Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Miscarriage: The introduction

Many people respond to news of a miscarriage in the same way they would had they just been told their friend was forced to eat chicken feet while travelling in Mexico: “Oh. I can’t even imagine what that would be like, but it sounds awful” [insert sympathetic face]. The difference is that it wouldn’t be too strange to ask more about the chicken feet incident, but does feel strange to ask – it almost feels wrong to even talk! - about miscarriage. This is a post about my miscarriages. I’ve decided to talk about them because not many others seem to (outside of baby forums), which makes miscarriage seem far more rare than it actually is.

Miscarriage is a lonely process. For some women who haven’t yet shared the news of their pregnancy, the loss is mourned only by her and (hopefully) her partner. Even if others know, it’s not easy to put words to the pain and indignity and fear that come along with watching your body gush blood for so long that you’re not sure how you’re still able to walk, or instead choosing to be put to sleep so that doctors can prod at your privates and quickly complete the job that nature takes such a long and gory time on. The lack of non-medical-speak information also leaves those facing miscarriage with nothing but the vague hospital brochures or the heartbreaking forum posts of other frazzled and freaked out women to try to piece together an idea of how to decide on a “management” plan and what surviving the process might look like.

For those women, for their family and friends who want to understand and support them, for my husband, and for my own catharsis, here is my story. A warning, however: I’m going to mention blood, and talking about miscarriage is never comfortable. If you’re pregnant or trying to fall pregnant or squeamish or simply don’t really want to know, please skip this post (as well as the next two).

Also, I’m aware that miscarriages probably vary as much as pregnancies do and that this was only my experience. My goal is not to promote one way of doing things above another; I’m not medically trained at all, and wholeheartedly encourage you to discuss all options, risks, questions and fears with your doctor.

Hopefully they’re enough disclaimers...
from here
Both of my miscarriages have been “missed” miscarriages, which means that the hearts of the embryos stopped beating while my body, still thinking I was growing a baby or two, continued to assault me with morning sickness and tiredness and digestive... issues. I was alerted to the possibility of a problem the first time (September last year) because I started spotting at 11 weeks; an ultrasound the next day revealed that the pregnancy had ended a few weeks earlier. This time, it was during a scheduled scan at 8.5 weeks that we were gently informed that it looked like the two embryos had died within the last couple of days; they’d grown since our previous ultrasound but neither heart was beating now.

There is no pleasant way to “manage” a miscarriage. It’s like deciding whether to cremate or bury a loved one; whatever you choose, they’re still gone. Even the term “manage” is deceptive, sounding cold and business-like, rather than heart-wrenching and raw. Last time I went down the “expectant” route - the natural, at-home, do-it-yourself one. I was still breastfeeding Moses at the time, which made the decision easier; a general anaesthetic wasn’t an option for me then. This time, with Moses weaned, I took a week or so to mull and talk and pray it over, and decided to have a dilation and curettage (D & C), a short operation under general anaesthetic during which your uterus is cleaned out (there’s scraping and/or sucking involved, but “cleaning out” sounds so much nicer). 

Theres vulnerability in both options. If you choose to stay at home, you have to trust that your body knows what it’s doing and is not actually trying to kill you even though that’s exactly what appears to be happening. If you choose the hospital, you have to submit yourself to the system, as well as the care and expertise of the staff. You have to trust that they will not take advantage of your weak and worried state, that they will administer the correct drugs, perform the right procedure, and do what they can to get you home as soon as possible.

Neither way is less emotionally painful than the other. For me, the main difference in the emotional experience between the two management types is that a D & C meant I just did more of my crying in public than I’d have needed to if I was going through it all at home. I also realised that many of my tears the first time around came from freaking out about the amount of blood I continued to see, and from the weariness that came with dealing with it for weeks on end. This time the mourning may go on for longer (my heart hurts more this time, for many reasons), but it can focus on the loss and related fears rather than the gore/relentlessness of the miscarriage process.

I didn’t want to turn this into a sad series, but this post is already long enough. Over the next couple of days I plan to take you through some not-so-happy snaps* from my two miscarriage mini-albums: the “natural way” album from last time, and the recent “D & C” album.

* Just to be clear, I mean word pictures. There will be no brain-scarring photos.


  1. Thanks for writing about this. I wanted to ask because I know NOTHING about miscarriage, but was afraid that it would be insensitive to do so, and also possibly traumatic for you. So thank you! I look forward to the other posts.

  2. I'm glad I get to explain in writing rather than in person, I find it much easier that way. And thanks for being interested! It's nice to know it's helpful for others, too. I realised the other night when Alan read the drafts of these posts and asked questions that even HE didn't really know what miscarriage was like, and he lived through it with me!