The Unexpected: On Family and Loss

I was in a hotel bathroom in Copenhagen late last year when I realised I might be pregnant. I had been hit by exhaustion about an hour earlier – but we’d just walked around ten miles so, you know: nothing too unusual there. I had become so desperate for dairy that I almost cried waiting two minutes for a hot chocolate – but I’d been surviving on wine and mushrooms (there are limited veggie options in Denmark) so, you know: not totally unreasonable. But now there was a strange pink smear in the toilet and I knew enough to wonder: implantation bleed?

On the other hand, I have endometriosis and a very irregular cycle and it was two years since Steve and I had last bothered with contraception so the chances of me being fertile seemed pretty slim. After a few minutes of panicking, I decided it must be fibroids or “something” and I put it to the back of my mind. Far enough back that I drank wine that night, ate runny eggs a few days later and didn’t stop cleaning the litter tray.

When I was still exhausted three weeks later – with added zits and frizz – I did a test. And it was positive.

Being pregnant was a shock. When talking about kids, Steve and I had always shrugged and said, “If it happens, it happens – great. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen – also great.” We had worked on the assumption that it wasn’t an option. We had never actively tried to conceive.

We had no idea how we were going to afford it.

Still, there was never any doubt about keeping the baby. It took mere minutes for us both to get excited.

For the next couple of months, it was our delightful secret. We made lists of all the things we needed to do in preparation. We whispered about names. Steve read the great big baby book NHS Scotland provides and moved us onto a super-healthy diet; I bought a box of pregnancy vitamins and… well, actually, my main contribution was sleeping every moment I was able. The exhaustion never let up. But it was worth it.

We were both a little stunned by how excited we were.

At ten weeks, every symptom except the tiredness lifted. I worried and I googled and I found loads of pregnancy forums full of women reassuring each other that symptoms do tend to ease at that point; that there was nothing to worry about; that they had all gone on to have healthy babies.

I reminded myself that all I could do was wait it out and see what happened. It was only a couple of weeks until our scan and that would put my mind at ease.

At eleven weeks, at Christmas, I started spotting. Tiny brown smears – not fresh, instantly alarming blood. The forums assured me that this was normal, too. It was one week until our scan – I didn’t want to cause a fuss by calling the midwife.

At eleven and a half weeks, on 30th December, the spotting got a little heavier and a little redder. I called the early maternity unit at the hospital and they booked me in for a scan the following morning.

But within an hour the blood was gushing. There was an ambulance ride and the worst night of Steve’s and my lives.

I lost a litre of blood in just a few hours. I was fainting; I had some sort of seizure; I was on a drip; there was talk of surgery and transfusions; there was awful, invasive scraping and great clots of purple vomiting out of me.

There were flashbacks for weeks.

Our baby was gone.

Although, throughout the pregnancy, I had worried about miscarriage, I hadn’t given much thought to what it entailed. I assumed it would be a bit like a period: a couple of days of medium-to-heavy bleeding and some cramping. After all, the articles and books all talk about how many pregnancies end before the parents have any idea they’re expecting – early miscarriages are mistaken for periods all the time, they said; I hadn’t stopped to think that later miscarriages might be that bit worse.

But mine was.

I bled very heavily for a fortnight; lightly but steadily for another two weeks. I was in pain for most of that time. My pregnancy symptoms all returned at once and took weeks to fade away. It was three months before my normal energy levels returned.

And there was the grief.

I had known that both Steve and I would be devastated to lose our baby but I had had no idea just how deep that grief could be. I could tell you how hard and how often I cried but that doesn’t come close to explaining it.

I veered wildly between needing to get pregnant again immediately and refusing to ever risk another loss – that was it, I decided: that was my one attempt.

And I didn’t know if I could get pregnant again. I didn’t know if this time had been a fluke. Every period broke my heart.

But mostly what hurt was having lost our child.

People who tell you, “There will be other chances – you can try again,” don’t get it. The pain was not that we had lost a baby; it was that we had lost that baby – that we had built up a whole new life in our heads which revolved around becoming parents in July 2014; we had reshaped our futures around having that child at that time. We had imagined it. We had dreamed it. We had become attached. And that had been torn away.

I went back to work after two weeks. I wanted to re-establish normality and that was a mistake. It was much too soon.

I cried in the toilets at work; I cried on bus journeys home; I cried myself to sleep most nights.

I found myself resenting a job I had previously enjoyed. The closer I got to what would have been my due date, the harder it became to get out of bed in the morning, get to the office and put in any sort of effort. As far as I was concerned, I was supposed to be going on maternity leave; I wasn’t supposed to be there; this wasn’t supposed to be my life.

I wanted to be at home with my child.

It affected our social life, too.

Friends with small children were hard to be around for what I think are obvious reasons.

Friends who choose to be childfree were hard to be around because all they seemed to talk about was the pointlessness of parenthood. “Every time a friend tells me she’s pregnant, I feel let down,” said one. “I know it’s going to ruin our friendship.” 

Friends who wanted children were hard to be around because I never knew when they would announce that they were pregnant. The first time I logged into Facebook after the miscarriage, I was greeted by an assortment of baby scan pictures. It seemed rude of them. It seemed selfish. So many babies were expected the same week ours had been and I struggled to greet the news with smiles.

Luckily, I did have friends I could turn to. One woman who has had five miscarriages (and two children) was fantastic throughout; she went from being someone I had coffee with maybe twice a year to someone I saw nearly every week. Another woman who was facing up to infertility was wonderful – we shared a lot of the same resentments and it made all the difference having somebody there who understood them.

I also insisted that Steve told his best friend – I was worried about him bottling up his own feelings so he could be strong for me; I believed (I still believe) we both needed somebody to talk to who wasn’t sharing our grief.

But, for the most part, we didn’t tell anyone. The people we would usually have turned to were all away for the holidays when the miscarriage happened; by the time they returned, it was too much for us to talk about.

And that made it lonelier. Our more empathic friends have seemingly limitless patience and I felt guilty not opening up to them. Others became snippy about how unsociable we were and we were too tired to address that.

Very early on, I wanted to write about this. But writing about it meant letting the world know and that meant dealing with people’s reactions. Neither of us was ready for well-intentioned tactlessness or painfully wordless sympathy; we particularly weren’t ready for anyone taking offense that they hadn’t been told.

Miscarriage is a very difficult thing to open up about.

And yet it’s incredibly common. Around 20% of all confirmed pregnancies end in miscarriage. That means that, on average, for every four babies that your social circle has managed to produce, somebody has lost one.

You almost certainly know people who have miscarried. They may be very close to you and you could never know.

This (along with infertility) clearly isn’t something that people think about. If they did, they wouldn’t go around saying things like, “You’re so lucky you’re not pregnant – it’s totally shit!” or, “You look a bit pale today. Oh ho – you must be pregnant!” or, “When he asked me to guess who was pregnant, I immediately guessed you! Isn’t that funny? I was so certain that you were!”

I came up against such a huge amount of tactlessness. And I couldn’t tell anyone why my smiles were so strained.

But, as much as I didn’t talk about my own miscarriage at the time, I did wish that everybody else would talk about theirs.

Because it’s lonely. Because I felt like we were the only people to have ever gone through this. Because I felt like Steve and I were the only ones to be so unlucky. Despite having the statistics to prove that that wasn’t true.

I’m writing about it now because I want other people to know that it’s normal. And because I want people to know that, if they’re going through this, I’m here and they can drop me an email and I get it.

And I’m writing about it now because I can.

After a couple of months of relative normality, two weeks before what would have been my due date I fell apart. I cried constantly and uncontrollably; I felt like my life was in limbo, waiting to see if I would get pregnant again, wondering whether to re-focus on my career; the loss suddenly felt unbearable.

But on the morning after the due date, I woke up feeling fine. I felt normal. I felt like me. I felt better.

I had passed that most significant of days – from now on, I could stop thinking, “If I just get pregnant now, it will be like a twelve month pregnancy instead of a nine/I’ll still have a child in 2014/at least I’ll be pregnant again before my due date.”

Passing that date made more of a difference than I could ever have imagined.

Passing that date drew a line.

And two weeks later there was another line. On another test.

Our baby is due in April next year.

I’m nineteen weeks along.

It’s scary, being pregnant again after a miscarriage. I’m intensely aware of how much could go wrong – with the foetus; with the pregnancy; with the birth; after the child is born. I’ve been putting off blogging about this (and telling many people the news) until we reached this significant stage in the pregnancy – no, this one – no, actually, that one – as though, at some point, there’s a guarantee that I won’t then have to tell you I was overly optimistic.

But the odds are good now. The odds are very good. And, the more people we tell the more real it becomes, the more excited I feel.

So I’m telling you now.

And I’m thrilled.


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