Another baby who does not get to develop, grow, thrive, live.
Another pregnancy ending in surgery.
At the end of June I was delighted to discover I was pregnant! This baby was so wanted, so tried for, and conceived naturally. We were over the moon.
It didn’t take long for the nausea to kick in, or for that exhaustion that feels like it is seeping in to your bone marrow to arrive. My boobs were tender and enlarged, my tummy bloated with what appeared to be an early bump.
The pregnancy hormones were riding high creating this new little human, and so was I.
I enjoyed being pregnant, despite the unpleasant symptoms.
Creating a new human felt so special, and I was determined to not complain about any discomforts so grateful was I to be pregnant again.
Martin and I talked to my tummy and gave it kisses.
I dared to wonder what my baby would be like. I loved them so much already.
In my mind I allowed myself to cuddle my newborn to my bare chest, feel their skin, smell them, take in every part of their chubby little body.
I was – I am – my baby’s Mummy.
I dutifully took my folic acid and aspirin every day (the latter to reduce the risk of preeclampsia). I reduced the intensity of my gym workouts, and stopped doing certain moves that had the potential to harm my unborn baby. I had lots of rest. I ate as well as I could bearing in mind the nausea, and avoided any foods that might do my baby harm.
I estimated my due date: February 25, 2017. Just five days after Hugo’s third birthday.
Hugo was born 16 weeks prematurely because I had the rare, life-threatening pregnancy complications HELLP syndrome and preeclampsia. An emergency Caesarean section under general anaesthetic, a stay in intensive care for me and a lifetime in the neonatal intensive care unit for my precious boy.
That lifetime was all too short, with Hugo Boss dying in my arms aged 35 days.
After the initial shock of the coincidence of the birthdays we decided to take it as a sign: of healing after the heartbreak of how my first pregnancy ended, and Hugo’s death.
Yes, another pregnancy would be fraught with stress and anxiety: would HELLP syndrome strike again, and when? All the experts could tell us was that it might not happen again, or it might – and if it did, chances are it would strike later, and less severely. We would have the best care, and lots of monitoring appointments.
The first of those monitoring appointments came on Wednesday July 13. An early scan, at 7 weeks, arranged by my amazing midwife.
My midwife is a specialist bereavement midwife: she cares for women like me during the immediate aftermath of loss, and during subsequent pregnancies. She is there to help women like me navigate ‘the system’, arrange appointments, and be a listening ear for all the anxieties and extra paranoia about every symptom.
Bladder full, Martin and I had a chat with a different kind midwife to take some details and we waited to be called for the scan.
Name called, we enter a darkened room. Staff introduce themselves, I lie on the couch, lift up my dress, have gel applied to my belly. Probe looks around inside, I grip Martin’s hand.
An egg sac and gestational sac can be seen, says the sonographer, but no baby.
I am asked to go and empty my bladder and return to the room for a transvaginal scan.
Still nothing conclusive, says the lovely sonographer. She says she needs another pair of eyes.
Martin and I are guided to a quiet room while a colleague is sought.
In about 10 minutes we try again with the colleague. More gel on my belly. That’s no good, so it’s knickers off and the vaginal probe again. Fists under my bum to get a good angle, I can’t hold Martin’s hand.
I can see an egg sac and a gestational sac, says the new sonographer. With difficulty, she finds what she calls the ‘foetal pole’ – my baby.
Baby measures just 5.6mm, too small for the gestation.
And there is no heartbeat.
My legs are akimbo, my knees raised. The sonographer puts her hand on my knee and gently says that I will need to return next week for a repeat scan. My dates might be wrong, it might be difficult to see the baby at this early gestation with all my organs in the way.
But, she says gently, I think we are likely to see the same thing next week.
Tissues are handed to me as I begin to sob.
Martin and I are guided back to the quiet room.
Bloody quiet rooms. Rooms of doom. We have spent far too much time in effing quiet rooms hearing bad news about our babies.
After a time another midwife comes in with a student. She kindly listens to us, she knows our history. She makes another appointment for us the following week, reassuring us while making no false promises. My dates might be wrong, she says. About 50% of women have a heartbeat on the next scan. It’s impossible to say.
It might, it might not.
In the meantime, if the baby has died nature might take its course.
I feel like a walking timebomb.
We return home for the longest week’s wait.
At home, the first couple of days of that week pass in a numb blur.
In our excitement and joy about our pregnancy we had told close family and our closest friends. We’d agreed that we wouldn’t make a formal announcement until after the 12 week scan, but considering how anxious we were likely to be we would need the support of our nearest and dearest.
So, we set about telling them our news.
Comfort, kindness, virtual hugs.
Prayers and hope.
Hope came in a physical form, too: my nausea persisted. I still couldn’t stomach a cup of tea. I was continually tired. Looking in the mirror, I marvelled at my bloated boobs with enlarged veins and areolas.
Surely they must be positive signs?
I tried not to get too stressed, thinking that it would be bad for the baby.
I tried to hope that we would be in the positive 50%.
I tried to remember that whatever happened during the second scan, we had survived so much already and would again.
But surely we deserved some positive news?
People don’t get what they deserve.
Bad things happen to good people.
Losing one baby does not grant a protective forcefield for subsequent pregnancies. There are no get out of jail free cards.
Signs are bollocks.
Awful things happen to us all.
Scan number 2: Wednesday July 20. I am 8 + 5 weeks’ pregnant,
After a wait that felt like forever we were called in to the room.
Lie on the couch, dress up, gripping on to Martin’s hand, gel and probe on the belly.
We need to do a transvaginal scan, says the sonographer.
Knickers off, legs spread, knees up, fists under the bum. I am unable to hold Martin’s hand as the sonographer softly says she is sorry, but there is no change.
There is no heartbeat, and most compellingly the baby still measures 5.6mm.
The baby has not grown.
The baby has died, at about 6 weeks.
I am numb. I cast a glance at the screen, where the sonographer points out our baby, a tiny little seed with no life.
We are taken back to the quiet room.
I still feel pregnant, but my baby has died inside of me.
The midwife comes in to the room to talk to us. She tells us how sorry she is, that she understands how devastated we must be especially after Hugo. I am so grateful she has taken the time to actually read the notes, to understand what they mean, to empathise.
We ask what is next.
We don’t have to make any decisions that day, she says, but we have three options:
To wait for nature to take its course, to have the miscarriage managed medically, or to have it removed surgically.
Options implies choice. I didn’t want to choose any of them. I wanted to grow big and round and have a bouncing baby in seven months’ or so time.
But that choice was taken away from me.
Nature doesn’t seem in any hurry to take its course, and I hate feeling like a timebomb. Who knows how long it might take, and when it will happen?
Medical management sounds horrific: a drug taken orally and a pessary to make the womb shed its contents. It makes you feel really ill. Insult to injury.
Surgical management is a D&C under a general anaesthetic as a day patient. I don’t want surgery – I have PTSD relating to traumatic events from Hugo’s birth and who really wants people poking around their lady parts to remove their much-wanted baby? But after hearing that options one and two might result in the surgical option anyway because there’s a chance material might be left behind. Let’s minimise the trauma, I think, by being completely out of it, controlling it by knowing when it is going to happen, and going through it all only once.
The next availability for the procedure is two days’ time, Friday July 22. My birthday. We agree that’s not a good day, and we will need to wait for a couple of days for the new surgical rotas to be released before I can be booked in.
In the meantime, I go through the pre-op prep: blood tests, weight, MRSA swab up my nose.
A doctor arrives to ‘consent’ me. Such a funny concept under the circumstances, like when I ‘consented’ to the emergency C-section when I had Hugo. I am told what will happen during the procedure, and what the risks are. I sign.
I explain my anxieties, and am given a prescription for Diazepam.
We go home.
We feel empty, bereft, heartbroken.
Another chance shattered.
We tell people the news.
They are so sorry.
My birthday comes and goes in a bit of a grey fog. I receive a call from the hospital: my procedure will be on the Monday. The kind secretary who calls me apologises for calling me on my birthday about such a matter, and checks I have all the information about fasting before a general anaesthetic.
I try to keep busy.
We go to the garden centre, and buy lots of new flowers for the garden.
I spend a content few hours planting them all, rearranging them, putting up new fairy lights.
It looks pretty, and feels good to be doing something productive and constructive.
I go to the gym, I box, throw things.
I think about how nature can be such a bitch because I still feel pregnant even though I know there will be no baby.
It is a missed miscarriage, the progesterone continues to pump through my body giving me the pregnancy symptoms.
I try not to think about how I still feel pregnant but I have a dead baby inside of me.
Technically, an six-week old embryo.
Technically, my baby, my new life that I already loved so deeply.
On the Saturday night, the nightmares about surgery begin. The PTSD, the hangover from Hugo’s birth. I am grateful for the Diazepam.
I try to look for the silver linings: miscarriages are sadly relatively common, and I do not feel so alone as when Hugo died. I have friends to call on for advice. Sadly, they understand the pain and sorrow.
The positive that I got pregnant naturally, no medical or pharmaceutical assistance whatsoever. I really can’t resist – it deserves a big fat f*ck you Mr Fertility Consultant, so adamant were you I wasn’t ovulating, that I would not conceive without IVF, that I would not receive this treatment until had lost lots of weight through a slimming club, with no consideration of my psychological wellbeing.
But then there is the sorrow, being the recipient of more sympathy when I was so looking forward to congratulations, being the focus of joy for once.
Hugo now has a little brother or sister who has joined him in the stars.
I try to console myself with the positives. We have survived so much. I have proven I can do so much. One in four – 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. So much heartbreak. We’ll never know why. But I know it is not my fault.
I will always wonder what might have been with this little one, just as I will always wonder with Hugo.
For now, we will keep on keeping on.