I wasn’t planning to write this post until I reached the one year anniversary of my miscarriage in September 2013. However, a friend’s recent experience reminded me that this remains a topic that is not generally discused. And, as a result of this taboo, many women are left feeling alone and like they have failed. It wasn’t until after I had my miscarriage that I found out how common they are and how many women in my life have gone through one (or more).
I hold a personal belief that living a transparent life is something that is good for me. And so, I would like to share my story of miscarriage in the hopes that another woman will not feel as alone when she experiences one.
After hitting some roadblocks in the adoption process my husband and I decided to go the biological route. We were, of course, very happy when we found out we were pregnant. Having a number of friends who already have kids we had a lot of support. We were lucky enough to get taken on with a well known midwife clinic and we had managed to find a number of subsidized daycares that had open wait lists.
I was a bit concerned about the pregnancy from about 6-weeks. I had very few pregnancy symptoms. No sickness, no dizziness, no real weight gain. Everyone told me not to worry and that I was just one of the luck ones. But, I still worried.
I was not entirely a surprise when we went for our 12-week ultrasound and were told that there was no heartbeat and that the gestational sack had calcified.
In hindsight there were some things I wish I had known to self-advocate for. My OBGYN dismissed my concerns when I asked about testing my beta HCG’s after we found out we were pregnant. He told me that if the results were not good there was nothing they could do. I understood then, and now, that they could not have done anything to save the pregnancy. However, in hindsight they could have saved me from a truly brutal miscarriage and prepared me for the likely negative outcome of this pregnancy.
I also wish I had pushed harder for an early ultrasound. Many women are given an ultrasound around 6-8 weeks. This ultrasound is to check gestational size and confirm the presence of a heart beat. Here again, it would not have made it possible to save the pregnancy, but it could have given me a much earlier warning that something had gone wrong with the pregnancy and allowed me more time to make choices.
The midwife discouraged the early ultrasound. The philosophy of most midwife clinics is as few interventions as possible, ultrasound being seen as an intervention. I’m generally a supporter of natural routes. But, I wish I had listened to my intuition that something was wrong. Instead, I felt like the OBGYN and the midwife both treated me as an over anxious patient who needed to be talked off a ledge as opposed to a woman who genuinely had concerns about what was going on with her body.
The medical system left a lot to be desired when it came to handling the miscarriage. I am thankful that the lab where the 12-week ultrasound was preformed called in a doctor right away to give us the news that I had what is called a missed abortion. I am thankful that they didn’t make me wait to see my own health care practitioner to get the results. It was obvious from the technician preforming the ultrasound that something was wrong and the wait would have been torture.
Unfortunately this is where smooth transition of care ended. The lab where I had the ultrasound was not equipped to preform a D&C, a type of surgical abortion, nor are they equipped to prescribe the medication to trigger a chemical abortion. They sent me home with the news that the fetus inside me was dead and that I needed to contact my health care practitioner.
When I contacted my midwife she was unable to help. A midwife clinic is not equipped to handle a missed abortion.
The only option given to me was to set up an appointment for an abortion at a clinic or hospital. I booked the first available appointment, which was the next morning.
At no point in this process did any health care practitioner explain anything about what a miscarriage would be like, warning signs, what to do or signs that something has gone wrong. I think like most women I assumed there would be blood, lots of it, and pain. But I had no guidelines aside from that.
My body began the miscarriage on its own at about 5:00 pm that night. By 10:00 pm I was getting concerned that something was going wrong. By midnight I knew that something was really really wrong. We called an ambulance, and I was rushed into Mount Sinai emergency with a hemorrhage. I was very very lucky that I live in downtown Toronto throwing distance from an ambulance disbatch.
Here are the things I wish I had known before my miscarriage:
- One in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage.
And, this does not include miscarriages that go unreported because they happen early in the pregnancy or miscarriages that are unnoticed because they happen before the 4 week mark, or miscarriages that are termed chemical pregnancies because they only last a few days and would be completely unnoticed except for women testing early and frequently.
- A beta HCG test can’t save your pregnancy, but it could give you the choice to have a chemical miscarriage earlier if you know the pregnancy has failed.
- An early ultrasound can provide the same options as the beta HCG but later in the pregnancy.
- There is so much that can go wrong between conception and live birth, and it’s not likely your fault if it does go wrong. It just happens, and it happens often.
- You are not alone. There are so very many women out there who have gone through this. After my miscarriage I heard from so many friends and relatives of stories about their miscarriage(s).
- A miscarriage is a loss, and there will be a grieving process.
These are the pragmatic elements of miscarriage. More difficult are the emotional elements. Every woman, man, couple will react differently and will experience grief and loss differently.
I found that the grief over my miscarriage, while much different than the intense soul-ripping grief over losing Sean, was difficult to deal with for different reasons. It is an invisible loss that is not socially acceptable to talk about openly with most people. As a result it was easy to feel isolated and alone, and at the same time to feel a lot of pressure to move through it and move on quickly.
Unexpectedly there was the sense of guilt or shame that would invade my thoughts. The frequency and common place of miscarriage was almost completely unknown to me. Growing up the message being shoved at me and my generation was about birth control and not getting pregnant. The concept that a pregnancy could so easily and will so frequently end in miscarriage was never made known.
In this context I felt very let down by my body. I felt like I had failed to achieve some basic human element. That I was somehow defective or incomplete. Without subscribing to the idea that women exist solely to make babies, my inability to carry this pregnancy to term felt, on some level, like I had failed as a woman.
Following the grief and guilt was the fear. Fear that there will never be another opportunity, fear that another pregnancy will mean another miscarriage, fear that the future I thought would be so simple is beyond my reach.
A particularly difficult element for me to deal were the social elements. Well intentioned yet insensitive comments made by friends and family who knew and did not know about the miscarriage, but had not had one themselves.
I am very thankful to have amazing people in my life. I was able to reach out to friends and find support that I didn’t know existed. Women who had been through miscarriage and fertility issues freely and generously shared their experiences to make me feel less lonely, less guilty and less fearful. This was a tremendous help.
Every person is going to work through this proces in their own way, in their own time. For me, perhaps it is the perspective of losing Sean, or of other challenges life has thrown me in the past year. The pain of the miscarriage subsided relatively quickly. The fear is there, but does not rule me. Life will be what it will be and there will be nothing I can do to change that. In the end I am like millions of other women who face the challenges of miscarriage and fertility problems as part of the course of my complex life.