How Much Pain Is Real Enough To ‘Become Sentimental’ As You Say, Doctor?

My OBGYN was quite taken aback to see me in tears. She gave a small laugh and said, ‘But Madam, it was just an eight-week-old, ill-formed foetus - why are you being so sentimental?”

Trigger Warning: This deals with the grief and loss of miscarriage and gaslighting by health care personnel, and may be triggering for survivors. 

It was a planned second pregnancy, like our first. My elder son was four, I had hit thirty, and the time seemed right to welcome our second child. Living in small, nondescript towns, thanks to my husband’s transferable job, with no support system at hand, we could ill afford to get surprised in this domain.

We waited for seven weeks before breaking the happy news to family and friends. Everyone was overjoyed. In the eighth week, I woke up one morning to faint spottings. I was alarmed but not overly so. I decided to wait for a day and see if it was just a stray incident. By the next day, the bleeding had slightly increased, and I felt positively unwell. Our regular doctor was travelling. We asked around for references and visited a well-reputed lady obstetrician. My subtle misgivings and apprehensions had, by this time, amplified to visible alarm. She did the necessary checks and labelled it a case of ‘irregular fertilisation/ abnormal fertilisation’ – the pregnancy would probably not run its full course and hence, an MTP was advisable. I asked if I had time to think it over, to which she replied there was no immediacy, and that, I could come back in about three weeks’ time for the procedure.

I cried all the way back home. Together, we decided to read up on the pros and cons, give it a serious thought, and then take an informed decision. By afternoon, however, my bleeding increased substantially and was accompanied by severe abdominal cramps. I found it difficult to walk, sit, or even lie down. Instinctively I knew something was very drastically wrong inside and that, I needed immediate medical attention. Rather, hospitalisation. But what annoyed me was the confusing prognosis I had received earlier in the day, which said I had enough time in hand to take a call.

Had the doctor erred in her judgement? Was it a classic case of misdiagnosis? How did my condition take such an abrupt turn in just a few hours?

I never had any history of gynaecological irregularities since my menarche. My first childbirth had been very smooth. It had been a painless C-section as I did not go into labour even after two inducing sessions. Hence, I failed to understand how and why things went so downhill this time.

A “common enough condition for ladies”

The minutes were ticking by, and my pain was mounting. We left our four-year-old son with our neighbour and friend, and headed to the hospital around 5 pm. It was the same maternity home we had visited in the morning because we felt the doctor was familiar with my case and that would save time. Once we reached, I was admitted and put on a saline drip by a nurse. My husband was asked to wait in the lounge. The on-duty GP checked my vitals and left. I kept asking for my lady gynaec but the nurse disregarded my requests. The specialist had apparently finished her rounds and would not come back that day unless there was an ‘emergency’.

I was flabbergasted!

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Was this not an emergency? Were my unborn child and I not at risk? Or was there some kind of a bizarre pain threshold one had to cross before one was deemed worthy of specialised medical attention?!

By this time, the pangs had become unbearable, and I was bleeding profusely. But the nurse maintained that this was a “common enough condition for ladies” and that, the doctor would examine me the next morning. I felt helpless…vulnerable…confined. And after a short interval, my worst fears came true. In a prolonged and searing spasm, a huge clot whooshed out of my body, carrying with it a tiny fragment of my womb and a large slice of my soul. I had aborted!

I screamed. The nurse came running inside. She examined me and her expression changed from dismissive to marginally concerned. I shouted at her, asking her to send for the obstetrician who had attended to me in the morning. She probably realised the gravity of the situation and made a few quick phone calls and then, sent for my husband. Together, we mourned our loss. But grief, I realised, also comes with a time tag.  I sent him home to take care of our son who had been at the neighbour’s, all this while.

“Why are you being so sentimental?”

After the expulsion of the foetus, my physical pain largely subsided. Till then, I had always prided myself on my resilience and my innate ability to weather all storm. But that evening, lying all alone in that unfamiliar hospital room, my body was racked with sobs. Around 8, the specialist walked in. She carried out the standard checks, sent my aborted foetus for laboratory testing, and appeared completely nonchalant. She was quite taken aback to see me in tears. She gave a small laugh and said, ‘But Madam, it was just an eight-week-old, ill-formed foetus – why are you being so sentimental?”

In fact, she ‘consoled’ me saying I was lucky I had a natural and early termination of pregnancy, because the foetus had no chances of survival in any case.

I did not respond. I was too exhausted and beyond caring. What the lady said was probably true, from the medical point of view. But was it necessary to be so brutally upfront? Especially at a time when a woman was at her lowest? When did the world of medicine drift so far away from that of human emotions, I wondered! Till an hour ago, this same ill-formed foetus had been an integral part of my body…it was my living baby for the past eight weeks, before fate sundered us. Did I not deserve to even grieve him/her without being judged?

A year later, I embraced motherhood again.

Looking back, I feel my medical misadventure was probably destined to happen. My only gripe is the partially incorrect diagnosis and the complete absence of kindness and empathy – the only balm I needed that evening for my bleeding mother’s heart.

Editor’s note: Women regularly face #MedicalMisogyny from health care professionals. For the WHO World Health Day 2023 theme of ‘Health for All’, identifying this misogyny and ensuring #Equity in healthcare is essential. All of April, we will be sharing stories with you on this these, either personal stories or fiction. Find them all here.

Image source: fizkeys from getty Images Free for Canva Pro

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About the Author

Urmi Chakravorty

Urmi Chakravorty is a military spouse and former educator, who has imbibed lasting life lessons from both her roles. Her articles, stories and poetry have found space in The Hindu, The Times of India, Women' read more...

21 Posts | 25,186 Views

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