Our first baby was conceived after we had been trying almost 2 years and I had started clomid. The first cycle didn’t work but on cycle 2 I got a very early positive pregnancy test. I had never so much as a sniff of a second line before. I was elated. I thought we had got away with it. 2 days later however I was crunched over in pain on the sofa. This wasn’t normal. I was scared. We rang the GP who sent us via A and E to the emergency gynaecology unit. It was too early to see a pregnancy on scan, I’d barely missed a period, but they could see a massive cyst on my ovary. I had bled into it with my ovary twisted I was at risk of dying – this is called ovarian torsion. The cruel thing was that this same cyst was what would sustain that pregnancy. Operate and we would lose the pregnancy but leave it and we would lose the ovary, risking me getting seriously unwell. I guess there wasn’t really a choice and sobbing we signed the consent forms. 2 days later we were allowed home. The second line on the pregnancy test faded away and so did our hopes of a baby.
Amazingly our daughter was born in 2012 but then we decided a couple of years later that we would like to try for a sibling. We were aware that it had previously been tricky and taken a long time so we weren’t expecting success. 8 months into trying however I felt a bit odd one day and took a test just to rule that out. I was shocked when there were two lines. Two weeks passed and I was starting to feel reassuringly sick and tired. I was working two thirteen hour shifts at the hospital that weekend. Saturday went ok but when I got home there was the tiniest amount of spotting. After some obsessive googling I tried hard to ignore it and decided that I’d go and see the GP on Monday as I didn’t want to let work down. 3 hours into my morning at work I felt a sudden pain and then the bleeding start after I’d been rushing around. I remember sitting sobbing on the toilet at work. Bleeding and in pain. I rang my (female) boss and told her I needed to go home. She asked me to stay until someone could be found to cover me. I then looked down and had bled all over my trousers and she realised maybe asking me to stay hadn’t been appropriate. Deep down I’m sure me being at work wasn’t why I bled, but I wish I had been at home with my husband and for once had put ourselves first.
As it was the weekend I couldn’t get a scan for 2 days. On the Tuesday I sat in EPAU desperately hoping the baby would still be there but knowing deep down it wouldn’t be. I didn’t feel sick anymore, my breasts no longer hurt and I knew my baby was gone. The scan showed I was right.
Physically I was ok within a few days so I went back to work as I hate letting people down. I managed 6 hours before a nurse found me crying at a desk on the ward and sent me home. I couldn’t breathe. I felt so utterly lost and hopeless. Why couldn’t my body keep our baby safe?
Fast forward another 2 years and 2 failed cycles of IVF and still no baby. We were moving cities so we went to a new clinic to go and plan our next cycle of treatment. At the baseline scan the sonographer commented “you’ve ovulated from both sides this month, you could have twins”. At the time I remember inwardly cursing her and thinking what a stupid thing to say to someone in an IVF clinic. I’m sure you will guess what happened next….2 weeks later I started to feel unwell just a month prior to starting our cycle. And lo and behold the test was positive. I’d become one of the annoying people with a miracle pregnancy while waiting for IVF that we’ve all heard about while trying to get pregnant.
This time I wasn’t excited for even a minute. I was just terrified. My lovely GP organised a scan at 6 weeks after I sat in her clinic room crying and that showed one baby in the right place with a heartbeat. I dared to breathe a little. 2 weeks later and the sickness was so bad I was started on medication and admitted with dehydration. Scanned again and baby still hanging on. Because we were about to move across the country we opted for private screening at 10 weeks as we weren’t sure I would get my dating scan slot on time. With a vomit bowl in hand I again saw our baby, this time looking like a like a little jelly bean bouncing around. We also found out from the testing that it was a baby girl. Again we breathed. The odds were now firmly on our side. Over 99% of pregnancies with a heart beat at 10 weeks end with a live baby.
So we moved cities, away from almost everyone we knew and all our support, and I continued to vomit. Everything suggested that ongoing hyperemesis was a really good sign for the pregnancy. We met another EPAU team who looked after me and kept me hydrated. And I tried to hide how I felt from my then 5 year old who was desperate for a sibling but didn’t know we were pregnant. Weeks passed. Feeling pretty ropey we headed off to our scan at 13 weeks. In the car we were discussing how we would tell our family and friends about our baby and working out if I would be well enough to start my new job in 4 weeks as planned.
I remember that when we were called into the room the big screen on the wall wasn’t working. But that’s ok we thought. I’m still being so sick. It has to all be fine. I then remember it just going very quiet as the sonographer did put the probe on my abdomen. My husband wouldn’t meet my eye. And I knew. I remember hearing a moan and then realising that it had come from me. I remember asking over and over – “the baby is dead isn’t it?” and it took what felt like an age for the sonographer to confirm that she thought that was the case but had to get a second person to confirm. I remember them turning the screen around and our perfect baby was there. But she was perfectly still with no heartbeat. We were told she had probably died in the last 2 days. I couldn’t believe she had gone and my body hadn’t even known. I was still so unwell. Again I hadn’t been able to keep her safe.
We were ushered out of the way round the back of antenatal clinic into a windowless room with a box of tissues on the table and told to wait to see the doctor. We waited over an hour not knowing what was going on. The only thing I remember from that consultation was the doctor saying “I’ve reviewed your notes and it’s good that you were able to conceive this baby without IVF”. I don’t think either of us knew what to say – I couldn’t believe someone could be so callous. How was anything about this situation good? Did it somehow mean this baby meant less if we hadn’t had IVF or that it was somehow good that this had been a spontaneous pregnancy? We asked to be moved to EPAU and said we didn’t wish to talk to her any longer.
The staff in EPAU were like a breath of fresh air. The first nurse, Steph, met us at the doors, took us to a quiet room and gave me a hug as she told me how sorry she was. They listened to us and the consultant came and discussed what choices we had. We opted to have surgical management and went in a couple of days later.
On that morning it was like living in alternate universe. It was a beautiful sunny day but I’ve never felt in a darker place. I still was vomiting profusely. My body was very definitely still pregnant. We had had to tell our daughter that I had been pregnant and that the baby was poorly and couldn’t stay. We left her crying at a friends house. When we arrived at hospital I begged for another scan before signing the consent forms. The nurse very gently agreed to do this. I lay there praying there would be a miracle and somehow she would have come back to life. They wasn’t. She was still totally still. She had started to curl up which is apparently what happens when the baby has been dead for a few days. I couldn’t look at her. I still regret not being able to see her, even on the screen for one last time. It’s like I missed my chance to say goodbye.
I had to take a tablet before going to surgery. I think it took me over 30 minutes to be able to swallow it. It felt like I was letting my baby girl down by allowing her to leave me. The only place she had ever known. The place that should have kept her safe and nourished her. Then when the porter came to walk me to surgery it was like my legs wouldn’t work. We got to a lift to go up to where the operating theatres were and I just couldn’t get in. We had to let the lift come and go 3 times before I could get over the threshold. The porter waited patiently and didn’t rush us. My husband didn’t complain as I gripped his hand so tightly.
The staff couldn’t have been kinder or more gentle with me. They were all so compassionate and looked genuinely sad for us. The anaethestist who put to me sleep held my hand the whole time as I asked though tears for them not to have to do this and when I woke up the recovery nurse was holding my hand too.
I’ve kept a list of all the staff from that day because of how kind they were. I wrote to all of them. So here I would like to thank Debbie the healthcare assistant, the nurses Lorraine, Sarah, Steph and Karen. Karolina the student nurse on the ward. Mr Hooper the consultant. Oli, the anaesthetist and the team in theatres – Katie and Leanne. And finally Jason and Richard the porters. Lots of people complain about the NHS. I personally could not fault the care and compassion we received on the hardest and saddest of days.
I wasn’t prepared for how physically empty I would feel immediately when I woke up. The sickness was still there but I felt hollow. I knew she was gone. I continued to be sick for another week while my body adjusted to realising I wasn’t pregnant anymore. We had some tests on the baby and it confirmed that she was perfect and again my body had failed her. We haven’t found out why.
We had another cycle of IVF but got hardly any eggs and again it was unsuccessful. Following this I discovered that I was entering a premature menopause at age 35. That baby girl had been our last chance for a baby that was genetically related to me. That loss seemed even more cruel in the light of this information.
We have since had a baby using donor eggs who has started to help me heal. And I know without the loss of the other babies she wouldn’t be here and I know I’m meant to be her mum. But I hold that truth in parallel with still grieving for all 3 of my babies, but most especially the last one who my daughter named Muffin (after a summer of making apple muffins).
As time has passed the world has forgotten my lost babies. To the outside I look like a mum with two children and on paper I have everything I wanted. But I am forever changed. There are tiny footprints etched on my heart and my soul that have changed the person that I am. And I’ll carry those babies safely there, always with me, until we can all be back together again.