Two pink lines on a pregnancy test and a baby who would be very much planned and wanted. It should be cause for celebration right? Unfortunately I’m about as far from being pregnant as you can get. Three weeks ago my husband and I sat with our restless 2 year old daughter at our 12 week scan as the sonographer spoke the words “it looks like your little baby has died.” Those 2 pink lines I was staring at now were just the cruel joke my body was playing on me as my hormone levels came down in a painfully slow fashion. I want them to be real. I want those lines to represent a screaming squishy little bundle which I get to hold and love and watch grow in 9 months time. Instead they are just a reminder of what we’ve lost, what should have been but never will. A reminder of our child who we were meant to meet on the 19th March 2016 but who instead was born into a pathology dish during a day surgery procedure on 11th September 2015.
We both feel angry. This is our second loss. On Christmas day 2014 I was just shy of 11 weeks pregnant. I cried to my husband on Christmas morning because I had been bleeding lightly for several days and was starting to become scared. I got through Christmas day with a fake smile but I couldn’t shake the feeling of impending dread. I was trying to be optimistic. I still had hope. I kept telling myself bleeding happens in some pregnancies, it doesn’t always mean the worst. The following day I called my midwife to tell her about the bleeding and didn’t get the pep talk I was expecting. “I’ll make you an appointment with the Early Pregnancy Assessment Nurse for next week but if the bleeding gets heavier you should go to emergency.” Those words shocked me and filled me with fear. She didn’t tell me everything was going to be alright. She didn’t tell me the bleeding was normal. I was worried now and scared for the little life I believed I was carrying.
A few hours later, with the bleeding getting steadily heavier I told my husband I thought it was time for a trip to emergency. We organised care for our daughter, 18 months old at the time, and headed to the hospital. I think we both believed this trip was for peace of mind. We would see our little baby and be reassured everything was ok. We would go to our 12 week scan booked for just a few days time and announce our happy news to all our family and friends on New Years Eve just as we had planned. We would meet this little baby on the 17th July 2015. This baby who we already loved was going to make our daughter a big sister and complete our little family. It was almost a perfect 2 year age gap, exactly what we had hoped for. Life was going exactly to plan. Until suddenly, it wasn’t.
We attended the emergency room where I was triaged and had bloods taken. We waited anxiously for several hours for an ultrasound to be performed. The friendly chatty Doctor who performed the ultrasound was suddenly silent as he scanned my stomach and searched for our baby. His silence spoke volumes. My husband and I held hands and exchanged glances as we prepared ourselves for the words we suddenly realised we were about to hear. “I’m very sorry but it doesn’t appear to be a viable pregnancy.” Denial was no longer an option. My husband held me as I sobbed and we tried to process those words. We had so many questions for which there were very few answers. We had not had a dating scan so all they could tell us was that it appeared our baby had stopped growing somewhere between 5 and 6 weeks gestation.
Everyone knows the statistics, 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in miscarriage. Most women will experience at least 1 miscarriage during their childbearing years. I knew all this and yet somehow the shock of having it actually happen to me seemed surreal. I could tell how common this experience was from the routine treatment and well-rehearsed speeches we received. It was with some shock that I realised I had just become the unfortunate statistic in the numbers game that is pregnancy. The normalcy of the situation was shocking because it felt anything but normal to me. Medical staff were sympathetic but also bandied about terms like “non-viable pregnancy” and “products of conception.” It seemed so clinical, so impersonal and somehow disrespectful to the little life that we wanted so much. I still can’t use the terms embryo or foetus when I talk about my losses, believe what you will about life in utero but to me it was my baby, my child, that I lost that day and I just can’t think of it in any other terms.
I was bleeding and we were told I was miscarrying naturally. “Go home and wait for it to pass or return to emergency in the case of extreme bleeding or abdominal pain.” We went home, we cried and we shared our sad news with the close family and friends who already knew of the pregnancy. I mostly sent texts as I couldn’t yet seem to speak the words out loud. Our daughter stayed overnight with her grandparents. She came home the next day and cuddled me tightly as if she knew I needed it. Children are wonderfully intuitive.
The following day was the 27th December 2014. This is the day we truly lost our baby. The bleeding became uncontrollable. I couldn’t leave the bathroom and was starting to feel faint. I was losing blood clots the size of my fist and crying hysterically with every one as I feared that I was passing the baby. We again arranged care for our daughter and returned to the emergency room. They were busier that day. The bleeding was so heavy that I had to stay in the waiting room bathroom (which looked like a crime scene by the time l left) while my husband waited impatiently for my name to be called to triage. When I was finally triaged they couldn’t get my blood pressure, it was too low from the blood loss and I was admitted straight to the emergency ward. I was attempting to get changed into a hospital gown when I lost consciousness. My husband recalls that they hit the trauma button and I was surrounded by doctors and nurses within seconds. I was whisked off to the resuscitation area in a very dramatic fashion and he wasn’t allowed to follow. The experience was very traumatic for him as even though I regained consciousness quite quickly, he didn’t see it happen. They performed a curette to remove the remaining “products of conception” which slowed the bleeding right down and with some IV fluids I quickly regained my colour. After a few hours of monitoring I was allowed to go home.
It took a few months to recover physically from my first miscarriage as the blood loss knocked me around. Emotionally, there were good days and bad days. My neighbour announced she was pregnant. Her due date was the day before our little angel would have been due. I saw her constantly and watched her beautiful belly swell. It felt like a constant reminder of what could have been and while I was so happy for her it was also painful to watch. I was genuinely happy for any friends or family who announced pregnancies around this time. I shared in their joy and was so excited for them. A baby is always a blessing and I would never begrudge anyone I loved the joy of parenthood. I think I channelled all my hate and jealousy into strangers. Pregnant women or tiny little newborns were suddenly everywhere and I hated them. It wasn’t fair, why did they have “viable” pregnancies and healthy babies when I couldn’t. I think it was easier to hate strangers as I didn’t know their stories. If I didn’t know what journey they had been on to have that baby then I could allow myself to be jealous and spiteful.
We knew we were lucky to have our beautiful, healthy little girl and holding her tight eased the pain a little bit. She was rapidly approaching the terrible twos and this stage of her development was challenging but also lots of fun. She was talking lots and her funny little personality was emerging more with every day. Her mannerisms and expressions constantly made us smile. Maybe we were meant to enjoy some more one on one time with this cheeky little Miss. We told ourselves if this was the worst thing life could throw at us then we were pretty lucky, we would get through this. There were happier times ahead for us.
We grieved, my body healed and almost 6 months later we were ready to “try again.” We experienced a chemical pregnancy in our first month of trying but were lucky enough to fall pregnant again quite quickly. I was hesitant to test after the chemical in the previous month so I waited until I was a whole week late. I peed on a stick and those 2 pink lines came up within seconds. It was the 17th of July, the day our little angel would have been due. It felt like a sign somehow. Everything was going to be ok this time.
I was excited but it was also tinged with fear. As the weeks went on I suffered from incredible all day nausea and bone crushing fatigue and the fear slowly faded into hope because this pregnancy felt so different. I had experienced very few symptoms with the pregnancy which I lost so I took some reassurance from the sickness. We opted for a dating scan and at 7 weeks 4 days gestation we saw a perfect little baby with a strong heartbeat who was already wriggling around inside me. The relief was palpable. Everyone kept saying the same reassuring things. “The odds of miscarriage are really low once you see a heartbeat.” “It’s a good sign to feel so sick.” “You’ve had your bad luck now, this one will be healthy.” We truly believed this pregnancy was different. After the dating scan we started sharing the news with close family and friends and started planning for our new arrival in March. Plans for a new nursery were underway. My maternity leave had been mapped out. We were discussing names. We even very naively took our 2 year old along to our 12 week scan thinking it would be fun for her to see her baby brother or sister on the screen. We were expecting that scan to be nothing but a mere formality before we officially announced our good news.
As it turns out we like to defy the odds. The sonographer scanned my stomach and I briefly saw the profile of our baby. She told me my bladder was too full and she would need to do an internal. My husband said the alarm bells started for him at this point. I was just excited to empty my bladder and ease the discomfort. It wasn’t until I got back on the bed that I thought to ask the sonographer “the baby was ok wasn’t it?” Her reply was “I’m just going to check your uterus and then we’ll look at the baby.” A wave of dread washed over me. I knew something was terribly wrong. Our daughter was restless and fidgety so we tried to sing to her and distract her while the sonographer took some measurements. The sonographer finally spoke again to ask me who my referring doctor was. I told her it was my GP and asked again “is something wrong?” That’s when we heard those words: “Yes actually, it looks like your little baby has died a couple of weeks ago.” The words paralysed me with shock. How could we be back in this dark place again? But I’ve been so sick, I’ve not had even a spot of bleeding, my body has given me absolutely zero signs that something was amiss. This can’t be happening. I felt so betrayed by my body. My husband had to leave the room with our daughter who seemed to sense our anxiety and was having a typical toddler meltdown. The rest of the appointment is a blur, all I took away was that our baby was measuring about 9 weeks 3 days and had died less than 2 weeks after our perfect dating scan.
We had appointments. We discussed our options. We were numb. After the physical trauma of the last miscarriage we decided a D&C was the best option this time. I went on the waiting list for the day surgery procedure. Apparently walking around with a dead baby inside you is not a high priority trauma. I was bumped from the surgery list the following day. On Friday 11th September I was finally told to come in for the surgery and before I knew it I had an anaesthesiologist hovering over me with a cocktail full of drugs which he pumped into my IV. I woke up in recovery and the nurses first words to me were “you’re in recovery, it’s all over.” Those words opened the floodgates and I cried because it really was over. It was all over for the second time.
This loss has been harder to deal with. I remember feeling so much sadness after my first miscarriage but this time anger is the dominant emotion. I have even more questions than last time and am angry when all the health professionals I talk to dismiss my fears and concerns about the consecutive losses with a vague reassurance that I am still within the “realm of normal” to have lost two consecutive pregnancies. I express concerns that I have some sort of underlying medical issue or health problem causing my babies to die but am quickly dismissed as soon as the doctors learn we have a healthy 2 year old. I am told my daughter is proof of our genetic compatibility and that my body is capable of carrying a pregnancy to term. I am told there is nothing wrong with me physically which could have led to the miscarriages. I am told it was nothing I did or didn’t do during the pregnancies. I am told I’m just unlucky. These words make me even angrier. It is very hard to accept that no one can tell us why this has happened. In this modern age of information overload where Dr Google has an answer for everything, it feels like such a cop out to be told “it’s just nature’s way.” Of course the underlying fear when there’s no problem to be fixed is that this could continue to happen to us, over and over again.
The idea of having to face pregnancy and first trimester all over again, for the fourth time, seems almost unbearable. I feel like I have been pregnant or planning for pregnancy for an eternity. In reality it has only been about 12 months but the emotional rollercoaster we have been on makes it feel much much longer than this. In a very macabre fashion we joke that baby number two is making us play a game of snakes and ladders – yay you’re pregnant, climb up the ladder, woops you lost it, down the snake. We are back at the start line and devastated to be here. We are very sore losers. We are angry and impatient at the idea that we still have at least 9 months ahead of us before we get to welcome the little baby we so desperately want. We discuss it and decide that our desire for a second child is strong enough that we will eventually take the risk and endure it all once more. We never wanted our daughter to be an only child and still have the faintest glimmer of hope that one day she won’t be. I think if it had been a third baby we were trying for we would have given up at this point and decided it just wasn’t meant to be. We will eventually take a leap of faith again, but for now I know that both my body and my heart need some time to heal. The anger and the sadness are still very raw and need to have their time in the sun. I still need time to grieve.
I’ve actually learnt a lot about grief from this experience. I have a small handful of beautiful friends and family who have been the most wonderful support for me in my dark times. I will be eternally grateful to those people in my life who acknowledged my pain, who openly and regularly asked me how I am and allowed me to talk about my experience when I was ready. The calls, the messages, the small gifts and the home cooked meals were all so gratefully received and meant so much. I can’t thank those people enough for being there and I know I’m lucky to have had such an amazing support network. Yet I have to be true to my feelings and admit that for the most part the way I have been treated in the wake of my miscarriages has only fuelled my grief, anger and general inclination to throw a tantrum about the unfairness of life that would make my 2 year old proud. I’ve learnt that grief makes people uncomfortable and as a result most people will choose to ignore it. We were pretty open about our losses, especially the second time around, so I know that most people knew what had happened, yet very few people were brave enough to actually acknowledge the losses in any way. I found this really hard to deal with it. On more than one occasion I felt like my dead babies were the giant elephant in the room with everyone hoping that if they ignored it long enough it might make a silent exit out the back door. I don’t think this was done out of malice or a lack of empathy, but more as a result of people not wanting to upset me or deal with the consequences if they did happen to upset me. I must admit that I myself have probably been guilty of this in the past. I hope that in the future I will be brave enough to look a grieving person in the eyes and say “I’m very sorry for your loss.” I’ve learnt now how much those simple words can mean and also how painful the absence of them can be. I’ve learnt how important it is to give people a gateway to share if they want to take it. I understand that grief is extremely personal and not everyone will want to be open about their feelings, some people may instantly shut you down and move on if you utter those words, but for some people those words may be a lifeline to a conversation they need to have.
In reality though, it really is no surprise that people don’t know how to deal with grief as grief is such a fickle master that I feel like I’m a walking paradox. Some days I don’t want to talk. I want to hibernate and wallow in my own dark thoughts. I crave privacy and solitude so that I can think about what should have been, cry silent tears at the injustice and feel sorry for myself. Other days I feel like I want to walk around wearing a giant sign that reads “I am grieving, be gentle with me.” I want people to know that at this point in time life is being rough with me and I am walking a path that is difficult. I want people to understand why my mood is flat and I’m not great company. I don’t want to resume the banality of everyday life without acknowledging what I’ve been through, what I’ve lost. I want to talk about my pain. I want to acknowledge my babies and their fleeting existence inside me. I want to validate them by talking about my own personal journey with miscarriage. But because they never took a breath I feel like I have to wear my grief silently. I have to shoulder the pain, put on the social mask and pretend that I’m ok because that is what the people around me seem to expect. It’s lonely here in this place of silent suffering.
So I stare at that positive pregnancy test, which I know is not real and embrace the irony of the fact that I am willing it to fade away to nothing. In my mind a negative test will somehow signal the closure of this chapter. It is a physical reset even if the mental one takes longer. I will never forget my angels, the dates that we were meant to meet them and the dates that we lost them will forever be seared in my memory, but I need to close this chapter now so that I can begin to contemplate opening the door to a new one. I need to keep driving through this storm with some faith that there is a rainbow waiting for me on the horizon.