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.