October 28, 2020

Breaking the silence around the ‘M’ Word (Baby Loss Awareness Week)

Sharon Waalace

By Sharon Wallace

Better known as Design Mum, Sharon has three gorgeous little munchkins and whenever she gets a spare minute likes to write about her parenting journey.

Dazed & Confused

Dazed. Yeah, I think that’s the word I’d use to describe how I felt in that moment. The crippling rush of reality hit me much later, but in that very moment, I was ‘dazed’.

It was my 12-week scan. Pregnancy number 2. Our daughter was only 4 and a half months old, so this little scenario was far from planned. Yet I was thrilled to be pregnant again. The monstrous morning sickness aside, this was a sibling for our daughter. Our second child! And we couldn’t be happier.

Sharing the Excitement

I wasted no time in spreading our happy news to family and friends. No point in holding-off until the 12-week checkpoint, I thought. It’s not like anything bad is going to happen! And in the improbable likelihood that it should, I’d end up sharing it with these very people anyhow.

Everything had been going as expected. My old friends nausea and lethargy arrived right on cue and an aching pain set up residence in my lower back- all pretty familiar pre-natalness.

A Little Bit of Spotting

Our excitement built as the date for our first scan approached. I remember it was a Friday afternoon, only a few days before our scan was due on Tuesday morning. An alarming panic rose through me as I sat there, on the loo, looking down at the light spotting on the tissue paper.

A quick call to the midwifery team was what I needed to put my mind at rest. But despite the calming voice at the end of the phone, and the brief synopsis that this can sometimes be completely normal in the early stages of pregnancy, we both knew that, equally, this could be a very bad sign.

I rang my sister next, in my desperate quest for some reassurance. She had experienced some bleeding in her pregnancy and a quick check-up at the hospital had shown that everything was fine for her. OK, deep breathes, maybe it would be fine. But as the light bleeding continued into the weekend, my sister’s words did nothing to extinguish my anxiety.

On Sunday evening I rang 111 and received a call back from the duty doctor. Surely someone must be able to tell me that everything is ok. But of course he couldn’t. He could only advise me to sit tight until my scan and to keep monitoring the situation.

The Day of the Scan

I was full of nerves by the time we had arrived at the hospital on Tuesday morning. I clutched my notes to my chest as they called me into the Sonographer’s room. I remember being asked, “How are you? How have you been?” I replied with a casual lie, like you do. “I’m fine, thank you. I’ve just had a spot of light bleeding over the last few days”. Trying to kid myself into thinking that there’s no problem here. I gripped David’s hand as the cold gel splodge onto my belly and an image immediately appeared on the screen in front of me. It had registered with me before she had even said anything. “I’m just going to call my colleague in to have a quick look”. I lay there, frozen on the bed, staring into the dark room. They both looked at each other and nodded in agreement before one of them said, “I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat and baby hasn’t been growing”. As the apologies came flowing I found myself reacting in the only way I knew how….

“It’s okay’, I said. But it wasn’t okay. Things couldn’t have been further from okay.

From the measurements, they were able to tell me that baby had probably stopped growing at around 9 weeks and that was likely when the pregnancy had ended. This is known as a ‘missed miscarriage’, because although the pregnancy had ended, the actual miscarriage hadn’t yet begun. Knowing this terrified me. I had read that miscarriages can be very painful, physically I mean as well as mentally. The other frightening part was the ‘removal procedure’. I mean, as if this whole ordeal wasn’t devastating enough. I suppose I had barely had chance to take it all on board but I certainly hadn’t given a thought to removing the pregnancy. I just wanted to wake up from this bad dream and for it all to go away. Completely overwhelmed by the whole situation I opted to go home to consider my options.

Heartbreak

As we walked out of the hospital I was aware of other people around me, and especially aware of the other pregnant women coming and going, but it was as if time had somehow slowed and sounds petered out into insignificance. Weakened by the whole ordeal I grasped David’s arm to support me as we walked back to the car. He held onto me tight and I asked him not to let go. I felt like I was barely putting one foot in front of the other but we somehow made it back home.

It took me a couple of days to get my head around things and decide what to do next. I could have either opted for natural management, allowing nature to take its course and waited for the miscarriage to happen, medical management, which meant treatment with pills or pessaries to bring on the process of miscarriage, or go for surgical management and have a minor operation to remove the pregnancy. The fear alone of having to endure a miscarriage was what eventually prompted me to book the surgical procedure. I imagined the excruciating pain and stomach cramps, worse still, I imagined passing a foetus that resembled something quite baby like. Oh no, I don’t think I could have handled that.

Feeling like a failure

Although the procedure was quite a minor one, I’d never had an operation before. So I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit terrified. As I sat on the edge of the hospital bed, all gowned up and ready to go into theatre, I found no distraction to calm my nerves. But before I knew it, it was all over and I was coming back round. The relief felt pretty big. After a week of torment, waiting for this appointment, not knowing if the miscarriage would start naturally in that time, it was finally done with and I could start to put this all behind me.

Only… that’s not how this goes. In the days, weeks and months that followed, physically I healed but mentally I struggled. Days became filled with self-questioning about what I did wrong. Was it because I went to the dentist? Did that foot rub affect anything? Did I eat something I shouldn’t have? As trivial as these questions may sound, I found myself obsessing over them without hope of an actual answer. Night time became a dark place where punishing thoughts would run through my head and fuel my insomnia. Because I felt responsible. It was my job to keep that baby safe, and I failed at that.

Deafening Silence

Worst of all was the deafening silence from friends and family. You’d think that with such a high statistic… with 1 in 4 pregnancies ending in miscarriage… that as a society we would be talking about this a hell of a lot more. When I met up with some mum friends a few weeks after it happened, I wanted to talk about it and let it all out, but I just received awkwardness and shifting glances. People that I bumped into didn’t stop to say hello.

I craved sympathy yet no one knew what to say. “Hello, I’m going through a bit of a sh*t time over here. I’d really love it if you would pop round with a box of chocolates and help take my mind off of it”. That’s all I really needed.

As a reference, here are a couple of things that made me smile in those successive days – my work colleagues sent me a huge bunch of flowers – Tick. It was comforting to know that they were thinking of me

Kindness of a stranger

I got talking to an older lady one day on the street and ended up sharing with her about my recent miscarriage. Instead of saying she was sorry or changing the subject, she just matter of factually told me that she had had a few of them when she was younger. “Unfortunately it happens”, she said. Her words somehow helped lift that guilt and responsibility that I had been carrying around with me.

It took me a long time to stop blaming myself and realise that this wasn’t my fault. I had to get back on track and look at the positives in my life, for my daughter and for David, as well as for myself. This pregnancy may have been accidental but I now wanted a second baby desperately. I started to convince myself that I wouldn’t be able to get pregnant again, and if by some stroke of luck I did, that the same thing would happen.

Regaining Hope

Almost 6 months went by. I stocked up on pregnancy tests and proceeded with my desperate mission. Just as it was beginning to look more futile than fertile, finally, one afternoon, I got the positive result I had been longing for. I was so happy but at the same time, that very moment marked the start of 8 and a half months of constant worry. Of constant anxiety about the baby. And months of obsessive questioning. I cannot tell you how many times I rang the midwives to check all of the trivial things that would go through my mind each day, each hour of each day. Only they didn’t seem trivial to me at the time. Because having had a previous miscarriage made it a very real possibility. I’m not sure I could bear going through it a second time. But I know, sadly, people do.

My entire pregnancy was a stress-fuelled voyage of nerves and anxiety. The moments that I had previously enjoyed and looked forward to in my first pregnancy were drowned out with fear and worry. But nothing could take away our elation when she finally arrived, beautiful and healthy. The painful memories had faded and our family was complete. Or so we thought! 14 months on and I realised I was pregnant again. Yes, there was trepidation there, but this time I allowed myself to have a much calmer pregnancy.

It’s funny, the number of women I mention to that I have had a miscarriage who are prompted to say “oh yeah, that happened to me”. It is still such a hidden part of our lives and I wonder if I would ever have known, just how “not alone” I was in this experience if I hadn’t brought it up. We really need to talk more about the ‘M’ word.

Advice Parenting
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