Having given birth to a little girl 9 years ago, I never imagined that the journey to give her a sibling would be one filled with grief, depression, and anxiety.
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to have children and for them to have as close a relationship as the one I have with my sister. Having given birth to a little girl 9 years ago, I never imagined that the journey to give her a sibling would be one filled with grief, depression, and anxiety.
I remember well when we found out I was pregnant for the second time back in 2017. My daughter was three at the time and my husband and I excitedly told her she was going to have a little brother or sister, not ever imagining that anything could go wrong. Affectionate as she was (and remains to this day), she would kiss my belly and talk to her sibling-to-be, telling them just how excited she was to meet them. Every evening, we would sit on her bed and read Hello in There! A Big Sister’s Book of Waiting (by Jo Witek), and I would dream about how my children would play and laugh together in the near future.
At eight weeks, we went to see our obstetrician – the same one who had delivered our daughter. My husband and I chatted and laughed with him as he prepared the ultrasound machine. My world changed in the blink of an eye as I saw the light in his eyes disappear and be replaced by a serious intensity. I knew immediately that something was wrong.
Then came the words, "I'm sorry, I can't hear a heartbeat".
Secondary infertility, missed miscarriage, D&C, abortion tablets … In the next 15 to 20 minutes, I heard words that described my loss and the options in front of me - words I had never heard before. I could barely register what my OB was telling me. My heart and mind were stuck at “no heartbeat” and the realisation that my hopes and dreams were being thwarted. However, the worst was still to come.
My OB told me I had to “collect the sample” so they could test it and determine what had led to the miscarriage. He told me to let it pass naturally and so, I waited, dreading each trip to the bathroom, particularly those at my workplace, where I had told my colleagues “I had the flu.” I cried silent tears in the bathroom stall at work, and I exploded with anger and frustration when I returned home, unable to process my grief. We had also not told our daughter as we were waiting until the baby passed. Each time she kissed my belly, I felt the hot tears threatening to escape the corners of my eyes. I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone about the depth of emotion that I was feeling. I felt alone.
Waiting for the test results, I told myself the best way to get over the grief I was feeling was to try again. Sadly, the universe had other ideas in mind for me as my test results showed that I had had a complete molar pregnancy (a rare type of pregnancy in which fertilisation of the egg goes wrong due to a chromosomal imbalance, and in which there is a growth of abnormal cells or clusters of water filled sacs inside the womb). As this condition carries with it the risk of a mole becoming cancerous, I would have to wait for least 7-8 months before trying to get pregnant again.
Those months felt like years as I felt my biological clock ticking away, reducing my chances of having another child. When I finally was able to try again, we fell pregnant pretty quickly, but the pregnancy was accompanied by anxiety rather than happiness. My OB understood how anxious I was and had me come into his rooms for an early scan (at 7 weeks). To my relief, the scan was fine – a perfect heartbeat, good growth, nothing untoward. However, my relief was short-lived as just 9 days later, a scan revealed the baby had stopped growing. This time, I went straight to the operating rooms to have a D&C procedure. To my utter horror, I awoke to hear a woman in the bed next to me talking about her pregnancy.
I told myself I was OK. I told myself I’d been there before and that it wasn’t as hard this time. I threw myself into work, and having just been promoted, it was easy to do exactly that. However, the reality was that I was a zombie operating on auto-pilot, in denial over the impact my losses were having on my sense of self-worth and mental health. It took someone noticing that I wasn’t quite myself at work for things to change – for me to talk about what I was feeling and to finally start processing the pain I had suppressed.
It’s a strange thing, miscarriage. On the one hand, it’s so common that we all know and talk about the risk of it happening and protect ourselves from the trauma of having to share a potential loss with others by building a cone of silence around our first trimester.
On the other hand, that cone of silence means we often have no one to talk to when we experience the pain of pregnancy loss, resulting in feelings of isolation and utter helplessness.
A few months after my second pregnancy loss, I spoke to my husband about how I could only ever do this once more. I didn’t have enough strength to deal with more than one more pregnancy loss. As before, we feel pregnant quickly. The scans were fine, and we made it to the point where we could tell people we were pregnant. But there was no joy – every part of me expected the worst. No kicking – something must be wrong. Nausea – it must be a sign. Cramping – here we go again. I was a nervous wreck for 9 months, and even right at the end, when I had complications that resulted in me having to be induced, I thought “Ah, this is when I lose the baby”.
The trauma of pregnancy loss goes well beyond the loss itself and reverberates for months and years to come. I had my rainbow baby and a happy ending to my story, but I’m all too aware that that isn’t the case for everyone. As hard as it may be to talk about the loss of a baby and with the baby, one’s hopes and dreams, I look forward to the day where we talk about our losses openly, where we hold space for the grief and pain of those who are experiencing it, where we shed the stigma and with it the unwritten, unspoken expectation that we should “just get over it” and that “it isn’t a big deal”.
It's time to make the unspoken, spoken. It’s time to rebel.