I knew something was wrong as soon as the sonographer put the device over my belly and an image flickered onto the screen. It was not the image of a 12-week-old baby I had seen with my first pregnancy and so many other times in my Facebook news feed.
"Are you certain of your dates?” the lady asked. I replied that I was certain.
Next came a lot of beeping, an uncomfortable silence and the words "When are you next booked to see your GP, Laura?” She had used my name in an attempt, I supposed, to sound more caring, less clinical.
"Hit me with it. Tell me the bad news," I replied.
"I’m so sorry ..."
The room closed in on me and my accompanying friend said something kind. I burst into tears and the sonographer said something along the lines of "chin up, my darling, and better luck next time".
During the last three months I had written a list of baby names, pictured future birthdays, Christmases, family holidays and sibling cuddles, all in full technicolour. I'd had my family life as a foursome mapped out like a cheesy advert for life insurance. Yet in a nano-second it was, at least for now, all over. There would be no ‘perfect’ three-year age gap. No December baby. No need to rush out and buy baby clothes. I could stop eating for two and start drinking for one.
Like millions of other women I had ‘lost’ my baby. I was told the fetus had probably died around the eight-week mark, which was why it had showed up as so small on the scan. This was the last time anyone in the medical profession referred to my baby as a fetus. From that point on it was all about blood loss and ‘retained product’. It sounded so cold, like I had a bowel obstruction or kidney stones. Not a tiny dead baby in my uterus.
At this point in time my friends and family rallied around me offering condolences, flowers and kind words. After I visited my GP I was referred to an early pregnancy unit in the obstetrics outpatients clinic of the hospital for routine tests and scans. I was to sit with pregnant ladies of all ages and stages whilst they compared due dates and swollen ankles. I wondered if they wondered at me, the tear stained, sad looking woman in the corner avoiding eye contact with any of them.
Before my first of many clinic appointments I started bleeding and went to the emergency department on a busy Saturday to be checked out. A lovely young male doctor took bloods and after a lot of waiting around sent me on my way, suggesting that as the process had already started, the best thing to do would be to allow the process of miscarrying to continue naturally with the help of few paracetamol. I had no idea how and when the act of miscarrying the ‘product’ would happen.
Over that weekend I sat on the toilet for hours, in agony, leaking a constant flow of bright red blood and occasional chunks of ‘product’. The pain was horrific and although it would come and go, paracetamol was close to useless. It was then I realised how little women discuss the ins and outs of their miscarriage experiences openly.
I was unprepared for the length of time it actually took (nearly three weeks), the pain, and the emotional shock of seeing my pregnancy and all its future hopes flushed down the toilet. Every time a large chunk of ‘retained product’ fell into the toilet bowl I would look. Was it the fetus? Would I be able to tell? I had to stop myself reaching into the toilet bowl to scoop bits out. I felt ridiculous and hysterical at the same time.
My mum was a great source of comfort, as she had been through two miscarriages herself. She made regular hot water bottles, cups of tea and rubbed my back for the pain. Friends who have been through miscarriages were also excellent at relaying their own experiences. I scoured online forums for tips and comfort. So many women from all over the world poured their grief into these anonymous pages. The pain and discomfort they suffered, the lack of understanding from wider society and often from their own partners; it was all there, and it helped me to know I wasn’t alone.
What I did find harder to find was descriptions of the physical details. Is it just too gruesome? Too personal? The way the medical profession skirt around the details by giving it a generic name such as ‘product’ did little to prepare me for what I was dealing with. As a practical and curious person I wanted to know the facts. I wanted to be prepared. I wanted to know but I wasn’t sure who and how exactly to ask such strange and difficult questions such as, 'Can I go out while miscarrying? How long does it last? How many sanitary pads will I need? What does the pain feel like?’
Following a week of bleeding and scans that showed it wasn’t coming away quickly enough, I was prescribed Misoprostol - essentially it's an abortion pill that forces the uterus to contract and push out the remainder of product. I took the tablets and hunkered down for 24 hours of pain and bleeding. It was very unpleasant but less painful than the initial ‘natural’ spell. This also failed to remove everything, so after a highly draining and emotional two weeks I found myself being wheeled into theatre under general anaesthetic for a D&C, a sweep of the uterus. I was sent home later that same day on strong antibiotics to prevent further infection. I carried on bleeding lightly for just over another week, but the pain settled quickly and I finally regained my physical strength.
To suffer a miscarriage is an emotional and physical journey for any woman. The loss of hopes and dreams for that little person, the regret and guilt as to whether that cup of coffee was the reason for its demise, the sadness and anger at what has happened and the fear that it will happen again.
I am not sure what the future holds for me. I am lucky to have one healthy, happy boy of three, but I also envisioned a brother or sister for him. I would love to make this a reality, but I can't go back there just yet. Getting pregnant in the first place took commitment and time, followed by the first 12 weeks of my lost pregnancy, which were tiring, nauseating and all consuming. Going back to that with a wounded heart and knowledge of what can go wrong seems, at this stage, too soon.
I am still hurting and I need to mend, but mend I will. And if I go through this ordeal again, at least it will be with my eyes well and truly open.