I had a miscarriage during field work

Today, we are hearing about something that happens so often to women, and to women in the field, but for some reason, our society doesn’t seem to want to talk about.  Here is Sanja Hakala’s experience with miscarrying a baby while working in the field.

Once during an intensive two week field gig I had a miscarriage. It was not a dramatic one, so no horror stories here. Just an ordinary ending of a pregnancy in its early stages, the kind women all around the world have every single second. I’m writing about it to show that these things happen, even if people don’t usually talk about them.

We were in the Finnish Åland islands walking through the fields and meadows in search for caterpillar nests. I was a master’s student, hired for the annual sampling of the glanville fritillary butterfly metapopulation, alongside seventy other students. I was nine weeks pregnant. It was my first pregnancy, so I was slightly more worried about everything than I would have been otherwise. Ticks, for example-there are ridiculous amounts of ticks in Åland islands, carrying all kinds of nasty deceases. Brrh. But I knew how to deal with them, so it was fine. I wasn’t even the only pregnant woman there that year, a friend of mine was too. (Her baby is now seven years old.)

“It was my first pregnancy, so I was slightly more worried about everything than I would have been otherwise.”

Not many people knew I was expecting; it was so early that I didn’t feel comfortable talking about it yet. I did tell my two field partners, though. I didn’t want them to start guessing why I was feeling sick and being cranky in the early mornings. They were nice and supportive. Apart from them, I kept quiet.

Cows on Aland islands

Typical field site, complete with cows. Photo credit: Unni Pulliainen

The first few days went fine, but at the end of the first week I started bleeding. Just a little. Just enough to be really worried. I called my nurse from the field, from a cow pasture, if I remember correctly. I walked around and kept my eyes open for the caterpillars, and waited in the phone queue for a long time before she answered. When she did, she told me it was normal and might not mean anything, and even if it did, there was nothing to do about it. So if I was feeling ok, I could just keep on working. So I did.

I didn’t tell my colleagues about my worries. Maybe I should have, but I really didn’t feel like talking about it with them, or anyone except my husband. I phoned him in the evening, and we were worried together. But I didn’t want to travel to the city for a checkup, if there was nothing to be done anyway.

The small bleeding continued for the rest of the two weeks, which is super inconvenient in the field. We were working almost fourteen hours a day, and mostly with no access to toilets. And since I was so very worried about the bleeding, I kept checking the situation often. But nothing changed for days. I didn’t feel sick, I wasn’t hurting. I kept working and I kept trying not to worry.

Towards the end of the second week the bleeding got worse, and in the end it was very obvious that the pregnancy would not continue. Fortunately the worst and most painful parts happened on the last evening, when we were already at our cottage and not in the field. Afterwards I took a shower, and called my husband. I was sad and confused, and just wanted to hide, so I did not tell my housemates anything. We were about to head home the next day, anyway.

“I was sad and confused, and just wanted to hide, so I did not tell my housemates anything.”

When I got back to the city I went to see a doctor. She said everything was fine but I definitely was not pregnant anymore. And that was it. Life went on. A year later I was back there at the same field sites – and was pregnant again. That baby is now six years old.

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