I was over the moon when I saw the little pink line confirming I was pregnant with my first child. Although I knew at the back of my mind things could sometimes go wrong, I was bursting with happiness and rejoiced in sharing my excitement with friends.
I recall the first couple of scans went well – I had found out very early and although initially there was some confusion around the due date, by the 2nd scan things seemed to be back on track. I was full of confidence and in planning mode for my upcoming wedding, where I would now require a dress for someone who was 6 months pregnant!!
It was at the third scan that a niggle appeared in my mind. The baby was measuring slightly behind the expectancy. Only a few days or so though, and the sonographer explained this could be just incorrect identification of conception date, and probably wasn’t anything to worry about. I put this out of my mind as she didn’t seem too phased and after all – everything else seemed to be going perfectly well. It was at the 12-week scan that it all came crashing down.
During the scan I recall the sonographer was extremely quiet. Although this was unnerving, I had no experience telling me this was not a good sign. At the end of it, she said that the genetics specialist would run me through the results as there seemed to be some concerns. Unbelievably, I sent my husband back to work as he had an important meeting to attend to. Neither of us obviously understanding the seriousness of the situation and what I was about to be told.
The specialist advised me that there was a high probability that our baby had a genetic disorder called ‘Edwards Syndrome’. He advised me that I would need to have an amniocentesis test to confirm this, and although a risk to the baby, he strongly suggested I went through with it as the likelihood of the baby having this was very high.
I was stunned. I could hardly recall any of the conversation to relay to my husband as I felt I hadn’t even really been listening. But what I took from it was that there was a high chance there was a problem and that we were required to make a decision as to whether to carry out this test. We didn’t really have any tools to help us make this decision. We reverted to the internet to look up the risk of miscarriage and asking everyone for advice. But we eventually concluded we needed to go through with it and deep down anyway, I knew the doctors were correct.
The test sadly proved that the baby did have Edwards disease. The doctors expressed their surprise that I had carried the baby that far, as most babies suffering with this did not make it past 5/6 weeks. I was now 13 weeks pregnant. The decision to terminate the pregnancy was not a hard one. After doing some research on this genetic abnormality, I knew I could not risk bringing someone into the world with such severe problems, who would live for a matter of weeks.
We were devastated. All the planning, excitement, expectancy, gone – just like that. One day you are planning a whole future, the next that whole future is wiped out. It is so very cruel. All the conversations and support I had from people centred around the same comments ‘at least you know you can get pregnant’, ‘most people miscarry their first child and don’t even know about it’ and all those statements which did little to ease the well of sadness laying in my heart.
The next stage was to have a D&C to have the baby removed. This was planned for the following week, so at 14 weeks pregnant. My obstetrician I had seen up until then was away so he had recommended another obstetrician to carry out the procedure. The cruelty of turning up to the same hospital where so recently I was meeting a doctor full of joy, to now being on the other side of the spectrum just hit me, as did many of these types of juxtapositions at this time.
On the morning of the procedure I determined to be brave and to adopt what I call ‘robot mode’ which is my coping mechanism for most painful and difficult times. I took a good book to read and tried hard to engage with the nurses and other people I came across. The procedure itself was uncomfortable as I was given drugs to dilate which bought on some form of contractions. But it was over and done with quickly and then…. I was home. And with no baby.
I had a day off work to recover and then that was that – back to normal life, as though nothing had ever happened. I had a brief follow up with the consultant but we talked more about the practical elements, eg. when to start trying for another baby and options for birth control. There was no advice or suggestions of any tools to help us deal with the emotional side of the loss we had endured.
I recall every decision, activity, social event was now clouded by our loss. I had my hens party (for my upcoming wedding) where I went through the motions but deep down I was so sad. My expectancy was at that point I would be 4 months pregnant and would be relishing in watching all my friends get drunk, happy in the privilege I had of having to abstain.
As with everything, however, time did seem to heal. Eventually I was past all those things where I had expected to be pregnant. I felt I could resume planning my future again. My wedding was wonderful and I enjoyed a few glasses of champagne. I was able to feel joy for my best friend who was going through a successful pregnancy. But what really healed the pain in my heart was the day a second pink line showed up again.
What I learned from this experience is that there is no short cut in grief. Losing a baby, no matter what stage, is heart breaking. Some people are able to deal with it better. Some people are fortunate to get pregnant again quickly, some sadly never will again. There is no value in comparing to others. Everybody’s grief is different. What is important is that we use our experiences to support people, in whatever way they need us to. And for however long.