This is what a miscarriage actually feels like

Laura Jackel disocovered she had lost her baby during her 12 week scan.

Laura Jackel disocovered she had lost her baby during her 12 week scan. Photo: Danielle Smith

I knew immediately that something was not right the moment the sonographer put the device over my belly and an image flickered onto the screen. It was not the image of a 12-week-old baby I had seen with my first pregnancy and on so many other occasions cluttering up my Facebook news feed.

"Are you certain of your dates?” the lady asked.  I replied that I was certain. Next came a lot of beeping, uncomfortable silence and the words ‘When are you next booked to see your GP Laura?” She had used my name in an attempt I supposed to sound more caring, less clinical. ‘Hit me with it, tell me the bad news’ was my response. ‘I’m so sorry…..’ The room closed in on me and my accompanying friend said something kind. I burst into tears and the sonographer said something along the lines of ‘chin up my darling and better luck next time’.

During the last three months I had written a list of baby names, pictured future birthdays, Christmases, family holidays and sibling cuddles all in full technicolour. I had my life as a foursome mapped out like a cheesy advert for life insurance. Yet in a nano-second it was, at least for now, all over. There would be no ‘perfect’ three-year age gap. No December baby. No need to rush out and buy baby-grows. I could stop eating for two and start drinking for one. 

Like millions of other women I had ‘lost’ my baby. I was told the fetus had probably died around the eight-week mark which was why it showed up as so small on the scan. This was the last time anyone in the medical profession referred to my baby as a fetus.  From that point on it was all about blood loss and ‘retained product’. It sounded so cold, like I had a bowel obstruction or kidney stones. Not a tiny dead baby in my uterus.

At this point in time my friends and family rallied around me offering condolences, flowers and kind words. After I visited my GP I was referred to an early pregnancy unit in the obstetrics outpatients clinic of the hospital for routine tests and scans. I was to sit amongst pregnant ladies of all ages and stages whilst they compared due dates and swollen ankles. I wondered if they wondered at me; the tear stained, sad looking woman in the corner avoiding eye contact with any of them.

Before my first of many clinic appointments I started bleeding and went to the Emergency Department on a busy Saturday to be checked out. A lovely young male doctor took bloods and after a lot of waiting around sent me on my way suggesting that as the process had already started, the best thing to do would be to allow the process of miscarrying to continue naturally with the help of few paracetamol. I had no idea how and when the act of miscarrying the ‘product’ would happen.

Over that weekend I sat for hours on the toilet in agony leaking a constant flow of bright red blood and occasional chunks of ‘product’. The pain was horrific and although it would come and go, paracetamol was close to useless. It was then I realised how little women discuss the ins and outs of their miscarriage experiences openly.

I was unprepared for the length of time it actually took (nearly three weeks), the pain and the emotional shock of seeing my pregnancy and all its future hopes flushed down the toilet. Every time a large chunk of ‘retained product’ fell into the toilet bowl I would look. Was it the fetus? Would I be able to tell? I had to stop myself reaching into the toilet bowl to scoop bits out. I felt ridiculous and hysterical at the same time.

My mum was a great source of comfort as she herself had been through two miscarriages. She made regular hot water bottles, cups of tea and rubbed my back for the pain. Friends who have been through miscarriages were also excellent at relaying their own experiences. I scoured online forums for tips and comfort. So many women from all over the world poured their grief into these anonymous pages. The pain and discomfort they suffered, the lack of understanding from wider society and often from their own partners, it was all there and it helped me to know I wasn’t alone.

What I did find harder to find was descriptions of the physical details. Is it just too gruesome? Too personal? The way the medical profession skirt around the details by giving it a generic name such as ‘product’ did little to prepare me for what I was dealing with. As a practical and curious person I wanted to know the facts. I wanted to be prepared. I wanted to know but I wasn’t sure who and how exactly to ask such strange and difficult questions such as, ‘could I go out while miscarrying? How long does it last? How many sanitary pads will I need? What does the pain feel like?’

Following a week of bleeding and scans that showed it wasn’t coming away quickly enough I was prescribed Misoprostol. Essentially an abortion pill that forces the uterus to contract and push out the remainder of product. I took the tablets and hunkered down for 24 hours of pain and bleeding. It was very unpleasant but less painful than the initial ‘natural’ spell. This failed to remove everything so after a highly draining and emotional two weeks I found myself being wheeled into theatre under general anaesthetic for a D & C - a sweep of the uterus. I was sent home later that same day on strong antibiotics to prevent further infection. I carried on bleeding lightly for just over another week but the pain settled quickly and I finally regained my physical strength.

To suffer a miscarriage is an emotional and physical journey for any woman. The loss of hopes and dreams for that little person, the regret and guilt as to whether that cup of coffee was the reason for its demise, the sadness and anger at what has happened and the fear that it will happen again.

I am not sure what the future holds for me. I am lucky to have one healthy, happy boy of three but I also envisioned a brother or sister for him. I would love to make this a reality, but I cannot go back there just yet. Getting pregnant in the first place took commitment and time, followed by the first 12 weeks of my lost pregnancy, which were tiring, nauseating and all consuming. Going back to that with a wounded heart and knowledge of what can go wrong seems, at this stage, too soon. I am still hurting and I need to mend, but mend I will and if I go through this ordeal again, at least it will be with my eyes well and truly open.

28 comments

  • I want to thank Laura for this article it was very brave of her. Our experience of miscarriage is that of a lonely isolated pain, like a silent scream. It can be physically and emotionally shocking and the community should understand.

    Commenter
    Joe
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    March 11, 2014, 6:53AM
    • I had six miscarriages between my two children. All in the first trimester, all different. Some silent, one more along the lines you describe here.

      Miscarriage is SO common, but we treat it like it's a thing to be kept hidden. When I told people what had happened, I can't tell you how many relayed stories of their miscarriage and with them, I was spared the stupid platitudes about chin up, next pregnancy will be okay. It wasn't, for 5 more times. For those people, I'd rather they said nothing. A hug would have been enough.

      Miscarriage is a physical and emotional event in a woman's life and both elements need to be considered in an integrated way by the medical and associated professions. I thank you for writing about it publicly.

      Commenter
      MKC
      Date and time
      March 11, 2014, 7:32AM
      • Thank you for sharing your story, Laura, and I'm sorry for your loss. This is a hard one for me to read as I am currently going through the same thing - D&C scheduled for this afternoon, after a sad first ultrasound last week followed by two nights in emergency (one requiring morphine), and learning yesterday morning that this is still not over. My husband has been terrified I would bleed to death, and is now terrified I will die under the anaesthetic. But it seems all my choices are terrible ones at the moment. It does help to read that I'm not alone, and I hope sharing my story helps you too, Laura. I wish you all the best for your future if and when you decide to try again.

        Commenter
        Geekgirl
        Date and time
        March 11, 2014, 8:48AM
        • Thankyou too for sharing. I am yet to try to have children but am incredibly grateful that the two of you have been brave enough to share these stories with me. I don't think people like me really understand just how frequently this happens and how much it hurts (physically and emotionally). I feel that I am better equipped to understand now.

          Can I ask - how do you think people should approach you in this situation? Do you just need a hug and a listening ear? Is there something that should be said (or not be said)?

          I hope your procedure today goes very well and your husband is ok while he waits for you to come out.

          Commenter
          Shelly
          Date and time
          March 11, 2014, 10:45AM
        • Thanks Shelly, since I'm typing this the next day I'm back on my feet and husband very relieved.

          In terms of what you can do to support your friends, I'm no expert, but I'd say the best thing you can do is tell them you are sorry and ask them how you can help. Like with any grief, many people are afraid of saying the wrong thing and so they say nothing, which leads to more feelings of isolation for the grieving person. It suits me and my husband to hibernate at home for a while to process it, and we will share bits and pieces as we can, but it may help other people to talk and talk and talk. My friends and family have been wonderfully supportive just via text messages and a few phone calls, and offered to bring us food although we haven't needed it, and even though we haven't seen them we know they are thinking of us.

          There's more information online and perspective from other women about how to help people who have suffered a miscarriage, e.g.,
          http://www.bellybelly.com.au/health-lifestyle/miscarriage-what-to-say-support#.Ux-RRnTNusI
          http://moms.popsugar.com/10-Things-Say-Say-After-Miscarriage-27333906

          Commenter
          Geekgirl
          Date and time
          March 12, 2014, 9:57AM
      • I'm so sorry that after your miscarriage, you had to attend the same obstetrical outpatient clinic as women who were having healthy pregnancies. This also happened to a friend of mine - she had a D&C after miscarrying her baby, and was put in a maternity ward for recovery. Everywhere around her were new mums and crying babies, the cruellest sights she could possibly be subjected to at that time. It was more than cruel - it was horrific.

        In many Sydney hospitals, the same waiting rooms are also occupied by couples undergoing fertility treatments - they need to sit amongst all the happy, pregnant women while waiting to find out if IVF has failed (yet again).

        Perhaps, part of the social acknowledgement of miscarriage as such a serious and common traumatic event should be a restructure of some hospital facilities to provide specialised and dedicated services OUTSIDE of the mainstream obstetrics and maternity departments. (With our pollies slashing health funding, however, we're probably looking at a fat chance.)

        Commenter
        Red Pony
        Date and time
        March 11, 2014, 9:28AM
        • It really is a cruel practice. We had to wait in the early maternity area of the base hospital to have the miscarriage verified. Around us were happy expectant women and a few babies. It was like a howl of shame and failure to sit amongst what we had been unable to achieve. Later when we were pregnant again (I never connected with this foetus or bought items or thought about a future to protect myself) we walked through a similar waiting area in another hospital and recognised immediately the couple in the corner processing their loss, staring at the floor or in the middle distance whilst around them the happy and expectant were oblivious.

          Commenter
          andrew
          Date and time
          March 11, 2014, 12:41PM
        • I’ve had 3 miscarriages. With the first, I had to have a D&C and when I woke up I was in a recovery room decorated with lots of Anne Geddes posters of babies.

          Next one was last year at 8 weeks, after an u/s confirmed the baby had stopped developing at 5 weeks, I was referred to the early pregnancy clinic in a hospital. The incredibly non-empathetic doctor decided that as I wasn’t at 9 weeks they were going to send me home to wait it out for another week, despite her agreeing it was non-viable. I insisted on more tests, finally she backed down, gave me medication and I went home to miscarry. It took 8 hours of incredible pain, passing clots with only panadeine forte for pain relief. At my next appt she called it ‘a wonderful result’ that no ‘product’ was left. Again, nil empathy.

          The third one was in November last year, also at 5.5 weeks. After the way I felt ignored and treated with not one ounce of caring or compassion from the hospital system, this time I just chose to wait it out and miscarried at home with no pain relief.

          This truly such a taboo topic and most people have no idea how devastating it is. To anyone not knowing what to say, a very simple “I am so sorry for your loss” goes a long way.

          Commenter
          Simone
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          March 12, 2014, 4:42PM
      • Thank you for sharing your experience, Laura. I experienced a late miscarriage at 16 weeks between my son and daughter. The trauma of that experience is something that I still re-live, though less frequently as time passes, and it still horrifies me. Because of the advanced stage of my pregnancy, I had to deliver the baby first and then I was whisked away for an immediate D&C. Going through a labour and the birth process, knowing that the baby wouldn't survive, was indescribably hard. The physical effects were much easier to deal with than the emotional ones. What surprised me the most was the number of friends who had also experienced miscarriage, but who had never shared their experience. I was shocked to find out just how many women that I knew had also experienced pregnancy loss. Miscarriage is a very traumatic event in a woman's life and I think we should be more open about it instead of hiding our grief and devastation. Knowing that it is more common than many women realise and knowing you're not alone could help to assuage some of the feelings of isolation.

        Commenter
        NSy
        Date and time
        March 11, 2014, 10:16AM
        • It's a shame that something that happens on a regular basis is hushed up.

          I assume it's because it is a very painful and a very personal experience.
          Good luck to you.

          Commenter
          ij
          Date and time
          March 11, 2014, 10:41AM

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