Content warning: This post contains details of miscarriage some readers may find triggering.
My name’s not that important – I could be the woman shuffling change behind you at the coffee cart, or shrinking my body away from yours on the bus.
So I’m writing the words I don’t know how to speak, a story we don’t usually tell. Things I wish someone had told me.
It was baby pink, I’ve just told the GP, wincing at the clumsy choice of words. It was mucus, not even spotting, and I only saw it once when I went to the bathroom an hour ago. It doesn’t hurt there, or there.
I’m not worried; just checking because I didn’t have anything like this when I was pregnant with my son, now two. I’m feeling pretty good, actually. My husband and I even high fived this morning because, after being fogged in by first trimester exhaustion, today, in the middle of week nine, I’ve got my bounce back.
But sure, I’ve said, let’s go have a scan to prove everything’s fine. “Threatened miscarriage”, reads the referral slip. But I’m running my hand over the still-small swell of my belly and smiling confidently at my husband.
It can’t be that. It was just mucus. And it was only pink.
I tasted grief – metal, cold, dry – in my mouth the instant the sonographer touched my arm.
My brain tried to hold back the ocean of meaning behind words that kept coming from her mouth – “There’s been no growth beyond what we’d expect at six weeks.” So Baby is just little?
“I’m sorry – I can’t detect a heartbeat.” Somebody else will? – but the rest of me, panic-breathing and shaking with tears, understood the gentle, warm touch of her hand immediately.
My baby is dead.
My husband was holding me and I know it was strong and true, but I couldn’t feel a thing. When the sonographer slipped from the room, we both just sat there, concussed. I knew he wanted to say things like “It’s okay” – but it’s truly not, and so he didn’t.
He just passed me the scrunched up underwear I’d taken off for the internal probe and later, in the car, when feeling came back to my hands, I noticed I hadn’t put them back on.
I’m stunned by my shock. It’s not like I don’t know the statistic: one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage. I’ve always thought I’d reason with the loss: early miscarriage probably means something was wrong and it’s nature telling me my baby wouldn’t have been born healthy.
But none of that means anything to my heart now.
We’ve driven straight to pick our son up from day care because the GP’s closed at this hour and nobody’s told us to do anything else. We just want our little boy. When he runs into my arms, I breathe in the sweet, griminess of him and my husband mumurs, “At least we have him.” We’re lucky.
But in this moment, I can’t tell if already knowing this love will stop me drowning in grief that already feels like cement up to my chest or be the thing that pulls me under.
A very raw Monique Bowley spoke about her miscarriage, grief, and how friends and family can help someone who is struggling. Post continues after audio.
The bleeding started at 2:23am.
The GP had called earlier and said “things should start happening soon”, so I was awake, waiting for it – the violent gush, the quick pain I’ve seen on TV. But all day there’s been barely a trickle, a period ache.
Is this it?
I’m surprised to realise I don’t really know what miscarriage looks like. All day I’ve felt sick dread that I’ll recognise a forming body the size of a sweet pea amongst the bright red strings on my pad. Will I? And is that when the miscarriage is over or really beginning?
Google’s confusing and the GP didn’t say. Maybe I was supposed to ask?
I’ve never felt more alone.
I ran into a friend this afternoon, when I went downstairs to collect a package. The tiny white knitted booties I’d ordered last week.
“You ok?” she’d asked, noticing I looked as though I’d just been punched. My baby is dead and I don’t understand what to do. “Just a cold,” I’d lied.
Of course I didn’t tell her I’m having a miscarriage.
I met this woman in mothers’ group, our families have become close, I’ve told her my birth story, but some pre-programmed part of me understands that words about the clotted, sticky blood of grief are…too much. Besides, I hadn’t even told her – God, I hadn’t even told my mum – I was pregnant. We all know not to share good news too early, don’t we? To protect us from sharing bad news if miscarriage happens.
But now the worst has happened, I no longer understand this logic of secrets: it’s trapped me inside screaming silence.
I’m at my local Emergency Room.
The slow bleeding hasn’t changed, but the ache’s exploded into a gripping, blinding pain I think I remember from early labour and I’m scared. I cry hot tears of relief when the doctor tells me this pain is not unusual, that every single day women are even admitted to hospital just to handle the pain. There are clots clinging high inside my uterus and my body’s contracting hard to squeeze them out.
I belong here, amongst broken bones, chest pains and trauma. Nobody prepared me for this ‘common’ miscarriage to be such a physically intense ordeal.
I stare at the ceiling, letting the Endone she’s prescribed for pain numb me out, as the doctor inserts a speculum and removes as many clots as she can.
“You still have significant product to pass,” she says. I don’t know what that means. “Leftover product from pregnancy,” she repeats, not seeming to understand I still have no idea what “product” should look like, how much there should be.
The doctor does explain that surgery to empty my uterus is an option if I want it. I don’t. There’s a drug, Misoprostal, I could take to induce complete miscarriage but it’s not guaranteed to work, there might be side effects and the pain will be worse. I just can’t.
Most women just wait, she explains, and, when she says that could take two weeks, I cry again. I’m floored that this horror is happening to so many women, all around us, all the time. How do we not know?
Tina Arena spoke to Mia Freedman about her miscarriage experience. Post continues after video.
The next Friday
This has been the worst week of my life.
I’ve been to a meeting bombed on Endone that makes me feel sick, because I was scared of losing the client. My son’s seen the devastation that hammers down on me with every pang – “I kiss it better, Mummy?” – and I hate myself for not being able to drag myself back up. I’ve been short tempered and unkind to my husband, before remembering this is his loss too.
When a tennis ball, grey-purple and firm, fell from my body in the shower early this morning, I was so emotionally drained, I barely gasped. I’ve brought it in a zip lock bag here to the Early Pregnancy Assessment Centre [EPAS] clinic at the hospital. Please let a scan tell me it’s all over.
It’s only 7am, the EPAS doesn’t even open for another half hour, and I’m already 13th in line. There clinics like this all around the country. As the waiting room fills with woman after bleeding woman, I think about all the friends who have sat here, in this place I never knew existed.
I think of how we talked around miscarriages had without ever truly talking about how it happens. I think of the questions I never asked even my dearest friends out of deference to taboo. I’m so sorry. It was never that I didn’t want to hear and now I understand how much they had to say. I wonder how much we’d all know if we felt we could tell.
I start to see my shame. It’s not that I lost the baby; it’s that I’ve been so destroyed by it. In isolation, the stat – one in four – intended to comfort, make us feel we’re not broken, has made me feel guilty for not being able to function. I’ve pictured the strong, successful, brave women who’ve had two, three miscarriages, others struggling on IVF, those who’ve lost babies later and more viciously, women who do it on their own. Curled in foetal position, I’ve imagined them rising, grinding, getting on. I’ve been ashamed of wallowing in a grief I don’t deserve.
When I meet the doctor after my scan, she’s wonderful. She examines and names – placenta and foetal tissue – the contents of the zip lock bag with gentle honesty.
She tells me it’s not over, but details what the clots, the lining and blood should look like, how it should not smell. She’s the first to even mention hormones. She tells me about Sands, a support and information source for miscarriage.
She tells me healing starts when you tell your story.
It’s time to call a friend.
If you or someone you know is going through a miscarriage or the loss of a child, please seek professional medical advice, contact Sands on 1300 072 637 or Lifeline on 13 11 14. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.