October is Infant/Pregnancy loss awareness month. Sadly this is something that has touched so many people and is something I felt it was important to talk about, as for some reason, it is something people don’t openly discuss often.
I have an almost five year age gap between Patrick and Erin. We never planned it that way, but as we all know life has a habit of making its own mind about the plans we make.
I thought three or so years would be a good age difference, but lots of things delayed the arrival of our third child. One rainy August afternoon everyone in MBNA, the company my husband and I worked for, was brought into a conference room, to be told the business was being sold and the future of the Ireland office was in doubt.
Many marriages had formed in MBNA and many a mortgage signed off on the strength of our salaries, so there were a lot of worried sighs in the room. I was sitting directly behind Mick and I wanted to cry, but I stopped myself by focusing on the top of his shirt and wishing I was better at ironing because it looked like screwed up paper.
After a lot of soul searching about whether we should contemplate a third baby if we were both going to be unemployed, we decided that we would stick to plan as I don’t think Mick could have handled my tears and tantrums if we didn’t.
I was lucky and got pregnant quite quickly, but sadly I miscarried at seven weeks. I convinced myself it would be fine as long as I got pregnant again straight away, but I didn’t and it wasn’t fine. The day my period arrived the first time after the miscarriage, I sat at my desk at work, literally unable to move, sobbing inconsolably and needed to take a month off work. You can run from grief, but it will always catch up to you eventually.
Five months later whilst away on holidays I reached the day my period was due and then passed it. I was hopeful, but terrified running to the toilet every three minutes just to check it hadn’t appeared. We arrived home on my second ‘late day’ and I couldn’t survive the two-hour trip to Leitrim without knowing if I was pregnant or not. I went to Dundrum shopping centre and bought a test.
I peed in a plastic sandwich container to take the test. I was in the loo for ages and with all the rustling and the little shriek of joy I gave when the test was positive, people probably thought I was in there shooting up Class A drugs.
Devastatingly, that pregnancy also ended up with a miscarriage at ten weeks. We had a healthy scan at eight weeks, so that news totally blindsided me and was a total shock as it was a missed miscarriage (no bleeding).
I had to have what used to be known as a D&C, now loving re-titled as an ERPC – which means Excavation of Retained Products of Conception. Whichever insensitive soul came up with that heartless title has never made it onto my Christmas Card list!
I was pretty much catatonic for the few days afterwards. I’ve only ever seen Mick cry twice and this was one of them. It was just one single tear but it said it all. My doctor said I should stop trying for a while, but I’m no quitter and like a dog with a bone, I just had to carry on.
I started peeing on expensive sticks called ovulation predictor kits (I’ve always liked to plan ahead) and became obsessive about optimum conception times in my cycle, poor Mick threatened to go on strike one morning when I set my alarm for 5.30am and woke him up for a baby bonk.
But my dedication paid off and I found out I was pregnant for the fifth time at the end of September 2012. It was the morning Mick and I were due to fly out for a short break to Ibiza. As delighted as I was, I was slightly miffed that I had to abstain from holiday cocktails but I think Mick was glad of a rest after I’d made him by sex slave for the previous three months.
I was absolutely bloody terrified of another miscarriage and regularly suffered panic attacks. The fact that I knew stress could be bad for my baby meant that I then, worried more about being worried – the typical vicious cycle of anxiety that many of you will recognise.
I balled my eyes out when I heard the heartbeat at my twelve-week scan. I have always thought, and still do that that is the most beautiful sound in the world. My pregnancy progressed well and despite being a few days late our beautiful Erin arrived in June 2013.
Despite being very common (1 in 4 pregnancies), miscarriage is still not talked about by so many women and certainly fewer men. It’s a silent torture that many go through. I can only begin to imagine how truly devastating that a late miscarriage, still birth or infant loss is.
I also feel, that not enough attention is given to the loss of those babies conceived through IVF, that do not develop into a pregnancy. In the mind and heart of a hopeful parent, that baby is your baby, your hopes, your dreams, a part of your future and that loss must always be acknowledged.
I found the platitudes people would offer, to be completely and utterly head-wrecking. I know people are trying to help, but telling someone who has just experienced a pregnancy loss, that “it wasn’t the baby for you” is worthy of a headbutt, in my personal opinion. No matter how short a time the were with me, they were and always will be our babies.
As time passed, I have accepted that if the miscarriages hadn’t happened then we wouldn’t have our little Erin, and that is a world I can never imagine, but I still do think of the two babies we lost.
Everything I have of them, including scan pictures are buried under a tree in our back garden, which interestingly gets the most visits from my Dad. To remember them we bought a star and named it Seren Hayden (Seren means star in my native Welsh) and I often say hello when I am outside in the evenings.
It’s true that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger and that life goes on, but my personal advice when looking for the right words to say to someone in this situation is not to use the ‘usual but useless’ words of wisdom. But simply let the person know that you care about their loss and that their baby matters. That is what helped me.
I would like to dedicate this piece to my friends Debbie and Tony who lost their baby son Jake in 2011. Thank you for giving me and so many people a space to grieve and remember our lost babies.
If you have been impacted by infant or pregnancy loss then you can receive support from people with lived experience at www.féileacáin.ie