I was at rock bottom after miscarriage – we must get better mental health support

Cairis, 40, and her wife are mums to a little boy they call their ‘rainbow’ after Cairis experienced a missed miscarriage with their first baby in 2019. Here she shares their story, explaining why she supports Tommy’s campaign for better mental health support after loss.

I’ve always wanted a child but my wife was never keen. Eventually we decided to go down the fostering route - I thought it’d satisfy my needs - but my wife found the first social worker interview too intrusive.  

We decided that me carrying a child would be the way to go, but at 37 I knew we needed to get a move on. After finding a willing donor, we did at-home insemination (contrary to the jokes you use a syringe not a turkey baster!). 

I got pregnant after 5 attempts, which was a shock: you see the ingredients but don’t really think it’s going to happen. We were both so excited, although my wife kept saying it was early – I’ve always been naturally optimistic. 

I had a private scan at 6 weeks and there was no heartbeat 

It was early though, so I still felt positive. My wife later told me that she hadn’t been. I didn’t know at the time about missed miscarriages, I thought that if you weren’t bleeding and you weren’t in pain everything was going swimmingly.  

They recommended a scan 2 weeks later and as soon as I saw the screen I knew our baby hadn’t got bigger and I had to turn away. The sonographer gave us information on what to do next but it was a Saturday so everything in the NHS seemed to shut down. We didn’t know where to go. My wife frantically searched the internet and told me that if I didn’t start bleeding I’d need to have surgery. We messaged a friend, a nurse, who sent us online information to read, and my wife then got me a referral from our GP.  

I’d already registered with a midwife at a hospital in our adjacent borough, but it's the one I wanted to give birth in, not the one I wanted miscarriage surgery in. So we decided to go to our local hospital in Lewisham which was much better set up for it. They had a bereavement midwife who was lovely, she even said I shouldn’t expect myself to come to terms with it over a weekend. We were booked in for surgery the next day – we’ve heard of women waiting for weeks. I didn’t want the pain of starting to bleed so I’m glad we were seen quickly.  

Lewisham scanned me again for confirmation. We had to wait in the Early Pregnancy Unit and there were pictures on the wall of babies, posters for ‘breast feeding is best’. I don’t think that’s the right place for any photos of babies.  

There were lots of excited couples there too waiting for scans and I was already crying. It’s one of my bugbears – I just think if you know that you have lost your baby there should be a separate area. It’s better for everyone.  

After the surgery I took myself off work for a couple of weeks as I’m self-employed, but being at home wasn’t very good for me. The problem was that I work with children. I found this after my dad died too – when you’re grieving it’s so hard to work with kids, because they just see through everything. And I was reminded I wasn’t going to be a mum. 

I was crying most of the time - no one could help me 

My wife eventually persuaded me to talk to my GP. She suggested I refer myself to IAPT, now called NHS Talking Therapies, after having passive suicidal thoughts. I didn’t hear anything back for months, which was a shock. If you have a baby and have postnatal depression you get seen pretty quickly, so why couldn’t I? I still felt like a mum but no one else seemed to see it like that.  

A lot of what I was experiencing wasn’t just PTSD but the hormone come down too, it was worse than PMT. I felt like I had postnatal depression but without the baby. Having since had PND and been seen so soon, it’s a joke that they don’t take mental health seriously after a pregnancy or baby loss. 

I contacted the bereavement midwife again and she told me about a women’s counsellor at Lewisham. There’s hardly any of them in London. She saw me straight away, and I saw her once a week for 3 months which helped so much. It’s really sad they’re not everywhere, they’re just so necessary. My IAPT appointment didn’t come through for 5 months.  

I had a loving wife and a job, but I was rock bottom 

My GP suggested anti-depressants which I’d been against at first. Having taken them more recently after having my rainbow baby I am positive about them now. I just thought I was going to be a zombie, but I felt like myself just without the crushing sadness (or anger). The next January I went back to take the staff cakes to the hospital but I was a bit of a wreck just walking down the corridor.  

We decided to try again  

This time we went through a private clinic for a natural form of artificial insemination (IUI). I knew I was sensitive to hormones so the natural IUI made sense. It was also cheaper, and being a same-sex couple the statistics aren’t there yet on the success of IUI over IVF. We got our little baby for 3 grand, including the sperm. Well worth it! 

When we first attended the clinic for tests I was told my thyroid had to be better before conceiving so I went to my GP and was prescribed medication. For years I’d had nightmares, been forgetful, on/off depression, my periods were heavy and I had bad PMT. The change getting that diagnosis has made! 

Discovering I had an underactive thyroid made a huge difference 

It also made me angry as there were thyroid issues all over my family but I didn’t know about the relation to fertility. It should have been flagged at my booking in appointment. It’s such a simple test but makes a huge difference and is the likely reason our first baby stopped growing.   

Being pregnant after loss, during the pandemic, was horrific  

I had trouble trusting my body after the miscarriage and what had helped was swimming. But I couldn’t go swimming until I was 3 or 4 months along due to lockdowns. None of my friends saw me until I was 36 weeks so it felt like we weren’t celebrating this new life. I broke the rules at 3 months pregnant as I needed a hug from my own mum. We met in the garden but even then she didn’t get to fuss over me as I knew we both would have liked to.

My wife wasn’t allowed into my scans and I just couldn’t bring myself to look at the screen. I had terrible anxiety and panic attacks but all the staff could do was hold me with their gloved hands. I was worried the whole time and had to attend Mindful Mums groups online as the maternity mental health team in my hospital was ‘on maternity leave’. Those of us who were pregnant and gave birth during the pandemic missed out on so much.  

My contractions started right in the middle of a talk I was delivering online to the Women’s Equality Party conference about improved care after baby loss. He’s a feminist from conception! 

Having a newborn after loss during a pandemic was very difficult, especially one with reflux and allergies. I felt like I couldn’t complain about anything as I should just be grateful to have this baby. It also took me longer to bond with him than I thought it would. I thought it would be love at first sight but I didn’t know him so it took time, and I didn’t feel like his mum. I also wasn’t expecting other emotions than love – but all relationships are complicated so I think I was just naive.

He’s very happy now – just clingy. He will also happily shout to you how many mummies he has!  

I recently got a scar tattoed over from my broken wrist a while back, as I found when I was depressed I would dwell on it. I have a tattoo with forget-me-nots to commemorate my baby from the miscarriage and a dragonfly to represent our energetic rainbow baby.  

I was so lucky to have been quickly able to see the women’s counsellor at Lewisham

Having to wait months for help, or not getting support until you’ve had several miscarriages, just isn’t good enough. You should also have support during subsequent pregnancies for all your sakes. I feel like better mental health support after a loss can literally save lives. There are sadly mothers who are suffering so much without their baby, they take their own lives. This system has to change. 

Close-up of Cairis tattoo of forgetmenots and a dragonfly
A tattoo of forget-me-not flowers and a dragonfly represent the baby Cairis lost and her energetic toddler