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Blighted ovum, miscarriage #1

Blighted ovum, miscarriage #1

One moment I will never forget, and forever appreciate is when she turned to my husband and asked "how are you?"

So, I’m here as a first time mummy, however this is not the result of a first time pregnancy. Unfortunately, I experienced the 1:4 statistic, the 25% of pregnancies that end in miscarriage. Whilst 25% is therefore pretty common, this knowledge certainly doesn’t make the experience any easier to deal with.

Everyone has their own take on when a pregnancy is considered to be a “life”. Whether this be from the moment of conception, from the time of hearing a heartbeat, from 24 weeks when the foetus is considered “viable”....let it be your own definition. After all, it’s your body, your pregnancy and your experience. I say “your” whilst also acknowledging that pregnancy and miscarriage affects both partners in the relationship. 

My husband and I had chosen to “try” for a baby at the end of 2020. Aged 38, our first experience of a positive pregnancy test was in May 2021. In recalling this moment, I feel the excitement buzz through my body! Taking a pregnancy test felt incredibly surreal, despite wanting to be in a position to do so. Seeing the “two lines”....wow! Exhilarating to say the least. I was almost shaking with disbelief, in a good way. I could barely wait to share the news with my husband, though I managed to get through making him a coffee first! Our moment of sharing this wonderful news together was so precious and unforgettable. 

In that instant, our lives changed. We immediately began imagining our life as parents, with a baby, with OUR baby, growing OUR family....so many thoughts, so many feelings. My husband and I continued to take a reality check throughout that day, and the days that followed. Nothing could wipe the smile from our faces! Naturally, we jumped online and calculated our due date. And then we began to imagine that day and all that we would have to do in preparation. 

Holding a positive pregnancy test in our hands, we were holding the opportunity to become parents. The chance. 

With the GP confirming a positive hcg, our first scan was booked for 7 weeks gestation. This was an unforgettable experience...the night before, my husband was in ED with a partial toe amputation (long story!). And my heart melted when his biggest worry was potentially missing our first baby scan the following day. A surreal moment, I recall sat in the reclining chair waiting for the sonographer to begin the scan and turning to my husband I said “it’s just like you see on TV”! To us, the screen was just black and white! The sonographer was able to point out a gestational sac and a yolk sac. She was unable to detect a heartbeat. She was pretty confident that it was just a case of my “dates being out” and reassured us to have a repeat scan in one week. Despite the reassurance and potential for my “dates being out”, my gut was telling me that something was wrong. 

A week of worry was endured. 

The day before the next scan, I began spotting and my heart dropped into my stomach. I sobbed and sobbed. I knew that some bleeding can be “normal”. I also knew my body and that for me, this was a sign of concern. I said to my husband “it’s happening” as I knew we faced a miscarriage. My husband was incredibly supportive. I simply would not have been able to cope without him. And yet, he was also suffering from this experience too. From the loss. 

Whilst my husband and I both agreed that whilst no heartbeat was ever formed, we weren’t losing a “baby”, however we were losing our chance, our opportunity, our life as we knew it. 

Through what became an ever more traumatic experience, I came to learn that there are different “types” of miscarriage and I was experiencing this in the form of a “blighted ovum”. What became a truly heartbreaking experience was then learning that my hcg levels continued to increase, just not at a “normal” rate. And so my body was still pregnant in the sense of this hormone, yet my body was also miscarrying in the sense of spotting and no heartbeat having developed. How was I supposed to get my head around that?? The struggle was real. My body had not yet recognised the need to miscarry, and given that the hcg continued to rise, we didn’t know if/when my body would recognise the need to get into gear to fully miscarry. This was all happening during Covid, and so rather than attend an early pregnancy assessment unit as would typically have happened, we had to attend ED for medical care. We were referred to ED to seek medical options to make my body actually “get rid” (my word!s!) of the gestational sac. I needed this to happen. It was too tormenting to know that something was inside of me that was empty. It left me feeling empty. It left me somehow feeling, dirty.

 As we had seen the gestational sac on the screen when the sonograpger showed us, we also knew that it was growing (slowly) day-by-day. I wanted to “get it out” of me as soon as possible. Not only so that we could try to move on, but also because I was scared. I recall being asked by a healthcare professional “what are you scared of”. I was scared of the unknowns. The pain. The pain of the sac hurting when it passed. I was scared of not knowing when it may pass and how long it would take to do so. Would it happen in a matter of seconds, minutes or hours. Or would it take days, or even weeks? I had no idea. I just knew that I needed it to be over. 

Because the hcg was increasing, the doctors in ED seemed to think this was something to celebrate. Even though the gestational sac was empty and at the given gestation, would not now develop a heartbeat. So, we were not fooled by the rising hcg, and were not enthused by the doctor in ED suggesting that there was some kind of “hope”. Because of the rising hcg and “hospital protocol”, the doctor would not offer me any medical intervention to make my body actually miscarry. I was told I needed to wait two weeks to have a repeat ultrasound scan. This was inconceivable. How could they expect me to wait two weeks in such a state? Why were they hopeful when we knew that the hcg was only rising because of the sac being present, even though it was empty? This felt wrong, to be denied medical help. To be forced to endure this trauma for any minute longer than necessary. 

We were sent home on the Friday night and had to wait for a gynaecologist to call us on the Monday. When we eventually got to speak with the gynaecologist, my husband and I were literally begging for her to help me. To help us. The help end this nightmare. The gynaecologist maintained that we had to wait for the repeat scan as there has been very rare occasions where pregnancies had been ended “too soon”. In our individual case, there was no “too soon”. The clinical picture and medical documentation clearly stated “blighted ovum”. Miracles were not about to happen. 

Knowing that we could not go on living this agonising day-to-day, waiting, desperately needing medical intervention. Needing help. Knowing that the hospital team were not willing to help. My husband and I began looking up abortion clinics. This was how desperate we were. In all my time of working as a healthcare professional, I have never felt so lost in the healthcare system. Not knowing where else to go, or who else to turn to. We explained to the gynaecologist how we felt, and argued that they wouldn’t withhold treatment from a patient who presented with severe pain, or an infection. Why then, were they withholding treatment from us? We asked if we needed to go to an abortion clinic. To which the doctor replied, “well we wouldn’t recommend this, we are a Catholic hospital”. And that’s when the penny dropped! We strongly believe this was the reason that they were withholding medical intervention. My husband and I are not Catholic, nor had we considered that our local hospital was a Catholic hospital. We were simply trying to access the help that we had been sent to the hospital to receive. 

Thankfully, we had an amazing GP who was incredibly supportive and offered us the opportunity to be referred to a different hospital for a second opinion.

A week later, we were seen at this hospital and a D and C was scheduled. The help we were needing was now being offered. There was some end to this trauma in sight. To allow some grieving and healing to begin.

And so, the morning of the D and C I woke early as I had to have an early breakfast before fasting. I did not stop crying from the moment I woke. My husband and I went to the hospital that afternoon. I was admitted to the same area where pregnant women surrounded me in the waiting area. I was too raw for the image of pregnant women. The nurse advised that there was no where else for us to wait. All c-section and D and C patients were admitted to the same admission area. This was too much to bare, and seemed way too unfair. WHY would hospitals not have a different waiting area for these two different patient groups, especially when pregnancy loss is so common?

We then found out that I was scheduled last on the theatre list for a D and C. I guess bringing life into the world takes priority over those who need to undergo a procedure to end their “chance” of the same. 

I was given a medication to help my cervix dilate and contractions begin to “kick start” the procedure. Within minutes, the contractions were so painful and became unbearable. My husband had to call the nurse for some stronger pain relief. In order to have this, I was told that I needed to be transferred to a different area and my husband could not join me. There was no way that I could have endured any waking moment of that experience without my husband by my side, holding my hand. So, I chose to endure the physical pain instead of the additional emotional pain. Until, I was then promptly moved up the list and taken to theatre.

In the holding bay, a gynaecologist sat on my bed and counselled my husband and I about the procedure. She was incredibly compassionate and caring. One moment I will never forget, and forever appreciate is when she turned to my husband and asked "how are you?". After all, a miscarriage does not just affect the female. 

What my husband had to see me go through was incredibly traumatic for him. I know that he felt incredibly helpless. Yet, he was the biggest help of all, simply by being there for me. There was not one moment of the whole experience that he was not by my side (apart from when I was in theatre!) It wasn’t just me that had lost the opportunity to become a parent, we both had. 

And then, when I woke upand it was all “done”, I was told that I had a “short cervix” which was “nothing to worry about, but should be closely monitored in the event of a future pregnancy”. There was a lot more to this when I was eventually labelled as having an “incompetent cervix” (IC) which required surgery. I share more detail about this diagnosis and treatment in a future blog post....stay tuned!

And then, my husband and I tried to let the emotional dust settle and begin grieving. Begin our journey to recovering from this traumatic event. At this stage, we didn’t know what recovery looked like, or if it was even possible. One message we held tight, and regularly reminded one another was to “be kind to yourself”.

If you’ve read this, thank you for your time and attention. If you or someone you know can take something away from my sharing, may it help you. Whether it be to empathise, or to increase awareness, or encourage self-advocacy. Whatever it may be, I hope it has helped.

- Jodie