Round about the time my daughter turned three we started to get a bit broody. We weren’t ready to start ‘trying’ for baby number two, apart from anything else we were running out of room anyway in our tiny house, and trying to find somewhere bigger to move to was the priority. However,these things don’t always go quite according to plan, and a sunshiny holiday in Italy with a few glasses of Pinot Grigio later, and we were looking at a positive pregnancy test.
To say we were thrilled was an understatement. The decision whether or not to have a second child had been one we’d debated pretty much ever since Anna was born – on one hand I’d always imagined a having two children and Anna growing up with all the joy of a sibling to share toys, experiences and arguments with, on the other hand I’d barely slept for two and a half years, and I have a form of arthritis which causes joint pain and fatigue, so I wasn’t at all sure I could cope with the demands of two small children. Our happy accident felt like fate deciding for us, and we were delighted.
Sadly, just a week or so later I went to the toilet and found some spots of blood. Over the next few hours the bleeding and the pain intensified, and I was in no doubt that I was losing the baby. Although this hadn’t been planned, although we were at such an early stage in the pregnancy, it still felt as though my heart was being ripped out. With a bitter irony, my first miscarriage came just two days before we moved into the three bedroomed house which would have plenty of room for two children.
I didn’t see a doctor at first, there didn’t seem much point. I just wanted to get it over with and get pregnant again as soon as possible – at least we now knew that was what we definitely wanted. A week later, though, I woke up with a high temperature, convulsive shakes and renewed bleeding. It was a Bank Holiday Saturday (of course), and NHS Direct recommended I went straight to A&E. To say they were unsympathetic would be an understatement. I was given a pregnancy test, when it came back negative the nurse told me “Well, you’re not pregnant now – if you ever were – you’ve obviously got a virus. Go home and take paracetamol.” I felt like a delusional hysteric. Had I imagined the four positive pregnancy tests after all? Being dismissed like that felt like losing my baby all over again. A few days later when I was able to get an appointment with my (very sympathetic) GP she referred me for a scan to check that the miscarriage was complete, and luckily it was. Over the next few weeks the sadness lessened and, although there were pangs, such as a friend announcing her pregnancy with a very similar due date to what mine would have been, we were ok. The whole time I was so grateful and felt so lucky that I already had one gorgeous child.
A few months later, while on holiday again, I realised that my period was late and my breasts were sore. An embarrassing trip to a French pharmacy which uncovered some distinct gaps in my A-level French (it’s ‘teste de grossesse’, by the way), and once again we were looking at those two blue lines. This time our excitement was definitely tempered with caution. We now knew a positive pregnancy test did not guarantee us a baby to cuddle nine months later, but we were still fairly upbeat. After all, lots of people have one miscarriage, I was young(ish!), I’d had one healthy pregnancy, the statistics were on our side.
Unfortunately, a week or two later, I felt a now hideously familiar cramping in my lower abdomen. This time, however, there was no bleeding, and for a few hours I clung on to the hope that it was just one of those pregnancy aches and pains. As the pain intensified that comforting fiction became harder to sustain. My husband was away with for work and uncontactable, so I sent out a mayday to my parents. By the time they arrived, having driven through the night, I was in agony. Worryingly, I felt, the pain had settled onto one side of my abdomen only, and there was still no bleeding. I started to be concerned it could be an ectopic pregnancy, and when I wasn’t able to get a GP appointment I decided (with some trepidation, given my previous experience) to go to A&E. My misgivings on the quality of care I would receive proved justified. Once again I was given a pregnancy test, it came back negative, the triage nurse told me I wasn’t pregnant and I should go home and see my GP in a few days if I felt no better.
If I’d been on my own then I think I would have done what she said. However, my mum was with me, and she is made of sterner stuff, especially if she feels one of her children is at risk! She pointed out that the pregnancy test I’d just done might be negative, but the one I’d done at home 24 hours earlier had been positive, so something funny was going on, and also suggested quite firmly that, given I was in too much pain to eat or sleep, and turned faint if I stood up for longer than a couple of minutes, that there probably was something wrong with me, and could we see a doctor please. After a fair amount of assertiveness (on my mum’s part), and tears and groaning (on mine) we finally saw the A&E consultant. She took one look at me, had me wheeled into a private room, cannulated and given an injection of strong painkiller and told me to go nil by mouth as she thought it could be an ectopic pregnancy and I might need surgery. From that point onwards the hospital were fantastic. A scan confirmed that it was an ectopic pregnancy, but because it was early and my hormone levels were low (measured accurately by a blood test) the gynaecologist was optimistic that it would self resolve. No chance whatsoever that the baby would survive, but given I’d been facing emergency surgery and the loss of my fallopian tube, this almost sounded like good news. And actually, bizarrely, although I was intensely sad about the baby that wasn’t to be, I did feel very lucky that I’d got through so relatively unscathed. It is still not unheard of for women to die of ectopic pregnancies, many more need surgery which can compromise their fertility, I’d got away with a couple of days of pain and a few follow up blood tests to check that my hormones had indeed returned to normal.
Four months later I was pregnant again. This time I tried so hard not to let myself get excited, and I felt I’d succeeded. Yet when I went to the bathroom and saw blood, the wave of despair I felt showed me that, actually, I had been hopeful after all. We were staying at my parents’ at the time, and I got an appointment for an ultrasound scan for the next day. It was a hard twenty-four hours to get through – on one hand I was bleeding, which clearly didn’t look good, on the other hand I was feeling increasingly nauseous as my early pregnancy symptoms ramped up. The alternating hope and despair was exhausting. When we were told there was a baby and a heartbeat we were ecstatic. The midwife doing the scan told me that, at this point, seeing a heartbeat gave us a 97% chance of a successful pregnancy. Frankly, those odds felt pretty good and, giddy with relief, we started talking about baby names.
A few days later I had a routine scan booked at my local hospital. I almost cancelled – after all, I now knew everything was ok, and I didn’t want to waste NHS resources. However, the lure of seeing that miraculous little heartbeat again proved too great, and off I went. The doctor doing the scan confirmed the heartbeat, and I lay in a happy daze, not noticing at first that her face had grown grave and she was spending a long time taking different measurements on the screen. Eventually I asked if everything was alright, and then listened, barely able to take it in as she explained that there might be a problem. The baby was a bit too small. The yolk sac was a bit too big. These facts taken in conjunction with each other pointed to a congenital abnormality which may lead to miscarriage. However, she could be wrong, there was a chance everything would be fine, and she would see me again in ten days to assess. The fact, though, that she then proceeded to give me instructions on retaining ‘the remains’ in a sterile container, should I miscarry at home, in order that they could be sent for testing, sort of gave me the hunch she wasn’t feeling terribly optimistic.
The next ten days were the worst of my life. Every twinge and cramp caused me to panic, and I tortured myself with endless Google searches. One moment I could be wildly optimistic having read of a woman whose measurements had been the same as mine and yet went on to have a healthy baby, seconds later I would be in floods of tears imagining myself going through the next seven months of pregnancy, feeling the baby grow, only to have a stillbirth or a child who wouldn’t survive longer than a few days due to a terrible chromosomal failure. When it finally came, the scan confirmed that the baby had died. I was booked in for what was charmingly called an ‘ERPC’ – Evacuation of Retained Products of Conception. It was an absolutely vile day, made worse by the fact that the staff initially refused to let my husband stay with me while I waited for the surgery. It didn’t seem to matter that I was beside myself with shock and grief, or that he was losing his baby too and we wanted to at least draw what comfort we could from being together, Rules Was Rules. Except they weren’t. Finally a senior nurse came and told us he could stay, and they actually allowed him to be with me right up to the moment I was taken into theatre, which was hugely helpful to both of us.
The next few months were very difficult. We had been referred to a recurrent miscarriage clinic for tests, and until that appointment came through it seemed sensible to put trying to conceive on hold. In any case, we both felt too battered by three pregnancies in eleven months to even think about trying again. My longing for a second baby hadn’t diminished, but I seriously doubted both my mental and physical capability to cope with another pregnancy. I was also worried that in focussing so much on what I hadn’t got – a second child – I risked missing out on enjoying what I had got – a loving husband, a happy marriage, a perfect little girl, a fledgling career as a writer, and wonderfully caring and supportive family and friends. I still struggled with my sense of loss though – experiencing panic attacks, heart palpitations and overwhelming anxiety when separated from my husband and/or daughter, and when my GP suggested counselling it seemed like a good idea. Unfortunately, that got no further than a brusque phone call from the private firm my local NHS outsources some mental health services to, which informed me that I was ineligible for grief or bereavement counselling as ‘miscarriage doesn’t really count’, and if I wanted to see someone I would have to go privately. I didn’t, not because we couldn’t afford it (although it isn’t cheap and would be a huge struggle for many families), but because having, against the grain, screwed up my courage to admit that I wasn’t coping, being told that what I’d gone through ‘didn’t count’ left me feeling like a whinging, underserving hypochondriac.
It was my husband, my daughter, my parents, my brother and sister-in-law and my wonderful friends who got me through in the end. And in a funny sort of way, that became a blessing in disguise – going through a difficult time enabled me to realise how much I am loved, and that was enormously comforting.
There’s no happy ending – yet – although there may be a happy beginning. After extensive tests at the fantastic Recurrent Miscarriage Clinic at St Mary’s Paddington we learnt that, although I do have some gynaecological ‘issues’, there was no reason why I shouldn’t have a healthy pregnancy in future. At the time of writing I am 13 weeks pregnant, and the numerous scans I’ve had so far are looking good. I’m won’t be counting this little chicken as hatched until I’m holding him/her in my arms, but I do feel very blessed to have got this far, and with a much stronger sense that if this baby is meant to be in our lives then s/he will be, and I just have to let what will be, be. When we told Anna that Mummy had a baby growing in her tummy she was incredibly excited, but we also warned her that sometimes babies inside their mummies don’t grow properly, or die. “Don’t worry, Mummy,” she said as she hugged me “It’ll be really nice to have a baby, but you’ve still got me and Daddy anyway.”
This blog post was written to support the Mumsnet Miscarriage Care Campaign. It wasn’t especially easy to write, but I hope that by sharing our experiences women and their partners can realise that they are not alone, and politicians and healthcare providers can be motivated to improve the care that miscarriage sufferers experience. Follow through to the link above if you would like to get involved.