There is a unique pain that comes from preparing your heart for a child that never comes.David Platt
I wasn’t going to share our story today. I simply wanted to write a short blog to recognise International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, on October 15th every year. It is an opportunity for parents to openly acknowledge, grieve, remember and honour the babies lost far too soon, and it is an important reminder to us all that we need to help break the lingering taboo of talking about miscarriage and baby loss.
Despite this, I still wasn’t going to share our story. Why? Because one of my best friends in this world and I’m sure over many many lifetimes lost her beautiful little girl at 25 weeks. I couldn’t, and still struggle to comprehend the injustice of it- have we not all heard that old adage that the worst things happen to the best people? That is how I felt when she told me. How could this have happened, why did this happen and most importantly, how would she recover from this devastating loss?
I know that you cannot quantify the grief of another. You cannot try to objectively classify how deeply someone else’s loss is likely to be felt by breaking it down into categories. Was it miscarriage or infant loss? Was it at 6, 8, 12 or 20 weeks? Was it a first or subsequent baby? Was it IVF or spontaneous conception? No. I cannot use those categories to judge someone else’s experience of their loss. Loss is loss- their loss.
But I can use those categories for our loss. Because it is ours, I know. I know that we never made the decision we wanted a third baby. We were never sure. We liked the idea, but struggled to work out the details. How would we manage financially, physically, emotionally? Eventually we got so tired of analysing and ruminating on it that we decided that we would leave it up to Mother Nature. We would ‘try’ and see what happened.
We rolled the dice. We fell pregnant straight away. I was shocked, but happy. Hubby was thrilled. It was hard not to tell the girls, but we didn’t want to until we had some insurance, not that we ever really do. I booked a dating scan because we would be in Algeria when the 12 week nuchal scan would be due- and I wouldn’t be doing that over there. Then I started a pregnancy journal, and I’d like to quote directly from it now.
From the ‘4-8 weeks’ section, I said I was feeling “scared. Scared to lose you, scared of the massive responsibility of growing, birthing and raising a whole new human being…loving you is easy though. Can’t wait to tell everybody. We have the Biennial Borg Christmas Carols night [wonderful gathering at mum and dads with lots of friends and family getting together to eat, drink, be merry and sing Christmas carols together] tomorrow night and I have sourced some discreet, dealcoholised bubbly- so no one has to know until the 8 week scan.”
Under ‘ways my body has changed recently’, I wrote: “My boobs are very tender and full. Phemie (AKA Miss M) said they look like they have milk in them. I said no (not a lie!) and she said ‘Maybe you have another baby in there’. Your big sister feels things- you’ll see. Don’t bother trying to hide things from her- or me! There’s no point.”
What was I most looking forward to? “Telling everybody- but especially your sisters.”
A few weeks later, I came back to the journal. It had been a rough trot. At the first scan Bub was slightly smaller than expected, measuring about a week too early to hear the heartbeat. At this stage I didn’t worry. I ovulate late in my cycle, and had had a similar experience with our first. The difference was she was measuring 11 weeks instead of 12- a very different scenario. I went back for a second scan a week later, as I couldn’t wait any longer. I wanted to feel reassured. I wanted to know either way. Unfortunately, I had not been aware that you could have an ambiguous scan. The heart rate was there, but unable to be heard, and was measuring low, i.e. between 79 and 85 beats per minute, rather than the normal 110-160.
“I saw your heart flickering, much slower than I know to expect. I thought the number registering on the screen must have been my heart rate. But mine is usually around 60. I asked if it could be mine- no. There was also a subchorionic haematoma, a little bleed which is one of the most common early ultrasound findings. On its own it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. But together with half the anticipated growth since the first scan and the low heart rate, it doesn’t bode well. I have never lain so still in all my life as the sonographer tried to pinpoint your heart- your tiny, tiny heart. Silent tears, 2 of them, rolled down my cheeks. I knew it was not ideal. I knew a normal healthy pregnancy would not start like this.”
The sonographer asked me to return in 2 weeks, if I hadn’t miscarried by then, (which I found rather blunt), because by then we could expect a certain amount of growth and for the heart rate to increase.
“That was a very challenging 13 days,” I wrote in the journal. “Especially as the symptoms increased. But I couldn’t ‘enjoy’ them. The insatiable appetite… Chab said once “the baby needs it”- but I never felt convinced.”
The third scan was the first I attended with Chab, and it confirmed the pregnancy had ended, at 9 short, life changing weeks. It was the 23rd December and I had a night shift coming up. I had promised myself I would go to my shift regardless of the outcome, as I had missed a shift following the second scan. I’d had mild cramping on that day, but no bleeding. Not even a spot, ever. I spent hours in bed, miserable and sore. I told my third baby then and there that they could let go. I would be ok. They didn’t need to hang on. If they weren’t meant to be here, I understood. I had this conversation with this little soul, and I’m almost certain that is when it happened. On a soul level, we’d both let go, but my body wasn’t giving her up.
I ended up having a D and C (dilation and curettage) on Christmas Eve Day, at my hospital, following a very emotional night shift on the ward. I spent my full 50 minute break sobbing quietly in the blissfully deserted tea room. It was hard, but the distraction of caring for others was helpful. I went from my scrubs into patient attire, was met by hubby who was also on shift at our hospital, and we cried together, held each other tight. We were treated beautifully by all, but truly nothing prepares you for the intensity of the grief. This, even though when he said we could try again, I said, no, I’m not sure. I knew I couldn’t go through another loss, and it felt like the universe was telling me, gently but firmly, our family was made.
This is the story I wasn’t going to tell, because it felt almost disrespectful to compare our experience to those of people like my best friend, who were robbed of their greatest loves. Let me explain. Yes we were very sad, and yes, I’ve been crying the last few hours as I slowly cobble this together. Yes, I still think of the miscarriage, and I still wonder what could have been. But this baby was not my number one who thrust me and hubby into our wonderful lives together much sooner than expected, ensuring this family would happen. This baby was not my number two, who had always been planned, and was born into this world just as easily and joyfully as she was conceived. We’d hung up our boots then, thinking we were done, blessed with the two girls I always thought I would have. Just two girls. This baby was a maybe. This baby was a what if? The grief over losing her is nothing compared to what it would have been had we lost either of our first two, for us.
So I wasn’t going to talk about it. What I wanted to do, was pay my deepest respects to the parents who’d dealt with this unimaginable loss that I could not consider on the same relatively low, manageable levels ours. I struggled to find words to navigate this delicate subject, so I started looking for quotes on google. Many were beautiful, but David Platt’s quote unlocked something in me that I hadn’t understood. There is, indeed, a “unique pain that comes from preparing your heart for a child that never comes.” I cried, realising that this was the cause of the pain. I was preparing my heart, for my mind was never sure…I was preparing my heart to blow open for another beloved child, because beloved she would have been, without a doubt. But that child never came, and that can’t be undone. That can’t be ignored. But my heart was getting ready.
“I was so looking forward to wrapping up the little onesies I’d already bought you, and the finger puppets- one for Reina (AKA Miss A), one for Phemie, to unwrap under the Christmas tree- I was so looking forward to their faces when I explained that these were for their little brother or sister who was indeed growing in my tummy, just as Phemie suspected.
That could never be. I could never rejoice in you and celebrate you. I feel robbed of that opportunity. I feel I robbed the girls of that and I feel I robbed Chab of his innocence and faith in all being well.”
But all is well, all is as it should be, for our little family.
To all you beautiful humans reading this who have lost a baby, at any stage of life, I send you love, courage, compassion, and peace. I hope you find it soon, if you haven’t already.