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There’s something I’ve wanted to write about for a while now – maybe not consciously, but I’m aware of it sitting outside the door, waiting for an audience.
At first, I opened the door a crack, and said, “No. I’m afraid I can’t write about you. It’s out of the question. It’s too personal, and it’s probably not appropriate.”
But that seems painfully unfair. Sometimes, the most taboo or uncomfortable subjects are the ones we really should talk about – or at least make it acceptable to mention in public.
So, here’s one such subject.
Such an awful word – a word that almost seems to apportion blame or wrong-doing, like most words with the prefix ‘mis’ – mistake, miscalculate, misdemeanour… Miscarry.
When Hubby and I decided it was time to have children, I had no doubt whatsoever that I would fall pregnant immediately, have an uneventful pregnancy – in fact, I’d feel glowingly vital throughout - and then give birth on the exact due date. I realise this sounds more than uncommonly naïve, but that’s how both of my mother’s pregnancies panned out. I just assumed I had inherited her qualities as a First Class Gestating Machine.
I’m not exactly sure, thinking about it now, what convinced me that it was a good time to have kids. I was still suffering quite badly from depression, and I was in poor condition, physically. I was several stone overweight, unfit, fatigued and emotionally fragile. Nevertheless, we started trying.
Which is the most panic-inducing, bewildering, insidiously disturbing thing you can imagine, because that scenario wasn’t even remotely on the radar.
I have so much sympathy for couples who are trying to have a baby, with no success. It throws everything up in the air. Suddenly the ground beneath you ceases to be solid – ceases to support you in the way it always did. You can’t concentrate on anything except that one subject. Everything else fades into the distance. Your whole existence narrows to one intense point, revolving around calendar days – giving weeks, days, and hours a burdensome significance they never had before.
I think the worst thing is NOT KNOWING. Not knowing how long the situation will last; not knowing if there’s something wrong with one of you; not knowing whether you should pursue your hopes, scientifically, or whether you should read the messages from the universe, and change your plans.
I got utterly tangled up in all the above feelings, and that was after only a couple of months of trying. I cannot even imagine how prolonged YEARS of trying for a baby must impact on a person’s life, psyche and well-being.
But then, not long afterwards, the stick showed a blue line. I was probably more relieved than happy at first, but soon became absorbed and fascinated by the miracle that was happening in my body.
Everything was new and exciting. Once the GP had confirmed my pregnancy, I was ‘in the system’, and I received reading materials, questionnaires, forms, and appointments. I enjoyed it all.
I felt special. I felt privileged. Above all, I was aware of hugging a huge, fluffy secret to my chest - one I found so thrilling that it was difficult to suppress my joy.
I bought pregnancy and baby magazines – not just one, but every different publication I could lay my hands on. I read the Bounty booklet over and over. I pored over the pages of my diary to see how my baby would be developing week by week. I concocted delicious meals lovingly from scratch – determined to nurture every cell in my baby’s body from day 1.
I can’t remember why now, but I had a scan at 8 weeks. Everything was fine; I saw the pulsing little light on the ultrasound screen, which was my baby’s heart.
At 13 weeks, I went for my next scan. This was the exciting one. This was the one where, on hearing everything was fine, you could finally tell the world your news.
I was completely confident. I remember that. It never occurred to me at any point that there might be a problem, or that something I wanted so badly might not go to plan.
There was a long silence as the sonographer moved the transducer device on my gel-covered belly – too long. In that long, long silence, I first came face to face with the possibility that I might not meet my baby. The sonographer excused herself and came back with a colleague who, after more agonising minutes of grave, silent exploration, told me that she could not find a heartbeat, that the baby had not grown for several weeks, and had likely died very soon after the last scan.
In a state of miserable shock, we were ushered back to the waiting room and urged to see the consultant. Suddenly, the world looked different to me. I am ashamed to admit that I looked at the other women in the waiting room, and wondered if they had healthy babies, and hated them slightly for still being pregnant.
The consultant was barely able to speak English, and what little she managed was so heavily accented as to be incomprehensible.
I was floored with grief, my life had imploded in a split second, and I couldn’t even focus on the doctor’s face, let alone understand the options she was trying to give me. The doctor kept barking the same garbled sentence at me, followed by long periods of complete silence as she myopically gazed at her notes, and turned them over and upside down. In a moment of grotesque horror, I found myself on the edge of hysterical laughter.
I finally realised that she was telling me to book an appointment to have a D and C – the physiological equivalent of emptying the bins and giving them a quick spritz and scrub. At this, my numbed brain woke up a little, and I refused to have it done. I said I would go home, have a natural miscarriage, and go through the whole sorry experience. It would be sad and painful, but I wasn’t going to let someone anaesthetise me so I could wake up, as if from a bad dream… as if the baby had never existed.
Of course, what followed was one of the lowest periods of my life, but together we got through it – minute by minute. We went for long walks. We went for a weekend to a pleasant B & B in Devon. We concentrated on the minutiae of daily life to give our minds something comfortable and boring to focus on. I will never forget those few weeks.
I tried to turn a tragedy into a positive learning opportunity, and decided that I could more confidently attempt pregnancy again with a more appropriate BMI, a better diet, and increased tone and fitness. We didn’t rush into trying for another baby. I focused on myself – on feeling healthier, more energetic. And when I became pregnant over a year later, I was properly ready.
Although the sorrow has faded to a gentle blur, and I have made my peace with those events, what I DO find difficult to accept is how isolated I felt at the time.
Apart from Hubby and closest family, no one knew what I had been through – no one knew that my life had forever been changed by grief and desperate disappointment. I couldn’t talk to anyone, and it was such a heavy burden.
When I returned to work, a parent at the school gate said, “Sorry you’ve been ill. Glad you’re feeling better now.”
I looked at her, stricken. I haven’t been ILL, I wanted to cry. I’ve been PREGNANT – I’ve been trying to nurture a baby. But I failed, it all went wrong, and now I’ll never get to meet my baby… so I’m NOT feeling better now. And I feel as if I’ll never be better. Ever again.
But I didn’t say any of it. I couldn’t. It just isn’t something that people talk about.
Why not, though? If I’d broken my leg, the news would have been broadcast far and wide; I’d have had lots of sympathy, visitors and support. Moreover, people would have been patient and gentle with me, knowing that I’d suffered a physical and psychological trauma.
But no. I suffered one of the saddest things that can happen to a woman, and I had to gag myself, pull my socks up, and go back into the fray with a false smile pasted on my face.
And that is definitely not OK.
So I’ve opened the door, and let in a memory which deserved to be heard. Whatever shame I may have felt 14 years ago has dissipated because I’m older and wiser. I can distinguish between fault and misfortune.
By telling you about it, I’m trying to normalise discussion about something traumatic – an event that cuts deep and lingers forever - because women who go through this should never feel alone.