Spring and summer months usually bring good weather, better moods, new life and lots of hope of enjoyment, and fun times. Since 2015 though, these two seasons now only bought a little hope that was crushed, constant anxiety and left heartbreak that would last for years.
My daughter, we realise now, was our miracle baby. Her name means ‘princess’ and little did we know that she would become the sole ruler in our hearts, but also, the only child that survived in our hopes of having a family of five. We had tried for a couple of years to conceive naturally, without success, and just as we were about to consider IVF, a simple course of metformin worked wonders in 2011, and I found out I was pregnant.
Our daughter was born at 39 weeks in 2012 following a straightforward pregnancy, via emergency C-section after a long labour. A week later I was admitted to hospital with sepsis. As I recovered and settled into motherhood after a rocky first few months, I didn’t think the early years of raising a baby would be something that I would be left craving for in the years to come. I didn’t cherish those times enough – moaning about sleepless nights, nappies and feeding, as many parents do.
Spring 2015, my husband and I were ecstatic when I fell pregnant again. It was perfect timing, the metformin had worked after only one month and our daughter (aged three) was ready for a sibling. Life was going well. However, our dreams turned to a living nightmare when following the 12-week bloods and a normal scan we were urgently called in to discuss that blood test results had shown the pregnancy had insufficient levels of pregnancy hormones and the pregnancy was at risk of terminating at any point, if it had not already done so. What? The baby we had just seen on scan two days ago might have already died…this could not be happening to us, was this some kind of a joke, or was it a mistake – maybe my results were mixed up with someone else’s? Things like this didn’t happen to us, they happened to other people. We had already announced our news to all our family and friends in the last two days – what would we tell them? Why was this happening to us? Had we been too happy, had things been too perfect, and that’s why we were being punished? What had we done wrong? As we slowly started telling people we knew that things weren’t going to work out, our close family often fobbed us off with ‘Nothing is going to happen, you don’t trust Allah’.
Living like a zombie the next few weeks we went on in the following weeks to have multiple appointments and be introduced to a whole world of fetal terminology that unfortunately we would become well versed in over the next few years. Amniocentesis tests and full chromosome testing which showed no abnormalities and further weekly scans also showed the baby developing fine. However, at week 16 of my pregnancy, after a usual full day’s work, I persuaded my husband to take me to hospital as I didn’t feel right. ‘You are paranoid, nothing is going to happen’, he said, his regular words to me over the next few years. After an internal examination – these would also become something I would become accustomed to for the next five years – I heard the dreaded words that would haunt me for the next few years ‘I’m sorry your cervix is open, the baby is on the way’. The next few days were a blur as we had to play the waiting game in hospital as I was admitted immediately, and I delivered a baby (who had died in the few hours before delivery) after a few days.
My relationship with my husband was particularly strained after this first miscarriage. He had physically been with me at every step of the pregnancy – except for the night of the delivery – as I had requested him to be home with our young daughter. Not having him with me during delivery meant I felt he hadn’t fully realised the trauma of giving birth to a baby you couldn’t take home. The whole ‘out of sight, out of mind’ rang so true here. He wasn’t there, so he didn’t see. He didn’t hear the silent sobs as I gently pushed out the baby. We had made an agreement before the delivery, we didn’t want to see the baby, know the gender, nothing. Islam taught us that a baby that dies in the womb or is younger than 6 months in the womb, isn’t recognised as having a soul therefore doesn’t need to be grieved as you would another human. So, there is no name given, no funeral, no ceremony. I left my husband to organise the practicalities of the burial with the bereavement team. And he got on with his life, back to his business working long hours and helping to organise a family wedding that kicked off just ten days after we lost our baby. His behaviour made me feel like this whole experience hadn’t existed for him.
I realise now it was a mistake to think he didn’t care. For him, being physically busy didn’t mean he wasn’t feeling the emotional pain as well. He just had a different role to play. He didn’t get the time off work, no one came specifically to visit him, or prepare food for him, or buy him flowers. He was the man, he just got on with it. In the meantime, despite our agreement, I requested from the bereavement team all the information about my baby – the gender, some photos, and arranged some funeral cloth for the burial – my way of doing what I could for the child I had carried for four months and had made a lifetime worth of hopes and dreams for.
Post-mortem on the baby showed no abnormalities but suggested a possible infection that might have resulted in early labour. Post miscarriage tests also reassured me that my health was clear and there was nothing medically visible that had could be the cause of the miscarriage. We were reassured that this was an unfortunate event and that nothing should prevent me planning future pregnancies.
Desperate for our rainbow baby, we began trying for another baby in February 2016. I fell pregnant remarkably fast again after a month of metformin. This time the pregnancy was fuelled with anxiety even though I was monitored closer. We passed the 12-week marker and the bloods were normal. We breathed a sigh of relief. Our prayers had worked. We had just been unlucky last time, too quick to announce our good news, maybe we had had the ‘evil eye’. However, at 17 weeks of pregnancy, I started to feel uneasy. Another trip to triage, and I won’t forget what the doctor said before she proceeded to do the internal examination ‘If what happens to you last year happens again, I will eat my hat’. She didn’t eat her hat, but the words that were still ringing in my ears every night for the last year were again vocalised ‘I am sorry, your cervix is open’. Exactly a year on, the whole nightmare repeated itself.
I didn’t let my husband leave me this time. We were in the hospital for a week playing the waiting game again. We were used to this. We got treated well, with lots of compassion and support, as we waited for the inevitable. Another week in the bereavement suite, I went into labour and delivered a boy who survived a couple of hours before passing away. This time things were different. I wouldn’t let my pregnancy, or my baby go without the acknowledgement of them existing. I didn’t hold the baby, but my husband prayed the Azaan in his ears as soon as he was born, in our mind this was our son – it didn’t matter what the religion said. My husband went and sat with the baby for much of time he was alive. This time he accepted the situation, he lived in it with me, he breathed it and together we grieved.
The insensitivity and lack of compassion by some family and friends always surprised me. One of my supposed closest friends left me traumatised. She took me to my surprise birthday lunch only six months later so she could tell me her big secret. As soon as we sat down at the table, she held my hands ‘I have something to tell you’…. – she was pregnant with her third child; it was a mistake, and she was really worried about how she would cope with three children. Really, is that the birthday present you are going to give me, a painful reminder of my body clock ticking away when I just lost two babies, and to have to listen to you complain about your sexual mistake resulting in the birth of life? Other friends and well-wishers were adamant to come and visit me after miscarriage to give their condolences, accompanied by their newborns.
We decided against a post-mortem this time, as there was nothing during the pregnancy or the delivery that had suggested any abnormalities with the baby. Post-natal investigations suggested that the miscarriage was due to a rare condition placental membrancia – 1 out of 40-50,000. Another misfortune? Luck of the draw? What? How could these rare complications and misfortune happen with us, not once, but twice. Really? What had we done wrong to deserve this? This miscarriage was therefore deemed unrelated to the first and again ‘unfortunate’ but not a reason to not consider future pregnancies.
We left three years before trying for another baby. In these three years I wanted to live my live fully. The trauma of dreaming of adding a baby to our family, the delight of seeing the positive pregnancy test, anxiety-riddled pregnancy and then the nightmare of delivering babies that we didn’t take home had left its scar on us. I wanted to enjoy the daughter I had. The daughter that had had her third and fourth year of her life plagued by her mother being in bed, at hospital appointments, too scared to take her out. I tried to wipe the bad times by replacing them with good memories of fun times. We built ourselves up again as a family unit, before we tried again hoping for a third time lucky. Although in the back of my mind the heartbreak was always there. I felt cursed every time I saw someone with a baby or young child. Doing mental maths as to how old my daughter and my son would have been if they had arrived when they were due. The worst was when three of my best friends were pregnant at the same time – the simultaneous announcements, the growing bumps, the baby showers, the births and the naming ceremonies – regular reminders of how others easily became mums again and again when all I did was fail.
In March 2019, convinced that the previous miscarriages had been unlinked and unrelated and still desperately clinging to the very real possibility we might add to our family, we fell pregnant again. Again, I was monitored closely from six weeks, I had a number of bleeds but no reason found. This pregnancy never felt right, constant pelvic pressure, urine and vaginal infection – feelings of things just not being right. The anxiety was at a different level this time. I requested permanent working from home and spent most of my time in bed – so many had told me bed rest was the way to go. Constantly running to the bathroom to check if my underwear was wet, changing panty liners and touching and smelling them – was there wetness, was it fluid, was it water, was it sweat? At an early appointment with the consultant I mentioned (as I had in the previous pregnancy and all conversations around the previous miscarriages but been assured that they were not relevant) cervical length scans. At 13 weeks following a cervical length scan, I was told my cervix length was really short and was rushed for an emergency cervical stitch in a hope to save the baby. Here began the next level of my anxiety. The legs up and apart in theatre, alone is an image that sometimes still haunts me in my sleep. The procedure was a success I was told. Our hopes were raised, but we had to wait and see. The next few weeks passed painfully. House bound, bed ridden, and fraught with fear we attended several appointments. At 17 weeks, I had another high stitch as the first one was not working. Again, another violation of my dignity to save my baby. It was in vain, however. What seemed like the millionth internal examination showed that this stitch was also not going to sustain the pregnancy and it needed to be removed as was now a risk to my health. I will never forget what the misinformed nurse asked me during this procedure ‘Oh, do you know what you are having love?’….’ I am having a miscarriage’.
Another week in the bereavement suite, treated with so much love and respect as even the medical staff we had become familiar with over the last four years and even those that didn’t, felt so sorry when they found out that we were going through this for the third time. I felt almost apologetic for being the one that was never a success story, the one that was a failure…the one that never delivered…the baby alive. I went on to deliver another son at 18 weeks who passed away during delivery.
Leaving the hospital empty-handed, for the third time, as we were passed delivery ward, again, seeing beaming parents to newborns, excited by the prospect of those dirty nappies and sleepless nights and families excited to cuddle the latest additions to their family. We took home our bundled-up nightmare, another trauma to swallow in silence as we went back home to our daughter who had been old enough this time expecting her sibling, but also to the “family” we lived with who never really understood the impact this trauma has on you.
My latest miscarriage left me traumatised by memories of theatre, and in turn I now suffer from health anxiety. Any minor health niggle turns into a major health concern for me. Swollen legs post miscarriage led to several hospital and emergency runs worrying about deep vein thrombosis. This became so severe that I considered cancelling booked holidays due to worry about DVT due to flying. Indigestion became chest pains and fear of heart attacks, urine infections became kidney infections. My husband was plagued by constant calls and conversations during the working day with me worrying that I was going to die.
Only counselling, time and love from my close ones has built me up mentally again where I am not worried that every niggle means I am going to die. Whilst the heath anxiety has reduced, worries of Coronavirus mean that these get exacerbated when an uninvited person turns up in my home, or someone doesn’t keep their distance from me or my family and can bring on a panic attack, a tight chest and then spur to a mania of hours of cleaning and sanitising to protect myself and those I love. In addition, the constant internal examinations and deliverers have left me suffering repeat urine infections and thrush which are affecting my daily quality of life.
Post-natal investigations including an MRI scan, aided recently by a written complaint where I believed the hospitals mismanaged my pregnancies by ignoring my requests for cervical length scans, have now, after five years of unanswered questions, finally given me some answers. My miscarriages are likely to be related to cervical injury during the delivery of my daughter. Research now apparently suggests that there is danger of cervical injury when carrying out a caesarean section at full dilation. Five years on I know I wasn’t the cause of the problem, I didn’t do anything wrong, it wasn’t my fault. I have now been given the possible option of abdominal cerclage to consider.
Five years on though I have learnt a lot. I have learnt that, despite all the prayers and hopes, we don’t always get what we want at the time. I have learnt that I don’t need to try and figure out what Allah is telling me when this stuff happens to us. The flow of contradictory sermon was endless and all-consuming from lots of corners, but I have learnt that my faith is my own. I have learnt that through these trying times relationships are either built and strengthened for life or broken. I have learnt true friends from selfish acquaintances. Friends have often held us together by just being there, and checking in on me daily but some friendships have proved fickle – those that were disappointed when weren’t up for going out to catch up on the gossip or socialise with families who were constantly moaning about their kids and how hard they found it to be blessed with so many.
I believe my marriage gets stronger everyday, although our mutual dreams have been shattered time and time again. Our love for our daughter deepens, yet so do the responsibilities to teach her to question things, and not taken everything for granted. I have been blessed with so much –friends who check in with me every day, my husband who slowly takes my hand and squeezes it tightly when he knows that baby talk might trigger my tears. My constant ache for a sibling for my daughter has been replaced by me believing that we have tried our hardest and my daughter will be the best she can and find her own path.
In November 2020 my faith and my belief in the strong relationships I have helped me to finally have a laparoscopic cerclage, which I hope I can in the future say eventually helped me get my rainbow baby…