“We’re very sorry but we can’t find a heartbeat”, 9 words that will ironically, stop your own heart for the briefest of moments. I can say this with certainty, because it’s happened to us twice now. In only four short months we’ve lost two babies. And yes, I’m aware that biologically they weren’t babies – one was no more than a cluster of cells, the other was a ‘foetus’ – the ugliest of words to describe something so incredibly beautiful.
But to us they were our children, our first children, and now the children we’ll never get to name, to tease, to watch grow up, to tell off and to lose sleep over. From now onwards, my medical notes will say ‘Two pregnancies, no babies’. They’re the reason we’ll never get excited about a future pregnancy, and the explanation behind the inherent change to our naturally hopeful and happy personalities to cautious, cynical and bitter ones instead.
I’ve ummed and aahed over whether to share this publicly – it’s incredibly personal, and laying our hearts and personal pain out there for all to read is a big decision. But as a couple who has now suffered through the pain of 2 miscarriages and found that the only balm are the testimonies and case studies of others who’ve felt the same, it seemed important to share our story.
The first time was early – some bleeding at home, a fruitless trip to A&E where I was told to go home and see what happened, an early scan to confirm my body had done its job by itself and got rid of our first baby. We were sad, we woke up in the night and held each other but we bounced back – not everyone knew. We could survive the ignorant and unwitting enquiries about when we’d have a family because we still believed we would.
The pain of number two is still raw – it was only a week or two ago, but the situation was horrendous. Following our first experience, we paid for an early private scan at 8 weeks. All was good, the heartbeat was strong – we got photos of our little blob and told only some immediate family and very close friends. The consultant assured us that after hearing a heartbeat at 8 weeks, the risk of miscarriage was only 2%. We should try to stop worrying. And we did, we let the hope creep back in. We were still careful but we booked our 12 week scan, I attended my first midwife appointment.
The 12 week scan rolled around. Nervous and desperate for the reassurance we both needed, we walked into the room to meet our sonographer. After muttering under his breath that “It’s too small” “Hang on, no, very small”, I knew something was wrong. “I’m very sorry, there’s no heartbeat” he said with very little sympathy or emotion. The screen showed measurements at 8 weeks 3 days – only 3 days after our first scan. Neither of us spoke, made a noise, cried. We just stared and nodded. So inherently British, I’m even pretty sure I said thank you. He called a colleague to confirm, took us to the Early Pregnancy Unit (EPU) and a kind nurse took us to the quiet room to discuss our options.
None of the options was ‘preferable’ – I’m not a clinician so I won’t go into details, but they’re essentially surgery, tablets (at hospital or home), or let nature take her course. Due to fly on a much needed holiday the next day, and given that in four weeks my body had failed to do its job so far, we ruled out the natural option. Our fragile hearts and minds just couldn’t sit around, go to work, smile and get on with life knowing we were waiting for the pain and an end to it all. I’ve never had surgery, never had an anaesthetic so we ruled that out too. Tablets it was, and taking the course in hospital throughout a day seemed the most efficient and safe way to do it. We rang our friends, postponed our holiday and told them to go on without us. We rebooked flights for a couple of days later hoping all went to plan.
I’m not sharing everything here, but it was a day (and overnight stay) filled with pain, tears and blood. A day I’m certain I couldn’t have survived without my husband to hold my hands as contractions took over, to wipe my tears, kiss my forehead and tell me I was amazing, and he was so proud of me. And my mum, who spent the entire day rubbing my back, hugging me and telling me it was OK to be angry, to sob, and insisting I ask for pain relief when I was trying to be brave. Both were struggling to watch me in so much physical and emotional pain and obviously, my husband was experiencing the same loss I was; but between them they provided the strength and love I needed.
This isn’t an advice post – if you’re going through this right now, I am so so sorry for you. Every experience will be different so I’m no expert – just don’t do it alone, accept help and hugs and don’t try to be brave. You need to grieve and feel everything to move on when you’re ready.
For us, we’re stronger than ever. Our silver lining is that this didn’t tear us apart, it made us more sure of our love and partnership. The nights when I’ve woken him up sobbing he hasn’t shushed me and made me go back to sleep. He’s hugged me, turned the lamp on and put Family Guy on the TV because he knows I need distraction, and that sleep isn’t coming.
We haven’t lost all hope – two miscarriages are sadly quite common and the NHS don’t investigate why until a couple has 3 miscarriages. We’re hoping we don’t reach that number, but for now, ours is not to reason why. We need to heal. We still hope to add an extra number to our little family but if we don’t, we know we’ll survive.
When we’re ready we’ll try again but I need those we love to understand that it won’t be congratulations and excitement – we don’t need advice to stay positive because frankly, it ain’t gonna happen. We are going to need to stay cautious and cynical. It’s the only way we’ll survive this again. Please accept that and leave us be until we can let ourselves believe it’s really going to happen.
Without wanting to sound like a really miserable awards ceremony, thank you to everyone who sent messages, personal stories to give us hope, and flowers, chocolates, prayers and love. To our friends we (eventually) joined on holiday, thank you for reminding us it’s OK to smile – we didn’t need to sit at home wearing black and wondering where we went wrong. Your love, easy company and laughter has been a huge part of our initial recovery and we’re massively grateful for all of you.
There are no words to thank my mum – thank you isn’t big enough. I love you – it was an awful experience but I’m incredibly glad I had you by my side.
To my husband, I’m sorry we haven’t got our happy ending. I’m sorry our short marriage so far has been so incredibly difficult. Thank you for being so brave and strong, for suffering with me and talking and listening. Thank you for opening up, for taking care of me, and letting me take care of you. We’ll get there, and if we don’t, we will always have each other.