We Don’t Know How to Talk About These Things

This is the brief history of my miscarriage. Please look after yourself, and don’t read it if you think it will interfere with your mental health.

It is Sunday, September 22nd, 2019. I’m 12 weeks pregnant. Things have been going fine and normal, so my husband and I are cautiously optimistic. We’ve told our families but not friends, as we have our first scan scheduled for Friday and besides, we’re a little embarrassed. We don’t know how to talk about these things. The whole family is ecstatic. Each interaction begins with, “How are you? How’s the baby?” I’m getting ready to announce it at work.

I’ve had back pain since Wednesday, so intense that I can’t sit down. I spend most of my day standing or walking, and collapse gratefully in bed at night. My mom and sister-in-law remind me that the body does change a lot during pregnancy. I wonder if my hips are already starting to shift.

It’s Tuesday evening, September 25. I have been pregnant for 13 weeks exactly. I started bleeding and having mild cramps in the morning. Light bleeding isn’t abnormal during pregnancy, my husband and a thousand internet sites remind me. But the bleeding doesn’t stay light. I start to worry, but I take two meetings anyway. “How are you?” my friends ask. I tell them I have terrible back pain. They ask what caused it and I say I don’t know. Because what else would I say? It may be those terrible thirties. Or maybe I’m having a miscarriage in your living room, haha. I don’t know how to talk about these things.

The bleeding increases and I call a colleague on the way home from my second meeting. “I may be having a medical emergency,” I say.

Of course she’s ready to cover for me. “What’s wrong?” she says.

I tell her I might be going to the hospital. I keep things vague; I’ll cry if I say the actual words I think I’m having a miscarriage.

I get home. The cats are happy to see me. The husband’s happy to see me. His face fills with worry as I tell him about the blood, and he convinces me to call Denmark’s non-emergency medical hotline. “Hi,” I say when they pick up. “I’m pregnant and I think I might be having a miscarriage.”

“You’re pregnant?”



Um, thanks? The telephone operator clearly does not know how to talk about these things.

The kind-but-misguided operator consults with my hospital. Yes, they think I’m having a miscarriage. I need to come in tomorrow morning. I verify with my colleague that she’ll cover my shift, and I go to bed. I call my mom and cry while my husband holds my hand. Chances of miscarriage this far along in pregnancy are so low. I was just getting used to this.

It’s Wednesday, September 26, 10:30 am. The Gynaecological ward is empty so I’m seen right away. Everyone is wonderfully kind. I get a pelvic exam and an ultrasound. “Do you want to see the screen?” asks my gynaecologist. I nod. She turns the screen toward me. She indicates the curve of my womb, white on gray, and points out the black blot in the middle. It looks like a long spill of ink. The placenta should be round in a healthy pregnancy, she explains. It looks as though this one has punctured and begun the process of spontaneous abortion. The fetus hasn’t developed beyond week nine.

That’s friggin great, I think. I’ve been a zombie incubator for four weeks.

I have two options: I can wait for the rest of the placenta to come out naturally, or I can have a surgical procedure. The doctor recommends the surgical procedure; it takes ten minutes, it can be done this afternoon, and going home and waiting might result in a hospital visit later for the same procedure anyway. I haven’t eaten since last night so there’s nothing to keep me from getting the operation now.

I get a bed in a mostly empty room to wait. The hospital bed is stuck in a half-sitting position and my back decides to punish me. I write back and forth with my sister, who’s obviously been talking to Mom, and I compose emails for each side of the family. I can’t do it without crying. The nurses who come in and out ask me if I’m in pain. It’s not pain they can alleviate. I make plans with my husband so that he’s here for the surgery. I brought a book, in case I had a long time in the waiting room. It’s ironic, really. A few days ago I was complaining on twitter that I had to work instead of reading. Now I have all the time to read, and I’d give almost anything to be at my desk.

The first few hours are boring. I read, I sleep. My back reminds me that it hates me so I get up and walk around a few times. A nurse gives me two pills to shove up my intimate parts and begin the process of loosening my placenta. She can do it for me, she offers, but I’m definitely in the ‘do it myself’ camp. I lie down so the pills can do their work, and I read some more. My husband arrives and I tell him of this new-fangled way of taking pills. We chat, and we read, and we chat. I finish my book. People come in from surgery. The afternoon comes; I start to think I should be soon. I haven’t eaten since 5:30 the previous day.

The cramping starts. Little spears of pain that make me scrunch up one side of my face in a way that my husband thinks is terribly cute, as sorry as he is. We talk about what to make for dinner. Maybe we’ll order out. The nurse drops by and says I’m next on the list, they’re doing a c-section now. Do I need any painkillers? Have I started to bleed? No, I say to both. Painkillers don’t always help with my cramps, and soon I’ll get the operation, so what’s the point?

I do not get the operation soon.

The cramps get worse. I progress from funny faces to sucking in my breath, squeezing my husband’s hand, trying not to cry. Soon they’re the worst cramps I’ve had since coming to Denmark. Soon they’re the worst cramps I’ve ever had in my life. I start to bleed – more blood than I’ve ever bled during a menstruation. I ring for the nurse and ask for painkillers. She gives me some with a tiny bit of water – I’m not allowed water two hours before surgery. The afternoon is closing, it’s been twenty hours since I ate. Nineteen hours since I last drank. I tell the nurse I’ve started bleeding and she says it’s normal. To let her know if it gets too heavy.

The painkillers are totally useless. My back fucking hates me. I have to stand up, I can’t take it anymore – but now I’m bleeding everywhere, and my vision dots black, and my hearing goes fuzzy, and if I don’t get back in bed I’ll faint. Three hours on I ask for more painkillers and clean clothes. She says I’m next in line, as soon as a hole opens up in surgery. I don’t have much optimism. I try to curb my annoyance by reminding myself: I’m still here because other people have it worse. Ectopic pregnancies, emergency c-sections, dangerous cysts. And then I forget to be annoyed because it hurts, it fucking hurts, and I squeeze my husband’s hand like I’m trying to break his fingers.

Around 7:30 someone new comes to see me. It’s finally time. We say final goodbyes to the baby that was not to be. I’m crying again, and I cry all the way down to the operating room where about a million nurses wait to hold my hand and wipe my eyes and give me the play-by-play as they put me on a drip and start the anesthesia.

I wake up happy.

The pain is gone and everything feels fine. After ten hours it’s a relief for my body to feel normal, and the general anesthetic is making me high. Even getting stuck in the elevator for twenty minutes when it breaks down is no big deal (Though not to my porter. My porter is furious on my behalf). I get a very Danish dinner of rye bread sandwiches and my husband takes a photo to update the family.

We talk about what we want to say. We decide that we may not know how to talk about these things, but we want to try. We want to be open about it. It hurts and it’s heartbreaking and it happens to a lot of people: more than you would think, if you haven’t spoken about it.

I’m looking forward to another baby, hopefully one I will carry to term. I’m glad I haven’t wallowed in sorrow over this, but I’ve found solace in the stories of my friends. Many have miscarried. So let’s not pretend these things don’t happen. They can be awkward, they can be hard to discuss. (You should have seen my friends’ faces: “What, not pregnant yet, har har?” “No, but I was.”) But talking about it always made it better, for me at least.

Thank you to all my friends, who showed me that I can talk to you about these things even if I don’t know how. I hope I can be that person for others.

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