All baby scan photos look the same. Let’s be honest. The tiny outline of a human and a whitish, grey and black mass. I was sat staring at that image on a flat screen in front of me when the sonographer told me my babies heart had stopped beating. All I saw was that human outline, dead. Lifelessly floating like a ghost. It was the worst fucking moment of my life.
I can’t quite explain how horrific that feeling is. I’ve felt grief and it wasn’t quite that. It was wanting to completely self destruct. It was wanting to just die there and then.
My reality is every other day I have to look at that image popping up on social media, in adverts... and as soon as I do, I’m straight back in that chair, that same emotion comes over me. I don’t want to be here. Self destruction mode. Imagine losing the one thing you loved more than anything and every other day being confronted with something that looks like the exact mental image of their dead body. That’s pretty much what it is.
It all came to a crescendo when I realised I had suppressed my trauma so much it was now spilling out of me in physical form. It was obvious to the world. If I was confronted with somebody even mentioning pregnancy, my speech, which is normally fairly loud and confident would stutter or I’d completely fail to speak. It would be as if I was paralysed in my body and the negative thoughts would rear their ugly head. I existed in a mental state of reliving the trauma, and if I wasn’t reliving it, I’d be distracting myself with something ridiculous and excessive.
I’ve always considered myself to be ‘resilient’ and attempted to have a stiff upper lip, but it became very real when I was in Asda, of all places, and I suddenly realised I was surrounded by very young babies and mothers. It wasn’t gradual, my body just started sweating and my teeth were clamped together. I went dizzy and flashback after flashback after flashback filled my head. I left my shopping and got out as fast as I could. Then the spiral of negative thoughts began for several days again. I had zero coping mechanism.
I still refused to acknowledge there was anything wrong with me. I adopted my new persona as a ‘workaholic’ as a distraction method. If I worked from the second I woke up, til the second I fell asleep, I wouldn’t have to think about it for too long and the negative thoughts won’t start again.
Now, to anyone who hasn’t physically lived through or witnessed a miscarriage, this might sound a little ridiculous. I get it. I would’ve thought similar. I’ve always been a ‘count your blessings’, ‘quit moaning’ type. When I got pregnant the first time, I felt sort of like ‘well, I might lose it’. The thought didn’t paralyse me with fear, it just seemed like ‘one of those things’.
I, being blissfully ignorant, never realised how much it could affect someone. After my first miscarriage, my then somewhat logical brain attempted to find the reasons behind how bad I felt mentally. Do the crashing hormones damage your psyche? Is it just nature, a part of evolution which makes you feel like utter shit so you will get pregnant again quickly? It was a month before my wedding and I was completely depressed. The sun was blaring outside and I would crawl inside my bed and close all of the blinds and sit and cry. Everyday.
I spent the night before my wedding hysterical, because I didn’t want to do it without my baby. What was supposed to be the happiest day of my life was tainted. When we were crying on stage (we married in a theatre) it wasn’t just happy tears. It was cracking under the weight of what this day should be. How it was missing someone.
We waded through life, every so often the thought what could’ve been would push me under. Milestones, people having their babies when I should’ve been having mine. People would so often tell me “You can try again!” “At least you know you CAN get pregnant!” That just simply wasn’t the point. The pain is all consuming. I didn’t long for a replacement baby. I longed for that baby.
I try and draw a likeness- if someone’s dog died, you wouldn’t say, “you can go and get another dog!” “It just wasn’t meant to be!” “Maybe it wasn’t the right time to have a dog!” But somehow, with unborn babies, this is a completely normal thing to say.
Second pregnancy rolls around, and I was a paranoid wreck. I spent hundreds on weekly scans and spent any second I wasn’t being scanned terrified that my baby was dead. Every time I saw her heartbeat I would get this immense rush of relief. I’d want the scans to go on for as long as possible so I didn’t have to leave and be in fear again.
At my 10 week scan, the sonographer tells me the babies heart had stopped beating. She was there on a screen in front of me, what should’ve been a wriggling healthy tiny baby was like a ghost, a whitish human shaped figure floating lifelessly in a sea of black. The sonographer quickly turned the screen off and once again, I was plummeted into this all too familiar world of depression.
What happens after a missed miscarriage is graphic. I was given the choice to have the baby surgically removed, or to basically induce contractions so I would ‘pass’ her. I couldn’t bear the thought of doctor in a clinical, cold room ‘hurting’ my baby, pulling at her tiny body and her being ripped away from where she was supposed to be. And more than that, I wanted her. I wanted to keep her. I wanted to look at her and remember her face. I didn’t care how bad the pain was. I needed to see her.
Before the nurses gave me the medication to induce ‘passing the pregnancy’, I completely lost it. My whole body seized up and all I could think about it how I didn’t deserve to live. All I wanted to do was die.
I can’t quite describe the guilt you feel after miscarrying. It sounds daft, but imagine you accidentally hit a pregnant woman and her baby subsequently died because of it, you’d feel fucking awful, right? Wracked with guilt forever? Even though you and everyone else *knows* it’s not your fault, the guilt and self hatred will never go away. The difference is, when you are the mother to the baby and your body kills your child, the guilt is mixed with mourning the one thing on earth you loved more than anything or anyone else.
Unfortunately, the only pain relief the hospital could offer me was codeine and I’m intolerant to it, so I was recommended paracetamol. I thought, how bad could this be? I’m already so depressed I probably won’t even care about the pain. A few google searches told me to expect ‘the worst pain I have ever felt’ and one woman explained how she was ‘screaming like she was in labour’. I remembered a client of mine had described her 10 week miscarriage as ‘like labour, but worse because you do it with no help’. 5 hours go by and a small amount of blood. What on earth are all these people talking about? I can’t feel it? Has it not worked?
10pm hits and somehow like clockwork, the pain took over my body. Paracetamol ain’t gonna do shit with this pain, let me tell you. It’s like a switch flicked in my body and I was consumed by it, I couldn’t speak, I struggled to walk, I can’t explain how much ‘stuff’ comes out of you. It was like a fucking murder scene. I quickly got in the bath and opted to turn the hot shower head on full blast and proceed to burn my stomach with it for an hour. The burning took my mind off how bad the internal pain was. Eventually in the chaos our tiny, perfect baby arrived. I absolutely did not expect her to be the way she was. I say her, because at 10 weeks, apparently boys will have a tiny bump, girls won’t? We just felt as though she was a girl.
I always had the image in my mind that a foetus is going to look kind of... for a lack of a better word...fucked up. I was scared to see her. She was as if you shrunk down a baby so she could lay in my hand. 10 fingers and toes, tiny eyes, a nose, ears, her skin was flesh-coloured and I could see her spine through it. She was, honestly, cute.
In the middle of the pain and grief I had this strange wave of bliss come over me. Here was a tiny life we created.
Half me, half my husband who I am completely in love with. I was so obsessed with her. I wanted to stay there forever and just hold her. Eventually, we had to put her tiny body away and it was awful. I panicked thinking of what the hell I was going to do with her, then I remembered my friend had gifted me rosary beads in a gold embroidered pouch. She just about fit in that little pouch.
We buried her under a tree inside a plant pot, and slept next to her for a year. That’s a fuck up. Going to B&Q to buy a pot to bury your baby in and checking out at the till crying behind your sunglasses and still bleeding.
Lockdown has forced me to face the mental health implications of miscarriage. The distractions day to day life brings were no longer there, and I was left with my thoughts. The more research I did, the more I realised how common PTSD after baby loss is. One in six women end up with it after losing a baby. I would also attempt to squash down my grief, because I deemed it as ‘not as bad as someone who had a stillbirth’. But research has proved the length of time passed in a pregnancy, bears no correlation to how severe the mental health implications can be after loss. Research has also proved going on to have a healthy child, doesn’t fix these issues.
We have to lose 3 pregnancies before we can find out why they’re happening, and the mental health support afterwards is almost non-existent. The private clinic I used for scans clearly had zero training on what not to say to someone who had lost their baby. And to this day, I feel like I exist in a world of misery understood by few. The rest of the world seems to say the wrong thing again and again. Every day is a battle, because I know I’ll be asked when I’m having kids. If I have any kids. Why don’t I have any kids yet?
Something which stuck out to me, is a family friend who lost her adult son. She told me she too had a miscarriage many years ago, and she still thinks about that child. Someone who has battled horrific grief, something I pray I will never have to contend with, still has room in her heart for that strange, particular grief that comes with miscarriage.
One thing losing my babies has taught me, is to not exist in my own selfishness. It made me realise how hard it is to celebrate other people’s happiness when you’re in the depths of depression. After losing our first pregnancy a month before our wedding and having to contend with numerous pregnancy announcements straight afterwards, I realised all the excitement and joy for my wedding day wasn’t going to be shared by everyone attending. In fact there would, inevitably, in a room full of 200 people, be people really struggling. Struggling with losing a partner, a child who they will never see marry, maybe they’re recently divorced or separated, and a day of watching someone else’s joy made their pain more real. I stopped looking at my own achievements, my own happiness, and asked myself how I could bring positivity to other people who need it.
This is partially why I’ve spent many months writing this.
I want to reach out to other people who are struggling, I want to validate their feelings.
I want the rest of the world to be aware of how bad this can be.
I want my babies tiny tiny lives to leave a positive legacy on this planet.
To all of you struggling, no matter how far in pregnancy you were, your grief is valid. Don’t be embarrassed to get help. Don’t feel like you can’t talk about the life you created. We owe it to ourselves, our babies, and all the women who came before us who were silenced.