What it's like to have a d&c

Even though we’re told that miscarriage is super common (1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage), it’s still not a common experience for most women. It’s actually a very foreign experience for most. And while we’re supposed to be comforted by the statistics, in reality, the statistics don’t make any difference to how it feels to go through one yourself. Recently, I wrote a post about going through a miscarriage – a missed miscarriage to be specific. This was not how I wanted to tell the world that I was pregnant. And even though I’m kicking and screaming and wishing that it didn’t happen, it did. I had no control over it whatsoever.

When I wrote the last post, I was booked in for a D&C (dilation and curettage, a surgical procedure to remove a pregnancy) for the following day. You can read more about why I chose to have the procedure in the last post. After everything had been arranged, I came home and frantically googled EVERYTHING about it, from what it entailed, to recovery, to complications. Even though I’d been told all of this at the hospital, I needed to read other women’s experiences. REAL women. I wanted to know what I was in for, what it would be like. I was scared.

So, for anyone out there who is about to go through the same thing or is just interested, this is what it’s like to have a D&C. It was both easier and a lot worse than I expected.

NOTE: This post might be TMI for some people. If you don’t know what a D&C is, it’s basically where a pregnancy is removed by a combination of vacuum and, for want of a better word, the scraping out of the uterus. I’m being as open and honest as I can and I’m laying it all out in the open. All the details. 

What it’s like to have a D&C for a miscarriage: My hospital story

The night before

Rewinding to the night before, I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything past midnight. I didn’t mind so much about the food, but I hate being thirsty. I was sculling glasses of water at 11:45pm, just wanting to get as much fluid in my body as I could. Thank goodness I was booked in early in the morning so I could just get up and go straight to the hospital.

Needless to say, that night I was restless. Not only was I getting up to pee A LOT because of all the water I had drunk, but I was anxious about the morning. I was paranoid my alarm wouldn’t go off and I wouldn’t get there in time. I was both eager for it to be over already but also dreading the finality of it.

Late at night, just before I went to bed, I noticed that I was spotting slightly. When I saw this, I was so relieved. Maybe my body was finally starting to catch up. Maybe it was recognising that the pregnancy had ended a few weeks ago and it was starting to do its thing. I was still glad that I was going into the hospital to have it all taken care of quickly though. Who knows how long the process would have gone on for if I miscarried naturally and if it would be complete or not.

At this moment, I regained a little trust in my body again, like it knew what was going on. It sounds weird, but I also felt like it was confirmation that the pregnancy definitely wasn’t healthy. While I completely trust all the doctors who told me that the baby wasn’t alive, there’s always that little piece of doubt in the back of your mind saying, What if they were wrong? What if they made a mistake? This put my mind at ease that there’d been no error.

The morning of

I think I only slept 3-4 hours and the alarm went off at 6am (thankfully). I got up, showered and at 6:30am popped the two misoprostol tablets on the inside of my cheek to dissolve. The doctor gave me these tablets during my consultation the previous Friday and told me that they would help to soften my cervix before the procedure. Because I wasn’t allowed to swallow any water the day of the surgery, the tablets had to just be dissolved in my mouth. It took a long time – about half an hour – and it was both disgusting and distressing.

Why was it distressing? Well, I’d done some research beforehand and I realised that this is the drug that is used to medically terminate early pregnancies. It relaxes and opens the cervix and causes cramping and contractions. While I am absolutely, wholeheartedly pro-choice and believe that it’s a woman’s right to choose what happens to her own body, this was a pregnancy that I deeply, deeply wanted to keep. I wanted this baby. I wanted to keep it and for it to grow inside me. So the idea of taking medication to help a termination along was really upsetting. But, of course, I did what I had to do and I took the tablets.

We left for the hospital and found the day surgery. When we entered, I noticed that two of the other couples that I’d seen at the E.P.A.S. clinic the Friday before were there too. Their partners were with them and they were resting their heads on their shoulders. My heart went straight out to them. I’m sorry you’re here, I wanted to say. I don’t want to be here either.

We sat down in the waiting area for a little while while we waited to be called up and registered. It was here, when everything was quiet and still that it started to sink in. I am at the hospital. I am having surgery today. These are my last few hours of being pregnant. 

My name was called and I stepped forward to register my details. Choking back tears, I answered the clerk’s questions – details about my address, who would be picking me up, their phone number, etc. Seeing that I was upset, she was very sweet to me and said, ‘I’m very sorry you have to go through this and I hope you never have to again’. She told me that partners are usually not allowed to accompany a patient once they’re called through but that, given the circumstances, they would allow it. I was grateful that I would have Ben by my side a little longer.

Just minutes later, a nurse took me through to a consultation room. Ben came too. I was asked a million questions ranging from when I last ate or drank, to whether I had any bleeding, to what allergies I had. She told me that the procedure only takes approximately 15 minutes but that I was on an emergency list. This meant that I would be having the surgery done in one of the emergency operating theatres (even though it really wasn’t an emergency). Hopefully, she said, there wouldn’t be too many delays but there could be, depending on what other emergency surgeries they might be faced with (caesareans, ectopic pregnancies, etc). In a minute, Ben would need to leave and I’d be taken through to gown up. I’d then wait in a waiting room until my surgery. Usually, she said, if all goes well, I should be ready to go home in about two hours.

Ben and I said goodbye there in the hospital corridor. At that moment, I was so grateful that we could do this in private and not in the waiting room full of people. He told me he loved me, that I was strong and that it will all be over soon. He’d see me in just a few hours. Watching him walk away was hard. I was now on my own.

I was taken through to a small changing room and told what to change into. All of my belongings had to be placed in a plastic bag and placed on a nearby trolley. I needed to put on a hospital gown (nothing underneath except disposable underwear with a pad), robe, booties and a hair net. All jewellery had to come off as did nail polish on the fingers and makeup.

There were only eight seats in the waiting area (I can’t even call it a room, it was just a nook off a corridor) and I joined the other women sitting there. All of us were gowned up. We looked almost exactly the same in both what what we were wearing and the expressions on our faces. Everyone looked tired, nervous, upset or a combination of all three. I can imagine that no matter what procedure you’re having, having to have an operation is never a nice experience for anyone.

I sat down and waited. And waited. And waited. Various patients came and went. When one patient was taken in for her procedure, someone else came to replace her. There were no clocks anywhere and I lost all concept of time. The Today Show was playing on a TV and all our eyes were glued to it. I lost track of how many times I watched the hourly news segment. How long have I been sitting here for? Have they forgotten about me? 

I had been waiting for hours. Hours and hours. My thoughts went to Ben – he must be worried. My phone (along with the rest of my belongings) was in the plastic bag on the trolley that I’d seen the nurses wheel away to some unknown location hours earlier. I had no contact with the outside world.

It was a LONG time to be alone with my thoughts. With each hour that passed, I became less and less able to put on a brave face. I felt the tears start to roll down my cheeks and I could do nothing to stop them. I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything in so long and I was so tired and scared. Even though there were lots of people constantly milling about, I’d never felt more lonely in my life.

By the time the anaesthetist came to consult with me, I was a blubbering mess. And he did nothing to help me feel better. He got down to business straight away, didn’t acknowledge that I was upset or try to say anything that might make me feel better. Heck, even passing the tissue box would have helped! Instead, it was questions about allergies, asthma and other medical things that I can’t remember now. I get that he had a job to do and needed to focus on doing it and getting it right. But gosh I felt so alone sitting in that room with him. Sure, it was business as usual for him but not for me. Afterwards, he guided me back to the waiting area and said, ‘Okay, we just need to prep the operating theatre. You’re next and it won’t be long now.’

He must have mentioned that I was upset to the surgeon who’d be performing my procedure because she came and sat with me after that. I was so grateful to see that it was the same doctor I saw when I was at E.P.A.S. the previous Friday. I really appreciated the continuity of care between different departments at the Royal Women’s Hospital and I wasn’t necessarily expecting that in a public hospital. She said that she was very sorry I’d been waiting so long but that it had been beyond their control as there’d been other emergency surgeries. ‘We’re ready for you now so it will be over very soon,’ she said and asked me to follow her into the operating theatre.

I don’t know what I was expecting but I wasn’t expecting to walk myself into the theatre. I guess on the movies you always see people wheeled in on beds. As soon as I stepped through the double swing doors I felt so tiny and vulnerable. An operating theatre is a very overwhelming and intense place to be. These are some thoughts that ran through my head in the moments after I stepped inside: This room is massive. There are a LOT of people in here. Oh, there’s the operating table. And the stirrups. My legs are about to go in those. What’s that person doing with those metal, kidney shaped dishes over there? What’s going to go into those? I don’t want to know.

The surgeon and nurses guided me forward (I didn’t realise I had been hanging back towards the doors) and did a thorough check of all the paperwork. They checked my wristband against their documents and double-checked my personal details and procedure. Can you imagine if things got mixed up and they performed the wrong procedure on somebody? Like, if you were pregnant and go in supposed to have a hand operation but are accidentally given a D&C? Yikes.

The back of my gown was undone and I was guided to the operating table. Steps had been placed next to the bed to allow me to get up easily. What a weird experience, I thought, to be climbing up on your own operating table. The anaesthetic nurse introduced herself to me (her name was Bethany – I remember everyone’s names and faces so vividly). I was vaguely aware that I’d started crying again. This was it. Here we go. As she was attaching the blood pressure monitor to my right arm and the ECG leads to my chest, she looked at me kindly and said, ‘Don’t worry, Rachel. We’ll look after you. It’s going to be over before you know it.’

The anaesthetist was to my left inserting the IV into the crook of my arm. Everyone was around me, busy, doing their work. This is just another day to them. Above me, the large, disc-shaped lights were off but I knew they’d be on soon. Ahead, there was a clock on the wall and I remember looking intently at it as everyone was buzzing around. It was 10:55am. I had been at the hospital for almost 3.5 hours.

‘Just putting your IV in now,’ the anaesthetist announced. ‘You might feel a little woozy or feel a cold, metallic taste in your mouth.’ Seconds later, I felt both of those things, blinked my eyes and woke up to someone calling my name.


‘Rachel, Rachel,’ I heard. Opening my eyes, the first thing I saw was a clock on the wall. It read 11:20am. I had lost 25 minutes.

‘Is it over?’ were my first words.

‘Yes. It’s all over and it went very well. There were no complications and it was very simple.’ I closed my eyes and breathed a big sigh of relief.

As I started to wake up, I looked around. I was laying down in a bed in recovery. I realised that the nurses’ station was directly in front of me. Above it, plastered all over the wall were photos of tiny, newborn babies. They must have been babies they’d helped deliver or cared for. A knife went straight into my heart.

Looking around some more, I was vaguely aware of another woman beside me, also being monitored. I wondered what she was in for and then I heard one of the nurses say to her, ‘Don’t worry, your husband is having cuddles with your baby. You’ll be able to see them soon’. The knife twisted sharply. Is this a cruel joke?

But then my thought pattern shifted. Perhaps it’s not a cruel joke. Perhaps this woman who’s just had a caesarian and this collaged wall of baby photos is not here to hurt me. Maybe these things are here as a beacon of hope instead. Perhaps the next time I’m here in this hospital it will be for a happy reason, like this woman next to me. Maybe next time, I’ll have a brand new baby to show for it, just like her. Already, now that it was over, I could feel myself more able to look to the future and not the past.

The nurse who was looking after me was so lovely. She was gentle and sweet and caring. I was brought a warm blanket and a hot water bottle for my cramps, which were very mild (period-like). She kept asking about my pain level and whether I needed painkillers but honestly, I didn’t need anything. I had expected to feel much more crampy and sick than I was. My blood pressure was a little low but it was still within the normal range.

After about 20 minutes I was deemed well enough to graduate from recovery and be transferred to a ward. Of course, being a day surgery patient, I wouldn’t stay here but this was where I would eat something and start to sit up and move around. I had expected that I would feel quite groggy and out of it after the general anaesthetic but I was surprised at how good I felt. I was brought some sandwiches, coffee and water and I greedily gobbled everything down.

Just after 12pm the nurses were about to call Ben but they asked if I wanted to do it instead. I was brought my plastic bag full of all my things and I eagerly gave him a call. He was relieved and said that he had been trying not to worry, that he knew there had probably just been a delay. He had stayed close the whole time, walking around Melbourne city, sitting in cafés, in parks. Even though he wasn’t allowed in with me, he wanted to be near me.

I was feeling pretty good and so the nurse suggested that it was time to get changed back into my clothes. She pulled the curtain across so I could have some privacy. She said that it would be likely that I’d feel a gush of blood when I stood up but that it was normal and not to worry. That freaked me out a little but it wasn’t too bad. When I stood up, carefully, slowly, I realised that the doctors had wedged a pad between my legs after the surgery and that my disposable undies had gone. The nurse was right – I did feel a gush when I stood. I quickly fished out my underwear from my plastic bag, secured a new pad, dressed and hurried across to the toilet, feeling as though I was dripping like a tap. It eased off quickly though and was only like that when I first got up so I wasn’t worried.

After I dressed, I was guided to one of the nearby recliners to wait for Ben to get to the hospital. While I was waiting, the surgeon who performed my procedure came over to see me. She told me that everything went very well and it was quite complete so I shouldn’t have too much bleeding. I was relieved to hear that. I just wanted everything to have gone well so that I could recover as fast as possible.

We got the word that Ben had arrived and so I was taken out to meet him. He gave me a big hug and said, ‘Let’s go home’.

That afternoon I made a little nest on the couch and settled in for a Netflix binge. I watched five episodes of The Sinner and it was so good to zone out. I was completely zapped of all energy and all I wanted to do was lay around. The bleeding was light, lighter than a normal period. Thankfully, I had only very minor cramps and I didn’t even need to take anything for them. I’d been given a little information sheet on recovery post-D&C which basically stated that I needed to rest lots and not do too much. If I experienced any heavy bleeding or signs of infection I should come back to emergency. Thankfully though, everything seems to be healing.

It’s now been two weeks since I had the D&C. I’ve got lots more to say about the healing process, both physically and emotionally so keep a lookout for those posts. But for now, I’m just so glad that it’s over.

To any woman out there who is currently going through the same thing, I’m sending you big hugs. It’s awful but it will be over soon. I can’t thank everyone enough who has commented or contacted me privately with their own miscarriage and D&C stories. I had no idea what to expect going into this and I’ll be forever grateful to those who have made me feel less alone. If you are wondering what it’s like to have a D&C after a miscarriage, I hope that reading my experience helps you, even just a little.

Read my raw and messy thoughts about being told I was having a miscarriage here.

If you’re going through a miscarriage, please reach out. Let’s talk about this and support one another.