I’ve dicked about writing this post. It’s been bubbling – much like the ‘rona – in the background while I tossed and turned in my head whether, should I, how, if, when? In between work calls and kitchen table writing I spoke to my husband and asked him what he thought.
It’s about a common place occurrence, a one in four everyday tragedy that is happening somewhere to someone right now as you read these words. It’s a part of life’s rich fucking tapestry and all those other phrases that you grope for at the time and in retrospect because the feelings you have are simply too much and must somehow be packaged, in soundbite sentiments, understood as your polite introduction and, if required, ending to the mind blowing shock and devastation left behind. It’s the smoking crater this emotional nuclear blast creates and how your landscape is irrevocably changed. Four years on, for me at least it is about coming to terms and context. We lost our first baby and took it for granted that IVF or nature would gift us another.
“I want to write about the scan,” I said to him. “Do you think that would be too much?”
My husband looks at me, the yin to my totes emosh yang. He knows everything I mean under these words, gets what I’m trying to convey. “I think that’s a good idea. Yes. Do it.”
We pause, on the hallway that has become the pseudo break out area in the new office at home life Covid has created. I want to tell him about the sonographer guidelines that have been updated, about the news article on the BBC that morning where Lydia, a volunteer from the Miscarriage Association talked about her own missed miscarriage at the 12 week scan together with Gill Harris, a sonographer instrumental in drawing up these new guidelines. Their recognition and validation that as soon as parents see a positive pregnancy test, it is their baby and the importance of language thereafter. “Language is absolutely crucial…everything that we say to a parent will be remembered,” said Gill. “The very first words we say are ones that stay with them forever. Using the term baby…this is a wanted pregnancy for most people. If parents are using the term baby, we should be using that.” Unlike a good old political tussle, the BBC news presenters Charlie and Louise had been silent, listening to this incredibly brave and articulate young lady talk about the loss of her baby. Charlie seemed visibly moved. I watched, amazed that something that had consumed me and millions of others was now being discussed openly and sensitively on national TV.
My thoughts flickered to all the women I knew who had gone through this, and my friends who had done IVF and gone on to have a baby. They had never known this, but they have known fear and anxiety. What must it be like to be pregnant after IVF, and / or after loss and give birth in a global pandemic? What must it be like to be pregnant and know of friends, colleagues or acquaintances who had gone through all stroke any of this, and give birth during a global pandemic? What must it be like to be going through fertility treatment during a global pandemic? Having those early scans with a mask on, getting to and from the hospital? Being on your own at any point throughout your pregnancy, scanned by staff, wondering nervously what the outcome would be?
I wanted to say all of this, but my husband had the look of someone deep in the ass end of google hangouts and talking about your dead child isn’t exactly work banter.
Four years ago, in the distant days of a life pre-pandemic, we had the luxury of going to St Thomas’ Hospital like normal people. Unmasked, not distanced – I even got a seat on the Jubilee line – we caught the train and tube to Westminster and walked across the bridge. It was three days after my 36th birthday and I felt like it was the best birthday present I could have ever received. I was wearing my favourite grey and burgundy jumper, boyfriend jeans avec bump elastic and grey coat, thinking that in a few hours time we could tell everyone and I could finally buy some new bloody bras. My baps were straining their 32D boundaries like Jeffrey Epstein avoiding a New York court order.
The day was a glorious mix of excitement, wonder, nerves and a kernel of fear. More than once, I had thought something may have gone wrong. I’d even asked the mums what they thought on my birthday. Of course, there had been lots of reassurance. I hadn’t bled. It never crossed any body’s minds I had had a missed miscarriage. The focus was on the future and the life affirming joy seeing our baby again. We wondered how much he’d grown and looked forward to hearing his heartbeat. Heck, we may even have found out afterwards that Pumbaa was masquerading as a lady!? Being transferred from IVF to normal pregnancy world held a wondrous naivety. I say this without anger, malice or bitterness; simply recognising the purity of feeling, the joy of such a positive emotion, to be this excited about someone since you thought Santa Claus existed.
We rolled in through the main entrance. My husband decided to get his coffee afterwards, figuring we would enjoy this moment and he would relish the caffeine at work in an hour or so. I remember being surprised there was a giant M&S on the ground floor and wondered if I could reward myself with some chocolate after this. We got in the lift to the 8th floor, me clenching my bladder a little and hoping I didn’t piss myself pre scan. I reminded myself that after the last few months, arriving at a hospital with a full bladder and working the pelvic floor had become second nature. I thought about actual childbirth and quickly decided it was too early to shit myself about that and far better to focus on the task at hand. We checked in at reception and after a little confusion about my transfer from Guy’s, it was time for blood tests, a quick chat with the consultant and then finally our turn for the scan.
“I’m afraid there’s a bit of bad news,” the male sonographer said.
A bit? It took some very long seconds to realise what this could be. Surely he didn’t mean….staring upwards, trying to control the rising wave of fear and panic, I noticed their ceiling tiles needed sorting. I turned my head towards the screen on the wall and Pumbaa lay there, crescent shaped. Silent. The actual word “dead” couldn’t even come into my mind. In my head there was something akin to a falling and a rushing. My stomach plunged. Even now it is impossible to do justice to the shock. Apparently I started wailing, “my baby, my baby.” My husband leap frogged to cuddle me. Had it been the long walk we had been on at 10 and a half weeks? Was it my addiction to chocolate? Was it the one small decaff coffee a day? Had I had a prescient warning at just under 7 weeks when I rushed into Guys, convinced something was wrong? When I stood, crushed against others on our train into Blackfriars, physically panicking as it stopped for ages outside Denmark Hill? The fact that I could feel my baby pressing a lot onto my bladder? My GP had reassured me no but here we are, brain and heart scrambling to automatically apportion a reason, blame and guilt – to ourselves.
The sonographer went out and returned with the senior sonographer who said all the right things. I can’t remember what either of them looked like, but I remember their kindness. It wasn’t a great day in the office for them either. She told me that I would be back and that next time, it wouldn’t be like this. A shock requires immediate grabbing of hope of any kind, so I believed her. I thought I would be back within the year, at worst the year after. I started to realise in the third year that may not be so and it sparked a reckoning with reality that almost broke me. Now I know I would love to be back in that room in the same psychological split second I recognise that will require the greatest strength I have ever had to muster.
We sat in a quiet room overlooking the Thames and the Houses of Parliament. The consultant who had seen me popped in to say how sorry she was. She called our consultant at Guy’s, who in turn hurried over to see us, missing us by half an hour. That for me sums up the wonder of our NHS. I have been carried and supported by women throughout. The nurse was wonderful, gentle, kind. She offered us the options of miscarrying at home or having the operation to remove our baby. I asked for the latter. I distinctly remember saying I had been through enough and for this final goodbye, I would need to be knocked out to do it.
In my head, I kept repeating how sorry I was to Pumbaa that I had not kept him alive.
We left St Thomas’ irrevocably changed. I can’t remember getting home.
There are very few shocks in life I imagine that have that monumental impact. For a while I kept telling myself as some bizarre coping mechanism what a relief it was to have found out at this point, and not have Pumbaa be in pain. You can package a turd up in any colour you want, roll glitter on it, add accessories but it is what it is. Having a miscarriage is Grade A Adulting Shit. Not having a baby four years on is Grade A Adulting Shit. Not knowing if you will ever have your own biological child after losing your baby, and subsequent babies, is Grade A* Adulting Shit. There’s a lot more Grade A* Adulting Shit, but the loss of your child is one of the most painful things you will ever have to bear. There is no day when you completely forget. Birthdays, Christmases, due dates, years passing, all marked with the inconceivable loss of the most precious person you didn’t get to meet. The mothering that wasn’t enough, the motherhood you don’t have, the act of being a mother to a live child denied to you because of biology and chance.
The constant drip feed reminders – at work, doctor’s appointments, with friends, eating out, walking down the street, holidays, general LIFE. The understanding that being a mother is not the rose tinted walk in the park you once envisaged yet how you would give anything to be there, in whatever state or suffering it offered. The strength it takes to keep going and hold your nerve, persevering, keep the faith that somehow it will all turn out even when all evidence points to the contrary.
Grief is the price of love; grief is what happens when the love has nowhere to go, and so on. I realised I had always defined myself and my heart’s fulfilment at this point in life by motherhood. I love kids, love chatting with them and simply want the same opportunity to love, nurture and bring up a child. I saw and still see it as the most important job you can possibly do. One of my best friends eventually asked, “Why do you want to be pregnant again?” She had wisely pointed out that it had taken going through absolute hell to get to this point, the toll on me was enormous, and she was worried we were doing IVF again, again, and again. I replied, “because I was the happiest I’ve ever been and I knew my purpose.” While that still rings true, I now know there are other purposes, and sadly, not all of us will reach this particular, biologically defined finishing line.
Motherhood and Maybehood. Both take a warrior.
You can watch the clip from the BBC on @miscarriageassociation who have posted it in its entirety.