Sometimes the most significant stories of our lives are the ones we find the most difficult to share.
If you follow me on my social media profiles or have had conversations with me over the last 5 weeks, would you have known that beneath all those vibrant images and stories lay another one? Hidden from the world, a story I never told.
Those posts never spoke about the emotional roller-coaster of an unplanned pregnancy, seemingly never ending two weekly scans, or the miscarriage that started 5 weeks ago but continued with bleeding until earlier this week.
My first visit to EPAU (Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit) was because of one-sided pain and a small amount of bleeding. The scan needed to be repeated two weeks later as it was too early to rule out an ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy that occurs out of the normal site in the womb). Although the repeat scan confirmed that it was in the right place, there were signs that something may not be right with the pregnancy. I continued to have scans around every two weeks, even after a heartbeat was seen.
A couple of weeks after my scan, I remember going to sleep one night feeling colder than usual. I felt different. Similar to how I felt before my period starts. The following morning, I started to feel mild period-like cramps and at that moment I knew that I was miscarrying. I went to the bathroom and then continued getting my children ready for school. As they laughed and told their stories, I tried my best to carry on as normal. I left my daughter with my husband who was working from home and dropped my children to the school before making my way to EPAU.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the current NHS message is to attend hospital alone unless a carer is needed. I booked into EPAU and sat socially distanced with the other masked women who were in the waiting area. Someone came in after me crying. As she sat down, I felt my own eyes start to fill with tears.
I went for my scan and I could see from the doctor’s eyes that it wasn’t good news. I closed my eyes and waited to hear the words that I knew were coming, “There’s no heartbeat”. She went to ask the Consultant to confirm the miscarriage and asked me if I wanted to call anyone. My mind went to my husband who was at home, miles away, looking after our daughter.
The bleeding had increased by the time of the scan, so she gave me the options of “expectant management” which means waiting for the tissue to pass out naturally, or medical management . I chose the expectant management route but it wasn’t as straightforward as I hoped. Miscarriage usually results in bleeding for 1-2 weeks. In my case, bleeding continued longer than that and I had to return to the EPAU. The EPAU that day was busy and there wasn’t enough space to socially distance in the waiting area so I was to leave and return in a couple of hours at an allocated time. We were in a lockdown so unfortunately I couldn’t sit indoors somewhere nice and warm. Instead, I bought a coffee and walked around as I felt it was better than sitting in the cold for 2 hours.
A scan confirmed an “incomplete miscarriage” where a pregnancy has ended but some of the pregnancy tissue has remained. They discussed the possible need for surgery but agreed that it was reasonable to continue with expectant management for now. 5 weeks after the scan confirmed a miscarriage, I had a repeat scan that confirmed that it had finally completely ended. That scan was yesterday. After the scan, I bought myself a coffee, like I did after every scan, and sat down on a bench to think and have some time to myself before I returned to the rest of my day to carry on “as normal”. I wondered if my own coping mechanisms were influenced by my profession and the need to be emotionally resilient.
It’s estimated that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage and around 1 in 100 women in the UK experience recurrent miscarriages (3 or more in a row). Meghan Markle recently shared her own miscarriage experience and I remember reading some comments questioning why she wouldn’t want to keep it private. We should really ask ourselves why are we afraid to discuss miscarriage publicly? Is it something that must be something whispered quietly in the corner somewhere, or not at all? I can understand why someone may not want to read something like this if you have anxieties about pregnancy or if it triggers uncomfortable memories, but I don’t understand the criticism of someone that’s sharing their story and raising awareness.
During this time, I have spoken to lots of people on social media for other reasons. One thing I loved about these conversations was the glimpse you get of the person behind the profile. The small business owner who is rushing off to get her deliveries out on the school run or the homeschooling working mum juggling it all to make it work. Behind every profile is a person, with their own stories which they may or not share. On the topic of untold stories – we don’t have to share, and many people will choose not to. It comes down to individual choice and what we are comfortable with, but let’s be kind to those that do. Finally, perhaps we need to think about the term “miscarriage”. I used it because it is the most commonly known term, but after reflecting over the last couple of days, I decided that I actually really dislike this term because of what I feel it implies. To me, the “mis-” implies you carried incorrectly or did something wrong to “not carry correctly”. Is this one of the reasons it makes it harder to talk about? Should we move more towards terms like “early pregnancy loss” and stop using the term miscarriage altogether?
So that’s it. My story is no longer untold and the emotional roller-coaster has come to an end. Or has it? Sometimes the end of a chapter sparks the beginning of a new one, not completely separate from the last, but one where the healing can truly begin.
Amal is a paediatrician and mum/step-mum to four wonderful children. She started MedicMum101 to share tips and experiences on all things motherhood. She enjoys writing about parenting, health, and wellness, as well as other life musings from time to time. When she is not working, writing, or running after the kids, you can often find her working on a new piece of art.