That was my first thought when I woke up on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. A wave of nausea was sweeping across me as I got myself out of bed. I almost doubled over from the crippling pain in my lower abdomen.
I’d been weeks late for my period, way over a month. But this wasn’t completely abnormal for me. Stress has always affected my cycle. When I first went into foster care as a teenager, my period stopped for over three months. At 25, my period hadn’t gotten any less irregular.
Work had been busy, and I was on pretty intense medication for my newly diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis. Perhaps this had affected my cycle, or maybe work was getting to me more than I realized. I considered every possible option apart from the most obvious.
Limping to the bathroom, the agony in my lower abdomen felt different from the usual dull ache of my period. Sitting down on the toilet, a congealed dark stringy mess oozed out of me. I would later learn to assign words like “tissue,” “blood clots” and “gestational sac” to the mess that was leaving my body.
I scrunched up into a little ball, moving myself from the toilet to a shuddering shell on the tiled bathroom floor. My vision blurred as I attempted to type out an “I’ve got a stomach bug and can’t come into work today” message to my manager.
But it wasn’t a stomach bug, and it wasn’t a very late period. It was a miscarriage.
Looking back, there had been signs I was pregnant. Signs I ignored. The nausea, the mood swings, and the sudden obsession with olives after a lifetime of detesting them. Then there was the disappearance of my appetite. In the couple of days leading up to the events of that Wednesday, I’d completely stopped eating.
But my boyfriend of two years and I were always safe, sensible, sexually aware. The idea that I could be weeks pregnant was unfathomable.
But five days later, my cramps hadn’t stopped. They were less intense, but were still coming in waves, refusing to let me forget the events of that morning on the bathroom floor. After calling an emergency line, I went with my boyfriend to the ER at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night. The operator had told us to get to a hospital as soon as possible.
I was hooked up to an IV when I arrived and given morphine followed by paracetamol to help with the pain I was experiencing. After a cold and exhausting 13-hour wait in a hospital corridor with no sleep, I finally saw a doctor at 11 a.m. the next day. My boyfriend had had to leave to go to work, so I was alone when the female gynecologist ushered me, exhausted and disorientated from the morphine and other drugs, into a private room.
The moment she said the words, “You’ve had a miscarriage” will stay with me forever.
People talk about “time freezing” in these moments, but I never really understood what they meant until then. I can remember the color of the tissue box she handed me, the smell of the room, the unevenness of the curtains, and the metallic taste of my mouth. It was like someone had pressed a pause button.
Then all of a sudden someone hit “play” and I was told I could leave. It felt wrong to be walking out of the hospital on my own after almost 13 hours. I was just expected to step back into day-to-day life and live with the fact that I’d been pregnant without even knowing it. And now I wasn’t.
I texted my boyfriend when I left the hospital just after midday, telling him I’d had a miscarriage. A one-word reply of “fuck” came back within a minute. This was followed by a worried, “How are you feeling?” I couldn’t think what to respond.
I went back to work the very next day. All I wanted to do was pretend like the last five days hadn’t happened. I felt numb and empty. Over the following months, I wrestled with the question, “How do you mourn something you never had the chance to acknowledge existed?”
As I began to open up to friends and colleagues, I soon learned that everyone had an opinion on how I should be feeling. But I also quickly learned that I didn’t necessarily feel the way they wanted me to. In fact, I didn’t feel anything at the time.
One emotion I wasn’t prepared for in my post-miscarriage journey was guilt. I blamed myself for the miscarriage. For not being able to carry what could have been my child to birth. What had I done wrong?
The next time I went to visit my arthritis doctor for a scheduled checkup, she asked how I was and the story came pouring out. After listening, sympathizing, and passing me a box of tissues, my doctor told me what I wished I’d known from the start, what I wish I’d been taught in school.
“Most miscarriages occur because the fetus isn’t developing as expected,” she said.
Understanding that what happened truly wasn’t my fault changed the way I began to understand my experience and how I defined the loss.
It wasn’t until at least eight weeks after my miscarriage that I cried, really cried over the loss I felt. Even if I couldn’t define what I had lost, I finally allowed myself the space to grieve. Throughout the grieving process, my partner was there with me every step of the way and encouraged me to talk to him openly about the experience.
My experience probably isn’t as uncommon as you might think. About 10% to 20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage — but there’s a good chance this number is even higher when you take into account the people like me, who don’t know they’re pregnant.
When miscarriages happen very early on in a pregnancy, before an expecting parent knows they’re pregnant, they may be mistaken for a heavy period. I was haunted by the fact that if I hadn’t ended up in the hospital after my ordeal, I may never have found out that I was pregnant, or subsequently, that I’d miscarried.
Reading the stories of others who have experienced miscarriages has also helped in my journey. While it is upsetting to learn about others’ experiences, it is somewhat comforting to know that I’m not alone. Millions of people have felt the emotions that I was left with following my experience.
Like all traumas, my miscarriage is not something I see myself “getting over,” now or in the future. I haven’t moved on, and sometimes the smallest of things remind me of that week in May. Sometimes I cry thinking about it. But sometimes I think of how strong I am, of how strong all of us are who have made it through this experience.