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The M-Word

I was six weeks pregnant and slowly getting my head around what that meant — the responsibility of a new life for the rest of my own life, the excitement of a new chapter we had thought about for so long — all finally here. I felt hyper-aware of my body even at that early stage. I was proud of my growing boobs, offering them to my boyfriend regularly for a gentle squeeze (“they’re bigger, right?”) I had cravings for savory pastry-based goods and ate the mound of cheese straws my boyfriend baked with relish, secretly wondering whether my “craving” was actually just an excuse to devour all the things I normally chose to eat in moderation.

I trawled the library for pregnancy guides and was bombarded with information about waterbirths and homebirths, books with whole chapters dedicated to the placenta; whether to plant it, have it made into a piece of jewellry or mix it up into a “nutritious smoothie.” There were stories about vaginal tearing and how best to prepare breasts for feeding, including one woman who scrubbed them with a nailbrush each morning in the last weeks before childbirth “to toughen them up.”

With a mixture of horror, curiosity and fascination at my changing body, I selected a pile of books and sat down to peruse them, excited but paranoid that I might see someone I knew and have to reveal my secret. I chose “The Dummy’s Guide to Pregnancy,” feeling slightly belittled by the title but ultimately buoyed by the lighthearted tone and the lack of anything placenta-based. The book had a week-by-week guide to pregnancy and I read bits to my boyfriend as the weeks progressed. At six weeks, the embryo was the size of an apple pip. At week seven, my nipples would probably become darker, at week eight, vivid dreams might occur, at week nine, I may well experience headaches and nasal congestion.

Tip-toeing along this new journey and taking care to skim over the grisly birth bits at this early stage, we were cautiously excited and agreed we wouldn’t tell anyone until the 12 week scan, which seemed like forever away. The secret was ours and ours alone; there was something precious and wildly happy about it.

My boyfriend was away in Italy during my 1oth week of pregnancy. On Sunday morning, I went for a run and when I got back I found I was bleeding. My mind spun with the fear of miscarriage and unsurprisingly, Google added to my anxieties. I reassured myself with statistics and anecdotes — the NHS website stated most cases of bleeding in early pregnancy are “harmless,” my sister bled in her second pregnancy and the midwife had reassured me bleeding in the first trimester can be a symptom of the huge changes occurring in pregnancy. Nevertheless, to reassure myself I called EPAC. They seemed unconcerned, but two days later, the bleeding started again on my walk home from work. I had cramps and feared the worse. When I called again for advice, they booked me in for a scan.

The early scan experience was like something from a dark sitcom. I was told I needed a full bladder for the scan and waited two hours to be seen, huddled in a grey room with other cross-legged pregnant ladies. By the time I finally had my scan, I was so desperate for the toilet that my stomach was domed and the nurse told me I would have to “partially empty” as my bladder was so full the screen was obscured. I joked about having the opportunity to practice using my pelvic floor muscles, “We all know they will come in handy after the birth!”

There ensued a farcical 10 minutes in which I went back and forth between the toilet and scanning room, eventually having to “partially empty” twice while my boyfriend made small talk with the nurse in the scanning room and I made full use of my pelvic floor muscles to ensure my bladder was appropriately half-full (ever the optimist).

The scan revealed I was not 10 weeks pregnant as I had thought, but six weeks pregnant. The nurse swiveled the screen to show us the black smudge of an embryo curled up like a comma. I know now what the nurse actually meant was “the baby is not developing as it should be” but her actual words were “it looks as though you are six weeks and not 10 weeks.” They could not detect a heartbeat. I was baffled and unable to speak. What did this mean? Could a heartbeat usually be detected at this stage? Was she telling me the baby might not survive? Maybe I had miscalculated my last period and this was all just a misunderstanding? When my boyfriend told her we were due to fly to Mallorca the next day, she took a deep breath and told us that, in her opinion, this was “not an ongoing pregnancy” and to prepare ourselves for the possibility of a miscarriage.

I lost my baby during the flight to Mallorca the next day. High up on a plane, while my boyfriend and my mum sat at either side of me, the smudge-that-was-something became nothing. My boyfriend held my hand and I squeezed it, hard, just like the cliche of a woman squeezing the hand of her partner during childbirth. I squeezed his hand and steeled myself against the raging, futile desire to get off the plane.

We lost our baby, although in all honesty, it does feel like something deeply my own. The word “lost” bothers me, though. We did not lose our baby, it died. It died but was not yet fully living and perhaps it is for this reason that we struggle to find words for this thing called miscarriage. Perhaps we feel unjustified in grieving for something not yet in existence.

In the weeks that have followed I have felt isolated. There are online forums and group therapy sessions with others who have experienced a miscarriage. There are websites where women can “name a star” in memory of a “lost” baby. There are “virtual meadows” in which each flower represents a baby’s life; you hover the mouse over individual flowers and see messages from mothers while the flower moves as though it is caught in a breeze. None of these really feel like something for me. Beyond the internet, here in the real world, nobody actually talks about miscarriage and I have struggled to find some way to fill the invisibility of this experience. Even the word “miscarriage” is insufficient; the prefix “mis” meaning “ill,” “mistaken,” or “wrong,” as though a mistake has happened, a suggestion that someone is to blame. There is a clinical detachment to the word which I find hollow and lacking in compassion.

I am fortunate enough to have friends and family who have visited and sent fortification in books, flowers and kind letters. I have a boyfriend who is supportive and understanding. But miscarriage is taboo and complex; loaded with a myriad of female-centric issues. I have felt guarded even when talking to my closest female friends. We are all well into our 30s and each of us has our own story — abortion, infertility, friends who are currently pregnant who I have wanted to protect from my own story. Having said this, I have learned that sharing can help and that silence only leads to more silence.

One in 4 women experience a miscarriage. That is one in 4 women who feel the visceral joy, fear and giddy excitement of those early stages of pregnancy. Their partners, too, feel all this in their own way. Many go on to have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies, many do not. Many who do not will go on to have healthy babies in the future. But how can we support those who experience miscarriage? We all cope in different ways. But the silence surrounding miscarriage is unhelpful for everyone. Let’s allow women and their partners to talk about miscarriage and let’s encourage the friends and families of those people to support them, to talk to them and make mistakes (there’s that word again,) say the wrong things or come out with cliches but above all, let’s end the silence around miscarriage.

Getty image by Archv

Originally published: June 23, 2018
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