There are several reasons a woman might be having a D & C, but irrespective of her reasons the surgery is invasive, often distressing and not to be too blunt, fucking horrible. We’re so good nowadays about writing blog posts about miscarriage, writing blog posts about abortion rights or talking about women’s issues such as uterine problems (which is a reason for this surgery though many assume it is only pregnancy related). We don’t seem to talk about D&Cs, and I don’t understand why. It’s scary to feel like you’re alone and when you head over to the internet to ask what to expect you get little but chat rooms and blunt medical explantations.
The truth is, the reason for a D and C can vary drastically but the surgery will almost always be very similar. Having been in the unfortunate position, like a lot of women, of having a D & C, I thought it might be useful to share my experience for those who are having the surgery and are as terrified as I was beforehand. Which, FYI, it’s ok to be – even if you’re choosing the D&C for a termination.
Here’s what to expect when having a D & C (dilation & curettage):
- You can’t eat or drink for 6 hours beforehand.
- When you first arrive at the clinic or hospital the chances are that, unless you have had one days before and specifically say you don’t want another, you will have an ultrasound scan. This is for several reasons depending on why you are having the procedure; from checking that there is no viable foetus to measuring the size of the foetus as that may effect what sedation you need.
- There are two types of sedatives offered usually, mild sedation or full out general anaesthetic.
- If the foetus is larger than a certain size, you will be advised to have a general anaesthetic over a sedation. The reason being that the procedure is more intense and you may feel something while under sedation and move slightly during the procedure. You won’t under general. This is usually 12 weeks+.
- You will be asked to fill out forms. Not once, not twice but a few times. These are essentially just to make sure that you understand the procedure and want to go ahead.
- You will be asked to put your legs in stirrups before you are sedated. Everything is (or should) be done to make you feel more comfortable and dignified but the truth is, this is like giving birth but without the joy at the end. It’s shit and undignified, but everything will be done to try and make it easier for you. Think of it in the same way as a smear test, no one likes one but it might be a necessity.
- The procedure is quick, around 15 mins but you will be out for longer if you are under general anaesthetic than sedation.
- The procedure is essentially a dilation of the cervix followed by a “removal of tissue from the uterus”. This can be pregnancy related OR in an attempt to diagnose uterine conditions.
- You may feel drowsy for a while after the procedure and you can’t drive for 48hrs.
- You may have no pain or you may be in a lot of pain. I was in a lot of pain and couldn’t quite wake up properly for the evening, which is unusual for me as I don’t get bad period cramps. Try to go with the flow and rest.
- Keep on top of pain medication as prescribed or advised.
- You will most likely not bleed for the first 24hrs and then you will more than likely have clots, bleeding and period like pains. You should’t soak through more than 2 pads an hour. If you do call the hospital or clinic immediately.
- You can bleed for up to six weeks, though the norm is 2-3. This can be on and off, constant or in some cases nothing at all. Everyone is different – don’t panic if you’re different to your friend who had one.
- You need to rest after. The more you do, the more you are likely to bleed and have pains, so go to your own rhythm but ease up if you are starting to hurt or bleed heavily.
- You can still experience baby blues as the hormones leave your body if you have had a D&C for pregnancy related reasons. This is normal, and you are allowed to be sad or tearful, no matter what reason you had a D&C for.
- You aren’t supposed to swim, have sex or part take in exercise for 2 weeks.
- You need to repeat the pregnancy test after 3-4 weeks if it is relevant to your procedure.
So that is a D&C in a nutshell. I haven’t sugar coated it because, honestly, I didn’t want it sugar coated when I had mine – I just wanted the facts. It’s shit and upsetting and invasive. Regardless of why it’s happening, it is a sucky situation to be in. Just a few more things:
- You are allowed to be scared, no matter the reason for your procedure.
- You are allowed to be upset, no matter the reason for your procedure.
- You are allowed to be angry at the indignity of it all, the shit-ness of it all, no matter the reason for your procedure.
- If you’re having a D&C due to miscarriage, you haven’t failed. You haven’t done anything wrong. Be kind to yourself. When I had a miscarriage I felt this overwhelming sense that I had let myself down, that I was a failure and my body had betrayed me. That is wrong and simply not true.
- If you’re having a D&C by choice to terminate a pregnancy you don’t feel you can keep (for whatever reason), you are not a bad person. You are allowed to be scared too. You are allowed to be conflicted and sad too. Be kind to yourself.
Lastly, a few pointers if you’re the partner or friend/family member of someone having a D&C:
- Be there. Chances are (depending on her reasons for having the D&C) she is pretty upset, sore, angry or all of the above. She might ask for some alone time and that’s cool, but be there when she wants to have someone.
- Listen. Again it all depends on the reasons, but if you can’t listen you are effectively useless. You won’t fix it with flowers or gifts if she is heartbroken from a miscarriage, or suffering with guilt from a termination. You need to listen, even if you are suffering too.
- Help out with meals, cleaning and everything you can. Be prepared for her to be pissed as being mollycoddled, but help all the same.
- Don’t judge. Don’t you dare. If you’re friend or family member tells you she’s had a D&C for whatever reason, you are a shitty friend or family member if you judge. It’s not your place and remember; it hurts when you fall off your pedestal.
Finally, finally, this is shit and I’m sorry you’re going through it. Know you are one of MILLIONS who have gone through this procedure for a variety of reasons, you are not alone.