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The smile fell from the sonographer’s face. There was no heartbeat. The pregnancy had ended at five weeks. It was a missed miscarriage; a new, but equally heartbreaking experience of baby loss for Kate*. After having overcome the trauma of a termination for medical reasons five months earlier, she was once again facing the ordeal of losing a child.
“I remember so vividly staring at the white wall. I remember the smell and temperature of the room. It was as if the world just stopped. But then came the screaming; a howling noise that echoed out of my body,” says Kate, as she recalls the moment the sonographer broke the news of her missed miscarriage.
A missed miscarriage (MMC, also known as a silent miscarriage) comes with no warning signs. There’s no blood or pain, and many women feel pregnant as hormones may continue to remain high. It’s usually diagnosed at an early ultrasound or the 12-week scan. Mothers-to-be attend their scan expecting to see a wriggling baby on screen but instead the room is filled with silence.
Kate, 35, from London, says: “A missed miscarriage is the cruellest trick on earth. Your body thinks the pregnancy is continuing with no issues at all, no warning signs and therefore doesn’t reject it.”
The process that followed was equally upsetting. Kate was asked to continue with the pregnancy for two more weeks in case her cycle and due dates were wrong.
“I had to endure the hormones and the sickness for two more weeks with no hope in sight of the pregnancy progressing,” she recalls. Kate sought a second opinion at a different hospital and received an official miscarriage diagnosis 10 days later.
She opted for a medical management treatment which involves taking tablets to encourage the body to reject the pregnancy. “After 48 hours of pain, physically and emotionally, I presumed all was over and the pregnancy had passed. It was only at the follow up scan, I found out that the miscarriage was still incomplete, and I would need surgery, as I was now at risk of infection.”
Christmas was only a week away, and desperate to have surgery before 25th December, Kate called more than 25 hospitals to find a surgery slot. Thankfully she secured a date, but more bad news was to come. In January she discovered the surgery had caused further scar tissue, and she required a hysteroscopy to be able to conceive again.
Back and forth to hospitals, the uncertainty of knowing if the pregnancy was truly over and still grieving from her previous loss, Kate’s mental health began to suffer. Her mood quickly spiralled if she saw a pregnancy announcement on social media or a mother with a small baby.
The triggers would fill her with anxiety for days. Kate claims she was offered no support for either loss. She sought comfort from the baby loss community online and reached out to charities, Arc and Tommy's.
According to baby loss charity Tommy's, one in four UK pregnancies end in miscarriage. Further research has suggested revealed that ‘one month after pregnancy loss, more than one in four women (28 per cent) met official criteria for probable PTSD’.
The findings have prompted calls for women to be screened for PTSD and to be offered psychological support after the loss of a baby.
“My mental health has severely suffered as a result of what happened,” Kate admits. “I have been diagnosed with PTSD particularly around scans. I have had EMDR treatment which has made me confront the trauma. I also speak to an incredible fertility therapist regularly.”
In March 2021, Kate and her husband paid privately for IVF to genetically test their embryos to provide the best possible chance of a successful pregnancy. However, her PTSD peaked when having to attend regular scans. She suffers visual flashbacks, panic attacks and acute anxiety when entering the scan room.
“The fear of entering a scan room is unbearable. It’s like being thrown back into a burning building, where someone has literally died and you are forced to do it all again, and will likely be severely burned again,” Kate explains.
“I physically shake uncontrollably and start sweating. My whole body goes numb, and I constantly fear the absolute worst-case scenario. I suffer panic attacks the days before the scan as the visual flashbacks from the missed miscarriage flood in and the fear becomes all consuming.”
It has been difficult to maintain some friendships too due to lack of understanding and the awkwardness of addressing baby loss. “I am no longer the happy go lucky girl I used to be. I’m filled with constant negative thoughts. In the early days I suffered with insomnia, and I still have trouble with sleeping a year on. I wake very early every day or lie awake for hours in the middle of the night.
“There seems to be little understanding of the extent loss has on mental wellbeing. Although the trauma will never fully go away, I hope that things will get easier. I will never forget, and I will live with the memories, but I hope to overcome the fears and triggers.
“I hope fear around scans will one day subside and I'll view it more positively. I have an incredibly long way to go but I have hope that things will get easier as time passes.”
To help overcome her trauma, Kate has started to write about her story and provide advice for others experiencing baby loss.
“I started my blog because these were the words I was tirelessly searching the internet for when my world came crashing down,” she says. “The perfect roadmap of my life I had planned out got turned on its head. I tried forums but they were filled with grief and despair. I joined support groups that were all-consuming. All I wanted to do was to find someone in a similar situation, someone I could talk to, who just got it. The blog for me is extremely cathartic to write.”
Kate’s inbox was flooded with messages from women sharing their own stories of loss and heartbreak. Despite her on-going battle with anxiety, Kate remains positive and hopeful that she will one day bring home her long-awaited rainbow baby.
Tyla is marking Baby Loss Awareness Week with a new editorial series, Living With Loss
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