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Opinion: 'I felt forgotten by NPHET and Government as I miscarried alone in hospital'

Clare Cullen describes her experience of miscarriage in a hospital without her husband, due to Covid restrictions.

Clare Cullen

Clare Cullen describes her experience of miscarriage in the time of Covid restrictions.

TO LOOK BACK on some video clips from earlier that week is quite sad. I’m joking that “I don’t feel pregnant anymore” because my symptoms are so mild and bragging to my husband that “I haven’t gotten sick yet!”

When I first saw spotting that Wednesday, it looked exactly like the very end of a period. I convinced myself it was brown discharge and Google told me that was normal in pregnancy.

My GP had originally told me that nobody needed to see me until 12-16 weeks and, in the meantime, “you’ll know if you’re miscarrying if you are bleeding and cramping”. So, I’d been leaning instead on Dr Google for every ache and pain, every craving or concern.

By Friday evening, it was undeniably blood, although not very much of it. I called the out-of-hours service and she gave me the same advice I heard the ER doc give someone on the phone on my last visit, three weeks later. “Bleeding during pregnancy can be perfectly normal, but best to get it checked out to put your mind at ease”.

From excitement to denial

When I’d been picking hospitals, I picked one with parking as I knew I’d have to go alone to my scans, and didn’t want to have to stress about parking. I hadn’t thought at all about having to go alone in these circumstances.

The first visit I attended, I was alone and drove myself. I was barely bleeding and a scan showed my baby in the sac, safely in my womb.

The doctor did take a long time to scan me but eventually showed me the baby on the screen. She said that the size of the baby was more consistent with seven weeks, not 10, but that could be because of my longer cycle.

She told me that my cervix was closed, which was a good sign, as the cervix would open in the case of a threatened miscarriage or miscarriage. She said to watch out for an increase in the amount of bleeding or a change in consistency or colour, in which case I was to come back in.

I went home happy and relieved, feeling secure that it had been a false alarm. I even excitedly told my husband that getting my dates wrong “made so much sense” because Dr Google said that week seven was when the morning sickness should start.

After my ‘false alarm’, I was suddenly no longer afraid of the morning sickness starting and hoped it would start right away. Unfortunately, I had misunderstood – perhaps, in retrospect, deliberately – what the doctor had been saying.

Later that night, I started to get cramps, and all that she had warned of came to pass. I got my husband, Alex, to drive me to the shop to buy sanitary pads because – and this was my logic at the time – “you can’t use tampons when you’re pregnant!”

Even as I writhed in pain in the car and tried to breathe my way through squeezing pains in my sides, I hadn’t yet accepted what was happening.

Facing it alone

Two hours later, I began to worry I was losing too much blood, so on the advice of the midwife that answered the phone, I went into the hospital again. Alex dropped me to the door and went home to wait for updates.

After being admitted and then assessed by the midwife, I waited for the doctor to see me. I waited, alone, for over two hours, the only person in the waiting room. I wasn’t offered painkillers or a comfortable chair. I read my book in between cramps, breathing heavily through my mask.

Every now and again I would try to change my seated position to gain some relief but the hardback chairs didn’t have much to offer. I intermittently text my husband to say “no news yet”, or “they haven’t seen me yet”. When they were ready to see me, I stood up and felt a shift. I waddled into the room. The midwife helped me undress. I lay down for the scan.

I looked at the screen. The baby and sac I’d seen earlier that day was gone. I kept looking but the picture didn’t change. Right up until I saw that, I’d been telling myself that maybe the baby could survive because my “cervix wasn’t open” and “bleeding can be perfectly normal in pregnancy”.

She said that she could see in her notes that the doctor earlier in the day “had not seen a heartbeat flutter”. I said “Oh. I didn’t know that”. I felt a tear slide down my face and heard it hit the surface of the chair.

Dehumanising

For some reason, I tried to pretend I wasn’t crying. The doctor said she couldn’t confirm until I had an internal scan in the Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit, but that it looked like I’d miscarried. She said that she was sorry. I said, “that’s alright”. What are you supposed to say?

After the scan, they said I could go home. They didn’t need to keep me in. Afterwards, I went outside and sat on the wall. I didn’t want to tell Alex over the phone, so I called him and asked him to collect me. I sat on the wall and cried in the dark while I waited for him to come. I was too hot to be inside and being outside allowed me to cry with no mask, and more importantly, no fear someone would ask was I alright, interject in my pain.

When he arrived, not knowing how to tell him, I tried to launch into a play-by-play but he interrupted and asked: “was it a miscarriage?”. I said “yes.” He was driving, so we couldn’t hug. I think I said “sorry”. I asked him if he was OK. He asked me if I was OK. It felt surreal.

It turned out that the process wasn’t over. I bled for nearly two weeks. My internal scan the following week confirmed an “incomplete miscarriage”, but neither the ER doctor nor the internal scan had actually found the baby, and they both presumed I’d passed it. So, I got the fright of my life when I eventually did pass the baby at the end of those two weeks.

Luckily, I was at home with my husband. Had I been anywhere else, I don’t know what I would have done. I had made this weird noise – not loud enough to be a scream, but unusual enough to worry him – and he had come running. I was so glad he was there to help me through that. I can’t imagine having faced that alone too. I wish I’d been better prepared.

I’m sad that Alex never got to see the baby on the scan that morning before it disappeared. Every time I was in the hospital, he was waiting at home, by the phone, for news that wasn’t coming, wondering if his wife and baby were going to be OK.

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When we’d been discussing picking a hospital, he said to me “pick one that will put your life first”. That throwaway comment stuck with me throughout. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have been on the outside like that. It could have been so much worse, and he would have been in the dark.

I am sure there are worse stories, and worse experiences and my heart aches for those women having to shoulder that alone. I also don’t want to pile on in a time when everyone is feeling the pressure. I’m happy to see things re-opening. I’m happy that businesses have adapted and can continue trading.

I’m also on board with the regulations and their aim to keep our loved ones safe. But it’s hard to marry what IS allowed with what isn’t. I felt forgotten by the Government and NPHET, alone in that waiting room. But I wasn’t even the one left out, stuck alone at home, waiting by the phone.

Clare Cullen is a Freelance Digital Producer & award-winning Irish Content Creator.Currently creating travel & lifestyle video content on YouTube and writing for Medium. Also part of the Irish TRY Channel on YouTube. Find her on YouTube, Instagram & TikTok.

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Clare Cullen

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