No one should know what it’s like to lose a baby, or know how it stops your breath to hear the words “miscarriage” firsthand. My husband and I are in the incredibly ill-fated and tiny minority of 1% of couples who have suffered from “Recurrent Miscarriage”, to put in simpler terms 3 (heartbreaking) early pregnancy losses in a row.
At the tender age of 25, I was pregnant with my daughter (now almost 13), and the word miscarriage did not enter my young mind once. As soon as I saw the second line appear instantly on that plastic white stick, I was texting and gleefully informing friends my news. Without a second thought, I was sharing my excitement.
I had never even considered nor come across the 12-week rule for spreading pregnancy announcements. At that point, I had never known of any friends or family who had suffered from any kind of fertility related problems. It was an alien concept.
Sure enough, my 12 week scan showed a healthy bean, as did the 16 and 24 week scans which revealed that I was having a vigorous baby girl.
In fact, I had a text book pregnancy and out of my own choice, experienced “hippy dippy” pain free water birth, complete with crystals and candles. Less than 24 hours later, I was out of the birthing centre, enjoying pushing my daughter around in the 2005 heat wave that shone down upon us that July.
Fast forward to 2016, I had met the love of my life at 36 years of age, he being 41.
We discussed having a family pretty quickly, mostly due to our ages and of course knowing that the stars had aligned.
I had read that over the age of 35, fertility takes a sharp nose dive and can take up to a year to conceive, even for a healthy couple. Pragmatically we thought we had to try straight away. We agreed that I would stop taking contraception and I eagerly threw away my mini-pill, started taking folic acid and tracked ovulation daily like a woman possessed.
Much to our surprise, the anticipated second line appeared instantaneously, a little after the first month of trying.
“How lucky we are”, “We must be so fertile”, were all but a few phrases that rang out that day. Quickly came the planning; names, the wonder over a little girl or dashing baby boy, and who will he/she look like. Eager to share our news, we told close family and friends. We lovingly made a nickname of “Baby bean” and my partner would lovingly stroke my stomach and talk to our baby.
I was dealing with it in the exact same way as the giddy 25 year old Joanne; a positive pregnancy test means you are sure to get a baby in 9 months- how wrong could I be?
We booked a private scan at 7 weeks, not because I was worried about anything. My symptoms were strong; I had all day nausea, exhaustion and felt well and truly pregnant. The reason we had booked an early scan was down to the size of my 7-week bump and naively dreaming that we had a double bundle inside- we had sets of twins on both sides of the family.
I remember the hush of the sonographer and the on the spot shudder that something was wrong. She kept on digging the wand deep into my stomach and waving it around with grave look on her face. “What can you see?”, “Where is the baby?”, I kept questioning her over and over again, yet still no reply. The silence in that room deafened me.
Eventually she began to speak, “I can’t see a foetal pole or yolk sac, at the moment all I can see is an empty gestational sac”.
My heart sunk and I instantly burst into tears, I could see Matthew frantically Googling in the background and bringing up pregnancy forums. We reached a conclusion, “You may have the dates wrong; you need to have another scan in 2 weeks to see if the baby has appeared.”
Cue the toughest, most anxious, heart-wrenching fortnight of our lives, coupled with a pitiless text from Matthew’s ex-wife claiming that I had “made it all up” and “how disgusting” I was. I thought that my heart would implode.
Sure enough, 3 days before Christmas, we had the fateful dreaded scan which informed us that we had a “blighted ovum”. This meant that I felt pregnant and even looked pregnant, but no baby had formed in the gestational sac, even though it had continued growing.
We were given a printed scan photo of a perfectly formed, albeit empty circle that was embedded within my womb.
Due to the time of year, I could not have a D&C operation (dilation and curretage) to remove the “products of conception” until the coming New Year. I would feel pregnant, knowing that I wasn’t, for a time.
We trudged off home to spend Christmas with an empty baby sac inside me and still feeling waves of all day sickness. We tried to put the impending procedure out of mind and enjoy what had always been my very most favourite time of the year.
Our loved ones tried their best to console us. “At least you can get pregnant” and “Keep trying” were some of the heartfelt responses. We did feel that at least we had gotten pregnant easily, which at the time felt as a massive sanction.
We followed the doctor’s orders, had a break for a cycle, and then felt strong enough to try again. The literature we had read and were given clearly stated that the chances of 2 miscarriages in a row were tremendously unlikely.
Months rolled by, and winter turned to summer and then finally bloomed to spring. With every month, came another day of staring at a stark white (negative) pregnancy test.
We tried every supplement under the sun and every fandangle pill or potion I could get my hands on, from B6 to B12 to CoQ10.
8 months later on a dark autumn evening in the city centre, right before a Russell Brand gig (oh, the things we remember), a second line stared at me directly in the face.
I danced a little merry congratulations jig in the toilet before taking and sending a picture of the said test to my now husband. He was thrilled, we both were.
Two weeks later, the bleeding started. I was now a little over 6 weeks pregnant and anything but out of the danger zone. At first it came in drips and specs, which Matthew lovingly tried to convince me was normal, then the drips turned to pours. When blood eventually started to gush, we knew that we were in trouble.
I raced to the hospital to hear heavy words. My womb was empty. I had passed the foetus, that recognizable stony face glanced back at me from the sonographer, “You have miscarried”.
The same feelings of grief rushed over us for a baby that we had never even met and existed only in our anticipation. Do we try again?
We decided to put it to the back of our minds. I stopped swallowing the fertility potions and never even tracked ovulation in the following month, which added to the absolute surprise that we felt when we were pregnant again-just 6 weeks after the second miscarriage.
Honestly, I was more petrified than anything else. My GP booked me in for an early reassurance scan on the NHS at 7 weeks, 2 days. By this time a heart beat should be visibly present in a healthy pregnancy. I hardly slept the night before and my knees knocked together in the waiting room like a percussion instrument.
I was led into the scanning room, feeling like a lamb to the slaughter. I closed my eyes and when I opened them I could see a flickering on the screen, a sweet bean with a flickering heart.
Relief washed over me, and then the tears started. I was given a printout of our healthy baby, heartbeat and all. I took a photo and WhatsApped it like an excitable teenager to nearest and dearest, entitling the said picture “Our Bean Plumley.”
Sure enough, 3 weeks later the bleeding started and a trip back to the sonographer was on the cards. We were told that our baby’s heartbeat had stopped. Here we were, again with immense crippling grief but now coupled with culpability. Perhaps it was that glass of Prosecco I had on Christmas Day? Perhaps it was the heavy shopping bags that I had carried home from town? Perhaps, it was my fault.
Of course, it wasn’t. These things just happen, randomly and cruel.
So, here I stand today having endured 3 very different pregnancies over an 18 month period.
I am now 39 years old and still have no baby with my beloved and ever supporting husband. Every test I have endured shows that I am perfectly healthy with a good egg supply. There simply are no answers which make it so very worse.
We are still trying, but only for a limited time, with cries of “Do you want to be 50 and have a 10 year old child?” ringing through my ears.
I have had to change where I have my nails done as I hurriedly had told the technician that I was pregnant and we sat there and discussed names and genders for 30 minutes over a manicure and an orange juice. I just cannot bring myself to go back and explain, tail between my legs with an immense feeling of embarrassment.
I regretfully haven’t been able to attend any baby showers that I have been invited to, and visiting friends with newborn babies is an ordeal. Do not get me wrong I am happy for them, and some may argue I have had a child already. Although a game of Guess the Diameter of a Pregnant Belly or Pin the Tail on the Diaper would send me over the edge. It should have been me, three times over.
Pregnancy loss, recurring or not, is a truly heartbreaking situation for anyone to find themselves in. I have found comfort from two very rewarding and compassionate organisations; Tommy’s; a charity funding research into miscarriage and stillbirth, and the Miscarriage Association, where I have found invaluable information, fact sheets and advice for both myself and my partner.
You can access the Miscarriage Association helpline at 01924 200799 Monday-Friday 9am-4pm.
My advice is DO talk about it, we need to do what we can to make pregnancy loss a very talked about, un-taboo reality that unfortunately 1 in 3 women will suffer from once in their lives.