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Miscarriage

When I look back to the few weeks of my life that I spent pregnant before my first miscarriage I’m overwhelmed by this sense of crazy, beautiful innocence.  That knowledge that I would have a baby feels completely unreal.  Miscarriage so warped my perceptions that I now can’t imagine anything else.  Part of me finds it genuinely hard to grasp that there are people who get pregnant, and that sense of innocent expectancy just carries on… and nine months later, there’s a baby.

I was 39 when I had my first miscarriage, and a long way from giving up the fight for a child.  After the first sign of bleeding in week 11 I had a busy day at work.  The following day I went to the GP to get referred to the local Early Pregnancy Unit.  Within a couple of days it was confirmed the foetus had stopped growing some weeks back, and I spent a night in agony at home.  I have strange body memories of feeling safe, because my husband was sitting on the bed next to me while I lay panting in pain.  The following day was a Sunday.  I got up, made breakfast for some relatives who happened to be visiting, called my parents to tell them, put a wash on, and went into town to host a work-related event for 25 people.

It’s amazing how strong the “keep going” instinct can be.  There’s nothing “superwoman” going on here, it’s just you have all these obligations that you had lined up before you realised you were going to lose your baby, and you don’t want to let people down.  But even now I don’t quite understand some of the things I felt after that miscarriage.  One was a conviction that it hadn’t worked so I should try, try, try again and do better next time - and I was confident I would.  (This was in the days when I still laboured under the illusion that we are in control of our lives.)  But the thing I really know about that miscarriage is that I was in a hurry.  I was 39 and felt I had to focus on what to do next.  Time to grieve was a luxury I didn’t have.

The next miscarriage, our third pregnancy loss, was different.  By this time I was 41, and had been through the mill of deciding to terminate a pregnancy, and two rounds of failed IVF.  I was a little bit older and a lot more broken.  By chance, the month I got pregnant was the month the discussions my husband and I had been having about egg donation came to a head, with it increasingly clear it wasn’t on the cards for us. 

Ruling out egg donation left me trapped in a tiny room with no idea how to get out.  We needed a miracle, and with the positive test we thought we might have got one – a door out of the room opened up.  We were too scared to hope, but you do hope all the same.  I saw the heartbeat on a seven-week scan; by week eight it was gone.  I stumbled out of the clinic mid-afternoon and straight onto the phone to my boss.  I had another work dinner, but this time I got out of it.

This time I knew it was probably the end of the road for us.  We could keep trying, but I knew deep down that in saying goodbye to this baby, I was saying goodbye to the whole endeavour, to the life that we had hoped for.  So it cast a long shadow, and it took me a few months to come through the grief.  Although even then, I clung to a thread of hope and we kept trying every month.

Now, a year on, it makes me sad that I couldn’t allow myself to grieve each individual baby.  In different ways the grief was curtailed, either because I felt I couldn’t pause and had to turn my thoughts forward, or because the loss of the pregnancy stood for the loss of the whole idea of becoming a mother and I was grappling with that wider grief.  That said, I am glad we didn’t waste time in starting to try again, because some of the ghosts that haunt me most now are self-blame and regret about things I feel I could have done differently during my fertile years, that might have increased my chances of becoming a mother.

Like everything else to do with pregnancy and childbirth, miscarriage is a frightening, physical experience, and most of us go through it at home without much to reassure us.  I never fully got the bloodstains out of the bedsheets from the first one.  The following day I felt the sac with the foetus inside it slip out of me when I was on the loo.  And I still remember lying in bed one morning, eight weeks into my third pregnancy, and feeling a strange, almost imperceptible shudder go through my body, like a clock stopping.  I think that was when my baby’s heart stopped beating. 

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