We clinked our glasses of white wine and gazed across the canals. It was December 2016 and our first wedding anniversary. Venice looked so idyllic in the winter. Between mouthfuls of spaghetti with clams, we made our grand plans. After Christmas, we would start trying for a baby. It all seemed so simple. Perhaps this time next year, we would be toasting our first born. This was our marriage’s natural trajectory.
After a year of frustrations, we received the best news imaginable: my wife was pregnant. The three home tests confirmed it. I felt waves of excitement and pride rush over me. One of my sperm had made it, I was fertile. Our black Labrador, Milo, stared perplexed as we eagerly told him that he was going to be a big brother.
The hospital waiting room on that balmy day in March 2018 took me back to childhood swimming galas, as the wait until they called your name filled my stomach with nausea. The 12-week scan felt like one of the most momentous occasions of our lives. Three couples went before us, each emerging from the sonography room with beaming smiles and their black and white scan photos. Finally, it was our turn to take the plunge.
A missed miscarriage
My wife lay down facing a monitor whilst the sonographer applied gel to her stomach and brought the ultrasound device closer. I perched on a chair facing my wife, smiled nervously at her and looked at the sonographer’s screen. It was eerily dark. She calmly informed us that she would perform an internal scan for a better look. This did not feel right.
Where was our baby? I stared at the screen as my wife had to endure the ignominy of an internal inquisition. ‘There’s nothing there, is there?’ said my wife. ‘I’m very sorry but this is what we call a missed miscarriage,’ said the sonographer. ‘One in four pregnancies end like this.’ My bottom lip began to tremble and all I could muster was a pathetic ‘no’.
My wife reassured me that we would be able to try again. How could she be so calm? Looking back, I know that she was trying to come across as strong – not just for me, but also for herself.
We were booked in for another scan 10 days later; we felt utterly helpless, but apparently this was standard. These days of limbo passed in a haze of sadness and anger. I had vivid dreams and woke up in a cold sweat most nights. The next scan proved entirely pointless and the following day my wife was booked in for miscarriage management surgery.
I fretted in the hospital café, nursing a cappuccino. I watched on as jubilant grandparents purchased pink balloons from the gift shop and an exhausted-looking mother left cradling her new-born whilst the father buckled under the weight of half a dozen bags. That should have been us in the autumn.
Life felt overwhelmingly unfair. We soothed ourselves by saying that we would try again and that the odds were stacked in our favour.
Fortunately, my wife bounced back relatively quickly following the operation. We immersed ourselves in the football World Cup, and after two blissful weeks in Costa Rica we found out that my wife was pregnant again. Our excitement was slightly tempered by the spectre of the miscarriage, but things just had to work out this time. We distracted ourselves with the bundle of joy that was Florence, our second black Labrador; she seemed intent on terrorising Milo who, at the age of two and a quarter, acted as if he was a grandad.
Pregnancy after loss
This time around, we booked a private scan at seven weeks, purely to reassure ourselves. The practice was a hub of excitement that morning as couples emerged with scan pictures and even teddy bears. When our turn came, my heart was beating out of my shirt. As soon as the sonographer asked if we were sure of our dates, we knew something was wrong again. The internal scan showed a small blob, but it was inconclusive. Our chances were slim, but she told us to come back the following week.
I could barely sleep and spent countless hours scouring articles and messages on chat forums, hoping for a miracle.
I stared in awe at the two blobs on the screen. Two blobs meant twins. We had always joked about how amazing it would have been to have twins. A boy and a girl. I was brought back down to earth by the sonographer’s apologetic voice. They did not have viable heartbeats. She asked us if we wanted any tissues but there were no tears. Once again, we had the awkward wait for another scan with the NHS before anything could be done.
A womb infection meant that my wife bounced back more slowly from this operation. My mind was consumed by endless angry questions. Why did my wife have to go through weeks of morning sickness for nothing? Why did friends and family members have babies and we did not? What had we done to deserve this?
I was consumed by guilt that I had not undergone any of the physical pain she had.
Struggles for support
Our internal pain was so hard to talk about, but we did book to see a private consultant as there had been no follow-up from the NHS. We were in and out in 15 minutes, with the message that having two miscarriages was sadly quite common. I was so fed up with seeing happy posts of smiling mothers with crying babies that I deleted my Facebook for a few months; everybody else made it look so straightforward.
We didn’t start trying again for a while, but by May 2019 my wife was pregnant again. We pretended to be excited and found ourselves agreeing with family and friends who said that they knew it would work out this time – except it didn’t. I locked myself in the bathroom and wept on the floor. I cried until I was physically incapable of letting out another sob. Our dreams had been so cruelly crushed, and we felt so utterly powerless.
Friends and family tried to be supportive, but could they really understand our grief? The longing for a future part of ourselves, something intangible and yet so ingrained.
For me, those who listened to my pain without trying to give advice did it best. Miscarriage has been a lonely path for both my wife and me. Our mental health has suffered massively, and we bear many scars, although our Labradors have been our saviours as we have navigated the long road to recovery.
Father’s Day this year seems less raw to me, but it definitely still hurts that we cannot celebrate with a child of our own. I will be lighting candles for Marcella, Seb, Sophie and Oscar – all of whom are so greatly loved.