What do you do when you’re 3500 miles from home, in the happiest place on earth and going through a miscarriage?
I was waiting outside the park gates when I felt it start. A trickle of liquid, a sudden warmth and wetness that wasn’t there before. When the gates opened I rushed to the toilets. I wiped, and the tissue came away crimson.
I’d experienced this hundreds of times since starting my period, but it wasn’t supposed to be happening now. For one thing, I was five and a half weeks pregnant. For another, we were in Epcot in Disney World. I don’t think there’s an ideal place to have a miscarriage, but it I know it certainly isn’t there.
My husband, Garry, and I had talked about having children since we started dating and finally decided we were ready. We’d booked a fortnight in Disney World and Universal Studios as a last hurrah before we became parents, and two weeks before we boarded the plane we found out that I was pregnant. They were the happiest two weeks of our lives, and we couldn’t wait to have a whole holiday to ourselves to be excited.
The bleeding started on the morning of our third day there. When I came back out to Garry, I was sobbing hysterically but insistent that I just wanted to keep on with the holiday. At the time I said it was because there was nothing we could do, but truthfully I didn’t want to accept we were losing the baby we already desperately loved.
Garry made me go to First Aid, and the next few hours were a blur. I was taken by ambulance to hospital – hideously named Celebration – while Garry went to the hotel to get the insurance documents. They laid a towel on the bed to catch the blood, did an internal ultrasound and poked at me with needles. Two doctors had to do my cervical exam; one to actually look and one to clear away blood clots and hold my legs apart while I cried.
And the prognosis? I was still pregnant. Maybe. My cervix was closed, they could see something on the ultrasound, and bleeding in early pregnancy is normal. The only way to tell for sure was to come back in two days and see if the levels of HCG (the hormone produced in pregnancy) had increased or dropped. Until then, we were free to go.
What do you do when you’re 3500 miles from home, in the happiest place on earth and going through Shrodinger’s Miscarriage? We had already paid for parking at Epcot so went there straight from the hospital and ate lunch. We already had Fast Passes booked for the Frozen ride so, in a daze, got in the queue. While we stood in the magical, Frozen-themed loading bay, I felt more blood slide out of me and into the super-thick pads I’d been given. I squeezed Garry’s hand, smiled widely, and climbed into the ride vehicle without a word.
And then we just… kept going. The next day we had afternoon tea booked at a fancy Disney hotel: I asked if I could swap one of the sandwiches because it wasn’t safe during pregnancy and had an enthusiastic conversation with the waitress about if we wanted a girl or a boy. I went straight from there to the bathroom to change the pad I’d soaked through, crying with silent, blistering intensity, before coming out to meet Garry and take the monorail to the Magic Kingdom to watch the fireworks. Sometimes, things felt fine. Often, it felt like we were waiting for an axe to fall.
That night we lay in bed in the dark, our hands clasped under the sheets.
“I’m scared,” I said quietly.
“I’m scared too,” he replied.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too. So, so much.”
The next day, as instructed, we went back to hospital. The bleeding had stopped and in my deepest heart I knew that at some point in the last 48 hours I had wrapped what had ever existed of my baby in tissue paper and thrown it into a bin. Still, when the doctor pulled the curtain aside and said “I’m sorry”, the howl of misery that came out of me was visceral. No matter how much you think you’re prepared to hear that you’ve had a miscarriage, you really, really aren’t.
We drove back to our hotel in shock. I took my clothes off and climbed under the sheets: Garry disobeyed the “No Smoking” signs and turned the TV on so we could ignore it. And after a few hours – because what else could we do? – we got dressed and caught the bus to Universal Studios.
We sat in glorious sunshine and ordered ridiculously over-stuffed burgers. I posted a video of Garry to Instagram stories, and laughed with genuine mirth as he tried and failed to keep his fillings in his bun. We went into the park. We wandered through Hogsmeade and watched Wolverine and Spider-Man pose for photos. We bought expensive, exquisitely decorated chocolates and ate them by the lake as the sun set and painted the sky in glorious purples, pinks and orange. It was beautiful. It would have been the perfect day, if only the day hadn’t started with our worst nightmare being made real.
There are good things and bad things about having a miscarriage in Disney World and Universal. Practically, Disney were amazing: the medical care I had in the parks was fantastic and the staff were incredibly compassionate. And emotionally, being there helped ease the pain of that first week. Everything in the Disney and Universal parks is geared towards you having a good time, and it really says something about how good they are at it that we still, somehow, managed to have a fun holiday.
But no matter how well we were being shielded from it, reality couldn’t be kept away entirely. We would be having a lovely day but suddenly remember, falling quiet when we’d been laughing, looking at the amazing performers and parades but not really seeing them. We were in our own personal paradise but going through our own personal hell, and it was a lot to cope with.
It was also very, very hard to be surrounded by so many children. At one point we went on a ride we’d been looking forward to for months only to be joined by a woman cuddling a baby that can’t have been more than a week old. We came off the ride and stood together in a quiet corner, holding each other tightly and not saying a word. One of the reasons we love Disney so much is that it’s full of kids having a truly magical time, but fresh from a miscarriage it was agonising.
But it wasn’t always painful: sometimes it was just surreal. Have you ever been sitting on a Minion-themed shuttle bus, mourning all the hopes and dreams you’d had for your future, while the Jurassic Park themetune blasts from the speakers and you’re surrounded by children in Hogwarts robes pointing fake wands at each other and screaming “EXPELLIARMUS!”? Well, I have. It does not feel like anything else on this earth, and even in our despair we couldn’t help but laugh.
Coming back to the UK was a relief in some way, and like opening the wound afresh in others - everything I did at first was accompanied by the thought “The last time I did this, I was pregnant.” I’m glad we had those eight days of unreality before we had to face the real world again. I’m not sure how I would have coped otherwise.
In three months time, almost ten months exactly since the miscarriage, our son is due. We dream of taking him to Disney World one day and of how his face will light up when he sees his favourite characters in real life. We wonder if he’ll notice that mummy and daddy get a bit teary when they first go through the gates at Epcot, and how we’ll explain it to him if he does.
There is no ideal place to have a miscarriage, and nothing can make the pain of it go away. But strangely, I’m grateful to Disney World and Universal for those eight brilliant, terrible days after mine. Their fantasy world wrapped itself around Garry and I and held us together through the worst week of our lives, and will always be a place to remember that first pregnancy as much as mourn it.
For information and support, visit tommys.org or to speak to a midwife call Tommy’s freephone on 0800-014 7800. If you’ve been affected by miscarriage, molar pregnancy or ectopic pregnancy, you can also visit miscarriageassociation.org.uk for additional help and advice.
The To-Do List and Other Debacles by Amy Jones is published by Ebury Press on 4 July (£14.99).
Images: Amy Humphries/Joel Sutherland/Unsplash
Wedding photography: Joanna Nicole