I remember when I was a child, I had a beautiful doll that cried real tears, and when you fed her a bottle she wet her nappy…I thought she was amazing! When we are little we play mommies and daddies with our dolls, pretending to feed and change our ‘babies’, thinking one day we will have a baby of our own. Of course real babies don’t come in a big pink box with all the needed accessories and instruction book. There is also the slight detail of getting through nine months of pregnancy and then birth, before any little bundle makes an entrance into your world!
Each pregnancy is unique and individual. Sometimes pregnancy can be a difficult journey. In fact it can be a time of hope, but also sadly a time of loss.
My journey of pregnancy with my beautiful first daughter was just that. To be honest I wasn’t sure she would ever arrive, a year of trying to get pregnant after coming off the contraceptive pill, I began to wonder if I was going to be one of the unfortunate for whom having a baby just wasn’t going to happen. I remember sitting outside the doctor’s office waiting to be seen, wondering what he would say and what options lay ahead for us. No one really tells you about this side, I never really thought growing up if I would actually be able to have a baby, only when.
I always knew that I wanted a family and having children was really important to me. I realised that you spend so much time trying not to get pregnant, that it is a bit of a shock when suddenly it is the only thing you want in all the world and it’s just not happening. So there I sat, waiting, glossy magazines lying about with celebrity lives for all to see, my mouth dry and my hands shaking. Isn’t it funny how minutes can feel like hours? When I finally saw the doctor, he made it seem like this was all very routine and gave me a small tablet that he guaranteed would give me what I was hoping for, a baby.
So sure enough about two months later the day my period was due and unable to wait a day longer, I took the test and there it was, the tiny blue line indicating it had worked and that yes, I was pregnant.
It’s funny how taking that test makes you suddenly feel different, joy, happiness, fear, worry, excitement all rolled into one. Over that previous year I had taken a few pregnancy tests, sitting there in the bathroom willing the line to appear, each time feeling that pang of disappointment when the little window stayed blank, empty, white. But now here it was two blue lines, that meant a baby, a real baby was growing right now, this minute, inside me. I’m sure I went and looked in the mirror to see if I could see a bump.
I pretty much carried on as normal the next few weeks, feeling happy at the little secret my belly was hiding and to be honest I felt ok, a little sickness (actually in the evenings) but nothing too bad.
The covers, were Scarlet red
It was a Saturday night and we had been to a party, I had sat quietly all evening resisting the pull of others to dance and when we finally got home I felt especially exhausted. I woke in the middle of the night and felt strange, I couldn’t tell you how but I just knew something was wrong. I turned over in bed, it felt wet, and when we turned on the light and I looked beneath at the covers, they were scarlet red with blood.
It’s funny how fear grips you, takes your breath, blurs the world. I heard the call to the ambulance, saw the faces of the paramedics above me, the lights in the roof of the ambulance as it winged its way to hospital but I was consumed with the voice in my head that kept saying my baby was gone.
Night time in hospital was strange, it was quiet, in an eerie way, and next to me in my bay I could see another girl asleep with drip in her arm. I wondered if she too had lost her baby? I know that I must have asked every member of staff that came to see me the same question “is my baby gone”, they would all look at me with the same expression, a sadness in their eyes, muttering things about the hormones in my urine and ‘well lets wait and see’. Every trip to the bathroom was terrifying, wondering what I would find. Breakfast came and went and the girl beside told me of her severe sickness (hyperemesis gravidarum) and the weeks of hell she had endured. I remember lying there thinking I’d willingly suffer those weeks of hell, if it meant my baby was alive.
Finally the porters came for me at 9.00 am with a big old wheelchair and wheeled me across the bumpy carpark to the antenatal clinic for a scan to see if my baby was gone. I sat in the wheelchair, shaking with cold and fear, listening to the porters discuss the news and football. At the clinic I looked around at posters of happy women with huge bellies full of life and advice on having a healthy pregnancy, I wanted to scream, shout, cry. Did they not realise my baby could be gone. What had I done wrong? I stifled the pain, crying silent tears alone, waiting.
A tiny beating blob, a heart beat!
As I was wheeled into the room, it wasn’t how I’d expected my first scan to be. I was suppose to be here to see my baby, trace it’s outline, laugh and cry at it’s tiny form, walk away with my picture to show friends and family, not sit here waiting to see if all was lost. The jelly was cold, the scanner rolled over my belly, I held my breath, I didn’t look at the screen but fixed my gaze at a poster talking about folic acid. For the health professionals this must also be a difficult time and the nurse who held the scanner was just as silent as me. Only the clicks of the machine broke the silence. It seemed like an eternity before her voice broke the silence, making me jump and telling me to look at the screen where I saw a fuzz in black and white. It was a blob – but more importantly – a tiny beating blob, a heart beat. “‘There is a sac and a heartbeat” she said, I don’t really remember what else she said. I left with no picture, but I did have my baby and nothing else mattered.
The doctor came later and said they thought that I had been carrying twins and that I had lost one of my babies. As the years have passed I have pondered this and the fact that I lost a baby, a twin to my beautiful daughter. I feel that I at that time I had no space to grieve the loss, or address the unknown possibility that there was another baby that I never got to know.
I went home that day, still bleeding but thankful for the tiny heart beating inside me, I rested for two weeks and slowly tried to get back to some normal activity. I lost my job but to be honest I didn’t care, nothing mattered, except that I had to protect my baby.
I did bleed again in my pregnancy, not as bad as the first time, but still enough to raise concern but the scans showed a beautiful growing baby and I took as many pictures as they would let me have. The time I first felt my baby move like little bubbles I cried the whole day, and while this subdued my concerns some, I still spent my pregnancy worried and very anxious, aware of every little pain and ache and I counting the kicks religiously to know my baby was ok. It was the day I brought my pram at 27 weeks that I felt like maybe we would make it. I loved that pram, green and navy check, to me it was like a symbol of life, hope and promise.
The reality of pregnancy
I was fortunate, many women lose their babies, and miscarriage is surprisingly common, the estimated figure is that miscarriage happens in around 1 in 4 recognised pregnancies, with 85% of those happening in the first trimester (weeks 1 to 12). A ‘late’ miscarriage, which is much less common, may occur between weeks 13 to 24 of pregnancy. Some women even go on to have many miscarriages.
The consequences are devastating to the woman, her partner and their families. If a woman does miscarry or has a pregnancy that’s threatened it’s vital that she and her partner get support, understanding and clear information on what’s happening and in time investigations. I know I felt very confused and alone at times, and unsure of what was happening. I felt like I wasn’t really advised as to what to do, whether I should rest, or continue with daily activities. I was given very little information and I felt like the lost of my babies would have been no more than a daily occurrence for those that cared for me. The loss of one baby was ignored because I had another and no one ever asked me how I felt or if I needed to talk. Obviously it’s really important that women get support with the medical side, but also the emotional side when a baby is lost. Partners too often voice that they felt invisible and ignored, we can forget they are suffering too.
For others a difficult pregnancy or the loss of a baby can result in trauma even PTSD. It is important that support is offered especially in subsequent pregnancies. Reassurance, safe space to talk about worries and concerns as well as relationships with care providers that is consistent and built on trust goes a long way to support families at this vulnerable time. Understanding the journey before a pregnancy too can help giving the right support to parents. Some parents have been trying for a baby for many years, some losing many babies along the way. Care that is informed, will take into account the background of each pregnancy and how this may influence the support that is needed.
“Available studies suggest that after a miscarriage 30%–50% of women experience anxiety symptoms and 10%–15% experience depressive symptoms, which commonly persist up to four months. These symptoms have been conceptualised as a pattern of grief following the loss of a baby. Miscarriage is also viewed as a traumatic event, distressing all the affected women to a greater or lesser degree. Unfortunately, hospital staff are often not sensitised to provide support for the emotional distress associated with a miscarriage.” WHO (World Health Organisation)
To a mother, no matter how many days or weeks or months she is pregnant, her baby is precious, from the line on the stick, to the day of birth, she will do all she can to protect her growing baby. It’s part of her and she loves it, so when things are threatened or go wrong it can mean the devastation of hopes and dreams. It is therefore so important that all women in pregnancy and their partners are given choice, information, support physically and emotionally, as well as the best medical care possible to protect her and her baby.
Yes pregnancy is a time of hope but it can also be a time of loss. I have watched my baby grow from a sac with a heartbeat to a beautiful young woman. Every time I see her smile my heart leaps because I know I’m so very fortunate she’s here.