The miscarriage misdiagnosis scandal has freaked me out. I’ve had three miscarriages and I was told all the stuff that many of these mothers who went on to have live babies were told, for example: ‘There’s a pregnancy sac but no baby’, ‘There’s no heartbeat’, ‘The baby is small for dates’. Like many miscarriage sufferers, I had an ERPC (evacuation of retained products of conception) on each miscarriage – still often called a D&C – and, once, abortion medication.
When the scandal broke, part of me thought, What if? What if my babies weren’t dead at all? Certainly on my last miscarried pregnancy, I still felt extremely pregnant and I was shocked when the consultant couldn’t find a heartbeat at my first scan at 12 weeks. I still felt pregnant even after the ERPC but that’s one of the cruelties of miscarriage: hormone levels don’t drop just because the foetus is gone.
There’s nothing like a term pregnancy and new baby to recover from the terrible emptiness of multiple miscarriages. I’ve had a healthy baby girl since my last miscarriage. When I was pregnant with her, my now husband and myself used to joke that if we won the lotto, we’d buy the hospital a decent scan machine. The scan machine in our local hospital seemed decrepit to us (images were very hard to see) and the people using it often complained about it. The machines I was scanned on 17 years ago, in a different hospital, for my pregnancy with my eldest son, were more futuristic than this one. I’ve no doubt that the same machine is still in use in my local hospital.
Miscarriage can be devastating. Most people I know played down my losses, expecting me to be back to ‘normal’ within days of losing each baby. This ‘get up and get on with it’ attitude is thrown at many women who have miscarried. Parenting websites, which have pregnancy loss forums, contain hurt and bewildered messages from a lot of Irish women who are being treated by others as if they are over-reacting to their losses. Parents bond early with a wanted baby and the loss of that child can be very deeply felt.
Miscarriage is an invisible loss – there is, generally, no body to bury, and no gravestone to visit. And while I wouldn’t compare my losses to the death of a full-term baby, I was still really upset by them.
If anything comes out of this scandal, I hope it’s that women are listened to more and not fobbed off and treated inconsiderately, as I was more than once during my miscarriages.
I hope that mothers diagnosed with miscarriage are now asking for and getting multiple scans to make sure that their diagnosis is correct. I hope they are being treated with respect and dignity when they ask for them. And I hope that the equipment in all maternity units in Ireland is vetted and replaced where necessary.