Thinking back to when we saw that second pink line on our First Response test, I still feel butterflies. We just could not believe it and were just so over the moon. The evening before we tested, we had taken our beloved dog, Teddy, for a walk and I spotted a shooting star in the sky. It felt like that shooting star was a sign to us and when the test was positive we truly believed our miracle was making its way to us.
My pregnancy was straightforward but because I had been part of the IVF/TTC community for so long, and because I am a natural-worrier; I was still anxious and knew that we couldn’t take anything for granted. On top of the regular scans through the NHS, we also had additional scans at the Early Pregnancy Unit and paid privately for some too. Thinking back, don’t think we ever went longer than a week without a scan just to ease my mind, I am so glad now that we saw Dylan as much as we did.. I recall that at a 12 week scan one of the nurses, who was also pregnant herself, told me I could stop worrying now as I was in the ‘safe zone’.
At around 13 weeks, I started to get pains in my pelvic region and lower back. I spoke to friends who had had babies and they all assured me it was normal. I went to the doctors and they diagnosed me with SPD and referred me for physio. Nobody else seemed worried, so I tried not to be. Just before we reached 15 weeks, we went with friends to see a Michael McIntyre at the o2 in London. We walked around lots and I was in so much pain that we cancelled our hotel that evening and drove home, I lay down the whole way home.
Looking back, I think I tried not to complain about any symptoms of pregnancy, because I was so grateful to be having them. A few days later I woke up and went to the toilet and noticed that there was blood. I recall screaming for Ryan to come to the bathroom and we quickly went to the A&E at the local hospital.
The next few days were a blur, A&E originally sent me home but within a few hours the bleeding had intensified and I was back. I was admitted into hospital and the doctor concluded that the neck of my womb was now open and I was at a risk of miscarriage. I recall not knowing how that could be possible as surely we were in the ‘safe zone’?. In the hospital I was put in a small ward within the maternity wing and I would be taken for scans down sitting in the waiting room alongside other pregnant women. It was dreadful to sit amongst all of these happy carefree women, but also it must have been hard for them to see me.
The doctors were unable to explain what was happening but did say that my cervix was measuring at 2.6cm and should have been at around 5cm. They said that this was possibly because I had had some cervical cells removed a few months prior. I pointed out that this was at the same hospital, in the same department so why wasn’t this checked? I was informed that they don’t check a woman’s cervix as standard during pregnancy even if research shows that such treatment can result in short or weakened cervix.
I was placed on bed rest and after 3 days I was taken to surgery to have a cervical stitch in an attempt to keep our baby safe, I was put to sleep and when I came round I knew something was wrong. The nurses in the theatre would not give me answers and kept insisting I had to wait to speak to a doctor. I was terrified and enraged all at the same time, convinced something had gone wrong in the surgery. After what seemed like hours, I was eventually taken back up to the ward where Ryan was waiting. I told him I didn’t know what had happened but something didn’t feel right. To our surprise, when the Doctor returned to brief us she said that the baby was still okay, but that the surgery did not take place as I was bleeding too much internally. On one hand we felt huge relief that our baby was okay, but knew that the fact the surgery had not happened meant we were at risk. The doctor suggested that we go home and I rest as being in hospital would not make any difference because even if the baby was born, it couldn’t be saved. This was so hard to hear. But we went home, I felt like home would be a safe space for us.
The following day, I returned to the hospital as I had started to bleed heavily again. The same doctor scanned me and confirmed that the baby was still okay and we were able to see his heart beating. I asked the doctor what she thought could happen next and whether I would lose our baby. She was very matter of fact and said it could go either way. She said we should “go home, hope for the best, and prepare for tragedy”. I’ll never forget those words. That night as I went to bed I was in a huge amount of pain down my back and took some paracetamol to ease the pain.
The following morning, Ryan stayed at home and my Mum came round to help me wash my hair as I knew I had to take things easy. After my bath, I snuggled up on the sofa as my Mum and Ryan made some tea and tidied up the house around me. Out of nowhere, I felt an intense urge to push, I was terrified and screamed for Ryan. It all happened very quickly but within moments Dylan was in my hands, I could feel him warm and moving around for a few moments and then he stopped. He was still connected to me by the umbilical cord and I was scared to look down and just stood there in shock whilst Mum and Ryan ran around looking for towels and called an ambulance.
I was stood in the kitchen and looked out of the window and saw the postwoman doing her rounds. It struck me in that moment that she was just having an ordinary morning whilst my life had fallen apart feet away from where she walked, I wanted to scream but I couldn’t speak. The paramedics arrived and were brilliant, they cut the cord and I was too frightened to see Dylan so they put him in a box. They could see I had not delivered the placenta so needed to call a bigger ambulance to take me to hospital.
Everything from that moment seems like a blur, but there are parts I remember vividly. I remember how kind the other paramedics were. I remember that as they wheeled me into the lift of the hospital a pregnant lady came into the lift and spotted the box in one of the paramedics hands and she looked horrified. I remember being wheeled through the maternity wing to the ward that I had been on a few days prior and the nurses and paramedics disagreeding about where I should go. Eventually I was put into a temporary room where I stayed for the next few hours. A lovely lady called Lucy came to see us, she was the same nurse who I had seen a few weeks ago who was pregnant herself. She tearfully apologised for telling me to relax and I assured her it wasn’t her fault. For hours she stayed with me helping me to try and push the placenta out to avoid surgery and so I could go home. Unfortuantely it was not possible and it was agreed I’d need a D&C. I just wanted it over and done with and to go home but we were told that the surgeons were tired so it would have to wait until the morning, I couldn’t go home due to the risk of infection so I was kept on the ward. It felt like a nightmare.
Lucy gently persuaded us to see Dylan and she wrapped him up in a blanket for us. We didn’t know at that point whether he was a boy or a girl so she told us as she brought him over to us. We all cried as Ryan held him for the first time and eventually I felt strong enough to hold him too. We read him a book called ‘Guess how much I love you’ and we eventually put him in his box along with a little teddy bear and said our goodbyes.
The following day I was taken to theatre and put to sleep to have the placenta removed. Once back on the ward we were quickly discharged and sent home with nothing but a leaflet from the Miscarriage association. I felt then, and I still do that the physical process of a second trimester loss is greatly misunderstood. Most people don’t realise that beyond 12 weeks you will go through a labour or have to have a D&C if the baby dies. Or that the baby will be formed, albeit very small. I have even had one medical professional ask me “so it was actually a real baby then?”
I am not for one second implying that any loss in pregnancy hurts less or more but physically after losing Dylan I had many of the same symptoms that any other woman would post-labour. My milk came in and I would wake up convinced I could hear a baby crying. I wasn’t prepared for any of that and had no contact from the doctors or my midwife apart from a text reminding me to go for a scan, another painful reminder and something I know happens to lots of bereaved parents. I wish the NHS would just sort that.
One year on and we have had two failed IVF cycles, one ending in chemical pregnancy. We have one frozen embryo at the clinic and have also started to look into adoption. We speak about Dylan every day and not a moment passes where he isn’t in our thoughts. I know that for many it may seem self-sabotaging and possibly pointless to keep talking about Dylan but we don’t know how else to navigate through his loss. We have no memories of him in this world, we don’t have a special place or an item of his clothing to feel him near. All we have are the scans, remembering how he looked on the day he arrived and thoughts about just how much of a gap he has left in our lives.
We don’t know if I will be lucky enough to fall pregnant again, or if I will ever carry a baby to term. What we do know is that we want there to be changes in the way pregnant womens’ concerns are dealt with, we want for every woman to have their cervix checked early on in pregnancy and we want there to be a greater aftercare for all bereaved parents regardless of the stage at which they lose their baby, included in this we want the NHS systems to be updated following a loss to ensure that people do not receive painful reminders for scan appointments.
If this is achieved, then in a very small way, Dylans life will not have been entirely in vain.
You can follow Lisa on Instagram @heartaches_and_cupcakes
My first experience of Baby Loss Awareness Week almost passed me by. It arrived a little over three months after the loss of my son, Harris, and I remember seeing one of our beautiful Edinburgh buildings lit up in pink and blue one night, but I didn’t know why.
Just a few days later, and while going through a second pregnancy loss, I noticed photos of candles appearing on social media. One after another, people lit them up and shared them, each for a baby gone too soon, and then someone lit a candle for my family, for our baby boy. He was part of the wave of light.
It was then that the guilt hit me. I was so busy trying to hold onto another pregnancy, believing that I wouldn’t miscarry again, that I hadn’t created space for my son that night. I frantically searched through my cupboards and drawers for a candle so I could acknowledge that he’d been a part of my life, so I could remind others that he existed, all the while losing another baby.
It’s been three years since that week, and each day, each week and each month since then I’ve been working on being much kinder to myself in those moments, on erasing the shame that so often accompanies grief. It’s taken me a long time, until very recently, in fact, to arrive at a place of acceptance, and of trust that I can and will get through this period in our lives.
Every year, thousands of people in the UK are affected by the loss of a baby. And I’ve learned that Baby Loss Awareness Week isn’t just about the parents. We remember our babies every single day. But what’s powerful about weeks such as this is that they can help to educate those who haven’t experienced the sadness of miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss, and give them the tools to support the many families who are suffering in silence. It’s also an opportunity for charities and organisations to raise vital funds to ensure that care, research and bereavement support continues to improve. And focusing on those aspects does ease the burden of recalling my own experiences. But my story is one I still feel compelled to keep sharing if only to let one person know that they’re not alone in this.
It was Wednesday 29th June 2016 and I was 16 weeks pregnant with my second child. Waiting for a private scan, I was filled with hope and fear. Hoping that I might give our 18-month-old her ‘big sister’ tee when we got home, but fearing the worst given some of the symptoms I was experiencing.
The sonographer asked if I had any gut feelings. “Boy or girl?” But my only gut feeling was that something was very, very wrong and I just needed to know that our baby was okay.
As I watched the screen it became apparent that our baby wasn’t okay. The little arms and legs we’d seen wriggling around just a few short weeks before seemed lifeless. I stared at the image for what felt like an eternity, at the still and delicate curve of my baby’s back, praying to something, someone, somewhere for a flicker of movement.
A hand covered mine, a kind gesture, and one that no longer needs the words “I’m sorry, I can’t find a heartbeat.”
I still find it hard to articulate how I felt at that moment. The shock and the grief and the fear were competing with each other for my attention. The shock that my body had failed. The grief that my baby had died. The fear that I’d have to give birth. I knew that nothing could bring us back from this.
I delivered our beautiful little boy, Harris, on Thursday 30th June 2016. His special day.
Secondary infertility & recurrent miscarriage
In the months that followed Harris’ birth, we were given no reason for his death. And I recall the pain of not knowing and of wondering what this meant for our future. But I never – not for a second – imagined that this experience would mark the start of one of the most difficult periods in our lives. One which would see us have two early miscarriages and two chemical pregnancies within two years.
Three years on, and I’ve had every recurrent miscarriage test imaginable, met with and been treated by clinics in London and Athens, and a referral to Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research resulted in the development of a treatment plan for pregnancy based on my private results. So our hope is that, despite having no concrete reason for our losses, we still might be able to bring another baby home someday.
We don’t know what the future holds, but what I am encouraged by is the determination of charities such as Tommy’s and the commitment of those in our local NHS fertility clinic and early pregnancy unit to see us through to a happier ending, or a conclusion that I can at least understand and be at peace with.
Mending my heart
This is my fourth baby loss awareness week. And this year, I’ve decided to take a softer, gentler approach by putting my own emotional needs first.
While awareness weeks such as this can give people the chance to air important views and share valuable stories, it can also be emotionally challenging. During this week, one which will also see us recognise World Mental Health Day, it’s important to be mindful of reading articles and blogs, watching videos and the news. There will be media campaigns, television programmes, remembrance services; each of them a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness and honour the little ones we couldn’t bring home. But it will also be a constant, daily reminder of our own experiences, which can be triggering.
My partner and I made the decision very early on, days after losing Harris in fact, that we would name him and talk about him. I didn’t know then that I would lose four further pregnancies and that’s brought a heaviness into our lives that I still can’t describe, but it hasn’t dampened my spirit for talking, for sharing and for keeping our son’s memory alive, even in the smallest of ways. He and the littlest ones we lost are and always will be a part of us. But I also have to find ways of moving forward. Not ‘moving on’, not forgetting, but I suppose shaping my life in a way that’s manageable, that doesn’t keep me in a place that’s hard to bear.
Over the coming days, in my own way, I’ll take the love I have for my little ones and channel it into making the topic of baby loss more widely understood. I’ve accepted that it’s okay to do as little or as much as I can in the form of awareness-raising, and I’m keen to carry this forward; to keep talking, to keep sharing, but to do this at a slower pace and bring some focus back to other areas of my life.
My gift to myself this week is to self-nurture; to go for long walks, to breathe in the fresh air, to journal as much as I’m able to and to truly feel my feelings, even some of the joy that my memories of Harris bring.
Joy is something I didn’t feel for a long time after losing Harris, but giving birth to him, seeing him and holding him gave me some real moments of happiness in between the sadness. And it’s remembering those moments that mends my heart.
You can follow and connect with Sarah on Instagram @sarahjrobertson.
Many of you will be aware that October is Baby Loss Awareness Month, something very close to my heart. Quite simply put – miscarriage needs to be spoken about, awareness needs to be raised and people need to realise that they’re not on their own. I had no idea until it happened to me just how common it was.
When I started my DefiningMum blog I intended to write my whole story, chapter by chapter. I had it all mapped out but stopped just before this chapter in our story, moving onto other topics in my quest to raise awareness about infertility and donor conception. I’d attempted to write the chapter two or three times but abandoned it to write about an easier topic, one that wasn’t so painful. I see that in doing this I was unknowingly avoiding re-visiting this difficult time.
Just a few months before it happened, my whole ability to have a child had been unexpectedly thrown into question. The Drs weren’t even sure whether I would produce any eggs under IVF stimulation, never-mind an embryo. It was a miracle when we made it to day three transfer, then the ultimate miracle to see my first ever two lines on a pregnancy test. Being a naïve IVF first-timer, I believed the hard part was over. I was pregnant…I’d defied the odds and finally I was going to be a Mum. I felt relief that I no longer had to worry about the potential loss of my genetics – here they were, right inside of me…the perfect mix of mine and Matt’s DNA. Daily pregnancy tests showed text-book line progression – I was on top of the world and in moments alone I would say out-loud to myself over and over the words… “I am pregnant”. My mind had raced forwards and I’d planned everything – the due date, my visions of announcing to wider friends and family, maternity leave and how we’d spend it. I simply couldn’t wait to finally start the rest of our lives, having spent the past year on a constant rollercoaster of emotions. I’d not even remotely considered that things wouldn’t go to plan.
To cut a long story short, things started to go wrong when I felt some pains just before 7 weeks. We went for an earlier scan than planned to find my HCG high but only a pregnancy sac to be seen. Returning a week later, with the hope of seeing progression, it was confirmed that I had suffered a missed miscarriage. I was given a week for it to start ‘naturally’, a heart-wrenching time when I just wanted it to be over, but equally couldn’t bear the thought of losing this pregnancy. With nothing happening I was then booked in for medical management another week later, the most awful experience of my life, which ended in D&C after I wasn’t able to pass my “products of conception” myself. I still absolutely detest that term used by medical professionals to describe our pregnancy. Overall it took three long, painful weeks for the entire experience to end – the absolute lowest point of my life. To this day I still vividly remember lying on the hospital trolley, watching rain pour down the window at Queens Medical Centre, feeling numb as I waited to go through to surgery to have the life that I so desperately wanted to bring into the world removed from me. Life just felt so incredibly cruel.
I was open about our loss with those close to me so I didn’t suffer completely on my own, but even still I remember feeling incredibly lonely. I’m not sure why, but because our loss was at an ‘early’ stage I remember feeling like I needed to just ‘move on’, so as not to dwell too much. Having suffered a blighted ovum, I’d tell myself “there wasn’t even anything in the pregnancy sac”, I think as a way to try to suppress my emotions inside. Every time I felt an overwhelming need to grieve, I’d minimise the loss in my mind by focusing on the fact that it happened before any baby could actually be seen. You’ll notice that even now I refer to it as losing our ‘pregnancy’ rather than ‘baby’, as I’m just not sure I could bring myself to acknowledge that is what we lost. Even recently I still try to suppress the wave of emotion that sometimes rises when I allow myself to think about it too deeply. I remember Matt saying that at the point we lost “the pregnancy” it was simply a group of cells. I know this was his logical, practical way of looking at the situation but I also wonder if this was his own way of coping.
The one time of the year I’ve given myself permission to feel and really allow the tears to fall has been during Baby Loss Awareness Week. Coincidentally and unknowingly at the time, we finally suffered our loss during BLAW on 13 October 2014. I remember seeing the ‘Wave of Light’ on social media just two days after returning home from my D&C. Instantly I felt comfort in seeing others quite literally shining a light on these lives lost far too soon. Not only the loss of life but also the loss of so many hopes and dreams. Lighting my candle, I suddenly knew I wasn’t alone and finally felt like I could do something tangible to recognise and remember the happiness, hope and love I had experienced during my pregnancy.
As it turned out, it was the only pregnancy that I would ever experience with my own eggs. Being completely honest, this then leads me to a whole new level of complex emotion – mainly feelings of guilt for still mourning this loss. I’ve now got everything I’ve always wanted in my girls and couldn’t love them anymore, yet I somehow feel guilty for still hurting so deeply over something that happened five years ago. Without this loss, they wouldn’t exist…something that is completely unimaginable to me – the whole situation is a complete mindf**k!
I know my example probably isn’t the healthiest way to deal with grief, but it’s honest, raw and will probably hit a nerve with some of you. It’s a problem I believe was exacerbated by my infertility – it literally paralysed my grief as I tried to block it out completely, feeling the only way to lessen the pain was to move forward and try again. To just have the strength to get back on the IVF rollercoaster I felt the need to try and forget about what had happened. Sub-consciously I now see that I was layering up my grief, something that no doubt impacted my mental health. Even now as I write this I can feel tears pricking at my eyes, ready to spill out as we near the poignant wave of light.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned since starting DefiningMum it’s the power that can be harnessed by sharing. Talking about this topic is so desperately needed, I know now that I needed to let it out and so many others need to hear honest accounts of the grief felt from loss, intertwined with infertility grief. That’s why during Baby Loss Awareness Week 2019 I’ll be dedicating my platform to sharing stories from a group of inspirational women who have all tragically suffered loss. Every day from 9-15 October I’ll be sharing a different guest blog, each with heartfelt personal experiences. I’ll also be sharing Instagram accounts to connect with as part of a Fertility Support Saturday special – if you’d like to take part please let me know. I’d like to thank each and every one of you for helping me to break the silence and open up conversations about this tragic reality for so many of us. Let’s show those who are suffering that they aren’t alone.