In November 2012, I had a miscarriage. If you know me in real life, you probably already knew that. If you know me in real life and didn’t know, then that’s just because it’s never come up, not because it’s a secret. Either way it’s fine, don’t feel awkward, it’s just one of those things. A couple of weeks ago I read an article by Hadley Freeman about her miscarriage and societal expectations of silence. It got me thinking about my own again.
It was early days, I was only seven weeks and I’d barely had a chance to register the fact that I was knocked up. I had also been plagued during the two weeks since I’d found out by a feeling that something wasn’t right. I know it’s easy to say that with hindsight, but every day there was something – some blood, or some cramping or a general feeling of impending disaster. The impending disaster thing I took with a pinch of salt – it was a feeling I was already familiar with from my first pregnancy when my head briefly unscrewed itself. The rest of it though, was concerning and I presented myself at the early pregnancy unit1 near my workplace, more than once, to get checked out. Sneaking out from work and returning an hour later with my sleeves pulled right down so no one would see the puncture in my arm from the blood tests. Not that it mattered, even at that stage I was on the cusp of telling everyone that I was pregnant, such was the effort of keeping it to myself and my propensity to overshare.
I was at work the afternoon I got the call to say my pregnancy was not progressing as it should. I was expecting the call, I had been in for the second part of the two stage blood test that morning and had been wandering around in a daze ever since. I knew what they were going to tell me as well. The sharp increase in blood loss throughout the day had given the game away and the blood test results were inevitable. The nurse -she was called Katie – asked me very gently if I was ok. Yes, I told her, I’m fine. And I kind of was.
I had things I needed to sort out. I was supposed to be organising and chairing a seminar the following day. I figured that I probably wouldn’t be able to so I enlisted the help of my colleague, Liam who agreed to stand in as chair. I told him it was life or death, which for once was sort of true. Then I did something I probably wasn’t ‘supposed’ to do. I went in to my manager’s office and told him I was having a miscarriage and I needed to go home. He didn’t know I was pregnant but it didn’t occur to me to lie about it. I followed this up with a couple of emails to other people who needed to know that I would be away. And I told all of them as unflinchingly as I could that I was miscarrying a pregnancy. I made it clear, too, that it wasn’t a secret. If people ask where I am, just go right on and tell them.
If you tell people that you are pregnant before the 12 week mark, they tend to look at you with overt fear, that by looking the pregnancy in the eye you might be daring fate to intervene. We’re expected to keep it quiet because if the worse happens and we do miscarry, then we would have to go back to all those people that we’ve told and explain that actually, there is no baby, not any more. I found concealing the early stages of my pregnancies both tedious and nerve-jangling which is why I tended to not bother. I also chose not to conceal my miscarriage for the same reason. I can understand why people might decide to keep it to themselves, much as you might keep any medical details to yourself, it’s a finely balanced choice to make but it wasn’t the right one for me. A pregnancy and a miscarriage? Having one big secret at a time is about as much as I can stand. Trying to keep two would have tipped me over the edge.
The details of the actual miscarriage are grim. Uncontrolled, intense, painful but mercifully quick. It was over before I had the chance to rub the sleep from my eyes. The most surprising thing of all, I think, is that just like I told the nurse on the phone, I was kind of ok. Knowing that I had already told people what was going on – and not feeling like I was expected to fabricate an excuse for my absences or demeanour over the coming days – helped enormously.
I have a super important caveat to add to all of this. I am aware that all miscarriages are not equal. Mine was early, uncomplicated and physically tolerable. I already had one child and a month later I would already be pregnant with my second. I have friends who have lost babies, who don’t fit into any of those categories and I won’t pretend to know how they feel. I’ve cried more tears for their losses than I ever will for my own. And who knows how I would have felt had that next pregnancy not happened so readily? It would be naïve of me to believe that it didn’t make a difference. I also certainly don’t want to tell other people how to feel or behave. I just dislike the expectation that we don’t talk about it. The look on people’s faces when you tell them can be tricky to navigate, for sure but I won’t keep it to myself for fear of causing discomfort.
So let’s talk about that second child then. That pregnancy was discovered with the very faintest of faint blue lines four weeks to the day after that seminar I was meant to be hosting. And that’s the most important part of this tale, the very existence of my youngest son. That lost embryo (it was never a baby. I know for plenty of people it may have been, but it never was for me) represented a lot. For starters, it was the culmination of over a year of trying-to-get-pregnant. It was a potential future, another round of mat leave, the baby clothes in the loft and a lifetime of sibling rivalry. A daughter maybe? It was too early to tell. It was never going to be my second son though because he came later, a product of circumstance. Without the miscarriage, he wouldn’t be here. And it’s impossible to imagine a world without him in it.
- In all of my pregnancies, the sticky ones and the not so, I’ve ended up in St Mary’s early pregnancy unit in Manchester. I’ve tried to count up the visits and I reckon I’m in double figures. The majority of times it’s been good news but each and every time, I was treated with absolute kindness and understanding. They really are amazing.
- The picture I used for this piece on the front page is a lithograph by the super Frida Kahlo.