Photo: Cherry Blossom from the beautiful tree we planted in her memory. <3
It would have been her first birthday next week… 21st September.
I didn’t actually know for sure I was having a girl – but it helped me to deal with the loss when I finally decided to imagine her as the girl I had always secretly wanted, and gave her a name, Holly.
That was one of the hardest parts. Acknowledging to myself just how much I had denied my hopes of being a mum, accepting them fully – only to have them dashed. My relationships just hadn’t worked out child-ready, and I didn’t push the issue too hard, I had for too long kept my feelings hidden to the outside world, so much so that I also barely even admitted them fully to myself.
As a part-time-but-passionate environmental campaigner, I’m only too aware the world we are bequeathing our future generations. The last thing we need (I would tell those who dared ask the dreaded ‘so, when are you going to have a baby?’) was more humans. No, I would joke; – “I can barely look after myself, let alone a tiny person”. I was denying my deep desire to be a mum.
But the moment I found out I was pregnant – (at the doctors, test 1) the veil dropped and my heart shone with joy.
I watched back to back episodes of One Born Every Minute, I bought books on pregnancy and baby care, I was in MotherCare admiring prams and researching about cots, I was preparing to ask my sister for help with cloth nappies and I was obsessed with the pregnancy tracker app I had downloaded. Every day, checking to see how big it was, and check in that the symptoms I was having were all normal.
My morning sickness was all-day sickness – and I was very tired, waking in the night loads – but I was too excited to mind. I was happy I was experiencing pregnancy and all it’s symptoms and my mind rarely left the thought of my baby coming into this world.
I could picture us playing in the garden, I thought lots about being an eco-mum, about how toys would be second-hand, and wooden, how she would play with pegs, and wear hand-me-downs clothes, like I did…
I had a few heady months, and then my world came crashing down.
I had a missed miscarriage.
Because my partner and I had accidentally conceived over the Christmas period – the most popular time of the year – there was a wait for my first midwife appointments. I had to wait 2 weeks past my 12 week scan date for my appointment – the one with the first scan. I had pinned my plans on telling family and friends about the baby on exactly the 12 week mark – on account of how excited I was. Waiting any longer would have been torture, and I was proudly starting to show.
I told my 2 colleagues at 11 weeks, one of my happiest memories – and booked in for a scan at ‘Window to the Womb’ in Leicester – a private clinic, offering scans for £50. The plan was that OH and I would go get the scan, then drive across the country the next day, to break the news to my Mum and Dad. We even knew how we were going to do it; we had a scrabble board reveal with letters spelling out the pregnancy all worked out.
I remember the sound of the heartbeat of the baby from the woman who went in before me. You could hear it through the waiting room walls. I saw the couple leave smiling, with a blue helium balloon. I smiled, but I was nervous – more than I expected to be. I had started to feel uneasy and had been getting anxiety building up over the last few weeks. Maybe it was telling everyone – what would they say? But we also had relationship problems – was this the right partner? Would we break up and would I be a single mum? So many questions and before I knew it I was having the gel put on my tummy, and watching and waiting for the screen to be turned towards me, and the noise of the tiny heart beat.
It never came. Instead, a worried looking consultant peered into the screen for what seemed like eternity – a nervous glance my way and “we need to do an internal scan” – without eye contact. Okay – of course okay – just get on with it and tell me everything is fine – but I was starting to realise it wasn’t. I felt my blood run cold as he explained things were not as they should be. There was a collection of cells – the gestational sec – but the measurement of the baby was way below what it should have been – and there was no heartbeat.
We returned to the waiting room, while they referred me to hospital then we left – in shock – and me in tears.
The next few days I can’t remember too well but mercifully the hospital appointment, on the 1st March came around pretty rapidly. I would go in for a day, take hormones to tell my body that the pregnancy was over, and the baby would be passed. I don’t want to, or need to go into too much physical detail – it took all day, and of course, I was in pain, but what I want to share is that emotionally I felt a sadness like no other. I remember leaving the ward feeling empty and and not being able to walk past along the corridor towards the main exit. We had to pass the maternity ward on the way out. My heart felt like lead and I clung on to my partner’s arms and just sobbed.
It was a tough time for us – we both had limited support, and didn’t know how to talk about it – which resulted in real struggles with our mental health.
It was just coming up to Christmas 2019 when I went to my first support group, held in a Village Hall, by CALM – Coping And Living with Miscarriage. Up until then I hadn’t had any support – nothing was offered by the hospital, no signposts to where to find help. I sat in the small gathering and wept, but this time I wasn’t alone. There were other mothers and fathers there who had aching arms too. There was a peace and love in the acceptance of the pain and grief that we shared. In fact, when Cate, who organised the support group asked if baby had a name, I looked around the room, and saw Christmas decorations, and the Holly stood out – I spoke her name for the first time to tell Cate so that she could be added to the book of rememberance… and never be forgotten.
One of the reasons I’m telling my story now – through tears – but with strength is because I found solace in reading the words of other heartbroken mothers who had lost their babies. I joined facebook groups, and mourned with others who had lost too.
I hope by writing that I might reach someone else who needs to hear this. Who needs to know that things do get better – and that support is out there.
I’m telling it now because I couldn’t tell it before. I couldn’t find the words. I couldn’t speak about my pain. For over a month I had a painful lump in my throat – a condition known as “globus hystericus” which is “an embodiment of unexpressed trauma, upset, unresolved conflicts, unexpressed grief etc”. When I finally found the words to tell people what had happened – was still happening – I was wobbly – I would cry – the words would be jumbled. Now, a year on, I’m able to express it more concisely, and with authentic emotion, but without losing my control. Telling my story now, in this way, is to honour the grieving process that I’m still going through, mark my progress while further breaking the taboo of talking about miscarriage.
Although there was no counselling or emotional support available through the NHS, I was lucky enough to have a friend who is an incredible life-coach. If you need help finding your voice – I cannot recommend Bex Baxter highly enough. Bex was there with patience and understanding through the tears and trauma, and has changed my life for the better.
Thank you also to Gemma, my yoga teacher, who understood when ‘connecting with my body’ was too much to bear – she held my hand and let the tears be ok.
So, to mark my progress, and in memory of Holly, for her first birthday – I’ve organised a SkyDive to raise money for ‘CALM’. A friend who has also suffered loss, Jo – also Chair of CALM, hope to raise £1500, following in the footsteps of Baby Loss Awareness week, and jump 10,000 ft on 28th October.
The money raised will help CALM to evolve & grow into a recognised charitable organisation so that it can operate with the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, to continue developing a memorial garden at Nordelph Village Hall, and to cover print costs for a leaflet signposting support for bereaved parents.
If you have any spare pounds you could chip in, I know it will go a long way to offering support when someone might need it the most. Thank you.
If you needed to hear these words – please remember to reach out. I called the samaritans on 116 123 on more than one occasion. You are not alone. My heart goes out to you and your aching arms…please reach out. @lingoliz