1. You may not realize anything is wrong. You may not bleed, nor feel cramps. In fact, you may be blissfully unaware that there is a problem at all until a scan, when instead of a kicking happy baby, you see a lifeless thing floating asleep, or you see nothing at all.
2. A scan will forever be a hateful thing — rather than excitement at looking at the screen, you will always wish the screen to be turned away from you, expecting to hear, “Sorry, there’s no heartbeat.”
3. And while I’m at it, sonographers have the best poker faces in the world. Fact.
4. After the scan, there is a lot of waiting. Waiting for further scans, waiting for tests. Waiting to miscarry naturally or waiting for pills to make you miscarry. Then there is waiting for appointments, waiting for operations to remove tissue. Finally there is waiting for your period to start and waiting for a cycle to try again. There is only waiting, the endless ticktocking of the passing of time, the only thing that reminds you that your life is carrying on.
5. It is hard to describe the pain of losing a baby to those who haven’t experienced it. Yes, it was only a ball of cells, it may not have had any distinguishable human features, and by medical definition it wasn’t a baby but a “product of conception.” But it was a baby to me. It had hair and eyes, and a big belly and a smile and it played with its brother and went to school. In fact, I dreamed its whole life played out in my imagination, and I loved it with all my heart. I miss it with a grief I experienced when I lost my father. And like then, I can’t imagine life will be the same again.
6. Because we are women, because we feel shame, because we feel like failures, we keep miscarriages to ourselves and we don’t talk about it. You’d be amazed at how many people you know — even some of your closest girlfriends — who will have suffered miscarriages in silence. I’ve decided I’d like to speak out about mine if it can help others in any way, although it’s completely nerve-racking to do so.
7. If you take the NHS route, there is little privacy, no dignity. Scan images are left on the screen while you get changed, or face up on desks. Scan results are discussed loudly at the reception, you are told openly that if you bleed heavily you should go to A&E — leaving no doubt to those in the waiting room that you’ve lost your baby. There is no private room to grieve, only a busy waiting room with watching faces. Pregnant women with successful scans celebrate next to women being wheeled out for operations to remove pregnancy tissue, alongside women having voluntary abortions. I know the NHS has no money, and the staff in Early Pregnancy Units (EPUs) do a wonderful job for the most part — but it’s the small things at a devastating time that would make all the difference.
8. Working in an EPU must be one of the worst jobs in the world. All that pain, all that misery. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that miscarriage becomes matter-of-fact. Your baby is not your baby anymore, it is that awful phrase: A product of conception. Your hopes and dreams boil down to three options — natural miscarriage, medical management, or an ERPC operation. Words like extreme pain are bandied about as if discussing washing powder. It all ends with two little words: bad luck.
9. One miscarriage you can explain away as bad luck. Two is harder to bear. How on earth could you be unlucky twice? Surely the universe is being especially cruel and unfair for a reason? Why is it so easy for other women? What is wrong with me? The answer is they just don’t know — partly because making a baby is a magical mystical thing which just sometimes doesn’t work, and because they won’t do any tests for “only” two miscarriages. You are left wailing at an unfair world, without any knowledge of why. If this happened to men, would there be more outrage? Would there be more research and support? Possibly. Often, there aren’t any answers to be found. But it is ironic that the one comfort of suffering a third miscarriage would be that finally I would be tested to see if anything is wrong.
10. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that as soon as you miscarry, everyone you know will announce their pregnancy, there will be a spate of celebrity babies, and every stranger on the street will be sporting a bump. Also: Kate Middleton. Poker faces, ladies.
11. But at the same time, you are happy for your friends, and there is nothing better than cuddling a newborn. You don’t want friends to feel awkward trying to protect you from baby news. But best to announce by text or email so we have time to have a pity-party cry and recover before offering our congratulations — which are heartfelt. Humans are remarkable things — we can still feel happy for friends while feeling sad for ourselves.
12. British people are dreadful for acknowledging loss; we’re so awkward with emotion. “I’m so sorry, how are you doing?” with an arm on your shoulder would be perfect. Instead, there is often a cryptic comment or a pitying nod. Or it isn’t mentioned at all. Acknowledge it if you can, and we can move on.
13. It wasn’t meant to be, it wasn’t the right time, you will have your family one day. All true, perhaps, but all these consolations don’t heal the incredible pain you feel when you discover the loss. In time, these words do help. To be honest, they are all you have.
14. So what does help? Temporary measures include caffeine, wine, gin, and holidays. Sharing with friends. Allowing yourself to be loved. Longer term it may help to let go, to calm down and not stress about age gaps or the endless passing of time, to try to concentrate on life for a bit, to get healthy, eat well, and do exercise. Reflexology, counseling, and acupuncture are all meant to help. I say “may” help because I’m not there yet. But 2015 is a new year, and a new start. The yoga class is booked, the exercise kit dusted off, and for now I have mulled wine and mince pies.
One day I hope women won’t feel ashamed to say they lost a baby, and that the world will care enough to pour money into EPUs to give us the privacy and care we deserve. That enough research will be done to understand why this happens, and what we can do to stop it happening.Until then, life goes on, you pick yourself up, and you try again. You haven’t any choice, really.
Sasha Kerr is a thirty-something Londoner who writes about motherhood and happiness in her blog, The Happy Baby Project. She also explores what makes you happy in her original blog The Happiness Project London. She lives in London with her husband and two-year-old son.
Reprinted with permission from Human Parts. Want more? Check out these related stories: