What does an empty sac and a blighted ovum mean anyhow – what awful ways to describe my baby. Couldn't they have just said it had passed away?

Natalie struggled to get pregnant, and suffered a miscarriage at 6 weeks. She then had her rainbow baby, Alyssa, before suffering a second miscarriage at 11 weeks. Part 1 of 2.

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Natalie and family.

by Natalie Burrows 

I've been thinking about putting this down on paper for a while, but never seem to have the courage to do it. I guess I wanted to wait until it was all over. All behind me, until we had our perfect family of four and I could look back at these years with compassion and pride.

The thing is, that's not how it's going to work out. We're going to be stopping at just the one child. She's not an 'only' child, as there are three others that didn't make it and whom will always be part of our family, but she is going to be the only one we'll have the pleasure of raising.

Our journey started back in 2009 when, after three years of being together we decided it was 'time' to start a family. I changed jobs to get my maternity cover in place, I stopped buying new clothes as there'd be no point once I was pregnant and well, we started dreaming.

Fast forward 14 months later and no pregnancy... Instead we were a fragile couple. Still full of dreams and hope, but increasingly also full of disappointment and a building dark pressure – why isn't it working? Finally, in November 2010 the test result we'd been waiting for finally came through. We were thrilled and told our closest friends. We relaxed, we celebrated. We thought it was all going to be OK. 

On December 22 I started to bleed. I remember watching TV after dinner and feeling a bit uncomfortable and then, with something in my head saying 'check it, check it, check it', I went to the loo and saw it. Blood. I was only six weeks pregnant. It was 'only' a chemical pregnancy technically, but it was my first experience of hard grief. I'd never lost anyone so close to me before. Now, here I was losing my first child; my eldest, my love. S/he was only six weeks old, but they would forever be in my heart. The grief and depression that overcame me and the unhappiness between my husband and I over the next five months was dreadful. I cried buckets. I couldn't get myself back together. I pulled away from 'life'. I threw myself into working and wine, lots of wine.

Finally I mustered the courage to seek help, by myself (big mistake). I visited my GP and asked for some of the basic fertility tests

We had been trying for over a year when we had finally conceived. Something must have been wrong. Still fresh from the loss, the GP said I no longer qualified for tests as I had been pregnant. Pregnant with a baby she'd only call 'chemical', but pregnant enough not to qualify for any help. This cut me like a knife, and quite honestly I found it really hard to seek help again after that. Instead I turned to acupuncture, herbs, and eventually private clinics. If only at this point I'd found Tommy's and grief counselling. The aloneness I felt after this first loss has a lot to do with where I am now. While it was only my first miscarriage and only six weeks, the darkness and pain stuck. You can't really put a number on these things – loss is loss and it becomes part of you.

Remarkably five months later we fell pregnant again. I say remarkably as we'd honestly got so low, we no longer thought it was going to be possible naturally. But it was, and after nine very nervous months, our daughter Alyssa was born. Her 12-week-scan was without a doubt one of the happiest moments of my life – right up there with her birth and saying 'yes'. She was beautiful and over the next 18 months we healed and loved. She is my rainbow and then some.

Eventually we thought it was time, time to brace ourselves and try again and hey presto! As though it was finally our turn for good luck, we fell pregnant straight away – no testing, no pressure, no crying, no doctors. Just pregnant. We fell madly in love with the baby, and shared our wonderful news – Alyssa would be an older sister. This baby was a baby of joy and love. Yay!

The problem was I just didn't feel 'right'....  My mum told me to 'get my head together' and my husband downplayed it as well – they meant well but I felt pretty alone and worried. So, trying to be positive I carried on until, eventually the 11th week I felt a pop and a warm gush. I knew instantly it was over and went into auto-pilot. I drove for the hour or so back into town and met my husband at the hospital.

We waited anxiously with other couples in the busy early pregnancy unit - nervously googling the probability of a live baby when bleeding appears... 

Even though it wasn't a surprise, the scan was devastating. We were told there was an empty sac and no sign of a heartbeat. Our baby.  Our beloved baby of joy who I'd already held in me for 11 weeks was dead. Not just dead, but it was apparently not even there. What does an empty sac and a blighted ovum mean anyhow – what awful ways to describe my baby. Couldn't they have just said it had passed away?

Anyway, we were told to go home and wait - as I was already bleeding it shouldn't take long to 'pass'. Two days later and after a lot of medium bleeding the miscarriage kicked in in earnest. Stupidly I had kept Alyssa home with me. I spent hours curled up in pain on the toilet bleeding and passing tissue while she played in the bedroom. The pain was like labour – so deep and overcoming and the blood – there was so much of it I ended up in A&E with a suspected haemorrhage. This was no 'period', this was a mini labour. The trauma of that physical loss sticks with me still today. I was so unprepared for the pain and sheer intensity of it all. There's no way I should have been alone. But I didn't really know – I stupidly hadn't accessed any help. I hadn't sought any advice. Like society, I had tried to downplay it.

On reflection I can see that I never really dealt with this, or my previous loss properly – I fought back the grief and decided the only way out was just to focus on getting pregnant again asap. That was how we solved it last time and that's what we were going to do again.

But of course we didn't... Almost a year passed and we still weren't pregnant. The rising grief and pressure was awful. My plan hadn't worked and so we sought private medical help. After a myriad of tests that indicated I had very mild PCO tendencies, but otherwise good fertility, we tried two rounds of IUIs. Neither worked, but they did prepare us in taking the big step to IVF. Sadly by the time we reached this point we were 'spent' - we didn't have much more left in us. We'd been trying for about five years and we were just so exhausted. 

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