Motherhood, or I think I should say parenthood is a journey that is a little longer in coming to some. For a few, it simply doesn’t. For women it is this magical, mystical rite of passage into womanhood, a leveling up to motherhood. We do not talk about the pitfalls, our struggles, our losses. We walk in one end of a hallway and we walk out with a squishy bambino in our arms or we walk out teary and empty handed, either way, never to mention the journey between.
This is the single most disappointing thing I have encountered, this silence, this not talking about our challenges and difficulties. We are so proud of our achievements and we present our best everything to the world, but we nurse our disappointments, our fears and our heartbreak silently. We feel we are alone. I’d like to change all of that, and if I can help in any, even small way lift someone up or give them courage or hope or even feel less alone then this is worthwhile.
I woke up the day after Christmas, Boxing day morning, feeling a little seedy. I had this pressure in my lower belly and I needed to pee constantly. Hang on a second! My period was due yesterday (I know right, awesome Christmas timing- actually I seem to have the worst timing, lucky me!). I am like clockwork so this is odd, plus I always get a few signs in the days preceding, and come to think of it there’d been no signs aside from terribly painful breasts but that isn’t new, that’s literally every single month… but just maybe something is different…
We had been semi-seriously “trying” since not long after my 35th birthday, with a couple months delay for immunisation boosters and health checks. Now why is it that women have to have the MOST thorough examination of their health and men don’t even get a look in on theirs until you’ve been trying a damn long while? Anyway, back on track… We had a couple late cycles that prompted us to test. In fact the first cycle that we tried I was one of those highly anxious types who was completely absorbed by chat rooms. In every single moment I was scanning my body for early pregnancy signs and I even tested three days before my period was due. That first two week wait was the absolute WORST. I was the worst and I decided I couldn’t handle that level of intensity again. So from memory we took the next month off and ever since I have waited until my period was late before peeing on a stick. The damned beast has been 3 days late, I have tested negative before she decided to grace me with her presence and my husband and I both teared up with the disappointment.
After 5 months of disappointment (I know, I have a low threshold for disappointment) I decided to try acupuncture. I have to say, every session worked a different area of my body and a shitload of emotional “stuff” shifted each time. I had five treatments in a month timed around my cycle. I was a bit fatalistic that month because we had been tired and hadn’t exactly met the gold standard of timing efforts, but it’s a difficult process after a while and I particularly really didn’t have any more energy to throw into baby making. Well knock me down with a feather, acupuncture might just have helped us conceive in the very first month of giving it a try.
So, we found out on Boxing day that we were pregnant. That second little line in the pee test came up before the test line, no waiting required! You would have thought that we had gifted the most incredible blessing on our family. We decided that we would tell only the people we would seek comfort from if we had a loss, it’s early days after all. Tears and kisses and hugs flowed. We started talking baby names and what they would be like. We were imagining them growing up with their cousins and we were being asked if we minded hand-me-downs… um, does anyone mind hand-me-downs? We love them! My sweet husband would look adoringly at my belly and say “I wonder how big you’ll grow” and cuddles suddenly always enveloped my lower abdomen and our growing dancing bean. Such a miraculous time, such a marvelous gift.
We never would have known that we were in trouble except for a bit of spotting. I read everything on the internet and too many women had a serious issue related to their spotting for me to leave it. I called a healthline we have here in Australia. They prompted me to go the my doctor who sent me for an urgent scan and gave me a request form for another blood test Monday, it was Friday. The following two weeks were harrowing for my husband and I. Our pregnancy, the baby we envisioned in the swelling belly we imagined was in trouble.
The scan the doctor wanted done at first involves a massively full bladder, or at least that is what it feels like. I’m only in early pregnancy at this stage so they can’t see much and I have to empty my bladder so I can be “more comfortable” while they invade my nether regions with the scanner… this was seriously the most invasive scan I’ve had in my life. But right there on the screen, in my uterus, is a gestation sac. I’m told it doesn’t have any features like a foetal pole or yolk sac but it’s early days. I leave the scan to go and have dinner with a girlfriend, because life is sweet man.
When I arrived at my friends house I checked my phone messages because I’d missed a call in transit. It was the doctors office. My doctor had gone home for the day when the radiologists called with news. I needed to be seen urgently, by a different doc. Fuck, fuck, fuck. I called my husband to meet me at the docs and I was on my way. I rang my mum enroute. I cried. I had no idea yet what was wrong but it had to be bad right? To need to be seen urgently?
I arrived first. Sitting in the waiting room, fidgeting and needing to pee every 5 minutes, I begged for extra time (please let Scott make it, please don’t make me go in by myself). My pleas went unheard, doctors have other patients and they were squeezing me in. I sat down and the first words out of the doctors mouth were “I can’t say this is a viable pregnancy” because of the no foetal signs thing. Bonus round I also had a cyst by my right ovary that looked very similar to the gestational sac in my uterus and they were worried about an ectopic pregnancy. How lucky am I? There was a baby where one could grow, and there could be one where it couldn’t.
My husband arrived and they sent him on in. He looked kind of gray and very worried. I tried not to cry. Tears escaped my eyes anyway. We were put on high alert with strict signs to act on and head straight to emergency. I was sent for an urgent blood test and it took 4 attempts to draw my stubborn, frightened blood. The phlebotomist was lovely and she added us to her prayers that night. We were 5 weeks, 5 days.
The same GP we saw the night before phoned early Saturday morning, he said my blood hormone level had risen “an okay amount” but to remain on high alert for pain and a change in spotting. I was to have another blood test Monday morning, all being well. It is amazing the sensations you become aware of when you are on alert. Even gas pains need to be examined until relieving them dissipates the discomfort, yes I’m talking about farts. Every niggle was suspicious, we were the meerkats of Bels body, on high alert watching for any and all threats.
We made it to Monday, and it felt like an eternity had passed. We had another blood test. The blood came easier this time. My blood hormone levels had risen, slowly. This was not what we expected, we were more prepared for it to be launching like a rocket faster than was safe, get her to hospital, she’s going to blow! Our GP told us she thought we were going to miscarry. She said nothing about the cyst that was the cause of our angst since Friday. We went home and cried.
Tuesday I woke with pain before sunrise. The kind we had been told to act on. Then there was spotting. We had to go. In the Emergency department they were kind but their instruments were cruel. The massive cannula sticking deep in my hand was painful and the bed was hard. For a long time the doctors deliberated about referring me to Obstetrics and Gynaecology. When they finally did, the world made more sense. It was 4 days since our first scan, the first time we saw our empty little gestation sac. We were 6 weeks and 2 days when we saw it again, unchanged. My heart sank.
Two incredible doctors from the Obstetrics team saw me that day. The first, a junior doctor wearing a bright yellow dress, had such compassion and consideration for my dignity and our emotional well being that even now I am overwhelmed with gratitude. She gave us an honest, cautious hope with the right balance of “we just don’t know” and “I hope I get to deliver your baby”. The second doctor, the registrar informed us in the most kind way that we could have a completely healthy pregnancy, or we could miscarry and that sometimes pregnancies just run out of puff. She said what was great was that we know we are able to get pregnant. In theory, everything works as it should. We clung to her words and started to talk to ourselves about “systems checks” and “test runs”.
Cautious optimism and a heavy heart were my constant companions. We left the hospital with blood tests every two days and a request form for my least favourite scan in a weeks time. I am developing a needle phobia. Friday I became very worried. The wonderful doctor in the yellow dress phoned wanting to cancel my regular scan in preference for a specialist one. My blood hormone was only creeping up. She made the appointment for me for Monday. Another long weekend, but now my dear sweet husband is away and he cannot envelope me in his arms and fortify me against the coming storm.
The spotting became bleeding off and on over the weekend. Fear now, not worry. I knew without a doubt that something wasn’t right. More than a question now, I was sure. But that growing baby in the swelling belly that you imagine from the moment you see that second line on the pregnancy test won’t let you listen to your instincts with clarity. It’s too frightening to contemplate that your changing body, your restricted diet, your nausea and fatigue are for nothing. They are a price you paid, for what? For admission to a collective unable to discuss their pain, their thwarted expectations, their fear of what it means about them, how they let down their lover, what they did wrong, their feelings of unworthiness, the shame?
Staring back at me that Monday afternoon was the empty sac I knew in my heart to expect. Where there should have been a developing brain, little arm buds, a visible heart, there was the same emptiness I had seen in those other terrible scans. I could wait and re-scan in two or three days. With my husband away for work, perhaps it made sense to wait but my broken heart couldn’t bear it. We scheduled a D&C for the next day. Thank God I have my mum. I walked into the hardest day of my life by myself and I had to call her and ask her to come, she was there in a heartbeat as all loving mums are. She wrapped me up in her love and compassion while she also grieved, for a grandchild who would not be and for her own child’s suffering. Having her there stopped the flood of tears and upset and I found a semblance of strength. No one should expect themselves to go through something like that alone.
I paid my price for admission to a collective that has largely been silent but is growing in it’s openness. What I found when the sad decision was made, was that there is a veritable army of women who have suffered losses and still love. Who are brimming with compassion, who care and wish to lift you up. Because when they suffered it left a mark on their soul but hope remained in their hearts and they went on to have healthy pregnancies and to become proud mummas to those squishy little bambinos. But what they see in you, or me and our loss, what they lift up in you is your motherhood. They inspire in you the courage and the confidence to try again.
I am now a week and two days on from facing a decision to allow my body to be helped along and speed up the healing of my broken heart, or to allow my body to wind things up naturally, which could mean another month or more of intermittent bleeding and a prolonged recovery, subsequently further delay in achieving a viable pregnancy. I took the help and it was through that assistance so many women were able to lift me up in my darkest hour. I was not alone. I was far from alone and many were invested in my full recovery of hope, courage and spirit. I have to say, as well as my friends many of them were women I came across during my single day in hospital. Nurses cried with me, doctors and nurses held my hand and shared their stories and helped me see mine wasn’t over.
The men in my life did a wonderful job of being compassionate and optimistic as well. I must say my dear Scott-the-Lot is full of optimism and is very much looking forward to fatherhood, he speaks about it more often now. My brothers shared their concern and did their best to reassure and comfort me and their words were some of the ones that stuck most closely to my heart. My dad was there for me in a way only dads can, by being stoic but present and good with a hug. Of most value to me though were the men in my life that asked after how Scott was doing. These were men who had also experienced a loss or shared a difficult journey to parenthood. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that we share this journey with our partners because it is our bodies but it is also their lives, their hopes, their dreams, our story. My Scott the lot is doing better than I am, he has his face shining forward and he is bundling me along with him, but I still make an effort to keep the conversation open.
So now I want to share with you that yesterday was the first day that I felt like I did before I was pregnant. My fear is that it feels too much like it never happened, that no one will know, that I will forget. I get teary when I think about having been pregnant, then not being pregnant all of a sudden without having the joy and fulfillment of a swelling belly and subsequently a wriggly bub. Suddenly it felt as though there was less that was special about me. Then I recall the women that held me up and I remember that I am one of them. I too will wear the scar on my heart and move forward boldly in the face of fear and we will try again.
I have read (of course I have “Dr Googled” EVERYTHING) that losing a pregnancy at any stage is hard. But at whatever stage you suffer a heart wrenching loss, from the moment you see those two sweet lines on a pregnancy test you go through a transformation. You and your husband or partner have hopes and expectations, you discuss baby names and what kind of child your bub will be, you think about how you’ll manage work and an infant or how you’ll tell your boss, you tell your nearest and dearest and they are so fricken excited for you and for themselves and the role they’ll get to play in your baby’s life… and those hopes cannot be taken back. Your heart will carry a sadness, a weight, a sense of loss, until it doesn’t. Until then, speak with other women and men about your loss, it’s passed the time where we should keep silent on such things. Reach out so that they may lift you up, as I was lifted up and as we should lift each other up.
“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.” ~William Shakespeare