#YouAreNotAlone is being used for this year’s Baby Loss Awareness Week (BLAW), 9th-15th October. The aim is to highlight the isolation that many people experience after pregnancy and baby loss as this year more than ever the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded such loneliness. Nevertheless since COVID-19 people are talking more openly about their mental health. BLAW are encouraging people to continue coming together to share their experience of pregnancy and baby loss in the hope that we all realise that we are not alone.
I think it’s fair to say that for most people 2020 has not turned out how they expected. For us we ended 2019 with a new pregnancy and began 2020 with a miscarriage. The miscarriage has been more difficult than I could have imagined. Despite the support of my husband, family and friends, loneliness was still a big part for me. It’s hard not to feel alone when ultimately your body experiences a physical loss . I found it really hard to process and accept what had happened. Writing it down and how I felt helped me in the grieving process. I didn’t intend on sharing what I had written with anyone else, however I found it comforting and helpful talking to other people who have been through pregnancy loss. Even just reading others peoples stories, particularly in the early stages, helped me feel less lonely about it all. So I hope that by sharing our story it may help someone else.
It was Christmas Day when we discovered that I was pregnant for a second time. We were really happy, but this happiness was almost challenged by the uncertainty of the timing. In honesty, we had not planned or expected to get pregnant so quickly. Was it the right time? Could we cope with two children? Were we ready to go back to the newborn stage? Evelyn was 21 months old and I had only just finished breastfeeding her 2 weeks prior. Being pregnant again was a lot to process and once again it was overwhelming thinking about what I should and shouldn’t do. I now also had the additional fear of whether I was going to develop obstetric cholestasis again or experience another difficult childbirth. Only when we were coming to terms with the pregnancy did we then suffer the loss, which emphasised our want for it even more. We’d had a tough few months with family illnesses and losses, I lost my uncle Jerry suddenly at the age of 58 after a short illness, my Dad was diagnosed with heart disease requiring a stent and Rob’s Auntie had entered the terminal phase of cancer. In a way the loss of one person met with the birth of another felt like the circle of life. We were ready for a new chapter. Evelyn also seemed ready to be a big sister – the arrival of her new cousin whom she adored, and how interested and caring she was for her new baby doll that she’d had for Christmas.
As it was such early days in the pregnancy, any fears of miscarriage hadn’t quite set in yet. On retrospect I think I probably took those feelings for granted, as within a week of finding out that I was pregnant, everything wasn’t ok. I remember being so confused. It didn’t really sink in for a few minutes, then I began to cry. I didn’t want to believe it. I tried to reassure myself that it was all just normal pregnancy bleeding. I’d carry on with my plan to go to the doctors in the morning to pick up an antenatal pack and arrange my booking appointment with the midwife. But when the pelvic cramps increased overnight and the bleeding became heavier, like a period, I started to realise that it was a high chance that this was a miscarriage.
For the next 6 days, bleeding was a regular painful reminder of what we were losing. I carried on with normal every day life as well as I could having a toddler and work, but I felt numb. I was in limbo not knowing if I wanted all the physical symptoms to be over so that I could more on, or whether that would actually just fill me with more sadness as then it would be final and the pregnancy would be completely over. I did feel some relief when the bleeding stopped, but part of me was still in denial about the miscarriage. I repeated a pregnancy test at 1 week and although I knew that it wasn’t going to be positive, a small part of me thought that it may be. The negative test gave me some closure and allowed me to start the process of moving on.
I remember that on the same day that the bleeding stopped I was looking out into our garden with Evelyn when a little robin flew down. It sat there and looked at us for a while before flying away. Evelyn loves birds and it is rare that we get robins here. I know not everyone tends to believe in spiritual symbols but I do and I’ve always taken comfort in them. In my heart I knew that the robin who visited us was our baby saying goodbye. I’ve gone on to see a robin on days when I’ve needed the strength to stay positive. This happened on Mother’s Day and on particularly difficult days in our subsequent pregnancy.
I was only 5 weeks pregnant but the loss I felt was huge. Although I didn’t get to see the baby or feel them move, nor have the chance to experience more pregnancy symptoms, I still felt a presence of life inside me. I felt the immense energy that my body needing to grow a life which was followed by the deep emptiness that I felt as I miscarried. Experiencing physical pain along with the emotional pain felt cruel and unfair. Suddenly all of those thoughts, plans and hopes for the future baby were fading away and I couldn’t do anything about it. I desperately wanted everything to stay the same. Any previous nerves over the timing of the pregnancy now just seem silly and insignificant. I couldn’t help but think that I had failed and guilty that I’d done something to cause it. Was it that sip of champagne on Christmas Day? That extra cup of coffee? Was it punishment for those doubts? Sadly it seems all too common that we torture ourselves over these things, when in reality we do nothing wrong. I remember being surprised when I learnt some time ago about how common miscarriage is, 1 in 4, and thats of those what we know about, often people may miscarry without even realising that they are pregnant. In my rational medical brain I know that the majority of early miscarriages are due to some sort of chromosomal abnormality or genetic problem making the pregnancy unviable. I tried to reassure and convince myself that it wasn’t meant to be, but I found it really hard not to picture losing that beautiful baby. For months I experienced reoccurring waves of great sadness, which were particularly difficult at night. I also felt conflicted as whether my feelings and grief weren’t justified as the pregnancy was only in the early stages.
It was hard to know if it was best to try to get pregnant straight away or to wait? Would another pregnancy help us move on, or would we just be masking the grief? Would it ease the loss or would we feel guilty that we were forgetting the last pregnancy? Physically, as soon as the bleeding/pain stops you can safely try again to get pregnant, though psychologically you may not be ready. Its a very personal decision for each couple. We wanted to try straight away but several months passed with no pregnancy. I found each period really upsetting. It was a monthly reminded of what we didn’t have. I was angry and frustrated at may body for the miscarriage and now for not getting pregnant again. I found myself feeling a bit envious of other pregnant women and parents with their new babies. I longed for our rainbow baby and longed for the baby that we had lost. It was at this time that I put into context the stress of work and decided to change from being a salaried employee to a freelance locum allowing me flexibility. I am also aware that stress could hinder pregnancy chances.
A few months went by after the miscarriage and the pandemic hit. We wondered if the unique worries created by a global pandemic especially working in the NHS with higher risk of exposure would be too much on top of the anxiety of a pregnancy after loss. We decided to wait, but then a month into lockdown we found out that I was pregnant. In the middle of a nation celebrating and sharing rainbows for a different reason, we were given our rainbow pregnancy. I plan to talk about my current pregnancy in a separate blog but I wanted to include this quote which I have been able to relate to and take a lot of comfort from:
“The beauty of a rainbow does not negate the ravage of any storm. When a rainbow appears, it does not mean that the storm never happened nor that we are not still dealing with it’s aftermath. It means that something beautiful and full of light has appeared in the midst of the darkness and clouds. Storm clouds may still hover, but a rainbow provides a counterbalance of colour, energy and hope.”
We are fortunate that our loss didn’t occur later on in the pregnancy. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be further along and having to experience more severe symptoms and being medicalised by hospital visits, scans or procedures. Nevertheless I understand more than ever, that a loss is still a loss no matter how far along you are. From day 1 you still imagine, hope and dream for the little life inside you and ultimately you create a place in your heart for a child that never comes. Although I think that time helps heal the wound, a scar definitely remains and it forever changes you. One quote I came across really resonated with me:
“Although I never held you, although we never met, you’ll always be in my heart, because a mother never forgets”.
Needless to say that dads don’t either.
From my experience I have learnt that sometimes the biggest comfort someone can offer you is just acknowledging your loss and grief, which my family and friends did for us. I also found looking at this leaflet “Supporting someone you know” useful.
Today on October 15th at 7pm for the global Wave Of Light, we will be joining those around the world by lighting a candle to remember all the babies lost too soon.