Miscarriage at 40 and why I never thought it would happen to me
The morning I found out I was pregnant; I was about five days’ late although that wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary. I took the test and left it on top of the bathroom sink. In seconds the lines appeared. I had expected it to read negative, but it was a faint positive pregnancy test result. OH MY GOODNESS! I sat in the bathroom for a few minutes absorbing the shock and then went to wake hubby up to tell him the news. It was a beautiful moment. We hugged each other with disbelief and then I cried.
The weeks passed and things seemed to be going smoothly. While my Google search had informed me that I should have fatigue in the first trimester, I had more energy than ever and felt on top of the world. I’d stepped up my exercise regime (along with many others at that time of year) with an early morning swim at the gym before heading to the office. While I wasn’t feeling up to anything overly energetic in case it harmed the pregnancy, swimming was low impact and something I enjoyed. I knew it was good for improving my circulation and boosting oxygen levels in my blood.
I felt as if I’d instantly connected with the life inside of me and literally moments after we discovered I was pregnant, we began by telling my husband’s family. I knew that they’d see this baby as a blessing because having children over there was an important life task to be completed by all married couples. They were, as expected, over the moon and couldn’t wait to come on the pregnancy journey with us. Not one of them mentioned my age which was such a relief.
I decided to hold off telling my own parents because I thought they would have been disappointed and concerned for me. My gran’s mum had given birth to her when she was 40, so my gran was in her prime with two small children when her mum and dad were struck down with debilitating conditions. While she wasn’t an only child, her sister lived far away and was unable to help out. She therefore had to shuffle caring for two small children to attend doctor’s appointments and sit by their bedside for many years before they died. She’d found it challenging and depressing – yet she was one of the strongest people I knew.
In my eyes, the problem was not having older parents – it was a simple case of not having a big family there to help her through it. I’d watched my husband’s family all rally round to look after his bedridden grandparents. Everyone played a part in caring for them, the sons, the daughters, the cousins, the grandchildren, the neighbours and even friends. It was normal to love, care and show warmth to one another.
It was hard that I felt I couldn’t tell my own mum and dad our happy news. The way I saw it, I could have easily been hit by a bus the next day, or struck down with a terminal illness at any age. And in any case, surely I would have access to more preventative medicines and health care by the time I needed caring for? Nothing was going to get me down, or so I thought…
I experienced two more blissful weeks before things turned bad.
The day things took a turn for the worst I’d been particularly run off my feet organising PR for a large sporting event. I’d been running around spreading the word via social media networks, preparing a news release and sending it out to media when the dull cramps arrived. After a few deep breaths I assumed everything was normal and that I’d just have to slow down a bit.
By evening however the cramps had increased in frequency and were coming at me in shock waves. That’s when the first blood-stained mucus inevitably showed up and both panicked and frightened me. I felt a rush of sadness and emotion and I knew something was wrong, but I refused to give up hope. I quickly jotted down when the pain started and when the bleeding began before I called the hospital, crying. The whole episode had stirred up a whole rollercoaster of emotions and I needed to talk to someone. My husband meanwhile was putting on a brave face telling me it would be OK.
By the time I’d plucked up the courage to actually go to the hospital, I’d had pain most of the weekend. Dark brown spotting had turned to red heavy bleeding and my nerves were jangled as I realised that this pregnancy might be coming to an end. Every pothole in the road my husband drove over in the car on the way there had me doubled over in agony. I felt like I was being repeatedly stabbed in the abdomen but I was afraid to take anything for the pain.
When we arrived at the main emergency department there was already a drama was unfolding which temporarily took me away from my own situation. As we approached the main desk in Casualty, there was suddenly a violent struggle between an intoxicated patient and the police. The patient, an elderly chap in his 70s, had blood running down his face and had just spat on a police officer. He was swearing at the fact that he was now being restrained. Another couple in the corner of the waiting area were arguing because you could hear her screaming, “It’s none of your business.”
After enduring what felt like a really long wait in Casualty, my name was called and I saw a nurse who ushered me into a toilet with a plastic cup to take a pregnancy test. I knew my symptoms indicated that a miscarriage was possible, but… it was positive. I breathed a sigh of relief that there was still a glimmer of hope. While empathy was perhaps a difficult thing to achieve at this time, compassion and a kind word were not, but I didn’t get either from the nurse.
I needed a hug and someone to tell me what to expect next. I was scared and I needed to prepare myself for what might happen. The nurse told me I’d need to return for a scan to determine if the pregnancy was still ‘viable’. Access to 24-hour scanning facilities would have been an enormous help at this point, but I was simply sent packing with bundle of sanitary pads and advised to take some paracetamol for the pain. A few hours later, I was back home applying a heat pack to my lower abdomen, but the pain had intensified and the bleeding was worse.
I knew I’d have to call work and let them know what had happened and I was dreading it. Time felt like it had stopped. I’d planned to tell them all after my first scan at 12 weeks and not before. Having to talk to them about a potential loss was so hard. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I might lose the pregnancy.
Within days I was back in hospital preparing myself for a scan. I’d had no sleep and was still in excruciating pain. I felt helpless and vulnerable as we sat in the tiny waiting area of the early pregnancy assessment unit. There was no designated waiting room, so I was thankful that we were the only ones there. My husband held my hand.
He whispered: “Everything’s going to be OK, you’ll see.”
I wasn’t so sure and my eyes were puffy and blood-shot from all the crying. When I was called into the consulting room, I was shaking and I just broke down. I sobbed my heart out to the nurse who explained that she would have to carry out a trans-vaginal ultrasound to see if there was a fetal heartbeat. I wasn’t a wimp but I was bleeding and in so much pain that I begged her to perform an abdominal ultrasound.
She said: “I’m really sorry, but it’s not possible to do an abdominal ultrasound here. We need to get a clear picture of what is happening down there and the probe is much better at detecting a heartbeat at this stage.”
I needed to know one way or the other, so despite being fearful, I reluctantly agreed to the procedure. After undressing, I lay back on the bed, covered my top half with a skimpy, frayed at the edges, white sheet and got to grips with the stirrups. I was so tense that it really hurt. I was still bleeding and I yelled out in pain, but she carried on with the scan. There is nothing more amazing in pregnancy than seeing those two little blue lines magically appear on a test strip, but there is also nothing more heart-wrenching than seeing an empty sac on the ultrasound screen.
There was no baby, just blackness and it swallowed me up. My heart was racing and I just didn’t want to continue with the examination. I felt sick to the stomach. I yelled at her to stop, but she hadn’t taken all the measurements she needed. My mind was on overdrive. Was it something I had done? Something I had eaten? Had I exercised too much? I had a million questions, no answers – just statistics. I was 12 weeks’ pregnant in my head, but the foetus had only made it to eight weeks. Medically, there was nothing I could do. I lay there motionless on the cold, clinical bed staring at the ceiling. The tears were streaming down my face as she printed off the scan findings. I needed a hug, but she showed no sensitivity. She’d probably done this so many times that she’d become immune to people’s feelings of hopelessness. I still relive that moment…the silence…when she turned to me and confirmed my suspicions.
“The sac is really low on the scan, so it will probably pass soon.” She said.
All the excitement was suddenly sucked right out of the room. H was in shock and began to bombard the nurse with questions on how this could have happened.
“So there’s no baby?” He said rather surprised.
“No, I’m afraid not,” she replied.
I just felt numb. There was a sudden realisation that all the websites I’d read had been telling the truth and the risks were now VERY real. I got up off the bed and was getting dressed when I experienced a sudden rush of blood down below. I suddenly felt very clammy and faint as if I was going into shock. I sat down again, my head on the desk in front of me and the nurse pulled the emergency cord in the room.
“I feel like I’m going to faint,” I said.
I was quickly taken on a wheelchair into the toilet of a nearby ward filled with patients where another nurse helped me to undress. There was blood and clots everywhere and the room was starting to resemble a crime scene. My shoes, tights, clothes, everything was covered. I was shaking uncontrollably by this point and as I slumped down on to the toilet seat, everything around me was a blur. I genuinely thought I was going to die. More medical staff came into the room, one with a bag of saline fluid, another with a blood pressure monitor. My blood pressure had plummeted. They were shouting at each other and I could feel their hands desperately trying to find a vein in one hand and my pulse in the other. They seemed genuinely panicked. I hated any kind of injection, but at that moment I didn’t have the strength to care. My husband tells me that my face turned grey before I passed out, but I can’t remember this.
After I regained consciousness a short time later, a male doctor had intervened and treated me to a drawing he’d done of my uterus. He told me that I was bleeding because I had ‘products’ trapped in my cervix and he needed to free them. He left the room momentarily and I quickly pulled the nurse to one side. I said: “I’m really sorry but I don’t want to be treated by a male doctor. And what does he mean by ‘products’? Aren’t there any female members of staff on the ward?”
She replied: “Sadly not my dear, they are all dealing with emergency sections on the delivery suite.”
Delivery suite. Those were two words I really didn’t want to hear at that moment in time. I was transferred on to a hospital bed and wheeled along to an emergency treatment room along the corridor. Had I not seen the equipment first then I might have been OK, but the doctor was already wielding what looked like a huge pair of tweezers. I was hysterical as he tried a number of times to remove the stuck tissue.
The nurse was holding my left shoulder down, while my husband held my hand tightly. She said: “You’re doing really well. You’re going to be OK.”
She was trying very hard to reassure me, but I continued crying and pushing her away.
I screamed at her: “I’m not. I really need some painkillers. It really hurts. Please tell him to stop.”
By this point my husband was becoming concerned. He said: “Can she not have something for the pain?”
The nurse replied: “I’m afraid not. She’s bleeding heavily and she may need to go to theatre if the doctor can’t remove the tissue here.”
Finally the doctor took a deep sigh and gave in. He suggested that it would be easier for me to have a general anaesthetic in theatre and go through a medical procedure called vacuum aspiration. This is where the contents of the womb are removed through a hollow needle or narrow tube. I was terrified and emotionally I couldn’t handle any more invasive procedures where I wasn’t in control. What if something else went wrong?
Having Googled myself senseless before arriving at the hospital, I’d heard of other people being given a drug called Misoprostol to help the body pass tissue in the uterus. The doctor had rejected this saying that due to the bleeding I really needed to go to surgery and he had a nurse bring me a form to sign.
“It’ll be much easier you know.” She tried to convince me. “It’ll be done in no time, you won’t even know about it.”
“I’m going to leave the room now, you have a think about it and we’ll come back in a minute,” she said.
I wasn’t going to back down. He was a MAN after all and no matter how many qualifications or how much experience he had; he had no first-hand experience of miscarrying a baby. I knew I was being a difficult patient, but I somehow felt stronger that I was still able to go against the grain.
After a while the nurse came back into the room and whether I was right or wrong, I still refused to go to theatre. In the end, the doctor agreed to the Misoprostol but said I’d have to stay in hospital until things were back to normal. The nurse wheeled me back along to a ward full of staring eyes at the newbie. I was now wearing one of those gowns that had no back, so as she plonked me in bed with the help of two others, everyone on the ward could see the NHS fishnet knickers they’ve given me. Never was more an embarrassing garment invented. The bed bath she gave me after that didn’t do much good though as it wasn’t long before I was freezing cold and lying in a fresh pool of blood with golf-ball sized clots. It was the most physically shocking thing that had ever happened to me and I felt like I lost all sense of dignity that day.
I lay there in my FLAT hospital bed on the ward, my husband beside me clutching my hand and we watched the minutes tick away. There were no words that could explain the depth of despair that I felt at that moment. I couldn’t make sense of why it had happened and neither could the NEW junior doctor who had just made himself known to me. This was a new shift, so I now had to relay my story to him because my notes had not been updated.
“You’ve had a bad day, haven’t you?” He said.
You don’t say, I thought as I glanced down at his dirty tennis shoes. While he didn’t state the obvious about MY AGE, I still felt like a loser. My husband asked why he wasn’t testing me to find out what went wrong, but he replied saying that the NHS didn’t test anyone until they’d had three miscarriages.
“It’s just ‘one of those things’.” He said. “Usually it’s due to a simple genetic abnormality of an embryo that the body rejects.”
“I’ve never taken drugs, I don’t smoke, and I don’t drink, so why has this happened to me? It didn’t start to happen until I had that awful internal; it might have been the cause. What about a lack of progesterone?” I chirped up. “Can I have my hormones tested to rule that out?”
I didn’t get an answer to my question before he had scuttled off. A few minutes later, I had another visitor by my bedside. This time it was a female doctor clutching a clip file.
“Hi, how are you feeling today?” She asked. Stupid question I thought.
“Awful, I’ve just had a miscarriage.” I replied.
“Well, I was wondering whether you might take part in my study on thyroid levels, it’s for women around YOUR AGE?”
Within minutes and without me saying yes, she had reeled off all the information about her study of thyroid antibodies. I was just about to sign on the dotted line when my husband jumped in.
“I tell you what, do you want to come back later on? I don’t think NOW is the right time to be discussing this. Do you?”
She agreed and left us. “I can’t believe she just asked you all that.” He said. “You’ve been through enough.”
We knew we had to share the news of our miscarriage with our families and this was especially difficult for H being 4,000 miles away. After a sombre phone call, H told me that his family were praying for us. Whether you believe in the power of prayer or not, it certainly didn’t hurt to have so much positive energy out there. At that moment, my husband’s phone rang. It was his friend. I understood that he had to talk to someone. I’d been handed all the leaflets in the world immediately after I’d started bleeding, but it seemed like no one had actually considered his feelings.
One thing was certain; miscarriage was not something I was going to deal with a stiff upper lip and a box of paracetamol. While I appreciated that not everyone wanted to talk about it, I needed to talk about it, if only to get it out of my system and help others understand.
That evening my husband had to leave me, he wasn’t allowed to stay on the ward. While the day shift nurses had agreed to him staying with me, the night shift matron was certainly not going to bend the rules for us.
“You’ll have to leave now,” she said sternly to my husband. “Go, get some sleep and come back in the morning to see her.”
I didn’t want him to go. I was afraid of him driving home because he was exhausted. I also didn’t want to be left alone with the smiling dragon either, but I had no choice. It was freezing on the ward. I was shattered and that night I drifted in and out of sleep. She’d wake me every hour or so to take my blood pressure or change the saline fluid drip. And when she didn’t wake me, I’d buzz her to take me to the toilet as I couldn’t go on my own due to feeling dizzy all the time.
“I don’t know what to feel any more,” I said. “I was so looking forward to being a mum.”
She replied: “It’s natural to feel the way you are. You’ve had a traumatic experience and I’ve been there too. I know what you are going through, but it does get better. I can’t give you any guarantees, no one has a crystal ball, but hopefully you’ll get a better result NEXT TIME.”
She might have had a gruff exterior, but she had cracked and I’d found her to be soft in the middle. She wasn’t ruling out a next time and that gave me strength.
I spent the next few days in hospital trying to get my iron levels back to normal despite feeling a little like I was ‘milking it’ when I clearly wasn’t.
Before this miscarriage, I always thought it was just like a heavy period that you could manage with some painkillers. I was wrong. I hadn’t thought about the emotional baggage that went with it. We were devastated. Had we left it too long to have a healthy, viable pregnancy? Was everything I’d read online true? One thing was for sure, we wouldn’t give up trying once I was better.
I felt defeated when I returned home from hospital armed with my prescription painkillers, iron tablets and maxi-pads. I was so weak. I struggled to do basic things like find the motivation to get out of bed, clean the house or even shower. People seemed to be getting pregnant all around me and all I wanted to do was get over it and move on.
I wanted a baby so badly by this point, but I didn’t know how long recovery would take both physically and emotionally. I was impatient because being older I knew I didn’t have as much time left to have children and I was just so scared that any future pregnancy might end the same way.