My Silent Miscarriage
By Katie Villa
It’s funny sitting down to write about this. I’ve talked about and written about my first birth so much (and haven’t had time to think about my third as life is so busy with two children!) but have never committed my second to paper, or thought of it as a whole story.
I got pregnant very quickly the 2nd time. It was the 2nd time, but it was also the first time I had ever tried for a baby as my first was an accidental pregnancy, and it felt a very odd thing to decide to try. But we fell pregnant pretty much straight away. Oddly, though, I felt almost right from the start that it wasn’t going to work out. I had already decided that I would tell people straight away rather than wait until the 12 weeks thing, as I wanted to know that I had a support network. Whenever I told people I would always say ‘but it’s really early days and it might not last’.
I felt intensely sick with this pregnancy, just like my previous and subsequent ones, and found I had to slow right down. I swapped out Ju Jit Su for Tai Chi, and it was at a Tai Chi class that things started to go wrong. I had felt powerful energy moving around my body during the class and as I was talking to another participant at the end in the changing rooms, I felt a sudden sensation that I was passing a liquid. It felt a bit like I was wetting myself, and my heart started pounding. I excused myself very quickly from the conversation and went into the toilet. There was some pink liquid in my knickers and on the toilet paper when I wiped.
By now I was completely panicking, shaking and white, but I didn’t feel I knew anybody well enough to say anything. I got dressed quickly and rushed out to the car park, shaking and cold with panic. I rang my husband who had just got on a train to London for work the next day. Straight away he said he would get off at the next stop and come home. I told him not to, that it might be fine, but I was so glad to hear him insist. I felt completely out of control, like something was happening and it was my responsibility to stop it, but I didn’t have the powers.
The bleeding came and went over the next hours- I became obsessed with going and checking, pulling the paper away tensed for the worst. Sometimes there was none, sometimes just a few pink spots. I tried to believe the best- I was still feeling so sick and google said this was a good sign. The next morning we were seen for a scan. It was pretty early days, around 9 or 10 weeks I think. I felt utterly awful that morning. I couldn’t sleep, and I felt so sick and terrified. They couldn’t get a good view from the outside so I had to have an internal scan, which was pretty uncomfortable. The operator felt that they could see a heartbeat but nothing was particularly clear, so I needed to come back in a week when things would be bigger and easier to see.
That week was awful. I can’t really remember much of it, but I felt sick and tired and doomed. Deep down I think I knew. I continued to spot blood now and again but nothing impressive, and from what I’d read online this could be completely normal, so I held on to that fact. Finally the second scan date came around and again we went in, me feeling so sick, having hardly eaten all week, terrified and shaking. My partner held my hand. I remember there was a student sonographer in the room too, and I remember watching her face. Watching it remain neutral as the silence extended, longer and longer, in that dimly lit room. And then this marvellous, brave woman, the main sonographer, getting up from the screens, and coming straight over to me, looking me squarely and so kindly in the eyes, holding my hips gently but firmly and telling me ‘There’s no heartbeat. I’m so sorry’. Something about it felt like a relief. I finally knew for sure and I could finally start to feel that loss that I knew was there, but I felt punched too, utterly horrified and lost. I will never forget her kindness that day, or the feeling of her hands holding me, earthing me, telling me without words that it was OK, and that I would find my way again.
Then we left that room, got walked off to somewhere that we could sit and take it in. I remember the feeling of coming out of the scanning room, not wanting to scare the other mothers who were anxiously waiting, by betraying anything of what I was feeling as we walked past the waiting room. Wondering if anyone could tell. We were sat in an empty ward, down at one end on some chairs, and left with some tea and some leaflets. I had no idea how to feel.
Anyone who knows me will know I’m a seriously decisive person. I rationalise things down to the finest points and make a plan usually without hesitation. Add to that the fact that one of the many ways that I hold down a career in the arts is in medical role-play, and the fact that I have, many times, performed the role of the grieving patient, being delivered bad news and making decisions, I should have been OK at this point. But I wasn’t. We were given lots of time to think, lots of sugary cups of tea, and I just didn’t know how to make the decision of what to do next. It was a silent miscarriage, so it was likely to rumble on if left to it’s own devices. My body seemed to be in no rush to get to the next stages- the bleeding had by this point, totally stopped and I had lost less blood than I would on the first day of a light period, so the thought of letting it take its course felt intolerable. Or I could take a pill at home. Or I could have a medically managed one in the hospital. My sister had miscarried months before (one of the positives that I took from this experience being that now I could understand better what she had gone through) and she had taken medication home and had a pretty grim time. I felt that it probably wasn’t the right thing to have that experience connected with my home, where my daughter would see me, plus our house had a tiny bathroom that was down two flights of stairs. I hate hospitals so being in hospital for it didn’t appeal. But I felt so sick from the all day morning sickness and I just didn’t feel like I could bear drawing out the experience. I needed to be a mother again for my daughter- she had been missing out on a lot of me lately. How to make a decision where none of the outcomes were what I wanted? I wanted a baby. I wanted all of the awful sickness to have been for something. It all felt like a terrible waste.
In the end we opted for a medically managed, which meant coming in and having what amounts to induced labour in hospital. We had to wait a few days for this as it was over a bank holiday weekend and I think it was probably the saddest weekend of my life. I felt constantly sick and there was no hope to cling onto.
Going in that morning, I was incredibly nervous. I remember none of the staff really looking me in the eyes. I wanted someone to reach out and hug me, tell me that they understood, but everything was quite clinical and a little on the cold side. I was white as a sheet, shaking and nauseous and very very close to tears, and the first time any of the staff noticed it was because my pulse came out quite high when they were doing my obs. ‘Oh, a bit nervous are you?’. I wanted my sonographer back. I wanted those warm hands on my hips and her brave, kind eyes on mine. Instead I got pessaries, and, finally, some anti sickness medication. Of course! I hadn’t been able to take any because of the baby, but now, the baby had died. It still felt wrong to take them, but the relief was immeasurable.
The pain was fine at first. I started to bleed after the first pessary and I dutifully took my cardboard toilet pan with me to catch the ‘products of conception’ as they passed from me. Each time this happened I had to ring my bell, and a nurse would come in and take it from me to inspect outside. I felt fiercely embarrassed by this. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for but I wanted to see it. It. The baby. I wanted them to use MY words, to say baby, and dead and lost and sad, but instead it was products, clots, medically managed. Things seemed to still be very slow and manageable, so I had a second pessary, and then all hell broke loose.
It was soon agony. I moaned and leaned and wandered miserably around the room, leaning on the walls as one long, continuous contraction tore apart my body. My husband followed me around, did all he could. Outside the sun was brilliant. I couldn’t cope with the pain any more and so asked for relief. I took codeine and felt my mind slipping away. I felt scared and drunk and so very small. I wanted to wail. I wanted all the women to gather around me and keen. I wanted, so very badly, for someone to tell me I was brave. Instead I pressed my buzzer, and someone would come and take my pan from me and quietly slip away to inspect it. And then a larger lump came out, just a lump but what looked like a sac and me and my partner looked at it for a while, questioning each other with our eyes. Is this it? Is this what’s left of our baby? We decided it probably was. We looked at it, cried a little, pressed the buzzer and told them that we thought the baby had come out, maybe, and could they check? If it was then we could go home. They were gone a little while, before she returned.
‘It’s some but not all. We need you to stay longer until we’re sure”.
‘Some, but not all’. That phrase still haunts me. The gaps in it. The missing words bellowing in the silences. ‘Some but not all’. Deflated we carried on. The pain was less now and boredom had set in. I wanted to see the ‘all’. I needed to. But then 5 o clock came and someone popped their head and said we could go.
Confused, we started to gather our things. Nothing more of any significance had come out of me. The cardboard pans had been only blood, a few small clots. Where was the ‘all’? Had I missed it? We were too confused to ask, sure we had done something wrong or misread the situation. We double checked that they were sure we could go and then we did. There was nobody on the desk to say goodbye as we left. It felt weird, deflating. I had expected something. Just a goodbye. Possibly even, if I’m honest, a well done. Instead we walked the quietening corridors and went sadly home.
I had taken the next few days off work, so that it meant about a week off altogether, and I was glad of this as I continued to have pains. They weren’t lessening, and neither was the blood, and I started to feel a bit unwell, so the doctor prescribed antibiotics for a womb infection over the phone. I tried to rest but I felt god awful. I trusted the pills would do their thing and started a bit of prep for my first day back at work. It was going to be some medical role-play as it happened, at a surgery in Tavistock, a drive across the moors. It was deep winter, and I felt a little overwhelmed by the thought of a long drive alone, but I decided to wait it out, see where I was. The night before I still felt awful. I felt guilty calling in sick and leaving them in the lurch so I arranged someone to go in my place. I woke up and felt kind of OK, again, feeling guilty not to be doing the work I had been meant to do, but decided to rest. My husband had gone away the day before for work, was due back that night, so I just tried to sleep.
Come the afternoon I was feeling wretched, and I felt the pains coming stronger and stronger. So I put on a David Attenborough (he has helped me through A LOT of difficult days) and rode through the pain. In the end I must have fallen asleep and I woke up just before I was due to go and pick up my partner from the train station. The pains had gone, so I got up from the sofa and went downstairs to go to the loo before I got in the car.
Halfway down the stairs I felt something moving down inside me. It was such an odd, alien feeling and I rushed to the bathroom, pulled down my pants and sat down, reached under myself with one hand, and the thing dropped into my hand. It was quite large, it filled most of my palm and it was a bright, angry red. I stared at it, completely taken aback, stared and stared. And suddenly, the part that I was staring at came into proper focus and I realised that I was staring at a little half formed arm. I screamed, horrified, absolutely terrified by this sudden awful realisation, threw the ‘thing’ down the toilet and flushed, still screaming and by now sobbing and shaking. In horror I ran upstairs to my phone, garbled what had happened to my husband who begged me not to get in the car, and then called my mum. I can’t remember anything of what I said, I can’t imagine it made any sense, because it wasn’t until halfway through the phone call that I truly accepted what the ‘thing’ was. My baby.
‘Some but not all’.
And then I howled, inconsolably. I ran back down to the toilet to see if my baby had somehow not flushed, but it was empty. I was disgusted with myself. I couldn’t believe I had thrown my baby away, screamed and discarded her. I wanted to hold her, to keep her till my husband got home, to bury her somewhere. But I had been terrified. No one had ever mentioned the possibility that she might still have been inside me. No one had even remotely prepared me for what I might see. And the horror of being surprised by this had meant that the moment I saw her, the few fleeting seconds that we spent together, were a nightmare. I had thrown her away like waste, and she wasn’t. Not to me.
My mum managed to convince me that I was in shock and that I shouldn’t drive, and soon my husband was at home, holding me while I sobbed. I wanted a second chance. I wanted the opportunity to see her without the fear. I wanted us to hold her together.
‘Some, but not all’.
Imagine if they could have used my words? Imagine instead of ‘some but not all’, we could have said ‘baby’? Imagine if, instead of ‘products of conception’ we could have said ‘your baby may not come out whole’. Or, ‘you may be able to recognise a baby in amongst the blood and clots, or you may not’. Or, and this one I wish with all my heart, imagine if they could have said ‘we haven’t seen your baby come out yet. It might have, as it may have been broken up, or unrecognisable as a baby, or it might still be in there. So if it does come out over the next week or so, here’s what you can expect’? Imagine if I could have been empowered with the knowledge I needed to meet her properly, as she deserved to be met. Imagine if I could have held her with love, instead of horror?
That night I had an awful nightmare that carried on even when I woke. In it I was miscarrying and bleeding everywhere and when I woke my husband passed me some water to help me calm down. But she was in there, my baby, all red and bloody and dead at the bottom of the glass, and I screamed and screamed. I know now it was my body processing the horror and it makes me so sad.
I don’t know if she was a she. She was only half formed. But I just couldn’t bear saying ‘it’ anymore. I wanted to give her the respect I couldn’t give her in my terror that day. I laboured her while David Attenborough told me all about Birds of Paradise and I wish so very much that I had been afforded the gift of being able to meet her without fear.
So now I’m going to imagine a different ending, where I was told what to expect, supported to not feel scared. I would have held her in my hand and marvelled at her perfectness. I would have probably kept her in my hands, or maybe laid her on something soft until my husband got home. We would have cried over her and talked about what might have been and then we would have buried her in our beautiful garden. The next day, or when we felt ready, we would have gone to a garden centre with my gorgeous, living daughter (because we all love garden centres) and we would have chosen a flowering plant that felt just right and we would have planted it above her. And I would have known she was feeding the earth, and being a part of the beauty of the world. And even when we moved house, which we would do, just before the birth of my son about a year and a half later, I would have known that she was a part of the cycle of things there, and I could have pictured the flowers that would keep growing, the petals falling and regrowing as long as the earth would have it.
Katie Villa is an actor, director, writer and mother to Alice and Henry.
Katie’s show Wild explores how we talk about birth. Part riot, part disco, part rite of passage. Expect comedy, music, loudness, bold talking and glitter.
Lizzy Humber would like to invite you to help her create a platform of stories and artistic responses to invisible aspects of motherhood. This can live on the Mothers Who Make website as a resource and to support visibility for motherhood experiences . If you would like to share something or start a conversation about something you would like to make please get in touch lizzy[at]motherswhomake.org