I have thought about writing this post no less than 100 times in the last 10 months. So far, I’ve written one or two poems that express some of the feelings I’ve experienced, but I no longer feel that the medium of poetry does justice to the unique mix of raw emotions that come from this plight (well, at least my poetry doesn’t seem to!).
So I’ll just get to it already. I can’t get pregnant without help. I’m not referring to the usual help from a man obviously. I mean from a doctor.
Not an uncommon issue of course but still one that I feel is largely unspoken about. You may have noticed that I’ve used “I” here when I know the more inclusive word is “we”, but, since I’m the one who doesn’t ovulate and my husband has top notch sperm, it sometimes feels like “I” is more appropriate.
But, that isn’t my main source of distress. It’s that I haven’t yet been able to sustain a pregnancy for longer than 10 weeks. My third miscarriage was confirmed last week during a nine-week scan when the familiar words “this is not good news guys” were uttered from the poor sonographer’s lips, just two weeks after we saw the beautiful little heartbeat blinking away.
We had decided this time to book a private scan, as the scars from the previous pregnancy, and our harrowing two-month experience at the Early Pregnancy Unit (EPU), were still raw. “Harrowing” feels almost embarrassingly dramatic as I type the word, but that’s how it felt, when we were told coldly that our second pregnancy was “gone” at five weeks, then lo and behold, three days later, we were back on track with some positive blood test results. The baby was pronounced “gone again” at seven weeks but then miraculously reappeared with a heartbeat two days later!
This rollercoaster carried on for three more weeks and included such highlights as two visits to A&E, overnight hospital stays for a suspected ectopic pregnancy, and no less than 10 visits to the “corridor of doom” (the EPU waiting room) where many couples like us emerge looking blotchy-faced and totally crushed. I was there all but ten minutes today before I met another bereft soul who asked me if I was OK. We embraced and agreed to stay in touch, thrown together in a club that neither of us wished to belong to.
I digress… the worst moment of that second pregnancy for me was the sheer joy at nine and a half weeks when we were told there was a strong heartbeat and all looked very positive, only to be told less than 20 minutes later that I should prepare to miscarry due to declining hormone levels. I don’t think my heart has ever recovered from that day.
Do you know the other thing? No-one ever seems to mention the graphic, physical pain of miscarriage. I’m not ashamed to admit, I shook uncontrollably in the hospital after I was examined by two doctors in succession. During the second examination, upon looking down and seeing the unimaginable, I made a noise so guttural that I was shocked to realise it arose from my own throat. Later that night, on the ward, I gladly accepted the numbing morphine that finally brought on sleep – a luxury that most pregnant woman aren’t afforded.
All that said, it still doesn’t compare to the ongoing emotional pain of not realising our dream of becoming a family. Except, pain doesn’t seem quite the right word. Infertility and miscarriage produce such a unique concoction of emotions (for me – I don’t want to speak for anyone else of course). It’s a heady mix of deep sadness and grief combined with a numbing acceptance of your situation, guilt, hope and hopelessness, envy, frustration and a quiet rage at the utter unfairness of “it all/the universe/karma/God/serial murderers conceiving in the blink of an eye etc. etc.”
This mix of emotion is one I know that my husband has sadly shared, BUT, in a beautiful twist of fate, the whole fucked up situation has also brought us an additional, iron-clad layer of closeness for which I couldn’t be more grateful. We unequivocally have each other’s backs, especially in all “baby” related situations – to the point where, in recent months, my husband had “sympathy” nausea during one of the various invasive procedures I underwent to determine the cause of my infertility. Cue all the medical staff in the room racing over to ensure he wasn’t going to pass out on top of me.
Despite this level of amazingness from my absolute rock of a spouse, I sometimes find myself somewhat unjustifiably irked by the comments of others with regards to infertility and pregnancy loss, both general and specific to me. I feel a nagging sense of guilt writing these next paragraphs as I am well aware that most people have only the best of intentions, but sometimes a well-meaning but misinformed aside has a similar effect to a suckerpunch to the crotch. Maybe, just maybe, if I mention some of these corkers right here, it might give someone an insight into the effects of unsolicited advice on those who are merely smiling and nodding to hide their disdain. And again, this is purely subjective as some may find these pearls of wisdom helpful!
For example, asking plainly “why can’t you just adopt then?” I feel to be a largely pointless addition to the conversation. In my experience, the person you are asking is likely to have, at the very least, considered or even seriously researched the possibility of adopting a child and it may very well be on the cards one day. However, adoption is a lengthy and difficult process and the couple may a) not wish to go through additional uncertainty/heartache, or b) not be ready to give up on their dream of having a biological child. Adding, “that’s what we would do if we couldn’t have kids” is also unhelpful because a) I’m not you, and b) trust me, you don’t know what you would do until you’re in the situation.
Next up, I can only speak for me, but I find telling an infertile person they need to “relax/stop stressing/stop trying for a baby and it will happen/change your lifestyle/stop working too much”, often has the opposite effect and actually places a lot of pressure on you to “change yourself”, which ultimately (and unintentionally) lays the blame at your feet. Not to mention that someone suffering through the trials of infertility is very likely to have already considered (many times) the things they can do to help themselves. For me this included: acupuncture, changing eating/drinking habits, taking up yoga, meditating, taking a 5-month sabbatical, changing jobs, trying 10,000 vitamin combos, taking the latest unorthodox albeit prescribed medication, and cajoling my poor husband into giving up anything that remotely resembles a vice. Pint of lager and a cigar anyone?
This phrase seems to be a popular reassurance after a miscarriage: “Well, never mind, it’s very common. At least you can get pregnant”. These, I know, are meant as words of encouragement, but somehow have the result of diminishing the sense of grief and loss felt from losing our babies. I’ve also had people say to me during the aftermath: “Well, I thought you wouldn’t want to come as there will be babies there” which again, in essence, is incredibly thoughtful but has the unintended effect of making you feel like a childless leper whose very presence makes parents feel uncomfortable about their top class reproductive organs, seemingly capable of producing tribes of “Von Trapp” proportions.
When I did become pregnant again in October, like many people who have previously miscarried, I became super vigilant about protecting my unborn child, switching all my beauty and cleaning products, scrutinising food ingredient labels, washing my hands thirty times a day, and above all, avoiding ANYONE with flu/colds like they had some flesh-eating virus. The fact that I wore a gas mask and sat at least three metres away from the snot-nosed so-and-so’s wasn’t always met with sympathy. OK, this is an exaggeration, but it was pointed out by one acquaintance, that my mild and temporary germaphobia may be the cause of my fertility problems.
It’s honestly not their fault and I mean that. No really. Because, they’ve never known the agony of taking three pregnancy tests daily just to make sure it didn’t “go away”, or running to the toilet several times a day to check if you are bleeding, or continuously squeezing your boobs to see if they are still sore, desperate for an iota of reassurance that this time might be the time we bring home a baby. They’ve never known the pain of watching the hope drain from your husband’s eyes in the scanning room and I’m so glad that they never will.
All of this is said, not as a criticism, but to hopefully shed some light on at least one person’s experience of this painful topic and maybe enlighten those who haven’t experienced it and are wanting to support a loved one. I have some amazing family and friends around me who just want to “be there” and, I have to say, just sending a thoughtful “I’m thinking of you”, or doing something “normal”, having a hug, or a drink, or dare I say “a laugh” – all of those things – they gradually start to make you whole again. It’s the people around you that help you to heal. My mum in particular has been an absolute star and simply casts aside all her plans at the drop of a hat to come and look after me.
Therefore, I don’t want to paint a picture of doom and gloom in my household. All these thoughts are born from very raw emotions surfacing after my most recent miscarriage (this time “missed”), which we learned about only a few days ago. I still have yet to go through the physical process of the loss, but I sat here with such a strong, cathartic urge to write that I couldn’t let the moment pass.
Where was I? Oh yeah, not all doom and gloom…I need to emphasise that my husband and I are very happy, healthy people who are lucky to have such an amazing bond and an incredible network of beautiful humans around us. I just need to work on negotiating with the husband to get that puppy and we’ll be complete!
As for expanding our family unit beyond canine children, we will continue to rise above the pain and move forward together making the most of all the beauty that life had to offer. Hopefully, one day, we’ll be parents, but if not, we are very blessed indeed to have a love strong enough to weather the storm and flourish in the darkness.
Love Rachel x