Following the news that our baby had died and I was having a missed miscarriage, I wrote openly about my experience and my refusal to suffer my pregnancy loss in silence and shame.
I thought I had hit my rock bottom as I navigated the pain and whiplash of going from pregnant to not pregnant in the silent darkness of an ultrasound room. I thought I had hit rock bottom while sobbing for hours, unable to eat or sleep as my world crumbled beneath my feet.
I had no idea that my true rock bottom was actually seven long weeks away. Ain’t hindsight a b*tch.
I’ve obviously seen far too many TV and movie miscarriages, because until I experienced one for myself, I thought they were all very dramatic. Lots of blood, racing to the emergency room, pain and terror gripping the woman’s body. In real life, many do unfold in this intense, quick way. However, a missed miscarriage can be a quieter, slower affair with arduous waiting before any pain and blood.
During a missed miscarriage, the foetus stops growing and dies, but the body is much slower to catch up, and continues on as pregnant, symptoms and all.
Even on the day we found out our baby had died, I had nausea and sore breasts, which seemed like a cruel trick my body was playing on me. It can take a few days to weeks for the hormone levels to drop significantly enough for the body to realise the pregnancy is no longer viable and expel the remains.
Trawling (at times obsessively) through online miscarriage forums seems to be a rite of passage during a miscarriage, a way to make sense of the unthinkable. Though it was comforting to read other women’s honest accounts of their miscarriages and grief, it was hard to find much written about missed miscarriages lasting for weeks like mine was. That alone made me feel quite alone.
As time passed I wondered if the lack of information on miscarriages lasting as long as mine meant I was just unlucky. But far more likely is the simple fact that a surgical D&C (dilation and curettage to remove the tissue) is the most common treatment of a missed miscarriage. With the majority of women scheduling a D&C not long after discovering they’ve miscarried, they never do find out how just long it would have taken for nature to run its course.
How a miscarriage is managed is a personal choice, unique to each woman. I take my hat off to all women brave enough to have a D&C. I was so terrified of this option, I chose to walk the unknown path of waiting until my body was ready to miscarry naturally.
My hope was that the physical act of miscarrying and birthing the remains would at least help me process the loss and gain some closure. My doctor and midwife supported my choice with simple criteria. As long as I stayed healthy, had no fever or signs of infection and was emotionally coping, then we would wait for my body to finally catch up and release the remains of conception.
My natural miscarriage would occur seven long weeks after the ultrasound and 10 weeks following the ominous bleeding that had first concerned us. It turned out my body had no interest in when I wanted this event to occur. But it didn’t stop me from valiantly trying to get it to submit to my will, ever the overachieving control freak.
During those seven weeks I used countless modalities and remedies known for their success with encouraging labour in pregnant women. Some had given me strong cramps, released some tissue and even prompted a few contractions, but my body simply was not ready to let go. I was running out of willpower and hope. I was tired.
As the weeks progressed, I felt adrift in a world separate from everyone around me. Life seemed to carry on while I alternated between feeling time had slowed down to a snail’s pace and then wondering how weeks had slipped by in what felt like only a few days.
After all these attempts to make my body let go, still nothing had happened. Now I was trapped in the most horrific limbo of grieving our baby’s death but not having closure, of living in a body changed by pregnancy hormones and with pregnant curves without the joy of pregnancy, a body not bouncing back to pre-pregnant shape because my hormones were still a mess and I was still carrying the remains of our baby.
In my worst moments I’d lay awake at night in a panic that my body would never let go, my mind coming up with terrible scenarios such as ending up in a trashy tabloid with the headline “crazy woman carries dead baby for five years.”
After the weeks of bleeding, hormone fluctuations, erratic emotions, exhaustion, endless crying, reduced income and becoming a complete hermit, it was beginning to take a toll on my marriage and my sanity. I had become a ghost. I hadn’t seen my mother or mother-in-law since Christmas. I couldn’t face friends. I cancelled all my group yoga classes for the first four months of the year, unable to teach. I continued to do freelance design work from home, clients unaware that in-between working I was prone to lying on the floor of my office sobbing as I listened to “This Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush. On repeat. For an hour.
My husband despaired. Some days I seemed okay and would be productive, others he would come home to a drained, red eyed mess of a woman who could barely function.
Now this was me hitting rock bottom. Whatever I had experienced seven weeks earlier was like a practice run. This was my true rock bottom. I felt out of options, out of time, out of hope.
My husband and I discussed the options—using drugs to encourage my body to release or my much feared D&C. While my body was still healthy with no signs of infection, emotionally this grueling wait on top of the grief was taking its toll on me.
We agreed on a hospital appointment the following week and then literally headed off in opposite directions to heal our broken hearts. Him up north for a camping trip with his men’s group and myself going south for a solo retreat in an attempt to make sense of the last seven weeks.
Before my trip I stopped all my attempts at encouraging my body to let go. I was tired of it. Instead I focused my attention on gently nurturing myself and healing my broken heart, practicing prayers given to me by an incredible woman trained in the Mayan spiritual healing tradition.
Perhaps all my body wanted was for me to simply stop trying so damn hard.
Kissing my love goodbye, I started the three hour drive to a beautiful beach. This place was sacred to me, a constant backdrop in my relationship with my husband and a place I had felt incredibly drawn to when first pregnant. I hoped the ocean would bring me peace.
As I drove, I experienced heavy, period-like cramps which, given so many false alarms, didn’t mean much to me. An hour into the drive, these were beginning to turn into contractions. At the half way point I debated turning back, but felt the pull to continue to the beach.
The last part of my journey was a blur of pain, staying focused on my breath and arriving safely. By then the bleeding had become extremely heavy. I sat in the shower, the water bright red with blood and cried. I started to feel really scared at the prospect of doing this alone. The intense pain and amount of blood made me afraid. As the reality sank in that my miscarriage was finally happening after so much waiting and attempts to bring it on, I wondered if I could actually do this.
I used the prayers given to me by my healer. I breathed through the pain. I opened to the fullness of the experience and finally surrendered to my body’s wisdom.
An hour after I arrived I birthed the remains of our baby and a strange sense of elation came over me. A lightness, almost feeling as if I was floating outside of my body.
I realised it was over. Finally over.
There was relief that the arduous waiting game was done, but a deep sadness that so too was my pregnancy journey. I no longer carried what my husband and I had co-created. I had a deep emptiness inside.
With gratitude I was able to bury the remains of our angel baby in the garden and finally feel some closure. A few days later my husband joined me and together we said our goodbyes, holding each other tightly as we cried, a misty summer rain falling all around us.
Each miscarriage is unique, this is simply my story which I share to offer comfort to those in the middle of that dark abyss of pain, wanting to know they’re not alone. Now that I am on the other side of those seven long weeks, there is much wisdom that only comes with hindsight.
This experience has taught me patience, faith and so much surrender. I no longer fear the power of my body and truly respect the wisdom to do things in its own time. It created the miracle of life I carried briefly, it could be trusted to let go in it’s own time too.
Author: Felicity West
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Natalia Drepina/Deviantart