A guest post by Katie @withoutottilie
Me and my womb aren’t exactly the best of friends.
I love being a woman. And yet the one physical organ that defines my womanhood, has caused me nothing but pain.
Our difficult relationship started on 28th February 1989, my Mum’s birthday, when I was 11. I knew about periods because Mum had filled in the gaps after I’d seen Claire Rayner on TV-AM and had some pretty big questions. Like the school bully who wanted to taunt me, my first period started in PE – hands down my worst lesson of the week – and I was wearing PE knickers. What a time to introduce yourself.
As a teenager, our relationship was strained, each month I would wake with a deep and gripping pain, I’d almost certainly be sick and probably pass out. At 15, we began the medicated years as a last resort. By taking the Pill my womb was supposed to be tricked into being a nicer version of herself – but I never escaped the pain completely. I asked countless times if I should come off it, why my periods were still so painful and if there was anything else that could be done. Nothing, no reason, just keep going…
At 32, with my dreams of having a family in reach, I stopped the daily Pill-popping. It felt good, like me and my womb could get to know each other better, maybe now as adults we could get on. But, as I lay on the bathroom floor listening to my then-boyfriend calling in sick for me, it was pretty obvious that things hadn’t worked out.
Seriously, what had I ever done to my womb for her to hate me so much?
In 2012, we married and both knew that we wanted to start a family. We kept things pretty relaxed, after having spent so much time trying not to get pregnant of course it would just happen naturally, right? But a few years down the line, like a mate that you kind of hope doesn’t turn up because they ruin every night out, my periods just kept coming.
Again, tests and scans showed no obvious reasons for my inability to fall pregnant. We were offered IVF, but it felt like an admission of failure. I tried acupuncture, reflexology, changes in diet and disgusting teas, everything I could think of that would kick-start my womb.
Eventually I hit a wall and, after looking into various types of IVF, I realised that I really didn’t know much, but it might be our only solution. We booked in for an open morning at a clinic the following weekend. I hated every second of it. I could feel the desperation seeping out of every couple in the room, looking to the consultants for the answers to their prayers.
As we walked away, I finally admitted to myself that I was every bit as desperate as they were. My womb wasn’t responding to my calls for motherhood and the one change I had been avoiding I needed to make.
Countless investigations still didn’t provide an answer and so we embarked on our first cycle of IVF. I took a deep breath and pulled up my Big Girl Pants (well, actually, they spend more time down with all the scans but you know what I mean) and I learnt how to inject myself.
After initially positive signs the first round ended in nothing but the description of dark and grainy eggs. Apparently, they are supposed to be smooth and white, so that didn’t sound good.
IVF is physically and mentally exhausting. I was swollen, sore and tired, but after a few clear cycles we were ready to go again. This time we ended up with two grade one blastocysts. Another step forward and we made it to transfer day. I was leaving my office to meet my husband when the clinic called with a positive result. I couldn’t believe it. Physically I felt no different at all and yet they were telling me that after all these years there was a baby living in my womb. Maybe we could be friends after all.
Over the next nine months my womb and I got on pretty well. I wasn’t sick, every scan went well and baby was enjoying a nice, healthy environment. I was in awe of my womb’s ability to grow life. Being pregnant was the first time that I felt a fondness to the organ that so far had really let me down.
All scans and heart traces showed a healthy baby getting everything they needed, but for various reasons it was decided that I should be induced. At 39 weeks to the day we woke early and called the labour ward to ensure they still had space for us. As we lay in bed contemplating the start of our next chapter our baby kicked and we both felt it. Things were about to change forever.
Within a few hours of feeling that kick our world came crashing down during a bedside scan. There was no heartbeat. Our baby had died. In my womb.
Ottilie Eve Ingram was born later that day, 6lbs 12oz and she looked so close to perfect, but of course we know she wasn’t. We’ll live the rest of our lives never knowing the colour of her eyes or having heard her cry. I miss her so much it hurts, a primal yearning to hold my baby that can never be satisfied.
The NHS says that one in seven couples have trouble conceiving naturally. It is estimated that one in four pregnancies end in loss in the UK. Nearly 3,000 families a year hear the same devastating news we did and around 60 per cent of them, like us, will never know why their baby was stillborn. That’s a lot of people going through similar things to me, to you, to us.
At each stage when I have been brave enough to talk I have found shared experience all around me, but it always feels like you are in a terrible secret club. So many people are struggling to become parents and so many babies are lost along the way, but the dialogue seems to be predominantly among us members. You are alone in your own story, but collectively we have a narrative to share. And if it helps just one person to feel like they are not alone, then Ottilie has made a difference.
We are rapidly approaching a year since Ottilie was born. My period pain has vanished, but I’d have coped with that every day if it meant that I had a wobbly walking toddler filling our house with mashed banana and flashing, noisy toys. It feels like a hollow bonus.
We have some difficult decisions to make in the next few months as my ageing uterus is put to the test again. At 42, she might be past the point of being able to go through it all again, but I am not ready to give up on motherhood just yet. It’s hard to know what that looks like, but for now I am trying to make friends with my womb in the hope that one day, together, we can produce a baby that we can take home.