I am writing about my experience for those out there looking for stories of people who waited for a natural miscarriage after discovering they had had a missed or silent miscarriage. When I found out, I searched online and read everything I could - so many sad accounts of confused emptiness after the operation (D&C - dilation & curettage or vacuum aspiration), so many graphic descriptions of the body’s intense reaction to Misoprostol. Yet I found very little information on how to take the natural way of simply waiting and what it would involve. All I wanted was to read someone's story, to not feel so alone, but I found nothing, so here is my story. I hope it helps those who need it. Warning: this is long and graphic– please don't read if you are too sensitive.
This journey has been a short and very intense one for me and my togetherer Ben. Six weeks so far, although it feels like months. It began on the 22nd February 2018 whilst I was visiting a friend on the Isle of Wight; when in the middle of breakfast, I suddenly felt like I was going to either faint or vomit. Both very unusual for me. I had severe pains in my lower left pelvis (like extreme period pains) and I found myself lying on the bathroom floor in the fetal position with cold sweats, just breathing through the pain. I had diarrhoea and kept dry retching. I was two weeks late on my period, so my friend bought a pregnancy test – which was positive. I was in shock. This was something I had never thought would happen. For me, it was something I was deeply unsure about. I have carried a story with me since a teenager wanting equality- that having children stopped women fully living their life and on top of that a story that began in my 20s as an activist - that environmentally, the world doesn't need more humans, so working with children was more my calling that producing them. Having children was a challenging ethical decision for me that I now couldn't avoid.
It was first weekend of March and we were snowed in, so had plenty of time and space to discuss our options. We decided to keep the baby. We started to make plans. My body was showing strong signs of pregnancy with morning sickness, my breasts felt like little daggers were all over them and I was overwhelmingly tired. So...let's do this! We made the decision.
On the Monday 5th after the snow, I had an early pregnancy scan. They couldn't see what they needed to externally, so I had to have an internal scan. There was no heartbeat. But they couldn't be sure...too early to tell. Could I come back in a week? According to research by Tommy's: 1 in 4 pregnancies miscarry in the UK. 2,122 babies are born each day, 684 are miscarried.
I had no idea. That's a huge amount of the population going through this. How is it so unseen in the every day, when it's happening so often?
Week 1: I had a crazy 24 hours rushing from the hospital to catch a coach to London for a gig with some old friends that had been booked for months. I wasn't sure whether I should go, but I thought I had a week to wait in limbo...so there was no point just sitting about worrying. It was a beautiful, heart-filling experience which I spent most of crying. I kept busy with work and social things all week to keep my mind off thinking. There was nothing I could do until the next scan.
Week 2: Back at the clinic the following Monday, they confirmed what they had thought. There was no heartbeat. It had stopped growing at six and a half weeks (I would have been 10 weeks). I had had a 'missed miscarriage'. I had never heard of it before. My body was acting like it was still pregnant. Why hadn't my body fully miscarried? What had happened? Did I do something wrong? What would happen next?
I was given the three options:
− Expectant Management – to wait for a natural miscarriage to happen
− Medical Management – to have Misoprostol tablets inserted and wait for miscarriage
− Surgical Management – a local or general anaesthetic to remove the pregnancy
For the last 12 years I have been on a journey to live a more natural, low-impact, sustainable life, so I chose the first option: to wait.
I was signed off work and assured that 50% of women miscarry within a week. With that in mind, I started to prepare for the unknown, expecting it to begin any moment! 'A heavy period' (one of which I'd never really had, mine were fairly light and short), bleeding (there could be a lot. I asked how much is too much – when you are saturating two night pads in an hour), passing clots (sizes from a 50p to a tennis ball) and pain (get the strongest painkillers you can and one brief mention of the potential for contraction-like pain in the NHS booklet I was given) – but everyone is different, so who knows what to expect.
I stocked up on painkillers: co-codamol, paracetamol, ibuprofen, toilet paper and heavy-duty night-time sanitary pads (like nappies and so much waste! I use a Mooncup, so this was all new to me). We prepared our surroundings: converted a chair with a bucket (so I didn't have to run to the compost toilet 100 metres away), a ceramic potty for inside. Then there was the mental preparation. I spent the week being very still and quiet. Going for walks each day. Letting myself feel all the mixed emotions coming up: anger, sadness, confusion. Reading everything I could find, mostly horror stories of the reactions to the Misoprostol and women being told (mostly in the States it seemed) that the operation was the only option and that waiting naturally would risk infection, then the feelings of loss, confusion, fear, pain, blood.
Where were the stories of allowing the body to naturally flush the dead foetus? After all, I would have to have another period soon. Isn't that what women's bodies know how to do? Why was there this fear of needing to just 'get it out!' for risk of infection or for fear of not being able to cope? There seemed to be a innate distrust of the body, a knee jerk reaction to remove and feelings of 'just wanting to move on'. It was all highly distressing. I was feeling more that there was a reason my body hadn't expelled the foetus. Maybe I needed time to deal with it emotionally first. Maybe my body needed to prepare. Our modern ability for control and instant gratification felt so rushed and brutal. Let the patriarchy sort me out so I can get back to work. I needed the time and the space, to grieve, to accept, to understand, to trust. Why the rush?
I started to research how to help my body along naturally. I spoke to my herbalist, who made me up a concoction of Angelica, Yarrow, Vervain, Prickly Ash, Mugwort and Ginger I took twice a day from the Saturday. SisterZeus website was so informative on herbs to take, after-care and meditations. I shared what was happening with some close friends and neighbours, it felt good to talk and receive support.
Week 3: I had a friend give me a session of energy healing work. I did some guided meditations. I wrote in my journal. I cried. On the Thursday, my togetherer bought some more herbs: Mugwort – dried, made into a tea a couple of times a day and then sipped throughout after it had sat for at least 15 minutes. Blue Cohosh – tincture, 5ml taken every 4 hours to bring on contractions. It didn't do anything whilst I took it. I finished the 100ml bottle in a week. Raspberry Leaf – dried, for tea one the miscarriage had happened. Shatavari – tincture, 5ml per day once if had happened to balance my hormones. Echinacea – one dose per day to keep immune system strong (increased to three times per day after miscarriage). Arnica – tablets, taken twice a day after miscarriage.
Week 4: I called the Early Pregnancy Clinic and checked in with the doctor I had seen. Two weeks and no sign of anything. 'Was I still happy to wait?' 'If I was healthy and showing no signs of infection, then just wait or I could change my mind and have medical or surgical management.' Signs of infection: fever symptoms, smelly discharge. I researched some more about timings...there was little I could fine since so few women seemed to wait. One woman said she waited 10 weeks. I could wait - when I let go of my guilt from the ingrained Protestant work ethic and observed time from the slower cycles of Nature, I found more strength to wait. I was recommended a Shiatsu practitioner for acupuncture massage. I was told my body was in shock and needed rest. It was Easter weekend and we were missing a big family gathering. I was feeling really frustrated, angry, tired and confused. I felt I had done all the preparations, I had mentally prepared myself, now what was my body waiting for?? I was emotionally drained. I couldn't stop crying. I then had the feeling I read others talking about, 'I just want it out'. I had reached a point where my attempts to control the process hadn't worked. I was reaching a point of surrender. The only thing that stopped the crying was the delicious chocolate treats my togetherer had surprised me with for Easter (I had given up refined sugar for lent, so it was even more delicious!)
Week 5: Bank Holiday Monday, back at the hospital for another scan. The clinic was closed, so we were in the ward, no one around. My body was still giving pregnancy symptoms, sickness each morning, highly sensitive breasts. I looked at the scan for the first time. There was a full sack still attached at the top of my uterus and inside a little fetal pod. I was given the options again. I was done and I chose the option I never even considered – the surgical management. I was told to not eat anything from midnight and wait for a call in the morning to see if there was space for the operation the following day. Tuesday morning's call from the doctor said there was no space. I was booked in for Friday at 11am. I had a deadline. I felt numb. I didn't trust my body. I was angry that I had tried so much and nothing had happened naturally. I was exhausted now not just emotionally, but physically. I had pretty much been in quarantine since being signed off work. I had cabin fever and needed to get out. I needed the sea. My togetherer suggested going via the Glastonbury spring. The following day we drove to Glastonbury, to the sacred spring under the Tor. I had spent months exploring our disconnected relationship to Water in my Masters dissertation a few years before and deep down beyond words, I knew there was healing power in the element that exists in all life, in every living cell. I am not 'religious', but I do believe in Nature's Laws and with the understanding that 'I' am made up nearly by 70% of Water, it made sense to go to a revered source. I spent some time alone in the womb-like cavern and prayed. I asked for strength, for movement, for letting go. We filled some containers to take home and headed onto the coast of Exmoor National Park and spent the afternoon soaking in the sea air, walking on the pebbled beaches, watching the rhythm of the waves. That evening, I had a bath and drank a glass of wine. I spent the next couple of days surrendering to what was to happen. Preparing myself mentally for a general anaesthetic on the Friday. Letting go. I sat and meditated under a tree and spoke to my body, I had until Friday to let this happen naturally. Surrender. I did a guided meditation on letting go. On the Thursday, the sun came out...the warmest day of the year so far. I spent the morning preparing a little ceremony to have that evening with a couple of girlfriends and the rest of the day reading. I started to get some pain during the day and showed the first sign of blood in the afternoon – only a tiny bit, but something. I had never been so happy to bleed!
Now, here begins the miscarriage story. Never could I have prepared for what was to happen. My two friends arrived at around 6.30pm and we walked to a waterfall and set ourselves up on the island with the river running around it joined by three Alder trees. As we created the ceremony, my pain became stronger. We thanked the life spirit of the foetus that came to my body and asked it to now be released and for it to be replaced with a positive, healing energy. We called on the elements to give me strength in the process. As I surrendered to the unknown, I cried more than I had in weeks. The sun went down as I listened to the voices of my friends singing and the water surging around us, I began to feel faint. We closed the ceremony and they helped me back to our dwelling. We arrived just as Ben had arrived from work (around 20.30) and one of the friends, Sally stayed to make a fire. I was going to lay down, when I felt something move inside my uterus. Sally said that women often feel like they need to defecate before they go into labour. My instinct was to go outside and get on the ground. At times on my hands and knees, other times squatting. I sheltered under the old Ash tree. Ben got sheepskins for my knees and Sally wrapped me in blankets. I pulled off my leggings and pants and started having contractions. At first in the peaceful moments in between the surging pain, I couldn't quite believe what was happening. I was so glad for Sally to be there (who had given birth twice and seemed to know what was going on) – whispering words of strength and encouragement to me, taking my weight when I was leaning forwards and warming my lower back with a hot water bottle. This part is a blur...Sally to my right, Ben to my left, the Ash behind, Ash branches in front, a stream running nearby, an Owl calling, the stars shining through the branches..intense pain coming in waves and then passing clots onto the earth, moments of peace where I kind of knew where I was, then more pain, crying, disbelief, uncertainty of my strength to get through it, fear, a single candle gently lighting the scene. After some time, I became too cold and the gaps between the pain had lengthened, so we found a moment to go inside. Soft candle lighting, sheepskins, I sat on the potty and continued the rhythm of pain and passing clots whilst continually bleeding. I felt weak and managed some food between contractions, lots of dark chocolate and Glastonbury spring water. I started to feel more 'with it' and aware of all that was happening. We tried the chair with the bucket, but it was pretty uncomfortable (hence why you need to try these things out before!), so Ben converted another comfier chair with the potty underneath and towels around, so my bum was below my knees, and that position seemed to speed up more clots coming. By 12.30, I was so tired and my legs were hurting from being bent for 4 hours. Sally left and I lay down on the bed. Within 10 minutes I had soaked one of the night pads and the words of warning from the hospital were on my mind. I sat back on the potty and another downpour of blood and clots came. I lay back down, it was 1.30am. I didn't sleep - so much pain, at some point I remembered the painkillers and took some and eventually by dawn drifted off to sleep. It's hard to say how much blood I lost, perhaps between 1-2 litres and lots of clots of various sizes (none as a big as a tennis ball). I spent the whole of Friday in bed dozing. I was so weak and light-headed, I felt I was going to faint the few times I got up to pee. Each time more blood and clots still coming. Soaked more pads. Ben made sure I was keeping up on fluid and nutrient intake. I spent the weekend resting, short walks outside, reading, eating, dozing. On the Saturday we planted an Oak tree on top of the remains and closed the cycle of life and death. And now I am able to look ahead and move on. I have closure.
It's Wednesday today (less than a week after) and I'm still bleeding a little. I am feeling delicate and teary. My pregnancy symptoms stopped on Friday. I have been drinking Raspberry Leaf tea, taking Echinacea, Shatavari and Arnica every day and over the weekend took co-codamol, now I'm just on paracetamol and ibuprofen. I've been eating lots of iron-rich foods, nettles are abundant so feature in most meals. Lots of sunflower seeds, fibre, oats, nuts, chocolate, fresh vegetables and fruit. Loads of water. Rest. I feel very grateful for having a job that allowed me to take the time off and I know this is not the case for all. I certainly would have had added stress if I hadn't had sick pay. I can imagine some women can't tell their boss the truth. I know this from the way the doctor completed my sick note: ‘Gynaecological Problems’. That I didn't need to tell anyone. And I appreciate many people won't want or be able to talk about this. We all deal with trauma in different ways. I have found writing and talking about it helpful.
I'm feeling stronger every day and now on reflection, I'm able to look at this intense experience with gratitude for the blessings it brought us. It brought Ben and I together in a new stronger way. It made us realise we have got some stuff to organise before we plan to have a child. It gave us a longer term vision. It made me realise I do want to have a child! It empowered me to realise I have the strength to give birth. It gave me a deeper trust in my body, in life, in Nature, in the elements. I'm so glad it happened naturally because it felt so intuitive and ancient. I feel empowered. My experience in contrast with a friend of a friend who had the operation and was left feeling loss, emptiness, distrusted her body and in her next pregnancy was fearful, neurotic and anxious throughout. That things happen for a reason - I think I would have been more damaged psychologically if I had had the operation, detached, disempowered. My experience was a microcosm of Western society with a Cartesian mind set: of the speed, power and control of a patriarchal culture versus the slower, aware, listening and feminine style of Nature (so many thoughts here come to mind from Naomi Wolf’s ‘Vagina’ book). That we need to learn to acknowledge death and the sacredness of life, however short (a dead foetus under 20 weeks is not a recognised death by law, so many women have no closure, we have no rituals in our culture). That life and death takes the time it needs to cycle and our need to slow down. That patience can lead to great understanding. That we are not in control. That sometimes we need to surrender and flow with the water within us.
Every day 2,122 babies are born, 684 are miscarried.
7 things to prepare for a natural miscarriage
- mentally prepare for a wait….it could be some time
- create a calm, comfortable space for when it begins
- a potty or a vessel you can comfortably sit on (and test it out before)
- a pile of towels to lay on the ground
- have someone on hand ready to be with you
- consult a herbalist on herbs you can take
- find a place to bury the remains under a tree sapling
And remember, women have been doing this for centuries! You are not alone.