Last week, I launched a new guest blog series (you can catch up here, if you missed it) sharing different perspectives on miscarriage and pregnancy loss. All kinds of loss and all kinds of voices. Here, Hayley, who writes the blog Life. Love. Loss, shares her story….
I can remember reading, in some pregnancy booklet somewhere, that ‘every pregnancy is different’. That what happens in one doesn’t mean it’s destined to happen in another. What isn’t said, is that all miscarriages and baby losses are different too. No two are the same.
This has certainly been true of my experience. I’ve been pregnant six times now. Five of these have been with my husband, Charlie. We have one living son.
My first pregnancy, at 25, was unplanned. Most likely it would’ve ended in an abortion, for many reasons, if I hadn’t miscarried first. I was shocked, guilty and scared when I found out I was pregnant, I was shocked, guilty and relieved when I miscarried.
It was a physically painful and bloody experience, as I believed all miscarriages to be. There were so many conflicting emotions. I was sad for this lost baby, I was sad that my choice had been taken away…but I was also relieved that I didn’t have to make the decision, it was made for me.
Mine and Charlie’s first pregnancy (my second) ended as a missed miscarriage, something neither of us knew existed at the time.
It was found during my dating scan. We were devastated. I waited a few days to see if anything would happen on its own, but when it didn’t, I opted for surgery. I needed it to be ‘over’. I was confused about why this had happened in this way. Why hadn’t my body just done the ‘normal’ miscarriage thing – lots of pain, lots of blood? I remember my GP telling me that women who have the surgery go on to report getting pregnant more easily the next time round. Not that it had been difficult for me to get pregnant, but I clung to this none the less.
Our son, Benjamin, is the result of our second (my third) pregnancy. I did get pregnant without any trouble and it was an easy and enjoyable pregnancy. Sure, we felt anxious in the first third of it, but after the scan went well, I’d say we were pretty much anxiety free. I realise now how naive we were. Things could, and do, still go wrong after this first scan, but late miscarriage, termination and stillbirth weren’t even a possibility to us. This wasn’t exactly a conscious thought, you just don’t think it will happen to you…until it does.
Our third (my fourth) pregnancy ended in another early miscarriage. It started with spotting the evening before we were flying to Canada for my brother’s wedding. We went anyway. It was a horrendously delayed flight, we spent the entire day (and most of the evening) in an airport hotel, with two-year-old Benjamin in tow and me spotting the whole time. When we finally arrived, I went straight to the hospital. I knew it well, it was our local A&E department while growing up, it’s where my dad died of cancer. They scanned me, found the pregnancy sac, where it should be – but it was too small to detect a heartbeat. It was deemed a ‘threatened miscarriage’. Another new term to add to our collection.
They told me I could come back for further tests and scans in a few days, but I knew I wouldn’t be back. I wasn’t in any danger. I knew if I was going to miscarry, there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it. I was also in denial. Apart from my Godmother, no one knew what was going on. I carried on spotting throughout the entire two-and-a-half weeks we were away and then, the day before we were due to fly home, I went to my friend’s toilet and there was the pregnancy sac on the tissue.
I’d never seen anything like it before, but I knew immediately what I was looking at. I held it in the palm of my hand for a minute or two, wondering what to do with it – nobody tells you what to do in this situation – and then I wrapped it up and flushed it down the toilet. I felt confused, numb. There was no pain and very little blood.
Luna was our fourth (my fifth) pregnancy. We found out at her 12-week scan that there was something very wrong with her. Subsequent testing proved Turner’s Syndrome. This is a sex chromosome disorder, where the embryo only has one X chromosome. They are always female. There are plenty of Turner’s girls and women walking around out there, having careers, living meaningful and happy lives, albeit with some (sometimes serious) lifelong health problems. We thought if the complications could stabilise and Luna had a good chance of being born live, we would deal with the disabilities that may come. Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be the case. We decided to terminate the pregnancy, something called a Termination for Medical Reasons or, TFMR. Another new term for our growing list.
I was induced and delivered Luna after a very short labour, at nearly 19 weeks. Losing her opened the door on all my previous losses, and not just the baby losses, the loss of my parents as well. Each grief couldn’t be held in isolation anymore. They all ran smack into each other, a mass car-crash pile-up of grief.
Luna is the one who challenged all my ideas of motherhood. When it begins, when it stops. She is the one who has made me look at my want and need to be a mother. With Luna’s death, our naivety about what can go wrong in pregnancy, birth and infancy – hell, all of life, has evaporated. We no longer feel immune. If anything, we fear that all bad things will happen to us, because bad things do keep happening, especially to me. Yet somehow, hope just doesn’t roll over and die so easily.
About seven months after losing Luna, we started to try again. It took much longer this time, nearly a year, but I did get pregnant again. Our fifth (my sixth) pregnancy. We were terrified and happy, in equal measures. We knew what could happen, but we were determined not to let this baby’s life only be defined by anxiety, fear and sadness. This baby should also be held with joy and love, and so that’s what we tried to do. And then our early scan revealed what we knew was possible, there wasn’t a heartbeat. Next came the inevitable what to ‘do’…but I didn’t want to do anything.
What happened next took me by surprise. After waiting three weeks, a pressure began to build, I was uncomfortable and restless. I was out with Benjamin, a friend and her children at the time and finally I said that we should head back home. On the way, my waters broke. I was surprised and shocked, I didn’t know this could happen in an early miscarriage. (Thank god for maternity pads, is all I can say!) This miscarriage was behaving more like my previous labours rather than any of my previous miscarriages. This time, I knew, five days into the miscarriage, when the pregnancy sac was about to be passed and I managed to catch it. The hospital had told me I could bring in any pregnancy tissue to be tested and I knew that the pregnancy sac was what they really wanted. But I decided that I needed to know where the remains of this baby ended up. So I wrapped it in tissue, put it in a little fabric bag I found and when we went to Cornwall a few days later, I let it go in the sea.
The question of trying again has become about weighing up the risks. If I’m honest, after this last miscarriage was entirely over (and it took a while), I was unsure whether I could put myself through it again. Now, after more than a year, I am circling that question with more intent. I’ve surprised myself that I am even considering it; that my hope and drive hasn’t been smashed to pieces.
Don’t get me wrong, there’ll be a limit. I’m 40 years old, there are some very practical and biological issues at the heart of this. Also, the losses are taking their toll emotionally. That’s evident in how long it’s taken to recover from this latest miscarriage.
If we were to try again, it may be our last attempt. If it doesn’t result in a living child, then we may say ‘that’s enough’. However, if we don’t at least open ourselves up to this possibility (because let’s face it, at my age, it may not happen at all), we may come to regret it once we no longer have the option. One of (the many) things I’ve learnt from all this loss and grief is to mitigate regrets. It may be impossible not to have any, but you must take all reasonable steps to reduce your load of them.
Am I afraid of having our hearts broken again? Yes. Am I afraid that if we don’t allow the possibility of not having our hearts broken again, I may regret it for the rest of my life? Yes. This is where crystal balls would be handy. Instead, I’m learning the fine art of flexibility. That I can make and unmake decisions. Even if I make a decision, stick with it and it doesn’t turn out the way I’d hoped – I can probably live with it, as long as it’s the right one in that moment. Being able to live with few regrets and to be able to say that at least I took the right risks in the right moments for me, I’d say that’s what life is all about.