This is our story, seldom told
Tommy's Stories by Ed
This is our story, seldom told.
It has not been easy to write but ten years on from the start of our journey to have children is, for me, as good a time as any to write about our experiences for the first time. My perspective is as the partner of someone who went through three miscarriages and I suppose the reason for writing this is because my feelings about what happened have been locked away and kept largely to myself over a number of years. It has been in the background, following me through the years that have passed since those wretched days, yet we did have our happy ending with a healthy and happy son born at the fourth attempt. This story then, is about our initial expectations, the journey through three miscarriages, the varying levels of support we received both from people close to us and from the various hospitals we attended, and the long-term impact on us now looking back from a distance.
Like many young couples we wanted a family. We didn't have a specific goal as to how many children we wanted but we decided to start a family without any concerns as to how it would pan out. At the end of 2007 my wife became pregnant and our excitement was illustrated by me buying her a book of baby names as a Christmas present. After the 12-week scan we set out to share our news with a wide network of people, from family and friends to work colleagues, overlooking the note of caution sounded by the sonographer who wanted us to return in a couple of weeks for a further scan, as the foetus was thought to be on the small side. We put this down to the fact that my wife was petite and assumed it was a routine appointment.
The return visit towards the end of January 2008 ended our innocence and naivety and the experience left us numb. We expected it to be another chance to see the developing baby through the unique perspective offered by a scan; instead it was immediately apparent that there was no activity, no movement on the screen. We were met by silence from the sonographer, who was attempting to confirm the obvious diagnosis, and then had a further wait while they fetched a colleague to check. This silence grew for what seemed like several minutes until our own desperate conclusion was confirmed and we were sent outside to wait in a public, crowded waiting room. No information was given as to what would happen next or who we might see. We were in shock but felt confined by our location (not given to public expressions of emotion). Some 45 minutes later we were seen by another member of staff who asked some bewildering questions. Would we want an operation to remove the foetus (or 'retained products of conception' - medical science doesn't mix with poetry) or to allow it to pass naturally? Would we want a burial or cremation? Would we want to make our own private arrangements? It was too much too soon; although these decisions weren't forced on us we felt we had to make them despite not having had the chance to process what was happening. My wife preferred to avoid an operation and so we left the hospital to wait until nature took its course, which transpired to be a long and traumatic process with a further scan revealing that not all of the foetus had gone and an operation was then the suggested course of action. This experience informed the decisions we made after subsequent miscarriages.
While this was going on we had to inform all those we had previously told our happy news. What was surprising to us was the realisation that miscarriage was common and a number of people we knew had direct or indirect experience of it, which was previously unknown to us. Our experience, made known via our initial, naive public announcement, had given them a vehicle to share their past experiences. This showed us that miscarriage was, and to a large extent still is, a taboo subject or at least one seldom discussed and shared. For those not taken to sharing their emotions it is difficult to discuss, which may delay the healing process. Because it is difficult, the lack of understanding of how to talk about it meant that friendships could falter because one side perhaps doesn't know what to say and the other feels it is being ignored.
We decided to continue trying for a baby and to put the miscarriage down to a chance event, which is what many people optimistically said to us. We were put off returning to the same hospital due to our previous experience and so when the time came, we took ourselves to a different hospital for the scan. This time we did not share the news of the pregnancy with so many people.
Unfortunately, we found out at the routine 12-week scan that a miscarriage was already in the process of happening. This felt more like grief than shock, compared with the first time, but the support we received felt appropriate, no doubt because we knew more of what to expect but also because the standard of care was better and more sympathetic. The manner of how you are dealt with and what you are told is important at such difficult moments. That said, later on, there was an unfortunate mix-up when we came for the operation (called an ERPC) to remove the foetus, as a junior member of staff took a urine sample - not realising an ERPC is the one operation you don't take a sample for - and went on to ask my wife whether she knew she was pregnant.
On this second occasion we were in a position to attempt to find out more about what had happened. Due to my wife's professional links, we were lucky (compared to others in our position) to be able to arrange for the retained products of conception to be sent for genetic analysis in order to determine any underlying cause. We also saw a specialist to discuss any further tests or clinical trials that may be appropriate. After providing our family histories and blood samples, the information we were given by the genetic counsellors was that the foetus had Turner Syndrome, which is a genetic disorder affecting females that happens randomly and causes the girl to have only one X chromosome instead of two. In the vast majority of cases (though not always) it results in the spontaneous termination of the pregnancy, which was the case for us. Although this was sad news, we were at least reassured that there were no hidden complications that prevented us from having children.
The second miscarriage coincided with a house move and relocation out of London. It was a particularly difficult time as the move turned into a year-long saga during which time two sets of buyers for our flat pulled-out and then a third lowered their offer late on in the buying process, right when the miscarriage was occurring. Once we were through the house move and settled in our new home we tried again for a baby and, when the pregnancy was confirmed, went to the local hospital for a scan.
With the third pregnancy, once again the news was that a miscarriage was already in the process of happening. This was at a similar gestation period to the other two, roughly at the end of the first trimester. Having thought we had simply been unlucky it was now difficult to accept that this was happening to us again. What were the odds on three successive miscarriages? Our negative feelings and difficulty comprehending our situation was later compounded by what we saw as a dereliction of duty from the hospital, as they neglected to collect the sample from the foetus for genetic testing and we were therefore unable to find out if there were any underlying causes affecting that pregnancy. We went through a complaints process, as we felt our wishes had been made clear and the hospital was negligent in disposing of the RPC, but we were only able to get as far as to receive a qualified apology.
At this point we were living in a town that seemed to us to be dominated by young families and no wonder really, as we had moved there because of the town's family-friendly appeal. Having experienced three miscarriages we felt bereft for a while and wondered what we were doing there. Everything turned into a reminder of our losses and we felt some bitterness when friends announced pregnancies, a reaction which was alien to how we usually felt and behaved. We started to discuss how many more times we might try for a baby and at what point we would give up and consider other options.
When the fourth pregnancy happened in 2010 there was a feeling of trepidation and 'here we go again'. We took the decision to return to the hospital that had supported us during the second miscarriage, despite having moved away from the area, because of the support we had received there. However, very early on, as early as six weeks, there was some worrying signs similar to those my wife experienced when previous miscarriages started - some bleeding, a churning feeling in her stomach - and we travelled, on a Sunday, to the hospital, not being able to wait a moment longer to find out what was happening. During that journey I remember thinking that this may well be the last time we would go through this because of the emotional toll I felt it was taking on us.
We eventually arrived at the hospital, anxious and impatient. The staff there were brilliant with us, very supportive and reassuring, making us feel like it wasn't a paranoid reaction to have come in so early in the pregnancy. Because it was so early a scan wasn't possible, so instead they took a blood sample and we had to wait until the following day to find out, over the 'phone, that my wife's hormone levels showed that the pregnancy was still viable. We were very relieved that our worst fears were unfounded but there was still a long way to go.
While we were at the hospital we were given assurances that we could return at any time. As it happened, during the next few weeks we returned for a number of scans, mostly in response to our paranoia and, what seemed to us, to be further signs of a similar nature as before, that the pregnancy may be miscarriaging, although this wasn't in fact the case. At each visit we were reassured that the foetus was still there, still alive and still moving. We went past the point at which the previous miscarriages had happened and, whilst still anxious, the level of concern gradually reduced as time went on.
... Now, ten years on from the start of our journey, with our healthy son having been born in 2010, I feel I can reflect on what we went through and what it meant to us.
We decided not to have more children, in part because of the miscarriages, and we will forever remember the emotions and feelings we went through for those couple of years. There is now another, current dimension to this story: we are debating when is the best time to talk to our son about the previous pregnancies and miscarriages. Like any significant family news or event there is a judgement to be made as to when he is emotionally ready to process the news, which we need to balance with the risk of any perception that we were keeping it from him for too long. We will find our own way with this and, like many aspects of parenting, it will come down to us and to him and to when we're all ready.