One person’s experience of recurrent miscarriage: Part 2

I had a positive test. A high threshold one, too, not any kind of pre-period, early indicator one. That meant the hormone was definitely there. Was I happy? Well, the catheter-into-uterus exam was ten days away so at least I could cancel or postpone *that*. Was I excited? No. Optimistic? Definitely no. I was horrified.

I didn’t want to go through another miscarriage while working my notice and I definitely didn’t want to go through one after starting the new job in a month’s time. And in my mind, a successful pregnancy was far down the list of possibilities. I was more thinking ‘when’ a miscarriage would happen, rather than ‘if’. Would it be a relatively easy and straightforward 5 or 6 week one? Would it be heavier around 7-9 weeks? Could it be ectopic? Or maybe it was a cyst. Would the freaky psychosis thing happen again? Would I lose my mind completely and end up in some kind of asylum? Maybe my ovary would rupture.

These were all more present in my mind than the possibility of a straightforward, complication-free pregnancy like you see on TV, where the couple celebrate and stare lovingly at each other as the woman grows hugely rotund—sorry, ‘with child’. And what about that giant fuck-off house we’d just agreed to buy? We’d budgeted extensively and factored in the possibility of having a child, even though it felt like a long shot at the time, but were we still happy with proceeding?

I didn’t do anything for the first few hours, still numb and dreading all the various outcomes I’d already decided were inevitable. Then, I realized I needed to at least figure out if there was anything I could do. I phoned the doctor, phoned the recurrent miscarriage clinic, and phoned the EPU, and the midwife team—begging them not to book me for any appointments or send me any baby literature yet. I said, with a laugh, that they could save their funds as it would likely end up in the bin anyway, but could they advise what I should do.

“It says you should go on Progrsterone.”

I’d forgotten the progesterone, but a nurse found it in my file notes. The Recurrent Miscarriage Clinic had said if I got pregnant again then I’d need to immediately go on progesterone. Back in early 2021, it felt like a shot in the dark, but now that I was pregnant again, it became my last hope.

It wasn’t easy to find. That’s a saga for another day, but as my cramps got worse and I went from pharmacy to pharmacy until my phone literally died, I became convinced that even if I did get my hand on this last-ditch attempt to stop my uterus from throwing the literal baby out with the bathwater, it would be too late. I told one pharmacist as much when they held the box of pills behind the counter and said they couldn’t give them to me because of an administrative error on the system. I went home empty handed after an afternoon of racing around town, but a local pharmacy ordered it to be delivered to me the next day.

I did not leave my bed. 

The cramps weren’t great, and I’d checked for bleeding enough times to make me a certifiable nutcase, but I stayed in bed as much as possible. When the progesterone arrived, I took it immediately, and took the regular doses the entire weekend while I continued to stay abed. The cramps gradually subsided. Cramps themselves are not an unusual pregnancy symptom, so they could have been normal. But to me, they signaled a bleed, so I wasn’t taking any chances. One of the pharmacists even said, on looking at the medication I was after, ‘you should be resting rather than rushing around town’. 

I took that magical-if-annoying vagina pill twice a day, day after day. Because of COVID, early scans were not being offered. But I needed an early scan, because the progesterone could mask a miscarriage by preventing the bleed. In other words, I could end up carrying a failed pregnancy and not know until going for a scan. It was in my notes that I *had* to have one. Still, the EPU said due to the backlog and COVID they were not doing any scans, doctors notes or no. I booked a private scan in town. It was for two weeks after my positive test (remember, the positive test was not an early predictor one, and with a high threshold, so I would safely be 6 weeks by that point).

I had a client meeting the same day and went to the scan shortly after. Anxious would be an understatement. I’d never had a scan where they were looking to find the beginnings of a baby, and my history had me prepared for the worst outcome. It wouldn’t be there, or it would be too small, or it wouldn’t be in the right place. Despite the immense fatigue settling into my bones from the hormones, I couldn’t sleep the night before the scan. I was a walking zombie.

I went to the clinic and braced myself for the real possibility of going home that night, stopping the progesterone, and hoping my body would do its job like it had done several times already without intervention. I only had the doctor give me enough pills for two weeks despite me needing to be on it until I was 16 weeks along. 16 weeks felt like a lifetime away. it would take a miracle to stay pregnant for 16 weeks when I’d never made it past 8.

My bursting bladder quickly faded from my mind as I hopped on the table and the nurse began pressing around my abdomen. The facilities are designed for a crowd, so in addition to her normal screen there was a huge tv screen on the wall in front of me, where myself and up to five guests would have been invited to celebrate and share in the usual joyous moments. I tried my best not to look at it, but couldn’t help myself. My heart dropped as what looked like a large, empty void kept appearing in different angles.

“Here it is.”

Her voice sounded entirely normal, since I was the only one choking on the tension in that room. I couldn’t believe my eyes when something did appear – a weird-shaped blob. I asked her to confirm twice but yes, that was indeed the beginnings of a baby, in the right place and looking normal. Well, one hurdle down and at least no ectopic.

But then she said what I didn’t want to hear: 5 weeks of development. I protested. Was she sure? I had my positive test, a high-threshold one at that, two weeks earlier. Two weeks after the expected date of period means 6 weeks (ignoring that my cycle length would have me at 7). I should be 6 weeks, not 5. She said it was normal, and to come back in two weeks for a rescan to see if it had progressed. I didn’t expect to be leaving that place and entering limbo. Of all the possibilities I’d come up with, that wasn’t one of them. I’d be progressing or not.

But 5 weeks could be normal, as she said, or it could be that things had stopped developing at week 5, and the progesterone stopped my uterus from dumping its contents like yesterday’s garbage. Given my history, you can imagine which of those two outcomes I fixated on. I asked to not be sent scan images. Easier to pretend it never happened, like the ones that came before.

To this day, I don’t know how I made it two weeks to the next scan, living both like I was pregnant and yet very likely not pregnant. The progesterone required me to be laid down for 30-60 mins after taking it every twelve hours (give or take an hour or two where needed), so I missed a lot of evening activities I’d been invited to because I had to take dose one at 7am/6am or thereabouts before work so the evening dose fell right in the middle of things. It didn’t matter – I was more tired than I’d ever been in my life. I often fell asleep during the evening dose, passed out on the sofa.

My heart rate was through the roof. I didn’t know how to break it to my Fitbit that I hadn’t actually done 12 hours of intense cardio each day that I’d actually spent on my arse. Moving from one room of the flat to the other caused spots in my vision and dizziness, and for two weeks my heart rate didn’t go under 90 bpm while I was conscious (my resting is 58…). Any normal daily activity left me breathless and with a heart rate of 130+. Brush my teeth? How dare I. Eat food? Good luck breathing between mouthfuls. Change my clothes? Only if I wanted to collapse afterward. Go for a walk or up or down the 3 flights of stairs to leave the flat? Out of the question.

The day of the second scan came and I was well and truly prepared to see that same sized blob. I told the sonographer what had happened last time and she kindly asked, “So you’re ready for the possibility it’s bad news?” I laughed and said yes, definitely. I can’t imagine what it must be like for them, having the occasional person waltz in with their five guests naively expecting sunshine and rainbows only to have the rug ripped out from under them. I wasn’t going to be difficult or emotional. I was too tired to even laugh everything off like I did at all my previous appointments. After 2.5 years, and the last few weeks of limbo, I was too tired to care. I was resigned and ready to get it over with.

I was so exhausted, I think if the woman had told me a unicorn was in there I wouldn’t have blinked. I climbed onto the table and remembered the date, 22 February 2022. 22/2/22. A funny coincidence. 2022 was meant to be my year. New job, new house, more time for writing, maybe get an agent and even a book deal.

“I see baby.”

Bless this woman. I looked at the screen and was literally so dumbfounded I asked her, almost a whisper but more likely a fatigue-addled haze, three times to confirm, despite me seeing exactly what she was seeing. The blob was obviously still a blob, but bigger and with a flickering heartbeat. She said it looked fine and was showing a solid 7 weeks development, plus a couple of days.

I still didn’t believe it – not her nor my own eyes. It took a little while to sink in and shift gears from preparing for another heavy bleed to actually accepting that things were, for now, ok.

I would stay on the progesterone. I accepted the scan images that time. I went home and reluctantly called the midwife unit to formally log the pregnancy and get appointments for the NHS 13 week scan and first midwife session. The usual baby literature arrived, though I set it aside and avoided reading it. I remembered most of it from March 2020 anyways. 13 weeks felt like a lifetime away, so I caved and booked another private scan for 10 weeks. I was already barely clinging to sanity, so waiting 6 weeks before finding out if it had survived the subsequent critical weeks was not something I could have managed.

The weeks passed and I felt a little more comfortable using the word ‘pregnant’. Previously, even in private conversation, it was termed ‘my current situation’ or ‘the things happening in my body.’ It felt like if I said the word ‘pregnant’ too loudly, I’d jinx it and something bad would happen. Now, I said it in hushed whispers, testing what seemed like fate itself. Miscarriage odds were low after a confirmed heartbeat, but not gone. The odds of having three in a row were low, and I’d beaten those odds. Nothing was certain. New pregnancy, new roulette.

10 weeks came and the blob had more shape, with a blobby head and blobby body that moved and twitched. The heartbeat was still there, and I tried to count and see if it fell in the healthy ranges or ranges where odds of failure were higher. The world hadn’t ended. I waited for the 13 week scan, which was the first one where the sense of impending doom was eclipsed by a cautious optimism.

That cautious optimism continued through another 16 week scan, and my 20 week scan is in less than two days. So far, all shows normal development. It was a long road, but we’re getting there.

I kept most of this journey private because it’s something one doesn’t talk about. I don’t think that’s fair to the people experiencing it or their friends and loved ones who doubtlessly speculate as to when children are on the way. No one wants to be a dick, and if they knew someone was bleeding their guts out during a party or dinner, either from another disappointing period or another difficult miscarriage, they wouldn’t think twice about making that casual ‘so when are you having babies’ comment.

I think it’s worse when people think they’re alone, or in a small minority, when it’s in fact hugely common and most of the time entirely random, the result of chromosomal abnormalities that the body is trained to spot and slam the brakes on. Not everyone will want to share, and that’s ok, but it shouldn’t be expected or a societal norm to keep it secret.

Like Britney, if you find yourself pregnant and want to share, you should be able to.

Unlike Britney, you shouldn’t feel ashamed or awkward if it doesn’t work out.

It’s part of life, and it’s a difficult journey to make without the community support of friends and family (many of whom have their own stories).

After all this, and kudos if you’ve stuck around either from genuine interest or morbid curiosity, you might have noticed an absence. I deliberately kept my spouse out of the above details. That is because I accept this is a deeply personal and private matter that I am deciding to share widely, so I have focused on my perspective. It is not my place to share his and I did not ask or expect him to participate in this post. But I will say that support for male or non-birth partners in this equation is sorely lacking, and that they suffer their own unique circle of hell and helplessness, with all the same ups and downs that birth parents do even if their bodies are not technically going through the same swings.

I hope this someday changes, for their sakes and the sakes of the families they have or may someday, biological or not, children or not.

Everything may change in two days. My baby-shaped blob might not have developed all its organs, or the heart may be missing chambers. I will teeter on the brink of starting over right up until a delivery date, if I get to it.

The difference this time is I will not be silent or alone. Whatever comes in the weeks or months, I will endure as I have the last ❤ years.

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