Miscarriage is a shitstorm at the best of times, says Jade Lewis, but removing choice makes it 10 times worse.
When I arrived at the hospital I already knew the baby I was carrying had died. I’d known for a week. Like an estimated one per cent of all pregnancies, mine had ended in a ‘missed miscarriage’, where the baby dies but the body is slow to react. My world had fallen apart but my body was oblivious. I was 10 weeks pregnant, but also not-pregnant.
I was ushered into a room by a nurse who can best be likened to Miss Trunchbull’s less amiable older sister. A sonographer scanned me in loaded silence – a lifeless blob appearing on the screen where we’d seen a tiny heartbeat just a fortnight earlier. It was torture, but then I’d had a whole week of torture. By now I was just desperate to take control of the situation.
“Just wait a couple of weeks and see what happens,” was Trunchbull’s advice, as if I’d presented a twisted ankle. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise – NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidance states that hospitals should “use expectant management for 7–14 days as the first-line management strategy for women with a confirmed diagnosis of miscarriage.”
This means telling women to ‘wait and see’, with no obligation to offer them any other options. Shockingly, women do not have any legal right to choose how their miscarriage is managed. So that was it – I had no choice, no rights, no control.
“Terrified, I begged for prescription painkillers but was told, ‘paracetamol will be fine.’ A week later, after three days of agony, I was rushed to A&E at 3am.”
What if nothing happens? What if I get an infection? What if I can’t cope with the pain of miscarrying naturally? What will I do about work? What if I go genuinely, bona-fide mad? But I was too sad and too tired to voice these endless questions.
I had already researched all the ways of managing a miscarriage, weighed up the risks and decided I wanted surgery. Weak as I felt, I knew I would have to put up a fight. Miraculously, my husband and I revealed ourselves to be the Mayweather and Tyson of hospital-based reasoning. Together we argued and pleaded with The Trunch until she huffily relented and let us see a doctor.
Twenty-four hours later I was in surgery. The operation was quick, straightforward and relatively pain-free. The relief was indescribable. Finally I was able to pick up the pieces and start to move on.
It sounds strange, but I felt incredibly lucky. Lucky that I was strong enough to fight. Lucky that I was able to choose what happened to my body. I know many other women aren’t so fortunate.
As both a feminist and a supporter of the NHS, it horrifies me that women have no rights over their own bodies at a time when they’re so incredibly vulnerable. In England, Scotland and Wales women are legally entitled to an abortion, paid for by the NHS. Yet women going through a miscarriage are being denied the exact same surgery, and being sent away to ‘just deal with it.’
Not one to do things by halves, a few months after the first miscarriage I found myself back in the exact same hospital room, 11 weeks pregnant-not-pregnant and pleading for surgery again.
This time I wasn’t so lucky and was sent on my way. Terrified, I begged for prescription painkillers but was told, “paracetamol will be fine.” A week later, after three days of agony, I was rushed to A&E at 3am. It was all over before I had the chance to see a doctor.
No woman should be treated the way I was. But they are, all too often. While many women do receive a good standard of care, many others don’t. This lack of consistency means that some women are being failed at a time when they need support and understanding more than ever.
“In England, Scotland and Wales women are legally entitled to an abortion, paid for by the NHS. Yet women going through a miscarriage are being denied the exact same surgery, and being sent away to ‘just deal with it.’”
In 2014 Mumsnet launched their Miscarriage Care Campaign, which aims to improve and standardise miscarriage care in the UK. Among other points, the campaign emphasises the need for women to be well informed, treated sympathetically and able to choose how their miscarriage is managed.
Justine Roberts, Mumsnet CEO, is passionate about the campaign: “Miscarriage was the very first issue that Mumsnet campaigned on, and it’s still a vital issue for us. Miscarriage will always be a sad experience, but for this to be compounded by lack of treatment, pain relief, good care or just plain human kindness is completely unacceptable.”
There are various ways you can support the campaign, so to anyone who has taken the time to read this article – firstly, you have excellent taste, and secondly, please take a couple more minutes to find out how you can help.
I’d like to think that one day, all women going through a miscarriage will be guaranteed good, consistent and sensitive treatment. In the meantime, my final plea is to those at the frontline of miscarriage care.
Please, please give women all their options and all the information they need. Don’t try to sway them. Don’t make them fight. Let them make an informed decision that is right for them. Treat them kindly. Yes, you might see this every day, but please remember that you can make a difference to this woman’s experience. You could help her heal rather than exacerbating her pain. You could hand her the choice she so desperately needs. You could be her tiny ray of sunshine in the shitstorm that is miscarriage.
Find out how you can support the Mumsnet Miscarriage Care Campaign at www.mumsnet.com/campaigns/miscarriage-care-campaign
For advice, information and support during a miscarriage, contact the Miscarriage Association at http://www.miscarriageassociation.org.uk
Jade Lewis works in communications, which is handy because she rarely shuts up. Often writing, always eating, usually watching Grey's Anatomy.