This week is baby loss awareness week… and it’s led me to ponder the babies that might have been. I’m lucky, I have two healthy robust slightly bonkers boys, and I am grateful every day for this. I’m so aware that countless people haven’t been quite so lucky on their fertility road.
I have been pregnant 5 times, and have two boys who completed the journey from womb to arms. That’s 5 times seeing those blue lines, 5 episodes of experiencing the heady emotional cocktail of elation, relief, wild panic, fear… several months of disguising the crappy shoddy first trimester yuckiness where it’s still held that you’re not allowed to tell anyone before you get the all-clear.
The first time I became pregnant it was a bit of a surprise, shall we say it worked first time which was slightly alarming, not quite in the plan I had – I thought I had a few months at least to get my head around the idea of trying for a baby. I was still in the naive pre-children life belief that you could organise shizz like this and that there’s order in pre-planning – you can diarise things in your work and social life, surely it works the same way for fertility, right? It was just before our wedding, and I’m slightly ashamed to say that in my mind I was grumpily thinking bugger it’s really crap timing this pregnancy… I worried about whether I’d fit into my wedding dress at 6 weeks pregnant, and whether I could now eat the rare duck we had spent ridiculous time deliberating about choosing on the menu, and oh shit wouldn’t it be fairly obvious if the bride wasn’t drinking…?! (It’s amazing what clutching a full glass of wine at all times does for fooling people into thinking you’re drinking – they’re not really paying attention – and happily therefore I was pretty much the only one at our wedding who didn’t have the stonkingest hangover the next day.) Happy times. Happy times…off we trotted to the Cotswolds for our post-wedding mini moon mini break. And the first day in, I started to feel really constipated, like I needed to do the biggest poo (sorry TMI but it was my first experience of anything childbirth-related and it all comes down to poo talk in the end doesn’t it…). Didn’t think anything of it, and we were still in the elation of post wedding glow, thinking about the early summer welcoming a baby into our new married world. The next morning, the cramps started mildly. And I went to the loo…and realised that all was not right. We spent the next day with me experiencing wave after wave of basically early labour contractions, staying in beautiful 5-star luxury but feeling like the utter pits. I remember after it was all finally over having a long hot bath in a free-standing bathtub in the middle of an exotically glamorous bathroom thinking, well, this is nice isn’t it…
Your first miscarriage is shitty but holds with it hope. You can get pregnant, at least. But chances are you haven’t told anyone about being pregnant, so you can’t really tell them what’s happened. Can you? We stopped off at a friend’s house on the way back from the Cotswolds and one of them said “ooh so when are you going to have a baby? Are you pregnant now?!” in conspiratorial tone. I smiled ruefully and really wanted to say, well actually I’m literally the opposite of pregnant right now, sitting here at this kitchen table I have just very recently expelled a potential baby from my body. But didn’t. All the things that you might want to say, but don’t. All the words of people experiencing loss, that linger in the air above their heads but don’t ever get articulated for fear of creating awkwardness, for simply not knowing how to create the voice to get them out. I felt guilt…shit I did actually drink a couple of glasses of champagne, oh and bollocks there were a few glasses of wine the day after the wedding. Maybe I didn’t want it enough. Shit. Guilt.
Miscarriage number 2 was after baby number 1. This miscarriage was The Big One, for me. Although i constantly am aware that others have experienced worse. I got pregnant when I had a 15 month old sleepless toddler. And was in hindsight suffering from postnatal malaise, depletion, not feeling quite right, hadn’t got my mojo back in the slightest, and was physically at quite a low ebb…So my body probably wasn’t the safe haven fertile soil for a baby to nestle itself into to complete its earthbound mission. I had a bit of bleeding at 7 weeks, but no cramping. I went to the Maternal Assessment unit as I was feeling a bit anxious, as you might generally when pregnant but certainly when you’ve already experienced loss.
The scan revealed a healthy heartbeat, a fuzzy but unmistakable image of a bean-shaped baby. The consultant said, “now that there’s a heartbeat your chances of miscarriage go down to about 1%, so go away and enjoy your pregnancy”. Reassuring smile, even an offering of a print out of the scan. Relief relief relief. I was pregnant wahooop, shit but is it the right time? Maurice will be exactly 2, baby had the same due date that Maurice had, is he quite ready to share me? I met a friend for dinner that night and didn’t tell her about my pregnancy, but conversation inevitably meandered around the topic of children. She has two close together. She said, “no no Maurice needs more time, he needs you for longer, you’ll lose your relationship with him if you try for another at the moment, he needs more time with just you, I always regret having mine so close”. Guilt guilt, what have i done? Shit.
Our 12 week scan was scheduled for just after Christmas, so just before Christmas we told our family, mainly to put a stop to the whispering noticing of me not drinking a gallon of red wine with a champagne chaser over dinner. Yay, wonderful news, brilliant. Exciting! yay.
I had a conversation with a new Pilates client who was thinking of coming to me postnatally, she had recently had her second baby, and it came up that she’d had a miscarriage before her second, at 11 weeks pregnant. How awful I thought, that’s so crap, I can’t imagine how awful that must be. Two days before Christmas I started to feel that poo feeling in my bum again. Nearly 11 weeks pregnant. Fuck.
This one was physically a humdinger. Really really shit. Like, collapse and pass out from too much too fast blood loss type shit. Ben called our midwife and she told him to call an ambulance immediately. The reason for the call was somewhat lost in translation as the ambulance man eventually trundled in, finding me collapsed on the floor unable to move, and said “so apparently you’ve had a miscarriage 11 weeks ago?” Erm….
Shitty crappy times. Lovely doctors at hospital. It was christmas eve, and I was monitored for hours as I’d lost so much blood I couldn’t lift my head up without feeling sick. The caring calm doctor told me that the Evacuation of Retained Products of Pregnancy (lovely romantic name) was an operation under general anaesthetic, which would mean being in hospital over Christmas, and perhaps I should go home and enjoy Christmas as much as I could with my toddler instead.
No one tells you that you might still feel pregnant after you’ve had a miscarriage, particularly if it’s beyond 6 weeks. That the hormones are still surging through your body, that you might still feel that constant grim pregnancy nausea even though there’s nothing there any more. Nothing there. It’s gone. Guilt. Maybe I didn’t want it enough? Maybe my friend was right though, maybe Maurice wasn’t ready. Look at the silver linings. More time with Maurice, not wrecking his life with a sibling yet. Silver linings.
I was unfortunate enough to experience an aftershock with this miscarriage which happened while we were on our belated honeymoon in Sri Lanka – note to self, don’t ever go on honeymoon again as horrible miscarriage-related incidents happen – and I haemorraged because of “retained products” that I should’ve had the wherewithal to evacuate before Christmas, and ended up in hospital.
It is a lonely lonely thing, this fertility mission when things are going up the spritz. Everyone else is bloomin pregnant and you’re so happy for them but at the same time it’s shitty mcshitty. Why did it go so wrong for me? Why did you have to add insult to injury by ruining my rejuvenative sunshine holiday which was supposed to help me heal? Why, you buggers, why?
You can’t really talk about that kind of experience without people thinking that you’re wallowing, so you don’t really talk about it. How was your holiday?? Yeah, it was lovely but I ended up in a really scary hospital and actually for a moment thought I might die. But it was lovely. Sigh. Then followed months, a year of just obstinately not getting pregnant. Each moon bringing forth no fertile ground. Shit.
Then I got pregnant again. Yay! This one is BOUND to be fine. Yes, I’m feeling really sick all the time obviously it’s fine, yay! Brilliant I’m feeling really sick even in the middle of the night, 24/7 sickness of course it’s all going to be fine this time yay! Oh. So shitty sickness doesn’t mean that it’s all going to be fine? A whole month of 24/7 nausea actually means that your body is doing its absolute best but just not quite getting enough speed up for lift off. Made it to 8 weeks. Oh. Bollocks.
The thing that I have taken from my fertility experience is the words I didn’t manage to say, the innocent questions I was asked about whether we’re going to have a baby. I felt like I was suddenly very porous and sensitive to judgements, expectations. I do occasionally wonder what the lost babies would have been like, whether they would’ve looked like me (my two boys apparently don’t look anything like me and are all their dad), whether they were girls? Blue eyes or brown? Breastfeed or bottle? I don’t dwell much, I’ve had the luck and luxury of having a successful “second” pregnancy and genuinely experienced closure on the losses through that. But I’m so aware now of the unspoken thoughts, feelings, experiences around the unborn babies. Be aware, and be kind to others, You never know what is going on in their behind the scenes.