When I discovered I was pregnant in October, I felt so many different emotions it’s difficult to know where to start.
I was shocked because of my age – 38 – and the fact my partner and I had been trying for only a couple of months. As women are bombarded with the message that our chances of conceiving naturally after the age of 35 are virtually zero, I had assumed we’d almost certainly need some form of medical intervention, and even then I knew there were no guarantees.
When the shock dissipated, I felt excitement verging on elation. Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve wanted to be a mother.
But over the years, as relationships failed to work out, I focused on my career as a journalist, instead. I enjoyed the single life. I travelled widely. It took me a long time to grow up and realise what was really important in life.
But as the years marched by and (I like to think) I started to grow up, I also began to confront the reality that I might never be a mother.
I fleetingly considered single motherhood and started making inquiries about adoption. Then I met my partner. It wasn’t the mad, passionate, love-at-first-sight thing I’d spent (wasted?) so much of my life dreaming about.
But thank goodness I realised before it was too late that real love bears little resemblance to love in the movies, novels and our fantasies.
It was different from any of my previous relationships. In the past, I’d been drawn to high-risk, roller-coaster affairs or men who just weren’t interested in me.
My partner is the opposite. He’s secure in himself, funny, mature – and he loves me. It took a little bit of adjusting because I was so used to being with egotistical rogues who were too busy loving themselves to love anyone else.
But I began to realise how lucky I was to have found one of the good guys. He was as keen as I was to start a family.
When I found out I was pregnant, as well as the excitement there was also fear. I was afraid of so many things. We’re not supposed to talk about this in a culture that romanticises pregnancy and motherhood, but many women feel huge anxiety and ambivalence about what lies ahead.
I was afraid something might be wrong with the baby. I was afraid I wouldn’t feel that overwhelming rush of love you’re supposed to experience. I was afraid of losing my identity as a woman and being subsumed by the role of a mother.
I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and fear. My partner was working 50 miles away and, for some reason, I decided not to contact him
I was anxious at the loss of my previous care-free, independent life. I was afraid that the couple of glasses of wine I’d had before I knew I was pregnant would have caused some damage.
The thing I was most terrified of was having a miscarriage. One of my friends had become withdrawn and had sunk into a deep depression after losing her baby at 15 weeks. I was worried about how I’d cope with the physical and emotional pain of such a complicated loss.
Because I am superstitious (even though I know it’s nonsensical), I avoided buying any pregnancy books and even tried, unsuccessfully, to avoid thinking about names.
I loitered one afternoon at the pregnancy and childbirth section in a bookshop, flicking through books, but coming up with the illogical conclusion that if I bought one, something bad would happen.
Then, in my eighth week, I was suddenly filled with optimism. Everything was going to be OK, I thought. I bought two bottles of champagne for our respective families on Christmas Day, which would be the 13-week mark and the day we’d planned to share our good news.
And I couldn’t resist it. I bought a pregnancy manual and Lennart Nilsson’s famous and awe inspiring book, A Child Is Born. I spent hours looking at those spectacular pictures of life inside the womb, and read about the miraculous journey from fertilisation to birth.
And then, a few days later, I woke up and felt drastically different. I hadn’t had many pregnancy symptoms, but the most acute – tender breasts – had disappeared overnight.
There was a little bleeding, but no pain. Though I knew bleeding during early pregnancy is common and not necessarily an ominous sign, I just knew I was having a miscarriage.
I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and fear. I didn’t have a clue what was going to happen next. My partner was working 50 miles away and, for some reason I don’t fully understand, I decided not to contact him.
Instead, I lay on my bed for a little while and cried. Then I went online. I clicked frantically from one website to another. I must have read 100 of them. Among the mountain of information, I stumbled across the fact that a miscarriage could take up to four weeks.
The thought of not knowing for sure for such a long time seemed utterly unbearable, so I contacted NHS 24 (the telephone health advice and information service for Scotland). I was looking more for reassurance than anything else. I just wanted someone to tell me what was happening.
A couple of hours later, I was phoned back and told to go to the local out-of-hours emergency medical service.
There, a nurse asked why I was crying. I said it was because I thought I was having a miscarriage. She did a pregnancy test and announced breezily and confidently that it was positive and suggested I just had a urine infection.
I told her it can take up to nine weeks for the pregnancy hormone hCG to leave the system following a miscarriage (I’d read that on one of the websites). With a scowl of disapproval, she passed me over to a doctor. He was far more sympathetic and explained that I was almost certainly having a miscarriage.
He said they were extremely common – about 25 per cent of pregnancies do not go to term, with half of first pregnancies ending in miscarriage, mainly before 12 weeks.
But it is rarely talked about. Unfortunately, there was little that could be done, he said, other than to let nature run its course. He advised me to get some painkillers. But on the way to the chemist, I began to experience the most agonising pain I’ve ever had in my life.
Somehow, I managed to drive myself to a shopping centre with a branch of Boots. After I parked, in a numb haze, I tried to lower the car seat and lie down. But I was in too much pain. I desperately needed help. I stumbled, doubled-over, across a road and collapsed outside a shop.
The first man who passed me must have thought I was a drug addict or alcoholic. He hurried by with his head turned away.
A second man stopped and asked if I was OK. I shook my head and told him I thought I was going to pass out. He helped me walk the 30 yards to Boots, where the staff called an ambulance. (If that man reads this: thank you! I think of him as my good Samaritan, but I was in far too much shock and agony to thank him at the time.)
In the ambulance, I was given gas and air, which took away the pain.
At A&E, I lay on a trolley for a while feeling guilty for taking up time because the pain had disappeared. But a bigger shock was to come. Once I was in a cubicle, I was asked to give a urine sample.
That was when I passed what is known clinically as the ‘products of conception’. I tried not to, but I wanted to stare. I even had an irrational urge to take a photograph. But I was too traumatised to do anything.
Even now, I have occasional flashbacks of what was the beginning of a human life. My partner arrived a short while later and we just cried and hugged each other.
Back home, I slept through the next two days. I didn’t want to get up. I was still too scared in case the pain returned and of facing the world with this secret, private loss.I didn’t want to see Lennart Nilsson’s book, which was still lying on the living room floor.
I didn’t want to open my fridge and see all the healthy food I’d been buying since I’d found out I was pregnant. I didn’t want to switch on my computer and be reminded of all those pregnancy and parenting websites. But I knew I couldn’t hide under my duvet for ever.
I knew I had to get up and get on with it. The first thing I had to do was have a scan to make sure the miscarriage was complete.
I went through this procedure, which is carried out at an early pregnancy assessment unit, in a daze.
Two of the women in the waiting room were gazing adoringly at the pictures of their unborn babies. One had six images on a strip and kept holding them up for all to see.
A nurse asked if I’d mind letting a third pregnant woman nip in before me as she had to pick up her other child from nursery. I nodded and then turned my head away in an attempt to hide my tears. Talk about feeling like a third-class citizen.
I wanted to scream at those women and ask them to show an ounce of sensitivity. But I knew I couldn’t do that. I knew it wasn’t their fault. It’s hard to describe the feeling of lying down in the examination room, knowing that the three women before me would have been oohing and aahing and full of joy, while I was looking at the black emptiness on the screen.
The midwife said it was ‘good news’ because it was completely straightforward and there was no need for any further procedures. I stumbled through the next few days.
I was acutely aware of losing something, but it didn’t feel like a son or daughter. It felt more like the loss of hope, optimism and excitement for the future.
And there was a massive feeling of disappointment at not being able to share the news with our families on Christmas Day. I threw myself into work and told myself I’d coped remarkably well.
My partner kept asking if I was really OK. He was worried I wasn’t dealing with it. I thought I had dealt with it.
In fact, I felt proud of the way I’d survived the pain. I felt strong – stronger than I’d ever felt in my life. But it was all a false sense of optimism. In mid-January, it hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks.
Two of my friends had given birth and sent me pictures of their cute, adorable baby boys. I went shopping for gifts of toys and baby clothes. Then one night last week, I was having a bath when I started crying harder than I’ve ever cried in my life.
I didn’t think I was going to be able to stop. It was uncontrollable, child-like sobbing. I had a horrible, but strong feeling of being poisonous inside and of being a worthless person, incapable of doing anything right.
Because I hadn’t told friends or family about the pregnancy or miscarriage, I had been avoiding people in case I broke down in front of them. I moped around the house, feeling unable to do anything – even washing my hair felt like an insurmountable task.
I found myself sinking into the depths of despair. I went back to those websites and read about women who’d had two, three or more miscarriages and I wondered how on earth they coped.
But I know that humans are amazingly adaptable beings. I know that we do cope with whatever life throws in our path.
My partner and I will try again for a baby, but probably not for a few months. We need to grieve properly for this loss first.
Reposted from The Daily Mail