Something We Didn’t Expect

by Anna Parsec
Updated: May 26, 2024
17 minute read
Anna portrait in the field

This week turned out to be nothing like what we had planned initially. We thought we would be writing about our visit to Dublin at the very least. Instead, we had to get off the plane moments before the doors were locked and call an ambulance. Why? It can be answered in one word but there is more to this for us.

Warning! The story contains mention of blood. Also, do not read further if you are sensitive or emotional. I mention many details that probably you wouldn’t come across daily but they are necessary to tell the story and show the realism of the experience. We were not prepared for that but by writing this we want to prepare you.

Monday 13 May 2024

Planning to visit Dublin

Our day started early, at 5:25. We packed, bathed and left the house at 6am – pretty efficient actually. By 6:30 we were walking from where we’d parked the car not far from Littlehaven station. We were taking the 6:38 train to Gatwick Airport. This working week we were going to spend in Dublin. My conference was happening there – I was taking mine and another professor’s posters. James was going to work but also explore the city alone during the day and together when I had free time after the conference.

We questioned whether we should go to this conference because a couple of days earlier we went to the Early Pregnancy Unit at the East Surrey Hospital where it was confirmed that the pregnancy was unsuccessful and we should expect a miscarriage. There were three options provided: expectant management – waiting for the miscarriage to happen naturally; medical intervention – sounded questionable, painful and uncontrolled; vacuum surgery – either full and local anaesthesia, certain and controlled. We thought that taking into account the coming conference, time, effort and money put into that, it was worth going there. If the miscarriage would happen naturally just before or during that event – that’s fine we thought. It seemed like the bleeding had started but didn’t seem much more different from a regular period so it felt like a very manageable option. We made the call to wait for the miscarriage to happen naturally and if it doesn’t then we would go for the surgery that was pencilled in for 24th May.

Now you know what we knew before we set off on the trip to Dublin.

Morning fog in West Sussex fields

Arriving to the airport

On the train to the airport I started feeling slight spasms in the lower abdomen. Nothing too different from regular pain during a regular period but I kept James informed how I felt. The train ride took 20 min and by the moment we entered the airport I said to James that I really need to sit down somewhere for a long time – I knew that as soon as I sat down I wouldn’t want to move much.

We have our spot at the airport so we headed there. James made me comfy lying down and went to get paracetamol. At 8am I started feeling some serious pain but felt manageable, just more discomfort than usual but nothing too critical. However, by 9am the spasms started resembling contractions. I have never felt those before but the wave-like motion of pain was very distinctive. I wondered whether I was imagining things so I started timing each wave. Imagine feeling barely bearable pain for a minute with 15 seconds easing off period and 15 seconds strengthening period. I had only 30 sec rest between each contraction which was just about possible for me not to scream.

Boarding the plane

At that point the boarding had started, the room was full of people from our flight, I was lying down with my head on James’ lap and holding him tightly with every contraction. The feeling was so strange and unusual that it was hard to think straight at that moment. All I could do is live from one contraction to another. I barely noticed time while counting every second of rest and looking at the timer during the painful phases hoping for the minute of agony to be over in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 seconds. Sometimes the pain wasn’t going away and I was wondering when it would be over.

James started questioning whether we should board at all. We were pretty much the last ones left to board. I could barely walk, so I moved from one seat to another to be closer to the desks. I still managed to keep up appearances because I didn’t want to look ill. I was determined to make it to the flight and just pull myself together when needed.

When we were walking down the stairs I could barely walk and sometimes needed to lower onto my knees. Still I was determined to make it.

On the plane

On the plane we were sitting in different rows: 3 and 16. I moved the people in my row 3 so I could sit next to the aisle. James had both of our backpacks but I had a plastic bag with me because I felt nauseous by that point. I sat down, a girl of unidentified age was next to me: she looked either 10 or 25. I couldn’t quite say. She had a pad with some colouring book on it, her hands looked like an adolescent but the face, as far as I could tell, was much older. Why was it important for me at that stage? I was concerned that I might be looking too unwell. I needed to confide in someone but I wasn’t ready to share my conditions with flight attendants in case they say that I shouldn’t take the flight. I didn’t want to jeopardise the option of flying. I wanted to make this call myself. Very soon though I realised that I felt much worse and the girl didn’t seem like I could count on her help or knowledge to help get me through the flight.

The flight attendants were making final checks and calls before closing the door. James and I must have been apart for about 5 minutes now. It felt like ages. At that stage I questioned whether I am able to live through the flight without vomiting or some other very noticeable symptoms. I also thought that even if I just about manage to cope during the flight, what if I need some medical help when we land in Dublin. There were too many questions I couldn’t answer on the spot, too many risks.

Deciding to get off

I went to the flights attendants:

“I think I am in the active stage of the miscarriage and currently I am having some contraction-like pain which is very unbearable at this stage. I don’t think I can stay on this flight.”

Attendants became very worried, sat me down quickly on the jump seat I had already seen and really wanted to use when queuing before going up the aisle. They gave me water, covered me with their bodies from people sitting and started asking questions about how I feel. As far as I remember they were wondering whether I should stay or not but I was sure I needed to get off at that stage. One of them started notifying the pilots and ground services, then they went to bring James. I just wanted to get off as soon as possible, fall on my knees on the apron and scream. I equally didn’t want to hold the flight on my account as I felt like people had places to be.

I walked down the steps, fell on my knees on the tarmac and started moaning from the unbearable pain. Contractions stopped or rather I was in one long contraction and I was in agony. I could finally scream and cry from pain because I could no longer tolerate that pain and I didn’t need to keep up appearances anymore. I was surrounded by James, the flight attendant, the dispatcher and one of the service agents. It sounded like someone called the ambulance. The flight attendant was one of the most helpful people that day. She was the only one who sounded like she knew what I was going through and she stroked my back in such a way that brought some relief and covered me with my coat. I was drunk from that amount of pain though. I could barely understand where I was and yet I was tracking what was happening around me. I wanted the plane to go ahead with its plan and wanted to have nothing to do with it (apart from that nice flight attendant from Ryanair).

James gave our passports to someone to process this change of plan with the authorities. While it was happening, I was scraping the tarmac of Gatwick airport with my finger nails and screaming from pain. I remember thinking how strange it all might be looking but I desperately needed to do something.

One of the baggage handlers went to get a wheelchair and we were guided into the building and positioned ourselves on the floor just under the walkway. There was a security lady with us who was trying her best to help. Then two airport medical staff arrived and they started assisting but surprisingly it didn’t feel like much assistance as I really just wanted to go to the hospital. The lady was talking to me and reminding me to breathe. I wasn’t able to breathe much because my breath would turn into a scream.

Time to call the ambulance

About five min into this agony they say:

“We probably need to call the ambulance.” – I was ready to faint from that mention.

“What?!” – I thought to myself, – I was screaming from pain here, scraping the asphalt and carpets with my nails, shouting that I can’t bear this anymore and that I need someone to do something… anything… They were evaluating whether I needed medical help?

Another 15 minutes or so and the ambulance team appeared. They asked me some basic questions and we relocated to the ambulance vehicle. By that moment I had already started to bleed a little more and in case it would be a more serious bleed, I changed into James’ shorts because I really didn’t want to ruin my new jeans. In the ambulance they tried to lay me down but I needed to be on my knees or pace up and down the vehicle like a wild animal in captivity. Everyone was just standing or sitting and watching me. They said they couldn’t do anything because I had already taken painkillers and there was not much else they could do. It seemed like they needed to sit back and assess my reactions and they’d seen this all before.

“Okay, we probably need to go to the hospital.”

“What?!” – again I scream inside of me – Why was that even a question if nobody could do anything anyway. I have been in agony for the past hour and in terrible pain for the past 2 hours. Why has it been a question whether I need some appropriate medical assistance?

I was given Entonox gas to help with pain. They strapped me to the bed which I was almost fine with since I started breathing the gas and we were on the move via the airport taxiway (with a security escort as we were airside) to East Surrey Hospital that James and I were familiar with. The gas sometimes was making me dizzy which was a very unusual feeling but I wanted to pass out because the pain was so horrible. Gas was helping most of the time but I still was screaming at times.

Side note: all the technical details are made by James because I had no idea we were moving via airport taxiway or other details like that.

The male paramedic was sitting with James and was asking James all the practical questions. James was confusing them about my surnames (understandable!), couldn’t remember my phone number which I guess was distracting me from pain and I was removing the mask to shout out my number and ‘How is it possible that you don’t know my phone number?’. In my defence I was in a lot of pain and James’ hand was on my tummy and it was helping a lot. In order to provide my phone number he removed his hand and wanted to look for the phone which was in one of the many pockets or bags that we had just offloaded from the aeroplane. I wanted his hand where it was. Hence, I shouted at everyone.

Anna in A&E

Arriving to the hospital

We arrived at the hospital and I was taken there on the ambulance bed which was actually very comforting. As soon as I was breathing in the gas and was strapped to the bed and was on the move to the hospital, I finally thought that there is some help out there and I will be looked after. Before that it felt that I needed to look after myself and nothing else could be done to help me.

There was a queue in the A&E with 3-4 old ladies ahead of me. Honestly, I seemed worse than them when I arrived but I soon started to feel just slightly better and I’m sure they had their own issues that they’d probably gotten used to. A few other emergencies had come in and overtaken us. It was very busy in A&E with all sorts of paramedics and hospital employees coming and going. There were even police, security and border forces attending to certain situations.

Whilst waiting, I asked for a sick bowl, and threw up. That was the moment when I thought ‘It’s over!’ as the pain ceased. I was sitting up in the gurney very still and afraid to make a move in case I invited the pain back in. I felt better, no pain.

Anna resting at A&E

An unusual feeling

That was the moment when I felt sudden warmth underneath me. I knew that I was sitting in a bath of blood. A very unusual feeling that nonetheless brought me relief. I notified my paramedics about that.

“On that note we’ll leave you here.” “Yes, that’s fine. I feel better. Thank you.”

It was around 11am. Four hours of great discomfort before that which made me make the call not to fly anywhere. At the hospital in the 10 hours that we were there I was visited by various nurses and doctors who all seemed to be very busy and doing the very best job they could. Bloods were taken by the admissions nurse, analysis was undertaken by the A&E doctor and referring consultant and the Gynaecologist had removed leftover tissue during the bleeding. As well as this there were so many other staff involved in the visit such as the tea lady, various department receptionists and assisting nurses. It was sort of thought that the main stage of miscarriage had happened. Nobody could quite say why exactly I was in such pain and nor could I as I normally have quite a high pain threshold I thought. We left the hospital at 9pm. We were both happy that we were coming back home because we were both exhausted from this experience but happy that it seemed to be over.

Anna and James resting at A&E

Thoughts about the whole experience

  1. We had absolutely no idea that a miscarriage is something that can be happening for weeks. So far the miscarriage phase took me 2.5 weeks with 1.5 weeks of regular period symptoms and 1 week of something less resembling period.
  2. It looks like I had a missed miscarriage when my body kept thinking that I was pregnant for 4 weeks longer than it should have (and possibly still thinks that?).
  3. I was a part of a pregnant ladies chat (170 women). Whenever someone’s pregnancy wouldn’t go as planned, they would announce that and leave the group. When I found out about my situation, I actually wanted to consult someone who has gone through the same. However, it sounded like ‘There is nothing we can do here. You need to speak to gynaecologist, andrologist and reproduction specialist’. When I asked about whether there is any chat where those dropped out ladies go, nobody knew. So it looks like when everything is fine, you sit in that chat and complain about morning sickness. When you have some questions like ‘Do you take prenatal vitamins during miscarriage?’, ‘How similar miscarriage is to a regular period’, you were on your own really.
  4. I have three books for first time parents and about pregnancies. There was not a mention of miscarriages. This word doesn’t exist. It doesn’t happen. Honestly, it is not really important whether your embryo is the size of a plum or a lemon this week. What’s a little bit more important is what a miscarriage may look like and whether you could say for sure if anything came out of you or not.
  5. When I shared the recent developments with some of my friends, some reacted in a way ‘Why did you decide to go to Dublin before it’s all sorted?’. I honestly can’t understand how I could have predicted how it would all happen without knowing how it would feel like. Just waiting for the miscarriage to happen – how long for? What if it wouldn’t happen like it hadn’t been happening for 5 weeks before that? Doing surgery before the trip? Obviously, I wouldn’t go after that as I would need to recover even if very slightly. Cancelling the trip? It was all paid, I had put in so much effort into that, quite a few people involved. Cancelling the conference attendance didn’t seem justified at all.
  6. Some friends thought that I must be traumatised. On that, I didn’t feel traumatised but I wish I was a bit more educated and knowledgeable about the miscarriage. All the contractions and a bath of blood were news to me. I wasn’t prepared for that. It didn’t traumatise me but I definitely intend to do therapy after this experience and it’s hard to say right now how I feel. Obviously, this whole experience is a very unpleasant one. It’s disturbing both mentally and physically. Some friends disregarded my responses of ‘We feel surprisingly fine’. I think I say ‘We feel fine’ because James is a crucial part of this whole process. It influences him directly. He holds my hand throughout all the procedures. Me saying ‘We feel fine’ is a way to share some of the pain but also acknowledge how significantly involved he is as well.
  7. I am very unsure whether to tell anyone anything and how. It has been hard to keep my mouth shut about being pregnant because I wanted to share that piece of news but also it had a significant influence on my and our live’s dynamics. It was hard to say ‘Sorry – I no longer can come to the game’s night tonight’ without giving an appropriate excuse for that. Now, that many know about my pregnancy, it felt like we needed to update people. I don’t mind mentioning that because it influences our life yet again in another way. ‘Why am I unavailable for the foreseeable a couple of weeks for a visit to London? Hm…Maybe I had miscarriage related contractions on Monday morning and went to the hospital (almost!) straight from the plane?’ See, either way it’s hard to conceal this. At least for a person like me.
  8. I personally find it hard to let go of many things easily. I was emailing my PhD supervisor about the hospital situation without going into any details because I was carrying a poster of another professor and there was a chance for my supervisor to take it instead. I needed to notify him about that and sort it because it felt like otherwise I failed them completely. Before boarding instead of contractions I was planning to write 2-3 emails. I haven’t done those up until now and I feel uneasy about that. I hate that I am thinking about things like that.
  9. James – It was a sad yet memorable day that we were half prepared for. It was strange because it was a very hard and draining day to start with because of the pain Anna was going through but as the day progressed it became strangely enough, a nice feeling. The reason being was because after a while of waiting around at the hospital in a bed in the corridor once the pain had gone we could finally rest and understand that nature is sorting its self out. As well as this, it felt like we could both rest and not feel too guilty for resting after previous weeks of just getting on with it at full steam ahead doing business and PhD. It felt like we could finally rest and that we were being looked after by the professionals.
  10. James – It felt like one of the most memorable places for the miscarriages to start (whilst we were boarding the aeroplane) and maybe we should’ve been wiser not to let it get to that stage but I guess when everything feels relatively physically fine and manageable we can’t just stop our life even though psychologically it would’ve been nice to rest and prepare for the unknown imminent pain to come even though we could’ve been waiting 6 weeks for this and we weren’t sure how it would be and when it would occur. I guess we’re more experienced now.
Tuesday 14 May - Sunday 19 May 2024

The rest of the week

The rest of the week involved rest and recovery with a bit of work and reflection. Luckily the pain had mostly gone compared to the 9 out of 10 pain on the Monday and bleeding eventually stopped. We just spent the days at home and every so often on the sunny days we would walk out of our front door in to the beautiful fields nearby for a walk and picnic. We felt lucky to live somewhere nice and be together during this episode of our life.
Anna walking in the fields

If you are curious, here are our living costs for this week 20 of the year (13-19 May 2024).

13-19 May 2024
One week of rent of a one bedroom house in West Sussex but near Surrey Hills
Water bill and council tax (with student discount)
Train tickets and car monthly payment
Big and small food shopping
Amazon purchases
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