We all know how babies are made – sex, egg, sperm, womb, then 9 months later, a baby. We assume this is also how a mother is made – you can’t be a mother without the baby bit, right? But I was a mother long before I held my living baby in my arms. My motherhood was forged in fear, and blood, and emptiness – years of battle that tore me open in ways that can never be repaired.
But let me start at the beginning.
I got pregnant easily the first time. We were terrified and excited. But I had a bit of spotting, and at 7 weeks, were told the pregnancy didn’t seem to be developing. I waited to miscarry naturally, for months, during which time I quietly went mad, convinced I would start haemorrhaging in the supermarket. My stomach continued to grow, so people would smile at my bump. Eventually, I only left the house to walk our dog, Jackson – I know that without him, I would not have survived that time. I owe him my life.
It turned out that I had suffered a rare complication of a missed miscarriage, so although no foetus was developing, the sac had continued to grow, which was why I looked pregnant. I had medical management, which didn’t fully work a couple of times, and after 6 months, the pregnancy was over.
In the aftermath, I became unwell, both mentally and physically, and I was convinced getting pregnant again would solve everything. But I kept spotting in the week leading up to my periods, and didn’t seem to be ovulating at all, so getting pregnant was almost impossible. It seemed my body had gone into shock after that first complex loss. During the 18 months we struggled with infertility, I became pregnant once, and had a very early miscarriage.
After that, we were referred to our local fertility clinic, and they prescribed Clomid to bring on ovulation. After a few months, I was pregnant again. But an early scan showed another missed miscarriage.
As it was my third loss, all the NHS tests were done, and they discovered I had a ‘sticky blood’ issue. Apparently, all I had to do was take aspirin in my next pregnancy. Finally, we felt we had answers, and better yet, something to solve the problem. I went back on Clomid, and four months later, along came Pearl.
I took the aspirin, and at an early scan, we saw our first ever heartbeat. I had never felt relief and happiness like it. We floated out of the appointment.
Everything seemed to be progressing well. And then, one day, we skipped into a routine scan, excited to see how much she had grown, to be told that there was a problem with her heart. I watched that tiny flutter on the screen, the same little heart that we’d once seen flicker so quickly, and I knew that I was watching her die. We were told it was very unlikely she would survive to term, and if she did, she wouldn’t survive birth, or would die soon after.
Two weeks later, I woke one morning and knew she had gone. My stomach no longer felt fizzing with life, she was like a stone that had sunk to the bottom of a pond: cold, heavy, still. I went to hospital, where a scan confirmed she had died. Even now, five years later, I still find it strange to write those words about my own baby. We named her Pearl, because from the grit of all the loss and heartbreak that had come before, she was something pure and beautiful.
I was referred to one of the Tommy’s centres, and took part in a number of trials they were conducting. I became pregnant twice while under their care – once naturally, which again ended in a missed miscarriage, and once using fertility treatment, which was a triplet pregnancy that ended at 14 weeks.
I was on the waiting list for the surgery to remove what they thought was a septum in my uterus, but surprisingly became pregnant again naturally. I started on a treatment programme of progesterone, aspirin, steroids, and Clexane, and I had regular scans and extra monitoring. Every day was terrifying, every scan excruciating. I was suffering with debilitating anxiety about us losing our baby yet again, so I was referred to the Perinatal Mental Health Team, who were incredible. Gradually, fearfully, the pregnancy progressed, and we found out we were having a boy.
At my growth scans, he was measuring slightly small, so it was decided the goal was to get to 33 weeks, and from there we would reassess. The 33 weeks scan wasn’t great, but he still seemed to be doing well enough to leave him cooking, so another scan was booked for 35 weeks. I never made it to that scan.
At 34 weeks, my waters started to leak. I was devastated. I felt like I’d failed. Not only had I been unable to grow him properly, but now I was unable to keep him safe. Because he was breech, I had to have a caesarean, and because he was premature, and measuring small, I had to have two steroid injections, 24 hours apart, to try and mature his lungs.
On a Tuesday morning, in a sweltering July heat, our son was born; tiny, early, alive. We were able to have a few precious seconds of skin to skin, before the paediatricians rushed him down to NICU, and my husband went with him. I then had some major surgical complications. I lost a lot of blood, and it was found that I had suffered placenta accreta, where the placenta grows into to the lining of the womb, and that I have a bicornuate uterus.
I was unable to go and be with Kitto for most of that day. Finally, that night, I was wheeled into his room. It was nearly ten hours after he was born, and I was only able to hold him for a few minutes. There were tubes and wires, and he was so small, about the size of my hand, but by some miracle, he hadn’t needed any breathing support. He did, however, have sepsis, and severe jaundice.
I had been so desperate to breastfeed, but to start with, Kitto would need to be tube fed with formula, as he was too small to wake up when he was hungry, and too weak to latch and suck. Instead, I pumped every 2 hours. This felt like yet another failure, for me. I wasn’t able to have him beside me like all the other parents on the ward, and look after him, now I couldn’t feed him, either.
I spent every moment I could by his side. When it was time for me to be discharged, I was given a side room on the SCBU, and Kitto was able to sleep in a cot beside my bed. Alarms – his and others – went off almost constantly, machines beeped, and the jaundice therapy lights blared. I had to wake every two hours to pump, and Kitto had to have a feed down his tube, and observations done throughout the night. In the daytime, the nurses tried to encourage me to go for a walk, or visit the canteen, but I refused, determined that never again would I leave the hospital without my baby.
When he finally came home, we spent a fortune on complicated baby monitors and alarms, and I forced myself to stay awake – trauma would not allow me to rest. I was convinced that he would die while I wasn’t watching.
This feeling has never left me. Even now, 3 years on, I still wake with a jolt, the echo of an alarm ringing in my head, and I have to go and watch the slow rise and fall of his chest as he sleeps. In the walk from my room, to his, I prepare myself to find him dead, as if baby loss is a shadow that can slip in through the window, as soon as you open it to let in a small crack of hope.
When Kitto was 8 months old, I was lucky enough to fall pregnant again. This time, we were having a girl, and despite my anxiety, her also measuring small, and a heavy bleed early in the pregnancy, Penrose arrived at exactly 37 weeks. She was another emergency caesarean, but a vastly different experience to Kitto’s arrival, and she has helped start to heal the wounds left from all the loss and trauma.
I was a mother long before I held my living babies in my arms. My motherhood is made up of 8 pregnancies, 10 babies, 1 daughter who I will always search for on every horizon, on every shore, and 2 little people who have my whole heart after a decade of heartbreak, heartache, and heartbeats.