The excitement then the pain that follows – the experience of miscarriage has devastated many families. Rebecca Lewis sheds light on the private sadness that many families suffer in silence.
Content warning: Rebecca Lewis talks about her experience of miscarriage in this post. If you have suffered a miscarriage this post may be upsetting for you. If you need support please visit SANDS New Zealand or call 0800 Sands4u (0800 726 374). Sands New Zealand is a network of parent-run, non-profit groups supporting families who have experienced the death of a baby.
Finding out you are pregnant is emotional enough, but announcing it for the first time to your husband and your mother while you have a mild panic attack in the doorway of the bathroom is less than ideal.
So, given how I announced my pregnancy to the world (or at least to a stunned husband and startled mother) I should have known it was going to leave on similar, unforeseen terms.
It was Christmas and festivities were in full swing. On Waiheke Island with all the family, there wasn’t even time to register a pregnancy. Even though it was my second, I was similarly oblivious to the signs, putting it down to being hungover, tired from holidaying with a 10-month-old, and coming down from a crazy year at work. And then it just appeared to me, as I was walking up the stairs one day. “I’m pregnant.” I just knew it.
Turns out, I was right. Two peed-on sticks later and it was confirmed, to a totally blindsided husband who wasn’t expecting me to exit the bathroom and announce such huge news to him and my mother at the same time (sorry, hun.) I panicked. What were we going to do? This wasn’t planned for, not this soon after Zoe. How would we manage work? We need a bigger apartment. Oh my god, travelling is going to be so much more difficult. Am I ready for another baby?
But then a day or two passed, and the panic subsided. We estimated I was around six weeks pregnant, and we told our family. It was hard not to when we were all together, all the time, on holiday. Not to mention, everyone would have been suspicious when I started turning down glasses of rosé. I couldn’t think about anything else, and to be honest, I needed the support and their excitement.
I don’t think the news ever fully set in for my husband. And I don’t blame him – there wasn’t time to sit and talk about it. A pregnant woman starts planning immediately – well, in my case anyway – and thinking about how her life is going to change. I don’t know how connected to it my husband felt at that point, but I was already mentally preparing myself for the weight gain, the stretch marks and the sore hips. But beyond the physical changes, I was adapting emotionally. I was already attached. It took all of two seconds for me to connect with the new life inside me. For the six nights I had between finding out about our baby and losing it, I said goodnight to my abdominal area with a tender touch to my stomach. To me it already felt real.
And just as unexpectedly as it began, it ended. On New Year’s Eve, no less. Like a cruel cosmic joke – as one thing was beginning another was ending.
I went to bed that night feeling normal. Pregnant. Happy. Zoe had been waking up at 5am, but even that wasn’t bothering me. And then… wetness. I woke up with a jolt and a completely sunken heart. Blood becomes the enemy when you are pregnant, and I was swimming in it.
It’s not a pleasant scene, but I think it’s important for women (and men) that I address what happens. Like a period, there is blood, and like a period, there is pain. As anyone who has been pregnant before knows, blood and pain together are a big cause for concern. I found my way to the bathroom in the dark, hand cupped between my legs and praying that the damage wasn’t as bad as it felt – and also that I wasn’t leaking all over my mother-in-law’s floors.
But with the flick of the light switch, my worries became founded. Bright red blood was all over my pyjamas and down my legs. Dark blood is often okay – “old blood”, as the doctors say, can sometimes just “pass” when you are pregnant (and it’s often what women assume to be a period on those I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant TV shows.) But bright red blood is “new” blood, and that’s often (but not always, please note) a bad sign. Coupled with the cramping pains in my abdomen, I knew I was in trouble, and yet through strained tears I tried my damnedest to think positively.
I bled when I was pregnant with Zoe; it’s probably okay.
Lots of women bleed during pregnancy, I’m sure it’s nothing.
Shit, this is a lot more blood than what’s normal. Why won’t it stop?
Eventually, it did stop. And I went back to bed and cried. The next couple of days were a blur of doctor’s appointments and lying down trying not to do anything in case (please, please) this was all just a mere hiccup. Doctors have to call it a ‘threat of miscarriage’, which they did, and it’s scary. To suddenly be labelled with the M word feels like a punch to the gut. This happens to millions of women all over the world, but you still never think it’s going to happen to you.
And yet, there was still hope. I hadn’t had blood tests yet (because it was New Year’s on Waiheke Island, which means labs are closed and doctors are getting pissed on their decks like the rest of us) and I hadn’t had an ultrasound. I Googled “bleeding + successful pregnancy” just to read stories of other women who had bled and succeeded in carrying a baby to term. “It was just one of those things!” said one woman. “I bled lots but heard the heartbeat, and now my little cause for concern is four years old!” said another.
But then… another night, another soaked sanitary pad. It was time to go to the hospital.
I could go on about what happened there, but in a nutshell it was this: blood tests, an internal exam, one lovely junior doctor, an awful Attending with a shit bedside manner, and no need for an ultrasound because “there was no point”.
No point. No hope. And definitely no baby.
And then, it actually felt real. I didn’t even realise how much I wanted the baby until I was told I wouldn’t be having it. I sat on the hospital bed and sobbed, and almost immediately, I felt stupid for crying. A voice somewhere in my head piped up to tell me that it’s silly to cry. For some reason, our “pick yourself up and get on with it” societal mentality tells you that you are wrong for wallowing. The fetus was barely there, and it wasn’t a ‘real’ baby, anyhow.
And then people tell you:
If you hadn’t done a pregnancy test, you would have just thought the bleeding was your period.
At least you miscarried early, rather than late term.
At least you know you can get pregnant.
All these things people say to you… they mean well, they really do. But they don’t help, or least they didn’t help to alleviate the gigantic hole left by this baby’s departure.
Don’t worry, I’m sure you can have another baby.
This is said a lot to women who miscarry, I have found. It might be true, and if that’s the case, I will count myself incredibly fortunate, but it’s not the point. Another baby is not this baby, and this baby is gone. Out my body, down a toilet, and flushed away in the most silent death.
Having absolutely lucked out with a daughter already, I know that at six weeks’ gestation, a fetus has has the beginnings of a face. It has little buds for arms and legs, and it has a heartbeat. It had a damned heartbeat, and it doesn’t help to dismiss that as being unimportant, insignificant or nonexistent.
What helps is to recognise my miscarriage for what it was: a life lost.
What helps is to acknowledge that I am sad, and always will be, for what never was.
What helps is to recognise that saying goodbye before I even got to say hello really, really sucks.
What helps is to remind myself that if love alone could have saved you, little one, then you would have never died.
Rebecca Lewis is a Kiwi abroad, running a PR agency with her husband and raising 14-month-old wild child, Zoe, in the equatorial hotspot that is Singapore. Wine and mum guilt feature equally and consistently in her daily life.
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