The heartache of a missed miscarriage

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The early weeks of my third pregnancy were pretty much the same as I'd experienced in the first two. I felt sick, constantly. My boobs hurt. I was so very, very tired. Everything seemed routine.

And then it wasn't.

I have irregular menstrual cycles, so my doctor sent me for a dating scan to establish how far into pregnancy I was. The scan found I was 4 weeks and 2 days along, but they couldn't see a foetal pole – so I was told to return in two weeks for a better look, reassured that it can be too early to see anything at that stage.

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 Photo: Getty Images

During that time, my morning sickness and sore boobs started to ease off. I thought maybe I was going to have a better run with the pregnancy than with my first, when I'd been sick well into the second trimester. What I didn't realise was that was a symptom the pregnancy hormones in my body were decreasing.

I arrived for the second scan, excited to think we might get an estimated due date for our new little one. Nowhere in my mind was I prepared for what would happen next.  The screen said 5 weeks 5 days. It didn't seem right, and there was no denying the tears in the ultrasound technician's eyes as she told me there was no heartbeat. I felt like the room was going to swallow me up as I tried to process exactly what she was telling me.

She told me it looked like I'd had a miscarriage, and had probably lost the baby about a week before. She handed me tissues and told me to take my time.

"This can't be right! How can I have had a miscarriage if there wasn't any blood?"

I'm embarrassed to admit that because of television and movies and anecdotes about miscarriage I'd heard, I assumed that if someone had a miscarriage there would be blood – lots of blood. I hadn't had so much as a spot. How could the foetus have just stayed inside me?

What I learnt, in the worst way possible, is that sometimes your pregnancy will end and you'll have no idea whatsoever until you have an ultrasound.

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It's called a missed or silent miscarriage, because you don't experience any of the usual miscarriage symptoms, such as pain and bleeding. Missed miscarriages are most common in early pregnancy when, for whatever reason, the embryo either doesn't develop or doesn't progress far in development and the heartbeat stops. It's estimated that around 1 to 2 per cent of all pregnancies end this way.

I was sent for blood work to back the diagnosis, with blood tests a few days apart to determine if the levels of the pregnancy hormone hCG in my blood were decreasing. The results confirmed the pregnancy was lost.

There was still no bleeding, so I was then referred to an obstetrician. It took a few days for me to work up the courage to make the appointment. I was asked to take the referral letter to the OB's office, and within a few hours his receptionist called to say she had organised a time for me to have a D&C the next day in hospital. Just like that, the dream of this baby, this little life, this much-wanted addition to our family, would be completely over within 24 hours.

A missed miscarriage feels so intangible, so surreal. It's almost like a dream that there was even a foetus there at all, and when it ends the way mine did – in a recovery room of a hospital with nothing at all to show that it was even there – it feels isolating and maddening.

The taboo nature of miscarriage and the way we often don't talk openly about it meant I had no idea what this was until I experienced it. But as weeks, months, and now years have passed I've spoken to other women, and have discovered many have had similar miscarriage experiences – which, in the darkest time of grief, gave me the greatest comfort.

It's important we keep opening up the dialogue around miscarriage, so we can help other women to navigate the situation and recover from the emotional pain and know they are not alone.