A guest post by Kathryn Mann (@kathrynmannartist)
My first miscarriage happened in a festival Portaloo.
There’s no perfect place to lose your hopes, dreams and a significant amount of blood, but this was perhaps the least appropriately stocked, and most inconveniently located.
Thankfully I had a couple of hankie packs in my pocket, so I was able to clean up and fashion a makeshift sani-pad.
My beloved knew what had happened the moment he saw my face. Besides, who spends more than a couple of minutes inside a hot, smelly, cramped, plastic festival toilet? A woman losing a precious five-week pregnancy, that’s who. A woman preparing herself to walk out into the sunshine and boozy happiness of a May-time family-friendly festival; to face her eleven and eight-year-old daughters who are spending the longest time yet with their Mom’s new partner.
It was supposed to be a fun-filled weekend of glittery face paint, flower crowns, crazy music and camping under the stars. I tried to keep it together for the sake of the kids, only my fella noticed my bleary face as I made a beeline for his chest and sobbed long and hard into his armpit.
I can’t really recall the rest of the afternoon, but I sobbed as silently as possible all night long, then in the morning, I decided to put an end to the badly executed facade, took the girls to their Dad’s and hunkered down with my fella to talk, cry, suffer unfeasibly strong cramps, eat ice cream and try to make sense of the loss.
My family is very fertile. Mom’s one of seven, I’m one of five, my three older sisters have eight children between them.
It’s a numbers thing.
Apparently Mom lost three babies before having us five, but she never spoke about them, nor about what happened.
So when I fell pregnant at 27 and 30, my two daughters arrived without fuss. Of course I was fertile, of course I grew healthy babies, of course I would birth them vaginally without tearing. I didn’t give it a second thought.
I merrily became a full-time working mom and life was a bed of roses. Except it wasn’t. Being a mother is difficult, especially when your ten-year relationship is faltering.
After a few years trying to make it work, we amicably decided to split. I got a job with flexible hours, rented a house ten minutes from their Dad, they spent half the time at his, half at mine; we were flexible and supportive. Understandably they were upset, couldn’t comprehend what had happened between their parents and desperately wanted life to ‘go back to normal’. But their father and I worked hard to make a new normal.
A good few months on, but with feelings still running high, I met an absolute gem of a man. And within a month fell pregnant.
The familiar bruised boob feeling, heartburn out of nowhere and spidey-sense of smell had me guess two days before the two blue lines showed up.
I immediately knew I needed an abortion. There was no way I could bring a child into the maelstrom of my life at that point.
It all flew through my head very quickly: I had very strong feelings for this man, but we’d only known each other a little over a month. I hadn’t even met his family. We lived over 20 miles apart, he was utterly lovely, but did I know the real him yet?
I hadn’t been taking folic acid or eating properly. How often had I taken wine with dinner? How many scotch and cokes on that work night out?
Would I even qualify for maternity pay yet? How would I pay the rent, bills, keep body and soul together?
And how would the girls react? How would their Dad react? Our ‘new normal’ would come crashing down.
How would my family react? ‘Out of the frying pan into the fire,’ sprang to mind.
Sod everyone else, DID I EVEN WANT TO BE A MOM AGAIN RIGHT NOW?
I checked my diary. OK I’m only two days late, this is early days. I phoned my GP for an emergency appointment that afternoon, explained my situation, got a referral to BPAS for an assessment and came home with an options leaflet.
I assumed I would just visit BPAS, take some pills immediately and it would all be over. Not quite. A scan at the first appointment found a tiny sac with foetal contents. I was pregnant alright. But it was too early for an abortion.
I’m sure there’s a very good reason, but my head was swimming as I was sent away to wait a week. A week spent knowing there was something growing inside me that I desperately wanted to stop.
A week of going to bed alone, apologising to the tiny embryo developing inside of me.
A week lying to my new partner, to my children, friends, family and colleagues.
Booking days off: ‘Oh, I just fancied some me time’.
One day off to have another scan, see a heartbeat, and take the mifepristone tablet.
Another one 24 hours later for the misoprostol tablet to be placed inside my vagina.
And a final morning off for the scan to check my womb was empty a week later.
Back then, the thought that I might miscarry never entered my head. I was pregnant, and if I didn’t do something about it, there would be a baby in 35 weeks time, a baby whose parents lived miles apart, with separate lives, whose mother was neither physically, mentally nor financially prepared to welcome them.
If my ten-year relationship didn’t withstand two babies, how could I expect a month-old relationship to cope with this baby’s arrival?
The night before taking the mifepristone tablet, I spoke to the apple seed-sized, five-week-old embryo growing inside me and explained why I had to end their pregnancy. All the while, I knew it was the right thing to do.
I felt relieved when the pregnancy symptoms subsided a few hours after taking the first tablet. Then it was purely a practical matter once the misoprostol tablet had opened my cervix. Strong cramps for a few hours as my womb emptied out, then normal period bleeding for a week or so.
I vowed never to tell the father. It was my decision. My body, my choice.
At the time, I think I was scared he may talk me into keeping the pregnancy. But I bled for so long afterwards, he questioned why. So, without skipping a beat, I blurted out that I’d had a very early miscarriage and we should be more careful.
It sounded more palatable than abortion. Little did I know in that moment he’d prove to be my future beloved husband and we’d go on to suffer five ‘early miscarriages’.
Early miscarriage is no longer a palatable phrase to us. It’s loaded with blood, tears, disappointment and anger. Incredulity and sadness. Fear and desperation.
That week spent wishing for our love child to stop growing turned into weeks and months desperate for two lines, darker lines, symptoms, a heartbeat, growth, that 12-week milestone….
I’d fall in love with a six-week heartbeat only to see it stop by week nine. Get two lines on a home pregnancy test and strong symptoms but an empty sac at the first scan. At ten weeks, after some bleeding I went to the loo and passed an intact pregnancy sac…. plop. I didn’t even know that was possible. Naturally I scooped it out and called my hubby, barely able to describe the scene as I bawled down the phone. We buried Robin in the garden, lovingly wrapped in a family heirloom crocheted blanket, and my world melted into a smear of tears.
These are the realities of ‘early miscarriage’.
I told hubby about my abortion after our second loss. (When what should’ve been a nine-week foetus had stopped growing at seven weeks. Again, it’s a numbers thing).
He was upset, mostly because he wished he could’ve helped me through it, not because of the choice I made.
Were our losses related to the abortion? Absolutely not. Though it did cross my mind . Our festival Portaloo loss was at a similar gestation to the termination. Had I somehow tricked my body into thinking it should bail out at that stage of pregnancy? Hours of Google searching, conversations with my GP and later with the recurrent loss midwives taught me this was just guilty thinking.
After two miscarriages, we had some tests, which showed I have inherited Factor V Leiden thrombophilia, one of the blood clotting disorders.
So when we fell pregnant again, I was put on an NHS trial – the ALIFE 2 clinical trial, where I was randomised to inject low molecular weight heparin into my belly every day throughout pregnancy (and for six weeks after).Thankfully our miracle rainbow baby arrived in 2017. My third daughter, my husband’s first. (You can find more information about the trial here)
Since then we’ve had three more early miscarriages. A chemical at five weeks, a missed miscarriage at ten weeks and a blighted ovum that kept me pregnant for almost ten weeks, despite there being no foetus.
So why are we still putting ourselves through this torture?
We love each other, we love our daughter and would dearly love more children. Need there be any other reason? Must we be deemed ‘deserving’ of a successful pregnancy?
But age is now a factor, I’m 41, my husband is 40.
So it’s still a numbers thing.
I have six angel babies and three daughters.
Yes, I count my aborted pregnancy in with my lost babies. I know I made the right decision at the time, but as with each subsequent loss, I held them for every moment of their existence, so I can also acknowledge the person they might’ve been.
Had someone told me what we’d endure in years to come, I may have decided differently. Perhaps. But hindsight is 20/20 and life doesn’t work that way.
I have always been and always will be pro-choice. I endured a couple of weeks of being pregnant when I desperately didn’t want to be. Other women who are unable to access abortion where they live – including women from Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, Malta, and Gibraltar – endure months as they plan, save, lie, travel secretly then endure much more invasive procedures.
Others resort to buying dodgy abortion tablets online. I can relate to that desperation. I’m thankful all I had to do was call my GP.
Wherever you stand on abortion; pro-life, pro-choice or somewhere in between, whether you think it should only happen if the mother’s life is at risk, or only up to a certain gestation, whether due to cultural or religious beliefs, you’ll never know the importance of freedom of choice for those who require it, unless you’ve felt dread upon seeing two blue lines.
There’s a complex story to every abortion, just like there is to every miscarriage. Thanks for reading mine.