Miscarriage is a horrible thing for anybody to go through and unfortunately it’s quite common. Around 1 in 3 pregnancies will end in miscarriage, also known as early pregnancy loss. The chances of it happening goes down as the pregnancy progresses, and the highest risk time is in the first 12 weeks.
It’s usually a devastating thing to happen at any stage of pregnancy. So what on earth do you say to someone who just suffered one?
To answer that question I’m going to give our background.
Unfortunately in 2019 my wife and I suffered a miscarriage. Baby Alice as we called her was just under 11 weeks old when the worst thing imaginable happened.
It started as some light bleeding. We knew what this could mean. However being doctors we also knew what else it could be, and that bleeding in early pregnancy is very common – around 25%. We tried not to be too concerned, not an easy task for sure.
We knew it could be nothing and we knew miscarriage was a possibility. Even knowing ultimately that nothing could be done if it were to be a miscarriage we were still scared.
We both went to work scared and of course my wife bleeding. She was monitoring it through the day and it seemed to settle. We thought we were clear and it was just a blip. Unfortunately we were wrong.
Now all of this was happening throughout the day. Life carried on regardless and our other 2 kids needed looking after. After they’d gone down for to sleep the worst happened – the bleeding got worse. Much worse.
My wife was in floods of tears knowing what this meant, and whilst I was trying to be brave and strong for her I wasn’t much better. Despite knowing what this was and what the inevitable outcome of this was, we hoped.
Hope tell us it might be ok, that we needn’t worry. The feeling that despite all the odds it might just work out somehow. That thing that we cling to when all else abandons us.
Our hope was with us until the very end. It was with us when we were bleeding at home. With us when we were ringing up our relatives asking if they could emergency babysit for us because we were probably having a miscarriage. Hope remained when we were in the emergency department asking the staff if they wouldn’t mind cleaning up the blood my wife was dripping throughout the corridors despite the heavy sanitary pads she was wearing. It was still there when the doctors came to talk to us. It was there when they looked at each other knowingly when we told them we were bleeding. Hope still remained when we were getting the ultrasound scan.
Alice was gone and so was our hope
Sadly it wasn’t meant to be and the scan confirmed what we really knew all along. Even though the sonographer wasn’t saying much, I could see on the scan…well nothing. Even though I can’t really read ultrasound images very well I knew that there wasn’t a baby there any more. My wife knew from my face.
Our darling little Alice had gone.
We were devastated. We were in tears. Together we cried and cried and cried. What can you say to someone who just had a miscarriage? The sonographer was great, very tactful and very sensitive and I thanked her afterwards for it. The ED doctors and nurses were great too and we couldn’t praise them enough.
It’s not nice being in ED as a patient at the best of times but when you are in this situation it’s horrible. The hustle and bustle of emergency departments can be manic. People screaming, people crying, people shouting and swearing, and the staff running around stressed and trying to just keep it together. Well they were great.
We didn’t have a baby but we still had a pregnancy. It was a ‘non viable pregnancy’. An ‘inevitable miscarriage’. The medical words don’t really make it that much more palatable.
They asked us what we wanted to do and we asked if they could remove what remained. What was left was too big and it couldn’t be removed manually. We would have to go home to pass it.
Can you imagine what it’s like to hear that? That you have to go home to deliver the baby that you know is dead?
Now I don’t blame the ED staff, not at all. They couldn’t say anything else. They said it in the nicest possible way but there’s no good way to hear that.
We thought we would have to wait days if not weeks to pass baby Alice out. However only moments after we returned home it happened. She came out and the pain, cramping and bleeding stopped. She was still cocooned in her little shell.
We cried more. It was suddenly even more real.
What we felt next was relief. Relief that it was over and we knew what was going on. Relief that it was done and we didn’t need to worry any more.
The incomplete turned to complete. Alice was gone. Time to start moving forwards. Not easy.
Most people in this situation feel guilty. They feel like despite what anybody says to them that it’s their fault. That they somehow made it happen. That they didn’t do enough to stop it or they did something that caused it.
Our medical knowledge allowed us to not feel this, mostly. We still felt those things although we could rationalise and try to ignore those feelings.
Eventually the feelings of guilt subsided.
Thankfully being medical it was that little bit easier. My wife also said she found it much easier knowing why it all happened. We knew it happened because it was just chance. At around 11 weeks there’s a 6% or so chance of miscarriage still happening.
We knew it wasn’t our fault yet it’s still so hard to ignore those feelings.
We had lost something so precious and deer to us and we needed to move on. We needed to grieve.
Everybody moves on in a different way, and our way was to spend time with each other, hold each other, cuddle, and talk. Really talk. To really be there for each other, not just to be present in each other’s company.
We named her. We assume she was a girl, we never knew. Our 2 daughters wanted a sister, so that’s what we gave them.
We had Alice cremated and eventually scattered her ashes at a natural beauty spot near where we live. It was a beautiful spot with a scenic outlook and a good breeze. Somewhere she could be free to do what she wanted.
My wife had time off work, she was still bleeding and emotionally was struggling. I was struggling emotionally but I found it easier to be busy, to be at work. I was mindful of how I might feel, how suddenly I might just burst in to tears like I’d been doing all weekend.
I spoke to my practice manager and told her what had happened. I told her I might just need to go home if I was struggling. Thankfully I didn’t, although there were some really hard times and there still are. The hardest was that first day at work when I saw a lady with a pregnancy exactly the same age as Alice was. I congratulated her and we did her antenatal care. I held it together but afterwards I cried. That one was really tough.
I still cry.
I cried writing this. My wife cried when she read this. I cried when I proof read it.
It never leaves you.
What did people say to us?
Nobody really knows what to say to you after something like this. The only ones who have any sense of what you’ve been through is those who have suffered the same. We know some people who have and they helped us.
What did they say that helped? Nothing. They said nothing. That silent knowledge that you have a shared loss so deep it will never leave you.
Others tried to console us. Some spoke of loss and sorrow, of grief and regret. Others tried to speak of the future and moving on.
Everyone is different and there’s not going to be one way to approach this conversation.
The real answer to the question of what can you can say to those who have suffered a miscarriage?
Not a lot. Just be there for them any way you can.
Dr Suresh Khirwadkar is a GP and Skin Cancer Doctor in Brisbane.
Originally posted by me on Medspace