walking wounded: shell-shocked, numb, helpless and hopeless. I also couldn’t shake the feeling of total loneliness, once more. I knew that lots of people experience miscarriage. But I also kept taunting myself with all the trouble-free pregnancies I knew of and all the people I knew who had happy, healthy babies; never knowing the devastating heartache we were feeling.
Losing a baby is always a tragedy. Losing a baby after years of infertility adds another layer of cruelty to an already unbearable situation. We knew it wasn’t as easy as simply ‘going again’ when we were ready. It had taken 2.5 years to get to this point and we couldn’t afford to wait a further 2.5 years for another miracle to happen. We also had the unknown element of a physical miscarriage yet to come. A miscarriage that we knew would likely happen at home without medical support.
“This would make a good nursery…”
The following day we had a tradesman booked to do some work on the house. He was someone we’d used before and was always so friendly and reliable that I couldn’t bear to let him down by cancelling at the last minute. But I was terrified that the physical process of losing the baby might happen whilst he was at the house. Lovely as always, he set about working on our old bathroom – the room we had earmarked for a nursery. “Great paper,” he said. “Would make a good nursery, if you’re thinking of having children?” The words cut into me as I smiled and said, “Yes I suppose it would. I hadn’t thought of that!”
I flitted between wanting to blurt out the excruciating situation we currently found ourselves in and desperately wanting to cover up all traces of something being amiss. Flowers were arriving throughout the day – a small gesture in the scheme of things but one that really brought comfort in a difficult time – which I’m sure he’d noticed, and I was lying motionless on the sofa in front of the fire watching Disney films on repeat. (Note: Something you become acutely aware of when you lose a baby is the extent to which even the most unsuspecting of tv programmes become triggering. EVERY single programme I watched during that time seemed to include a pregnant belly or a new baby. Maybe a spot of house porn would be good for the soul and Location, Location, Location will do the trick. What’s that? Every single couple featured are either pregnant or have just given birth? Hmm. 24 Hours in A&E it is then. Oh, how lovely! A five-minute piece to camera about the time somebody found out they were pregnant and how magical having a baby has been and how much it has changed their lives… The only way of surviving this is Disney films. Lots of them. Though I would suggest perhaps speeding past the part where Elsa sings with her deceased mother in Frozen 2 if you’re feeling particularly fragile!)
Something kept stopping me from revealing all to the man working on our house. Social conventions, namely. Yes, I would happily share events with family and friends but I knew telling the man who’d just suggested we decorate a ‘nursery’ that I currently had a baby inside me but was waiting to miscarry it, would be a lot for someone to have to deal with. And in some ways, acting as if nothing was wrong was oddly comforting. For a brief moment, I could allow myself to truly believe it which was utterly blissful.
Luckily, if there is such a thing as being ‘lucky’ when going through a miscarriage, it took a few days before the aches and pains started to ramp up to an excruciating level. When it finally happened, we were on our own as usual. Well, as much as we possibly could be with a needy pug who kept standing on my hair and nuzzling into my tummy as I writhed about on the bathroom floor in agony. The pain was like nothing I have ever experienced in my entire life. I was dosed up to the max on over-the-counter painkillers but they were no match for the absolute agony I was in. The whole process took three hours. They were, categorically, the worst three hours of my life. There were times when I thought I actually couldn’t stand the pain – and, as it happened, I obviously couldn’t as I kept passing out and finding myself back on the bathroom floor trapped in what felt like a never-ending attack on my body. Contractions are supposed to come in waves but this was a tsunami of pain. There was no respite within that three-hour window. I can’t have been asleep but I felt like I was dreaming. I kept having visions of myself at a ball in Monaco. Utterly deluded – yes, but not entirely unfathomable as I’d been watching a documentary about that very thing when the contractions had started. I don’t know why this kept happening but after the event my husband reasoned that it was probably the brain’s way of escaping the body’s pain. (It’s entirely possible his words were slightly less philosophical than that but I’m sure that was the sentiment!)
The ordeal ended with me passing out, coming back around and then vomiting. I felt weirdly elated. Euphoric, even. My physical symptoms eased almost instantly and I was overwhelmed with pride for what my body had achieved. We didn’t know whether that was the end or just the first stage of losing a baby as online accounts of natural miscarriage had warned me to expect to see the sac passing out of the body, which I hadn’t. I don’t think. But, as I was spending most of the three hours thinking I was at a ball in Monaco, it’s hard to say for definite.
Ten days later, I headed back to the Early Pregnancy Unit (EPU) for a follow-up scan. I was determined that my husband would be present at this scan. At the first one, I left in such a daze that I couldn’t remember a word the nurse had said to me, and if I needed medical or surgical intervention I wanted my husband to be there to help with that decision.
We made our way over to the sonography department and sit in the waiting room. So far, so good. Upon being called into the room for scanning I asked whether my husband could come in also. The reply was curt. “No, and he shouldn’t be inside the hospital at all. He needs to wait in the car park.” I broke down in tears as the sonographer headed to the waiting room to tell my husband to wait in the car. I knew the policy was nothing to do with the sonographer herself and I was quick to tell her I wasn’t blaming her. I was just devastated that – yet again – we both had to go through this horrendous experience alone.
‘Retained products of conception’
The scan revealed that I still had ‘products of conception’ inside my body. A lovely term, I’m sure you’ll agree. I spent the next 30 minutes panicking about the need for medical or surgical intervention but was reassured by the EPU nurse that she wasn’t concerned about this. She also reminded me that it was a good thing that I could get pregnant at all. Which it was, but at this precise moment, it was hard to feel grateful or lucky.
The more I reflected upon the ‘no partners’ rule in hospitals as the weeks went by, the more enraged I became. Things were slowly opening back up and life was gradually returning to some kind of new normal. My husband was free to go to the barber and meet up to six people from different households yet he was banned from attending urgent medical appointments regarding the life and death of his child. It really didn’t sit right with me and still makes me angry, all these months later.
The author Caroline Criado Perez suffered a miscarriage during lockdown and detailed her isolating experience in The Guardian recently, stating that the refusal to allow partners to attend medical appointments, scans and emergencies in maternity services was “traumatising an already traumatised woman”. And this is the perfect summary. Women attending these appointments are already horrendously anxious. They are often in physical distress, as well as emotional, yet they are left to deal with both aspects entirely alone. As are the forgotten fathers.
Caroline’s article can be found here: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/09/author-who-suffered-miscarriage-alone-demands-end-of-nhs-covid-partner-ban-caroline-criado-perez