Friday, 18 September 2015

Autumn is coming, but my baby isn't

As August drew to a close, I pulled back the curtains one morning to see a fresh layer of condensation on the window and smell that cool, fresh scent that comes with a drop in temperature as the seasons start to shift. My immediate thought was, 'Autumn is coming, but my baby isn't.' I hadn't been thinking about the baby that we lost a few months ago, but the loss was still there, simmering just below the surface. I had thought that this Autumn would be characterised by nesting, third trimester growth, and preparing meals to fill our freezer to help us through the Winter months with a newborn. With the first signs of cool temperatures and condensation, I was reminded that Autumn will look completely different to what I was anticipating. There won't be a big baby bump, but it will still be beautiful.

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In April this year, we found out that we were expecting another baby, due to be born on 29th December 2015. At the start of June, when I was nine weeks pregnant, I lost the baby. In the weeks that followed, I experienced the loving kindness of the precious women in my life who have sadly experienced the loss of a baby too. These women, they know what to say in a way that others do not, because their hearts have walked this path before.

At the first sign of miscarriage, I did not panic. I read about my symptoms and found it entirely unhelpful that they could occur in a completely healthy pregnancy, but they could also be indicative of miscarriage. How could it be that the losing of a life could look so similar to a healthy pregnancy?
After speaking with a fantastic GP, I decided to go for an early scan to determine what was happening. In England, if you suspect you are experiencing a miscarriage before 13 weeks, you have to go to an Early Pregnancy drop in clinic, take a number and wait your turn for a scan. The experience was slightly surreal, so to cope with it, I did what I needed to do - write it out:

'I walked into this room full of women. Some with partners, some without. I got there early in the hope that I would be one of the first to be seen and I am slightly taken aback by the heat in the room and how many women there are already here. Is it that I just want to be the first to be seen so my worries can be affirmed or allayed? Or is it that I don't want to sit in a room full of women waiting to hear whether or not the tiny heart in their womb is still beating? The TV is on, talking about coffee and if we really need it to help us wake up. A woman shares how she started drinking coffee when she was eleven and has thirty cups a day. 'Wow. Ironic', I think, 'we are all here because we might have lost our babies, and excessive caffeine consumption in pregnancy can increase the likelihood of miscarriage.'
The couple next to me are doing a crossword. I'm not sure I have the focus to think about word clues when I'm wondering if I am losing my baby. But everyone copes differently, and perhaps this is their coping strategy. 

Two hours passed and as I lay on the bed while the sonographer scanned my womb, I turned my head so I could see her screen. ‘It’s not like the room where you go when all is ok. They make it easy for you to see your baby there’, I thought to myself. ‘They don’t want you to see what you already know to be true. That your womb is going to be empty soon.’ She turned the screen so that I could no longer try and decipher what was happening inside of me with the help of the sonogram. I was at the mercy of her words. Just as the doctor had warned me, the sonographer tried to offer false hope. ‘I can’t see the heartbeat, but we’d like you to come back next week. We might be able to see it then…’ I pushed her to talk frankly with me. I didn’t want false hope. I wanted to know if I was losing my baby. She could not confirm, but I knew. 

They asked me to wait in the corridor. I had no idea what I was waiting for. All I knew is that I was losing my baby, even though she wouldn’t say those words to me. I wanted to walk out of the hospital right there and then. I knew that if I sat for more than a minute with these thoughts, the tears would come. I wanted to feel the weight of sadness, but not here. Not right next to another woman who was worried about her baby, frantically texting goodness knows who. I wanted to breathe fresh air and hold my daughter. I didn’t want to cry into her muslin in the hospital corridor. But that is what I did, because I couldn’t hold back my tears. And all I could hear was the sonographer and the nurse talking about their boyfriends and what they were doing that weekend. ‘There is nothing sombre about their conversation, and yet they are spending their days confirming or allaying women’s fears. Has this kind of news become normal to them? This has to be someone’s job, and they are the ones that have chosen to do this.’

They gave me the slip with an appointment for my follow up scan the next week, along with a dose of false hope that all would be ok, but all I wanted was to have my yellow book back – the one that would tell the story of my pregnancy, labour and birth. I didn’t want this to be the end of the story in that yellow book. I wanted to carry it with me to all of my midwife appointments. But I knew that I wouldn’t be seeing that yellow book again. Not for this baby.

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Even though I knew that I would lose this baby, I was completely in the dark as to what to expect. I don't know that this is necessarily the normal experience for other women who experience a miscarriage in the first trimester of pregnancy, but I have realised that a lot of people are in the dark when it comes to knowing about and talking about miscarriage. It just added to the horror of the experience to go through the physical loss of the baby not knowing what to expect.

When I was pregnant with Ruby, one of the things I marvelled at time and again, was that my womb was the safest place for her to be for the first fourty weeks of her life. It felt like a privilege that I got to carry this baby, and entirely miraculous that my body gave her everything she needed until she was ready to come and join us. So to be pregnant and know that for some reason, your baby is not ok and there is nothing you can do to protect it – that even your womb is not enough on this occasion – is the ultimate lesson in knowing that we are not in control.

I didn't want them to leave. The tiny baby that had taken up residence in my womb did not stay put for long enough for us to get to know them.When someone dies, there is a great grief over the loss of a heart that was known and deeply loved. When a baby is conceived but does not survive, there is still a grief attached, but for me, it felt more like loss than grief. We lost the opportunity of ever getting to know who that little person was. I lost the opportunity to feed and nurture them; to snuggle my baby and listen to their tiny short breaths that are so, so precious. They were there, and then they were gone.

The experience of labouring and not delivering a baby at the end of it is deeply saddening. The labour pains really did correlate with the emotional loss of knowing that we wouldn’t get to meet this baby. But this story would not be complete if I didn't share how aware I was throughout the process of losing our baby of God's peace and presence. In the thick of the contractions, I knew His peace in a tangible way. One of the Bible verses that I have known off by heart for many years, speaks of God's peace:

'Do not be anxious about anything. But in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.' (Philippians 4 v 6.)

Even though I knew these words, it wasn't until I experienced losing a baby that I really knew what they meant in an experiential way; here I was going through one of the most traumatic physical experiences of my life, and yet, I knew peace. It makes no rational sense that peace would be tangible in trauma, and that is exactly why it is the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding. God's kindness and grace, and the prayers of friends, have made a huge difference to how I might have otherwise coped with the sadness of losing a baby.

7 comments:

  1. Such a courageous story to share Hannah, I'm so deeply sorry for your loss. Please give my love to your lovely family. Annie.

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  2. Thanks so much for being so brave and sharing this. We've also lost a baby and the silence is the worst thing. No one knows how to talk about it so you grieve alone. Every person who tells their story makes everyone else feel a little less alone so thank you xxx

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    1. Oh Nicola, I am so sorry to hear that you and Ben have been through the pain and heartache of losing a baby. People really do find it difficult to talk about, and I wonder how much of a British thing of being uncomfortable with talking about personal & painful things, or if it's just a human reaction to pain...? I hope that my story has made you feel a little less alone. Sending you so much love, xxx

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  3. Thanks so much for being so brave and sharing this. We've also lost a baby and the silence is the worst thing. No one knows how to talk about it so you grieve alone. Every person who tells their story makes everyone else feel a little less alone so thank you xxx

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  4. Sending you lots of love Hannah, you have shared you sadness and grief in a deeply touching way that gave me a glimpse of what such a traumatic time can feel like. Thank you for your courage. God bless you xxxxx

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    1. Thank you Clare for your kind words : )

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