So, another high octane blog post from me. As some of you may know, it’s ‘Baby Loss Awareness’ week here in the UK (9th-15th October). This is a week to officially commemorate the loss of a baby (pre or post birth) or child, at any stage, and whenever that was – be it last week or 60 years ago.
Loss of a baby or child, whether that is post-conception, at birth or later on, is something that no parent should ever have to face. It’s something I know people I care about have gone through, and it’s something I have gone through.
As some of you will already know, my daughter was not my first pregnancy.
Miscarriage is the focal point of this post and is something that is still not really discussed, yet it’s something that 1 in 4 women will experience at least one at some point in their lives. And those are the known cases, this does not include the pregnancies lost before they are known about.
I’m one of those women, I’m a 1 in 4.
From a scientific perspective it’s not surprising that not all pregnancies end in a baby. The chances of a sperm and an egg actually fusing are tiny, then there are spectacularly many chances for mistakes in the cell multiplication which could lead to an ‘unfeasible embryo’. Next you have to have the resulting foetus develop normally, and finally the trauma of birth needs to go smoothly. The chances of a healthy baby being born are infinitesimal. Each baby really is a miracle.
But of course, nobody thinks about miscarriage from a scientific perspective. How can you? It’s a potential life. It’s your baby. Some say that until it has form, or a heartbeat, or a functioning brain it’s not a baby. But no, that’s not the case, it’s your baby from the moment the sperm and egg fuse. The emotional connection is instant, whether you’re ready or not, whether you were expecting it or not, whether you know you want to keep the baby or not.
When I went through my miscarriage I suddenly found out so many people I already knew, relatives and friends, who had been through the same process. So many people had experienced the same rollercoaster of emotions I was feeling, and I didn’t know.
It’s a very private thing, losing a baby, and in some ways there is no escaping that. There is nobody who can understand how you feel about the loss of your baby. Anyone who has gone through it has an idea, and they understand the depth of pain. But it’s a personal and private experience. It’s lonely, because nobody else has ever lost your baby.
You don’t know when you’re going to be able to feel like you again. It takes someone who has been through it to be able to tell you that, actually, you’re never going to be the same again. Loss of a baby or child, at any stage, changes you.
My experience is something that it has taken me just over 5 years to share outside the family and my close friends. I got pregnant, by a guy I was only half seeing, these things happen. He wanted me to have an abortion, even though I didn’t want that, and he was pretty horrible when I told him I wasn’t going to get rid of it. So I was pregnant, alone and determined to keep the baby. Turns out I was right when I told my mum I could cope by myself, even though I only half believed it at the time.
But my baby stopped developing; unfortunately my body didn’t know this, for some reason it didn’t notice. I carried on as normal, and I was excited for the future. I continued to think I was pregnant for a whole month and skipped along to the scan, only to see that there wasn’t a baby on the screen. That my baby had died about a month previously.
It’s still hard to put into words how that felt.
Blackness. Sinking. Spinning out of control. Drowning. Suffocating.
I couldn’t breathe. I knew instantly something was wrong when I looked at the screen. The room had gone silent, the nurse was barely breathing and concentrating so hard I knew something was very wrong with my baby. Then she told me. And she told me I had to go for more scans, but I was alone so I had no alternative but to drive myself.
It felt like the bottom had dropped out of my world. Other things in my life had started going so well, but it didn’t mean a thing at that moment. The world was suddenly both hazy and piercingly loud and sharp, it felt almost painful to experience anything outside at all. Life was loud and noisy and carrying on and how could it? I didn’t feel real, the situation didn’t feel real, life didn’t make sense any more, and I couldn’t gather my thoughts at all. I found it almost offensive that it was a sunny day and the birds were singing. How could life seem so happy when my baby was gone?
Throughout the inevitable process of the pregnancy removing itself from my body I just felt numb. I continued to write, I functioned, I cuddled my cat. The guy had the decency to call and say he was sorry to hear about what had happened – I didn’t say much and just hung up on him. I didn’t, and don’t, want to know.
But that wasn’t the end of my personal ordeal. I had what is charmingly termed as ‘retained product’. My body had not effectively flushed out all traces, it was still betraying me, and some bits of my baby remained. They got infected, and I haemorrhaged. I ended up in A&E one night after calling the NHS. An ambulance was sent out and I was told that if the phone line went dead to call 999. The lovely women on the end of the phone was keeping me talking because she was worried I would lose consciousness. I did, but not right then. The paramedic did a few checks then took me straight to A&E.
I was sent home eventually that night but told to get to the Women’s Hospital the next day, where I promptly fainted when they took my blood pressure. I have low blood pressure anyway so goodness knows how low it went then as they tried twice and I fainted both times. I had to sign a transfusion form and they admitted me there and then. It is no exaggeration to say that the NHS saved my life. I owe my existence to those nurses and the consultant who looked after me.
Finally, 36 hours later I was discharged. Free of all ‘product’ and feeling completely empty and like a ghost of myself. I have no idea how pale I was, but I had to drive home. I’d not been expecting to be admitted so I had a ticket on my car, naturally. Do you know what they do with car parking tickets when you’ve been admitted and look vaguely like a walking corpse on discharge? Scrunch them up and chuck them over their shoulders, that’s what.
I honestly can’t remember much about the next few months. I have one memory of going out with some friends to say goodbye (I was moving away from the area) and going through the motions of being happy. In some ways I was. I was out with friends I care about, I was going to miss them and the area I had lived in for 6 years. I don’t actually remember packing though, and what remained of the last weeks in my old job is a blur. I have very few memories from that summer. Because I disengaged with life. I couldn’t deal with the emotions, I didn’t know how, so I shut myself off from them whenever I could.
I couldn’t shut myself off from the emotions all the time though. I do remember crying so much that I thought I would run out of tears. I remember screaming at the injustice of it, hurling things at walls because I was so angry. I wanted that baby, how dare nature take it from me! I was angry at my body and regressed into my old eating disorder. My body had betrayed me, it didn’t deserve food.
All I have left of that baby is a scar on my left hand, from when I nearly fainted in class just after I found out, and caught my hand on a metal cabinet. It’s a permanent reminder of my baby.
It took months before I felt like I was a functioning human being again, but I’m not the same person I was before it happened. I feel older, even if I do act like a kid a lot of the time, I grew up a lot during that period. It’s the point at which I started to feel like a grown-up. Something like that changes you, and there’s no going back from it.
What nobody tells you about is how you’ll feel when you do get pregnant again and you go for that first scan. Terrified, overwhelmed, utterly unable to focus. I might have had a supportive guy by my side instead of being alone (at that point anyway) but I had silent tears in my eyes and was white as a sheet; I was shaking when I went for the first scan with L. I was almost too scared to go into the room, I knew what I’d seen before and I was beyond terrified I’d see it again.
I didn’t, I saw a wriggling bean on the screen and I burst into tears. The joy at seeing your baby cannot be underestimated. The joy at seeing your baby alive when you were terrified it was dead…I have no words. I still don’t know how to put that joy into words. I’m welling up at the thought even now, and L is a healthy 3 year old who spent most of today bouncing around happily.
The only way to learn to live with what happens to you when your baby goes is to grieve, to go through all the pain and all the emotions until you come out the other side with some semblance of understanding and acknowledgement that life can and must move on. There are no shortcuts, none. It’s a journey, and it’s longer for some than for others.
Every so often a wave of emotion and a memory will catch up with you and overwhelm you for a moment. You’ll cry, then you’ll gather yourself and carry on. Because you must. Because life goes on. The alternative is to give up, and giving up is not an option. Those moments are fewer and further between when you have a healthy child to look after, but they don’t go away. They take you by surprise, those moments; when you least expect it a memory suddenly accosts you and takes your breath away with the pain it causes. The world stands still for a moment while you remember your baby. Then you remember to breathe again and life moves forward. Because it must.
Not everyone will feel like me, each situation is different and every set of circumstances impacts upon you in different ways. As I said it’s a personal experience for everyone. Some people never manage to put it into words, some of us manage a few clumsy words that go a little way to attempting to explain it. I’m good with words, but what I’ve written doesn’t come close to how it felt (and feels) really. It’s an idea so that I can try and share some of this and that some people can relate to and know they are not alone.
Anyone who has experienced loss of a child should be able to talk to someone if they choose to, if they want to, and if they need to. But don’t bottle it up, it’s unhealthy and isolating. You sadly are not alone in your grief.
If you want to, talk to me, I get it. I wish I didn’t but I do.November 12th would have been my due date, I worked it out.
I still grieve for that baby, it’s a loss that doesn’t go away, it never will. And it makes L so much more precious to me, because I know just how much each baby is a miracle. She’s my miracle.