That’s what well meaning people say when they don’t know what to say. I mean, what do you say to someone who has had a miscarriage? You would think that there is some sort of comfort in that expression, but I can’t see it. I know that what people mean to say is that the miscarriage happened for a biological reason. The cells computed and knew that the baby would not be healthy. So they terminated to save us the later pain. Logically, I understand it. I really do. Emotionally, I am at a loss. Literally.
Having experienced three miscarriages, it now puts me in the very lonely 1% of women who have experienced the same thing. As I write, I hope that the thoughts put in words may help me make sense of something which has yet to make sense to me. I want to translate the very physical feelings of emotions into words. I feel waves, tidal waves of emotion that start from the very bottom of my stomach, they engulf me, rise up in my chest and find an outlet through my eyes. In other words, I have been crying a lot. Randomly. Any time of the day and anything can set me off.
People cannot truly empathise with this unless they have been through it. And I have been through it three times. I can hardly believe the number myself. One, two, three. Three. It took me a while to get my head round that. I do not know anyone else who has had as many as me. The last seven months have been a waking nightmare for me and I cannot yet see where it will end. Before I had my daughter, it was the one thing I feared the most. Losing my child. Whenever I heard or read of anyone who had a miscarriage, my heart went out to them. It was something that was just so sad and heartbreaking. The hopes and dreams; reading the baby books, how they would tell their family, how they would decorate the nursery. The mother carries all of that in the very physical sense. No caffeine, no chemicals, no soft cheese, no medication etc etc. She is the one who takes the folic acid and nourishes the life within her, the one who has secret conversations with her unborn child. But when it is extinguished? It is something a mother remembers and is imprinted on her for life. And now I am one of those women I sympathised with.
Experiencing it once was beyond horrific. The statistics say it is common – one in three pregnancies end in miscarriage. That is how we consoled ourselves, trying to believe the lie ‘it was not meant to be’. I lived my own worst fear and nightmare. Lying down in the sonographer’s room willing there to be a heartbeat. Not being able to breathe, staring at the plastic light, hearing the words ‘I’m sorry, I cannot see a heartbeat’. How can that be when we saw it two weeks previously in an early scan? What I wouldn’t give to see my healthy baby and heartbeat at that critical twelve week milestone. I broke down each time, falling apart; the tears would not stop as my husband held me in that dark room. Shock, despair, disbelief; being utterly numb and inconsolable. Everything was an effort. Even walking back to the car, putting one foot in front of the other, forcing myself to keep going and not stop there and then and just curl up in a wreck of emotion. I forced myself to eat. Every bite, chew and swallow was tasteless. That one singular night of limbo. Carrying my dead baby, waiting for the morning to come to go to the hospital and be evacuated. They call it products of conception.
The procedure is horrific. I remember stepping out the door in the morning, knowing that when I returned, I would be empty: physically and emotionally. I walked in that hospital wondering if anyone could see the physical pain I was carrying. I cried countless times to strangers. The nurse, midwife, anaesthetist, doctor. I signed the forms, lay in the gown, had my blood and blood pressure taken, was injected with needles, gas. The rest is a blur. I woke so hollow. Not in physical pain, but emotional. For those medical staff, it is their job; day in, day out. To me, it is something I will live with forever. They heal the physical side, but the emotional impact remains infinitely. I had to come to terms with the fact that I was no longer carrying my baby. In the weeks ahead, I rubbed my stomach, momentarily forgetting I was no longer pregnant. Until the realisation and reality set in. I experienced the bleeding, the hormone crashes – but had no baby to show for it. I’m not sure how I endured those first days. Painkillers and restless sleep, I think.
Times that by three miscarriages.
It did not get easier. It was just as painful each time. Each time was a new baby, a new hope, a new future. Each time I wondered how I could put my husband, myself and my body through it again. Somehow, I gathered some seeds of hope and optimism and planted them; but nothing grew. I wonder if there is going to come a point when I say no, I can’t do it again. I could just about bear the procedure and be stripped of all dignity that comes with it. But the sadness, it dragged me under. I was fighting a tide, and I couldn’t swim. I credit my husband and a few close friends for pulling me to shore and stopping me losing myself completely to grief. Above all else, I am a mother. I had to be strong for my little girl. Someday a long, long time from now I may tell her about her lost brothers and sisters. I want to her to know how thankful I am for her dogged persistence at getting me to play, laugh, smile, dance, jump, read and sing with her. She is the one who brought me back to life each time.
In the weeks following, I couldn’t help thinking (or torturing myself) that our hopes and dreams in our baby had been reduced to a mass of cells to be scraped out and put in a container of some sort. Then what? Is it incinerated? Many a time I thought about the afterlife. I am not religious, but I thought about souls. Whether my babies had them and if I would meet them one day. Whether they are looking down on us. Whether they are together. No matter the stage of the pregnancy, I think of them as our babies. It’s hard not to when we saw two heartbeats. Beating hearts. Twice. What makes a heart beat – then stop? I think of those babies as little lights that flickered and went out. Our daughter is the very roaring, breathing fire of a girl. She got us through so many dark times. But she couldn’t understand why mummy and daddy were sad. Sometimes, she was the only thing that got me up in the morning. I would smile and laugh with her during the day, but on the inside my heart was breaking. Over and over again. When I put her to bed, the loneliness and emptiness would return. I wanted to go pick her up, hold her and keep her in my bed to stave away the heartbreak.
It was so hard to honour those little lights with our love when we had no tangible mementoes. We tried to forget to ease the pain, but I thought I was doing those babies a disservice by moving on and trying to be happy. The pain, grief, loss and bereavement were all too real for me. They were my shadows and constant companions. I could be anywhere – stuck in traffic, at work, doing the dishes, watching TV and I would start to wonder what those babies would have been like. Boy or girl? Independent? Charming? Introvert? Part of my pain is never getting to meet them, kiss them, love them like I do with my daughter. Whenever I read silly social media moans and gripes, they faded into insignificance. Try walking the last seven months in my shoes, I think. Then tell me your problems were the worst thing ever. I never got angry, but I was occasionally bitter.
When I am asked how many children I have, I say one, but I really mean four. I am the mother to four children, but just one living. Many women, myself included, did not tell friends and family about being pregnant. In case anything happens. But when it does go wrong, then who is there to console us? In our case, very few people knew. I chose not to tell my family because I knew it would break their hearts. They still don’t know. My husband and I concealed something so sad and significant in our lives to so many. On the outside, there was nothing wrong. I doubt our friends would guess. We plastered on smiles to cover the concrete cracks underneath. To me, it was a wide, open chasm – I could hardly see the other side. I used to be able to imagine holding my newborn baby, see the Moses basket next to my bed – but now I can’t. The vision seems so far off, I can no longer touch it. It is out of my grasp. We got the same well meaning question over and over again- ‘when are you going to have another?’ I know it is meant as a harmless enquiry, but now I realise just how intrusive it is. I have been guilty of asking the same question myself. My heart sank and my hands shook every time I was asked it. I am asked at least once a week. Part of me wants to say that ‘I am trying my damned hardest to have another, but I have had three miscarriages, so please stop asking’. Now I think of the many women who have issues conceiving, have fertility problems or miscarry and understand just how painfully loaded that question is. Having experienced this, I know just how much of an unspoken topic it is, yet so common to so many. More should be done to support women experiencing these problems.
Where does that leave me now? I thought that I had gathered all of my fighting strength after the second miscarriage to try a third time. The thinking was that if I miscarried again, we would be investigated. Now we have been told that it could be unlikely there is a problem – just ‘bad luck’. Because I have had one healthy pregnancy, there may not be a physical explanation for those miscarriages. But I don’t think luck works like that; three times is too many to be luck. I know that having a healthy baby is a genetic lottery, and we certainly think so when we see our daughter every day. We were told by one doctor, rather insensitively, that ‘humans aren’t built very well to carry babies’. I’ve read the books, and I know that pregnancy and birth is an amazing achievement. But at the same time I see, read or hear (I mean tormented) that someone else is pregnant – either someone I know, work with or some celebrity on the news. I don’t feel jealous or angry and think ‘why me?’ but I do feel so, so sad for myself. Don’t get me wrong. I feel like the luckiest woman alive when I see my daughter. She is amazing in every way. I know that some women are struggling to conceive at all and I should be grateful that I have a healthy child – I am blessed. However, I see our family as incomplete, something is missing. I want to give my daughter a brother or sister, and my husband a second child. When we do family hugs and kisses (we do them a lot), I think of those lost babies I can’t kiss or hug and the baby not here yet to experience this with us. Does that mean I still have hope? Yes, I guess it does. Some tiny, almost infinitesimal part of me is willing it to happen. The journey there is still long. I have endured so much to give our baby to come a chance in our family. We will welcome our new baby with so much love. Enough for the ones we have lost, and then some more.