October has been a big month for recognising baby loss. In the UK, we have seen baby loss awareness week and globally we have recognised International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day (also known as Wave of Light).
Following a recent experience, and as October comes to a close, it feels right to share my own experience with baby loss, which for me occurred through miscarriage. I also wanted to share this blog as a trainee fertility coach to future clients and to anyone who may benefit from me sharing my story. Afterall there are many women who lose babies, 1 in 4 women in fact, and most will happen in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy.
I do however want to take a moment to acknowledge that although it is great to have dates dedicated to raising awareness of baby loss, their memory is of course always with us.
In all honesty, until recently, I never thought losing my baby was something that had affected me as much as it has. After a recent experience left me in tears, I feel shocked to learn how much I obviously have not get over the loss.
Losing our baby
I lost my baby around two years ago; one twin boy. I feel like a bit of a phoney saying “I lost a baby’; while it’s true, I am fortunate to be able to say that I had a surviving twin. I found out I was pregnant with twins at just five weeks pregnant. After a positive pregnancy test, I was having pain in one of my ovaries. At times the pain was so bad that it stopped me in my tracks, so I was referred to The Early Pregnancy Unit to check for an ectopic pregnancy. I remember feeling overwhelmed but beyond happy when a scan revealed that I was pregnant with identical twins. This was shown by two sacs within one large sac in my uterus. I considered it a miracle after years of ovarian cysts left me fearing whether or not I could become pregnant at all. Carrying twins meant my pregnancy was considered high risk, so I was scheduled for fortnightly scans, meaning my next scan would be at seven weeks pregnant.
As soon as I left the clinic, I called my husband and told him the news. Thinking that he would freak out to discover we were expecting not one but two babies, it warmed my heart to hear him so unbelievably happy and excited. When we got home from work, we must have spoke non-stop about the friendship we hoped for our twins to have and how happy we felt that they would have each other. My husband, always hoping for boys, spoke about taking “his boys” to the park to play football and we laughed about the mischief they would get up to. Reference to “baby” became “babies” as we considered our extended baby shopping list and I could not stop looking at the scan photo. I can still picture it now two years on – two beautiful little twins labelled “YS1” and “YS2”.
So you see, before you even think about getting through the rest of the pregnancy, you already have a family. You have a strong image of all the things you will do with your child/children as if the memories have already been created. You are already excited to care for them. Maybe they even have names; ours did. Most importantly the unbelievably strong, completely unconditional and irrevocable love you feel for them is already there.
As the excitement intensified, difficulty arose as I started to lightly bleed. I called The Early Pregnancy Unit but they told me to wait for my next scan. The brutal truth is that if you bleed so early in your pregnancy, there is very little that can be seen on a scan and nothing that can be done to help; the stage of pregnancy is just too early. However, I was reassured to learn that bleeding with twins is common, so I remained as positive as I could. That is until days later when the bleeding worsened. At the time, I worked for a healthcare regulator in a tribunal setting where a midwife was in attendance for a hearing. I could not concentrate on my work – I was panicked, confused and outright scared. Nothing else mattered as I just wanted everything to be ok. I remember confiding in the midwife hoping she could offer me some reassurance. As she took me into a side meeting room, she gave me a big hug and she quite honestly told me that there was nothing that can be done and that the best thing I could do was wait for my seven-week scan. I went home from work early that day. I tried to relax as much as I could and I remember feeling better when the bleeding stopped.
Then came my seven-week scan. By this stage in the pregnancy, it is possible to see a baby’s heartbeat. Although you cannot hear it until a few weeks later. I explained to the doctor what had been happening and I waited nervously as she had a look. I felt mixed emotions as she went from smiling to then looking concerned. Before she even spoke to me, I knew something was wrong. Then came the news; only one baby had a heartbeat. Suddenly the bleeding made sense. It was not possible to tell if there were ever two heartbeats. To me it did not matter. Some people may reason that the baby was not even yet a baby if he did not have a heartbeat. To me he was, because he grew inside my body for anything up to seven weeks.
I cannot really articulate the pain I felt. I just remember feeling that it was not fair that something only just given to me could be taken away so quickly.
I felt like I had failed.
I felt selfish for feeling upset, because I knew there were many other women suffering a miscarriage who would not be left still carrying a surviving twin.
I felt grateful to have a surviving twin, but terrified of losing him through the grief I was feeling from the loss of the other. How is it even possible to balance those two emotions? I felt like a piece of me, of the family my husband and I had created, was suddenly missing.
I felt angry, sad, hurt, anxious and I already felt like a terrible Mum, because I knew I had to perk up for the sake of my surviving baby but I did not know where to start.
Suddenly I no longer enjoyed looking at all the things that made me feel happy only days before; the pushchairs, the nursery furniture, the clothes. Everything had changed. That made me feel even more guilty because of course I still had one little baby who would still need all of those things. Perhaps the fear of losing him too was something that stopped me from looking.
As I sit here and talk only about myself, I must of course mention my husband. In all honesty, I will never really know how he felt. He is a traditional man, who does not believe in bearing his feelings. I do know however that he felt he had to keep it together to be strong for me. I will never forget the sadness in his voice when I told him or the look on his face when I saw him later that day. We must remember that although it may feel different for us as women, it is not just us who have lost. It is men too and they also need support.
Two years on
I have since given birth to our beautiful baby boy, Harry, our surviving twin. He is now 16 months old and a typical little boy – energetic, cheeky, mischievous, funny, already eating us out of house and home and his already visible sense of humour makes us laugh every single day.
There have been many times I have looked at him and wondered how amazing it would be to have two of him; how could I not wonder that? However, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t look at him and wonder how on earth I would cope with two of him.
Obviously Harry’s twin brother will remain a memory always etched in my heart, but it is not something I have cried about or felt overly emotional about since early pregnancy. That is, until just recently.
My husband and I were in a hospital waiting room after he had been referred for a check-up after feeling very unwell. I just remember queuing at reception to check in and as I looked behind me, right behind me, there were identical twin boys. They looked no older than eighteen months. They were wearing matching outfits, both stood wearing reigns as they stood play fighting, laughing and looking… just… cute! It felt like I was staring at them forever, but I am sure it was momentary in reality. As I looked back at my husband talking to the receptionist, I felt dazed. My heart sank, I had a lump in my throat and an overwhelming feeling of sadness. As my husband and I walked to the waiting area, I remember my husband looking at me and I just burst into tears. It was like a tap that I couldn’t turn off. He had not seen the twins so he did not quite understand what was going on.
“It’s ok babe”, he said as he put his hand on my shoulder. “You’re not crying because you are worrying about me are you? I am going to be fine”. How the hell did I tell that big ginger pumpkin that I was not crying about him?! He only had a bloody kidney infection! I cried it out a little bit more. I think in the moment I even replied “Oh, I know” as I bought myself some more time to consider whether to tell him that the tears were not actually for him. In the end, I just had to get it off my chest. As I told him, he just held my hand.
The feelings I felt in that moment still feel like they are lingering and I do not know why. I still cannot fully articulate how they make me feel. In reflection, I wonder if it is because I never really looked at losing my baby as a loss in the traditional sense; it was not a full-blown miscarriage. I did not go to hospital, I was not examined and I had another baby to think about, so maybe the loss did not feel like a complete loss. Seeing those twin boys has made me realise that it was, so maybe I am just still to fully grieve? I think perhaps I also feel guilty that I could not give to him what I have been able to give to Harry.
I don’t know!
I do know however that I have felt inspired by all the women who I have come across on social media this month who have shared their own stories and feelings. I am thankful to them and to baby loss awareness events for providing much needed feelings of support and unity.
I have noticed many women write messages to their babies. For me, in this moment, I find it too painful. However, if I could speak to my baby, I would tell him how proud I am that he was in our lives and that he comforted Harry, even if just for a short time. Although I could not carry him for longer than I did, I trust that a part of him lives on inside of his crazy big brother and looks down on us like the bright shining star that he is.
At the time of losing Harry’s twin, limited people knew I was pregnant - a few close family members and one friend - but all of them were there for me. I am truly grateful.
Miscarriage is hard to talk about, perhaps because it is not a subject that is in itself widely identified or discussed. However, having a support network of those close relatives and my friend helped me hugely. Therefore, I would highly recommend talking about it, even if it is just to cry. It all counts.
I think we must also not underestimate the comfort our Mums can offer. Mums not only want to be there to provide comfort, but as Mums themselves, they have the unique ability to understand what you may be feeling without you really having to say much. Equally my Mum understood when I did not want to talk about it. I actually remember telling her just that during one particular phone call, that I did not want to talk about it. She was very supportive.
I will be offering fertility coaching services from the New Year 2020. If you wish to talk in complete confidence, I am more than happy to lend my ear. Sometimes talking to someone you do not know and who does not know you, can be helpful.
Feel free to contact me via a private message Instagram or on: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sending out much love to all of those who have suffered miscarriage and to all the babies we have lost.
All the best,
Jessica (aka Bella) x