While I had never considered myself as particularly maternal, when the time came and we decided to give the parenting gig a try, I was 100 percent on board.
I read everything I could get my hands on, took the iron and folate pills to prepare my body for the job it would have ahead of it. It seemed pretty straight forward; eat well, exercise etc, the usual stuff.
After trying to fall pregnant for a couple of months, my sister in law announced that she was pregnant! We had no idea that she was even trying, so it was great to have an open ear and a common interest. As luck would have it, within a few weeks we were announcing that we too, had a womb dweller. It was really good, comparing symptoms, complaining about exhaustion, and as a woman who has no genetic sisters, I was enjoying the shared experience.
I was reading the obligatory, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” book, eagerly following the month by month progress of our baby as it grew and developed. I was no doubt driving those around me insane with my tunnel vision and lack of anything else to talk about!
I met with my new obstetrician and loved the visits, even producing that damn urine sample, and finding out how much my weight had increased. It was all a series of steps along the much traversed pathway to parenthood. We began the pre-natal education sessions after taking tours of all the local maternity wards. I happily accepted all the little samples of creams and lotions, information sheets, taking them home to read over and over again.
When I was about 16 weeks pregnant, my sister in law and her husband went for their routine 18 week ultrasound and dropped in to our house on the way home to show us. It was fascinating, the measurements, and the swishes of movement that you tried to decipher into a bit of the baby! Ultrasounds have come a long, long way since then! I recall being very happy for them, and keen for us to see ours in a few weeks time.
Not long after, I began to feel detached from the pregnancy. Like it was not really true, and everyone who talked with me about it no longer made me excited. I woke up one morning, to discover I had begun to lactate, my pyjamas were wet. Investigating my books, I discovered that was not entirely uncommon, so dismissed it pretty quickly.
I had my ultrasound booked at 19 weeks. The few days before it, I found myself responding to the repeated questions of, “I bet you are excited to be seeing your baby” with dismissive comments, saying things like, “Well, we will see if there really IS a baby in there, because I am not convinced”. It was weird; I had become emotionally detached from this process, when a month earlier it was all I could think about.
On the day of the ultrasound, I was incredibly nervous and agitated. Chris was his usual calm self, happy to be getting a glimpse of his unborn child. I just felt sick in the pit of my stomach. I was experiencing an incredibly heavy feeling of dread as I sat there.
I climbed up onto the bed, looking straight up at the ceiling, noticing the air vent in the plaster was slightly dislodged and dusty. I can still, 23 years later, remember that with incredible clarity. The gel was cold, it made me flinch and brought my attention back to the reason we were there. I turned my head a little to see the screen, as the technician began moving the ultrasound probe over my belly. “Ah, here is your baby…” she said.
The way she trailed off at the end brought the dread back to the forefront of my mind. She said nothing else for a while, just kept moving to look at different things. Quietly, she said, “I will just take some measurements, ok?” I could not speak; I knew something was not ok. I had watched enough shows to know that these visits were happy, full of joyful exclamations. I felt like I had insufficient air around me to breathe. After a few long minutes, she put the ultrasound probe down, put her hand on my arm, and gently said, “I am so sorry, but I cannot find your baby’s heartbeat.”
I wanted to scream, run from the reality. Instead, I did what I always did. I apologised to her, for having to tell me that. She was unsure of what to say to that. I remember very little about the rest of the visit. I went to the toilet, came back into the room to find she was on the phone to my obstetrician. She handed me the phone, and again, I apologised. For interrupting his dinner. Because I was still at a stage in my life where I felt responsible for other people’s discomfort. I was asked if I was bleeding. No, not at all. A little “maybe there is a chance” hope flickered past me. We were told to come into his office the next morning, just before it normally opened.
We drove home, silent. I had never seen my husband so pale. Normally fairly quiet, he was speechless. Once we got home I filled the silence, told him we should let some people know, I would need to let my work know. I called my supervisor first, that poor lady. Imagine getting that call? We called my sister in law, her husband even cried. My heart was physically hurting, but I was too busy making everyone else feel the best that they could. I lay awake for most of the night, silently crying. I have never cried that much before. I had no idea what I needed. I know that I was feeling so sick, knowing my baby was dead, inside me. I had a dead baby in me, and I wanted it out. If it was out I could forget, push the pain away. I lay there, my throat aching, my heart in pieces, soaking my pillow, trying not to wake my husband.
I showered the next morning, noting more milk. I know now, that this is common when a baby dies in utero. It is hormonal; the pregnancy has ended, so the next thing is for the body to create milk. Only in this case it was wasted.
We drove, filling the air with small talk, to my obstetrician’s office. The receptionist was expecting us, spoke softly and gently. I wanted to scream. The physical examination was painful and felt incredibly invasive. My doctor was gentle and kind, looking me in the eye with his eyes full of compassion. He told me I had begun to bleed, I would need to go directly to the hospital, and I could grab a bag on the way. I braced myself, asked him, “Do I have to deliver it? Please, I could not cope…” He told me I was small for dates, so he could do a D&C instead. I jumped at the chance. If I was under anaesthetic, I could pretend it was not happening. I could not possibly hold myself together if I had to deliver my dead baby.
Everyone was hushed talking to me. I remember that. Like I was fragile and might shatter into a thousand pieces. Hospital policy was cruel; I was put in a room on the maternity ward. I could hear babies crying. I was not meant to be there for another few months, when I should have been holding my own crying baby. The procedure to get me into pre op is a blur. I lay, nervously, waiting. My doctor, dressed in white overalls came over and held my hand. I tried to lighten the moment, saying, “Love your overalls, are you here to service me or my car?” He patted my arm, leant down and asked me if I was ok. “Yes, I just want this over with.” He assured me I would be fine. Then he was gone and a short time later I was wheeled into theatre. I was sent off into oblivion that was all too short, and my womb was ‘evacuated’.
D&C’s do not take long and I was back in post op soon after. I woke up sobbing. I could not stop, I was shaking and sobbing. It was so heart wrenching, I was no longer pregnant. My baby was dead, and gone. I hurt so badly. The nurses in post op were gentle, bearers of tissue boxes.
Back on the ward, the day passed slowly and out of focus. I kept my eyes closed so I could avoid life. Every time someone’s baby cried, my top became soaked with milk that was wasted. Every time I hobbled to the toilet there was so much blood. I can still recall the metallic smell.
Back then, nursing staff were not taught how to deal with women who had lost babies like I had. There was no extra care or anything like that. It was like the elephant in the room – I was cared for so gently, but it was not spoken about openly. When night came I could not sleep, I sat in bed, staring at nothing. In the early hours of the morning a sweet, gentle, older nurse came in. She sat beside me and told me she was just about to go home when she heard about me. She had lost a baby in similar circumstances, many years earlier, and she wanted me to know that she cared. That it was a horrible experience. And that it hurts so much. I wept more tears, and she sat on my bed and held me. It was the first time I had been held as I cried, since childhood. She just held me, stroked my hair, and let me cry. I will forever be thankful for that. I needed that, but I did not know I did.
I received flowers from my workmates, with a 6 pack of beer hidden inside. It was much needed lightness, as well as a reminder of the ‘me’ that existed before I even wanted a baby.
My husband was unwell, so he sent my brother in law to collect me. I remember feeling horrible, and also embarrassed. This man was waiting for his own baby, a real, live one, and he had to come and collect me? I tried to chat pleasantly as he drove me home, it all felt so surreal. I wanted my husband, because he would not expect me to talk. I wanted to be silent, to pack the whole horrible thing away, and not think about it.
I don’t remember much more about that day. I wish I could change so many things from that time. I wish I HAD delivered my baby, and seen if it was a boy or a girl. I wish I had held it in my hands, studied it. Taken footprints of its tiny feet. I wish I had asked to be held instead of lying all night in such pain. I wish that not long after we lost our baby, the anti abortionists had not done a letter box drop showing graphic pictures of mid term abortions and what happens to the baby as it is evacuated. I wish I had not felt the need to make everyone else feel ok, at my own expense. I wish I had allowed myself to FEEL all those emotions that I pushed away. I wish I knew what I needed. All these years later, I am finally learning lessons I wish I had been taught earlier.