“The 12 week pregnancy rule makes the pain of miscarriage worse”
I saw this quote as part of a post on Instagram recently as part of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness week. The post then went on to explain how the secrecy surrounding early pregnancy means that many women who suffer early pregnancy loss tend to grieve in private possibly experiencing feelings of guilt and failure. As soon as a woman gets a positive pregnancy test, she instantly feels a connection with the baby. In the case of miscarriage, the sudden loss of the baby is a genuine loss, regardless of the gestation. I thought this was a great post and it has inspired me to write about my own experiences with miscarriage- I have had 2 that I know of.
My husband and I recently found out that we were unexpectedly expecting a third child. A third child was/is definitely part of our future plans, but we had decided recently that perhaps we would wait for a little while (our first two children were born only 13.5 months apart). However, we hadn’t exactly taken proper precautions before we decided this and as it happened it looked as though the family would be expanding slightly sooner than we had planned. Despite the fact that I had several symptoms of pregnancy, I usually wouldn’t even have taken a test so early if it hadn’t have been for the fact that we were due to attend a wedding the following weekend and I needed to know whether I had to remain teetotal at said event or not! I knew what the result was going to be though, and my suspicions were confirmed when I got round to it. Rightly or wrongly, I did not tell my husband the news straight away because he had a lot going on at work that week and I was worried about stressing him out, particularly since we had decided to put any plans for more children on hold for the time being. I figured I would wait until the weekend and break the news when we were relaxing and things were less tense.
However, things didn’t quite work out that way. On the Thursday of that week I started experiencing familiar cramping pains and I suspected that things weren’t going well with the pregnancy. The following day I began bleeding heavily and I knew that I was miscarrying (this was the second miscarriage for me and so I knew how it had felt the last time and sometimes I think you just know anyway). I told my husband what was going on and he came home to see me (of course this was the first he knew of the pregnancy). A few days later I took another pregnancy test which was negative. The bleeding had slowed down significantly by this time. I knew that this confirmed that I had miscarried. I had only been about 6 weeks along and given the fact that the bleeding stopped and the subsequent test was negative I was confident that nature had taken care of things without the need for me to go and see a doctor. I felt tearful on and off for some time afterwards but tried to tell myself that something was probably not right with the pregnancy to start with and not to feel too bad about it. I also found it hard to accept because waiting to have a third child is undoubtedly more my husband’s wish than mine- I would have another tomorrow if it were up to me. My husband found it quite difficult to understand my upset this time because he hadn’t even known we were expecting again until I told him I was miscarrying. I know this was my own fault to an extent for not telling him about the pregnancy earlier but I think it is often harder for men to understand because they are not the ones who are pregnant (a woman of course feels pregnant straight away and so has an attachment to the baby right from the start whereas for my husband he has said he didn’t feel this until much later on in all of my pregnancies). I am in the very lucky position of having two healthy sons (which I know that many people who experience miscarriage aren’t) and so I have tried to focus on them since and remind myself of how fortunate I am to have them.
My first miscarriage happened shortly after my husband and I were married. We tied the knot in June of 2016 and I was pregnant by the August of that year. When we found out we were expecting we were of course very happy and it seemed very special that the baby would be due very close to our first wedding anniversary. We only told immediate family that we were expecting with it being so early.
When I was about 6 weeks pregnant, I woke up one morning with very severe sharp pain on both sides of my pelvis- it was so bad that I couldn’t sit still for a little while. However, it was quite short lived and it soon settled so I put it down to a weird pregnancy related twinge to start with. However, later that day I began spotting and by the following day I had started bleeding heavily. I saw my GP who examined me and confirmed that it was most likely a miscarriage. I was advised to check a pregnancy test the following week- if it was negative this would confirm a miscarriage and if positive then I would need further investigations to rule out other complications such as an ectopic pregnancy or a haematoma (collection of blood around the foetus). I didn’t feel like I could concentrate on much that week and so I took a week off work and my mum came over to stay. I allowed myself to be upset. It is normal to experience feelings of guilt, anger, frustration, anxiety and sadness when you experience miscarriage- you were pregnant and excited about welcoming a new baby and all of a sudden that has been taken away from you. When I repeated the pregnancy test it was negative as I suspected it would be. That night we went out for some drinks and to be honest, I shed quite a few tears (as I think most people would have).
Of course we wanted to try for a baby again as soon as possible but for various reasons we didn’t until the November of that year. In the meantime I found things a bit difficult because I was working as an anaesthetist on the delivery suite at the time, meaning I saw several healthy babies being born on a daily basis- not the easiest thing to watch when you want a child of your own and you’ve recently miscarried. I had some important exams to sit and so I tried to focus all of my energy on them, and to an extent I buried myself in my work. In the November, I sat (and passed!) my exam and by December I was sick of worrying about conceiving and so I just thought I’d forget about it for a while and enjoy myself. I decided I’d let myself indulge in plenty of champagne and wine and eat what I wanted (of course any sources you consult for advice on TTC tell you to avoid anything fun like alcohol, carbs and chocolate) over Christmas and I did just that.
For New Year that year, my husband and I flew out to visit my parents (they live on a small island near France) and we joined them and my aunt and friends for a seafood platter and lots of champagne on new year’s eve. I drank as much champagne as I could and ate as many oysters as I wanted. My husband and I were due to fly back to England on the 2nd January and I had the rest of that week off work. I awoke in the early hours of the 2nd feeling sick and to cut a long story short spent the whole of the rest of the night being violently sick. By the morning, I could not move from the bathroom floor as I felt too ill to bother and also because I wasn’t sure I was out of the woods yet. I texted my mum (who was only on the floor below!) and said something along the lines of “have been horrendously sick, on bathroom floor, will see you later, don’t think I’ll be getting on the plane today.”) My husband came in to the bathroom and I explained the situation to him and told him that he needed to save himself and “GET OUT OF THIS INFECTED HOUSEHOLD BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!” He flew home later that day (and managed to escape the illness) whilst I lay in bed feeling sorry for myself. My mum later went down with whatever it was (I blame the oysters we all ate, which my husband didn’t because he doesn’t like them) and so joined me in my bed, quarantined from the rest of the household. In the following days my aunt’s friend also went down with this dreadful lurgy whilst my aunt, thinking she had escaped the plague, happily sipped G&T in the hot tub before later becoming ill on the plane home! We will remember that particular New Year for all eternity as the time we were all “violently ill following excessive oyster consumption.” Amidst all this drama, there was little time to think about conceiving a child. I wrote myself off for that month entirely because I didn’t even know if my husband and I had been in the same country during the crucial fertile window anyway.
I made it back to England on the Friday of that week and went back to work on the Monday (of course you always end up being ill when you are on holiday, don’t you?!). The following weekend I had a series of nightshifts, which passed by in a chaotic blur. By the Monday evening, after I had slept for the day following nights, I suddenly realised that my period was late (I hadn’t really noticed given the long hours I had worked). I was also having quite a bit of lower back pain and so I decided to do a pregnancy test, which was positive. I was obviously delighted to be expecting again, but I was very nervous given what had happened with my first pregnancy. I told my husband but we decided not to get our hopes up in case things didn’t end well again. We told immediate family again, but the announcement was very unenthusiastic. Essentially we said “we’re pregnant again, but we aren’t getting our hopes up. Bye.”
Over the next few days I found myself becoming increasingly anxious about the fact I was pregnant again. I was terrified of another miscarriage and it got to the stage where I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. I decided to see my GP- I don’t really know what I was looking for apart from someone to listen and give me some sensible advice and perspective. Luckily the doctor I saw was actually very understanding and reassuring and I hope that telling you about what he said may help you if you are going through anything similar.
When I went in to the doctor’s room he asked why I was there and I began crying and told him I was pregnant. He was so confused and taken aback by the apparent upset I was feeling at my predicament that he asked me if I was there to ask for a termination (I can understand why he thought this)! I said that no this was a very much wanted pregnancy but that I had recently miscarried and was feeling extremely anxious. He told me that we had been fortunate to conceive quite quickly in both instances and so it was unlikely that there was a problem. He then went on to explain that miscarriage is actually extremely common- up to 1 in 4 confirmed pregnancies end in miscarriage- and that’s not to mention very early miscarriages where the woman doesn’t even realise she has conceived and probably puts things down to a late period. He said that a large proportion of women will experience a miscarriage at some point and most of the time this is not because there is anything wrong with them or their partner. Mostly, he said, miscarriages are nature’s way of dealing with a pregnancy that is not viable or has significant abnormalities. Such abnormalities are generally the result of things not happening in quite the way they should do during the very early stages of development of the embryo. Generally speaking, it is not because there is anything wrong with the couple’s ability to conceive a healthy child. He explained that sometimes there do turn out to be problems with one or other partner or their ability to reproduce as a couple, but this would be considered after multiple miscarriages (3 or more in a row). Whereas he could not tell me for sure that there was nothing wrong with me, he said the chances are you are fine and you will go on to have a healthy pregnancy- he turned the statistics round and said that whereas 1 in 4 pregnancies miscarry this means that 3 in 4 do not. I left the doctor’s feeling reassured and tried to be positive about the whole thing. Although I felt a lot better I still felt very anxious on and off for a number of weeks and was constantly worried about bleeding.
Before I knew it, I had reached 12 weeks and we saw our baby on the first scan. Our first son Henry was born in September of 2017. Of course it was upsetting to lose the first baby, and I always think about it on the due date. However, I also remind myself that had I not miscarried the first time then Henry wouldn’t exist. He was obviously meant to be for us whereas the first pregnancy was not. I conceived again early in 2018 and I had our second son Edward in November 2018. I’m so grateful for my 2 healthy boys, but what I will say is that the miscarriage thing really tainted the early parts of my pregnancy with Henry because I was so anxious. I definitely didn’t enjoy the pregnancy until I had relaxed a bit after the 12 week scan. I have always been quite open about the miscarriage and I was so surprised at how many people had been through the same thing when I talked about it. Having been through it I feel in a better position to listen to and understand friends who go through similar. As we know, as many as 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage- it is way more common than people realise. I really hope that reading about my experiences with miscarriage may help some of you and that hearing that despite 2 miscarriages I also have 2 healthy sons may reassure some of you. Please remember that it is ok and also normal to feel a lot of emotions after a miscarriage- it is ok to feel sad, angry, anxious etc. Allow yourself time to be upset. Don’t feel silly for wanting to talk about things- I’m a doctor, I know a lot of the facts about miscarriage and I knew that my first one was likely to have been “one of those things” and that I’d probably go on to have a successful pregnancy, yet it still helped me to discuss things with a GP who could offer a different perspective.
Most miscarriages are not due to anything the mother has done. Most of the time they are thought to be due to chromosomal abnormalities in the baby. Most miscarriages cannot be prevented, but you should speak to your doctor or healthcare provider about things you should and shouldn’t do when pregnant or trying to conceive. Most women who miscarry will go on to have a successful pregnancy later on. Although miscarriages are common, if you experience 3 or more in a row (recurrent miscarriage) you should see your doctor. If you think you are experiencing a miscarriage you should speak to your doctor and they can advise you further. You can read more about miscarriage, statistics, symptoms, causes, and treatment here on the NHS website. You can read Katy Lindemann’s article (which was published in The Guardian here).
Now you must excuse me while I go and try and persuade my husband to let me have a third child!