Paint Patches

This week has been really, really hard. I don’t really have any reason as to why this week should be harder than any others, but it was. Maybe it was because I got my period last weekend. The first one after a miscarriage is pretty awful because of the nature of it, it brings back all the awful memories (which by the way aren’t fading anywhere near quickly enough) of the miscarriage itself. It also throws your hormones all out because, clearly, you haven’t been through enough yet, you’re not emotional enough so let’s pile on the hormones too! Sometimes the human body is as cruel as it is amazing. 

I struggled through work, fighting the tears every day as I sat at my desk until a kind word from my old boss tipped me over the edge and opened the flood gates. That was Thursday, so then on Friday I thought “Finally! I just have to get through today and then I can go home and let it all out.” And that was a good plan…until one of the girls on maternity leave popped in to the office to catch up with everyone. She stood by my desk talking about her two month old baby. It was excruciating. 

Don’t get me wrong, firstly, she has no idea what I’ve been through and secondly even if she did, her life hasn’t changed as a result of it and it’s only natural that she’d want to share her happiness with friends and colleagues. I know all that and as a rational, logical person I can understand it.  It really doesn’t make it any less excruciating to hear though. Thank God I had something else to focus on – I’ve never studied a spreadsheet so intensely in my life! 

On top of feeling really emotional and generally crap, I now also have the confusion of feeling desperate to be pregnant again. I didn’t think that would happen so quickly (if at all) to be honest. We were told to wait until I’d had a period before trying again and we both thought that seemed really, really quick. I couldn’t imagine wanting to get pregnant again so soon and had quite a few freak outs at even the thought of it. Now though, only 5 weeks later, I feel ready. I feel positive that despite losing our first child, this time it’ll be ok. I don’t know whether that’s some pre programmed survival instinct to stop the human race from going extinct, or whether it’s my desire to have a baby overriding everything else, but whatever the reason I feel like next time it’ll be ok. 

When you lose a baby, certainly from a mother’s perspective anyway, you’re left with this emptiness. It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it but it’s a sort of black hole inside you. It’s a void that you know only one thing can fill. I don’t know if every woman feels it, but for me I knew I was pregnant instantly. I felt pregnant, different, wonderful. (And yes, also sick and tired and emotional) That’s what makes the emptiness so all consuming I think, to go from feeling pregnant to feeling nothing is a really hard thing to get your head around. It’s unnatural after all – normally when there’s no longer a baby inside you it’s because you’ve given birth and you have this tiny little person to look after. I also can’t help but think that by now I should be able to feel my baby moving. I know that’s not constructive, and I try not to dwell on it, but I feel robbed. We should’ve been painting the nursery by now. The paint patches remain on the wall – a painful reminder of the plans we were making, the unopened tin of paint still sits in the room I can’t bring myself to enter. 

I don’t know if we’ll try again yet, I don’t know if when we do we’ll get pregnant straight away. I don’t know if we’ll have to endure another miscarriage. There are so many things I don’t know, but what I do know is that I love Paul and I love our baby. The ten weeks I had of feeling blessed, lucky, excited, and hopeful were the best of my life. I can honesty, hand on heart, say that I’ve never been happier than I was for those 10 weeks and despite the 6 weeks that followed being, without doubt, the worst of my life, I don’t for one second wish that I’d never been pregnant in the first place. 

I’m determined to make next week a better one. So today I’m taking the power back from the grief. Those paint squares and that tin of paint? I’m going to do something about them. I’m going to clear out the room that breaks my heart, and I’m going to open that sunshine yellow paint. I’m going to think of it as a fresh start because I know deep down that room is going to be a nursery one day, so I’m going to paint it in that cheerful yellow and dare myself to leave the door open and not shudder every time I pass it. Maybe I need to confront that last remaining link to my first pregnancy. Maybe it’ll help the healing.  



12 and a half weeks…

That’s how far along I was when I lost my baby.

We always wanted children, and although we hadn’t planned to have one right now we were absolutely thrilled when we got that positive pregnancy test. Immediately we stocked up on prenatal vitamins and I cut out alcohol and caffeine. I listened to all the advice on what food to eat and what to avoid, I listened to my body and rested when I needed to, I took it easy as much as possible. 

I was very lucky to not suffer from any morning sickness – or not much anyway, but the tiredness and random crying hit me hard. Paul was wonderful. He took over the housework, didn’t complain when I was too shattered to cook, let me cry all over him and snuggled up in bed with me even though it was only 7pm! We decided to tell our closest friends and family straight away – we were just too excited to keep it to ourselves! My parents were more excited than I can ever remember seeing them before, the thought of their first grandchild clearly something they’d secretly waited a long time for. Aside from the exhaustion and random crying I sailed through the first 11 weeks. We excitedly took a new “bump” photo every week to document every last thing. I was showing from about 8 weeks and we worried that it might be two babies in there not one, but I loved being pregnant and I didn’t want to forget a single bit of it. 

Halfway through week 11 I developed an intense backache. I work 12 hour shifts and put it down to my changing body not coping with the long days and nights at work so well anymore. After a couple of days when the pain seemed to be getting worse not better, I made an appointment to see my GP. I can’t tell you why, there was no reason I should’ve felt it, but I just knew something was wrong. I tried to listen to Paul and convinced myself that I was just being a worried first time mum to be, but I couldn’t shake the feeling. The day of the GP appointment I noticed a very tiny amount of blood when I went to the loo. Nothing scary looking really and since I’d had no cramps I told myself it was probably nothing. A bit of googling had me reassuring myself that lots of women get slight spotting in early pregnancy and it really is nothing, probably just the uterus stretching to accommodate my growing baby. The GP basically reiterated what I’d already found online, and since this was the Tuesday and the following Monday was our 12 week scan she told us not to worry, to stay positive and to wait it out until the scan. I’d like to say I felt better for that GP visit, but I didn’t. I still couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. The blood seemed to stop the next day which did ease my mind a little, but the backache (which the GP said was probably just a pregnancy niggle) persisted. For a few days I just rested, and used a hot water bottle to try and alleviate the back pain but by the Saturday morning I was beside myself. The back pain was worse than ever and there was blood again when I went to the loo. Paul called our midwife who told us to contact the out of hours GP, which we did. We got an appointment for a few hours later so we waited for those agonising hours before going to be told (again) that it was probably nothing, that it was such a small amount of bleeding and that without cramping it was probably just stretching. We were told it could be sign of miscarriage but that it was just as likely to be nothing. We went home and I again tried to relax and not worry. 

We decided to keep ourselves busy on the Sunday. I was still experiencing the spotting and the backache was as bad as ever. I was extremely anxious about the scan the following day and had started feeling very mild period like cramps. My back seemed to spasm, sometimes it was ok, and then a wave of tightening pain would start again. We went for a walk thinking maybe stretching my legs would ease the back pain but by the time we got to our local park I had to sit down. The pain in my back was getting worse again and seemed to somehow be spreading to my hips and stomach too. After a rest we decided to head back home. I kept busy and tried not to think about it. I went to bed early hoping to just sleep right through until it was time to go to the hospital…I woke at 4:30am full of dread. I still had this awful feeling that something was wrong and couldn’t switch my brain off. I got up and pottered around trying to distract myself. By the time it was time to go to the hospital I felt sick with worry. I could’ve happily just stayed at home and cried but Paul seemed so excited, it almost made me feel ok.

We waited with all the other couples, making small talk and complaining about needing to pee. Paul complained about having to pay for our scan pictures and I’m ashamed to say that I snapped at him. I was so convinced that something was wrong, I couldn’t think about scan pictures. I just wanted to know everything was ok. I wanted the doctor to tell me I was wrong. Eventually we were called in and Paul held my hand and looked excitedly at the screen while I studied the ultrasound technician’s face. She was silent. She clicked a few things and turned to me to tell me that she could see “something sack like” in my womb. She told us that this could mean that we weren’t as far along as we thought or that the pregnancy “wouldn’t progress” and wanted to do an an internal scan to try and see in more detail. I didn’t need another scan, I knew. The second scan confirmed that there was no heartbeat. We were left to take in this devastating news before being ushered to a different room where a nurse took some bloods and the midwife told us it was unfortunately very common. We were given a leaflet with further information and another scan was booked in for us the following Monday to confirm the lack of a heartbeat and to discuss our options. I don’t really know how we got through that hour at the hospital. It was as if I wasn’t really there. It was all happening around me, as if I was in some kind of bubble.

We went home and I called my dad. I couldn’t bear the thought of telling my mum that our baby was gone. All I was able to say to my dad was “it’s gone” before bursting  in to uncontrollable sobs. My parents both left work and came straight to us. 

I don’t really remember much about those first few days. We were in a sort of limbo half hoping that the scan the following week would show that the doctors were wrong, while really deep down knowing that they were right. My mum stayed with us, with my dad coming back and forth between work too. My best friend visited as well with thoughtful and practical gifts, and as awful as it was, we were lucky we had a lot of support. I still had the backache and spotting, accompanied then by the period like pains that the hospital had said I would experience. My mum was brilliant. She stayed by my side as long as I needed her (she and my dad still come to see us most nights after work.) Paul was brilliant too, but in that first couple of weeks I just found it really hard to be around him. Seeing the sadness in his eyes made me even more upset than I already was. I kept apologising to him. I really felt that my body had failed us. I think for Paul, knowing that my mum was around to look after me gave him the space that he needed too. He worried about me constantly, and was never far away, but as hard as it was for me to see the sadness in him, it had to be ten times worse for him to see me so inconsolable and in pain.

By the Thursday the cramps were stronger. More like a strong period pain and the bleeding was heavier. We assumed that meant I was actually miscarrying, based on the information in the leaflet from the hospital which said to expect “period like pain and heavy bleeding”. The pain was fairly constant on the Thursday, and carried on all day on the Friday. My mum left at around 5pm on the Friday so Paul sat with me, got me a hot water bottle and some paracetamol and we tried to just get through it. By 8pm the cramps and backache were coming in waves, getting stronger each time. Nothing was helping to ease the pain so I went to lie down, Paul said he’d check on me in five minutes but by the time he came in to check on me just a few minutes later, I was doubled over in pain. I couldn’t sit, lie, stand. Everything was painful. My back hurt, my hips hurt, and the cramps by now were taking my breath away. I cried in agony scared by the intensity of it all, while Paul looked on absolutely terrified. It lasted about 20 minutes before a sudden pressure down low made me struggle to the bathroom. As I sat on the loo the blood just poured out of me. That was scary enough, but then there was an almighty cramp and that pressure again. I felt something strange happening, something was coming out. I heard it drop in to the toilet and the cramp started to ease off. I stood up to see what had happened and glimpsed a tiny, but perfectly formed baby lying at the bottom of the toilet. I screamed for Paul. I can’t tell you how much I wish I hadn’t. I wish I could’ve spared him that sight but he came in and saw it too. We both crumpled to the bathroom floor. Paul was completely silent, shocked, traumatised, worried about me. It was the most horrific thing that either one of us has ever experienced. The physical pain had passed but I was totally inconsolable, crying myself sick. I didn’t know what to do. Our baby was lying in the toilet. Neither one of us could bring ourselves to flush the toilet, but what else were we meant to do? The hospital hadn’t told us that this would or could happen, we were completely unprepared and had no idea how to deal with it. 

Eventually Paul helped me up and sat me on the end of the bed. He made sure I was physically ok before going to call my parents. A few seconds after he left the bedroom I heard the toilet flush and my heart broke afresh. I still see it when I close my eyes, and I still feel immense guilt over it. I hate the thought that something we loved and wanted so much was just discarded like that. It feels so improper, so cold. 

Paul was white. All the colour had drained from his face. He was faint, dizzy, sick. He sat by our open patio doors just trying not to pass out. It sounds strange even to me, but I felt better. I can only assume that the pain I’d been in had triggered an adrenaline rush. I felt grubby, because there was so much blood, but the pain had all gone and there was a strange sort of relief that washed over me. Relief that it couldn’t get any worse than that. That was rock bottom, and we’d somehow survived. I made sure Paul was ok, or as OK as he could be anyway and in a weird numb sort of a daze I got in the shower and by the time I’d showered my parents were there looking after Paul. He really did look horrendous. I never want to see him like that again. 

My dad headed home after we’d eventually fallen asleep and my mum camped out on our sofa again bless her. I don’t really remember much of that weekend. One of my oldest friends came from her home in Sussex to see me, she stayed with me on the Saturday night and on the Sunday we had planned to go to my parents house for a change of scenery but while I was getting dressed I realised that none of my pre pregnancy clothes fitted me. It broke my heart to put maternity clothes and bra on and I broke down. My wonderful friend was still with us and promptly headed to the shops to stock up on new bras and clothes for me. She said she couldn’t stand the thought of me going through that again. It was such a thoughtful and practical thing to do for me. 

Monday came by too quickly and I dreaded going back to the hospital. Given what Paul and I had seen on the Friday night there was no question in my mind that our baby was gone. I couldn’t face putting either one of us through a second scan that would ultimately tell us what we already knew. My parents took us to the hospital and honestly it was an absolute shambles. We got passed around and sent to three different departments before encountering a nurse at the early pregnancy unit who despite seeing that tears that were streaming down my face, gave us attitude and was rude. So I lost it. I shouted at her, probably causing a scene, and you know what? I don’t regret it. I’m not normally rude or aggressive but it just amazes me that someone who’s chosen a career in nursing could be so oblivious to an obviously distraught couple, sent to the early pregnancy unit…I mean really, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out why we were there. I was so upset that I left and my mum had a very frank discussion with a different nurse who then came to find us and took us to a quiet room where we had to confirm what had happened when we’d lost the baby just days before. We were allowed to go home without having the scan but were told to keep an eye out for signs of infection and to do a pregnancy test in 3-4 weeks. If it came back positive it could indicate that there was some remaining pregnancy tissue which would need to be removed surgically. I was just glad I didn’t have to stay there any longer and we headed home. 

That first week after it happened was actually ok-ish. I don’t remember crying all that much, and I kept thinking that the worst was over. Looking back, I was clearly in shock. I didn’t sleep or eat much, I couldn’t face people and the thought of leaving the house terrified me. But it was the following week that was the hardest for me. It must’ve been a delayed reaction, but that second week was hideous. I cried more than you’d think humanly possible and Paul and my parents were really worried so we made an appointment to go and talk to the GP. It was the best thing we did. She was a different doctor to any that we’d seen previously and was lovely. She treated us like a couple grieving the loss of their child, which is exactly what we are. It was such a different experience to how we’d been treated at the hospital in that awful detached, clinical, uncaring, unsympathetic way. 

I think the thing I struggle with the most is that there’s little or no recognition from the medical community that a miscarriage in early pregnancy is still the loss of a child. We may not have got to hold him or her, we may not have heard cries or laughter or seen that little person grow up but we still mourn all those things. That was my child, and I really struggle that there’s nothing to mark that he or she was ever here. 

That’s partly why I felt I needed to share my story. I am absolutely not bashing the NHS, which for the record I think is a wonderful service that we are lucky to have, however our experience of the way in which the hospital handles miscarriages was pretty awful. We were sent home with a leaflet that basically said to expect what amounts to a heavy period. At no point were we told to prepare ourselves for the intensity of the pain or the possibility that we’d have to see and dispose of a fully formed foetus. We had no idea that would happen, and when it did we had no idea how to handle it. 

As painful as writing this has been, I think it’s important. In that first week, I felt so alone but through the Miscarriage Association (who are amazing) I found the blog of a lady about my age who’d had a similar experience. She spoke so openly that it really made me feel like I wasn’t alone, and when I contacted her in desperation, she couldn’t have been nicer. If I can do the same for someone else then at least some good will come from something so sad. 

I am also sending constructive criticism to the hospital in the hopes that they, at the very least, add more information to the leaflet they send you home with. 

It’s been a month now, and it’s my first week back in work trying to get back to some kind of normality. It’s still really hard and some days I feel like the sadness is swallowing me whole, but on those days I let myself grieve and try to remember that it is getting easier with every week that passes. It sounds crazy to say I’m lucky, but I am in lots of ways. Despite this awful thing happening to us, we have each other and we have an amazing support network that has helped us through those hardest first weeks.

If you were touched or affected by my story and feel you’d like to do something then please make a donation, however small, to the Miscarriage Association or purchase one of their baby loss awareness badges.