You know something is wrong when they pause and say: “I am just going to get a colleague.” It was a 20-week scan. The baby was dead. They thought it had possibly died a couple of weeks earlier, and sent me home to “let nature take its course”. The idea of a dead thing inside me, black stuff leaking out of me, was horrible. My GP was sympathetic, the risk of infection was high and she got me back into hospital. I had a new job so I made up some story about an ovarian cyst, as I found the whole experience very hard to explain. After all, I had two healthy children, so I shouldn’t be sad. Some women have repeated miscarriages. One medic told me I should think myself lucky.
The next time was way more dramatic. In a normal pregnancy, the level of certain hormones climbs slowly. The blood tests showed mine were zigzagging. This meant the pregnancy was ectopic – the embryo was stuck and growing in the fallopian tube. The baby would never be born. Again I was “lucky” as, during one checkup, everything happened very quickly. A floaty feeling came over me. The danger of ectopic pregnancy is that, if the fallopian tube ruptures, there is severe internal haemorrhaging. Weirdly, you feel the pain in your shoulder.
I was banged on to a trolley and rushed along underground tunnels that stretched beneath the hospital, with people shouting: “Get plasma in her”, “She is tachycardic”, “Tell theatre we are getting her in now”. It really is like ER, I remember thinking; they do get very excited.
Haemorrhage is a strange experience, in that you don’t much care. (Once I went round to see a friend who was miscarrying and found her sitting in a huge pool of blood, apparently feeling no real urgency to get to A&E.) When I woke up, my throat hurt, I had bruises everywhere: emergency surgery is necessarily violent. There were catheters and tubes and, opposite, an old guy was staring at me. I was on a mixed ward. “Heart attacks, mainly,” the nurse explained. At least I had a diamorphine syringe driver, but it was making me throw up constantly. A close friend visited and burst into tears at the sight of me. Someone came and asked if I wanted counselling. “Yes I do,” I replied. He wrote down a number, but the phone was at the end of the ward and at that point I couldn’t walk.
These are tales of average loss. This is what it is like to think you are to be a mother and then have that taken away. The veiled, secret mourning. Miscarriage is extremely common and we talk about it a little more now than we used to, as we do menstruation, so that the shame and pain of it can be shared and hopefully slightly dissipate.
In having that conversation, it’s important to be clear about our terminology. On Twitter this weekend, there was consternation when a month-old ad from Tampax resurfaced that read: “Fact: not all women have periods. Also a fact: not all people with periods are women. Let’s celebrate the diversity of all people who bleed.”
In our world of alternative facts, it sometimes seems women cannot be named. Women and trans men have periods. Why not just say that? It then emerged that, two weeks ago, Sands, a stillbirth and neonatal-death charity, had tweeted: “Often the focus of support and comfort is on the birthing parent, which can leave partners or non-birthing parents feeling isolated and alone. Sands is here for you.” It later apologised, as bereaved mothers were rightly appalled.
Now, whether we are talking about menstruation or miscarriage, mother as well as woman is considered by some to be exclusionary language. Women have been told our fear of being erased is something we just have to suck up. But I’m genuinely sure that most trans people have sympathy for grieving women. Men are never required to make space or to change their language. Meanwhile, women die in menstrual huts in Nepal; in the US, the infant mortality rate for black women is shockingly high; and all over the world we still have period poverty.
When I went back for my checkup after my ectopic pregnancy, I fell in love with the doctor because a) he was gorgeous, b) he saved my life and c) he was the most pro-women doctor I have ever met. As I wept that, at 41, I was too old to have another child, he said he could help. Most of his female colleagues didn’t want children until they were consultants, he said, which was usually in their late 30s, so he considered it his job to aid the process if necessary through IVF or other medical means. “Impregnate me now!” I had to stop myself screaming. The pregnancy hormones were still running around my brain. “I am so glad to see you,” he said as we parted. “The last woman I opened up in your condition, I lost on the table.”
Language matters. As Andrea Dworkin – a trans ally – once said: “Men have defined the parameters of every subject.” They still do. It is not transphobic for women to name our experiences as females and mothers. To insist our bodies matter and that our losses are real. It is a matter of life and death.
• Suzanne Moore is a Guardian columnist