Statistically, I was “due” for a miscarriage. It happens to one in four women in Australia. But after three healthy, complication-free pregnancies, I never considered miscarriage to be a real threat. I had conceived naturally and with ease and felt very “compatible” with pregnancy. Foolishly, I didn’t think it would happen to me.
The conception of our fourth baby took a long time. Not in practice, but in reaching the decision.
Being one of five daughters and blessed with a rich, vibrant and noisy family life, I yearned for a big family, but my husband needed some convincing. After a yearlong discussion of “should we or shouldn’t we?” we decided to roll the dice one more time. And to my delight it rolled in our favour.
My initial excitement at the possibility of a pregnancy was tempered by the imminent death of a close family member. In a collision of emotions, I delayed testing to give space to my grief. I couldn’t celebrate one new life while mourning another.
Just beneath my grief lay a thin layer of hope. My body gave me early signs of pregnancy but I waited until after the funeral to do a test. We went to yum cha with the kids for Mother’s Day and then I felt ready to receive a gift of my own. My heart beat a little faster as I saw the second line emerge; faint as it was, it offered me the softest glimpse of happiness in a long while. We were going to have another baby. I was elated.
The following day, buoyed by the little life budding inside me, I went for a run. It was a glorious morning and the autumn hues were magnificent. The trees gracefully shed their leaves, performing a picturesque striptease. I smiled as I ran; believing I was running towards happiness.
But happiness was fleeting and within 24 hours I traded optimism for anguish. The spotting on my knickers was the first sign. While I had never experienced it before, I was not alarmed. I searched Internet boards to allay my concerns. Forums and chat rooms offered hope. Spotting was common. Even bleeding during the early weeks of pregnancy was common. There was nothing to worry about unless it got heavier.
But it did get heavier. And more painful. But it wasn’t going to result in a miscarriage. This wouldn’t happen. It couldn’t.
In a fraught attempt to defy gravity I lay down on the sofa for two hours in the middle of the day – not daring to move – believing if I remained horizontal and could not feel the blood seeping out of me, it was not real.
Only it was real. When I stood up and felt the resulting seepage, my whole body shook in fear. The cramping, described on the internet as similar to “period pain”, was nothing like menstrual cramping. It was sharp and mercilessly stabbed at my sides, and my heart. But still, I held onto hope.
By the end of the day my hope had all but disappeared. My husband watched on helpless as I sobbed on the toilet. He saw my naked anguish, which was raw and abrupt. Each time I passed pregnancy tissue, the remains of my hope were shed too.
I was losing my baby. I was losing a life I loved. Like most women, I had calculated the baby’s due date, mentally rearranged the kids’ bedrooms and jumped ahead to the baby’s birth. At six weeks gestation it was only the size of my pinky’s fingernail, but I loved each and every one of those precious cells. I cried most of the night, in a restless, anguished sleep with my hand over my hollow tummy, powerless over my own body.
I went to the doctors the following day to confirm the inevitable. She offered veiled hope and referred me to radiology for an ultrasound.
As I lay on my back, covered in the cold gel, I stared at the black and white monitor and my heart ached. Hot, silent tears fell down my cheeks as the sonographer prodded and probed searching for a gestational sack that had already passed. Unable to sight it she performed a painful internal ultrasound. “I’m sorry to say there is nothing there. It looks like a complete miscarriage,” she said, as she had likely said many times before.
Like most mothers, the guilt rose within me and the self-interrogation began. Was I responsible? Was it my age? Why hadn’t I taken folate? Was it linked to my stress levels? But, no, my GP assured me it was nothing I had done, or not done. It was just a standard miscarriage. Only there was nothing standard about it. I plunged into raw, primal grief. I was not only mourning the loss of a pregnancy; in my eyes, we had lost a baby, a toddler, a child, and a life. And the loss penetrated my every cell.
Later that day as I lay on the couch, unable to process my grief, something lovely happened. My four-year-old quietly lifted my blanket, lay down with me and placed her head on my chest. She didn’t say a word (outrageously rare for her) as I stroked her hair, softly and solemnly. Within minutes she was asleep; a child who hadn’t fallen asleep on me since she was a baby. I listened to her rhythmic breathing, in time with my own, and watched her chest rise and fall. And in that moment I have never been happier and sadder in my life. It struck me that love can hurt as much as it can elate. And that grief and joy are powerfully linked.
In the space of just one week I had lost two lives that meant the world to me. My heart – heavy from the loss of a relationship I had enjoyed for almost 40 years – collapsed with the loss of a relationship just six weeks old, but with the promise of a lifetime of joy. I wanted to run away from the grief. I wanted to go to bed and sleep until the sadness evaporated. But loss demands to be felt. You can’t run from grief and you can’t hide. And the only way out (of grief) is through.
What I discovered in the weeks that followed is that pregnancy loss is a deeply personal, solitary and lonely grief. My loss was classified as an early miscarriage. But whether you lose a baby at six weeks or 12 weeks, the outcome is the same and the grief is profound. And whether you miscarry during your first pregnancy, or your fourth pregnancy, the pain is raw and healing takes time. Because all miscarriages matter.
They all matter.