Pregnancy After Loss
In follow up to my post about miscarriage and how my song Two Weeks came to be, this is the story of my journey since then, ending with the birth of my beautiful daughter.
Several months after miscarrying in my first pregnancy, I discovered I had fallen pregnant again. I was genuinely surprised, as I'd had doubts about how quickly we might be fortunate enough to conceive again, if at all.
However, I knew I was pregnant. This wasn’t my first time, after all, and I felt symptomatic enough to take a test. Sure enough, it was positive, but seeing that result produced nothing like the elation I felt the first time. My feelings were a conflicting mix - happiness, shock, and a cloud of worry and dread swirling underneath. I felt unable to allow myself to trust it. What if I would miscarry again? As futile and ridiculous as it may sound, I tried to put some distance between myself and the fact I was pregnant, as though I could protect my heart that way. “Whatever,” I thought, “We’ll see.” My husband (also a musician) had just departed on a 12-week tour, most of it in Europe, so I simply sent him a photo of the test, and that was as much as we said about it at that time. We both knew better than to get excited.
The first trimester was not good. I was alone with this news, and with my husband away, I was alone in my home. I felt physically uneasy, but I also didn’t want to tell a soul until I was sure beyond all doubt that this pregnancy was going to stick. I was still hurting from the miscarriage, and the fact was, everything about being pregnant reminded me of that pain. Something that should have been so wondrous, just felt ominous. With my first pregnancy I felt connected to the baby straight away, even speaking to him or her, acknowledging that presence. This time, I was wary. I tried to suppress that connection. Our baby would have to figure this out alone, at least for now.
A few weeks later, I made it to Germany to see my husband on a tour layover. By then I was feeling decidedly wobbly - I was off a lot of food, tired all the time and on a constant mission to identify something to eat or drink that seemed remotely appealing, much like an unending hangover. The strength of these symptoms at this stage was in contrast to my first pregnancy, and I tried to be reassured by this.
However, alongside the pregnancy fog, I was becoming enveloped in a mist of anxiety. I was slowly approaching the date at which we lost our first pregnancy. I had been trying to take it all a day at a time, but was growing desperate for some reassurance. At around 8 weeks, I called the Early Pregnancy Unit and explained the situation, but was informed I needed to have suffered repeated miscarriages before being granted an early scan on the NHS. Losing just one pregnancy was not enough to qualify. If anything, this only goes to show how common early miscarriage is.
I tried to wait patiently for a confirmation date for the 12-week scan. I hoped that once there was a date in the diary and a point to focus on, I might feel less anxious. At 9 weeks, my scan was confirmed, but it wasn’t to take place until week 13. Apparently, this was not unusual for a dating scan, which can happen a week or so either side of 12 weeks, and of course healthcare providers have many appointments to co-ordinate. But my mental strength broke. I couldn’t wait another month to know if all was well.
After a bit of research, I booked a private scan. I discovered that these are available from as early as 9 weeks, and the minute I knew this was an option, it was all I could think about. I was willing to pay whatever it cost, just to know either way. I attended the appointment alone, as my husband was still on tour. I was nervous. The last time I’d laid waiting like this, it was bad, bad, bad… so when the consultant confirmed there was indeed a heart-beating little life in there, I wept with relief. She dated the baby at ten weeks already, which helped explain my strong symptoms early on - I was further along than I thought.
It should have been a turning point, but I remained on edge. We still waited until well after our NHS dating scan to tell family, and a little longer to tell friends. In hindsight, all this has made me question the culture of first trimester secrecy, and who it really benefits. Potentially it just leaves parents-to-be more isolated - whether in their grief if they miscarry, or in their anxiety if newly pregnant. I was fascinated to read that this year Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research has completed a study that suggests women may in fact be at risk of post-traumatic stress disorder following an early miscarriage. Dr Jessica Farren, lead author of the research states,
“At the moment, there is no routine follow-up appointment for women who have suffered an early pregnancy loss… We have checks in place for postnatal depression, but we don't have anything in place for the trauma and depression following pregnancy loss…There is an assumption in our society that you don’t tell anyone you are pregnant until after 12 weeks. But this also means that if couples experience a miscarriage in this time, they don’t tell people. This may result in the profound psychological effects of early pregnancy loss being brushed under the carpet, and not openly discussed.”
This certainly chimed with my own experience. I wasn’t offered any support relating to prior miscarriage, and the shadow of loss was ever present in that first trimester. I had to make a conscious mental effort to overcome my anxiety as the pregnancy progressed, to let it go and to be more trusting. I feel fortunate that I managed that shift at all. I was truly grateful to have reached the second trimester and I really wanted to shake off that shadow and be happy-glowy-wonderful-pregnant, as I had imagined it should be. This did get easier as time went on, and I believe our loss ultimately helped me to roll with some of the less glamorous aspects of pregnancy, and to face the prospect of birth with intention. With every new change, I made it a point to thank my body and my lucky stars. I kept thinking how miraculous it was. Who knew if we’d be in this position ever again? I stayed in the moment as much as possible. By 18 weeks our baby was kicking away and letting us know just how much of a physical handful we would welcome down the line.
There were still reminders though. Friends that would ask excitedly “How did you find out you were pregnant? How did your husband react? How did you tell him?” And I’d stumble to find answers, because the truth was, I only knew because I’d been pregnant before, but to say so would mean having to discuss the miscarriage, and I couldn’t go there. And I told my husband via a wordless photo message because, for us at the time, it wasn’t a wondrous fact to celebrate, but a tiny fragile hope, to be handled with extreme care, lest it slip away from us and deepen our mutual grief. Our loss was with us throughout the pregnancy. Like all grief, it’s not something that goes away, but something we’ve had to integrate over time.
Once we’d had our 20-week scan without incident, we moved toward planning a home birth. With friends and relatives in my circle who had birthed at home, I had faith enough that it was the right approach for me. I felt this all the more fiercely, given that the hospital was the scene of such devastating news before - I was absolutely focused on having my baby at home. We took a Hypnobirthing course, which gave us unparalleled practical information and tools, arming us with knowledge and confidence to express our wishes during labour.
On Midsummer’s day, in the small hours of the morning, during the height of a heatwave, our little girl was born quietly in a birth pool in the living room of our flat. It was a long labour, and not without its challenges (a story all of its own), but empowering too. I’m unendingly grateful to the people who came into our lives during those months, and who led us to such a happy and positive outcome with this pregnancy and birth. And I’m so thankful that this is where I’m able to stand now and look back, with a beautiful daughter, and having had a pregnancy that was ultimately healing, after one that felt so wounding. I can only wish the same for anyone out there who has suffered baby loss, and hope that we continue to see improvements in the support and resources available.
Below I've linked to some resources that may be helpful if you or someone you know is dealing with pregnancy or infant loss,
Tommy's - Charity funding research into the prevention of baby loss, and offering advice and support for those experiencing it
Your Feelings As A Partner After Miscarriage - Tommy's article dedicated to the wellbeing of partners
New research highlights psychological impact of baby loss on both parents - Tommy's study
Miscarriage Association - Information, support, helpline, advice, forum and stories from other women and families.
Pregnancy After Miscarraige - Miscarriage Association page dedicated to this topic
Baby Loss Awareness - 9-15th October every year, a week dedicated to raising awareness around pregnancy and baby loss, with useful resources for workplaces, partners, families, and ways to remember.
NHS - Information, symptoms, advice for where to go for medical help
Photo credit: Elliott Mariess (top), Jodie Canwell (below)