Starting a family has always been something that has weighed heavy on my mind. My mum lost two children; my sister who was born before me died during labour, and my brother who was younger than me had a rare genetic condition causing him to pass away at three months old. I remember visiting my brother in Yorkhill Hospital and I can remember not having a wee brother any more but I was too young to understand, and I didn’t truly get the weight of what had happened until I was much older. I have always known my mum is an incredible woman. She is my best friend, but as I get older I am constantly overwhelmed with how much strength, resilience and stability she gave me at some of the hardest moments in her own life.
As a new researcher in television I looked into female fertility for a show I was working on. I became aware that while the white middle class feminism I was consuming at the time was teaching me I could do and have it all, it wasn’t being honest about the timeframe I had to do it in, and because of my family history, having children before I was thirty became personally important to me.
When Rhys and I started trying I very quickly fell pregnant. I was extremely excited but also nervous. Close family members had experienced a miscariage and I was well aware of the risks involved in early pregnancy.
Rhys and I made the decision to tell people as soon as we found out at 5 weeks. This is actually only around 3 weeks into the pregnancy as it is officially calculated from the first day of your last period, and your fertile window follows about two weeks later when you can conceive. Most of our friends knew we were trying and we were so happy that keeping it a secret just seemed silly, the white lies about why I wasn’t drinking or feeling sick were pointless. Everyone was overjoyed for us, but some were also uncomfortable at us telling people so early.
At eight weeks pregnant I went to SNP Conference, I was standing for Equalities Officer and spent a full day talking to folk, handing out my leaflets and participating in a hustings for the role at night. I was exhausted and felt lousy so I had an early night but I soon woke up incredibly ill. We had guests staying with us who’s baby boy had been hospitalised the night before with sickness and diarrhea and I had caught it. I spent the night at the hospital and asked everyone I could about the pregnancy, but two separate doctors assured me that it would be fine. I was meant to go on holiday a few days later so for peace of mind we went for a private scan to check that everything was ok. Unfortunately it was not. The ultrasound couldn’t find a heartbeat, and the scan suggested that the pregnancy had failed. This then had to be confirmed by the NHS via an internal scan which can pick up any heartbeat much easier, but sadly there was no heartbeat.
The midwives were incredible, they spoke kindly but frankly about my options while giving us time to process and talk through what Rhys and I were feeling. I could take pills that would bring on the miscarriage, they could remove the failed pregnancy surgically, or I could go home and wait for it to happen naturally. The thought of something or someone working inside my vagina while I was unconscious was completely out of the question for me, and having spent the last two years of my adult life closely following my natural menstrual cycles in preparation to conceive I decided to go home and wait for it to pass naturally. The midwives followed up with regular phone calls and I had frequent internal scans to ensure that there was no risk of infection. I carried the failed pregnancy for almost four weeks before it actually happened.
That night was traumatic. I wasn’t prepared for the pain, the amount of time it would take or what would actually happen. I thought it would be like a very heavy period but it was nothing like that. The pain itself wasn’t unbearable but after enduring it for eight hours I couldn’t cope any more. I couldn’t lie down or sit anywhere other than the toilet because of the amount of blood and womb lining I was passing. It came out in the biggest clots I have ever seen, about the size of my hand.
The midwives had prepared us that we may see the fetus and told us that we could do what we wanted with it once it had passed. We decided we were going to bury it in our garden at the family home on the Isle of Bute and had a little tupperware box ready to put it in to transport it home. We had been prepared to see something that resembles a small white jelly baby but also told that because of the length of time I had carried the failed pregnancy it may have started to disintegrate already.
This was the scariest part for me, that I would come face to face with what could have been. We had been to see the Circ du Soleil show Ovo the day we found out I was pregnant. When we found out Ovo was Portugese for ‘egg’ it stuck and we called our wee fetus Ovo from day one. Ovo was not a child, it was not a baby, but it did represent the start of our wee growing family.
When it started we would diligently scoop out what was in the toilet and sift through it all to search for our wee Ovo. As the pain became more intense, my entire abdominal area was involved, I got intense diarrhea and started vomiting. What a sight. After hours of sifting through the toilet I had resigned myself to the fact Ovo may have gone already and we searched less and less. Eight hours in, I became quite delirious and panicked. I have a strong personal yoga practice and I spend a lot of time rooted in my own body, I lost all of that. Rhys called NHS 24 to ask for advice, the cocodamol wasn’t cutting it, I had lost my breath and I was at the very end of my tether, I wasn’t coping mentally or physically with what my body was doing.
Rhys drove me into the New Victoria Hospital where I had, what I call now, a minor meltdown. The doctor we saw gave me an injection to help my muscles relax which I felt the benefit of as soon as I got home. When I got in I went straight to bed with big Tenna Lady pants on and I finally slept. The midwives had warned me that when I felt like giving up it was probably coming to an end and this was definitely true, nothing else really passed after the hospital and the bleeding reduced to a very heavy period, although I did wear Tenna Ladies to work for the rest of the week.
When I woke up much later in the day I was determined that life had to go on and we met friends in the Chip on Ashton Lane for a large glass of malbec, where there were tears and lots of soulful conversations about life. Speaking with friends was the one thing that got us through that time, realising we were not alone, that the emotions we were feeling were normal and our grief was shared.
I am eternally grateful for the many women that reached out to me at the time to tell me I was going to be ok, for the couples who shared their experience with us and for our friends that stayed with us and listened. I have walked away from that time with a deep understanding of the healing power of sharing the female experience. There is far too much that society makes it taboo to talk about, and miscarriage is just one part of that. In sharing my story here in my own words and on my own terms I want to add my voice to the conversation about miscarriage, to try to normalise talking about early pregnancy, and to smash the stigma that causes many women and couples to go through it alone.