Emma Elms recalls the heartbreaking moment she found out she’d miscarried at her 3 month scan
Dashing to the hospital after work, I was in high spirits. I was 11 weeks pregnant with my second child and buoyed up by the prospect of a scan that would reveal the baby I was carrying for the first time. It was 7.30pm when I texted my partner Stuart, barely able to conceal my excitement, ‘They’re doing it now.’
There had been no sign that anything was wrong, just a minor niggle at the back of my mind – a slight, pale pink discharge that I’d noticed the day before. I thought it might be an infection, so I’d popped into the hospital to get it checked out.
As I lay there and watched the machine moving over my stomach, I remember the sonographer’s face, the way she concentrated on the screen and her request that I should bear with her.
‘It’s quite small for 11 weeks. You may be fewer weeks pregnant than you thought,’ she said, finally. ‘Can I do an internal scan?’ I felt mildly disappointed that I was going to have to wait a little longer to meet my baby than 3 March, the due date etched in my mind.
Minutes later, the internal scan was over and she gently put down the scanning ‘wand’ and turned to me, her face serious and pained. ‘I’m so sorry, I can’t find a heartbeat,’ she said.
I looked hard at her, blinking. For a minute, I just couldn’t take her words in. Then it hit me, like a wave of loss. Forgetting who I was and where I was, and still half undressed, I sat up and yelled in agony, ‘I’ve lost my baby! Where’s my baby?’
Before I could stop myself, I was howling with grief. I still had morning sickness. I still felt pregnant. ‘Are you sure?’ I managed to ask in disbelief, through my tears, searching her face for signs that she just might have made a mistake. She nodded and said, ‘I’m so sorry…’
I’d been so organised. I’d planned my life around my new baby. I’d even registered for a nursery near us, because places were in such short supply. I’d named her Alice Williams on the nursery form. Of course, I had no idea if I’d have another girl to complete our family. But I secretly hoped I would. Just a week ago, I had looked at my daughter Amelie, playing mummy to her dolls, and felt a sudden surge of excitement about giving her the wonderful news that she had a baby brother or sister on the way.
As I pulled on my maternity leggings to leave I felt like a fraud, suddenly hating the stretchy stomach panel that I’d never get to fill. The sonographer talked me through my options. I could go home and wait for nature to take its course, or I could book in for an ERPC (evacuation of retained products of conception).
I knew immediately that the natural option, in the privacy of my own home, would be best for me, with a follow-up scan to make sure the baby and everything else had gone from my body.
Just before I left, I asked whether I could have a photo of my baby. It felt like my last chance to hold on to what might have been. Most of the images were blurry but one jumped out at me. In it, my lifeless baby looked like a little teddy bear – with arms and legs, a clearly distinguishable head and body. I rummaged in my purse, my hands shaking, and offered the sonographer the £2 you normally pay for a picture, to which she sadly and sensitively waved away.
I put on my sunglasses in an attempt to hide my blotchy, tear-stained face and stumbled into the lift, trying to stifle the sob that was welling again in my throat. A young woman with a bump of about five months, I guessed, looked at me anxiously, ‘Are you OK? What’s happened?’
I paused, before blurting out, ‘I’ve just had some bad news – I’ve lost my baby.’ She gasped in horror, her hand flying to her mouth, ‘Oh no!’ She looked so traumatised. I suddenly felt terrible for talking to a pregnant stranger about dead babies. ‘It’s OK,’ I began, in an attempt to reassure her, ‘I’ve got another one.’ I felt cruel for letting my sadness spoil a moment’s enjoyment of her own baby.
When I got home, Amelie was still up, bouncing on the bed with her daddy, oblivious to the blow that had just struck her family. I shook my head at Stuart, careful to make sure that Amelie didn’t see, and his face matched the way I felt.
The days that followed were tough, as my mind grappled with weird and disturbing thoughts. Perhaps Stuart and I had just had it too easy, with it only taking us two months to conceive both Amelie and now Alice. Maybe we were too blasé. Maybe we hadn’t been grateful enough. I’m not a religious person, but by then I was so low I didn’t know what to think.
I shared my thoughts with Stuart, who was shocked that I could even think this way. ‘You were so grateful,’ he reassured me. ‘Of course we deserved this baby.’
The hardest part was waiting for the body of my baby to appear. I was horrified by the thought of bits of my child falling out, only to be flushed away. Nobody prepares you for the stark reality of miscarriage. I rang the hospital and asked whether I should try to save pieces of her (or him?) in a bucket. Should I bury her in the garden? Should I take her to the hospital? Their answer was inconclusive, but they suggested that I should try. In fact, when the miscarriage took place 12 days later, it started as a series of blood clots, then I passed the birth sac in hospital that night. The doctors don’t know why I miscarried, and one pregnancy in four ends this way. Most probably, my baby wasn’t developing properly, so nature decided to end the process for me.
It’s been a month since my miscarriage and the grief is no longer so raw and intense. Unlike many women, who understandably keep this most private of traumas to themselves, I was open with all my friends and family. As four of my close friends have been through the same thing, I drew great comfort from comparing experiences. Retelling my story somehow made it less shocking. Now I feel that the sadness is almost behind me and I’m looking forward to the time when those two little pink lines appear on the test again.
Stuart has vowed not to get excited until we’re past the three-month scan, but I feel the opposite. I’ll embrace that magical moment and throw myself into thinking of baby names, just as I did last time. There’s no point dwelling on the past, and it seems ungrateful to become wrapped up in wishing things were different. I have a beautiful, lively two-year-old, and the days and nights I have with her feel more previous than ever now. Why waste that time pining for someone else?
Miscarriage is still a taboo subject, and even the tabloids respectfully leave celebrities such as Lily Allen alone when they suffer one. In the media, unspeakable questions that mattered so much to me, such as ‘What happens to the baby’s remains when you’re only 11 weeks pregnant?’ are never asked – nor answered. Few women will know that sometimes the hospital can arrange a burial for your unborn baby, just as mine did for me. I even read a letter I’d written to Alice in a short ceremony held in a memorial garden. To me, it was a beautiful way to say goodbye and move on, as I hope another ‘Alice’ will come along soon.
Emma has since had a second daughter, now aged four.
For support and advice, contact The Miscarriage Association on 01924 200799 or visit miscarriageassociation.org.uk
One pregnancy in four ends in miscarriage – in many cases an early pregnancy ends before you miss a period, and before you’re aware that you are pregnant.
Almost three-quarters of all miscarriages occur in the first trimester – the first 12 week of pregnancy.
Having a miscarriage doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to get pregnant again, and most women who miscarry go on to have successful pregnancies in the future.
About 50 per cent of all early miscarriages happen because of chromosomal abnormalities – i.e, a problem in the way your genetic material combined when your egg was fertilised by your partner’s sperm. Most are unlikely to recur.
Miscarriages become more common with age, because egg quality decreases as we get older.
Doing moderate exercise or having sex while you’re pregnant does not increase your risk of miscarriage.
Most women who have two miscarriages are still likely to have successful pregnancies in the future.