I’ll start by being honest; I had wanted to blog more during this pregnancy; much more. I thought I would be able to have afforded myself the time and headspace to fill this corner of the internet with a comprehensive perspective of what it feels like to finally be pregnant four years after the death of our son; particularly given that we’ve all been locked up at home for months. Then it dawned on me, that I have always had the luxury of being able to write about my experiences for this blog retrospectively. Always giving myself time to fully understand those emotions and thoughts that I have waded through, before even coming close to attempting to put them into any kind of readable format for the consumption of others. To be in the thick of those kind of intense emotions once more has floored me. I had hoped I could put pen to paper (or in this case, fingers to keyboard) in an attempt to connect with others who might be on a similar journey, but, as of yet, the ability to do that has escaped me. So, excuse me if this blog is a little jarring, raw or unpalatable for those who have never experienced deep grief, or the fear and anxiety that seem to run so succinctly beside it during a pregnancy after a loss.
I think I hit what can only be considered a ‘sweet spot’ in this pregnancy, somewhere in the middle of the second trimester. It was when the fear of a miscarriage or a fatal fetal diagnosis seemed to have subsided slightly, and yet the prospect of birth and beyond was far enough away for me to protect myself from all of the things that terrified me. This baby had been rumbling around in there quite nicely, and with each thump I felt against my tummy, it was reassuring me that all might just be okay this time. Once we hit a point where the baby would be considered a ‘viable baby’ at birth, I felt confident enough to tell more people, tried to share the news on Instagram as sensitively as possible, and even wrote a blog about it a couple of weeks later. I was managing, even coping quite well, so I thought. My care has been consultant led from the start, because of a complicated obstetric history, rounds of IVF and subsequent surgeries, and of course, Teddy dying neonatally. I’ve also been looked after by a case-loading midwifery team; meaning I see the same midwife, who is also scheduled to be at the birth. This has helped protect me from any repeat of triggering conversations or lengthy explanations each visit, as she has known it all, from the start. A care plan like this, has of course, been invaluable, and I struggle to think how I might have coped without it in place. Of course, nothing can shield me from the inevitable; the fear that I feel about reaching the end of this pregnancy, and birth. I was referred to the care of the hospital perinatal mental health team fairly early on, for this reason, and they have been supporting us since then.
Every scan has been silent as I have held my breath, clenched my fists and often let tears stream down my face, before I have allowed my consultant to show me that everything is still okay on the monitors. I cannot bear to look. The thought of falling in love with another little person who wouldn’t make it home is too much to comprehend. Going back into those scanning rooms, alone, each time has taken all of the strength that I can muster, and has usually resulted the rest of the day being a write off. Scanxiety is real.
I’ve cried on my midwife at every appointment, without fail. I find answering the question “How are you feeling?” an impossibility. It’s an answer which is so complex, so multi-layered, and often so dark, that I simply cannot articulate anything that would make any sense to someone who hasn’t been in this position themselves. I worry that someone might judge me, might think that I don’t love this baby, or doubt my ability to be the mother it needs me to be. Because I do, and I will be; I just cannot allow my head or heart to take me to a place where that might even be a reality. It’s a form of self preservation. Nights have been sleepless, and not because of the usual #pregnancyproblems of being uncomfortable. My mind races through every possible scenario that we might face, every unhappy ending. Coupled with night terrors (yep, those are fun) and waking up with white knuckles from fists that have been clenched so hard, and tears streaming down my face once more.
My phone camera roll is filled with bump photos at every stage, from every angle, and videos of baby’s heartbeat on the doppler at appointments. Not for the consumption of anyone but myself, and mainly because I am collecting them, incase they become the only memories I have of this baby, or in case I never get to experience the immense privilege of being pregnant again. We have wished for this for so long now, I want to cherish it, but my mind won’t let me. I want to show off my bump proudly to the world, whilst simultaneously not wanting a stranger to ask me “Is it your first?” for fear of the answer I will have to give them.
I am also acutely aware that readers of this blog, or followers of my Instagram page might be newly bereaved, or struggling on a complex fertility journey themselves. So trying to strike any kind of ‘balance’ between giving people hope, or potentially upsetting them, seems like the impossible task. Secondly to that, in more recent weeks, I have had to stop doing the one thing that has kept me going these past four years; reading and replying to the emails and messages of people who have found themselves in the same boat; bereaved parents. There might be some days when I feel quite capable of reading new stories like that; after all, I know only too well that babies die, every day. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say, that there hasn’t been a single week (sometimes a day) of this pregnancy where I haven’t received a message from someone who has just experienced losing their baby, at exactly the same number of weeks I currently was/am; stories of miscarriage, TFMR, stillbirth, fatal diagnosis, placental abruption, stays in NICU with tragic endings . My anxiety sky-rockets like never before, my heart begins to race, I’m googling signs and symptoms that my baby has, or will, die again. I’m not an expert in grief or loss, nor have I ever pretended to be. I have never given advice, or done anything more than be a mum who writes about my own experiences whilst trying to signpost people to charities and professionals who might be able to support them when they need it. It has pained me to cut myself off from people who are facing the unimaginable, but as another form of self preservation and on advice from the care team looking after me, I have had to take a huge step back. The guilt I’ve felt has been immense, and the thought that I might be perceived as callous or uncaring to those who are struggling right now is something that sits constantly on my shoulder. The only way I can explain it, is to liken it to what’s explained to us all at the beginning of any in-flight safety information. That we must always pull down our own oxygen face mask first, before we attempt to help others who may need it. So, this is me, temporarily pulling down my own mask, and making sure that I can breathe again.
Even more bizarrely, I still find pregnancy announcements give me that same sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that they have done the past four years; even as I sit here with a matter of days left to wait. Social media seems to see people play out every second of their pregnancy, with metaphorical curtains wide-open, in every inch of detail. From scans to gender announcements, pregnancy fashion to nursery reveals, what’s been packed in hospital bags and a week-by-week blow of how long they have to go. As a society we seem to be obsessed with weeks and dates, boy or girl? It can be hard to watch and listen to when your primary concern is “Will my baby live or die?” I haven’t packed a bag, I’ll do it when I absolutely have to. The memory of unpacking those tiny, unworn clothes that I had lovingly washed and packed weeks before Teddy’s arrival is still too vivid for me. The carseat, pram and other baby-related paraphernalia remain firmly at one end of the loft where my husband hid them over four years ago. We’ve agreed that we’ll retrieve them when we know there’s a baby who is coming home with us.
All of these unthinkables have left me feeling as if perhaps we are grossly underprepared? Not just practically, but emotionally. I haven’t actually allowed myself to think ahead of this baby arriving. That sacred ‘fourth trimester’ that I hear people talk about; last time for us was filled with endless tears, funeral arrangements and ‘I’m so sorry’s. I can’t imagine what that might actually feel like, to walk out of the maternity wing with a living, breathing baby and walk safely through the front door of our home again. It feels like the impossible dream. Yet this time last year, so did falling pregnant again. When your mind is constantly battling to imagine what that joy might even begin to feel like, whilst simultaneously fighting back the grief and fear from your last birth and postnatal experience, you begin to become exhausted. It’s physically and mentally exhausting; quite crippling at times. Towards the end I have found that it takes over every corner of your mind, seeping into everything that you’re doing. Impacting your concentration levels, so you find yourself not being able to read a book, write a list, or sometimes even partake in a conversation. Much like those first weeks of intense grief after loss, it has all felt so similar.
I’ve felt guilty for not feeling the excitement that I ‘should’ be feeling right now, and envious of others around me who seem to feel and show that so effortlessly. Every day feels like running a mental and emotional marathon; through treacle. My midwife asked me the other week, “How do you think we could be make it better for you during these last weeks?” and I replied without hesitation “Wake me up when this is all over and I have a baby safely in my arms?” She could sense there was a huge part of me that would take that option had it been on the table.
I’m grateful, so grateful, that goes without saying, that we are even in this position again. That we have made it this far into another pregnancy; that I am fit and healthy (in body, at least) and there have been no physical complications in this pregnancy. I just don’t think I ever really stopped to imagine what being pregnant again, after losing our first child to neonatal death and after the subsequent loss of three more babies, might feel like. I focused so hard on just being pregnant again, I never once imagined what it might be like to live through each day of that subsequent pregnancy. You see, for us, there is no ‘safe zone’, no time to relax or think we are past the ‘risky part’. Teddy died after a full-term, healthy pregnancy, just like this one. He stopped breathing in the night and was carried away from us, limp and lifeless as a midwife ran away with him. I can re-play that memory, over and over, as clearly as the moment it happened. It lives, indelibly on my mind, forever; and no amount of talking therapy or otherwise will erase that. That’s why we are scared, that’s why I will continue to feel this way until I can see that another way is possible. You can only draw on your past experiences, and that is ours. So for now, we live with that daily cloud of anxiety hanging over us, until the universe proves that it’s capable of dealing us a different hand. It won’t be a ‘happy ending’, for the arrival of one child does not simply erase the death of another, but it will, hopefully, be a new, happier, chapter of our lives. It’s a chapter that we want so much, and I really don’t have a clue how it’s going to feel if we finally get there. All I know, is that we love this little person, so fiercely, already, and I don’t want anything to distract me from that narrative of motherhood that I have wished for, for so long.
With that in mind, and all being well, I am assuming that this may be my last blog entry for a while. As much as I would love to promise you there might be a healthy, happy birth story at the end of this, I can’t say that even if there is, that I will find the time to write about it here. So I will simply leave you with this…
Thank you for reading the last three and a half years of this blog. For living through the ups and the downs of my journey after loss and a version of motherhood I most certainly never imagined. Thank you for your supportive comments, emails and kind words of encouragement when I have been at my lowest ebb. Thank you for supporting all of our fundraising efforts in Teddy’s name (that we will most certainly be continuing with). You have all been incredible. Lastly, if you’re reading this and you are currently in the throes of pregnancy after loss, then I hope these ramblings of the inner workings of my mind have made some sense to you. If you’re still waiting to get there, then please promise me that you’ll always hold onto hope.
Over and out, for now at least. I hope to be back soon. (But, more than anything, I hope to be knee-deep in nappies and night feeds for the foreseeable).