When this post from a reader landed in my inbox this week, it could not have been better timed…It said so many things I have been thinking and feeling, but haven’t been able to process properly yet. As you probably know by now, I am pregnant for a fifth time (you can read more about it here, if you’d like). We have just made it to 24 weeks and what should probably have been a week for tentative celebration for us, as we’ve now officially passed the point of ‘viability’, instead has been about protecting ourselves from a pandemic. We’re preparing for 12 weeks (maybe more) of ‘social distancing’, following the UK government’s advice that those who are pregnant limit face-to-face contact to an absolute minimum, as a more vulnerable section of the population. This is not how I’d ever imagined spending my pregnancy, whenever I dared to dream we would get this far, but, as I’m sure many of you can relate to, it is a sacrifice I’m more than willing to make if it keeps us all safe. As with so many things when it comes to pregnancy loss and infertility, what others might consider an intolerable inconvenience seems like a small price to pay for a healthy baby. Anyway, over to Rachel…
A guest post by Rachel
I found out I was pregnant a couple of weeks ago. I’m now exactly 7 weeks. I’ve already had an emergency scan due to some bleeding, fortunately we saw a little 5mm bean with a beating heart and were sent on our way.
Early pregnancy comes with its own set of anxieties, particularly for those with experience of previous losses. Unfortunately, I fit into that category having miscarried a much-wanted pregnancy back in 2018. It’s taken so long to heal – physically and emotionally – but after Christmas 2019, we decided it was time. We felt like we were finally ready to make ourselves 100 per cent vulnerable and try again.
We were lucky that it happened quickly. Well, you’d think that we’d feel lucky but, actually, as soon as we saw that second line, it felt like we’d had a diagnosis of a terrible illness. The fear of losing that little line brimming with hope overpowered the joy of it appearing. But the trials and tribulations of pregnancy after loss is an entirely different article altogether.
So here we are. My poor breasts are swollen and sore, all I want to do is sleep, and smells have become indescribably overwhelming. I completely roll my eyes at the idea of food and ‘morning’ sickness has started. Every day, I wake up, sip my glass of water and promptly throw up in the washing-up bowl we now keep by the bed. I can only eat beige food and have to follow my instincts to get any food inside me. These are, of course, all normal pregnancy symptoms – but what do they mean under the looming shadow of a global pandemic?
I now live in paralysing fear. The fear that my baby won’t make it is a catalyst for all my other anxieties about the precarious state of the world at the moment. I am scared to go and see the midwife for my first booking-in appointment at the hospital next week. I’m scared we’ll run out of food that I can actually eat if it comes to long-term isolation, as I have no idea what I can stomach from hour to hour. I’m scared my sickness will become more serious and there will be no beds in hospital if I need fluids. I’m scared I’ll catch the virus and go into full meltdown mode. And I’m worried my baby will die and I won’t be able to access the medical support I’ll need – does a D&C count as an ‘essential’ surgery? If this does happen again, I’m worried the foetus will stay firmly in its place and infect me from within, which is what happened last time, meaning I was rushed for surgery.
However, my biggest fear is worse than any of the above. ‘Oh, don’t worry,’ they say, ‘the virus will only kill you if you’re older or have an underlying health issue’. ‘Only’. Like my parents then. My fabulous mother, who is coaching me through each paralysing day of pregnancy. My darling mother, without whom I can’t imagine my life, never mind a life with a brand-new baby. She’s got an underlying health issue – she’s actually on medication to suppress her immune system. She’s one of the ‘only’ people we’re so quick to write off.
I have started to have some terrible thoughts. An internal monologue, weighing up the all the possible outcomes. A little voice whispers in my ear that I’d rather lose the baby than my mum. After that dark thought comes the guilt. How can I even think such a thing? I’d do anything to be a mum. I’d do anything to keep this baby growing. I suppose, deep down, I am almost certain that the little lentil inside me will not become an ‘actual baby’. Therefore, it feels easier to barter that little life away with some far-off higher power. I’m entirely wrapped up in myself at the moment, and I feel awful about it. I know there are people so much worse off than me – that I’m one of the lucky ones. This thought doesn’t help ease the anxiety though, it just tints it with guilt.
A few weeks ago, life was good. We were trying for another baby. I was going to the gym every other day. I was eating out, going to the theatre, loving my life. I felt hopeful for the first time in a long time. I knew pregnancy would be hard, but I wasn’t prepared for this. I’ve gone from a relatively carefree existence to a life that feels like I’m under water. I live in fear that my baby and my mum will be snatched away from me by this cruel, unforgiving world.
I wish I could go to sleep and simply wake up in nine months time: with my baby here safely, and my mum by my side. For now though, a lovely midwife gave me some wise advice and it has been keeping me going. She told me to be gentle with myself and take each half day as it comes. That’s really helping. One day at a time can feel almost too much right now, but I can do a half day…
For more information and support…
This is a very thorough Q&A guide by the UK’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists on COVID-19 and pregnancy.
And this New Scientist piece is a good one, quoting a Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists spokesperson who says that while more information is needed, there is currently ‘no evidence whatsoever’ that the infection increases the risk of miscarriage.
This is the official Public Health England guidance on social distancing for vulnerable groups currently. (Though my midwife advised checking the PHE advice and updates every day, as things are changing fast).
I also found this article on social distancing useful (based on American advice).
Michelle, a clinical psychologist, is well worth a follow on Instagram for anxiety-easing advice and wisdom.
And I have also had a reader who is a microbiologist and public health doctor offer to write a post for me answering any questions around COVID-19 in the context of miscarriage and pregnancy after loss (and indeed TTC, if that’s preying on your mind). Pop any questions you’d like answering in the comments below, or email me if you’d prefer. All queries will be kept anonymous. Look after yourselves – Jennie xx
I have a question for the public health doctor. I have had two previous early miscarriages, I am now 18 weeks pregnant after finding out I had hypothyroid and being put on Levothyroxine. I am a nurse and since the chief medical officers advice on Monday my employer has said I am not allowed to work. I have spoken to them this week and expressed my strong desire to go back to work. I am otherwise fit and healthy and so far have a straight forward pregnancy. They have said next week, after they have more guidance, I may be able to go back to work on a ‘low risk’ ward. I want to work, I need to work more now than ever, this is bigger than me. I obviously don’t want to do anything that could harm my precious baby but all the evidences says there is no risk. Am I mad wanting to go back while most other pregnant women are in social isolation?