This post has been on the draft dashboard of my blog for a while. Since March 6th, in fact. I’ve toyed with not posting it, but having never written about it before, not even in my diary, I thought I may as well. Although it’s not gory or even describes a particularly horrible one, it might make difficult reading for anyone who’s suffered a miscarriage, so I guess just be aware.
On 6 March 2005 I miscarried mine and The Boss’s first baby. It was Mother’s Day (oh the irony) and I was in the middle of announcing to my own mum that I was pregnant when I started to miscarry.
It’s fair to say it devastated me at the time, but now, with 3 little minxes under my feet and in my arms, and the passage of 6 loooooong years, I can remember and not cry. But it’s a day that’s forever burned into my heart, perhaps because it changed the course of my life. Sounds overly dramatic? Not really, I’ll show you the evidence in a sec, but for now I really feel the need to write about it, in enormous detail. So skip to the last paragraph if you like.
I discovered I was pregnant in the February. Me and The Boss were courting and had spent a long weekend in Paris, visiting one of my brothers. I was a bit suspicious that I might be pregnant, but it didn’t stop me quaffing a million espressos – I’d never heard of the link between excess caffeine and miscarriage back then. I took a pregnancy test the night we got back, and remember being a mix of horrified and agog at seeing the extra little line come up. Me and The Boss kept giggling and telling each other, “Oh my God, you’re going to be a Daddy/Mummy!”
I didn’t tell anyone, but thought about it constantly. I was just short of a merit promition at work and been given the nod for at least one more. I was finally happy with where I was in life and where I was going. A baby really didn’t come into those plans, and really didn’t fit. And I wasn’t *seriously* courting The Boss, was I? We were just having a laugh. And creating another human would put a stop to that: we’d be linked for life. But after a while, the thought of a Baby Boss or Baby Trout became less frightening and actually quite appealing. The Boss came with me to an appointment with the GP who wished us good luck. Good luck? What had luck to do with it? We were going to be parents around about Hallowe’en, weren’t we? We nicknamed the little embryo ‘Monster’ (31 Oct due date) and started to get excited. I started devouring pregnancy books and cleaned up my act (no caffeine, no alcohol).
I decided to tell my family on the Sunday of Mother’s Day. My mum had been hassling me to produce grandchildren for her for years. “When Hell freezes over” was my usual retort. So after telling my sister and one of my brothers first, to test the water, I called my mum, announcing, “Happy Mother’s Day – Hell’s just frozen over”. She was pretty excited, but when I confessed that I was having a lot of abdominal pain, she started to sound less excited.
“Mum, I’ll call you back – I’m just going to get a painkiller”, I remember telling her. When I nipped to the loo and saw all the bright red blood, I recall feeling like I’d split into 2 people, and was observing myself. I could hear a really strange moaning wailing noise and it took a while to register that it was coming from me. It was hard to hear anyway, past the thundering sound of my heartbeat. I couldn’t see properly because the world got blurry round the edges and I couldn’t focus on anything except the blood. I’d never been properly hysterical before, so I found ‘losing it’ very frightening.
After a bit, I phoned The Boss, who was away on a climbing trip. He offered to drop everything and come back, but what was the point? He was 5 hrs drive away. So I called NHS Direct, as I was bewildered and didn’t have a clue what to do. I was bleeding very heavily – would it stop? Would it get heavier still? Did I need any medical treatment? Was there anything I could do to stop it? Was there any possibility my wee precious embryo was still there?
I’m not a crier, so the constant unstoppable tears overwhelmed me, as much as my own wee tragedy. The first lady I spoke to cried too as I wailed, “I’m all on my own and I just don’t know what to do!” A doctor phoned me back. When I answered, he was still eating something. Perhaps I rudely disturbed him in the middle of his Sunday lunch? But why phone when you’ve got your mouth full of food? I don’t know, perhaps he was just plain rude.“So I hear you’ve had a miscarriage. Yes?” he said “Em, yes” I gulped. “And?” he asked, brusquely “And…?” I prompted. “Well, why are you calling?” he sighed. “Em, I didn’t call you, you phoned me back? I called NHS Direct for advice because I’ve never had a miscarriage and I don’t know what to do. I’m about 7 weeks,” I explained. “Treat it like a period and take paracetamol for any pain. Anything else?” he (quite frankly) barked. “Um, do I need a scan or anything in case the baby’s still there?” I squeaked, ever the optimist. “No. See your own doctor if you don’t stop bleeding in a week. Goodbye”. And he was gone.
That conversation then made me wonder if I was being stupid feeling so hurt? I got the impression that my expected reaction should have been, “oh well, better break out the sanitary towels. Now, what’s for dinner?” So I called my mum back, then my sister and brother and ‘untold’ them.
And there started the bit that everyone who has a miscarriage gets. The stumbling, well-meaning but hurtful words. My sister had recently suffered a missed miscarriage, so I leaned on her heavily. She gave me some brilliant advice (eg don’t go searching your pants for the embryo. You could end up mistakenly breaking your heart over a stupid piece of womb lining. Just don’t look, there’s no point). My mum wasn’t as sympathetic as I needed, but I suppose we’d stopped being close when I was about 8. My brother, however, reduced me to laughter. He kept trying to say ‘the right thing’, but it was so the totally wrong thing that eventually it got funny. Example.“You can have another baby, you know” (But I wanted THIS one! And anyway, who says I can? I’ve never been pregnant before and I’ve utterly failed. Maybe I’m miscarrying because I can’t have kids?) “It wasn’t meant to be” (how do you know? Says who? Are you God? And if You are, why the hell did You take my baby?) “Oh it wasn’t a baby, it was just some cells” (maybe in your reality. But in my mind’s eye, it was a beautiful little girl with long blonde hair, and I watched her take her first steps and call me Mummy every single night this week) “You weren’t really sure you wanted to be a mum, anyway” (that was before. I wanted to be a Mummy to *this* baby) “It was early days” (yes. See my answer to 3 above. And I’ve thought of nothing else for a few weeks, so it feels like I’ve been pregnant forever) “It wasn’t alive” (so why am I feeling deep grief for its death?) “There was probably something wrong with it anyway” (so not only have you raised the spectre that I might not be able to have kids at all, you’re also waving around the possibility that I might not be able to have healthy children? And anyway, I’m not frightened of a disabled child!)
After a while, when my sobs started mixing up with quashed giggles and my brother’s awkwardness got too hard to bear, I thanked him for trying to make me feel better. Bless, at least he tried! For me, it was better that someone said the wrong thing than said nothing at all.
I didn’t go into work the next day. The Boss had lost his job only on the Friday before, so he did the necessary phonecalls, including giving our friends who were coming to stay overnight a heads-up that although I really wanted them still to come, I might not be my usual self… We went out for a supermarket run for something to do, and I managed to look at all the thousands of pregnant women and newborns and held it together reasonably well. Until I passed a field of tiny lambs.
I will forever associate newborn lambs with my children. I remember looking at those little ground-clouds of wobbly fluffiness, thinking, “Everyone’s having babies except me. Even the bloody sheep!” As it happens, my 3 minxes were eventually born around lambing time (end Feb, March, early April), as were The Boss and I.
Anyway, back to the well-meaning Stabbing Words. My boss from work visited that evening, which was very kind of him.
“I know you’re not a flowers kind of girl, J, so we got you these”. Two bottles of wine. To drown my sorrows?! Actually, this would have been a good time for flowers, you know.
“Take as long as you need off, that’s no problem, we can call it compassionate leave. Do you think you might be back this week?” Um, let’s wait till I can go half an hour without bursting into tears. It kind of frightens the students, you know. Makes them think analysis and design is a bit scary.
“Um, so what have you missed at work? Oh yeah, P’s wife had her baby at last, Sunday afternoon, big boy…” I didn’t really hear the rest. Wow, so my friend’s son was born at the same time as my baby died. I think The Boss noticed I was shaking hard again, and quite firmly but kindly manoeuvred my work boss to the door.
I went back to work 2 days later, as I needed the distraction and was fairly confident in my acting skills to appear completely normal. On seeing me, my boss’s boss called over the crowded office, “I didn’t even know you were pregnant! Ah, so you’ll be wanting to have babies, now?” Ouch! I shrugged non-commitally. A colleague cornered me at tea-break and quietly told me that he and his wife had lost their second baby to miscarriage but had had 3 more. “You’ll be ok, J”, he comforted. The head of the place caught me on my own and came over to offer his commiserations. He’d sent a very thoughtfully worded card to The Boss and I the previous day (I still have it – I was comforted by his kindness). He told me, “I know how you feel. It’s happened to me, too, a few times. Hurts like hell, doesn’t it? I’m really sorry”. I worked in a completely male environment and really didn’t know how they would react to the news. However I was very touched at how my friends managed to express their sympathies with me, but also not dwell on it, and how gently they made me feel still part of the gang.
My doctor, though, managed to magically make things a lot better and more bearable. When I had to see him over something else, he asked how the pregnancy was going. On hearing that I’d lost it, he closed his eyes tightly, touched my arm and exclaimed, “Oh, bad luck!” I don’t know, there was just something about those 3 words that just did it for me. I guess they kind of summed up that sometimes these things happen and we don’t know why and never will. Sometimes these things happen and they’re not your fault. Sometimes these things happen and it feels bloody horrible, but it’s not the end of your life.
Since then, I’ve tried not to mark the day. I’ve really tried. Up till then, 6 was my lucky number (every time I won anything or succeeded in anything, 6 was a big factor – eg I was candidate or contestant 6, or it was the 6th of the month). I stopped believing in lucky numbers. So that was a positive change! I always think of my little lost embryo on Mother’s Day as well as 6th March. I’ve stopped wondering what s/he would have been like, because I have 3 beautiful smart daughters who show me every day. I didn’t light a candle or plant a flower or anything like that to mark the event. Anyway, how would I have felt if the plant had then died? Though I do admit to making sure I plant *something* on that date, and try not to associate said plant with the miscarriage. I think it’s more that I’m trying to nurture something.
How did a miscarriage change things? Well, my hormones went a bit mental and I got incredibly desperate to be pregnant again. The feeling wouldn’t go away. The Boss admitted that although he was sad that our baby was lost, he was also a little bit relieved. The resulting honest discussions about how we both fundamentally felt about babies, children and our hoped-for paths through life in general showed me new sides to the man that I liked and respected. Experiencing how he looked after me taught me that he was a keeper. So I did (keep him. And marry him 8 months later).
Having a miscarriage meant that I never relaxed and just enjoyed any of my subsequent pregnancies: I always worried about something going wrong. Had I not gotten pregnant then, I wonder if I ever would have had children? I certainly wasn’t that bothered about becoming a mother, and loved my single, care-free (ie self-centred and childish!) life. I think that sudden, hormonally-drive urge to have children after miscarrying perhaps prompted me to have 3 (and I’d have happily had 4 or more had I not suffered so badly with hyperemesis gravidarum. And had I been able to cope with 3. And had I been younger than 40!).
So. From hard-working, hard-drinking, hard-playing career woman to stay-at-home mum with 3 ankle-biters but no job and no career in 6 years. Was it down to miscarrying my first? Would I have gone all maternal anyway? Who knows? But I tell you what, I work a hell of a lot harder and longer now, though I feel a lot happier, like my life’s been worthwhile after all. Which is a bit of a bonus, eh?