December 8th 2016 we discovered we were pregnant. The test that first appeared negative and gradually became what’s known in the business as a ‘squinter’ until finally after the 2 minutes allocated time became a line bold enough to crack a smile. Of course I took several other brand tests, decided I would wait and tell Dean on Christmas Day, then realised I couldn’t wait that long and would announce to him when he got home from work and eventually I gave in and called him at work immediately. I wish I could say it was a pure joyous moment, but if pregnancy and infant loss teaches you anything, it is that a positive test is only the smallest step in a long and unpredictable journey. It’s hopeful, it’s exciting but it feels too good to be true and it’s very, very scary. You are literally walking into the line of fire and opening yourself up to the possibility of pain with only pure hope and good luck to shield you from the bullets. Over a year after saying goodbye to our first born son and following months of trying to conceive and two early miscarriages, I called Dean to tell him the news and was met with the expected lacklustre response ‘OK, good.’ Neither of us felt overly celebratory, four pregnancies in and the magical moment of ‘I’m pregnant’ had sadly been replaced with a hesitant nod. That’s not to say we weren’t delighted, but we both expected it to end more than we expected it to continue.
I began sharing my news right away to friends, family, neighbours, work collegues, the man at the Co Op. In hindsight it’s clear I wanted to tell people whilst I could, to get my news in before it was over and have the opportunity to say the words ‘I’m pregnant’ before I had to say ‘We lost another baby’. I enjoyed telling people because everyone else always seemed so confident that it would work out this time, it helped me to believe it could too. Dean chose not to share the news so freely, but we respected each others decisions, he laughed at my inability to keep the news secret, I understood his reasons for keeping his cards close to his chest. Together we agreed that we could tell who we wanted, but we would not share the news on social media until after our 12 week scan when the risk of miscarriage drops significantly. For anyone who has lost a baby at late miscarriage, stillbirth, or after birth, there is no ‘safe point’ in pregnancy, or post birth for that matter. Once you are immersed in the world of baby loss and have friends who have suffered loss at each and every stage of pregnancy, during labour and at 4, 5, 6 months old, there is no such thing as a pregnancy without fear. But 12 weeks felt like a good moment to go all-out-public, we agreed.
I was booked in for my first scan at 5 weeks on Christmas Eve, but I cancelled the day before. Dean couldn’t get out of work and I didn’t want to go without him, and I knew the chance of a seeing a fetal heartbeat was low before 6 weeks, so bravely I changed the appointment for 30th December. Christmas was both exciting, nerve wracking and full of continued grief for Winter. Every sharp pain, twinge, toilet trip was loaded with anxiety. I kept thinking ‘Is today the day it ends.’ It was also a flicker of hope and our sentences became littered with ‘maybe, hopefully, if this one stays, if this works out, if we get to keep it…’ which became a running joke between us.
At the 6 week scan I cried with both happiness and relief when a heartbeat was confirmed. I mean, I full on sobbed. Suddenly, it felt possible. I fell in love with my pixalated grey blob. In that moment they morphed from an idea into a reality, their first little fetal promotion. Dean and I went away to a countryside inn to celebrate New Year and his birthday. I was tired, I felt sick, it rained, it was perfect. I took my first bump photo, a teeny tiny little bulge, only just peeking out, but there nonetheless. Dean Christened the blob ‘Oppy’ as, in his words, it is an OPPortunity and we need to stay OPtomistic. I joked that with a name like that it would come out with one leg, Dean said he didn’t care if it had one leg and three heads, we agreed that that would be a difficult birth. We took the scan photo down to the baby memorial and told Winter he would be a big brother, even though we had a feeling he already knew. That was my first realisation that my babies would never physically meet and I know that is a pain I will revisit often for the rest of my life, but these are future hurdles I will face and I’m trying to focus on the pregnancy sprint before I attempt the lifelong marathon.
I was given another scan at 9 weeks, a midwife appointment at 11 weeks, and a scan at 12 weeks with my consultant. I have the same midwife who looked after me with Winter, she came to see me after he died and it’s wonderful to be able to return with good news. My scan on 9th February dated me forward at 12+5 and we decided to wait and announce on Valentines Day. I felt a huge amount of doomsday dread before each scan, and I’ve also cried at each and every appointment, but equally I have left feeling reassured and elated that we are getting closer to our rainbow. Our wonderfully kind and gentle consultant discussed our care, we had met previously when I was growing Winter as there is a genetic disorder that runs in my family and comes with an increased chance of miscarriage and birthing a disabled baby. The chances, however, are quite small and were not deemed a real risk, and played no part in Winters death. There is a relatable concern for baby’s heart as Winter was diagnosed with a heart condition post birth, so scans every 4 weeks are monitoring our rainbows little ticker. We were also comforted with the knowledge that unless things change we can expect a natural labour with a resuscitation team ready and extra scans and checks once baby is delivered. Winter died due to PPHN – Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn – which is a failure of the circulatory system whereby the lungs do not clear of fluid and cause the baby to stop breathing which of course then causes other significant problems with body functions, but the light at the end of that very dark tunnel is that it is not genetic and unlikely to reoccur in following pregnancies. A reminder of simply how fragile our bodies can be and how swiftly our life can be taken from us. We are also in contact with Lullaby who offer a scheme called CONI – Care Of Next Infant – to families who have been touched by stillbirth or neonatal death, and offer sleep apnea mattresses, additional health visits etc to ease anxiety following the birth of a rainbow. I have stickers in my hospital records that say ‘I have had a previous neo-natal death’, they are available from Kicks Count website alongside stillbirth ones, and help when dealing with several different hospital staff members who don’t have notes or know your history. Perfect to avoid moments such as my encounter at a previous pregnancy scan of ‘do you have any other children at home?’ A fairly harmless question but, Linda, I do not want to go into the story of my newborn sons sudden death when I’m midway through an internal scan for a new anxiety riddled pregnancy… (insert rolling eyes, face palm and laughing face emoji here).
Being at the hospital around other pregnant ladies was a little surreal. I sat there, Dean holding my hand, a tiny but growing bump, in the same room that Winter had his scans. Same room, same me and Dean, different experience altogether. The footprints of past losses have wavered our faith and we were more nervous than excited. But still, to the other couples, we looked just like them, excited young first time parents, and as Dean jokingly calls me ‘Teenage Pregnancy’. We wore our painful history like an invisible cloak. I wondered who else in the waiting room had lost babies, or would lose their baby. If they were one of the luckier ones, I mentally willed them to enjoy every moment of their scans, if they were a family dealing with loss I mentally willed them to stay strong.
I still don’t think I dare immerse myself fully in the fact that I’m pregnant… just in case. It’s a survival tool, like a mistrusting lover who knows the sting of being cheated on and keeps a little mental wall up to save herself from repeated pain. My experience of pregnancy after loss so far is one of extreme anxiety and severe hope. I know how I feel is normal because I’m lucky to be surrounded by those who are going though or have been through it themselves, they are my lifeboats on this choppy sea. There are so many additional factors to consider too; fear that my announcement will upset those still dealing with the after effects of grief, and those struggling to fall pregnant. The worry that Winter will be forgotten about and everyone will think I am magically fixed forever. The guilt of thoughts that run through my mind ‘…I wish this baby was Winter…’ followed by soul searching and understanding that this pregnancy will inevitably be steered by my grief.
Pregnancy after loss – PAL – is complicated, a balancing act of grieving and growing. It is certainly more tiring and challenging this time round. Pregnancy is always a phase of heightened emotion and exhaustion, and PAL is a whole new ball game. Nevertheless I’m determined to enjoy this pregnancy as much as I can, even if it is only in sporadic carefree moments. I’m learning that it’s ok to worry, it’s ok to not be the naive, glowing, zen bump carrier that I was with Winter, I’m allowed to struggle emotionally with this pregnancy as much as I am deserving of it’s happiness. I’m reminding myself that nothing in life is guaranteed and not just this pregnancy, that it will be worth the emotional drain in the end, that every day is a step loser to finally holding a live healthy baby in our arms to bring home and love forever. Maybe, hopefully, if this one stays, if this works out, if we get to keep it…
#babyoppy – Winters brother or sister; Due August 19th 2017.