Celebrating the gift of children

On Sunday we celebrated with family and friends the twins’ dedication at church. This is a bit like a christening, but we chose to have a thanksgiving rather than a baptism, which is the same decision we made for the older boys too. It is a way of thanking God for their safe arrival, praying for their future lives, and giving them a public welcome into the church family. It’s also a great excuse for a family get-together! One day our children can choose themselves to be baptised, if they come to believe in Jesus as their saviour, which of course we pray they do, but ultimately we would like them to be able to make that step on their own.

We go to a Church of England (CofE) church here in Birmingham, as we did in the previous cities we have lived in (in fact Tom and I met at church in Nottingham). Traditionally the CofE has baptised infants, but there is also a standard liturgy for a thanksgiving (or dedication) for anyone who would rather do this, and we have known a roughly similar number of parents our age who go to the same CofE churches as us choose each one.

My parents went to a Baptist church when I was a child, and the tradition there is to baptise adults (or at least older children who have decided themselves) and dedicate babies; I really appreciated the opportunity to have a believer’s baptism as a teenager, to consciously experience the act of water washing away my sin. Tom was baptised as a baby, and then decided to publicly commit to his belief in Jesus at his confirmation as a young adult – this is what has traditionally been done in the CofE for those who were baptised as babies and who want to declare their faith as adults, though it’s not a second baptism involving any water. He too has no issue with what had been decided on his behalf as a baby, because he has come to the same conclusion on his own. So with one positive experience each, this didn’t help us in our decision as to which to have for our own children: an infant baptism or dedication.

It’s not a decision we came to quickly. We thought and prayed for quite a while before we went down this route with Andrew. We looked into the theological arguments for and against infant baptism, and really didn’t have a sense of which was the “correct” interpretation of the Bible. We spoke to the vicar of the church we went to at the time, and to friends who had decided on either baptism or dedication. In the end we decided that God is far bigger than any of the decisions we make as His children, so even if the CofE have got it “right” and the Baptists have got it “wrong”, we don’t believe this matters to God, and He knows our intentions and thought processes in this decision.

Although we have both found ourselves at home in CofE churches for the past 20 years or so, that’s not to say we consider ourselves strictly in that denomination. Primarily we are Christians, with a relationship with Jesus Christ, and the individual church we choose to go to at any given time reflects how we best interact with God via the worship there, not simply because the church belongs to a particular group with particular traditions. The CofE itself has a huge range of worship styles within it anyway, as we have seen from our past few churches that have been right for us in different ways at different times and stages of our lives.

The twins’ dedication was particularly meaningful for us since they were born after we lost a previous baby to miscarriage. Not that we weren’t thankful for the older boys, but having experienced pregnancy loss before the twins were born, this made us appreciate the preciousness of new life that comes from God all the more so this time. I wrote a blog post not long after the miscarriage about children being a gift from God. I didn’t know at that point if we would be blessed with a rainbow baby (or even two!) but this was very much on my mind as we set a date and prepared for this celebration of the twins’ birth. The cake, which my mum sorted out, captured this wonderfully in its text and rainbow features.

Although the day was a celebration for us, we also heard at the end of the church service some tragic news about the sudden death of a toddler related to a couple of members of the congregation. It is really hard to make sense of such a devastating situation. It was not long ago that I met the toddler at church when she played in the crèche room with her parents as I sat feeding the twins. This kind of tragic event could happen to any family. As I prayed for them later in the day, I felt that hearing this news on a day that we were celebrating life was a reminder of the transience and fragility of life, and that makes me even more thankful for each and every day I get to spend with our gifts of children.

 

Baby loss awareness week – #babylossawarenessweek2016 #BLAW2016

This particular awareness week is one which I really didn’t want to have to gain a personal connection with. As a parent, and a blogger, I naively thought I’d done my bit for raising awareness of complications that can arise in life with a young family when I wrote loads about our difficult breastfeeding journey – I thought that this was my trial.

We’d had a relatively easy journey to becoming parents of one and then two children. I’d experienced uncomplicated pregnancies (except the awful sickness, but as I’d annoyingly heard so often back then, it was a good sign of a healthy pregnancy, and oh how I know the truth of that now), and easy births (honestly, I preferred the short and intense pain to the incessant nausea and vomiting). So when the heart ache of not being physically able to exclusively breast feed my child(ren) hit, that was, I felt, the incredibly hard part of early motherhood for me. However, I took heart in the fact that my writing about our struggle might just help other parents in some way.

But here I am now – six and a half years since my first pregnancy began, and just over two months since I experienced the pain of miscarriage. And once again I find myself wondering whether my writing about our struggle might just help others who have gone, or will go, through it.

By way of an update since I last wrote, this is where I am at now. Physically, I seem to be back to a fairly normal rhythm. I’ve had two short-ish cycles, and I’m now onto the third, which shows my hormones are settling down. I don’t think I ovulated in the first one immediately after the miscarriage as I had no signs of it, and apparently this is pretty common. But timings in this cycle so far appear more normal for me. I’ve had my usual hormone-induced headache a few times, it was particularly bad over the weekend, and even some nausea half-way through my cycle, which is a very unpleasant reminder of pregnancy, but equally suggests my hormones are at least working as they should.

Emotionally, life has definitely got easier than two months ago, but I still have occasions when all I feel I can do is cry and be overwhelmed by sadness. This usually coincides with times in the month when I would normally feel quite sensitive, or if there is a specific trigger that reminds me of our loss, such as seeing a photo of a scan image or of a newborn baby. It’s not that I’m not happy for the family, of course a new life is fantastic news and something that I always love to celebrate. But the visual cue that I get in the present often leads to a reminder of the past (that is what the miscarriage was like, particularly as I got to see our baby on the scan screen and in person), and to thoughts about the future that will now never be. Miscarriage involves the mourning of a short past, but a long future that will never get to happen. Through these triggers I’ve learned that it is possible to feel great joy and then sorrow in close succession.

I find reminders in person easier to deal with than online, I think because most of the time I know it’s going to happen (like baby bumps in the school playground, visiting friends with a newborn baby etc.), and so I can prepare and manage the roller coaster of emotions well. But I’ve learned to only look down my Facebook feed on the good days, and otherwise only look in groups for business support. I don’t seem to be affected much by newborn clothes etc. – maybe because they are just such a normal part of my work life.

Part of me would love to be pregnant again, and now I know that physically I could allow it to happen. But then another part of me feels guilty that this would be moving on too fast. And yet another part of me is fearful of what could happen again if I did get pregnant, and anxious about how I would cope with the worry of carrying another baby. I imagine how I would feel if I saw a positive test: I imagine joy and fear in equal measure. I know that I will never again think of any pregnancy in the same way as before.

In previous years I had been vaguely aware of pregnancy loss awareness week through a few friends sharing posts about it on social media. Back then I didn’t really know how to react as I couldn’t empathise with the experience, and didn’t want to say the wrong thing. Having now experienced excellent support from others, I would say that just listening to me (or offering to listen to me), sharing a similar experience of miscarriage, or giving me recommendations for books/articles/websites etc. that helped them have all been good for me – I know not everyone is the same. I think the worst that I’ve heard is along the lines of I’ll just have to get over it, but thankfully that kind of comment has been rare! So this year I feel led to be part of this awareness raising.

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Blue and pink ribbon pin badge – the symbol of awareness raising for baby loss

 There are various estimates of how many pregnancies end in miscarriage – I have seen 1 in 4, 1 in 5 and 1 in 6 from various sources including the Miscarriage Association and the NHS. It is difficult to get accurate statistics on this because many early miscarriages (up to about 5 or 6 weeks of pregnancy) happen when the woman didn’t even know she was pregnant – it feels just like a slightly late period, especially unnoticeable for those with irregular periods. Even for those women who did do a test and got a positive result in that time frame, many wouldn’t report an early miscarriage to a doctor or midwife because they don’t need to in terms of getting medical care at that point. And there is no obligation to report anything. Even at 10 weeks when I discovered my missed miscarriage, I had only just had my first booking appointment with the midwife.

Miscarriage can happen the first time in your life you get pregnant and the last time in your life you get pregnant, and at every time in between. It can happen in your teens and in your 40s, and at every age in between. It can happen if you’ve had no live-born children and if you’ve had 20 live-born children, and at every number in  between. It can happen if you’ve conceived naturally or via IVF. It doesn’t discriminate by race or social class.

So even with the most conservative estimate of 1 in 6 pregnancies ending in miscarriage, you will more than likely know at least one woman who has suffered a miscarriage, though you might not know who they are. I have felt very strongly about breaking the taboo and talking openly about our experience online and in person. But, understandably, not everyone feels the same, and I have been overwhelmed by the number of friends who have since messaged me offering empathy and support as they have been through the same thing, sometimes more than once, and I didn’t know. This got me thinking that there must be so many families that we know who look like they have no, one, two or three children, whereas in reality they have more – it’s just that one or more of these children aren’t visible when we see the family in the playground or on Facebook photos.

As a scientist, one of the hardest things I’ve found about our miscarriage is that I will never know the answer to the question “why me?” Though I have found that my faith in a loving creator God has helped me find a certain peace with the lack of a definite answer here on Earth. There are some factors external to the body that we know increase the risk of miscarriage – such as smoking, taking drugs (street ones or certain medications), drinking alcohol, drinking too much caffeine, eating certain foods that could lead to serious infection (e.g. listeria from blue cheese, toxoplasmosis from uncooked meat). But none of those apply to me, so I know that there’s nothing I could have done differently to prevent it happening, just like most other women.

There are also factors internal to the mum’s body that we know increase the risk of miscarriage – such as being overweight or underweight, being older (particularly over 40 years, either mum or dad or both), hormonal disorders (e.g. polycystic ovaries, low progesterone and hCG), blood clotting disorder, anatomical abnormalities (e.g. weak cervix, irregular-shaped uterus). Again, none of these apply to me, as far as I know from having had two previous completely normal pregnancies.

This leaves the most common cause of miscarriage, which accounts for around half of all cases – genetic abnormalities in the baby. These result from a random fault in the DNA provided by the egg or by the sperm, or from how they have come together in the embryo that develops after fertilisation. What’s more, we don’t know why these random faults occur. In all likelihood this is why our baby didn’t survive beyond 8 weeks – there was something wrong in his/her DNA that meant normal development wasn’t possible. However, this also means that the chances of a random fault occurring again are not very high, and there’s no obvious internal or external factor that would lead to another miscarriage, as is the case for many others.

I hope that this information has been useful in some way for you. The facts that I have learned about miscarriage have come from literature by the Miscarriage Association, both online and in leaflets I was given at the hospital, and from the miscarriage entry on the NHS choices website. I would love it if this week just a few more people learned something new about the sad reality of pregnancy loss. I think it would also be special if after reading this you could take just a moment to remember the babies whom you know of, or don’t personally know of, who didn’t make it beyond life in the womb for whatever reason. I’m sure there are many of you reading this who are already doing this. Thank you.

 

Balancing past, present and future in my thoughts

It’s just over 3 weeks since we discovered, on my birthday, that the pregnancy which I thought I was 10 weeks into was in fact nearly over, and the baby had only survived up to about 8 weeks. This week has been my first week back to some semblance of “normal” – juggling having fun with the boys and being back to taking custom orders for work. It’s been quite exhausting, but generally good to feel as though I’m functioning in both my main roles again.

Last week we enjoyed a lovely family holiday with all four of the boys’ grandparents. It was good for Tom and me to get plenty of rest whilst the grandparents spent plenty of time with the boys. I also spent quite a lot of time reading my way through the rest of Joni Eareckson Tada’s three-part autobiography, Empty Arms by Pam Vredevelt, and Where is God when it hurts? by Philip Yancy. These have all helped guide my thoughts and prayers as I’ve continued on the journey of coming to terms with the miscarriage emotionally. I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t think I’ll ever know during my life on Earth the answer as to why this happened to us, but what matters is how I respond to it – although it’s hard to see the bigger picture now when grieving for a baby we never got to hold, I do still trust God, that he has a plan far better than ours, and that something good should come out of this which may not be obvious for a while. Tom and I also got to talk quite a bit on holiday about how we feel going forward from here with our family.

There have been a few specific moments this week that have triggered tears when I was otherwise feeling that my emotions were settling down. I’ve heard lots of people say, though, that grief after miscarriage come in waves, and sometimes unexpectedly as well as with obvious triggers. The first was on Monday when I got a phone call from one of the midwives on the home birth team. My community midwife had obviously been told, via the GP surgery who got my hospital discharge letter, that I had suffered a miscarriage, as she let me know by text that she was sorry to hear the sad news. I thought this was quite good efficiency for the NHS. But she’d obviously not thought to cancel the referral she’d made to the home birth team. We’d talked about this at my booking appointment because my previous labours were so fast, and we’d semi-planned a home birth for Joel but in the end we just made it to the birth centre with minutes to spare, only because there was no traffic in the middle of the night. Anyway, the home birth midwife was getting in touch to arrange for me to meet them. I told her that I’d sadly miscarried a few weeks ago, and she didn’t know where to put herself. I didn’t know whether to feel more sorry for her, struggling to find the words to say, or myself, being reminded of the birth I now wasn’t going to experience. It’s nobody’s fault, I half expected that the message wouldn’t get through somewhere along the line, and NHS midwives have so much to do.

Another trigger was when I had to do a home pregnancy test to confirm that the level of hCG hormone is back to a non-pregnant level. I was asked by the consultant, when I stayed overnight in hospital, to do this 3 weeks after the date of the natural miscarriage. I know it’s actually a good thing that it was negative, because it shows my body is physically healing and preparing to get back into rhythm, but it was saddening to see only one line. I’d never actually done a test for the pregnancy in the early weeks – as I said to Tom, I don’t need a weather man to tell me it’s raining – so it’s quite depressing to have only had a negative result on a test for this pregnancy. I kind of wish now I’d done one before and at least I’d have seen a positive then.

I’m still quite aware of how many weeks pregnant I would have been, and today I’m sad because it should have been our first scan. We should have been seeing on screen a little moving foetus, with a beating heart and in a healthy sac. We should have been telling friends and family good news, of a new addition to the family estimated to arrive in February 2017. We should have been explaining to the boys that they would have a new brother or sister to play with. We should have been happy. I’m hoping that I’ll stop remembering the week numbers soon, I probably will with the amount of work I have to be getting on with. But I don’t think I’ll forget when it comes around to the would-have-been due date, which coincides with my mum’s birthday.

I can’t quite believe it’s been over three weeks already since the miscarriage, and part of me is concerned that life is moving on too fast, but I do still think about it every day, albeit in a less all-consuming manner than a few weeks ago, and it seems hard to believe there’ll ever be a day when I won’t think about it. Another part of me realises that life has to go on, and having the boys around me all day every day at the moment is a great reminder to celebrate what blessings we do have and to enjoy the present. Yet another part of me is impatiently waiting for my hormones to settle down so that I can tell what’s going on with my body – I mean when I see signs of a first period (yes a certain Chinese swimmer is not the only one to break the period taboo this week!) Not because I think I’ll be pregnant again soon, I have no idea about that, but because at least I’ll know that everything is OK with me, which I was worried about in hospital. So, at the end of this week I feel it’s important to me to strike a good balance between thinking back about the past, living in the present, and looking towards the future.

Children are a gift from God

As I start to write this post, it’s pretty much exactly a week since I was admitted to hospital due to very heavy bleeding following a miscarriage at 10 weeks into the pregnancy – a scan the previous day had shown that the baby stopped growing at around 8 weeks. In some ways, it’s been quite a “normal” week for the school holidays, as life has had to go on in my role of looking after two children. In other ways, it’s been far from normal, as I’ve wanted to carve out time for rest and a lot of contemplation when they’ve been in bed or safely occupied with an activity. Thankfully, the timing has been good in terms of work, as I had already planned to take a fair amount of time off from custom work in the holidays, and Tom has helped with some posting of stock items.

Over the weekend, we spent some time as a family to go and buy and then plant a shrub in a large pot (so we can take it with us if we move house in future), in memory of the baby that we didn’t get to meet. I was keen to have a living thing as a reminder of the tiny person, whom we buried with the plant, and now this pot stands on our patio where we can see it when we are in the garden. The boys helped in the process, by placing stones and compost in the pot, and they have been keen to water the plant since. We explained why we were doing this, and they seemed to understand to some extent – Andrew very kindly gave me a big hug when I cried as we were planting, and both of them said “bye bye” to the baby with us. It was a special moment, I’m thankful that we were able to do this, and it gave me a certain sense of “closure”, in a similar way to a funeral.

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My head has been full of all sorts of different thoughts and emotions this week. I imagine I’ll be writing more as I wrestle with them over time. I’ve been reading an excellent book that a friend who also experienced a missed miscarriage sent me – the autobiography of Joni Eareckson Tada, who broke her neck and became a quadriplegic through a diving accident at the age of 17. Although her suffering is very different in nature to our current suffering, the story of how her faith in God became much more real as a result of her suffering makes a lot of sense to me at the moment. It’s easy when everything is going well to rest on my laurels spiritually, but this miscarriage has already made my desire to spend time seeking God through prayer, music and reading the Bible sky rocket. That’s not to say that I feel I have answers to all my questions (yet), but I certainly feel surrounded by friends who are praying for us on our journey to recovery, and I am confident that God himself is holding us tight.

Another book that I plan to read next week once I’ve finished Joni’s story is “Empty Arms” by Pam Vredevelt – a Christian perspective on recovering from a miscarriage or stillbirth. I hope that this will guide my thoughts on the specific questions surrounding the pain of losing a child like this, as well as the more general questions of suffering that I’ve already started reading about.

One of the thoughts I keep coming back to this week is how I believe all children are a gift from God. Right from the start of our married life (and even a bit before as we discussed this in marriage preparation), Tom and I have not taken it for granted that we would be able to have children. Although I was very much aware from quite a young age that I would love to have a family one day, I knew there was no guarantee that it would happen. When we got married, I was one year into my PhD research, and we agreed that we would not actively prevent a pregnancy once my thesis was handed in, which happened about a year and a half later. After that, I honestly did not think that I would be pregnant within a week and/or that that pregnancy would be successful. I knew that the roads to conception and full-term pregnancy were potentially fraught with difficulty. If it had have been my plan, there’s no way I would have actively arranged to be suffering horrendous pregnancy sickness in the lead up to and during my viva voce exam 11 weeks later. Of course we were incredibly excited to be expectant parents, but also quite shocked at this blessing so soon.

It was a similar story the second time around – would we have deliberately planned a 21 month age gap? There are pros and cons to any age gap, so I’m not saying it was all bad, in fact we’ve recently been thinking how great it is the boys are so close in age. But again, I honestly did not think that I would get pregnant again so soon, and that that pregnancy would also stick, particularly whilst still solidly breastfeeding Andrew. There was even more potential for difficulty than the first time around. So we were of course very thankful once again for the blessing of a second child. It was as if God was saying “Look, see what great things I can do despite your doubts – keep trusting in me.”

It was with this same attitude that we went into our third pregnancy – trusting that God had a plan, and that it would work out better than anything we could plan or arrange ourselves. After all, he’d done it before, twice, and looking back we realise just how happy we’ve been since having the boys in our lives at exactly the times when they arrived – not necessarily our timing, but great timing nonetheless. This time, it took a few months longer than before, and I did feel slightly disappointed each month when it didn’t happen, but still I knew that it wasn’t my plan. When I finally felt the sickness dominate my daily routine back in early June, albeit not as horrendously as with my previous two pregnancies, I was thankful that this was a strong sign of new life growing inside me, despite feeling awful. And the timing seemed to be good – the volume of my work during those weeks seemed to fit pretty well around the times I felt most able to work, and as a family we seemed to cope with my lack of energy better than we thought we might.

Since we first set out on our child-raising journey, although I’ve been aware of the potential for a pregnancy to end in miscarriage, there’s nothing that I could have read that would have totally prepared me for the shock of it actually happening to me. My birthday seemed surreal, and I had all the thoughts of “Why me?”, “Is this really happening?” and “Will I wake up from the nightmare soon?” Over this past week, I have come to accept that it has indeed happened and I can’t change that fact.

Yet I still believe that all children are a gift from God. I don’t yet know, and maybe I’ll never know, why this third child was given to us and then taken away from us so soon. However, I do believe that he/she is being cared for in heaven and that I will one day get to meet him/her myself. Although I’m so sad that our meeting won’t be in February on the day the birth would have been, and I grieve for all the future with us that this baby will never get, I’m finding it helpful to think of time from an eternal perspective. Jesus promised that whoever believes in him will have everlasting life, that goes beyond life here in our earthly bodies. Some bodies last for many years, like my Grandad who recently died after 90 years in his, and some bodies only last for a short while, like this baby who lived for about 6 weeks (8-2) in utero, whose body may well have not been able to survive due to a genetic anomaly. But in the time span of eternity, 6 weeks is actually indistinguishable from 90 years. Although an unborn baby never gets to make the decision to follow Jesus for themselves, I believe that Jesus’ attitude towards children when he was here on Earth gives us a great indication of how much God loves them and includes them in his heavenly family:

“Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” (Luke, 18:16-17, New Living translation)

At this point in time, I’m not sure what the future holds for us as a family, I don’t know whether we will be blessed with a fourth child or not, only God knows that. I’m not sure how I would handle being pregnant again, but I do know that whatever happens, we won’t be given more suffering than we can handle, and that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love him. Even though right now it’s hard to see that.

The week when our world turned upside down

For anyone who would like to follow our story – the experience of a missed miscarriage, which I started to explain earlier this week – here is an update. I am even more convinced now than I was on my birthday that writing about our experience is fundamental both to my recovery and to spreading awareness as well as breaking the taboo. Don’t get me wrong – it’s extremely hard, and many tears have been shed whilst writing blog posts this week, but it is definitely helping me process everything.

This week has been a whirlwind. I can’t quite believe that this time last week I was feeling pretty positive about the pregnancy. I had had a very small amount of spotting the previous two days, but by the weekend, the boys were with Granny and Grandad and I was resting. I had convinced myself that worrying was pointless and that given my mild symptoms, everything would most probably be fine.

Of course it turns out that everything wasn’t fine, and by Tuesday our world had been turned upside down. That’s when I last wrote about what was happening. I didn’t sleep much on Tuesday night, but on Wednesday I woke up feeling relatively fine physically – still no real signs that by body was doing anything on its own. Tom went to work, and the boys and I pootled around at home, until it was time to take Joel to his swimming lesson, which we managed without incident.

When we got home, it was time for lunch. Once we’d eaten and I’d cleared up, I sat outside with a cup of tea and the boys were playing happily together in the garden. Then I started to feel some cramping, not massively painful, but it reminded me of the start of my labours with the boys, which I also didn’t find that painful, more just on and off uncomfortable. I knew we didn’t have any (adult) paracetamol or ibuprofen that the nurse had recommended I could take if I wanted, so we nipped to the pharmacy down the road, and dropped off some business-related parcels at the post office while we were there. Not that I ever got around to taking any pain killers in the end – just like in my labours, I never did get around to any pain relief.

(**Warning – I’ll try not to be too graphic in the next 2 paragraphs**)

By the time we got home, I just wanted to be on my own, so I stuck CBeebies iPlayer on for the boys and went upstairs. I texted Tom to say what was happening, and he said he would come home whenever. The next events all happened pretty quickly, and before I knew it, I had pushed out the amniotic sac, onto a towel on our bedroom floor. My first reaction was to tell Tom, who left work immediately and was home before I knew it. Straight afterwards, I felt a strange sense of peace and calm. It was over, my body had done what it needed to do. I don’t know if it’s hormones or what, but what I’d just been through reminded me more of labour than I’d imagined it would – partly the speediness and consequent lack of time to grasp what was going on (I’d previously had two very quick labours), and partly with the sense of accomplishment.

But of course, all was quiet, that was the difference. No cries, no laughter, no reassuring words from a midwife that all was well. I had to face the decision as to whether I wanted to look in the sac, just as I’d had to make the decision as to whether to look at the screen during my scan to see the lifeless foetus. Just as at the scan, I chose to look, and again I’m glad I did. It confirmed in my mind that this was indeed a real little person whose life had been lost, and I am indeed a mum of three, it’s just I’ve only got to hold two of my babies. Tom came in just after I had made this discovery, and we cried together. We have decided that we will bury him/her by planting a small bush or plant in a tub in our garden (so we can move it if we move house in future) – I like the idea of seeing a living thing in memory of his/her life.

Then things started to go downhill. I had a shower and lay down, but it soon became clear that I was bleeding very heavily, and was going through multiple pads in an hour. I remembered that the nurse I saw after my scan had said I should call the EPU (Early Pregnancy Unit) if I was soaking through more than one pad an hour. Meanwhile, Tom was busy making a quick pasta tea so at least the boys, who were still happily watching TV, had eaten something. I really wasn’t feeling well, so he rang the EPU, who told us to come straight in, and my parents, who left immediately to come and meet us there to take the boys back home.

I’m so glad we live so near to the hospital, because soon I was lying on a bed, waiting for the doctor to come and assess me. All the staff, nurses and doctors, were fantastic – they certainly never said the wrong thing and listened to me explain what had happened with empathy, sensitivity and gentleness. By this point, it was more about me and my health rather than anything pregnancy related, but they talked with careful and thoughtful words around the fact that I just lost a baby. The doctor was really concerned about how much blood I’d lost so quickly, so she decided to give me a drug to help my womb contract. She also decided to put a cannula in my arm for some IV fluids, and also use that to take a sample of blood for tests (iron and blood group). Initially they’d said I might be able to go home later that night, but it soon became clear that the doctor wanted to admit me.

I was glad that Tom was able to stay with me as they admitted me, and also helpful was the fact that an individual side room was available, rather than being on the general (gynae) ward. Later that evening, Tom went home, and I tried to get some sleep. Of course that wasn’t easy, partly because the nurses had to come and do my obs every couple of hours, and partly because I still felt pretty anxious about my health and being in hospital. But I managed to snatch a few hours dozing. At about 5am, I came to and felt a bit better than I had done. The bleeding had definitely slowed down to a much more normal level, and the nurses were happy with my obs. When I’d been in the assessment room the night before, I’d messaged a few friends to pray a specific prayer about my blood loss, and by the morning, I definitely took comfort in the fact that this had been answered.

By the time of the ward round at 8.15am, the doctor was amazed at how well I’d done overnight considering how much blood I’d lost, and my iron level had been pretty high at the initial blood test, despite the blood loss. He talked with me about the miscarriage as well as my own health, and decided that I could go home that day. Initially they’d talked of doing a scan and another blood test in the morning, but this doctor was satisfied that they didn’t need to do any more right now, and that this would be more distressing for me, so being at home would help me recover more than being in hospital, which I agreed with. So I got showered and dressed and waited for the discharge process to be completed. By lunch time I was home and resting.

I’m still feeling quite weak and tired, but physically I’m doing well considering what has happened. Although my overall feeling is one of such sadness about how this week turned out, I have found pockets of things to be thankful for: I’m glad that the physical process happened naturally and that I was at home for the important part; although scary at the time, it seems the speed of blood loss means that I’m not going to be physically reminded of what’s happened for too much longer; we have seen a huge outpouring of support from family and friends, both near and far, which reminds us how blessed we are, despite the grief we currently feel.

Of course, I will take longer to heal mentally than physically, but I’m getting through it a day at a time at the moment, and I can’t think about life beyond our holiday starting next weekend. I think part of my urge to write about everything that’s going on is because I feel like I don’t want to forget it, and so documenting life at the moment means I can always look back on it, just like I can look back on other times in our lives as a family. Also, I feel that I wrote a lot about the boys’ early days and weeks, both antenatally and postnatally, and if I didn’t write about this baby too, then I wouldn’t be acknowledging his/her existence in the world like I did theirs. And just the thought of that is heart breaking.

The one I’d hoped I’d never have to write

As a mum blogger, this is a post that I’d hoped I’d never have to write. But to some extent, I feel kind of privileged to be in this position and also have a passion for writing, which means I can help break the taboo on this subject – miscarriage.

As I write, it is my 33rd birthday. The story starts on my 32nd birthday a year ago. On that day, once we’d spent the day with family and the boys were in bed, I had a bit of a meltdown! In floods of tears, I explained to Tom that I really didn’t feel that our family was complete and that I would love to try and see if we could have one more child. Before we got married, we’d talked about having two or three children if we could, and more recently we’d talked vaguely about the possibility of a third, but something about turning 32 made me feel so strongly about it.

As I’d gathered from our previous chats, Tom felt much less strongly about having another child now we’d got two. He could see the great “double act” that the boys are, and was worried that another would upset that dynamic. Plus we’ve just about finished with the nappy washing – did we really want to go down that route again? He’s also the main income earner, so naturally thinks about the family finances more than I do. I saw his points, and we went to bed agreeing that we would talk and pray about it more over the coming weeks.

We did talk when we had chance, but didn’t come to any definite decision. Then came our church’s weekend away in October. A few days before, Andrew got chicken pox, and my parents kindly offered to look after the boys at their house so we could still have a weekend away together and with our church family. It was fantastic, because Tom and I got uninterrupted time to think, talk and pray about our lives together. I came away from it feeling very much that my role in life right now is to be mum, and that included staying at home with young children for a good while longer. Tom’s feelings were slowly turning towards letting go of his worries over having a third child, and just seeing what there was in store for us.

So by the end of the year, we’d reached the decision that we would not actively prevent a pregnancy. The first few months of 2016 were quite tiring for various reasons: my business was really thriving, Andrew had started school, and Tom had got more involved with playing the piano at church (along with the admin that requires). All this meant we weren’t particularly surprised that nothing happened, despite the fact that both boys had been conceived pretty quickly.

Then finally in late May, I got all the usual symptoms of pregnancy. Having suffered quite severe nausea and vomiting when pregnant with the boys, more so with Joel than with Andrew, I was slightly perturbed by the fact that my sickness wasn’t as bad this time – plenty of nausea but less actual vomiting (by less I mean maximum once a day rather than several times a day). But they say all pregnancies are different, and some women get away with no sickness, plus it’s been a while since I was last pregnant, so I got on with life. Running around after 2 active boys and running a business from home means I didn’t have much time to think about it.

At the start of last week – the hottest week of the year, the last week of term – I felt pretty exhausted and knew it would be a hard week to get through when feeling sick and tired. It was indeed hard, and then on the Thursday morning I saw the dreaded thing that no pregnant woman wants to see – a small amount of blood on the used toilet roll. I panicked, having never experienced this in pregnancy before, but a quick read of the NHS website was reassuring – it’s more common than I thought, and there are many explanations for bleeding in early pregnancy, not just miscarriage.

Incidentally, my first midwife appointment (9 weeks) was at home in the afternoon that day, so I knew I could ask her about it then. She didn’t seem concerned, it had been a one off and was only pink, not red. She said if it went on or I got any pain then I should go to the GP. I got a similar bit of spotting the next morning, though no pain, but I thought best to get it checked. So I got a GP appointment and she referred me for a scan at the Early Pregnancy Unit (EPU), particularly as my routine scan was going to be at 14 weeks (because we are going away), and she thought that was too long to wait. The next appointment they could offer was after the weekend, today, my birthday, when I should be 10 weeks pregnant.

My parents looked after the boys on Friday afternoon and Saturday, and by Sunday morning I felt much better, and no more spotting. I rested some more, and then yesterday (Monday) I had a nice morning out with the boys and a chilled afternoon at home. I did have a bit more spotting on the toilet roll, but again, not all day and nothing major.

I woke up today feeling pretty positive, though of course slightly apprehensive about the scan, just as I had been for scans with the boys – there’s always the possibility of it showing something up. Tom had already booked my birthday off work a while ago – he doesn’t always book it off, but thought he would this year. Little did we know at that point. So he dropped me off at the hospital and took the boys to the park.

I sat in the waiting room for quite a while, they were clearly running late, I imagine they must have a fair amount of emergency work to fit in. The EPU at the Birmingham Women’s Hospital must be sponsored by Tommy’s, the charity that funds research into miscarriage, still birth and premature birth – there are Tommy’s logos all over the place and posters about miscarriage support everywhere you turn. As I sat there, I began to feel less positive. In fact, everyone sat there looked pretty worried. Of course, it wouldn’t be a particularly happy place, we are all there because something might be wrong, or it might not be. Still, I hoped I’d be in the half of women who attend EPU with bleeding who go on to have successful pregnancies.

Eventually the nurse called me in to take some details. Then after another short wait the consultant called me in to the scan room. He set up the machine, put gel on my tummy and started the examination. He told me before he started that it’s normal for him to be silent and not to worry about him not saying anything, he would tell me everything he can see at the end. The next few minutes felt like hours, and as time went on, I knew something was wrong. It hadn’t taken anywhere near this long to find a healthy baby at our scans for the boys.

And then he said it. “I’m sorry.” Yes that’s what I’d dreaded hearing. He must say it quite a bit. Just two simple words that changed my life on the spot. He went on to explain that he had found a baby, but no heartbeat and no movement. It measured about 8 weeks old, but I know my dates are accurate and it should have been 10 weeks. He explained that the midwife sonographer in the room was there as a second opinion and she agreed that what she saw was compatible with his diagnosis. He asked if I wanted to see the picture myself, and I hesitated, but the midwife suggested it might be a good idea. I’m glad I did. There was indeed a little baby lying still at the bottom of my uterus. They also showed me how the sac was too big in comparison with the foetus, and that it was drooping down at one side, other signs of a miscarriage that hasn’t been expelled yet.

I was then shown out of the room, into a small room where the nurse met me to talk through what happens next. After listening to me have good cry, having texted Tom and my mum, either of whom I wished could have been there, she talked through some options, but to be honest I didn’t take them in. I told her I would think about it, so we agreed that I’d ring them early next week, and we would go from there, depending what had happened on its own, if anything, by then. At this point, I’d still had no real signs that my body would do it naturally – no cramps, no pain, and only the small spots of blood on and off.

Tom came to pick me up, and we drove home. Obviously the boys could tell something was wrong, and when we got home and they’d had some lunch, I decided that I wanted to try and explain. It’s part of breaking the taboo – if I didn’t tell them, I’d only be perpetuating the taboo. Andrew will probably tell other people quite freely, but that’s fine, I would rather it was out in the open. I don’t know exactly how much they each understood, probably not a lot in Joel’s case, but Andrew seemed to get what I was saying and why I was so sad. And Joel has surprised us with how much he has understood of his Great Grandad’s death recently, so he may have taken in more than we think.

Once I’d had a bit of a lie down, and some food myself, we decided to try and make the most of the rest of my birthday, by going out to one of the boys’ favourite parks – the Lickey Hills. I think the walk, as well as probably the pressure of the ultrasound probe earlier, helped my body start some of the process by itself – I definitely feel something going on, no real pain, but only time will tell exactly how well it goes and at what speed. This is what’s known as a missed miscarriage – the first scan shows that embryo/foetus isn’t viable, but the body hasn’t expelled it yet. Before ultrasound technology was developed, in a case like this I wouldn’t have known, and would only have known when I had natural signs.

I can’t really think much beyond the next few days, except that I’m trying to look forward to our family holiday starting on 6th August. As always, we’re staying in the UK, in a city with a hospital nearby, so I’m not too concerned about things having settled down physically by then. I imagine it will be a good time to help us recover mentally, and with both sets of the boys’ grandparents with us, I’m sure it will give Tom and me the chance to talk together in depth.

So that’s where I’m at right now: very teary mess at the end of my birthday. But I believe things will get better, and I even still believe that this isn’t the end of the story which started on my birthday last year. I thought when we were involved in a road traffic accident in France on my 12th birthday that that would be my worst birthday ever; right now I think this has overtaken it. However, whilst my birthday isn’t a day I would have chosen for this, in many ways God’s timing has been brilliant – my parents has already offered to have the boys over the weekend, Tom had already booked the day off today (and the plumber he had arranged to come in the morning, which would have meant me getting the bus to the scan and back, cancelled last week), and a friend who shared with me when we were both expecting our second children that her pregnancy had sadly ended in a missed miscarriage got in touch today, before either of us knew, and has offered to talk with me about it. As I’ve said, the timing for what happens next is also better than at other times of year – we can go away and spend time together. Obviously all this timing doesn’t take away the grief, but it has helped and will help manage it in small, practical ways.

Miscarriage is relatively common – according to the nhs.uk website, “among women who know they’re pregnant, it’s estimated one in six of these pregnancies will end in miscarriage. Many more miscarriages occur before a woman is even aware she has become pregnant.” The booklet I was given at the hospital from the Miscarriage Association estimates around one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. Yet until today, I’ve not taken note of those statistics. I know a few friends who have bravely shared the fact that they have miscarried on social media, but it’s just not something that I’ve felt able to talk to anyone about – I guess until it happened to me, I didn’t know what to say.

Not that I really know what to say now, but what I do know is that keeping it to myself (and the few family members who knew before I published this post), would mean quite a lonely road to recovery, and it’s hard enough as it is, without feeling isolated. My main reason for starting this blog in the first place was to share my experiences of being a mum, particularly with respect to our difficult breastfeeding journey – partly because I personally find it therapeutic to write about these things, and partly because I hope it will help others in some way. This post is a fine example of why I blog, albeit infrequently these days. Thank you for reading.