It started with the smallest spot of blood. A tiny, insignificant amount. But any pregnant woman will tell you that the sight of it will cause your heart to jump.
And even though I calmed myself by remembering a girlfriend who had small bleeds throughout her first pregnancy, which resulted in a healthy baby boy, I couldn’t keep the anxiety at bay.
I was at home alone, a rare occurrence those days with a then two-year-old usually hanging off my leg. I took slow breaths, deliberately going into my 'I’m a professional, I can deal with any crisis' mode. But I didn’t know what to do. My mind was blank. I walked around the house aimlessly, wondering what the next step was. But I had no idea.
I called my sister. She took control. Booked me into the doctor. Agreed with me when I said it was probably nothing. As did the doctor. Her blasé response calmed me. “We can wait and see what happens,” she said. “Or if you want to put your mind at ease I can refer you for an ultrasound.” Yes. I wanted an ultrasound, right away. I called my husband. “Shall I come?” “Yes. You should come.” Even though I am over-reacting and even though everything will be OK. You should come.
I had seen the baby already at seven-and-a-half weeks. Had heard the galloping heartbeat. Had shed a tear at the beauty and had felt the bond grow tighter. And here we were again. This time with me telling the sonographer “it was only a tiny spot of blood”, almost apologising for wasting her time.
She put the scanner on my stomach and moved it around. She matter-of-factly, but kindly, told me an internal ultrasound was needed, but that the baby looked smaller than they would be expecting for a 10-week pregnancy. And then I knew. They don’t tell you those kinds of things unless they’re sure. They don’t scare you like that without good reason. But my husband, my kind, gentle husband who sees the good in everything, he didn’t know. So I stayed calm. I waited for the confirmation. I could see the baby clearer with the internal. The sonographer took some measurements, worked silently. And I played my part. Laid back and stared at the screen at my baby, holding my husband’s hand and not wanting to say out loud what I knew to be true. That there was no heartbeat.
I waited. I didn’t want to be the one to break it to my husband. And then those words. “I’m sorry. The embryo hasn’t progressed past eight weeks.”
What had happened since my last scan? There was only three days between the scan and the time they estimated the heart stopped. And how had I carried this baby for two weeks without knowing it had died? I felt stupid, like I hadn’t known my body well enough. That I should have ‘felt’ that something was different.
We were quiet on the way home. Holding hands but in shock. How could this happen to us? And why? My mind was racing with all the things I may have done wrong. Too much coffee? Stress from my job? They can tell you over and over that there is no reason, but it won’t stop you from blaming yourself.
I am a mother. I was growing that child inside me. My job was to keep that baby safe, to nurture it and help it grow. I had failed my child before he was even born.
I went through the motions of grief. I cried a bit. I felt angry and confused. I planted an apple tree in the backyard to send a message to my unborn child. You were real. You were ours, a part of our family from the moment you were conceived. And just because we didn’t get to meet you, we won’t forget you.
Some women need time to recover from a miscarriage while others feel the need to fall pregnant as soon afterwards as possible. I understand and respect women who need the latter, but I just couldn’t consider it. Falling pregnant too soon would feel like I was just replacing my baby, like he had not been an individual. What I didn’t expect was that it would take me so long, that I actually needed to see the nine months through.
I didn’t feel like I had time on my side – my 40s were creeping closer. I also didn’t want a large gap between my son and his sibling. Ideally I would have liked the baby years of little sleep and increased chaos to not stretch out for too long. Yet none of this mattered while I was still grieving. I couldn’t see past ‘this’ baby.
Initially it had been sadness at the loss of a dream. My husband and I had lay in bed at night in the early weeks of my pregnancy and talked about names, about what a great brother our son would be, what colour to paint the spare room. We had to let go of our dream and that was really hard.
As the due date approached I started a whole new grieving. It suddenly dawned on me that it was more than a dream that I had lost. I was supposed to be holding a real baby in my arms. And so the pain set in again.
Eventually I began to heal and became positive about trying again. Ten months after the miscarriage we fell pregnant again. I cried in my husband’s arms with the anxiety and the memory, but I also felt a determination to stay positive. This was a new start. History does not need to repeat, and stressing about what-ifs would only put stress on my unborn child.
So when, only five days later I saw that old familiar spot of blood, I collapsed. In the back of my mind I was thinking ‘I could be overreacting’, but there was no rational thinking at this point. There was just pain. And grief. And disbelief. And anger.
This time they called it a “pregnancy of unknown location”. Strange phrase. Like I left the baby at the supermarket and then could not find it. The ultrasound showed an empty uterus. It made me feel like I had made it up, like I was going insane. And it made me incredibly sad looking at that empty hollow womb and not even being able to see a baby. Where was my proof that I had been a mother again?
Filled with disbelief and confusion, I sought comfort at the apple tree. But I didn’t want to add another inconspicuous plaque. I felt like it was becoming the tree for dead babies. Or maybe I was just really angry and didn’t want to make it real.
I recovered quicker from that miscarriage. Maybe because I had only known for five days I was pregnant. Or maybe I had not let myself get attached yet. Or perhaps I had not ‘seen’ this baby. But two months later I was pregnant again.
I was filled with fear. I tried not to get attached. And yes, I bled. Twice. First at five weeks, then at eight weeks. Needless to say it was a harrowing pregnancy. But nine months later I delivered a perfectly healthy, and extremely cute, little girl.
There were tears for the lost babies. I hadn’t expected that specific sadness to return in the first week of my new baby joy, but having Maggie arrive safely just reinforced our previous loss. But I found that the apple tree once more became a place of solace, a place of hope.
I still look at Maggie now, at eight months old, and shake my head in disbelief and in pure joy.
She has healed me.