My miscarriage wasn't a surprise; my body had been preparing for it for weeks. I just didn't realise it. From the day my period was late, my partner and I had jovially been talking about how 'robust' I was, how, unlike the partner of a friend recently had, I wouldn't miscarry. We'd actually been surprised that it had taken us five months to conceive in the first place. Both of us had presumed it would happen the minute we started 'trying', and that once we'd conceived, we'd be on the merry path to babydom.
We started telling people after I'd weed on a stick at home six weeks after my last period. At the eight-week mark, my pregnancy began to deviate from the experience of my first (and only known previous) pregnancy, some seven years earlier. A day after visiting my doctor for the first time, I started bleeding. When I typed my symptoms into a search engine I found hopeful messages from women saying it could be a 'phantom period'. They reported to pregnancy forums that despite the hiccup, they had had great pregnancies, which had resulted in healthy babies. Phew. The hospital I was zoned for sent me a standard letter saying I was on their waiting list.
My ever-so-slight bleeding continued. I booked in my ultrasound for the 12-week mark, after which many people let out the good news. I was beginning to think there wouldn't be good news. When it came time to take my blood at 10 weeks, I asked the nurse if he could get my doctor to confirm that I was still pregnant before I had my (expensive, non-Medicare covered) ultrasound. I'd suggested to my partner that we shouldn't tell anyone else I was pregnant. I didn't think I was any more.
On the Friday of my tenth week I panicked and tried to see my doctor. He wasn't in. I asked my local pharmacist, who I usually only consulted when I needed my signature witnessed, if a pregnancy test would show that I was no longer pregnant. He suggested that I would still have HCG (the hormone used to detect pregnancy) in my body. He said if I was really concerned, I should go to hospital. Hospital? Since one in four pregnancies apparently result in miscarriage, surely it's a straightforward, natural process. I'd heard vaguely of curettes (removing material from the womb), but no one I knew had shared a miscarriage experience with me. If, indeed, one in four pregnancies ended up in miscarriage, where were all the miscarriage stories? Despite being an educated 34 year old, I had no idea.
On Friday night I got what seemed to be a normal menstrual period. I spent Saturday night curled up in bed cramping and downing paracetamol every four hours. Sunday was our 6-year-old son's birthday party at a 10-pin bowling centre. We bowled and socialised. Party over, we walked to the car and I felt a flood of blood. We got home, I rushed to the toilet and realised things were not good. "You need to take me to hospital," I told my partner. "I don't think this bleeding is going to stop". I arrived at the closest hospital's emergency maternity section and was quickly lying on a bed, hooked up to a drip. The slow but steady bleeding wouldn't stop. Sweet, young Nina from Offspring-esque doctors came in to see me, to see if I'd stopped bleeding. "Do you think you've passed the pregnancy?" I didn't know. Had I, over those two weeks? Did I, in the toilet at home? Was it still there? My cervix was dilated, they told me. They were sorry, but I was miscarrying. Maybe you'll need a curette, they said. A general anesthetic and a curette. I took Panadol, saying no to anything stronger. We're sorry for your loss, for what you're going through, they said. We're sorry that it must seem like we're concentrating on the physical when you're losing a pregnancy, they said. "So is it still there?" I eventually asked. "We think there's still pregnancy material there."
I worked out how long had been lying there, bleeding and passing clots. Five hours. It was 10:30pm. My partner and child left (what could they do? the Nintendo DS, a birthday gift, had run out of batteries), and I lay there, ready, waiting for the general and the suction curette. I cried. Not for the baby, which I'd felt I'd lost weeks ago, but for the scary and sad situation. I had had a natural, drug-free birth with my first, and planned the same for my second, and instead, here I was bleeding, hooked up on a drip, another thing in my other arm, waiting to be taken into theatre. "It's like having a baby," a nurse said to me (insensitively?), talking about the blood, the drip, the pain. "Yes," I replied. "But with no baby at the end."
As I eased out of the anesthetic, I heard a newborn scream as it was born. "I'm sorry," whispered the nurse who'd heard it too. "That's a terrible thing to hear when you've just been through what you have". No. I thought. It gives me hope.
May is National Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month. Light a Candle is a brand new initiative of the Small Miracles Foundation to raise awareness of fertility issues, miscarriage, neonatal loss, still birth, premature birth and infant loss. Light a Candle gives Australian families that have faced the loss of a child an opportunity to remember their loved ones in a special and lasting way.