Miscarriage affects so many people and yet the actual experience of it is so rarely discussed openly and honestly. For many women it is simply too painful to talk about. Everyone’s experience is different, but it is often a complicated mish-mash of feelings from sadness to anger, jealousy and even guilt.
When I experienced a first trimester miscarriage in October 2017, I simply couldn’t bring myself to say the words aloud for a long time. As a thick-skinned Yorkshire girl I have been bred to put up and shut up. I felt too ashamed and embarrassed to talk about it.
Eventually I had to open up, and when I did: I found great comfort in relating to the stories and experiences of other woman. Now I have had time to heal, process it, recover and move forward I am ready to share my story. I hope it brings comfort to even one woman, and helps others see they can talk about miscarriage without shame or embarrassment.
Babies weren’t even in my life plan.
For most of my 20s, the concept of motherhood petrified me. I was a vigilant ‘love kids but not for me’ kind of girl. A bit like living in the country; nice to visit but too expensive and too isolating. I had worked hard in developing myself personally and professionally, I wasn’t going to sacrifice my career or my body for a baby! I was the cool Aunt and God Mother, I could borrow any of my many minions for the good times, and give them back to go partying and sleep.
Even when I hit my 30s, I didn’t feel that great maternal urge or the sudden ‘fight against the clock’ many people said I would. Then I faced a number of life events which subtly shifted my priorities and opinions. My dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and my grandmother had a huge deterioration in her Alzheimer’s. All-in-all it was a pretty shitty time, but one in which I saw the strength and the power of love as my family rallied together. Something in me shifted. I spoke to my partner and we realised; we didn’t want a baby right now but we did want a family of our own one day.
Then life settled again. We ended up spending a year renovating a house (ironically in the countryside) we did some amazing holidays, and I was relishing growing my business. Babies were far from my thoughts; my life was enriched and exciting. But then for some reason, possibly drunk and after spending time with someone else’s well behaved kids, we decided to give it a go. Everyone says it takes ages to get pregnant, but we were in no rush. We weren’t ‘trying’, we decided we would just stop intervening and see what happened. Of course, we got pregnant almost instantly.
The minute we saw those two pink lines, all doubts were forgotten. We were both ecstatic. Scared and nervous but in no doubts this was 100% what we wanted. I downloaded all the apps and I started reading up on pregnancy. I told just one close friend and my Personal Trainer so he could safely adjust my training. Something didn’t quite feel right, but as I had never been pregnant before I wasn’t sure how I was meant to feel and you are always told how every pregnancy is different.
Nothing can prepare you
I did everything I knew I should; cut back on the caffeine, no booze, I modified my exercise routine, I was taking no risks. But despite my efforts, one morning my world fell apart. I woke up early and went to the toilette, I thought I saw a small trace of blood. I knew this spotting can happen early on, so I didn’t worry. I went to the gym as planned, but did just a really light workout. After, I went to the bathroom and discovered I was bleeding heavily. I didn’t know what to do, I tried to stay calm but everything in my head was saying; this isn’t good. I felt so scared and isolated sat in the toilette of the ladies changing room shaking. All these women just getting on with their days, and here I was in the worst moment of my life. I ran out and drove home shaking and holding back the tears, trying to stay calm.
I called my GP who advised I contact the Early Pregnancy Unit (EPU). They asked about my symptoms, and said I would need to come in the next morning for a scan. I called my partner at work, he wanted to come home but I insisted he didn’t. I just wanted to just put it to the back of my mind and get on with the next painstaking 24 hours. I knew that if it was a miscarriage then there was nothing I could. So I might as well get on with my day and just pray I was wrong.
I resisted the urge to search ‘symptoms of miscarriage’ online as I thought it would only add to my worry. I decided to distract myself by going to my mums, but I fell apart on the drive there. I ended up arriving at her house in floods of tears. I fell in to the arms of my poor stepdad. I was almost hysterical and barely able to talk. They had no idea we were even trying for a family. This isn’t the way you imagine telling your parents.
Mum of course did what any mother would do, she said; it will all be fine, even though she was probably equally as worried as me. It didn’t matter what anyone said to me, I was prepared for the worst. I bled heavily for most the day, far worse than any period I have ever had. I tried to carry on my day as normal, I even went to work; anything to keep me distracted. But it was far from a normal day. I was worried and scared, more so than I have ever been about anything in my life.
I just knew
I woke up the following morning and felt different. Like someone had switched the light off. I knew I wasn’t pregnant anymore, and I prepared myself for the worst. My partner came with me to the EPU. As we sat in the waiting room I looked around and saw lots of nervous faces. I knew that many of us were leaving with bad news, no longer parents to be.
I hadn’t tracked my dates, but estimated I should have been around 8 weeks. The staff at the EPU told me baby should be big enough to see on an ultrasound and maybe even find a heart-beat but they were going to do a vaginal scan to be sure. I lay back, holding my partners hand, clinging on to the last tiny bit of hope I had. She silently poked around, it was probably only a minute or so but it felt like hours. Finally, she said something about not being able to find any ‘remaining pregnancy tissue’. Remaining tissue? It was never pregnancy tissue to me, it was my baby. From the minute you find out you are pregnant- that is your baby. Not a fetus…a baby…your baby… and now mine was gone.
After giving us some time to process the news, the EPU staff explained what would happen next. Though there was no remaining ‘sign of the pregnancy’ in my uterus, my HcG levels were very elevated. There was a risk it was an ectopic pregnancy, which I knew could be dangerous. I was given a leaflet explaining about ectopic pregnancy and detailing the symptoms I needed to be alert to. I was warned that if I developed any of those symptoms to go straight to A&E. I was asked to go back in 48 hours for another blood test to check my HcG had dropped. It was another two days of worrying, on top of grief and heavy bleeding. After 48 hours I went back to the hospital for another blood test. The next day they called me to say that although my HcG levels had dropped, not enough for them to discharge me. I had to go back again for another blood test. I just wanted it all over with, I didn’t feel like I could process it all until I was discharged. I cancelled going on a weekend away with friends, as I knew I wouldn’t be good company.
I made my third trip to the EPU, and a few days later they rang to confirm my HcG levels had dropped enough for them to discharge me. By this point it had been just over a week since the first symptoms, the bleeding had pretty much stopped, and I felt like I could somehow start to process it.
It is not ‘just one of those things’
I have lost loved ones in the past. I had ended up losing my dad and grandma the previous year, but something about death always feels inevitable. This didn’t feel inevitable, it felt cruel and I was racked with guilt. Everything and everyone tells you, it is not your fault and there is nothing you could have done. Research shows that most early pregnancy losses are due to a chromosomal abnormality. But it doesn’t matter what anyone says, I couldn’t help question everything I did or didn’t do.
I read up about miscarriages on line and found there are support groups out there, but for some reason I didn’t feel like I could reach out, as if my loss didn’t compare. I read the most heart-breaking stories of women losing their babies so much later in pregnancy, or women suffering recurring miscarriages. I felt like they had reason to grieve, but here I was in just the first trimester, an ‘early pregnancy loss’ as it is often called, as if somehow it is less valid.
So I tried to convince myself it wasn’t a big deal, just ‘one of those things that happens’. That only worked for so long, before I found myself uncontrollably sobbing on a poor client, pouring my heart out. She hadn’t even said anything to trigger it; I just couldn’t keep it in anymore. That’s when I realised I couldn’t ignore it, I had to grieve. So slowly, I started to open up to some of my closest friends and family. Many of them hadn’t even known we were trying to get pregnant, and somehow that made the whole conversation more awkward.
People try and say useful things like; ‘maybe it was just meant to be that way’ or ‘it is really common’. And whilst the intention is good, it is possibly the worst thing you can say to a woman who has suffered a miscarriage. To me, it felt like it undermined the whole experience, as if you are comparing it to getting a cold. If you want to know what to say to someone who has suffered a miscarriage try ‘this must be heart-breaking for you’ or even just ‘I don’t know what to say.’ Then maybe offer a hug, and listen if they feel they can talk. The Miscarriage Association have a leaflet for friends or family of someone who has lost a baby, you can read it here.
And whilst some people’s well-intended words weren’t helpful, I was comforted and inspired by the stories of others who had experienced similar losses. I was shocked by how many of my friends had suffered miscarriages, and never spoken about it. I later found out that miscarriage is thought to affect 1 in 4 pregnancies. Yet until it happened to me, I knew only one person it had happened to. Nobody close to me had ever spoken about it.
For me, it was a relief finding other women I knew who could understand. I was comforted by their empathy, inspired by their strength, and reassured by the fact many of them had gone on to have perfectly healthy pregnancies.
I realised that I had every right to grieve the loss as a baby, not a fetus. The minute you get that first positive test, you don’t imagine a fetus inside you, you imagine yourself with your baby. You dream about the new life of parenting to come. When you suffer a miscarriage you feel those dreams ripped away from you.
It doesn’t matter how far into the pregnancy you are or how long you have known, you can grieve the loss however you chose. It is absolutely not ‘one of those things that happens’. It is shit, devastating, and you should mourn in whatever way you need, and for however long you need. And please do not forget the dad (or other parent). I actually think it was in some ways more difficult for the Mr to process. Whilst I was dealing with what had happened, he was dealing with the same loss and worrying about me.
Miscarriage can bring new worries
I would like to say that is where my journey ended and once I had processed it and grieved the loss, everything went back to normal. Sadly it didn’t, and it was actually the months following that became some of the hardest.
Another unhelpful thing people say after you suffer a miscarriage is: ‘at least you know you can get pregnant’. Well I had never questioned my fertility, you just assume you will get pregnant, but now I had a reason to worry. What if that was the one chance? What if I suffered recurring miscarriages? How many times could I do this? For years I didn’t think I wanted kids, and now here I was considering how I would feel if it wasn’t an option. It maybe seems irrational and I am not usually a worrier, but suddenly everything felt vulnerable and under question.
One thing nobody warned me of, was that after a miscarriage your monthly PMS can start to mimic pregnancy symptoms. I had never really suffered PMS, other than a bit of water retention and the odd soppy mood. But following the loss it felt like my body and my hormones were tormenting me. For about 10 days before my period was due I suddenly had this flood of symptoms mimicking pregnancy. Then every period felt like a horrid reminder of what had happened. I thought getting pregnant again would just resolve it all. Trying to conceive had gone from a casual, let’s see what goes sort of affair, to a part time job.
Trying for a baby can quickly become obsessive, and there are plenty of businesses out there willing to pray on vulnerability and desperation. If you search ‘how to boost fertility’ you will be bombarded with information, and promises of conception. Everything from dietary changes, to acupuncture, hypnotherapy to the best sex positions. I chose to ignore it all, I didn’t to get sucked in, but I can see how women trying for a long time become consumed by it.
People said to me; it will happen when you stop trying. Please don’t ever say this to someone trying for a baby- it is simply fuck annoying! I mean how do you stop trying? How do you give up on something you want so bad, when everything is telling you that trying improves your odds? Plus working out your cycle is often pretty basic math, and for lots of ladies the symptoms of ovulation can be hard to miss, or ignore. It really isn’t so easy to just ‘stop trying’ even if you want to.
As the end of the year was approaching, I decided to take a proper break for some serious R&R and time to process everything. I decided I wasn’t going to put my life on hold and made a Plan B for 2019. I didn’t know how to stop trying, but thought distracting myself with loads of cool stuff would at least cushion the blow. So I set myself new goals and made plans. I signed up to lead a team doing a mud-run, and me and the Mr started planning a once in a lifetime road trip in North America. I felt motivated and excited about the future again. If getting pregnant didn’t happen, then I had a bad ass 2019 planned, and I knew I could make an awesome life beyond that.
With each month that passed I relaxed a little more. We enjoyed an amazing holiday, and I was enjoying focusing on my business again. I was suddenly wondering if Plan B was the better option? I stopped tracking my ovulation and making intercourse a well-timed operation. And I hate to admit, but you can already guess where this story is going can’t you. The first month I didn’t track my dates… well I didn’t get to do the mud-run.
This time I was even more excited, but even more nervous. You always assume it’s simple; you get pregnant, you carry the baby, you deliver the baby and live happily ever after. But after you have suffered a loss, I think you appreciate and value pregnancy differently. Where I had been super excited the first time, it was tinged with worry and anxiety now. I was so nervous, especially as that 8 week milestone approached. I ended up paying for a private reassurance scan, but it only partly put my mind to rest.
I spent the first trimester of my pregnancy racked with worry and taking it very, very easy. I had read that if we got to 12 weeks and they found a heartbeat, the risk of miscarriage was reduced. I didn’t sleep the night before, and cried when the scan showed everything was fine. I finally started to relax and enjoy pregnancy. With each month that passes, the worries switch less from about keeping baby safe in the womb and more about getting it out and surviving the 18 years after that.
The Hoglet is due 13th February 2020 but I will never forget June 23rd, the day we should have welcomed our baby. Every time someone asks; is this your first? I have this little reminder. I say yes, but inside I am remember the baby we lost.
I hope by sharing my experience open heartedly has given even the faintest hope or comfort to even just one woman, I know hearing the stories of others definitely helped me.
Jennie & the Hoglet x
If you have suffered pregnancy loss or miscarriage, know you do not have to battle it alone, and there is so much support out there. It doesn’t matter at what stage you miscarried, you can grieve that loss however you need, and never feel guilty for taking whatever time you need.
Here are just some of the amazing organisations offering support for people after miscarriage.
I am Jennie, a freelance Fitness Writer and Personal Trainer, passionate about making fitness fun and accessible to everyone. I am qualified in pre & post natal exercise, and now experiencing it first hand as I am expecting my first child in February 2020. I currently live in the beautiful Yorkshire countryside with my partner and our 3 ginger cats. I love hearing from other mums so look me up on all the socials. Find me on facebook, or Instagram @setUfreefitness