My invisible Western
A story about my miscarriage.
By Lizzy Humber
I’m standing in The Real Food, my eyes darting across each shelf scanning, analysing each item for it’s potential. A shop assistant appears, keenly sensing my urgency and specificity. I explain I want a small cloth or paper bag that will biodegrade in the earth. I notice simple hemp bags hanging pristinely at the zero waste stand and hurriedly fill some with cornflakes and pumpkin seeds. I forget to weigh them and have to fluster with this at the counter. I’m terrified the assistant knows I am trying to buy a shroud for my baby.
Two small speckles of brown blood in my pants was the first sign. One more a day later was the next. Nothing on day three. I dismissed my worries. I had my 12 week scan a few days away, it was just discharge, I was still pregnant. A friend convinced me to call the GP. The GP told me he had already booked a scan for me the next morning. Day four.
My daughter knew before me that something was happening to my body. It was a Tuesday, it was a nursery day. She refused to leave me. She screamed as if in terror as we tried to put her coat on, into the buggy and out the door with her Dad. She clung to me desperately. I had never seen her this way before. My husband returned 20 minutes later as she was hysterical. I could hear them coming down the road. I fed her, held her tight, then drove her in once she had calmed. I checked she was happy for me to go, then drove into work late. Shaken. Feeling like a terrible mother. It was 6 hours before the two speckles appeared.
In the hospital waiting room I sit clinging to my plastic Bounty file containing my pregnancy notes. Notes made 3 weeks earlier by a kindly midwife. My daughter had watched curiously as I had had blood taken. “I think she’s going to be a Doctor!” the midwife had said. I had glowed. Today my husband sits next to me and holds my hand tightly. The waiting room is quiet, except for the parade of hospital staff moving through the corridor in an array of different coloured costumes. Green scrubs move in packs, doctors with stethoscopes stride tall, groupies follow eagerly, women in blue open doors and close doors in front of us. We move in and out of one of these doors. Weight. Height. Waiting Room. BBC Breakfast flickers garishly red and orange in the corner of my eye. I drink another pint of cold water. Non-descript artwork on the walls. A wall of white thank you cards. A poster about domestic abuse. We are in a no-mans lands. Wo-mans land. Womb’s land. A holding pen, waiting to go into the door that will determine our fate. Is this what it’s like when you die? Do you clutch your life in a folder ready to be assessed by someone in blue pyjamas?
The woman scanning me is quiet. “Perhaps there’s no baby, maybe it’s a phantom pregnancy,” I joke to my husband. “There is a baby in there,” she replies carefully, “You are pregnant. But I don’t think it’s going to be good news”. A second woman checks the screen, and pats my hand and leaves. The first woman says, “Baby doesn’t have a heartbeat”.
I don’t know what to do with my Bounty File. It’s bounty-less. I tuck it away in a draw. Instead I read though my new pack with a flower on the front. A series of black and white pamphlets with the word ‘Patient Information’ is emblazoned in bold. They explain my options for treatment. The treatment for miscarriage is management. Expectation management. Medical Management. Surgical Management. I choose to let my body do the management of the miscarriage, and I chose to treat myself with a mental holiday. In my job as a producer, I manage lots of projects, but this a project I realised I couldn’t manage with a spreadsheet or a skype. I couldn’t plan it, I couldn’t tell people when it would be over and I didn’t know how much it was going to cost.
The Blood. The Baby. The Decay – the alterative title for my Western. The brutality of the Wild West confined to the landscape of my bathroom. The bright red blood spilled from me like the wreckage of a battle. I found it humbling to see everything my body had spent the last 3 months making, being ejected. Rejected. I had felt the blood pulsating in my uterus when I first fell pregnant, I was dizzy every time I stood up for weeks, my body had been building, constructing, creating life. Now it was working overtime to empty me. From the two brown speckles on day one, the bright red blood and lumpy clots by day six made the miscarriage real at last. It was a relief to know it had started, I had been holding my breath waiting for it to show itself. Until then everything was hidden. I was a walking tomb. I felt both terrified and curious about what it would look like. Would I know when the baby had passed? I told a very square doctor that I wanted to catch my baby when it fell, I was worried it/she/he might be flushed away like a goldfish. He struggled to find the words to help me understand what it might look like. All he could say was that it would feel like a heavy period.
Nobody told me about the labour pains, or that my waters might break.
I awoke at 3am on day 9 unable to breath. I sat trying to find a position of comfort at the end of our bed. As the surges of pain wound across my uterus I knew my body was working really hard to wring something out of me. My husband and daughter lay starfished across the bed in deep and peaceful sleep. My mum was staying with us and was often awake reading. I could see her light was on. “Can you sit with me, I’m scared to be alone through this.” We found our way downstairs and I crouched on my yoga mat on all fours, and moaned into the wooden doorframe. Thoughts of birth plans, breathing and hypnobirthing spun like a Rolodex of thoughts. I had not prepared for this. Mum rubbed my back and kept me warm with a blanket and hot water bottle. The night felt primal and intimate. Mother and daughter and baby. As the sun rose at 7am I felt the pain subside. Mum fed me tea and toast. We sat on the coach and laughed about our wild all-nighter, while my husband and daughter had slept. We wondered if the neighbours had heard. It was then my waters broke. Oh the upholstery, I thought to myself.
Exactly 13 hours later the baby slid from me. “Oh fuck, something really big just came out!” My husband helped me sidle like a cowboy up the stairs to the bathroom. My pants revealed the placenta, as big as a heart, flopping into my pants like jelly. The umbilical cord was still emerging from me. I sobbed at the sight of it, and felt all energy drain from me. Within the mass was a small bubble, which contained our baby. “My darling, oh my darling”.
I curled up in a bath and we lit some candles. We sat together, and washed the blood away. I felt entirely broken.
The next day, I visited the bathroom, the baby’s birthplace with my Real Food Store shroud. Kneeling, I cushioned the bag with oats and gently put the baby inside. I wrapped her up and held her close against my stomach. The weight of her was comforting.
I wasn’t ready to bury her. I wanted to devise a ritual, a rite of passage, to celebrate our love for her. I was avidly reading Birthrites by Jackie Singer, which was helping me to think about what I could do to help us all mark this passing of a little life. Legally I didn’t have to do anything with her. But she was our second child, she was part of our family. I didn’t want to rush this. I popped her into the freezer, wrapped in a Sainsbury’s plastic bag for life.
There were no check ups or follow ups at the hospital. No-one called to check how I was getting along. I was just advised to do a pregnancy test to after the bleeding stopped. But I bled for another 6 weeks. Once the baby had passed, it felt like I was decaying inside. The hospital agreed to scan me again, and confirmed some ‘products of conception’ still remained in my uterus. I had to sign a green form to consent to a medical management. When the woman in blue warned me there was a small risk that they might make a hole in my uterus, I wept. It felt so invasive. As if my body had failed to complete the job. It had worked so hard. Later that day I had a local anaesthetic and a woman in dark blue cleared my uterus for me. I was no longer pregnant.
As the miscarriage had officially ended I felt as though I should try to get back to normal. Work began to pile in, Christmas presents to buy, holiday travel to organize, money. As I was freelance I had not been earning any money. But I still wanted to world to stop. I wanted to spend my days pootling in the woods with my daughter, to howl into the sea, to sit and sew and mend. I found it hard to give myself permission to do this now the physical bit was over. I found it hard being with people. I found keeping thoughts together overwhelming.
As the New Year arrived I contemplated what the next 4 months held, not pregnant. I had imagined my whole life with this new life in a blink seeing two lines on the test. As I packed away my maternity clothes I wondered what this time was, between now and the due date. I felt suspended in-between death and the promise of life.
It’s not something I can answer, as I’m in it. I would be 26 weeks pregnant today. My little baby lies at rest in a newly planted rose, which shows signs of flowering soon. I light a candle and visit her often. I want to use the remainder of my pregnancy to mourn her. I want to look after my body and my mind more than ever in this time. I want to reach out to all the other women experiencing this very quiet, hidden loss. I was stunned to learn 1 in 5 pregnancies miscarry in the first 20 weeks. As a society we need to get better at understanding what miscarriage looks and feels like, to better support each other in this strange but strangely normal experience. This is the only way I can think to honour the little life that was inside me. It/she/he has changed me and I’m glad to have had her life for the briefest of breaths.
Lizzy 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 firstname.lastname@example.org