Walking early-term pregnancy loss

There’s a stirring in me to share this story, but I’ve been putting it off every time I get the opportunity to write it down. Not because I don’t want to share this story, I very much do, but because I don’t want to wade thickly through the grief that still sits somewhere deep in my heart, back through the memories clouded with discomfort and pain and unlock the tears they will inevitably bring.

Despite that, I want to tell this story. The story that has repeated itself time and time again in lives throughout history and will continue to repeat long after my telling is done.

In June we lost our little baby at around 6-9 weeks gestation. My life has gone back to normal and I’ve even found many new joyous things to take part in. I suppose you could say I’ve moved on, but that term’s not quite right. I’m moving forward in my journey in peace and delight, but I will never move completely on from our loss. You see, it will sit as a page in the story that is my life. It will be something of a character arc for me. I’m not sure how exactly, but I know my life continues to grow from it. It cannot be unfelt, unexperienced or unknown. It will always be with me, but it will not always be as thick as the grief felt in those moments.

In writing this post I do not pretend to understand any grief or loss that you, the reader, may have experienced. It is not my intention to glorify loss or give measure to any loss as greater or less than any other. I only ask that you read this is an account of my journey with grief (truly my first real experience of grief).

I also share this story to highlight how common miscarriage and pregnancy loss is. I myself know several women who have journeyed through this, although I found out about many more after sharing my experience. It is completely understandable to keep something like this private, but it is a hard road to walk believing you are alone. If you want to share your heartache it should not be taboo to do so. We shared this pregnancy with those close to us in the very early stages (just like we did with our first where nothing went wrong) and even in the darkest moments I had no regrets people knew. These same people sent flowers, made meals and offered support, which couldn’t fix it but certainly helped me heal.

Pregnancy #2

We found out we were pregnant with baby number 2 very early on. Someone (ME!) was incredibly excited at the prospect of adding to our family and had to keep testing. This pregnancy was very different to my first as I had very little symptoms. I wasn’t experiencing any of the nausea that I did with my first, which had me a little worried, but I knew every pregnancy was different and thought maybe I had just gotten lucky this time around. I was reassured by the little bump that was already growing from 5 weeks along.

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I went to my first scan alone, because COVID. I should have been about 7 weeks along and I went expecting to see our little dot. However, the baby could not be found. They reassured me that it was more than likely just too early to see as I was only measuring less than 6 weeks after all.  I was sad because it had not been the visit I had looked forward to, but not disheartened as I knew we just needed more time. At the same time I had some serious concerns. I had known about this baby for at least a month by this point. To be measuring under 6 weeks couldn’t be possible (a baby’s gestation is taken two weeks before a women is actually pregnant). I told myself what was a few days either side, it could still add up. However, my doctor said measurements at this stage have very little room for error.

I had to follow up this appointment with a visit to my doctor, who read out a head to rump measurement to me while I was there. “Sorry?” I said, “They told me they couldn’t find a baby?” Well, apparently a senior sonographer can evaluate scans after you leave and may spot something they didn’t at your appointment – would have loved a heads up.

I had more bloods done to confirm the viability of the pregnancy. Seeing these words on my paper work was very unsettling. A few days later those results came back positively. My HCG levels had increased 20 times compared to my first lot of bloods. Baby seemed to be doing fine, I was ecstatic.

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Twelve days after my first scan I attended a second scan to get a view of baby and hear the heartbeat. I was scared to go alone again but truly felt like things would be fine. After searching for baby for a little while I was once again told to change for an internal scan. My heart dropped. I knew this was not good. I was meant to be about 9 weeks by now, it should be very easy to find baby and a heartbeat. Once inside a changing cubicle I just lifted my hands. There was nothing I could do to control what would come next. My heart hoped and prayed for that baby to stay, to suddenly pop up on that scan and say ‘hey mum!’. But I knew I didn’t truly want mine but God’s will to be done. So I prayed ‘Lord your will be done and please, give me the strength to walk in it.’

I’m not some amazingly righteous person because I prayed that or thought that. I had a sense of what was coming, whether I prayed against it or not, and I needed to be held through it because I am so weak.

I still wasn’t prepared for the words I hoped I wouldn’t hear, even when all the signs pointed that way. “I’m sorry but it seems that your pregnancy hasn’t progressed.” Word for word, I remember it. And my grief overflowed in that room. My heart broke. The tears flowed. My gasps echoed. I wasn’t going to meet the life I had been so eager to care for in a few months time.

I left to change and fell to the floor of the bathroom in great big heaving sobs. I don’t say this for pity, I say this to be vulnerable, to be open and honest and true to the experience.

When I returned to the room before the sonographer, I looked at the screen with a list of names. Names I (very presumptuously) assumed of women who came for a scan and saw their babies. I was hurting bad and I was looking for all the ways in the world to say ‘this is so unfair’.

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I was given a list of options of where I could go from this point. I could go home and wait and see if I miscarried the baby naturally, I could take a series of tablets that would make that happen or I could go to the hospital for a D&C (Dilation and curettage). You can google that term if you really want more information…

The sonographer was kind but I wanted to scream at her ‘How can you expect me to chose between all of those terrible options? That’s not a choice! I chose to keep my baby. Give me different options.’

After sitting with those options for a day or two. I decided on a D&C. For me it gave me the most reassurance (not much but some). But above all, I knew I could not handle seeing my baby pass even though it would not look like a baby at all. I needed something that once it was done, it was done. Turns out nothing feels done for a long time on this journey.

I know this is long and wordy, but this was the journey. It was long and slow in just a one week period. Thanks for sticking this far.

I had walked into the clinic with excited anticipation. I walked out dazed, like a lost animal with no clue where to turn next.

I had some more bloods done by my doctor to confirm what the sonographer had said. The next day I got the call that my HCG levels were dropping, confirming that I was miscarrying. It felt like hearing the news all over again. A small part of me couldn’t help but hold out some hope that the scan had been wrong.

I was immediately told to stop eating and drinking and to present to emergency at the hospital for the next steps. Presenting at the hospital was stressful in and of itself during the time of COVID! Not to mention, every person who had to ask me mandatory COVID questions began by asking how I was. A question that immediately made me cry because for the first time in my life I could not even fake a ‘good’.

In the waiting room of that hospital, I recognised a lady from one of my mothers groups. Not the place you expect to bump into someone. We instantly knew why the other was there and embraced. It was a wonderful moment in a terrible time. I wasn’t alone in this. She wasn’t alone in this.

We all walk difficult paths, not realizing that there are so many others walking them too who also think they are alone. If only we would look up. If only we would share boldly.

I was sent home from the hospital with a couple of tablets and my procedure booked for the next day.

That day I had some light bleeding. I broke down again, overwhelmed. This was it. A third thing telling me ‘you’ve lost your baby’. I felt angry, betrayed and incredibly hurt. It felt like death by one thousand blows to keep hearing the news over and over again in so many different ways. Retrospectively, I see these three confirmations (the scan, the blood test, the blood) as a blessing. Three things confirmed what had happened so there was never any doubt in my mind that I made the wrong choice to have the procedure. When I bled the day before my surgery it was my body telling me it was ready to let go. In all that felt wrong, this at least was right (it didn’t feel good but it was right).

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Hospital

I entered the Day Surgery Unit alone (because… yup you guessed it COVID!) alongside a woman and her husband booked in for a C-section. I donned the hospital gown and those wonderful mesh undies they give you when you give birth, answered some questions, cried through them, convulsed nervously with anticipation of the procedure and then sat in the waiting room….. for 7 hours!

I was well assured that I would be the first procedure that day. but as it happened someone was mistakenly pushed ahead and then there was an emergency. During these many hours from my arrival at 7am to my surgery after 2pm; I was allowed 50ml of water on the hour every hour, I took several bouts of Panadol and a heat pack because I was now experiencing quite a lot of cramping from the medication I was instructed to take (which is ideally taken 2 hours before surgery, a time frame that had passed long ago), I became incredibly starving having eaten nothing since the night before in preparation for a morning op, and my phone virtually lost all charge.

I was also visited by a member of the pastoral team who seemed like a lovely person, but to whom I was virtually incapable of speaking with about any of my feelings because I had to shut them down as much as I could somewhere in hour 3 just to survive the day. She gave me several options for what I could do with the baby after the procedure.

After all I’d been through this question shouldn’t have been a shock, but I couldn’t believe I had to decide this as well. Did I want to have a burial service? Did I want to keep the ashes? It was all too much. I knew that I didn’t want any of that, so I signed consent to have the baby cremated with all the other lost babies from that month and the combined ashes scattered in the hospital’s memorial garden. I knew it was the right decision, but somehow still a part of me felt that I hadn’t shown enough care to separate my baby from the others. But of course, I wanted you!

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It seems like an odd thing to say but I had a goal for this procedure: To go calmly under the anesthesia. All the times in my life where I have had to be put under I have freaked out and gone under crying and fighting and woken up the exact same way. I needed something to focus on today and this goal was it.

As much as I wanted to go to sleep calmly I couldn’t, my fight and flight reflex kicked in and I started to lose control again. Until suddenly I had a thought, what if I sang? I had been listening to the Elevation Church song ‘Graves into Gardens’ a lot during this period. It became something of an anthem for me and my husband. And so there in the surgery room, surrounded by doctors and nurses I knew I would never see again I sang;

Oh, there’s nothing better than You
There’s nothing better than You
Lord, there’s nothing
Nothing is better than You
You turn mourning to dancing
You give beauty for ashes
You turn shame into glory
You’re the only one who can

 

And it worked. I fell asleep calmly.

However, I wish I woke that way. When I woke I had no idea what had happened or how much time had passed. When I woke I heard a baby crying somewhere and I nearly asked the nurse ‘Is that my baby? Can I hold him?’. I knew I was meant to have had a baby, but I had lost the concept of time. Instead I caught myself just in time and burst into tears. The nurses assumed the babies cries were distressing me and moved me away.

Once I was more awake and thinking more clearly I was given something to eat and felt a million times better for it. At this point I was just relieved. I had spent all day focused on getting through it and I was finally out the other side. Not out the other side of the journey of loss, but for me this was an important place that I could move forward from.

Moving Forward

The days afterwards were hard for a while. It’s not a quick journey. We were incredibly blessed by family and friends, who sent their condolences, meals and support. It didn’t take the pain away but it helped my recovery to feel their love. We took time away together as a family, which gave me the sea change I felt I desperately needed. Without the same day to day distractions I was able to spend time letting God just hold my heart, pouring it out to Him in the morning and then feeling free to soak up the joy of my beautiful family the rest of the time.

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It’s somewhat poetic that we took a trip to the Rainbow Coast, where there were the most impressive rainbows I’ve ever seen on display. A sign of God’s love and faithfulness. A symbol of hope and the faith we have that one day we will meet a beautiful baby after this storm. In fact, two days after my surgery we drove as a family to pick up a beautiful bassinet, one that we would have loved to purchase for our little babe. It may seem silly to some to buy something like this immediately after losing our baby, but it’s our step of faith. We picked it up fresh with the pain we’d been dealt but full of faith that it will have a use in our home.

Today, I’m doing really well. My husband and I are doing well. Our lives are still beautiful. I have lots to occupy my time, not least of all our bubbly toddler, and for that I am very grateful. We don’t spend our days curled up together like we did at the beginning. I don’t wake feeling the fresh stab of pain anymore. But that doesn’t mean it’s all gone. There are moments where it hits me fresh. There might be days or weeks in between. Eventually there may be months in between, but it’s not gone. Sometimes I’ll just wind up thinking about the little one that we wished we had met. Other times it will come from nowhere.

Above it all there’s one thing I know, one thing I have walked, of one thing I can be sure;

‘Highs and lows
Lord, You’re with me either way it goes
Should I rise or should I fall?
Even so
Lord, Your mercy is an even flow
You’re too good to let me go’
In memory of our little ‘cub’ due earth-side January 13, 2021. ‘And the first thing that he saw when he opened his eyes was the face of Jesus’.

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Hey Mumma, you won’t always know best

So many people will tell you to trust your gut as a parent. They say; don’t listen to the bombardment of advice and instead do what you think is best and everything will work out OK.

But sometimes it won’t. Sometimes you won’t chose what is best. And that’s OK. We’re all learning on this journey.

But can I encourage you, when you don’t know what is best to not throw out all the advice. Use your discretion to listen just to what could be helpful.

Yes, sometimes people will give you advice when you don’t need it and it won’t always be said in the best way, if you need to just let this go then do. But, there are so many people who have walked the path you’re walking and learnt more than a thing or two that could save you so much trouble.

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I know when I was pregnant the sheer amount of advice from well meaning people started to make me really anxious because I realised just how little I knew. Instead of ignoring it all and choosing to forge my own course, I shutdown the real source of my anxiety (namely a Facebook mother’s group) and mostly just listened to the women close to me.

However, from time to time it may be necessary to thank everyone for their input and still go with your gut and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I just hope that you see the value in the experiences of others.

I’ve seen many new mums quick to complain about how their own mum or mother-in-law “interferes” with their parenting of their new child. People tend to respond to this with so-called encouragement to the new mum to “trust themselves” and to “stand up for themselves” by doing their own thing.

But, I wonder how much easier we might find life if we made the most of someone else’s experience and wisdom, instead of viewing it as a threat to our own capabilities?

You are smart and able. So are others. Let them help you and make your road smoother.

Reading Proverbs 31 as a mother

I’ve always felt the woman in Proverbs 31 to be a ridiculous overachiever who all women are encouraged to strive to be. I mean she makes clothes and sells them at the city gates for crying out loud.

It wasn’t until I read these verses as a new mum that I suddenly could see some similarities in our lives. Now, I don’t claim to be as accomplished as she by any means, but if you’re a mother perhaps you too will resonate with these verses in the same way, and if not maybe you can you see your own mother in them?

Verse 13. She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.

How much of motherhood is hands on? Changing nappies, making dinner, cleaning floors, furniture and clothes. The only difference between 21st century mothers and the Proverbs 31 woman is are we doing it willingly?

Verse 15. She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens.

Hands up who’s had to get up at night to feed a little babe? Or rise in the early hours when it’s still dark to get on top of some of the household chaos? Sure the context is different, I mean I ain’t got no maidens, but the sentiment is still the same.

Verse 17. She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.

Many mothers like to keep physically fit in one way or another. From the gym to pram walks or joining family cricket games, somehow we find time to also look after our health.

Verse 18. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night.

I know a lot of busy wives and mums who run their own little business to turn a profit on the side of their full-time family life. Often these women work at late hours after everyone else has gone to bed in order to get it done.

Verse 21. She is not afraid of snow for her household for all her household are clothed in scarlet.

Women have great foresight. We are always prepared and we always want the best for our family. Just like the Proverbs 31 woman, we organise new clothes before a change in season, no one is going to go without. How often do our husbands ask for something only for us to say, ‘I already bought you a new one weeks ago’? Mothers are great at anticipating needs.

Verse 26. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 

It might be hard to see yourself in this verse but you’re there. When you’re giving your teenager advice you’re speaking out of your learned wisdom. When your over enthusiastic toddler accidentally whacks you with a toy for the tenth time that day and you chose to show them what gentleness means, instead of yelling at them to calm down, you’ve put kindness on your tongue.

I’m not saying I achieve all of these things all the time, but when I think of the Proverbs 31 woman in context of motherhood I suddenly feel like she’s not so unattainable; and that maybe striving to be like her is a little more worthwhile and possible than I first thought.