This week is Baby Loss Awareness week. I dial back through the years and think about how many of my friends and family have lost a baby in the early – or not so early – stages of pregnancy, and it’s a devastating number. That’s not counting all the friends and family that didn’t tell me about their miscarriage, because it was before 12 weeks and ‘didn’t count’, or because they didn’t feel it was something they could bring up over a pint and a packet of crisps, or at the school gates, or wherever we happened to have been in life at the time. That’s not counting all the people I know – like me – that went through countless months and years of fertility treatment to get pregnant in the first place, some who will forever grieve for the child they couldn’t have. That’s not counting all the partners of these many women, who feel the loss of their child just as deeply.
There are some beautiful words being written out there about losing a baby, which I’m not even going to try and emulate. I was lucky that I did not miscarry. But I know the awful, numbing feeling that washes over you when you realise you are bleeding and you shouldn’t be. I know the instant panic, the absolute certainty, that despite everything you did, all the hard work that went into creating this little life – the pills, the scans, the injections, the invasive procedures, the blood samples, the bad news every month, the tears, the love-making that turns into a time-critical chore, the brave face slapped on every time someone else has a baby, or when you hold a baby, or when someone asks when you’re going to start trying – despite all the hard, emotional work that goes into that, it counts for nothing when you’re bleeding into your knickers at 7 weeks and you think it’s all over.
I know that feeling.
For us, two weeks of bed rest were prescribed, and I lay, for almost that entire time, in a depressed purgatorial state, constantly checking for more blood, constantly afraid for how I would feel, what we would do, where we would go from here. But I was lucky. My body decided to cooperate with the drugs and my baby survived. I got up. I went back to work. I told no one, except my boss, where I’d been. At this stage, I still hadn’t even told anyone except my mum I was pregnant anyway. I was ‘only’ 7 weeks when the bleeding started. It didn’t feel right to dwell on the feelings I’d been having. I tried to move on.
A few days into my 10th week I started to bleed again, while I was getting ready for work. I felt so defeated and alone. I wanted my mum, although I knew there wasn’t much she could do. But we were living in Dubai and it wasn’t even morning yet in the UK, so I didn’t have my mum. I just had me. I sobbed and sobbed, thinking this was the end – I was terrified that we’d been through so much for nothing. My husband met me at the doctors, and this time, while I cried with relief at the sound of a heartbeat, I was recommended to sit very still for another few weeks and to give up work and rest for the remainder of my pregnancy. I still don’t know if this was good advice or not; does watching Sex in the City box sets and online shopping from the confines of your bedroom really help you keep a baby? But, as she pointed out, why take the chance? So, I resigned from my nursery teaching post, worked my month’s notice part-time with what I’m sure were, from everyone else’s perspective, ridiculous restrictions on walking around and lifting anything or anybody, and used my new found free time to have a series of hormones injected into my butt cheek until 16 weeks when I, and baby, were pronounced ‘out of danger’. It took me another four weeks to stop checking for blood.
People still ask me sometimes, why my son is an only child, although not as much as they did when he was younger. My favourite time was when he was about two, and we were visiting London. An older lady approached me in a restaurant and asked me when I was going to have another baby. “I’m not,” I replied. “Well you should,” she said, smiling at my son. “It’s hard being an only child.”
I changed the way I spoke to people about it after that. I explained why, if only to teach them, gently, that things are not always as straightforward as ‘heir and a spare’ for many, many people. I spoke about and blogged about the problems I’d had with conceiving, and later opened up about my post natal depression, which went undiagnosed for a full year. But for some reason, I glossed over that time between 7 weeks and 16 weeks pregnant when I lived in almost daily fear of waking up to find bleeding again. Bizarre when probably the biggest reason for not wanting another child was the fear of losing one.
I know I will never have another child, and made my peace with that a long time ago. But when I found out all my hormones had taken a leave of absence a few months ago in the suspected early menopause debacle, my OBGYN looked at my medical notes from that time and said I could have been in peri-menopause as far back as ten years ago, and wouldn’t have even qualified for IVF on the NHS if I’d been in this country. I was 34. So I knew then, and I know doubly now, how lucky I am to have the happy healthy 8-year old sitting rolling his eyes in the back seat of the car at me while I sing along to Ed Sheeran. I know there are many women who will never have this opportunity, for whom, for one reason or another, there is an empty car seat where a child should have been. It’s different for everyone, and everyone is different, but raising awareness that we all have a story – well that’s got to be a good thing. So I light a candle for all the people I know that have experienced the loss, and for the people who grieve for what could not be. And I tell my story. #babyloss #waveoflight