It’s surely one of the loneliest and bewildering experiences I’ve ever had.
I feel vulnerable sharing my story, but it is time to be open in the hopes that someone else will know they are not alone.
It was 2003 - we had two beautiful boys and we were 18 weeks pregnant with our third child. We were so excited for the future. Our boys loved hugging my tummy and talking about their new sibling.
It was time for our 18-week ultrasound and I was so excited to see our baby again and how much she had grown.
I remember the sonographer – she had a blonde bob and was probably in her forties. She had started the scan and was very quiet. She seemed to be looking at our baby for a long time before she said to us – ‘hmmm the brain is measuring quite small’. In that second I remember looking up at Michael and thinking our baby had some sort of disorder – ‘ok, we can manage that’ I thought, trying to calm my nerves. But the butterflies had started. It wasn’t long before she said those fateful words... ‘see this - that’s the heart. It’s not beating.’
My memory is a bit foggy after that. I do remember screaming a lot and trying to get off the table. I just wanted to run away. The sonographer had left to get the doctor. He wanted to check for himself, but I didn’t want him to look. That would be facing reality which I wasn’t ready for. I just cried and cried while he did the scan and confirmed the results. I don’t think I stopped crying. Our little girl was measuring slightly smaller than 18 weeks and had probably died sometime in the previous week and had started to shrink. We were led into the consultation room while the doctor called our obstetrician. It was late on a Friday afternoon by this stage. I couldn’t speak. My husband spoke with our obstetrician and we had to meet her at the hospital the next day to be induced. What? I naively thought they would give me an anaesthetic and remove the baby. It was a shock to learn that with the baby’s size I would have to be induced and give birth. This had never occurred to me.
To walk back into our house with a dead baby inside me was a nightmare.
I sat like a zombie, unable to do anything but breathe. I kept thinking I had done something wrong. It felt like my dreams for our family were shattered in that moment. Trying to explain to the boys that their baby sibling was no longer there was such a sad experience.
We returned to the hospital the next morning. I was crying and asking to obstetrician to check before inducing me, as I was sure I could still feel the baby moving. She calmly and sympathetically told me they were sure. I was induced and we waited for labour to start - in a maternity unit! I could hear babies crying, while I was trying to give birth to a dead one. Fear overcame me when I felt like pushing. I was so scared. When she was finally born, she was so tiny. She was placed in a box the size of a shoebox. We named her Riley. We were given the most beautiful handmade quilt made by some amazing ladies for this very purpose – I didn’t know this happened so often that such a group was needed.
I then needed a D&C. I started crying again in recovery and the obstetrician decided I needed to be sedated and stay overnight. Every time I woke I could hear babies crying. It was the worst night of my life. The next morning I asked if I could see her again and the nurse kindly brought the shoebox in and I held her for one last time before we left the hospital.
We went on to experience another 4 losses in a row. I was basically pregnant and had a miscarriage every year for 4 years. Our second loss was very early at 5 weeks. There was part of me that was grateful it was so early and we could try again quickly. I was pregnant again the following year. Our obstetrician completed an in-rooms ultrasound at 12 weeks and gave us the awful news that I had another missed miscarriage. I had to leave the room crying, and walk past all the other pregnant women in the waiting room. We had told ourselves that this could never happen again, so we had taken our two young boys with us. I tried my hardest to put on a brave face for them. I was back at the hospital that afternoon for another D&C.
We became pregnant again the next year. Again, everything seemed to be alright and our obstetrician kept a close eye on us with weekly scans from 8 weeks. Then at 12 weeks she did another scan, only to find no heartbeat. It felt like a never-ending awful loop. I needed another D&C. When I woke in recovery I was already crying without realising it.
The recovery nurse came over and asked what I was so upset about. I couldn’t even answer her.
The following year I was 8 weeks’ pregnant and had some spotting. I was sent for an ultrasound and was told the baby was only measuring six weeks, with no heartbeat. The sonographer said I probably had my dates wrong and it was too early to see a heartbeat, but I knew better. We went to my niece’s baptism the following day. I was cramping and bleeding. I tried to compose myself and sat through the ceremony and the family lunch, while feeling like I was dying inside. My extended family didn’t know I was pregnant. I eventually told my husband that I couldn’t take the pain anymore and we went home. While my family rejoiced over a new baby, I was miscarrying again!
During our time of losses, I experienced PTSD, depression and anxiety. It was a long time before I could get the images of the room and events of my 18-week ultrasound out of my head. I became extremely anxious that something would happen to my boys and I became an over-protective parent for a few years. It was difficult to go to a shopping centre and see pregnant mums and new babies everywhere. My brain was trying to protect itself from further trauma. Loss was now not an abstract concept but something that could happen at any minute. It felt like cumulative grief and trauma.
I found one of the most challenging aspects of my journey was managing the pregnancies of others around me and dealing with the frequent inconsiderate and apathetic comments made by others. I was not the same person who could embrace the pregnancies of others. Watching your dreams come to life in the lives of others is devastating. I felt alone and misunderstood. There wasn’t the discussion and support around the topic of miscarriage then, as there is now. It requires sensitivity, grace and understanding to support someone after pregnancy loss.
Some of the most detrimental comments I experienced after my losses include:
Have you thought about contraception?
What are you so upset about?
At least you know you can get pregnant.
At least you already have children.
There must have been something wrong with them.
Complaining about gender disappointment to me when all I wanted was a healthy baby.
I became pregnant again in 2008. At about 10 weeks a specialist recommended that I have daily injections, as she suspected the blood supply to the placenta was the problem in our other pregnancies. I was terrified through the whole pregnancy. Every day I expected the worst to happen. Luckily for us the worst didn’t happen, and I gave birth to our little boy at 37 weeks. I know I am one of the lucky ones. I am beyond grateful for our family. I know not everyone gets their rainbow baby and I can only imagine that is another difficult and heart-breaking journey.
I hope in time people learn to be more understanding, empathetic and patient with those who experience pregnancy loss. They have lost the dream of their future child. I felt very lonely and misunderstood during our journey and my hope is that others will not feel that loneliness, with supportive groups such as The Pink Elephants. I believe that anyone going through such loss needs to be very kind to themselves. It is a difficult journey, as such grief only occurs when we love so deeply.