Pregnancy after loss. It’s all over the place. People talking about it, wanting to know how to deal with it…by ‘it’ I mean the fear. The hashtag PAL is everywhere, there was even a whole day in dedication to it only last week. I get it. It’s the hope mixed with fear that these pregnancies and babies bring. This should be supported, but I can’t help feeling angry and impatient. Why? Because I’m feeling left out, excluded. I’ve just kept losing and it has made me feel like a failure in some ways.
We’ve lost three babies in a row, the middle one being Luna. I guess I feel touchy that I have experienced pregnancy after loss, and lost again and again. I also feel touchy because after our last miscarriage, our fourth, I feel like I was ‘dropped’ by both the bereavement midwife and by the SANDS person in our area. Both had been really supportive when I found out I was pregnant again. I’d approached them for help and they seemed to understand that this would be an anxious time for me. Then, when I had my early scan and I texted them both the news that the baby had died, I got sympathetic messages back, but that was it. Haven’t heard from either of them since. Radio silence. What’s THAT all about? Did they think I had enough support around me already? Did they think if I needed them, I would contact them? Did they have more important, more needy people, more extreme cases to deal with? Maybe they thought it was now up to the Early Pregnancy Unit (they were very good), and so didn’t think I needed them? Or, were they unable to deal with the fallout? Did they think I was a failure?
I haven’t talked much about my last miscarriage, not in any great detail. I’ve talked about my third miscarriage, the first in this string of losses. And I’ve talked about Luna…a lot. But not this miscarriage. It’s because I’ve still been processing it. This latest miscarriage represents a threshold in our family building process and we’re unsure of our next steps. We don’t know if we will ‘try again’ (words I despise, by the way). When I discovered I was pregnant again, we had been ‘trying’ for a few months. This pregnancy took longer to come then my previous ones. Probably because I wasn’t quite ready yet, after losing Luna. But when I did fall pregnant, it felt ‘right’. Don’t get me wrong, I knew the pregnancy may not last, that’s what multiple losses teaches you – you don’t, necessarily, have your one miscarriage, fulfilling your miscarriage quota to the universe and then it’s smooth sailing from here on out. If only. No, I knew it may not last. But, it still felt right and it felt like it was a gift from Luna. Like she was saying ‘Here you go, you’re ready now, I’ve made space for this one, you can do it’. When I told Charlie, he burst into tears and I could see the worry descend onto his face. We talked about it and we agreed that we would try, as best we could, to take any joy from this pregnancy that we could, because it may all end tomorrow, or in the next 5 minutes, who knows? We have no control, zero, nadda, zilch. So each day that I remained pregnant we would find joy. We would have to remind ourselves of this over and over again, because the overriding emotion was fear, but I didn’t want this pregnancy to only be remembered in fear. If it was all to end, I wanted there to be some joy in this baby’s short life. Please don’t read this and think I am saying ‘Stay positive!’, because I’m not (more words I hate). Searching for joy, chinks of light, putting your hand over your abdomen and saying ‘I love you’ to a teeny tiny embryo, isn’t saying ‘Stay positive!’, it’s an attempt to remain sane. Staying fucking positive won’t change a damn thing to the outcomes of your pregnancy, but remembering love will help you to step back from ledge of fear and stay grounded in the here and now. It’s all we have.
Six weeks later we were in the Early Pregnancy Unit, awaiting our first scan at eight weeks gestation, to see if everything was okay. Everything was not okay. We knew within, oh probably about 10 seconds, maybe less than that. The ultrasound technician hadn’t said anything, she didn’t need to, her very silence was our answer. I was already crying before she said a single word. She got the senior midwife in to confirm what she was seeing, no heartbeat and the measurements reading at eight weeks, the baby’s heartbeat had only just stopped, within 24 hours of the scan. I remember saying ‘Why does this keep happening?’ and ‘What did I do?’. I know. I should know by now that it is nothing that I did or didn’t do, but yet I blamed myself first. Because we understand so little about the ‘why’, we search for answers and turn on ourselves. Both Charlie and I were numb, in shock, but we both also had this sense of ‘Oh yes, well this is what happens to us. We know this’. Were we getting used to this? Yes, I think so. You get beaten up enough times, you start thinking ‘Well that kick in the head wasn’t as bad as the last knee to the groin’.
When I got the talk about my ‘options’ (all pretty shit), I, with Charlie’s agreement and support, decided to just let things happen on their own. The less shit option of the three, I felt. I didn’t want to take medication and force my body to release this baby before it was ready to, before I was ready to. And I wanted to avoid surgery at all costs. I’ve done that before, it’s an odd feeling going to sleep, then waking up and you know your baby is gone, taken from you. I hated it. No, I wanted more time with my baby, even if it was dead. I’ve learnt from Luna that there’s never too much time with your baby, dead or alive. As long as I was physically well and as long as my mental state held up, I was going to see this miscarriage through to the end. It took three weeks for it to start and in that three weeks my body changed, signally that the physical part of the miscarriage was coming. It started not how I expected. I was out with Benjamin and a friend and her two children. I was wearing a thick pad (had been for weeks, just in case), I felt odd, I could feel pressure building. I remember thinking ‘That’s strange, this feels like when I was in labour with both Benjamin and Luna’, and then, as we were walking along the road, I felt a release of fluid, a gush. Thank fuck for the pad! My waters had broken. I was pretty sure that’s what it was and when I finally reached where we were staying (our house was being renovated, so we were staying in an AirBNB at the time – fun!), went to the loo and confirmed it was my water’s, there was very little blood at that point. I was slightly baffled. I didn’t think you could have waters breaking from such an early miscarriage. Again though, it felt right.
Of course my waters broke, of course I had a miscarriage that felt more akin to my previous labours (rather than my previous miscarriages). Somewhere in my psyche, this was a birthing, not a miscarriage. I needed to experience another birth, so that’s what my body gave me. I ‘laboured’ over a period of five days and I knew on that fifth day that this would be the day that the pregnancy sac would be passed. I knew when it was coming away, and put my hand under me to catch it. There was something different to the way my body was responding to this day, what remained of our baby had a different feeling to that of passing blood clots. And I don’t mean physically, it was a knowledge that I just felt. I wrapped up the remains in some tissue and put it in a little cloth bag. The hospital had said that they could take any pregnancy tissue for testing, but I didn’t want them to have it, it was mine and I wanted to know what happened to it. Previous miscarriages I’ve either flushed it all away, or it was taken from me and tested on, and I didn’t get it back. I’d say I needed control, but that’s false, because I wasn’t in control of what was happening, I was along for the ride. I wanted my body to be in control. To not be forced into doing anything it wasn’t ready to do. There was a process I wanted to follow, and that process helped me to grieve for this pregnancy, this baby. It actually took a very long time for this miscarriage to come to an end. Once I’d ‘birthed’ the pregnancy sac, I continued to bleed lighting for the next six/seven weeks. I eventually went back to the hospital and they scanned me. There was still a bit of pregnancy tissue, placenta I suppose, that was attached. It had a blood supply. In others words, my body was still nurturing a part of this pregnancy. By this time, I did feel that it was time for this to come to a close and the medical advice was that I’d given my body a load of time, but it was time to step in and help it along. So I took the medication. The same medication they give to induce women, just a smaller dosage. The same medication I’d had with Luna. I went home and the rest of the tissue passed that evening very quickly.
Going back to the radio silence from the bereavement midwife and the SANDS person…do I think I needed their help? No, not really. But has it hurt that they haven’t at least checked in to see if I needed their help? Yes, definitely. What sort of message is it sending? That this pregnancy doesn’t count? That because it was only eight weeks gestation, it’s not so bad? Is it highlighting that people in the caring and medical professions/volunteer sectors don’t always get it right? It has made me feel like a bit of a baby loss leper! And I think this is why pregnancy after loss discussions make me feel frustrated…because after my experiences, it doesn’t feel like I’d belong in those conversations. I feel like if I was to wade in on a Twitter chat about it, relay my experiences, other women (and men) would recoil and not want me there, pissing all over their hopeful parade, telling them about how it can just keep happening again and again and again. Would I just add to other people’s anxiety? Probably, and that’s why I stay away. By the midwife and SANDS volunteer ignoring me, it’s told me I don’t belong. My PAL story is one of failure and if you keep losing, then your a loser and who wants to hear about losers? Is that the truth? I don’t know, I’ve been avoiding these groups and conversations because I’m afraid of the answer.
Pregnancy after loss is an important and complicated topic. Women and men need the help and support to deal with the anxious time it is going to be. If we were to get pregnant again, I don’t know that I would bother asking for help from either the bereavement midwife or the SANDS volunteer again. We need a medical community and other caring professionals/volunteers to understand the consequences of their comments and actions (or lack of comments and actions) on us. Women and men need to feel well supported, whatever the outcome of their pregnancy. That they and their baby/babies is/are of value and that we want – need to hear their stories and that they will be listen to. End of.