Surviving monthly miscarriage anniversaries, and dreading the due date

Today is the three month anniversary of the day we found out we’d lost our baby. I don’t know where these three months have gone – they’ve been a whirlwind of coping, not coping, talking, crying, going on a massive spontaneous holiday, and coping some more.

It’s been particularly strange today, too, because death and remembrance are all over the newspapers after Margaret Thatcher died – again, I am struck by the brevity of my baby’s life and by the enormity of what one person can achieve in a full, fulfilled lifetime. Being loved and loathed, experiencing epic success and epic failure, being iron-strong and then frail and ill – we all experience these things to some degree over the course of a normal lifetime, but that little thing that lived so briefly will never experience them. 

Anniversaries seem only to emphasise the time that I feel I’ve lost. It’s been three months since I was moving in the right direction for having a baby – in the right direction for the future and family I have always wanted since I was very young. Since it happened I’ve been becalmed, waiting for a normal period, and now trying again. Every month that passes seems like a marker of my failure to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. 

How will I cope with 29 July – our due date? I think if I’m pregnant again by then I’ll be able to handle it quietly and calmly, sad and aching for my loss but positive and hopeful for the future. It’s a delay in conceiving that I dread – if a few more months pass and we’ve been trying for a whole year, punctuated by our loss, and then the baby’s due date rolls round, I don’t know how I’ll approach that day and not feel overwhelmed by hopelessness.

Even worse, the Royal Baby is due in July (I live in England). Seeing him or her born, and knowing that that will be his or her birthday that month every year, and not my baby’s, will be terrible. And the Royal Baby will always be exactly the same age as my baby would have been – I’ll always be reminded, every year, as they get older, that my baby is not getting older.

I don’t know if it’s healthy to think of these milestones. I know I need to grieve properly, but I also need to try not to dwell on dates and facts. I just need to try and heal. 

Carrying my miscarriage is a lonely burden

It seems like I’m the only one that’s so upset about my miscarriage. In fact it sometimes seems like I’m the only one that remembers about it at all.

I know that seems like the meanest thing to say about my husband, and paints him in a really bad light. That couldn’t be further from what I mean. It’s cliched to say he has been my rock – but he has. I couldn’t have got through it without him. From the first day in the hospital, when he phoned my parents to tell them, comforted me, held me and talked to me; to those awful days afterwards when I was showing him sheets of bloodstained toilet paper and clots and he had to take endless days off work just to sit and watch me cry; and right through to now when he is so understanding and sympathetic to my various hang ups and concerns and still has to deal with the nights when I can’t stop weeping. He has gone so far beyond the call of duty, and has been everything I ever hoped for. Marrying him was SO the right move, and I love him even more after what we’ve been through together. I didn’t even know it was possible to love him more.

So it’s not that he isn’t supportive. It’s just that he’s, well, *him*. He’s a very logical, rational and intellectual person. And although he’s one of the most sensitive and non-macho men ever born, he’s still a man! He doesn’t want to dwell on things. He wants to move on, and think about the future, and he doesn’t want to have to deal with difficult feelings every single day. I don’t think he’s repressing it, really – he just doesn’t need to pick the scab all the time.

I seem to need to pick the scab constantly. This means that sometimes I feel like, even though I can share everything with him normally, I need to keep some of my darkest thoughts to myself.

And then there’s my Mum. My Mum is one of the best mums ever – I hope you’re getting the impression that I’m very lucky with my family. But she, too, is supremely practical. She came down to stay with us a couple of days after my miscarriage, and she came to scans with me, talked to endless doctors with me, brought me flowers, made me laugh, took me for a massive retail therapy session, and was everything anyone could ever need.

But now she too is resolutely forward looking. She insists that we’ll be pregnant again soon and is impatient at my worries that we could lose another baby or struggle to conceive again. Maybe she’s right, statistically, and I probably need a dose of optimism. I can handle her no-nonsense attitude in that way.

But what’s impossible to deal with it her conviction that losing this baby was a good thing, because, as the doctors told us, the most likely reason for the miscarriage was some kind of chromosome abnormality which made the pregnancy non-viable. She says things like, “you really wanted rid of that, whatever *it* was”, and talks about the horrible thing that I was growing inside me and how I needed to get it out fast. It wasn’t a baby – it was just a bundle of cells that went really wrong and could never have been a person.

That IS my baby she’s talking about. I know a person couldn’t manage to fully grow from those cells, but there was DNA there that was formed from my husband and me – there was a tiny heart that was beating, however briefly. That was my tiny little baby, that never made it.

I feel angry and so hurt that she talks about him like that. I know she’s trying to help but she gets it so wrong.

We didn’t tell many friends, although those we did tell have been wonderful, and much more prepared to see it from my point of view, as a loss to grieve for. But it’s the people closest to you that you really depend on when something like this happens, and when they can’t quite be what you need it’s lonely. That’s why I relaunched this blog, because it gives me the opportunity to articulate how I feel, fully and freely, without having a chorus of “come on, you need to be more positive”. It’s wonderful how the internet gives you access to a community of people who have been there too, wherever “there” is.

I want to move forward too, and I feel like I’ve been doing that pretty well, all along. But I can’t move forwards by forgetting what’s happened. I need to take it with me. It feels a bit like a scar – I’m glad to be healthy and to have recovered from the wound, but the mark is still there and sometimes I need to look at it, and remember how it got there. In some ways, remembering how I felt then makes me feel more positive because I can see how far I’ve come and how much better I’m doing now. It’s only been three months.

Maybe in the end the problem is that no one else experienced the full horror of what happened. My husband had the emotional trauma, but the combination of the emotional and the physical is something no one could go through but me. However they try to share it, it’s my miscarriage in the end.

 

Grieving for my baby

Grieving for a person who has never been born is one of life’s strangest experiences. You can’t really miss them because you don’t know what their company would have been like, or what your relationship with them would have brought to your life. You don’t even know what they looked like. There’s no funeral to attend, no grave to visit, no gathering of family and friends in remembrance. One of the hardest things to handle, for me, has been the seeming erasure of my baby from life without anyone else even noticing his absence. 

After the ultrasound scan when we learned I’d had a delayed miscarriage, we had to make some terrible decisions about what happened next – I’d decided to have an operation to remove the ‘remaining products of conception’ (see my last post for more on this awful term) and it was scheduled for the Friday.

On Wednesday we went for a walk, just to get out of the house and try to get ourselves together. We went up to the beautiful common in the town where we live – it’s just grass and trees and benches, but it’s one of my favourite places. While we were there I had increasingly strong pain, like severe period pain – it got worse and worse, and when I got home I took some painkillers and collapsed on the bed in agony, waiting for them to work. Suddenly I had an intense, gripping pain, and then the strangest feeling of something descending – I ran to the toilet, my hand clamped to my pants, and managed to sit down just before a huge clot passed. It was the size of my hand and very firm, almost hard. Blood poured out to follow it and then the pain quickly started to ease. Eventually I was able to get up, and I flushed without thinking. I rang the hospital and they said I had passed the sac and so I wouldn’t have to have the operation to clean out my womb anymore. 

It took me hours to realise that this meant I had effectively had a contraction, given birth to my stillborn baby, and then flushed him down the toilet. 

I have found this part of my miscarriage experience the most traumatic and horrifying by far. I don’t know what I wish had happened. Sometimes I wish I had had the operation and kept my baby’s remains, but I’m not sure this would have been at all healthy for me, emotionally. Sometimes I wish he had been cremated at the hospital, but then I hate the idea of him being in with all the other gruesome things that hospitals need to dispose of. Sometimes I think maybe going down the loo, and eventually to the sea, is the best I could have done for him. 

It just seems like such an awful life. He had ten weeks of existence, and then was flushed down the toilet without ever having taken a breath. 

And I felt so empty. I felt so alone and empty, even though it was far too early for me to have felt him kick, or even to have had a bump. I just felt lonely like I never have before. Sometimes that still hits me, the feeling of utter loneliness and emptiness. 

We went to the common again on the one month anniversary, and I thought it would be really hard to go there and remember the last place where I had had him inside me, even though he wasn’t alive any more by then. But it wasn’t hard – instead it was bittersweet, because despite a huge sense of loss, I felt like of all the places on Earth, this was one where I could actually remember him somewhere happy and beautiful. Not a hospital, or an ultrasound room, or even our home where I’d been so unhappy since we lost him. Somewhere lovely and natural and free.

Each time we’ve been up there since it’s been a powerful experience. Just this weekend my husband picked up some of the fresh grass cuttings off the common and sprinkled them into the wind – we didn’t mention it but I knew he was thinking of our baby. It makes me happy that we have associated somewhere so lovely with him, for always.

Losing my baby: dealing with the first day

By the time we went for the ultrasound scan on January 8th, I already knew I’d lost our baby. To explain that certainty, I think I have to go back a bit – it had been a worrying pregnancy all along, although I didn’t fully realise or acknowledge that at the time. 

I bled a little at 6 or 7 weeks – just brown discharge, but a fair bit of it – and I had a tight, painful feeling in my abdomen, so they gave us an early ultrasound at that stage. I cried as soon as I got on the Doctor’s table, convinced that there would be a problem. But then we saw our little tiny baby with his tiny heartbeat flickering like a little fairylight, and I cried again with joy and relief that everything was OK. It was magical to see our baby alive and well, and it set our minds at rest for a while – I remember we went out for a celebratory lunch that day, so happy that everything was OK. The Doctor reassured us that it was normal to bleed a little, and said we owed him a bottle of whiskey for making our Christmas so much happier. 

Things went on peacefully over Christmas. I felt sick but not too badly, and I was tired, but everything seemed normal. When the brown discharge started again between Christmas and New Year, I wondered if it was sex that had caused it, or if it was just the same cause-less bleeding as before. It carried on for a week, and seemed to be getting heavier, but it was still brown. I read all kinds of statistics that once you’ve seen a baby’s heartbeat, it’s 98% likely to be carried to full term, and I tried not to worry.

Then when I came back to work on January 4th I noticed there was some blood there too. I phoned the midwife and she said I should go to A&E. No bleeding is normal, she said. 

I went at 4.30pm on a Friday night, and the ultrasound department had closed for the weekend. They booked me in for Monday or Tuesday, and then did a blood test – my hormone levels were still high, so I was sent home for bed rest. That night, the brown blood really changed to red – it was too much for a panty liner so I started to use a pad. Over the weekend it got heavier and I got increasingly worried, and then on Sunday morning I remember sitting on the settee looking out of the window and just thinking, “I feel really well”. I didn’t feel sick or ‘spaced out’ anymore, like I had been feeling. I think I knew at that point that my hormone levels had dropped.

I don’t ever want to feel again like I felt that Sunday and Monday night waiting for the ultrasound appointment. I guess it must feel like waiting to be executed. It’s possible you’ll get a miraculous last minute reprieve, but just so unlikely. I felt weighted down by dread and horror. In all the months of grief and sadness since then, I’ve never felt as distraught and desperate. 

Going to the scan was a relief – I just wanted it to be over one way or another. As I lay on the bed the ultrasound technician spent ages looking at the screen then just said, “I’m afraid I don’t have good news”. I had the weird urge to make it easier for her, and I said “It’s OK, I knew you wouldn’t”. It was the truth, anyway.

The baby was still inside, but there was no heartbeat, and it was far too small for 10 weeks. 

The crying just sort of started, of its own accord, and I somehow got into my clothes and then they shepherded us into the ‘Quiet Room’. I couldn’t help but wonder how many people had been in that Quiet Room before us, that year, that week, that day even, having their lives ripped apart like ours were being. They left us for a while to comfort each other, which was sweet but didn’t work. Nurses brought me glasses of water, and I just sat in disbelief, not really thinking about anything, just trying to continue to exist. 

Eventually the Doctor came and we had to make a set of the worst decisions ever. As I’d had a delayed miscarriage – the baby and sac were still inside – they recommended I have an operation to remove the remaining ‘products of conception’. If I had the operation, did I want to collect the ‘products’ so I could bury them? I thought the two decisions were hideously incongruous – we have to use this industrial description, ‘products of conception’, yet we can talk about burying them as an individual to be mourned. In the end I said yes to the operation and no to collecting the remains – whether this was the right decision is a question for a later post.

I’ll also save for another day the reactions of my husband and family. For now, let’s just say that I was blessed beyond words with the support of my husband that first day.

We went home, hours after arriving at the hospital, no longer pregnant, waiting for the bleeding and pain to start in earnest as we’d been warned they would. I’m not really sure what we did for the rest of that day – talked on the phone to our families and closest friends, sat and tried to relax, tried to eat and drink, tried to keep on going. I’m so glad I’m not in that place any more. 

The bleeding was heavy that night but manageable. It was stabilising to have a definitive answer but dreadful to be carrying my dead baby still. I simultaneously wanted this gruesome thing to get out of me, but also for it never to leave me. I cried until my eyes scratched and my cheeks ached, but I didn’t do a lot of actual thinking. 

One of the worst things was realising that this wasn’t going to be one awful day. Having a miscarriage is a long, arduous process that takes many months to recover from physically. I sometimes think that mental recovery will take the rest of my life. 

Tomorrow’s post: Grieving for my baby 

A new start

I started this blog last summer to try and connect with other women who were ahead of their friends in trying for a baby and who, like me, felt a bit isolated. Back then I was worried about losing my freedom and friendships, and I blogged about vitamins and back pain and exercise. It didn’t take off much, mainly because I didn’t stick at it very long – I got downcast because it took us five months to get pregnant. I know that’s not a lot, but I became focused on that number and the blog slipped to the back of my mind. And then, in October, we found out we were expecting – and I was so happy and so preoccupied that, again, the the blog wasn’t on my list of priorities.

We suffered a miscarriage in January at 10 weeks, and since then the way I feel about, well, everything, has changed.

I’ve got to a place where I feel I really need to write about it, and where I feel like I could have worthwhile things to share with other people in the same situation, instead of just tears. I could have started a new blog but I still think there’s useful stuff in the posts I made before, so please read them if you’re interested in preparing for pregnancy in general. But if, like me, miscarriage fills your thoughts so much more than you ever dreaded it would, then I hope there is something comforting or helpful in my experiences.

I haven’t found a miscarriage blog out there that I really like, that said things in the way I needed them to be said. The whole idea of a ‘miscarriage blog’ is maybe a misnomer, because nobody could possibly blog about it while it was happening – blogs like this have to be in retrospect. So it’s already an awkward concept. But in the whole gamut of emotions that people feel after losing a baby, apparently a compulsion to talk about it is one normal reaction – and that’s exactly how I feel. It’s hard to actually talk to friends and family as they often don’t want the gory details, both physical and emotional. The slight distance that a blog gives is perfect for that.

So, it’s going to be a bit of a traumatic thing to write, I think, but hopefully therapeutic too. I’ll be posting every day for the next week, so follow the story if you want to, whether you’re sitting at home in the dark depths of your grief or whether you feel like the light is there, at the end of the tunnel, but that sometimes you turn a dark corner and lose sight of it.

If you have lost a baby recently, all I can give you is my deepest sympathy, understanding and hopes for a better future.

Tomorrow’s blog: Losing my baby – dealing with the first day

Decaffeinated tea and coffee: unravelling the truth from the myths

It’s standard advice to drink less caffeine during pregnancy, and as part of my process of switching to a pregnancy diet while trying for a baby, I’ve replaced a lot of the caffeinated tea I drink with decaf. I don’t like coffee but I drink a massive quantity of tea – usually four or five huge mugs a day at work, and another at home in the evening. In normal mug terms, that’s probably getting on for seven or eight cups.

Both BBC Health and NHS Choices recommend that pregnant women drink no more than 200mg of caffeine per day. To put this in context, you can drink the following approximate amounts of tea and coffee:

  • 1.5 mugs of filter coffee
  • 2 mugs of instant coffee
  • 2.5 mugs of tea

There are also small amounts of caffeine in chocolate, and if you drink coke or other energy drinks then you need to factor this in too (the websites listed above contain breakdowns of the amount of caffeine in various different drinks).

So clearly my eight mugs of tea per day is way too much.

The answer to this seems really easy – I’ve started drinking a ‘real’ caffeinated tea first thing in the morning, and then switching to decaf for the rest of the day. Decaf tea still contains a little caffeine, but even with my high consumption I’d be well below the recommended 200mg per day (if you drink a lot of coffee you might still need to cut down, even on decaf). I tried a few different decaf teas, and my favourite by a mile was PG Tips – it’s my favourite for caffeinated tea too, and I could hardly tell the difference. I like herbal tea and I’m trying to replace some of my usual tea intake with that – luckily I hate green tea, which contains caffeine, although not so luckily I also don’t like the taste of rooibos, another naturally caffeine free option.

I thought it was all going swimmingly. Then, in my usual panic-stricken way, I started reading round to check that drinking too much decaf tea isn’t a problem in itself. And – oh no – I started finding articles like these:

It turns out there are three main ways of decaffeinating tea – using water, CO2 or this nasty-sounding dichloromethane system. The latter is the cheapest and easiest method and all the major tea manufacturers in the UK use it (according to the Twinings website), although in America it’s used less nowadays. I didn’t really want to spend a fortune sending off for expensive teas from abroad that use one of the other two techniques, so I looked into it further to find out how bad the chemical process really is.

I found a pretty well-balanced article in HealthyChild.org: yes dichloromethane is bad, but the amounts left in tea at the end of the decaffeination process are absolutely miniscule. Lab tests on rats (I’m not generally a fan of animal testing but that’s a story for another time) haven’t shown any negative results even at the rate of 70-80 cups of tea or coffee per day. Most sensible websites seem to back this up, like RateTea.com which says that modern decaffeination using this method leaves traces of the chemical well within safe limits. Unfortunately it’s pretty hard to find any really useful science on this topic as most refers to inhalation of dichloromethane in things like solvents and paint strippers – in which circumstance it’s definitely a bad thing.

I usually find that once I’ve done some research on this kind of topic, I’m confident making a decision one way or another. This one I’m finding a lot harder, because much of the information on the web is very emotively written – the decaffeination process seems to be a topic which evokes a lot of panic and bad science. It’s so hard to get hold of tea made with other methods, but once I’ve finished my current supply of PG decaf I might try to find some that’s not going to bankrupt me – and in the mean time I’ll carry on as I am.

In the long run I’m benefitting my baby-to-be by not drinking caffeine, and I don’t want to give up tea entirely because it’s one of my biggest pleasures! Stopping drinking alcohol, cutting down on oily fish and reducing my caffeine intake were easy decisions because all the science and health advice is in agreement. When it comes to stopping drinking decaf tea, I feel like this is an area in which self-sacrifice for the sake of making my body the healthiest possible place to grow a baby might be misplaced. For now, I’m going to trust that the scientists and manufacturers have got things right and that the limits they’ve imposed for safe consumption really are safe.

Is there a “best time of year” to have a baby?

I did my second pregnancy test at the weekend – still negative – and then started my period pretty much straight afterwards. So doing the test was a big fat waste of money, and on top of that I had to endure the misery of a second purple line still not appearing. It wasn’t the best start to my Sunday morning!

One of the reasons that I hoped I would get pregnant in the first couple of months of trying is that I always wanted a spring baby. To me, it seems like there must be a reason that everything gives birth in the spring – lambs, chicks, even plants. In nature it’s because the world is getting warmer and the weather is getting calmer, so small, vulnerable things are more likely to survive. Imagine if a little lamb was born in the depths of winter – it would be impossible for its mother to keep it warm and well fed. And vice versa, if it was born in the height of summer, it would be difficult for the mother to keep it cool and well hydrated. I have all the advantages of civilisation to help me care for a baby at any time of year, but I still like to do things the natural way where I can.

So now here we are in the middle of August. If I get pregnant this month my baby will be born at the end of May – that’s perfect. For family reasons it’s perfect too, as my Mum is a sixth form teacher and by May she’s pretty much finished for the term. She and I would both love it if she could take some time off to come and be with us and our baby in the early summer.

But if it takes another couple of months then we’re well into June and July. I just want it to happen for us this month, really desperately.

Part of it is selfish, I have to admit. Even though English summers are hardly renowned for their balmy sunshine, sometimes it gets really hot and humid, especially down here in the South-East. I hate being hot – I’m definitely a winter person – and I don’t want to stagger about, nine months pregnant, feeling miserable and sweaty in July or August. I’d much rather be heavily pregnant in the cool of spring.

But is there more to it than that? Is there a ‘best time of year’ to have a baby in terms of optimising education and development? Articles like this one in the Daily Telegraph make me stressed out – August is apparently the worst month to have a baby because the child will always be the youngest in the year, and will therefore lag behind his or her peers both intellectually and physically. There are even scary statistics about August babies being 4% less likely to go to University.

I try to rationalise this by telling myself that it does seem very subjective, depending on the child in question. My husband has pointed out that, as a September baby and the eldest in his year (and a total swot, it has to be said) he sometimes felt like he was held back by some of his classmates – maybe if he’d been young in the year instead he would have been more stretched and challenged.

Added to the issue of subjectivity is the fact that I’ve found lots of other articles which say entirely contradictory things: for example inThe Independent (“Babies born in winter are bigger, brighter and more successful“) and Metro (“Winter babies ‘face a sadder life’ as adults“). None of the research is very conclusive, and most makes only vague attempts to explain the findings in terms in terms of socio-economic factors or seasonal changes in diet and the mother’s mood.

When it comes down to it, I think that beggars can’t be choosers. I desperately want a baby, and if it happens this month that will be wonderful. But if I can have a healthy child, I don’t think I’ll care in which month he or she is born. Whichever one it is, it’ll be the best month for us.

How much fish should I eat during pregnancy and conception?

I’m a pescatarian, which means I eat fish but no other kinds of meat, and I would hate to give up eating it. For a start, it’s delicious! But more importantly, it’s really, really good for me, especially as I don’t get protein from other kinds of meat.

Eating more fish is one of the NHS website’s top eight tips on on eating healthily – as well as lean protein, fish contains lots of vitamins and minerals, omega-3 fatty acids and fish oils which help brain and eye development, reduce inflammation and help prevent cardiovascular disease. It’s just a great source of so much good nutrition.

As is so often the case, however, we humans have managed to mess things up by polluting the world around us – in this case we’ve polluted the seas with mercury and other heavy metals, mainly (according to Wikipedia) from coal power stations and chlorine production plants. The Wikipedia page on Mercury in Fish has a comprehensive table on which fish absorb the most mercury – tilefish, swordfish and shark are the worst and luckily they’re not commonly eaten in England. In general oily fish are higher up the table, and white fish are lower (but that’s only a rough guide).

The human body is usually able to eliminate this mercury, but it can be toxic to foetuses, damaging their nervous systems. This is a deeply horrible thought, and when you consider that raw fish such as shellfish are also not recommended as they can cause food poisoning, I imagine most people’s first reaction (and mine too) is to steer miles clear of anything that’s been anywhere near the sea.

We need to be really careful about having that reaction, though, because when I read more about it, omega-3 is really important for a developing baby – according to a 2007 study (summarised in lots of news articles at the time including on the BBC and Guardian websites) it boosts intellect, improves social skills and even benefits eyesight, among lots of other things. Plus, there are all the vitamins, minerals and proteins to consider – all of these are good for nourishing a baby, and we all know that it’s much more effective to get them through diet rather than supplements.

All this conflicting information might seem very confusing, but actually it’s in line with what the usual sources of information on diet during pregnancy recommend – you should carry on eating fish, but in moderation. The brilliantly thorough NHS webpage on fish and shellfish sums this up, and I’m going to paste a big chunk of it here so you have it to hand:

“Eating fish is good for your health and the development of your baby. But pregnant women should avoid some types of fish and limit the amount they eat of some others.

When pregnant, you can reduce your risk of food poisoning by avoiding raw shellfish. Below is advice from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition and the Committee on Toxicity about eating fish when trying to get pregnant, or when pregnant or breastfeeding:

  • Shark, swordfish and marlin: do not eat these if you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant. All other adults, including breastfeeding women, should eat no more than one portion per week. This is because these fish can contain more mercury than other types of fish, and this can damage a developing baby’s nervous system.
  • Oily fish: if you are trying for a baby, pregnant or breastfeeding, you should have no more than two portions of oily fish a week. A portion is around 140 grams.
  • Canned tuna: if you are trying for a baby or are pregnant, you should have no more than four cans of tuna a week. This is because tuna contains higher levels of mercury than other fish. If you are breastfeeding, there is no limit on how much canned tuna you can eat.

Even though I’m still not pregnant yet (*sob*) I’m trying to get into these good habits now so I’m ready to enjoy a healthy and safe pregnancy diet.

My first proper pregnancy test – and it was negative.

For the last couple of weeks I have been watching entirely too much TV – I live near London and I’ve been totally absorbed by the Olympic Games. As a result I have been appallingly neglecting this blog, but I’m back up and running now!

I did my first real pregnancy test yesterday – and it was negative. Last month I started my period so I didn’t have to do one then. As I’ve mentioned, my periods can be very irregular so it’s pretty difficult to tell the best time to do a test – the packet says the test works from the first day of your missed period. If I had “normal” 28 day cycles my period should have started yesterday, but to be honest it could be anything up to six weeks.

Now I’m in a weird limbo state where I haven’t started my period, but the test was negative – I don’t know whether it was just too soon for the test, or whether my period is just being its normal unpredictable self. I really envy women who are regular, and for whom being two or three days late is exciting. For me it’s just tiresome – and also expensive because I’m inevitably going to waste lots of pregnancy tests. I’m going to wait a week before I do another one otherwise I’ll be bankrupt rather than pregnant!

The whole process of doing the test was very odd. Exciting, but also disconcerting. If you’ve never done one before, tests come in lots of varieties – there are cheap and cheerful ones, right up to amazingly complex digital ones. I have bought a bunch of the cheap ones, and one expensive digital one which I’m going to save until one of the cheap ones says I’m pregnant. Then I can use the expensive one to make sure! With the cheap ones, you have to wee on the end of a little stick – the part you have to get wet is ridiculously small! Then you leave it for three minutes – a little purple line appears to show that the test is working, and then if you’re pregnant a second purple line appears between three and fifteen minutes later.

The most reliable time to test is meant to be the first time you go to the loo in the morning, because then the concentration of the pregnancy hormone that the test detects – hCG – is higher. Inevitably I forgot first thing in the morning, but I couldn’t resist taking the test that day – I don’t want to find out I’m pregnant on a weekday morning and then have to go to work and pretend that everything’s normal! So I just went ahead and did the test – it wasn’t exactly a vary reliable attempt. Hence the weird limbo – I could still be pregnant. I just want an answer one way or another!

Waiting to see whether the little purple line would appear was bizarre. You have to keep the test still while it’s working, so my husband and I leant over the side of the sink where it was sitting and just watched it. I felt really excited at the possibilities, but also I didn’t feel like it was going to be positive – maybe my body knows that it isn’t pregnant. Or maybe I was just feeling pessimistic that day. Either way I am second guessing my every feeling, even though I know stressing about it is going to make conception less likely, not more.

After three minutes we went away, assuming it was negative – I checked again at 15 miniutes and then threw it away, but I had a final peek hours later while it was in the bin. I can’t help but wonder which test will be the one that brings the good news.

The worse thing is, if I haven’t started my period by then, I’ll have to go through the whole emotional palaver again in a week.

“Trying for a baby”: the most unhelpful term ever

My husband and I are into our second month of trying for a baby. The longer it takes us to get pregnant, the more I hate that term – to me, trying without succeeding equals failing.

The fact that you have to “try” for a baby makes it seem like like hard work, rather than something exciting with a lovely outcome to look forward to at the end of it. It puts the emphasis on the negative rather than the positive. If you’re an athlete at the start line of an Olympic race, the last thing you want is someone saying: “Right, you’ve done all this hard work and preparation, and now all you have to do is start trying.” You’ve been trying all along – trying to get your body in the best shape, trying to break bad habits, trying to keep your relationship on the strongest footing, trying to get as much from your pre-baby career and life as you can. And now the trying really starts, with the possibility you might not succeed at the end of it? How depressing. The word “trying” is a synonym for tiresome, difficult and stressful (eg “it’s been a trying time”) – and it still has that connotation even when it isn’t used as an adjective.

My Mum and Dad tell an awful story about some friends of theirs who had been trying for a baby for about a year, when they were all in their twenties. Mum and Dad asked them sympathetically how they were doing, whether they’d had any good news yet, and the man said, “No, we’re still slogging away”. Slogging away! Everyone was embarrassed and upset when he said it, but in lots of ways I understand him – I don’t see it like that myself and I’m lucky that things are so great between me and my husband, but society makes us all feel that trying for a baby is a “slog”, a protracted and difficult process. And a lot of that feeling comes from the word “trying”.

It’s not that I resent that you have to be committed to it, or the fact that “trying” for a baby might take some time. All that is part and parcel of the experience, and if it was easy and required no sacrifices or fears it wouldn’t be such an exciting and life-changing adventure.

Maybe it should be called “waiting” for a baby, or “hoping”. That’s a bit more how I want it to feel. My husband and I understand all the days when we could be most fertile, and all the reasons why we might not conceive in a given month, and so really we’re just waiting for exactly the right combination of timing and circumstance. We’re waiting for everything to be just right. And isn’t that a more positive attitude? You’ve done all the preparation and hard work, and now you’re waiting – like waiting for Christmas with an advent calendar. It’s exciting and fun and you’re filled with anticipation of good things. Not bogged down in “trying” hard work.

Anyway, back to the practicalities of the matter – my husband and I are still waiting. My cycle has never been particularly regular, so it’s hard for us to know exactly the most fertile days – maybe there’s a bit more of an element of chance for us than there is for a couple where the woman operates like 28 day clockwork. So we have a period of about a week mid-month where we’ve got even more motivation than normal to be ridiculously in love with each other. We’re in that period now (woohoo!) and I’m hyper-aware of every single thing going on in my body – is it a sign? Has it happened? Has a little egg been fertilised? I know there’s no way I’d be able to feel anything or know anything within one or two days of conception, so it’s purely in my over active imagination.

For now, then, we’ll keep on being excited, and try not let the process feel stressful and strewn with obstacles. And I’ll tell people that we are waiting and hoping for a baby.