The Shit No One Tells You About Going Through A Miscarriage

May 27, 2021 | Mental Health, Pregnancy, The Shit No One Tells You

We know that miscarriage happens in 1 in 5 pregnancies, but it’s estimated that the figure could be as high as 1 in 4; because not everyone knows they’re going through it. Emily is one of the women that has been through the devastating experience of losing her baby before birth and here she shares her story of medical management, mental health frustration and perhaps most importantly, hope. She didn’t know much of what to expect with miscarriage, and it still seems to not be talked about enough. This blog aims to help everyone understand a little more and address the nuances and difficulties in grieving for a baby the world didn’t meet.

Trigger warning: Miscarriage, death, medical procedures. If you need to get out of here quickly, click here.

This story is that of the author’s experience and may or may not reflect anyone else’s. For information, advice and tailored support services, check out The Miscarriage Association, Tommy’s, Sands, Cruse Bereavement Care or get in touch with your GP. Most mental health teams have specialist perinatal practitioners and will prioritise those who have been pregnant in the last year.

To read more first-hand experiences, Elle Wright, author and blogger, has two books on loss and several guest blogs covering pregnancy, baby and child loss on her website.

The language used around miscarriage and baby loss varies hugely, and everyone has their own preferences how they’d like to refer to their own experience. For the purposes of this blog, we’ve tried to use medical terms where referring to clinical or medical procedures, and less formal terms elsewhere.

“For the whole 84 days of my first pregnancy, I was mentally rearranging my life in order to welcome the newest addition to our family. I downloaded all the pregnancy apps. I read all the pregnancy books. I gave my bump a nickname. I bloated. I stopped drinking caffeine. I talked baby names. Myself and my baby’s father told a handful of people about our incoming new arrival; some out of necessity, and some just because we couldn’t contain our excitement. Archaic social norms dictate that pregnancy announcements should wait until the ‘all-important’ 12-week mark, and I was checking off the days until that point.

At my 12-week scan, I was told that my baby had stopped developing at 7 weeks 2 days. I had experienced a missed miscarriage, where my body had held the pregnancy but was still producing hormones that made me feel pregnant. I know now that I am one of 250,000 women per year in the UK to miscarry. Despite how common it is to experience the loss of a pregnancy; it remains one of the loneliest experiences. It wasn’t until I started looking and talking about my own experience, that I began to understand how tragically common it is for babies to die during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.

My limited knowledge of miscarriage came from the odd storyline depicted in TV shows and films. Of course, I knew that baby loss was very sad and tragic, but there were so many gaps, so many details left out that I’d never seen or heard about. I hope to navigate some of those here.

Miscarrying isn’t always just like ‘a heavy period’.

In the UK, the definition of miscarriage is that of an unborn baby dying up to the 23 week mark of pregnancy. For early miscarriages, it is possible for the body to expel any pregnancy tissue through by itself, in what is often compared to a heavy period. However, for miscarriages that occur later, the amount of pregnancy tissue may be too much to pass through on its own. In these cases, mothers are offered different options; including medical or surgical management. This involves taking medicine that helps the body pass the tissue through the womb and out of the body.

I decided to go into hospital to have my miscarriage medically managed. In the days following my scan, I was trawling through the internet to try and find a run-down of what to expect. My desperate late night google searches found almost comically toned-down explanations of symptoms; mainly women saying it had felt to them like a heavy period, with clotting. For me, this could not have been further from the truth.

In order to prepare the cervix and contract the womb, vaginal pessaries and a rectal antibiotic are inserted. I was told to lie still for an hour so that the tablets can be fully absorbed by the body – but within 30 minutes I was wriggling around in discomfort forced to press the nurses buzzer. For the next 15 hours, I was on the miscarriage carousel. I spent most of it slumped on the hospital toilet vomiting and crying in pain. The day was long and it was humiliating. A literal bloody, shitty mess. I have never had a period like that.

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Navigating hurtful comments can be devastating.

Talking about baby loss makes people feel awkward and uncomfortable. It is an oxymoron; simultaneously birth and death. It’s also difficult to understand how truly sad it can be, especially if you’ve never experienced it. From the second I found out I was pregnant, I was a mum. However, to ‘outsiders’, an unborn baby is an abstraction; an idea, rather than a reality. Often, people just don’t know what to say. Some don’t say anything at all. Some stop sharing the good (and the bad) in their lives, through fear of upsetting you. Some will offer well-meaning yet insulting comments. I heard “maybe you can’t just carry girls”, “it just wasn’t meant to be”, “you’ll feel better in a few days”, “you’re young; you can try again”, “at least you weren’t far along”, and even “at least you know you can get pregnant”.

Nobody talks about how to navigate the difficult moments when somebody says something hurtful. Parents are treated differently when they lose their babies to miscarriage. But they shouldn’t be. Some people will drop their voice to a whisper, look over their shoulder and will disclose that they too have been through it. This always means a lot, as it is never easy to talk about. But why do we feel we have to hide our pain in the shadows?

Everyone grieves differently and with differing levels of privacy, which in itself can be tricky to navigate. Not all parents who experience loss will want the same things, so it’s important to respect everyone’s individual wishes.

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It’s okay to let yourself ‘feel’ it.

I, along with so many women across the UK, needed mental health support following my loss. The help I needed, I had to fight for. 

I was sent home from hospital with a handful of leaflets. No follow-up check, no introduction to support groups, nothing. In the days and weeks that followed, my life nose-dived into a grief so consuming I’m surprised I managed to claw my way out. After just over a year of suffering with panic attacks, bad dreams and an extensive list of really quite upsetting symptoms, I was diagnosed with suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  

What’s more, my partner felt as though he had to supress his grief. While our memories of our baby are different – and of course, mine are embodied – my husband’s grief is no less powerful or haunting than mine. We are equal, but we are different. We both deserved help.

Undoubtedly, parents deserve more comprehensive support during and after baby loss. I still feel angry about the lack of adequate support I received, but when I became pregnant again my midwife was brilliant and referred me to the local perinatal mental health team. From there I was able to access a diagnosis, specialist support and resources – and a professional shoulder to sob on. However, it should never have reached the point that I had to be pregnant again in order to receive help. Push for support if you need it.

In many areas of the country, women need to have had experienced miscarriage three times in order to receive specialist support. Sign the Tommy’s petition for increased miscarriage support to help push for more help with no minimum stipulations.  

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Your body didn’t let you down.

As the coach from mean girls drill into young girls, “don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant”. If only it were so simple, eh?! Our sex education fails us, and there are a lot of things that we as women, don’t know about our fertility until we’re living it.  

Something which you do need to know when you’ve experienced a miscarriage is that your body didn’t let you down.  

In my case, I could not comprehend that my baby could die inside of me, but that I and my body didn’t know. I felt embarrassed. That’s how miscarriage makes you feel, like your body has failed, like you aren’t even capable of doing the one thing that we are put on this earth to achieve, to reproduce. That’s not true.

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The triggers you stumble upon thereafter are often unexpected.

I was definitely not prepared for all the triggers I’d feel after my miscarriage. The endless stream of emails congratulating me on the fact my baby was now the size of a banana, emails about Mother’s Day, adverts suggesting the latest deal on a pram, the ‘easy’, ‘first time lucky’ (or so they appear) pregnancies that flash up on social media, all ending with happy, healthy babies, scenes on TV depicting scans, or baby loss.  

This is not easy. Other than deleting all apps from your phone and taking your TV to the tip, there’s no way to completely get around it. It is, undoubtedly, a minefield. You have to walk through this uncharted, terrifying path constantly waiting for a bomb to be detonated, and with everyone’s triggers different, there’s no one way to get around it.

But there are things which you can do to help. Australian journalist Annie Bucknall’s Digital Bereavement Checklist, as recommended by The Miscarriage Association can help you ‘detox your devices’, and get rid of the baby-related spam. I found deleting my Instagram app from my home page for a few weeks really helpful, allowing me time to heal without having any painful pop ups or announcements.

When I felt ready(ish), I unsubscribed from all unwanted emails. Most of all I found that allowing myself to have a good cry when I was caught off guard helped. You’ll never ‘unfeel’ the experience of losing your baby and it will compound itself amongst your mourning of other losses; excitement about pregnancy testing, life as a parent, being naïve to pregnancy, etc; but it is all valid.

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It’s a steep learning curve – but a learning curve.

Though I would never choose to experience another miscarriage, it deepened me. It has shaped who I am as a person. After HATING myself and my body, I make a more conscious effort to be kinder to my body; instead of hating it I try (although this can be difficult) to recognise its strength in holding onto our baby, even when our child was gone.  

It will test your resilience as a person and as a couple. And will give an empathy for those who may be suffering in silence. You find allies in unexpected people, and an appreciation for ‘forever friends’. It leads you to support networks and groups of parents who may have experienced something similar, or something completely different, but all share collective grief and love.  

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You are not alone.

I’m grateful that I’ve noticed more discussion around miscarriage since mine and am thankful for those who have shared their experiences, as it has helped me deal with my own. The more I share, the more I realize I am not alone in this pain, in this loss. I am now 1 in 5 and you might be too.  

There are different options for treating a missed or incomplete miscarriage. None of them are simple, easy or painless, but you have the right to be well informed on them all. Ask questions. Advocate for yourself. Take a friend, partner, parent, whoever best to your appointments with you. Never be afraid to ask one more question or clarify one more point.

You are not alone. I am here, and so are many parents. We can, and will, go on.”