On The Subject of Miscarriage and Coping (or not particularly coping, as the case may be) With Pregnancy After Loss.
My first pregnancy was uncomplicated, no drama, I had some nausea in the early part of it and bad acid reflux but everything else was fine, I felt good, excited, and never stressed about potential risks of pregnancy, labour or birth. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it but it passed uneventfully and I had a positive overall experience. My second pregnancy started out very similarly, even though it took me almost a year to conceive this time (on Frank it was a one shot and you’re done scenario!!) it just didn’t occur to me about risks and worries, I never considered that I might lose the baby, sure that’s what happens to other women, not me, I was just excited and overjoyed.
So I was taken aback and shook when, at 10 weeks pregnant, I had a truly horrific and vivid nightmare about miscarrying on the toilet. It left me so shaken that I changed my appointment for my first trimester screening to a week earlier. I headed along to the private clinic where I go for my early pregnancy screenings, it was here that they scanned me and we discovered that the foetus had stopped growing and died at 7.5 weeks. I’d had what’s known as a missed miscarriage, so the foetus dies but your body carries on as though still pregnant and doesn’t pass the foetal remains immediately, sometimes it can take several weeks to pass it if you decide to wait to miscarry naturally. The doctor who scanned me in the private clinic tried to discuss my options with me but I was too upset to process it and I left the place wailing crying, while Jim paid for parking I sat in our car howling like a banshee, I’ve never made a sound like that organically before or since in my life. It hurt so so much. In hindsight, I think a small part of me knew something wasn’t right, hence the dream.
I waited around 10 days. Holding on to a lost pregnancy is a horrible limbo, I was so angry with my body for not doing what it was supposed to do. Knowing my baby had died and was still inside me and showing no signs of starting to miscarry naturally I eventually decided I couldn’t take it any longer and opted to have a D&C. I won’t go into the ins and outs of it because I don’t particularly want to revisit that trauma but there was a lot of bureaucratic hassle with the maternity hospital, I certainly wasn’t treated in the compassionate way I believe a grieving person ought to be treated. I eventually managed to transfer my care to another maternity hospital in Dublin who, seeing my distress and knowing how long I’d already waited, expedited the procedure for me.
The day of the D&C was a very tough day, it’s a very brief procedure but you do go under general anaesthetic for it, when I was coming to alone in the recovery area outside theatre I was faced with the sounds of a baby being born by C section in the adjoining surgery. Although I was relieved to have finally had the procedure and not still be carrying my miscarried baby, I just started heaving crying, it just felt like such a stark juxtaposition, the miracle and joy of new life for one woman on one side and my grief and loss of hope on the other.
My period came back about 5 weeks after the D&C, it was extremely heavy and uncomfortable, nobody warns you about these things. I got pregnant again on my second cycle after the D&C. In the interim, shortly after my miscarriage, I found out that both of my sisters, to whom I am very close, were pregnant. It was a bitter pill to swallow and I am ashamed to say I found it very difficult to be happy for them, I couldn’t be, I was too sad for myself. I avoided my family for a few months as I was grieving so hard and I just found it too difficult to be around pregnancy talk. I don’t regret it, though I'm sure I looked like a right bitch, I know I needed that time to heal. I engaged in a lot of self care, some of which might have looked selfish, but it helped me a lot.
When I found out I was pregnant this time I was beyond scared, I only told my husband, and though I’ve always been an extremely open person, I closed myself off, I hoarded my pregnancy news like a terrifying little secret. I barely saw anyone in real life, and didn’t even properly acknowledge to myself that I was pregnant, despite having horrible morning sickness from about the seven week point. I thought to myself “if I can just get through the first trimester all will be well”, little did I know I was heading into a prolonged period of the worst anxiety I’ve ever experienced. I stopped exercising for fear I would harm baby, I was strict about lifting things etc too, I slept terribly, my temper was short. I wasn’t all that fun to be around, my husband and son bore the brunt of my mood swings.
I started telling people when I was 13 weeks, people were happy and congratulatory but I felt resentful of it to some extent, almost like people were relieved, “oh thank god for that, we can get back to normal and not walk on eggshells around Rebecca anymore”, that mightn’t have actually been the case but that’s how I felt. I know I was being hard on people who were genuinely happy for me, but I was still angry I guess, and sure don’t we all know it’s the worst emotion?
In addition to the crippling anxiety, it was an eventful pregnancy, I endured some weight shaming by various health care professionals, then I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, I became "high risk", my long wished for home birth was now out of the question. I was crushed. Due to my involvement in Repeal the 8th activism I also have a keen interest in maternity and reproductive rights, while I am glad I know about the failings in our maternity system, this knowledge fed into my anxiety, "what ifs" were at an all time high. For someone who so desperately wanted to be pregnant and finally got there, it was honestly one of the most difficult times of my life, the constant worrying was horrible, I didn’t relax until Thomas was finally placed into my arms and I could see that he was well. I am relieved that I can now hang up my baby making boots for good!
One very heartening thing was realising I wasn't alone in my grief or anxiety, and thankfully I found this out very quickly. Women want to talk about their miscarriages, I discovered this after sharing my own story on social media. Many women reached out to me with their stories, unfortunately there were many tales of poor treatment and insensitivity in our maternity hospitals. I would like to see this subject discussed more, I remember feeling so angry that I was a woman in her 30s making and planning her family (and with all the added knowledge I have from activism etc) and I didn’t have the knowledge about something as basic as not all miscarriages are a woman bleeding out, that some are “silent”. Why did I not know this? Why was no-one talking about it? I received a small amount of criticism for sharing my story publicly. I think some people find grief and pain very uncomfortable and miscarriage, historically, has been something women have been told to just accept and move on, “get pregnant again”. Would were it so simple. It is very nuanced and each person can feel so differently. We should be allowed to process it however we choose. Secretiveness around our bodies and reproductive lives has been so damaging to the women of Ireland in the past and still today, I hope we are learning from that and realise it’s time to open up, it shouldn’t be taboo.