One Woman’s Story of a Missed Miscarriage: “There is no heartbeat. I’m sorry.”
Baby Loss Awareness Week takes place on October 9th to 15th every year to give bereaved parents and whānau the opportunity to come together, remember their babies, raise awareness and share their experiences of loss. In her own words, Shea Addison, a mum of one and founding member of the charity Miscarriage Matters, bravely shares the story of her missed miscarriage during her first pregnancy to raise awareness for those who have loved and lost, and to remember her baby, Bazza.
I’m a planner. The type of person that lays out trips in a spreadsheet and has a weekly meal plan. So, when it came to starting a family, I planned it. I had been to the doctor for blood tests and started on folic acid – I’d even had a pre-baby blowout weekend where my friends and I got together and went out for sushi and cocktails while I still could. I was one of the last of my friends to start trying for a family and had seen many struggle with infertility and pregnancy loss – including my friend Corrine recently losing her baby and starting the charity, Miscarriage Matters NZ that both myself and my husband Jeremy are still involved with today. I had also worked in neonatal and fetal research in London, specifically on cardiac genetics in stillbirth. So, I thought I was going into it eyes wide open, knowing that we may not conceive easily and, if we did, it didn’t guarantee a baby.
Two months after we started trying, I had some spotting and assumed it was the start of my period but when it came to nothing, I took a pregnancy test and it was positive – faint but positive. We couldn’t believe how lucky we were and were so excited. Before starting to try-to-conceive, we had discussed the ‘12 week rule’ and decided it wasn’t for us. I always say yes to wine or blue cheese so the effort of fake drinking and covering it up just seemed like too much of a hassle. We also knew that having no family in Christchurch where we live, we would need support from friends if we did have a miscarriage, so was best if they knew we were pregnant. We told our family and any friends who checked in to see how we were. Many knew we were trying to conceive so when they messaged for an update we told them the news. I also told my boss and a colleague as I work in a research lab and can’t use some of the chemicals when pregnant. Everyone was excited for us and even though we knew that there was a risk of miscarriage, we naively thought it would never happen to us. We started planning for life with our baby and becoming parents.
We got bloods done and were told my hCG levels were lower than usual so I would need another test in a week to make sure they had risen. This wasn’t a great start but we remained positive as we had friends who’d had a similar occurrence and everything turned out okay. The next set of bloods showed my hCG levels were nice and high so all was well. We were having a Valentine’s Day baby, due February 14th, 2020. We found a midwife and after friends suggested it, we asked for a dating scan. By this time, I was about 9 weeks and Jeremy had started nicknaming the baby after the fruit that my pregnancy app compared the size to. This week, they were Bazza the blueberry. We knew we wouldn’t see much in the scan but were excited to hear the heartbeat. I drunk all the water and sat in the waiting room with Jermey, both of us nervous but excited. The thing I remember most about that scan was the silence. The tech asked how far along we should be and when we got a blood test, then just said nothing as she looked at the screen, clicking and dragging the mouse to measure our baby, repeating the measurement. I knew something wasn’t right when she asked again about the blood tests and what the hCG levels were. Then she said it was only measuring about 6 weeks and there was no heartbeat yet. We were told we would need another scan in a week to check for growth – that was all. We knew it wasn’t good but we didn’t really know what was happening as no one explained it to us. I went to the counter on the way out to pay and the lady brought up my file and said, “Oh, don’t worry, dear – there is no charge.” I had been told repeatedly that it was $60 when I booked the scan so I knew that was a bad sign. We left and without knowing what else to do we both went back to work.
Waiting that week for the next scan was the worst. We stopped nicknaming the baby. I calculated dates over and over but there was no way I could only be 6 weeks. I went down a Google rabbit hole which is the worst idea, but who can stop themself? I still had nausea all day and tried to convince myself that this meant it must be a healthy pregnancy. By the time we got to the second scan I knew it was not going to be good but I clung to that shred of hope that it would be different for us, that we would be the miracle. We sat in the waiting room surrounded by pregnant women, trying to keep it together. The technician called my name and I started crying as we walked to the room. She was so kind and after a quick look said, “I think you already know this but there is no heartbeat. I’m sorry.” And with those words, the future we had constructed around our baby, around Bazza, was gone. The next day was our first wedding anniversary.
Once it had sunk in that we had lost Bazza, I remember being a bit panicked at the thought of how many people we had to tell – it was so overwhelming. The only person I rang was my mum and the only words I got out were, “It’s the baby,” before I started to cry. We had told people about the first scan, so as they checked in to see how we were doing, we let them know. The amount of support we received was amazing, from flowers to people dropping off food for dinner. But there were also some comments that hurt, even when the person was trying to comfort us. The ‘at least’ statements: at least you know you can get pregnant, at least it was early. There was no at least for us. Overall, we were so grateful for the incredible support network we were privileged enough to have and knew that not keeping Bazza a secret for 12 weeks had been the right decision for us. It didn’t take away the pain, but it kept us afloat when grief threatened to drown us.
I found out that I had what was called a ‘missed miscarriage’. The baby had stopped growing at 6 weeks but my body hadn’t received the message and continued on as if I was still pregnant, morning sickness and all. Medically, I was still considered pregnant even though I would never get to bring home my baby. Our midwife referred us to the Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit (EAPU) at Christchurch Hospital so we could figure out what to do next. She continued to support us even though when diagnosed with a miscarriage, we were no longer under her care and it was all on her own time. Again, we felt so lucky to have such caring people in our corner. We met with the EAPU and, after discussing all our options, we decided that an MVAC was the right way to go for us. With no family in Christchurch, we needed to know when it would happen as Jeremy would need to get time off work to come with me. We booked it for 10 days. I thought it would feel horrible walking around knowing Bazza was gone but still there, but it actually helped me to have some time to still have them with me and be able to say goodbye.
A few days before the procedure, my morning sickness went away, and then I started bleeding. It would be like a heavy period but then stop by the afternoon, just to start again the next day. I didn’t have any maternity pads so I went down to get some. I didn’t know where they were and was too scared to ask so I panicked and got incontinence pads. I find it funny now but in that moment, it was a horrible feeling being so overwhelmed and unprepared. The worst thing of my life was happening to me as I stood in the supermarket and no one walking past even knew.
On the third day, a Sunday, the bleeding didn’t stop but got heavier as the day went on. The cramping got more intense and started to turn into contractions. You get very little explanation about what will physically happen during a miscarriage – all you get told is that it will be like a heavy period and if you bleed too much to go to A&E. It got to the point where I was lying on the floor, half in the toilet half in the hallway, and with every contraction, I felt like I was wetting my pants but it was blood. There was so much blood. Looking back, I can pinpoint the moment where I started to panic and the fear and pain took over. Jeremy was completely unprepared as well and didn’t know what to do so he decided that we were going to A&E. When I got there they put me on a bed, Jeremy had to go park the car, so I was on my own and there were no bays free so I got left in the middle of A&E by the desk. I have never felt more scared and alone lying on that bed, wondering if I was going to die, eyes closed against the harsh lights as people rushed by all around me.
Eventually, Jeremy found me and we got put in a room. After multiple drugs, the pain was dulled enough for a doctor to examine me. She removed the remaining tissue and we were told I’d had a complete miscarriage. She explained that during a miscarriage, your cervix has to dilate to allow the tissue to pass, so that’s why the pain is so different to period cramps. I read of miscarriage being described as a birth and a death all at once and that was exactly what it felt like to me. I finally looked at the time and six hours had passed. I thought it had been one or two, max. It was close to midnight by the time we got home and I was utterly exhausted but was so wired I ended up getting up and watching Netflix until the next morning. I had Tuesday off work already for the MVAC so let my boss know what had happened and took Monday off as well. It was so good having her know and not having to make something up. She also let me put in leave as bereavement leave and sick leave – again, we were so lucky to have such supportive people in all areas of our lives.
For that next week, I just shut down. I was awake but not really present and Jeremy took care of everything, doing all the cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping, keeping our life on track. He had also lost Bazza but he was holding it all together so that I could fall apart. You always hope that when something horrible happens, you and your partner will fall into, not away from each other, but you never really know until it happens. We fell into each other. But even with Jeremy’s support, there were still times when I felt so alone, like the full burden of the loss physically and emotionally sat firmly on my shoulders.
Again, we had to tell our friends and family what had happened and again, the support was amazing. People left food and sent me chocolate and comfort food. Being able to talk about it over messages where I had time to think about and write out my thoughts helped so much. As I shared my experience with friends many of them opened up and shared their own experience of miscarriage, many I never knew and some had never told anyone before. Sadly in all my different friend groups about half had lost pregnancies. However, most had gone on to have healthy babies so that gave me hope.
I was lucky that with my science background I didn’t ever feel as if the miscarriage was my fault. I accepted that the most likely cause was my body realising a chromosomal imbalance and that the baby wasn’t healthy enough to continue to develop. It did take me a long time to realise that I was angry at my body though – for not realising, for tricking me into thinking I was pregnant when it was already over, for the morning sickness and exhaustion, all for nothing. I was also so gutted that it had to be us. Not that I would ever wish a miscarriage on anyone but why us? Why couldn’t we have a sucessful pregnancy? Why did we have to go through this?
Being involved in Miscarriage Matters was such a positive outlet. I could talk about my experience all I wanted and became head of the care package committee, organising special care packs to be given to women in Canterbury who experienced miscarriage. It has been such a proactive and tangible way to help people and make me feel like I’ve been doing something positive out of love from Bazza, instead of grief.
Slowly I got back to normal life. The bleeding stopped after about a week and I returned to work and doing things with friends. However, I now viewed my life as two distinct phases: before the miscarriage and after. I wanted to try to get pregnant again right away. We waited a month to make sure my cycle was back to normal and then started trying again. I felt like if we were pregnant again before Bazza’s due date it would be easier. We wouldn’t have wasted time and we would be back on track. In hindsight, that was a lot of pressure to put on my body and the disappointment of not getting pregnant as the months went on was a lot to put on my soul. It took us six months to conceive again, which isn’t long at all but felt like an eternity. In that time, 12 of my friends announced pregnancies, mostly second or third babies. I cried every time I found out. I cried because I was so jealous that they could just have babies with no problem. I cried because I no longer felt instant happiness at a friend’s exciting news. And I cried because I was scared we would never get the baby we wanted. It felt like my life had shifted on its axis and the floor was no longer level. Just when I figured out how to balance on the new angle and stood up, something like a pregnancy announcement or getting my period would happen and I would be knocked to the ground and have to try to stand up all over again.
One week before what would have been Bazza’s due date, I took a pregnancy test a few days before I expected my period. I had been feeling so nauseous and thought I’d finally lost my mind and was imagining pregnancy symptoms. I knew if the symptoms were real I would have a high enough level of hormones to get a positive test. I woke at 5 am and needed to pee, so I did it then. After 3 minutes, I went back into the bathroom and it was positive. Instead of feeling joy, I felt grief – raw overwhelming ugly crying grief. I went back to my bedroom to wake Jeremy and I was so upset his first words were, “Who has died?” It was then I knew that I needed help.
When we went to see my GP to get bloods, I told her that I wasn’t coping and she was able to refer me to a psychiatrist. The waiting list in Christchurch is very long so we decided to go private as we were lucky enough to have the resources to do so. The woman I saw specialised in baby loss, she really helped me understand how my brain was working and how the trauma of the miscarriage affected me. She worked with me over four sessions to reorganise my brain and store the miscarriage away correctly, so I wouldn’t be triggered constantly by the new pregnancy. We changed ultrasound clinics too, I couldn’t face going back to the first one. We had multiple early scans to help ease my mind that everything was okay and the technicians were amazing, so kind, and compassionate. I also had to let myself mourn the loss of the type of pregnancy I wanted, an exciting, carefree pregnancy. I accepted that pregnancy for me would be scary and uncertain. That I would have to take it one milestone or even one day at a time. That I would always add ‘if all goes well’ when discussing plans or even the due date. That I would hold my breath the whole 9 months until I had my baby on my chest and heard that first cry. But that was all okay because whatever happened, I knew I could do it. I took strength from the fact that the worst had happened and I had survived. Thankfully this pregnancy all went well and today we have an almost 1-year-old.
Two years on from our loss, I still have days when I miss Bazza so strongly. Holidays, the day we found out we had lost them, and what would have been our due date especially. Mother’s Day was hard this year when I got so many ‘Happy first Mother’s Day’ messages and I wanted to shout “I have already had a mothers day, I was Bazza’s mother last year as well.” People think having another baby makes it better and you are a ‘real’ mum now. But watching our boy grow and sharing all the special moments has made me realise how much we have truly missed out on by never getting to meet Bazza. Who would they have been? Who would they have looked like? All those questions will never have an answer.
We printed a photo from the first scan which we stuck in our family album and I have a gold disk engraved with a ‘B’ that I wear round my neck so it’s always close to my heart. Jeremy and I are both glad that we told people about our pregnancy and that we celebrated Bazza’s life while we could – even with all the pain and grief we would never take that back. I also learnt a lot about how to support people going through a tough time. How just saying you’re sorry and acknowledging their pain means so much. To avoid “at least” statements or the temptation to fix the problem, instead, just be there for them. Loving Bazza from the moment I saw that second line on the test was the easiest thing I have ever done and letting go of the future I thought I had with them was by far the hardest.