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Sobering lesson in the politics of miscarriage

As I am writing this, I am in the process of miscarrying a first term pregnancy. Yes, the pregnancy was planned. No, the miscarriage didn’t spontaneously start and catch me unaware. Instead, I’d been anticipating this for over a week, courtesy of an abnormal early ultrasound. A special type of constant vigilance, watching and waiting, hoping to be a statistical freak.

Well turns out I’m not a unicorn after all, as evidenced by the onset of bleeding 48 hours ago. That being the case, educated professional that I am, I made a series of medical appointments, arranged blood tests, filled scripts for painkillers and anti-nausea medication, notified work and activated my out-of-office message. All going well so far and, to be honest, my feeling at that point was relief: relieved to know what the outcome will be, relieved to have some control over a horrible process.

Madeleine Boulton had to do a 160-kilometre round trip to access medication when she began to miscarry.

Madeleine Boulton had to do a 160-kilometre round trip to access medication when she began to miscarry.

Except that I didn’t really have control. The bleeding didn’t increase, the cramps didn’t come and the progress was slow. Tortuously slow. I spoke with my obstetrician. We discussed other options and agreed the best course of action was to expedite the miscarriage with medication; basically take a pill to induce the process in order to bring about some finality.

Excellent, I think. The script will be faxed to the local pharmacy, I’ll get it dispensed immediately and take the pills tonight. Tomorrow won’t be pleasant but it will be done.

Just as I was starting to plan our Easter away, the obstetrician asked me to phone the local pharmacy first to check they could dispense the required pills. Apparently not all do, but seeing as I live in a small regional town with no other pharmacies within a 50-kilometre radius, he felt fairly confident they would be able to help.

But no, things could not be made that easy. I drove to my local pharmacy to be told no, they were not registered to dispense that. I tried the next, bigger town. No, the pharmacist explained, they were not registered “for that type of medicine” either. For this particular medication, I needed to go to the next town, a further 27 kilometres away. I rang a pharmacy there to check. Short of this, I was going to have to cross state lines. My blood pressure was no longer in the normal range.

I struggled to keep my composure as I explained to the young woman at the end of the line that I wanted to know if I could get a particular drug there. Send us the script and we’ll fill it, she said. No, I replied, apparently it’s not that simple because I need a special drug for an early miscarriage. The “abortion pill”. Not everyone can dispense it. I’m finally informed that yes, they could dispense this, they even had some in stock. I arranged to have the script faxed through and mentally planned the logistics of picking up a child from school then doing a 160-kilometre round trip, all so I could bring about a swift(ish) end to an awful situation.

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You know, the only times in my life I’ve been made to feel like a criminal have been the two times I’ve suffered miscarriages. The first time was, on a personal level, undoubtedly the worst. Having been diagnosed with a late miscarriage at a 19-week scan, I was referred to an abortion clinic by my then obstetrician for a two-step surgical procedure on the basis that that was where I would receive the best clinical care. They were great. What wasn’t was the fear I felt at the prospect of a mob of right-to-life protesters greeting me near the entrance (thankfully that didn’t happen) or the trauma of having to sit through a mandated session with a “counsellor”, who is legally required to discuss termination options with you before you can have the procedure. I wanted to scream that my baby was already dead. I want to scream that again now.

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