Let’s Talk: Pregnancy and Infant Loss

This month has been Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month and social media has been flooded with people’s posts, stories, images and simple acknowledgements that they too have felt the pain that comes with pregnancy and infant loss. I have come to realise that pregnancy and infant loss is not as uncommon as you think. I’ve seen posts from friends or acquaintances that I would never have guessed had gone through their own loss. Silly really. It’s silly that, just because their Facebook or instagram posts reflect a happy, care free life, I would be surprised that they too had experienced loss. It made me realise that many of us present only our best lives through social media. I too am guilty for that. After all, why would you want to document your challenges, the dark days and the low times? They aren’t the days you want Facebook to remind you of this time next year and the years to follow. Many times I have written out a post that is a real reflection of the shitty time I am going through but then have hesitated just for a moment too long, hovering over the ‘post’ button. I don’t want people to think I am a whinge-bag. I don’t want people to think I am having a moan, or complaining. After all, there are people in the worse situations. I shouldn’t complain. Delete. Delete. Delete.

So, an awareness campaign like this does good. It not only raises awareness but in a strange way it creates a community. A community that nobody wants to be in, granted, but a community no less. A community where we have all, at some stage in our lives, experienced pregnancy or infant loss.

I experienced pregnancy loss following a number of years of fertility treatment. I had secondary infertility and we had tried a number of different treatments over the years. After the weekly blood tests and the twice monthly scans, trying for a baby had definitely lost its romance. It was now clinical. Mind you,  I would have had sex whilst standing on one foot with my right hand behind my back, reciting the alphabet in reverse order in Latin if they’d told me that would improve my chances of becoming pregnant. Every month I’d have to make ‘the call’ to the clinic to see whether the bloods had come back positive with pregnancy hormones and let’s face it, after years of trying, I was pretty used to them saying ‘I’m sorry, it’s a negative’. I’d have a mope about and then I’d get straight back on that rollercoaster of hope and think to myself  ‘this cycle is going to be the one’ and so the cycle continued. So when I made that call from my desk at work and they told me it was positive I didn’t quite believe them. For me, at this point, the hurdles had been overcome. I was pregnant! Nothing more could stand in our way – we were having a baby!

When on fertility treatment, you have early scans so we were scanned at six weeks. We were warned that a heartbeat at this stage would be unlikely so not to expect much; it was for monitoring purposes. I can’t say that when I lay on that bed in the scan room I expected anything other than the sonographer telling me everything was looking as it should in there. We didn’t get bad news, per se, but it wasn’t great either. The sonographer did some measurements and expressed some concerns but said it was likely because the scan had been arranged for too early on in the pregnancy. They said to come back again the following week. The following week came and we had another scan and this time they advised we may be able to see the heartbeat. We waited and waited but again we were met with concerned faces. The sonographer pulled in another colleague and they zoomed in and zoomed out, they moved the screen about, they got up close to the screen. Again, they advised they didn’t see what they wanted to see but that we could be a week too early. I asked them for a glimmer of hope and they gave it to me. They said that it could be that it was just too early for a scan but at 8 weeks next week, they were sure they would be able to see what they needed to see to reassure us that our baby was growing fine.

That week was a tough week. It was long. It was hard. At 8 weeks pregnant barely anybody knew which meant there were very few people to confide in. Those I did confide in would tell me exactly what the Doctors had, it was just too early. Hang on in there for one more week. I’m sure this time next week you’ll have seen your baby’s heartbeat and everything will be fine. After all, you’re still being sick, you’re still off coffee – they’re good signs, right?

Something in my gut at this point told me that despite the morning sickness and other pregnancy symptoms, something wasn’t right in there. When the 8 week scan finally came, I was ready for answers. Living in limbo for three weeks had been tough on us and I was tired. I was exhausted of lying awake at night analysing every symptom or every ache or pain. I was exhausted of having to keep it all together emotionally when inside I just wanted to have a wobble. The scan started and within five minutes there wasn’t just one sonographer in the room but there were three. One thought they saw something but then the second didn’t agree. The third was unsure. They dithered about. They called my Professor in. She had been our specialist throughout our treatment. Within thirty seconds of looking at the screen she delivered the verdict and she did it with absolute certainty. I hated her at the time for it because it wast the verdict I wanted but looking back, that definitive answer was definitely needed. The long drawn out uncertainty of her other colleagues was soul destroying.

Our baby had started to develop but had, for some unknown reason, stopped developing in the early stages of the pregnancy. My body hadn’t even realised it yet, hence the continued symptoms. That afternoon I was sent across to the hospital to arrange the surgery to remove the pregnancy. I remember being in a side room in the hospital waiting for one of the nurses to come and explain what was going on and I felt numb. I felt like I wasn’t there, like I was almost looking down on myself being there, watching it from a birds eye view. This wasn’t happening to me. It can’t be. We’ve tried for this baby for years – six years in fact. When the nurse did come in I couldn’t even bring myself to look at her, or to process what it was she was saying. It felt like I had just emotionally shut down. I didn’t want to talk about it and I didn’t want to know anything about what was to happen next.

The surgery the following day made everything seem so medical, so clinical and so final. The nurses were sympathetic but all the sympathy in the world wouldn’t make this any easier. I remember coming round from the procedure afterwards and feeling empty. I felt physically empty and I felt emotionally empty. An infection following this procedure meant that my body was in for a long period of recovery from the miscarriage. I was ill for a good few of the weeks that followed. I had to return to the same ward because of the infection and that was difficult. I remember being referred to an occupational therapist because of the time I had taken off work and he very insensitively suggested that I should only have had two days off sick for a miscarriage. Two days! There was a complete lack of awareness of how a miscarriage impacts on someone emotionally, let alone physically.

Throughout the whole journey we were on, my husband was incredibly strong for us both. I knew he was broken too but he put a good front on. He really stepped up for me and I won’t ever forget the way in which he put his own emotions to one side in order for him to support the difficulties I was having with mine.

I chose to tell some family and some friends after this happened because there were questions being asked about my health, about absence from work and so on and it was too difficult to conceive a lie at this point. I only told those who needed to know though and as I look back on the whole experience now I do wonder why I made that decision. Miscarriage isn’t something to be ashamed of so why do we shy away from telling those around us about what is going on? For me, it was difficult because I hadn’t told many that I had been pregnant, never mind that I had miscarried. I couldn’t bring myself to say to someone ‘by the way, I was pregnant but I’m not now. And I’m not coping very well’ with it. Had I have been more open with people about being pregnant in the first place, I think I would have felt very different about opening up about the miscarriage.

I’m not sure why there is still this stigma about waiting for that 12 week scan before telling people you’re pregnant. I get that people are cautious and don’t want to celebrate the pregnancy prematurely but should the worst happen, it leaves you with nobody to confide in. If nobody knows you’re pregnant, there’s nobody there to support you through the miscarriage.

We were lucky enough, four years later (after two further years of fertility treatment and then a break for two years) to be blessed with another pregnancy. It was a shock. We had decided to stop the fertility treatment after being told it was highly unlikely that we were going to conceive again. Instead of the squealing celebratory response to the positive pregnancy test I instantly felt anxious. It wasn’t like the last time where I believed we had conquered all the hard bits by getting pregnant. I knew this was just the start of a very difficult journey to come; a journey that would see me never relax and never enjoy the pregnancy. We told all our close friends and family straight away. I didn’t want to be isolated if it all went wrong again. I wanted to make sure that I had a network of support around me incase the worst happened again.

After eight months of anxiety, liver complications, regular bleeds and lots of prayers that this time would be different, our baby girl was born by emergency section. She will be 2 in a week. After we made the painful decision to give up the fertility treatment and to accept that we were never going to have a second child, never did we expect to find ourselves with the beautiful baby girl that we had dreamt about for so long. She has definitely eased the pain that came with having the miscarriage but it’ll never be something that I will forget. It has made me fiercely grateful for what I have. I have two beautiful children and I know every day how blessed I am to have them. Even on the toughest parenting days (and let’s face it, we all get them!) I know I am blessed and I am so grateful.

For those who have experienced miscarriage, I am thinking of you. I know this is tough. It’s just shit. There’s no polite way of describing the situation; it’s just shit. I’ve been where you are now and I know that grief is heavy and the darkness you feel around you is thick, like a thick fog. You will get through this. You won’t ever forget this but you will get through this. Talk to people. As hard and inconceivable it may seem, talk. Let people in. Let people know what you are going through. You need them. Take one day at a time and when a day seems too much, take one moment at a time. Allow yourself the time and space to grieve. You are entitled to grieve for your baby, no matter how early on in the pregnancy you experience your miscarriage. It doesn’t matter how small or how formed the baby was inside the womb, the baby was your baby in your head and in your heart. You had hopes and dreams for that baby in the same way others do for their children. You may have envisioned what your baby would look like,  perhaps, inside your mind,  you had played out the moment you would first hold your baby in your arms. You need to grieve that loss and you have every right to do so. Take your time.

It isn’t greedy to want two children.

It’s not greedy to want two children. My experience of secondary infertility.

 

Secondary infertility isn’t a subject that is widely discussed. I’m not sure why, because according to many articles that spring to life following a random google search, thousands of couples suffer from it every year. It is very common, but not often talked about.

We fell pregnant very quickly with our first child, in fact, he took us by surprise. He was the best surprise. So we had no understanding of what it was like to actively ‘try’ for a baby whatsoever.

When our gorgeous boy was between two and three years old, I convinced my very unsure husband that it was time for another. Looking back, I can understand where his reservations were coming from. If our first baby was anything to go on, we could potentially be knitting bootees and cooing over cots in less than four weeks time. We questioned whether we were ready as a family. We questioned whether the box room was big enough for a nursery. We questioned whether we could afford to double our childcare costs. We questioned a lot of things when we talked about having another baby. But the one thing we didn’t question, was our ability to conceive again. Not once. So when it didn’t happen, it hit us hard.

We tried to conceive for months and months. The longer we tried, the more we wanted it, and the further away we felt from it. We were totally caught off guard by the whole thing. My body had done it once. Super quick too. Why couldn’t it do it again? We were frustrated by it and we could not understand why we were having so much difficulty.

Little did we know that we were only at the beginning of a very long and painful road spanning ten years.

In the early years we didn’t tell our family or friends what we were going through. That was difficult. Having a second child is a natural progression from having one in society; once our boy reached three, people started to get impatient. They would not-so-subtly tap their feet and check their watch every time the subject was even remotely addressed. Every time we told our family or friends that we had news to share with them, their eyes would automatically well up with joy, they would clap their hands together and screech the words ‘When’s it due?!’ only for us to have to deliver some pretty underwhelming news by comparison, like we’d saved enough nectar points for a free pizza express, or we were thinking about getting a pet gerbil.

I’m not sure why we chose not to talk about it. Maybe it was because it wasn’t commonly spoken about. I didn’t even know secondary infertility was a thing until it, well, became a thing. Amongst child less friends I felt like my desire for a second baby, and my emotional turmoil at not having one, had to be hidden. I felt I had no right to talk of my wanting another baby. I felt greedy. I had one child who was beautiful and healthy – he was pretty damn perfect, actually. I should’ve been counting my blessings, right? Some people can’t even have one child let alone two. I was one of the lucky ones.

And I do get that. I can imagine that couples facing infertility with no children would think that we were being greedy. They’d no doubt give anything to have just one child nevermind two. I know the pain I felt as I longed for a second baby; I can only imagine that their pain was mine ten fold. And more.

But it didn’t matter how much I reasoned with myself. I told myself I was lucky to have my boy (and, by the way, that is not questionable. I am the luckiest woman in the world to have been blessed with my son and I never once doubted that). I told myself that not having a second baby wasn’t the end of the world. But that longing didn’t go away. Yes, I had a child to hold. But that didn’t mean that my arms didn’t physically ache to hold another. In some ways, when you’ve had one child, you know more about what you are missing out on by not having a second child. You know the absolute joy that they bring, the unconditional love that you feel enveloped in on first holding your baby; you fully understand the impact of the walking miracle that they are and the life changing experiences that they bring – and when you know that, and you’ve felt that, it only leaves you wanting a second baby even more.

Our Fertility Professor agreed to put us on fertility treatment. It was mentally and physically gruelling in every way. It was a never ending cycle of hope meets disappointment meets hope meets disappointment once again. We did stints of it for months and then took breaks because at times, it had become all too much. The treatment was all consuming. Repeated visits to the clinic for blood tests and scans on a weekly basis was exhausting, the excuses I made to my colleagues for the repeated time out of work to attend the appointments, the hormones that made me feel and behave in ways I didn’t recognise, bursting into tears if Sainsburys had ran out of red grapes, or snapping at my husband (and when I say snapping, what I actually mean is, ‘exploding’) for offering to do the dishes. This went on for eight years. Eight years.

Then there’s the guilt. The guilt you feel because as parents, you can’t give your child a sibling. You can’t give them that friend for life they expect, someone else who will stick with them throughout their life and offer them unconditional love. This was heightened when my boy started school and realised that most children had siblings. That was a difficult time. He would write ‘a brother or a sister’ at the top of his birthday and Christmas lists year in and year out Every time we passed a water fountain he would ask for a penny so that he could throw the penny in and make a wish for a sibling. They were tough times. Because what explanation can you give to a four or five year old as to why they don’t have the brother or sister that most of his friends have? He was too young for the scientific answer. We aren’t a hugely religious family but we do have a belief system of sorts – a faith. I called upon that system in an attempt to explain to my boy that sometimes in life, things such as these are simply outside of our control. We told him that the big fella in the sky would give us a baby brother or sister if and when he felt we were ready for it. It was an impossible discussion to have because, as a parent to a young child, you would do anything to shelter them from the miserable reality that shit happens and we can’t always have whatever we want, regardless of how much we want it.

The more years that went by, the more we were beginning to resign ourselves to life with only one child. I turned the TV over when babies were born on Eastenders, I avoided channel 4 like the bloody plague to ensure there was absolutely no chance whatsoever of me even accidentally catching a miniscule of a second of ‘One born every minute’. I politely declined invitations to my friends’ Baby Showers (which, by the way, I deeply, deeply regret. I am sad that I couldn’t put my grief to one side to celebrate with them but it was simply more than I could take at the time) and I averted my eyes to the ground when we passed a pregnant lady in the street or a woman pushing a pram. I distinctly remember my sister announcing she was pregnant with her second child. It was Mothers Day and we were out for a special lunch as a family. Nobody expected the announcement. Looking back now, I’m not sure why, but she had never mentioned wanting another baby so it came as a surprise. I’d like to say a happy surprise but I felt it like a punch to my gut. A big, strong punch to the stomach. This metaphorical punch almost left me winded. My mum wept with joy. My dad shot up and shook my brother in law’s hand. I’m not sure how I managed it but I fought those tears with every inch of my being and I gave her a celebratory hug. I don’t think I managed any words. But I definitely tried for her. I felt like a shit sister and shit Aunt. I mean it when I say that I desperately wanted to be happy for her. I genuinely did. I felt envy so strong it made me physically sick. I was physically sick with envy.

Guilt was a prominent feature of our journey. I felt guilt I couldn’t provide my boy with a sibling, I felt guilt that I couldn’t be happy for my closest family and friends when it happened for them, I even felt guilt at my boy not being enough for me; I felt guilt for wanting another. I felt greedy.

We had those sorts of conversations over and over again with our Fertility Professor over the years; she was so supportive. In that consulting room, with her, I felt safe. It had three chairs, a small table with the obligatory box of tissues on it and three framed pictures of some sort of wacky artist’s representation of a woman’s uterus on the wall, that was it. But it felt safe. Why? Because there was an acknowledgement that it was perfectly natural to desperately want a second child, and that it was Ok to feel such pain at not being able to. I slowly came to the realisation that I was justified in feeling that pain. Yes, obviously I was better off than couples who couldn’t have any children. And by God, did I appreciate that. But it was still Ok for me to feel pain at not being able to complete my family. It wasn’t greedy to want two children. It was natural. It was Ok to feel the way we felt.

We fought that infertility with every ounce of energy within us. When it got tough, we took a little break from the treatment but we never gave up. Giving up without our second baby was just never an option then. Until the treatment worked, that is.

In a phone call to the clinic to find out the results of the pregnancy blood test that was completed after every round of treatment, a call I had made every month for years and years, I finally heard the words that I had dreamed of. They told us it was positive. It had worked. We felt like all our dreams had come true. That is, until we went for our early scan at the clinic and found that our baby had stopped developing very early on. It felt like the pregnancy was on, then as quick as a flick of a switch, it was off. Gone. Dreams completely shattered.

We went on to have a number of rounds of treatment but I think we both knew we had reached the end of our journey. We were grief stricken over a baby that had barely got out of the starting blocks and continually trying to get pregnant again afterwards only served as a cold and bitter reminder of the loss we had experienced.

Eight years after we started trying for our second baby, we decided, in conjunction with our Professor that it was time to accept this was highly unlikely to happen for us again. The Professor had said that she would support us with one further round of treatment but that she was pushing the boundaries and felt that it was highly unlikely there would be any success. We were a mess, in every aspect. Our marriage was stretched because of the ups and downs that infertility brings, we were missing a lot of work in order to commit to the treatment and as much as our employers were supportive, it had been going on years and there is only so much you can ask. We also felt that we had become so obsessed with what we didn’t have that at times we had lost sight of what we did have: our gorgeous boy. And he was growing up so fast. It was time to start the acceptance process and make the best out of what we had. We had so much to be grateful for and although it was an extremely difficult time, once we had come through that acceptance process, it was like someone lifted the roof to reveal blue sky and sunshine, bright colours and fresh air. There was a world out there to enjoy. A world, that didn’t include hormone injections, hospital gowns, invasive scans and blood tests. We had a life to lead with our boy. It was time to start living again.

Our boy was growing up fast which meant there was a whole new world to enjoy with him. As an almost teen, he could access a world of different things that wouldn’t have been appropriate before when he was younger. We took advantage of that and we made ourselves busy. We booked trips away, we introduced him to our love of live music and took him to gigs with us, we went to see films that were rated 12a at the cinema, we went in to book shops and sat with a hot chocolate and discussed books that we both liked the look of, we watched box sets on Netflix that we both liked. I absolutely adored it when my boy was little but him growing up did open up a whole new way of life. He now had the maturity to do more adult type stuff with us and it was lovely as we had so much more genuinely in common.

I remember booking tickets to our very first music festival some two years after deciding to give up trying for our second baby. The three of us were going to go and experience our very first music festival together. We talked about hiring a camper van and stopping off at a few different places before making the journey down to the south for the festival; we were so excited. I remember sitting in Starbucks with one of my closest friends and telling her about this festival. I remember going on and on about who was playing and how excited we were as a family. My friend looked at me intensely in the eye and said ‘You’re happy now.’ It wasn’t a question. It was an observation. She saw something different in me. I agreed. I finally felt different. She felt that it was as if that weight had been lifted off my shoulders; She felt that I was finally over what we had been through. I had finally accepted we were going to remain as a family of three. And she was right. I walked out of that Starbucks and I felt ten foot tall. I went home and held my boy so tight. I had finally accepted the cards we had been dealt and I was Ok with it. I finally felt a peace that is quite indescribable. I felt a sense of calm, a real sense of contentment. I was happy.

Less than two weeks later someone at work offered me chocolate and I turned it down. I didn’t even think about it; I just turned it down. I never turn down chocolate. Something in that moment spoke to me. To this day I don’t know what it was. But it told me to buy a pregnancy test. So I did.

Seven months later we were blessed with the second baby we had waited ten years for. She defied science. She defied logic. The only word for her is ‘miracle’. She was and will forever be an absolute miracle.

A fourteen year age gap between children may not seem ideal to most, but by God we are making this work. My big lad and my baby girl have the most beautiful relationship and despite waiting ten years, the timing of it all came together and felt so right. Nobody can explain why or how it happened. It just did. I am so grateful for it.

We never made it to the festival. On the day of the festival I was heaving myself around the place looking like a beached whale on steroids. There was no place I would have rather been.