When I was in primary school, a friend gave me an autograph book. I thought it was great fun to get all my friends and family to sign it and write a little message. Most of them were silly rhymes or jokes, but there was one message I still remember. It was from my Dad. He wrote, “To my second red-headed daughter and nicest Christmas present I’ve ever had. Love Dad.” He was referring to the fact that I came home from hospital on Christmas Day.
Something about those words from my father spoke very powerfully into my young heart.
I still find it hard to understand exactly why that message was so precious to me.
Maybe it was simply because they were words of affirmation that were written down for me to keep.
Written words endure. They carry the weight of intention. We know that the person wrote them deliberately, so they somehow mean more. We have evidence of being loved, special, cherished.
Perhaps it was the idea of being somebody’s gift that resonated with me. And not just any gift, but a Christmas gift! To a child, Christmas presents are really exciting. And not just any old Christmas gift, but the nicest one ever? Really? Could that be true?
My Dad is very much a present person. He would always buy extravagant gifts for all of us, but especially for my Mum. Each birthday and Christmas she was showered with expensive lingerie and nice perfume or dresses that cost a week’s wages, even when we couldn’t afford it. Then she would model the new clothes and we would all join in with admiring comments, while Dad said something appreciative like, “Whackydoo!” From his actions, it was clear Dad thought that presents were important. Gift giving is definitely one of his ‘love languages’. So being called a present by my Dad was a poignant expression of love.
The idea that children are a gift is not a new one.
It dates back to ancient times. The Hebrew Scriptures say, “Children are a gift from the Lord. They are a reward from him.” Harsh words for anyone going through recurrent miscarriage or infertility, but the part about children being a gift, that bit I can relate to.
Last year on my birthday I unexpectedly discovered I was pregnant.
My one-year-old had just weaned herself and we had plans to go out with friends for karaoke, so for the first time in almost two years I was looking forward to having a few drinks and letting my hair down. I also knew it was technically possible, but extremely unlikely, that I could have fallen pregnant recently. Just to rule it out, I did a pregnancy test. I almost passed out when I saw a feint line appear in the positive window.
For so many women, seeing that line would have been a source of joy – a gift, even. But for me, pregnancy is scary. I’ve been pregnant nine times and have two children. I’ve had far more sad endings than happy ones and some of my experiences have been unusually traumatic. So when I found out I was pregnant, the overwhelming emotion was one of fear and anxiety, of feeling incredibly vulnerable, while still wanting to be hopeful.
At the time, I didn’t tell my family – I didn’t want them to be anxious for the next twelve weeks. So I kept my feelings to myself and went about my day as if nothing had happened. I had lunch with my parents, I went out as planned but drank mineral water – (not what you need for karaoke!) – and I made a passable show of trying to be relaxed, while on the inside I was stressing about how I would get my hands on the specialist medications I needed before the looming Christmas break.
In spite of my worries, the pregnancy went smoothly. At thirteen weeks, we had a very thorough scan in which we were told that the pregnancy could now be considered low risk. I started to believe we were having another baby. I started to change my plans for the New Year and make new ones around the baby. I started picturing my family with three kids and wondering how on earth I would get dinner cooked every evening with my husband on night shift and a toddler and a newborn hanging off me. I started telling my friends we were expecting again. Then at a routine check-up, just before sixteen weeks, there was no heartbeat. Later that night, I was giving birth. And for a few minutes, there was a tiny, purple, perfect little boy, wrapped up in a blanket on my bed. And then he was gone.
“I lost a baby.”
So here’s the thing. I don’t want Alexander’s life just to be an accident. A mistake. A regret.
When I think or speak of Alexander, I think or speak of loss. But when I think or speak of my other, living, children, I think of them as a gift. When really the only difference is the amount of time I got to keep them for. If Caillie or Molly died tomorrow, I hope that I would still consider their lives to have been a gift to me. So I hope that one day I can see Alexander like that too; as a precious gift, not just as a loss, because every baby deserves to loved, special, cherished.
Right now, it still hurts too much, but one day I hope I can write:
“To Alexander, my second son and the best birthday present I ever had…”
The thing about having just one child is that nearly every day somebody says something like, ‘Are you planning on having more children? You don’t want to leave it too late.’ People I barely know make these kinds of comments to me all the time. And yet, every time it still surprises me. Does the general population not understand that for many, many people, having babies is not an exercise that works to a schedule?
For me, falling pregnant has not been the issue, at least not recently. Last year, after Birdy turned one, we decided it was time to think about another baby. We fell pregnant straight away. The baby’s due date was December 4. Unfortunately, at eight weeks, we discovered that I had miscarried the baby some time earlier. We were heartbroken. I had been so excited about the idea of a new baby at Christmas. I found it hard to accept that this would no longer be the case. I just hoped I would be pregnant again before Christmas rolled around so I would not feel the loss so keenly.
Our doctor told us there was no medical reason to wait before trying again. And that there was no reason to believe things would go wrong again. I fell pregnant straight away. I told my family the happy news as soon as I got the positive pregnancy test. I wanted everyone to feel better. Two days later, I was no longer pregnant. The embryo had failed to implant properly. Feeling foolish, I called my family to say I wasn’t pregnant after all.
Two months later, I was pregnant again. This time I was more cautious and told nobody. I didn’t even go to my GP. I just waited to see what would happen. At about five weeks, I started to feel dreadfully ill with abdominal pain. A few neighbours had mentioned they’d been really sick with a gastro, so I thought I’d caught it too. Later the bleeding started. Eventually I went to hospital and was told I’d experienced an ectopic pregnancy that had naturally aborted (An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy that is not located in the uterus). Once again, there wasn’t going to be a baby. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. We took a break from babies for a few months to get our heads together. Suddenly everything seemed uncertain, everything was stressful. I started to feel anxious about the idea of another pregnancy, but I knew I wanted to give Birdy a brother or sister if I could.
In November, I discovered I was pregnant for the fourth time that year. My husband and I did not want to get our hopes up. We went cautiously to an ultrasound at five and a half weeks. The embryo was where it should be. An early heartbeat was visible. It all looked promising.
At seven and a half weeks my obstetrician could not find a heartbeat. He sent me over to the hospital for a more powerful scan. I’ve never felt so tense in my life. I felt sick. I couldn’t believe it was happening again. The internal ultrasound showed that the baby’s heart was still beating, but it was not as strong as it should be and the fetus had not grown as much as it should have. After I pressed him, my doctor admitted that he expected the baby to miscarry. I hoped and prayed he was wrong. Most of my friends and family told me things would be OK. The doctors were just being cautious. You can have too many ultrasounds these days, they said. Too much information will just make you worry unnecessarily. It will all work out, they said.
On December 3, a week later, we were told the worst – the baby’s heart had definitely stopped beating. So on December 4, the day I should have been giving birth to my second baby, I was admitted to hospital for another D & C. Meanwhile, a close friend of mine was having her baby at another hospital down the road. In the exact time that my friend had carried one healthy baby, I had lost four pregnancies. While she was welcoming her child into the world, I was having mine suctioned out of me. I know that sounds crass, but its not a pleasant procedure. The sadness was suffocating. As I lay in my bed, the grief overwhelming me, I had an image of myself being dashed against the rocks in a raging ocean, completely powerless. If I did not have Birdy to cherish, I don’t know how I would have got out of bed.
As I’m writing this, I know there will be people who are going through the same thing, who don’t yet have their precious child. It must be even more devastating for them. But I have found it helpful to read and hear about the experiences of other women and that’s why I wanted to share my story. In fact, a number of friends have asked me to write about miscarriage on my blog. I recently finished reading a book called My Seventh Monsoon, by Naomi Reed. In the book, Naomi shares about the five painful miscarriages she experienced. I found it helpful to read her story, although she was clearly writing with the benefit of hindsight, from a time when her three boys were safely in her arms. Naomi felt that God carried her through that difficult time. I’m afraid I haven’t felt that. And I haven’t even felt that something good will eventually come from all this pain. I have another close friend who has had several miscarriages; she now has two beautiful children. Their stories give me hope that one day I will also be on the other side of this journey. But I wanted to be brave enough to share this experience with others while I’m still on the journey, when I don’t know what the ending will be, when the raw emotion of loss has not been dulled by the safe arrival of another baby.
I don’t know what the future will hold. I feel sad for what I’ve lost. And I feel sad that pregnancy is no longer a state of joy for me, but a time of fear and anxiety. I dearly hope and pray that I will not have to go through the pain of another miscarriage, but only time will tell. I don’t think I will ever make sense of what has happened to me, but I hope that one day I will be at peace with it… If that’s possible.
Have you been through the pain of a miscarriage or infertility? How do you cope when everyone around you seems to be having a baby? Have friends and family been helpful or do you feel that nobody understands your situation? If you’ve come out the other side, how has your point of view changed over time? Please also feel free to share anything that helped you deal with your loss and grief (and those things that were definitely NOT helpful.)
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