My new house and its ghosts

My lack of posting at the moment can be explained by the fact that we are in the midst of moving house. This has been going on for months and months and it’s been an epic struggle to finally exchange contracts today! The whole thing has seemed to represent the whole rest of my life at the moment – everything I plan goes wrong. Everything I want falls through.

But enough of the negativity. I’m really trying to be positive, and this is a good step in the right direction. Something has worked out! Maybe everything else will too.

The problem is that our new house has three bedrooms. One for us, and a spare room. And then the little tiny room that overlooks the garden. The one that was going to be the nursery.

So far, every time I’ve been in the room I’ve wept over the ghost it holds. I know we’ve got to use it for something else for now at least, until (hopefully) some day I’m pregnant again. But I almost can’t bear to call it ‘the study’. It’s still my baby’s room, in my heart. I want to put a cot in it, not a desk. I want to put a little chest full of baby clothes in the corner, not a filing cabinet. I’m planning to paint it beige – not to make it minimalist and neutral, but so I can add teddy stencils to the walls some day.

And amidst all this I know I have to be sensible and not worry about another month passing by, another month closer to my due date, another month where a little tiny life isn’t growing inside me still. I’m doing so much better – the house has been a great distraction. I want to enjoy it and have a fun time moving – and I’m sure we will do.

But in the middle of my lovely new house, full of our things and our tastes and our love, is an empty nursery, empty like my womb and my heart.

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I’m halfway through my pregnant colleague’s last day

It’s my colleague’s last day today before her maternity leave starts. I found out that we’d lost our baby just after she announced to everyone that she was pregnant, and the awfulness of that has been intensified by her sadness and worry over the fact that they’ve seen on the scans that her baby has a cleft palate. There have been times when I wanted to shake her and tell her not to be so stupid – a cleft palate is nothing major nowadays and she still had a lovely healthy baby inside her! Alive and well and just with a tiny fixable problem. What wouldn’t I do for that? Doesn’t she know what a gift it is? 

I made it almost all the way through our little mini party for her today before I lost it. Even though I was standing right next to her, I looked at my feet and bit my lip, and coped with all the laughing and smiling and joking about how late her first baby was, and how she’s so huge that our boss has been wondering if he should keep clean towels and warm water on permanent standby. I even made it through all the good wishes for her to have a lovely maternity leave with her growing family. I was feeling lost and a bit poleaxed, but I thought I was doing OK.

It was the present we’d bought her that opened the floodgates – I hadn’t seen what had been bought with all our contributions. It was a lovely Cath Kidston bag with a built in little changing mat. I just looked at it and imagined her little baby lying on it, and her carrying it around filled with baby things. My eyes swam and my chin wobbled. Luckily my colleague who knows my whole saga saw that I was losing it and got me out. 

All I could think about as I sat in the corner office sobbing my eyes out was all the things people would have said if I’d been six months pregnant now, like I should be. All the jokes that would have been made. “There’s something in the water in this office…” “You’re going to bankrupt us with all the baby presents we have to buy!” “Anyone else want to tell us anything?” 

It would have been fun. Me and my bump and a little kicking baby inside would have glowed with happiness that it would be us soon. 

As it is, it’s just me, sitting back at my desk, feeling empty and barren and wishing it could have been me too. It should have been me too. 

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