For years after my husband and I lost two babies through miscarriage, I could not find the right words, to convey the depth of grief, loss and feeling of emptiness that going through this experience brings.
Then I stumbled across the words “you were my favourite hello and my hardest goodbye” and there it was in black and white, a sentence that for me summed up the loss of the babies in a nutshell. The delight and happiness of seeing that double blue line, my favourite hello, matched only by the devastating realisation that when things started to go wrong that we would never hear our baby’s cry, my hardest goodbye.
The word miscarriage was not one that ever entered my mind until June 2009. My first pregnancy had been plain sailing and our first baby boy was born in May 2007. We loved being parents. My husband took to it like a duck to water and for myself despite enjoying work and a career knew in my heart and soul that I wanted to be a full time mum more. When we fell pregnant again I was very relaxed about the second pregnancy. My first pregnancy had been fine, it never entered my mind that something could go wrong.
Everything was progressing normally, I had a scan at 16 weeks on one of the smaller monitors and the doctor carrying out the examination said that they saw the heart beat and that the size of the baby looked in line with the period of gestation.
Moving on a few weeks, I had no signs at all that something was wrong; there was no bleeding, no pain. Then at 22 weeks I attended the hospital for the anomaly scan along with my husband and our son who was two and a half at the time. It was to be an exciting day for us all. Little did we know that our world was to be shattered and go in a direction that we had never contemplated.
I got ready for the scan, and the midwife started the examination. After a few minutes the midwife said as gently as possible “Deirdre I’m really sorry but I cannot find a heartbeat”. Even to-day those words send a shiver up my spine. My husband had been distracted at the time with our son, so I called to him and repeated what had been said. It was very upsetting for all of us. Even the midwife was visibly up-set. As hard as it is to receive this information it is also hard to give it. When I found my voice again, I asked was she sure and she said yes, but she would ask another midwife to check also, which they did and it was the same outcome, no matter how I wished it to be otherwise.
As I was 22 weeks and the little baby was perfectly formed, the midwife kindly asked did I want some pictures of the baby, which we did. It is really important to be offered these pictures, at the time I didn’t know it, but these pictures became treasured mementoes at the afterwards.
The hospital staff were very kind and showed a lot of empathy, compassion and support. This made such a difference on what was only the beginning of what was to be a long and painful journey. We were ushered into what I now refer to as “the tissue room” where one knows if you are going in there, bad news has been given and there are boxes of tissues dotted around and tea and biscuits are given. We were told that a doctor had been called and would be with us to go through what had to happen next.
We were both in shock, and even our little son knew that something was not quite right. The doctor came to talk to us. He empathised with us on the loss of our little baby and went through what the next steps were and answered any questions that we had. He and the midwives realised that we were in state of shock and let us have all the time we needed and went back over things as many times as we wanted.
For me as I was 22 weeks a D & C was not given as an option, but I would have to take a pill that would bring on labour within 36 hours of taking it. Needless to say that pill brought home the saying “a hard pill to swallow” both figuratively and physically speaking. I was told that I did not have to rush into taking this, but to go home and let things sink in and call them at any time with any more questions that I had. I could call day or night.
The most upsetting thing for us next was to have to tell our parents and family. Like us this news was a bolt out of the blue for them. My own mum kept saying are the hospital sure, they can get it wrong, the machines can be faulty etc. and she eventually persuaded me to ask the hospital for another scan. Which I did and they dually obliged without any hassle to have a repeat scan the next day. Unfortunately the result was the same. No heartbeat. Some would say I was crazy to put myself through that again, but I guess it was peace of mind and I would never have to look back and say what if.
When I did take the pill, I had to call the hospital to let them know so that they would expect me in 36 hours later. Of all that we went through losing our little baby, swallowing that pill was one of the worst parts for me as I knew what the pill was going to do and I would really physically have to let go of our little baby, even thought my head told me the baby was already gone my heart did not want to let go. I think that is a mother’s instinct – always to love and protect.
So I went into the hospital at the appointed time, and in fairness to the hospital, the area where I had to go was completely away from where the main activities of the hospital are carried on. My Husband was with me, and the staff in the unit were very kind and caring. Some of the nurses did say you’ll be ok, it could be worse, the baby could have been born full term and been really sick and then died etc. I’m not sure that these stories help, but for me I was so numb at the time I kind of just let them wash over me. One nurse did at one point use the words ‘spontaneous abortion’ in relation to my situation, which did annoy me, but I let it pass as I knew there was no bad intention there. But on the whole they are words I would definitely avoid, as in to-days world the word “abortion “ is so ingrained in our brains as to mean one intentionally makes that decision , which of course I definitely did not.
Moving on, after some intense labour pain for which I received painkillers – pethidine, our little baby was delivered, it was a little boy. The midwife was really compassionate at this point and he was taken away and then presented back to us in a basket covered in linen. In our case everything that happened from then on showed the utmost dignity and respect to us and our little boy, whom we named Rory Jack.
We were allowed keep the baby with us for as long as we wanted and were encouraged us to take photos if we wanted too. The hospital chaplain visited us in the room and lit a candle and said prayers with us. The bereavement midwife for the hospital also visited us and she and the chaplain and the hospital social worker would be our points of contact for the next stage.
The next day the bereavement midwife went through the paperwork with us. Legally we had to sign papers saying that we gave permission for the hospital to carry out a post-mortem on the baby and when that was complete there was the option to have the hospital bury the baby in Glasnevin cemetery or we could take care of this ourselves. It is really hard to deal with these things but we were lucky in that all this was done with huge amount of compassion and peacefulness. We never felt rushed.
Once the post-mortem was completed, the chaplain contacted us to organise a service in the hospital chapel, which family could attend. This was very beautifully done. Rory was laid out in little white coffin and was dressed in a little linen cloth and was wrapped in a blanket. When you are grieving it is strange the things that become important in your head, for me I worried that I did not have a blanket small enough to cover him, I didn’t know at that time that the hospital would provide this, and when I saw that they had, it brought me a lot of peace on the day Rory was buried. Closing the coffin, knowing that is your last goodbye, it’s the hardest thing to do.
After that the hospital offered counselling sessions, as many as we wanted to arrange. The social worker then followed up with when the post-mortem results were available and we arranged to meet with one of the doctors and the bereavement midwife to go through what had happened. In Rory’s case in turned out to be a non- immune hydrops leading to heart failure. For me the non – immune part was the most important as it meant it was nothing to do with anything I had or hadn’t done, it was just one of those things. My mum found a little saying which summed things up for Rory – “A little flower, lent not given, to bud on earth to flower in heaven”.
Later that year the hospital held a memorial service for all the babies lost during that year, and this again was beautifully done and was a huge support.
Our experience with the hospital, midwives, chaplain, and social worker was overall a positive one in a very terrible situation. What made it so- the compassion shown by all involved. I know it cannot be easy as health care professionals to show compassion in every case as you possible see these situations all the time and it is just a job at the end of the day. However to the person who is losing or has lost a baby, it is not a job, or thankfully something that they go through every day, but it is a real story, their story, happening right there and then.
It is possible because my miscarriage was what is termed a late or missed miscarriage and because it was at 22 weeks that I received a huge amount of compassion. However one can never be a little bit pregnant. Whether a miscarriage happens early or late it is still very emotional for the woman and their partner, and it is important to recognise that to those involved they have lost a baby, it is not a medical procedure to them. We fell pregnant naturally, but for those who have had to take a different path to conceive, only to go onto miscarry, then that is a whole other mix of emotions that need to be recognised. Compassion and a little kindness goes a long way and will always be remembered and will help in the longer term healing.
As chairperson of The Miscarriage Association since 2012, people share their stories, at support meetings, over the telephone, via email. The two things that people always comment on was if the hospital staff, or the GP or whoever they came into contact with when miscarrying were kind, then this brings them a sense of comfort, their loss recognised. On the flip side if someone was dismissive or rude, this brings feelings of anger and resentment. It only takes time to be kind.
After losing Rory, I existed. The world still revolved around me, but looking back now I was going through the motions. It was our eldest son that kept me going, got me out of bed. Simple things like going to the shops for groceries seemed liked the biggest mountain to climb. I didn’t realise that the grief and sadness was etched onto my face, until one day when in my local butchers he jokingly said “Don’t look so sad, it might never happen”. Inside I screamed “It already has.” But on the outside I just smiled and nodded.
I cried a lot, randomly – the grief would hit without warning. I would cry watching the TV, walking down the street, seeing other pregnant ladies. Eventually my husband realised asking me “What was wrong? Was I ok? Was not the thing to do? Asking these questions, even though they were asked out of concern, made angry. I felt like screaming Do I look like ok? Surely you know what is wrong?! For me crying was healing, it was like the grief was just flowing out of me through my tears. We lost Rory in June, about mid-December while taking down the Christmas Decorations, I came across my eldest son’s first Christmas decoration. Then it hit me, this would have been Rory’s first Christmas, and he wouldn’t be here. I cried for two days. Afterwards I felt lighter, like the clouds were beginning to clear.
In the background of all this grief, you want to be pregnant again – you feel like this is the only thing that will fix your broken heart- but the stress of your body and mind make this all the more difficult. Your body does not want to listen to your racing mind. After 4/5 months of trying we went to see a doctor to check was there anything wrong. Thankfully there wasn’t, but even hearing that gave reassurance. We did fall pregnant again in the January/ February following Rory’s loss. Seeing those two blue lines, brought such joy, but along with it, the worry that it would happen again. The beauty and wonder of pregnancy taken away, replaced by worry. I took things week by week, never allowing myself to look to the end of nine months. I kept busy doing work and other projects and that’s how I got through the pregnancy. Thankfully the pregnancy was low risk and without complication and our third baby boy was born on my 36th birthday. What a birthday present.
Nineteen months later we had our fourth baby boy –not completely planned in that time frame, but after everything we had been through, it didn’t matter that life was hectic.
Moving on a few years and we tried for one more baby to complete our family. After having two successful pregnancies following Rory, I really didn’t think anything would go wrong. Unfortunately things didn’t go to plan. After falling pregnant so easily the last time, I expected the same thing to happen again. But the body has a “mind” of its own and I didn’t fall pregnant for 12 plus months. Reading the statistics, this is considered “normal”. However it can become all-consuming and take over your thoughts, although you try to convince yourself otherwise. I was thrilled to see two blue lines on a pregnancy test. About fifteen weeks into this pregnancy, the spotting started. At first just small amounts so you hope against hope that this is not what you think it is. That it is just some implantation bleeding and that the pregnancy will continue as normal. Sadly this wasn’t to be and the cramping and the bleeding got worse. I took myself off to the emergency room in the hospital where I had attended for my other pregnancies. A scan confirmed the sad news that in my heart I already know – there was no heartbeat. As the miscarriage had not started fully yet, I was advised to go home and if the bleeding became very heavy to come back in. So I duly went home and broke the news to my husband. I set myself up on the sofa, with a hot water bottle and had the Panadol and Solphedine on standby. Having listening to many women’s experience of miscarriage over the years, I still was no way prepared for what happened next. The pain – was like labour pains and the blood loss was frightening. Every time I stood up the bleeding was so heavy, even those heavy duty maternity pads were saturated. By the time I realised I maybe should have gone to the hospital – it was too late to go by car- I would have had to call an ambulance. I didn’t want to frighten the boys so they were sent to bed and I went through it at home. Maybe they couldn’t have done much more in the hospital any way and I was better off in the comfort of home. It was a long night, but once I felt I had gotten through the worst of the pain and bleeding I fell into a fitful sleep.
The next day I had a scan appointment anyway so I went into the hospital so they could check to see what the story was. The scan showed that there was only a little bit of tissue left inside the womb and that the pain and bleeding should be consistent with that of the period. So I went to meet with my husband and the boys who were waiting in the car nearby. I felt fine leaving the hospital, but on the walk back to the car, started to feel unwell again. We were only half way home in the car when the intense labour pains started again. At this stage I had no energy to go through it again, so we phoned the hospital and went back to the emergency room. With the contractions at about 3 minutes apart I couldn’t walk I had to get a wheelchair to the emergency room. The three boys sitting on the footpath wondering what was happening, but grinning all the same. In the end the pain and bleeding went on like this for about 3 hours. I was admitted to hospital, ironically I had the same room where I had Rory – what are the odds. I was administered pethidine for the pain and got through the night. The next morning another scan was done and there was still some tissue left, so a d & c was offered. Not wanting to go through anymore I opted for the D & C.
When I got home, life continued as normal, except it wasn’t. I was really angry this time that I had to go through all that pain. I was sad too, but felt lucky to have our three beautiful boys. I didn’t feel quite ready to give up on having a fourth baby. As time passed by, it didn’t look that dream was going to become a reality. Just as we had decided enough was enough, the two blue lines appeared and with joy we welcomed our baby boy last September. He is the apple of all our eyes.
In the last few years there has been an exposure in the media to the devastation that pregnancy and infant loss brings to people’s lives. In popular soaps such as Coronation Street, EastEnders, Fair city, stories of miscarriage and stillbirth have been carefully and sensitively portrayed. In newspapers both in print and on-line they have run peoples stories about loss. Even celebrities have shared their stories of loss. All of this is so important. It is important to “Break the silence”. People always say they don’t know what to say when someone suffers the loss of a pregnancy or a baby. Simply say “I’m sorry”.
There are many wonderful charities that are there to provide information and help:
October is Awareness month. October 15th is International Pregnancy and Baby loss Awareness Day. At 7pm every year people are invited to light a candle so that a wave of light is created across the world in memory of all the little babies lost during pregnancy or before or during birth.
Deirdre Pierce – McDonnell
Chairperson – the Miscarriage Association of Ireland.