Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Our Story: Baby Loss Awareness Week 2019

Today marks the start of Baby Loss Awareness Week - an annual event where bereaved parents, charities and organisations all come together to shine a light on baby loss. It's a really important time of year for me because I am one of those bereaved parents.

Our journey to parenthood was not straightforward and was quite frankly heartbreaking for us so today I'd like to share our story. Quite rightly it comes with a trigger warning for miscarriage and early pregnancy loss so please do not read this if it will cause you pain or distress.

Trigger warning: miscarriage and baby loss

Here in the UK, it's estimated that 1 in 4 pregnancies will end in a loss. This loss can be a miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death. That's a heartbreaking number of losses leaving behind thousands of bereaved parents each year. Despite it being so common, it's still considered taboo to talk about so too many people suffer in silence. That's why it's so important to break that silence by talking about baby loss.

At the end of my post, I will leave a few links to charities and organisations so whether your reasons for coming to this page are personal or because you'd like to support research on baby loss, you can hopefully find exactly what you need to take those next steps.

Remembering Our Angels

One of the hardest things about early pregnancy loss is that you don't have anything tangible to show for your baby's brief existence. Not even a scan photo. And so it's always been really important for me to find a way to memorialise our babies but I could never figure out what the right way to do it was.

We'd considered giving each baby a name but at the time it was too painful, too difficult to even think about and now it feels like too much time has passed so all I have to hold onto is that we both believe the second was a girl and at the time we really liked the name, Evie. But the first pregnancy we lost before we even had a chance to think about names or anything like that.

One thing that I was kind of relieved about was that in our excitement, we'd bought items specifically for each pregnancy so we were able to keep hold of those. But those are kept in a memory box filled with Mini's whole entire life thus far and I still wanted something permanent and visible for the babies we'd lost so I kept my eyes open for the right thing and finally I found something!

It's an angel candle holder that I discovered while online window shopping on the TK Maxx website for Christmas bits and bobs. When I saw it in store, I wasn't sold but ultimately decided it was perfect and now it lives in our living room and has a candle ready to be lit during the International Wave of Light on the 15th.

The First Loss

In the beginning, we were one of the lucky ones. We'd somehow managed to conceive during our first month of trying. Luck was well and truly on our side - except it wasn't because we lost that pregnancy at only five weeks.

I can still remember it vividly: me crying in the toilet of our first home, half out of the physical pain and half out of pure heartbreak. Still that grief was short-lived as four weeks later, a pregnancy test confirmed that we'd conceived again with a rough due date of the 18th of May 2017.

An Early Scan

As excited as I was to be pregnant again, it was now teamed up with a strong sense of caution. I was anxious and scared that I would miscarry again. So I took pregnancy tests every day until we'd past the six week mark, watching the results get clearer and more pronounced as time went on. Still, we needed further reassurance and decided that we would book a private early scan for when I was 8 weeks pregnant.

The day rolled around quickly and we braced ourselves for the moment that our lives would change. We were going to see our baby for the first time. I remember saying to Matt that it was going to be the best day of our lives. It was exactly three years and one day ago and since you're reading my story, you already know that it was not going to be the best day of my life.

I could tell quite early on in the scan that something wasn't right. I'd been reading up on where we were at developmentally each week so I knew that at eight weeks, there's more form to the foetus and you're normally able to find a heartbeat by ultrasound. All of us in that room were looking at a screen showing a big fat nothing.

I was asked to empty my bladder so that a transvaginal ultrasound could take place in the hope that it might offer a better look inside my womb. At this point, fear had already sunk in. I sobbed as I waited for the toilet to become available. I half wanted to return quickly to feel that wonderful wave of relief when I got to see my baby and half wanted to just run away, knowing that relief would never come.

When I returned, my fears were confirmed. There was no baby. Just an empty sac.

I was told that I was clearly in the very early stages of pregnancy so maybe my dates were just off by a few weeks. They sent me off with instructions to ask my GP for a referral to the early pregnancy unit. I spent the rest of the day sobbing into Matt's chest, completely broken and certain that I was losing another baby.

In Pregnancy Limbo

What followed was a relatively normal two weeks. I hadn't heard back from the early pregnancy unit but I did attend my booking appointment with the midwife and got my flu jab. A small bump was starting to appear so my clothes were becoming tight around the waist and provisions were made at work to move me out of my physically demanding role into one that allowed me to sit down.

Those who knew that I was pregnant and of my concerns following the scan said all the right things, urging me to stay positive and as time went on I started to believe it was going to be okay. After all, my body was still pregnant.

Allowing myself the ultimate escape into hope, we attended the Baby Show in London which is basically just a big exhibition where companies showcase their products and services to new and expectant parents. We learnt about first aid, picked up tonnes of freebies, made decisions about cots and pushchairs and then we headed back home to Romford where our hope was about to shatter all over again.

I'm Bleeding

We'd been home from the Baby Show maybe ten minutes when I came out of the bathroom and told Matt that we needed to go to the hospital. At the time I was 11 weeks pregnant, less than a week away from our dating scan and I'd started bleeding.

Since I was visibly distressed on arrival, to the point that I couldn't even sob out the words to the receptionist, Matt and I were directed to wait in a private room at the early pregnancy unit. We waited close to three hours to find out our fate only to discover that nothing had progressed since our last scan, three weeks earlier. The only words I remember from the whole scan were the five words I hadn't wanted to hear: "it looks like a miscarriage". Still it couldn't be confirmed so we were sent away with a follow-up scan booked in for a few days later.

I was too distraught to even think about work so I self-certified for the first week and then I went to see my doctor who decided that it was in my best interests to be signed off work given what I was going through and my vulnerable mental state. At the time, we didn't know what lay ahead of us, we didn't know what to expect and I don't think any of us could have ever imagined just how complicated or lengthy a process it would end up being.

The Waiting Room

When we returned to the hospital the following time, and all the other times after that, we were no longer given the quiet private waiting room at the back and instead we had to wait sat amongst expectant parents. Each time I would distract myself from their blissful belly rubbing by watching Sunday Brunch with an eagle-like focus. I don't remember what they made, who was on the show or anything like that. I've blocked out all of those memories, determined to never return to the waiting room where grief sat next to joy.

Missed Miscarriage

At our next scan, we were finally given the news we'd dreaded to hear. We were miscarrying our baby. We were told that I was experiencing what is known as a "missed miscarriage" which basically means a loss has occurred but there hasn't been a physical miscarriage yet. 

Even though we knew it was coming, it was still a lot to process and we were absolutely heartbroken. I was given options for "management". I didn't want to make that choice. I just wanted to be pregnant. I wanted the baby that I loved that I'd never get to meet. Since medical and surgical management felt too severe for me, I ended up choosing the natural management route. Essentially I was waiting for nature to take its course. In my next appointment, that choice would be taken away from me.

The Worst Day of my Life

My heart broke all over again on the 28th of October when my body finally started to let go. I'd been bed-bound for almost a week at this point and so Matt and I decided to pop into town to get a few bits so that we could celebrate Halloween at home. We were in Hobbycraft when I first realised something was wrong. By the time we'd left the store, I was gushing over and over and over.

It was the most degrading moment of my life. I had to use a nearby public toilet to clean myself up enough to get home. I sat in that cubicle crying my eyes out while strangers complained loudly about how long they were having to wait for the toilet. They glared at me when I came out but I was too broken to even care. I was just a shell.

Retained Products

Since I'd bled quite heavily, I was optimistic that my next appointment at the EPU would be our last. It wasn't. There were still substantial amounts of retained products so we would need to go to stage two: medical management.

I can't even begin to explain how deflated I felt at this point. I'd hoped that the nightmare was over. That we could start healing and then start trying again. But it turned out that my body was just as bad at letting go as it was at growing babies. I felt like a complete and utter failure of a woman.

Needing medical management was essentially ripping open that gaping hole in my heart all over again. I cried the whole way through the procedure and then was sent back into that waiting room full of blissfully pregnant women where I would need to wait so that I could be monitored before being discharged.

The pain set in quickly and would linger with me for the next three days. Although I didn't expect the process to be pain-free, it had been glossed over at the hospital as the kind of pain you'd take paracetamol or ibuprofen for. This was not the case. The tablet forces the cervix to open and sets your uterus into a wild contracting frenzy - it's a long and painful process.

Matt didn't want to leave my side because I was in a bad way but I needed stronger pain relief and some supplies to make the process more dignified so I sent him off to speak to a pharmacist. He came home with co-codamol, towels, a hot water bottle and heavy flow sanitary pads. The pain finally subsided after a few days and so I allowed myself to think it was over. It was not.

Wishing For a Negative Pregnancy Test

When I finally went back to work at the start of December, I was still technically pregnant. There were still retained products, I was still bleeding and I was still getting positive results on pregnancy tests. It was very surreal to have gone from the mindset of praying for a positive test to praying for a negative one but we just wanted it to be over, we wanted to move on and start trying again.

We finally got the all clear on the 30th of December. The midwife had revealed a negative pregnancy test and we were flooded with relief. It had been 10 weeks since that fateful day when I first started bleeding. Had things gone the other way I would have been 21 weeks pregnant and might even have known whether we were expecting a boy or a girl. Still we took the little win and started replacing all that sadness with hope again.

Trying to Conceive After a Loss

If you've ever been in the position of trying to conceive after a loss, you'll know it is, in many ways, as emotionally devastating as the loss itself.

The wait for my periods to return was an arduous one but we'd gotten pregnant so quickly on both occasions that I was sure it wouldn't take long. It didn't happen the first month nor did it happen the second month and my period arrived around the same time that a close friend confided in me that she too was in the process of losing her pregnancy. I unravelled in that melodramatic way you see on TV. I was completely beside myself, consumed by my grief. All of a sudden I was back there, holding all that pain, guilt and emptiness. I was a mother without a child and it was getting harder as time went on, not easier.

So we tried to pacify that hole in my heart by finding something else to love and care for. It was rash but we fell in love with the two guinea pigs that we would later go on to call Heidi and Tara. And do you know what? It really did make me calmer and I have a very special bond with our guineas.

Still, we were emotionally exhausted and had started to come to terms with the fact that it might not happen for us. After all, there was no way of knowing what had caused our miscarriages and I was terrified of going through another loss. I knew deep down that I couldn't survive a third loss, I was already living in the grey. I had little hope left. The due date was just around the corner and we were further away from being parents than we were in the very beginning.

Amazingly we did conceive on our next cycle and even though there were a few bumps in the road, we gave birth to our gorgeous rainbow baby at the end of 2017. Being pregnant again after loss is just something else. You're stuck in a weird limbo where you're so happy that things are going well but not naive enough to forget how fragile it is, how in a second your whole world can come crashing down. That bleak outlook stuck with me well into Mini's first weeks and beyond - I couldn't get over the feeling that I was going to lose him too.

Links and Resources

If you've been affected by the issues discussed in my post, would like further information or just want to know what you can do to raise awareness or support research into baby loss then please take a look at the following websites:

Tommy's: Tommy’s is the UK’s largest charity funding research into the causes of miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth.

Sands: Sands is the leading stillbirth and neonatal death charity and exists to reduce the number of babies dying and to support anyone affected by the death of a baby, before, during or shortly after birth.

Bliss: Bliss’ exists to give every baby born premature or sick in the UK the best chance of survival and quality of life.

Miscarriage Association: Losing a baby during pregnancy can be a very unhappy, frightening and lonely experience. The Miscarriage Association helps by offering support and information for anyone affected by miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy or molar pregnancy.

The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust: Ectopic pregnancy occurs when an embryo implants in a location other than the uterus and affects 1 in 80 pregnancies. It can be life-threatening, is still a leading cause of death in the first trimester of pregnancy and the baby cannot be saved. Ectopic pregnancy is an overwhelming ordeal where a woman loses her pregnancy, often has emergency surgery, faces her own mortality and has her fertility affected and has worries about the future. The EPT provides information and support for women and their families enduring the ordeal of ectopic pregnancy.
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