Women’s health is so misunderstood: I was told I’d miscarried when I wasn’t even pregnant


Something wasn’t right (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

Back in February, before ‘unprecedented’ was in my vernacular, I found myself in A&E with excruciating abdominal pain and a suspected miscarriage. 

I share my experience without the intention to shock, or make you squeamish, or garner sympathy, but in the hope that it adds to the much-needed dialogue around women’s pain and to break the stigma surrounding gynaecological health.

The day before, I’d had that all-too familiar feeling that I was due on. I try to be a good modern woman and keep track of my periods, but like any good modern woman I’m too busy for that s**t. 

Luckily, my body sets a reminder in the form of a bad mood, unexplained self-loathing and a sudden loss of appetite, so I knew it was coming.

I’d always had painful periods. I remember being picked up from school aged 14 when I came on in my biology class, bled on the school chair and passed out. My periods were like a Shakespearean tragedy; full of blood, gore, they go on for far too long and at some point a woman is going to faint. 

They became more tolerable as I got older, not because they were less painful, but because I just got used to them.

But this period was different. I woke up with the kind of pain that paralyses you, but you have to move or you’ll soak through the mattress. At best, you’ll lose your deposit and at worst be arrested on suspicion of murder.

I hobbled to the bathroom as fast as I could, knowing that gravity would kick in any second and make a mess of the carpet.

I hadn’t seen so much red before. Whoever said that menstruation releases only a tablespoon of blood is a liar, a cisgender man and needs to stop measuring bodily functions with cutlery. 

I’ve had lots of blood clots in periods before, but never one that I could feel coming out of me. 

This is where the detail gets gory but let’s push on. I heard something hit the toilet water, something… solid. It didn’t look like a blood clot; it was fleshy and pink. Something wasn’t right.

I called my mum. I didn’t have the vocabulary or the patience to accurately describe it to her over the phone, so I sent her a photoshoot of the ‘thing’ instead. My mum’s opinion is a litmus test of whether I’m dying or being dramatic. 

Her silence spoke volumes so I ordered an Uber. 

In the wait for the taxi, I decided that a photo wouldn’t do the ‘thing’ justice so I searched for a container to take it with me. I had some plastic cups leftover from a game of beer-pong, so I scooped it up in that, sealed it with clingfilm and shoved it in my handbag.

My Uber driver wasn’t much of a talker and I’m forever grateful to him for that.

When I saw the nurse in triage, he reassured me it was probably just a blood-clot and I had nothing to worry about; it was normal. I felt guilty for wasting his time. Another ‘hysterical woman’ getting panicked over a period, but when I showed him the thing his face dropped. 

He put his hand on mine and gave me the sad, head-cocked-to-the-side look that people give when they have bad news. ‘It’s not your fault’, he said, ‘and it doesn’t mean you won’t have a healthy pregnancy again’.

One thing we can do is talk about our experiences, in the hope of breaking the stigma surrounding women’s health

My mind spun. I hadn’t thought I was pregnant, let alone lost said pregnancy. I wasn’t even having sex and I’m fairly sure that’s a necessary component. Then I remembered I’d come out of a relationship a couple of months prior and that the pill I’d since stopped taking may not have worked.

The nurse couldn’t be sure, though, so he sent me off for a pregnancy test as the hormones could still be in my body. It came back negative. 

I was relieved, until the nurse told me that the foetus could’ve died several weeks ago and the pregnancy hormones may have left my system.

Instead of thinking about my pain, the possible future implications on my health and wellbeing, or the fact I hadn’t eaten anything for two days, I wondered what the etiquette was for contacting an ex to tell him I was no longer pregnant with a baby he didn’t know I was having. 

Was a text too informal? Do I make it light-hearted? Throw in an emoji, perhaps, so he didn’t freak out.

It didn’t matter, because it wasn’t a miscarriage. A doctor came back with the results of my blood test which confirmed I hadn’t been pregnant. So what was it?

‘We don’t know’, she replied. But they were going to take ‘thing’ off to be tested in the lab and see what on earth had come out of me that morning.

I waited several weeks before I was told that ‘thing’ was in fact endometrial tissue, but they couldn’t tell me any more. I knew about endometriosis, I had friends who had suffered for years with symptoms without ever being diagnosed, and who were dismissed as having ‘women’s problems’.

Endometriosis is a condition whereby tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows outside the uterus. If left untreated it can result in pain during menstruation, pelvic pain and potentially infertility or subfertility – a delay in the time it takes to conceive on average. 

So, was this my diagnosis? Was this what I had been suffering with all these years? They couldn’t tell me, I would have to undergo more tests. It usually takes seven and a half years to diagnose a woman with endometriosis in the UK and I’m currently going through that process.

I believe that one of the main obstacles in the path to diagnosis is that women simply aren’t taken seriously when it comes to pain, and we face stigma and embarrassment for describing our symptoms. 

We’re dismissed as hysterical and are told that severe abdominal pain is simply par for the course of a female existence. There’s a rather depressing etymological link between hysteria and hysterectomy, after all.

Before my visit to A&E that day there had been countless doctor’s appointments where I had been prescribed painkillers, the pill, an IUD as quick-fixes, rather than an offer to investigate the root cause of my pain. I’m glad that I’m en route to an answer, but I’m aware it may be a long process.

One thing we can do is talk about our experiences, in the hope of breaking the stigma surrounding women’s health. No one knows our bodies like we do, so when we think something is wrong, we should be confident enough to advocate for ourselves and each other.

When I showed a few curious friends photographs of the endometrial tissue, they recognised that they had the same thing happen to them, but hadn’t felt able to talk about it out of embarrassment. 

One in 10 women in the UK are affected by endometriosis, so it should be something we feel comfortable talking about and more importantly, feel empowered to seek help for. 

It’s time that gynaecological pain and suffering are no longer accepted as an inevitability of the female condition.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk.

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