A guest post by Tash.
I was 33 when I decided to pursue motherhood alone. I’m pretty much a ‘glass half full’ kinda gal, but after years of bland blind dates and demoralising Tinder swipes even I had to be realistic and accept that maybe not everyone finds their soul mate.
I quickly realised that although I did want to meet a man it wasn’t a future without a partner that terrified me, but a future without children that seemed utterly unbearable.
The decision to try to conceive as a single person came easily after that and, after preliminary tests showed that my fertility was as expected for my age – with no apparent issues – at 34, I had my first Intra Uterine Insemination (IUI) cycle with donor sperm.
The doctor advised me that I should be able to achieve a pregnancy within three rounds of IUI, and I was shocked but ecstatic when two pink lines appeared on my very first pregnancy test.
I told my close friends and family, I dusted off the spreadsheet of baby names I’d been collecting since I was young and I couldn’t tear myself away from day dreaming about all the possibilities that were to come.
Three weeks later my mum met me at the clinic for my 7-week scan.
I’d been mentally preparing for parenthood for the last month, but I was not prepared for the silence that followed as the nurse began scanning – or for the suffocating feeling that descended as she put her hand on my knee, looked from the screen to my face and said: ‘I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat’.
All I wanted to do was run as far away as I could, as quickly as I could.
My mum wanted to drive me home, but I insisted that I wanted to go alone.
I drove back, ran into the house and buried myself under the duvet and tried to pretend it wasn’t happening. As it was a missed miscarriage, I was given the medication to self-administer at home and that was it, really. No discussion about the mental recovery, how to manage the grief or what to do about my midwife appointments or the 12-week scan that were already booked in.
My Mum wanted to be with me that night, but – again – I just wanted to be on my own, I couldn’t bear to see her upset too.
I didn’t realise it was a bereavement at the time, I didn’t know you could grieve for someone you hadn’t yet met. I wanted to wallow in my suffering and be utterly selfish in it. I didn’t want to consider anyone else’s feelings, that’d make it all too real.
That’s one thing about trying to conceive and grieve as a single person. Being single meant I could be totally absorbed in my treatment cycles and utterly selfish in my grief. This baby was mine alone, no one loved it as much as me and no one felt their loss as deeply or sharply. I could bury myself in the pain and not worry about dragging anyone else down with me.
A few weeks later I went back to work and life took up its usual rhythm again.
And I kept trying and kept failing.
Cycles two and three were what the medical professionals call CPs or chemical pregnancies, but I loved the possibility of those babies even before I saw their two pink lines and loved them still as I bled just days later.
Cycles four and five were negative and accompanied by a different kind of loss.
Cycle number six and I was pregnant again. No one could be unlucky enough to miscarry again could they? This time had to be the one. I was so anxious my stomach was in knots and I couldn’t work out if the uncomfortable cramps were just a manifestation of my worries or normal pregnancy pains but my regular knicker checking revealed some red warning signs.
I took a trip to my local A&E, where the doctor’s diagnosis was ‘not pregnant, having a period’. I still have my pregnancy test proving my baby existed, even if that doctor dismissed them in one breath.
I switched sperm donors and underwent some basic tests via my GP. No professional asked how I was coping. Friends and family asked how I was, but I couldn’t think of how to reply to them.
I did miss sharing the experience with someone; someone who meant I didn’t have to carry the heavy weight on my shoulders alone. Sometimes I wanted to just stop thinking for a bit and be able to rely on someone else – even for simple things like making dinner or paying the bills. My family rallied round, but I felt like a burden.
At the same time, I also can’t imagine how I’d have navigated this with a partner. I could not articulate how I was feeling, my friends and family didn’t understand and I didn’t understand it myself.
Eventually it was easier to say I was fine.
But I wasn’t.
I was struggling at work but didn’t know how to broach the subject. It’s hard enough talking to your boss about the fact you’re trying for a baby, harder still to talk about infertility and loss, and even more so to explain that you’re doing it alone.
Cycle seven was another painful negative result but cycle eight was positive – and the anxiety was unreal.
I could not think about anything else, every twinge, or lack of twinges panicked me. I obsessively googled miscarriage rates at each day past ovulation and signed up to three different apps that told me the size and development of the baby daily.
The day of my 7-week scan finally came round. I climbed onto the bed and prepared for the worst but I was shocked when the screen showed a squiggling little ball of cells moving around. I can still remember my mum excitedly saying ‘that’s my grandbaby’.
I was still anxious but finally felt like I’d been given permission to relax and enjoy this pregnancy. I worked out their due date, and started thinking about saving holiday at work for my maternity leave.
The clinic booked me in for a 9-week scan due to my history and this time I was filled with equal parts worry and excitement. But the nurse said those same heartbreaking words again: my baby no longer had a heartbeat
I can’t remember this scan at all. It’s like it’s been wiped from my memory for being too painful.
This time, I turned to Facebook and stumbled across the Miscarriage Association’s private Facebook page. Here I was able to talk to people who truly understood my pain and I was finally able to recognise I was grieving. These two realisations were life-saving.
But, still, I found my grief at not being a mother difficult to manage on a day-to-day basis.
More and more of my friends were having children and I felt like my life was stuck in limbo. They’d be talking about weaning and bedtime routines and I didn’t know where I fitted in, could I even comment if I didn’t have kids?
Cycles nine and ten were negative again, but during this time I also underwent further miscarriage investigations with my local recurrent miscarriage clinic and the Tommy’s recurrent miscarriage clinic at St Mary’s in London. Apart from a random chromosomal condition not related to age on my fifth pregnancy, all other tests were normal. Unexplained recurrent miscarriage they call it. I changed sperm donors again.
Cycle 11 and I was pregnant again, sixth time lucky, maybe? Or maybe not. I start bleeding at work just days before my reassurance scan and I miscarried at home
Desperate for answers, I decided to go ahead with some further testing at the Coventry implantation clinic.
Friends told me to stop. I wondered if they’d say the same thing to me if I were in a couple?
I was now 37, I had lost six babies and I had been had been trying to conceive for four years. I felt I had completely lost myself, I could no longer remember what made me happy and I couldn’t think about the future without spiralling into despair
Friends kept advising me to stop trying, they didn’t want to see me in pain anymore. But they didn’t understand: the pain of losing babies was one thing, but the pain of not being able to parent at all was another level. I wondered if they’d say the same thing to me if I were in a couple?
It was at this point I knew I needed a break. Before this, I’d always jumped straight back on the TTC train but this time I just couldn’t go on. I signed up for a sprint triathlon in the September (a massive undertaking for someone like me), I started dating again and I started planning a solo trip to Iceland and San Francisco in the October. I’d spent years not booking holidays or signing up for events hoping I’d be pregnant, well this year would be different.
Focusing on training and planning my trips was great – both completely terrified me but after what I’d been through I knew I could get through anything. And I’d be able to raise money for the Miscarriage Association at the same time.
I entered the next year refreshed. I had another negative cycle then began what I thought might be the last three cycles before considering my other options. I was holding on tight to the words of one of my doctors: that the majority of people suffering with recurrent miscarriages will have a baby eventually if they keep on trying. Still, I wasn’t sure how long I could keep going.
I picked yet another donor, bought three units and trusted that I just needed one good egg.
Cycle 13 was negative but cycle 14 was positive – my 7th pregnancy
My hospital offered me scans from 6 weeks but my anxiety was so high I couldn’t bear to see a still and silent screen again and so I just didn’t go. Ignorance is bliss.
But by 7.5 weeks I was almost hysterical with fear. One day I just walked straight into my Early Pregnancy Unit and broke down. They scanned me there and then and I’ve never felt such relief to see a flickering heartbeat. I knew I wasn’t out of the woods, but I was over the first hurdle
I focused on the present (today I am pregnant).
I celebrated little milestones (another week, another scan, getting to a midwife appointment).
I acknowledged that no amount of worry would change the outcome and whatever I was feeling was natural and normal, so go with it.
I tried to enjoy my pregnancy, to make memories. I bought a baby snuggly to hold on to, I read baby magazines and looked up names. If this baby didn’t make it, I wanted to know I’d enjoyed every moment with them.
I was scanned every two weeks until I was 13 weeks pregnant, the anxiety before each scan would climb until it was at an unbearable high and each positive result would calm me for a day or two before the worry began mounting again.
I felt a little better once I could feel baby move but then when I didn’t I was frantic again (I went to the hospital for reduced movements multiple times).
But this time – and only Mother Nature knows why – this time, this baby stayed around.
I gave birth in January 2018 to a most wonderful baby boy who fills me joy. He truly has made every moment worth it.
Though in some ways, I’m now in another weird space. I still feel infertile: I still feel a pinch when I hear a pregnancy announcement or get invited to a baby shower, I still grieve for the babies I never got to meet.
I guess I’m just wondering where I fit in now. But I am also getting to parent a baby earth-side and for that I feel utterly grateful, every single day.