"When you wake up, it will be over...": A paediatrician's experience of miscarriage

“When you wake up, it will be over…”: A paediatrician’s experience of miscarriage

At my first antenatal appointment, there was no foetal heartbeat. I watched myself temper my disappointment, I rationalised and accepted the science that there was at least a 20% chance of this happening, possibly more. Due to Covid-related restrictions, my husband was present only on a bad line on a video call and I could sense his confusion. I was booked for a suction curettage two days later.

The night before my procedure, I was up late agonising about the risks of the procedure. The internet was not my friend. The following morning, with our son safely delivered to his grandparents’ house, I inserted the Misoprostol pessaries deep into my vagina and lay down flat for 30 minutes, worried they may fall out. I waited for the cramps to begin. It felt so cruel that I had to start the process of the physical loss alone.

At the entrance to the hospital where our son had been born two years ago, due to an increased screening process, we had difficulties getting my husband in to support me, despite being told it would be allowed. Upstairs, we met a very kind Irish surgical nurse, who was as gentle as I could have expected someone to be given our circumstance.

My admission paperwork said ‘suction curettage for missed AB’. AB meaning abortion, a missed death, an unexpected loss. When it came to the time I had to change into only a gown and get taken to theatre, I offered to walk. I was so used to being active in a hospital setting. They insisted on wheeling me on the bed, and I had to submit. I remember a very very long corridor to traverse before I reached theatre. My husband kissed me goodbye through our masks. And then I was alone. 

As the anaesthetist put my IV in, I asked my obstetrician about the potential complications that were plaguing me, and she was immediately reassuring. We talked about the loss of hope I felt. I was wheeled into the operating theatre, and then I began to panic.

I have been to theatre hundreds of times, but wearing scrubs, in a corner safely tucked away near the newborn resuscitaire. I recall once during my training, watching as a paediatrician I worked with introduced herself to the mother having a C-Section, telling her she’d be there if needed, waiting for the baby. I always tried to emulate that as much as I could.

As I shifted to the operating bed, my mind went blank, and I repeatedly said “I’m scared, I’m scared, I’m scared”. When you’re awaiting a general anaesthetic, you have to submit, you lose control.

As a paediatrician, I am mostly in control. I cried to my obstetrician and told her how glad I was that it was her. I won’t forget her response, perhaps she was holding my hand, or it just felt as though she was; she told me she was glad to be there too. I knew what she meant.

I heard the anaesthetist say: “When you wake up, it will be over, when you wake up, it will be over” and much like the paediatrician I had worked with, the surgical nurse told me that they were all there for me. Through my fear, I felt a tingling sensation in my body, and I asked the anaesthetist if he had given me the drugs. I barely heard his response. 

When I woke, my first question to the recovery nurse was “Do I still have a uterus?” She reassured me, and spoke to me about her own miscarriage. I asked her, still disoriented, if I was weak to feel so much loss.

Reflecting back, this question surprises me, as I am not someone who carries my emotions with shame. Am I allowed to feel sad about this? Is my grief valid, given how early this pregnancy was? Was this a baby? Or just the potential of one? Some of these questions I have the answer to, and some I am still working out.

My husband left my side for only the one hour I was in theatre and I will forever treasure his presence. Always pragmatic, I had initially told him not to take the day off work. As I settled in the bed in the private room that we had kindly been provided, a pad between my bare legs, I held his hand. We were both in tears.

He had already received a call from my obstetrician telling him the procedure had been uncomplicated, and that she had performed an ultrasound, and there was no pregnancy left. Products of conception, they are called. I had no products of conception left. My uterus had been vacuumed and I was empty once more, with a deep ache where our baby once was.

My breasts had deflated, my heart was heavy, and my vagina was the wound through which my body’s loss was passed, but I was physically okay. 

Many hours later when we were allowed to leave, we walked together, hand in hand. Despite our suffering, the sun was hot, and I was starving. We had a rare weekday lunch out together, and we passed through a local nursery, hoping to purchase something to commemorate our baby, but left empty-handed. Neither of us has had a great track record with maintaining plants. Perhaps we’ll name an old, big oak tree in the local park instead.

My husband described to me an image he had of a butterfly, landing softly, landing briefly, and then flying off again. Our experience is different, but our grief is shared.

We made this baby out of love for each other and the deep desire to grow our family. We dream of (perhaps!) having many more. That evening we hugged our son tight and I breathed in the intoxicating smell of him. He reminds us that our grief has only just begun, but within that sadness lies much hope, hope in the love that we share together and for what is yet to come. 

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