I knew what I was supposed to see because I had been here before.
A bulbous little twitchy shape in the gloom. And in it, a dot, flickering as if to send me a message in Morse code.
That was my son’s first ultrasound. That dot was his heartbeat. This is what is known as a ‘dating scan’, taken to measure how far along in my pregnancy I was.
The second time I fell pregnant and had a dating scan, I wasn’t so blessed. There wasn’t anything there – no flickering dot for a heartbeat, no barely formed foetus.
This had been a remarkably relaxed pregnancy. No cramps. No exhaustion. No nausea. No furious hunger. My husband had said to me, ‘Maybe this is just a chilled out kid.” Not like my son who was a human turbo-engine. I was hoping he was right. But I knew that, no matter how easy-going the child, building a human inside another isn’t easy work.
This had been a remarkably relaxed pregnancy. No cramps. No exhaustion. No nausea. No furious hunger.
“Is everything okay?” I heard myself ask. I already knew the answer.
The terrified ultrasound assistant went to get her supervisor.
Her supervisor was curt and to the point. “No foetal pole. No heartbeat.” She didn’t even look me in the eye. And she certainly didn’t say the M-word – miscarriage.
“What happens next?” she asked. She knew damn well what came next – devastation. But she was palming the responsibility off to my GP. Her assistant hummed along to Billie Eilish or whoever was blaring over the radio.
A few hours later, I drove in a daze to my GP, hoping and praying someone would just end my misery and say it. But even my GP did not have the stomach for it. She said it might be that my baby was growing very slowly. What baby?
I never knew giving someone hope could be that cruel.
Not even one said to me, “I’m sorry for your loss.”
The next few days were a haze of blood tests and tears. In my usual fashion, I engaged in busy work – so much busy work – trying to distract myself from the grief. I crammed chocolate digestives into my mouth. I watched far too many hours of mindless YouTube videos.
As my hormone levels began to fall, a bunch of GPs all tried to pin it on me. Do I smoke? Did I eat the wrong food? Did I have a hard time getting pregnant?
No. This stuff just happens. It wasn’t my fault. Not even one said to me, “I’m sorry for your loss.”
A few days after, my baby just fell out of me. Since I always do the correct thing, I collected the tissue, put it in a sandwich bag and placed it in the fridge for my midwife’s inspection.
To my surprise, the midwife treated me with kindness. She even commended me for collecting the tissue. “That can be really hard to do.” But I had numbed myself so successfully that I could barely feel the warmth of her compassion.
That dam of emotion broke in the months and weeks after. I had both an inflamed gut and depression so deep it almost took me under.
So, here’s what I wish could have been done differently:
Shown a little kindness
I was amazed that none of these ‘health-care’ professionals actually knew how to practice ‘care’. I wasn’t just a malfunctioning uterus. I was and am a complete human being. I wasn’t asking for a pity party. But at least a kind word and a willingness to look me in the face.
Been direct with me
A lot of the medical professionals I met didn’t just soften the blow. They completely avoided it.
I’ve lived long enough and have had enough grief to know that it’ll come for us one way or another. I know that everyone isn’t like me. But it would have made me feel more human and less shame if they had looked me in the face and told me, “We’re not sure your baby is going to make it.”
Offered to write a doctor’s note for my workplace
I suffered three days of very heavy bleeding and continuous cramps. When the miscarriage happened, I had some relief. But the day after, I woke up with a mild fever and even more painful cramping. This is because my miscarriage wasn’t complete. That would take another four days.
In some sort of biological sick joke, I even experienced food aversion and nausea. It felt just like pregnancy.
I am a freelance writer, so I don’t have a workplace to excuse myself from. But if I did, I would have been grateful if someone else had had that conversation instead of me.
Given advice on to how to break it to my child and to my husband. (They both bawled with equal ferocity.)
How could I tell the two people I loved the most that they had lost someone they loved?
I broke it to my husband the moment I was out of the ultrasound clinic. I was looking more for my own comfort than to comfort him. Over the months that followed, the way we each grieved was very different. We sometimes clashed; we sometimes connected. We had no guidance on how to grieve together. I wish we had.
My little boy was only four at the time. And he’s autistic. And he has a language delay. But he still understood that there was something precious inside me he had to take care of.
We sat him down on the couch and told him that his little sibling was no more. “NO!” was his first response. Cuddles and tears were his second.
There’s no easy way to break bad news to any child, let alone an autistic one. I would have appreciated any sort of guidance.
I would have appreciated any sort of guidance. But I would have settled for some kindness.
But still I would have loved that personal touch. A voice on the phone. Those stereotypical kind faces in church basements. A ticker tape parade would have been ideal. But I would have settled for some kindness. Any kindness. A little guidance as to what might come next. A way to break it to the people closest to me. I did not want to find myself trying to keep the mad bad world at bay, with a wound in my body and heart.
Today, I know better than to expect kindness or honesty. When and if we have another pregnancy, I know I will have to put my journalist’s hat on and push for clarity. I am not simply going to get it. I know too that I will have to demand humane treatment; that is not a given either. I know too that the Internet once again is my best guide at how to deal with conversations with my loved ones. I wish it were different, but until the system starts to value mothers more, it won't be.
Sabina is a Muslim, mum and comedy filmmaker. Follow her on Instagram @sabina.giado
If you need immediate assistance or support contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 www.lifeline.org.au . For further information about ante/postnatal depression contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 www.beyondblue.org.au or talk to a medical professional or someone you trust.