I’m very conscious that the tone of some of my posts has switched from infertility/loss to a cautious acceptance of pregnancy to (probably from the outside) a complete embracing of pregnancy, and I wanted to address that a bit and try to explain the whole storm in my head. Because despite what it may look like from the outside – babymoon, shopping for baby stuff, baby shower – I know that this is not a “normal” pregnancy.
I have never, ever gotten pregnant on my own. (Okay, you know what I mean!) I’ve never had an “oopsie”… I’ve never had a pregnancy scare… I’ve never felt funny one day and thought back to my last period and realised I was late. I was in a long term relationship for a really long time, during which I (and probably everyone else) thought we’d have children. But we didn’t. And before then and after then, despite being in relationships where I could have become pregnant, I never did.
We’re still not sure what caused my 10+ years of childlessness. (It certainly wasn’t lack of baby-making activity… just saying.) It wasn’t until I started blogging (I think April a year and a bit ago) that I finally started to put a name to what I had. Infertility. I kind of just thought I was a freak who didn’t deserve to have children. I was adopted, so I shouldn’t care about biological stuff anyway, right? (It turns out many adoptees do, a whole lot more than “normals”.)
A disparate range of afflictions – heavy, painful periods, endometriosis (2 operations to clear the decks), a possible blocked fallopian tube, some polyps, a fibroid or two, some chemical imbalances – that all conspired to prevent me getting pregnant all through my twenties and most of my thirties. An ex who didn’t understand the loss I felt the first time I had an investigative laparoscopy and they found extensive endometriosis and a likelihood I wouldn’t get pregnant naturally.
Fast forward a few years. I split with my ex. I met T and I told him everything. I mean everything. By that time I was approaching mid 30s and I knew I should not get into a relationship with someone who might want kids I wouldn’t be able to give him. T being T, said, “We’ll just do IVF.” And me being me, I didn’t even raise it (and we had a nice few months of going at it like rabbits, both for fun and just in case) until T suggested it was time to make the appointment about having kids…
One blog, two cycles of IVF, about 20 different drugs, two pregnancies, one loss and one ongoing later and here we are. I’m pregnant. 28-and-a-bit weeks. We’ve just been on babymoon. We have a mini collection of tiny outfits. A plan for a baby shower. A name and a nickname. T reads to B every few nights, a story about dogs just like our Dog. B kicks appreciatively (or maybe, “Do the voices!”) and Dog snores as Dog always does, possibly unaware that he’s scheduled to get a baby brother.
I have everything I ever wanted. A T, a Dog, and a baby on the way. A house (well, a teeny flat), a job I enjoy which pays me enough money to pay for the tiny flat… a nice family and a soon-to-grow little family of my own.
And yet… I’m scared.
Here’s the thing, for those of us who’ve experienced a loss before, I think we have a sort of PTSD (and I don’t use that term lightly: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I really thought the pain of however many years of infertility, the insensitive questions (literally a couple of days ago a friend messaged me, “Have you ever considered having children?” and if I hadn’t been pregnant, I would have felt a lot worse…), the constant pregnancy-birth-mother’s day-first-day-of-school announcements on social media were something I could deal with, because my feelings about never having a baby were so deeply buried, and it had always been thus.
And then we did our first cycle of IVF. And I got pregnant! It was amazing. It was exciting. We were optimistic. We passed those milestones – the repeated positive pregnancy tests, the ultrasounds, the little heartbeat flickering away, the… miscarriage.
The “ball of cells”, the “at least you know you can get pregnant”, the “it happens to loads of people”, the worst pain I could have imagined, obliterating the searing physical pain which was also most definitely not “just like a heavy period”. The dismantling of plans and dreams. The going back to a horrible job with unsympathetic management. The commiserating holiday at the dream destination. Disney, the place to bring your kids… the happy place. The misery of pregnancy weight gain without the baby. The loss of hope.
And I know that what we “suffered” is experienced by hundreds of thousands of people, and others have it much worse. I never had to give birth to a dead baby. I can’t even imagine the pain of that when passing my almost-baby was so painful. I never suffered repeated losses, because it took over a decade to make it to our first pregnancy. Our first loss. I’ve never had a real live child running about who died. I know it’s not the Pain Olympics. But I also know that what feels monumental to me is smaller than what many people have dealt with.
Maybe it’s because of this, because my decades of childlessness were more of an absence than loss, that our one hard-won loss last year hit me so hard. Because I really felt like maybe I was just not meant to have kids, maybe it would never happen, and when I got pregnant on IVF cycle 2, an ostensibly less successful cycle than cycle 1, I felt not joy but mounting fear that this would be another suckerpunch, another loss.
Pregnancy after loss is not like pregnancy, period. I see those pregnancies of friends and on social media and they’re so full of joy and excitement and that seems naive to me, like tempting fate. I saw our first baby’s heart beat. That meant we were in the tiny percentages of unlikeliness that something bad would happen… but it did. I barely slept leading up to our first scan, and I knew not to trust it. When we saw the heart beating, I cried. I don’t know whether from joy or fear. But it wasn’t the end of the anxiety and I didn’t “feel pregnant” and I didn’t rejoice. As each milestone passed – 12 weeks, 16 weeks, first kicks, T would ask me, when are you going to feel better? And I couldn’t answer him. He had to believe for the both of us.
Of course, over time, anxiety has decreased. How I feel about baby B now is nothing compared with how I felt in those first, fearful weeks. I don’t know when the anxiety moved to more manageable levels because it has been 6 months of slow, gradual reduction and trying to be as happy as others seem to be for us. All throughout this pregnancy, now in its 29th week, I have kept up this internal monologue of rationalisation… Read the stats, understand the risks… Know that every day that passes, the risk reduces. But I will never be like those carefree friends who have never suffered infertility or loss.
What helped for me was passing the halfway mark – 20 weeks, which coincided with “coming out” to people at work (though I told my boss and HR sooner due to the legalities). It may sound crazy but as T said to me, it’s okay now to tell people as you’d want them to know if the baby died… It’s no longer a “ball of cells” or “happens to everyone”. It is an actual acknowledgeable baby. People would be able to talk about it if we lost him, instead of having to pretend that he never existed. That makes a difference, I guess. As is being treated like an obviously pregnant woman. Getting seats on public transport. Having a sympathetic doctor who took my anxiety seriously and referred me to an amazing midwife. And the biggy – feeling him kick.
People who don’t worry about pregnancy loss tell you how annoying and uncomfortable it is, but honestly, I embrace every discomfort. Even when I wake up at night with back pain, even when my body is a mess of extra chub and stretch marks, I am thankful that I am experiencing something I never thought I’d ever experience. And I’m scared now that I’ve started to dream about him, our son, that he might not get here healthy and alive. That whatever pain I felt least year about losing our first baby, it would be a thousand times worse now I’ve felt B kick, that I’ve felt my skin stretching, that we registered him at nursery and bought him little outfits, that everyone knows.
There are those little reminders. “Is this your first child?” – I always answer yes. I know that’s not strictly true, that we had another almost-child last year, that B is our “rainbow baby” – but I can’t bring myself to tell that sad story to every smiling face who asks. People congratulating us then musing about maybe trying for a baby soon. I want to scream at them, start yesterday! It might never happen! (But of course it will, straight away, because you’re not us.) People who congratulate us in a thoughtless way that triggers off all the feels. I’ve taken to saying, It took a lot to get this far. A lot of medical interventions. About 20 different drugs. So no, I won’t be having a second child. I don’t even feel confident I can get this one here safely, but those words remain unspoken, always in the back of my mind.
That friend of mine who asked me the other day if I’d ever considered having kids – she has one, and told me that they liked him so much, “We might try for a sister for him soon.” She’s in her 40s… Oh, the naïveté! Imagine being able to think, I’ll just have another one and I hope it’s a girl. Like that’s your worst likelihood. Not, I hope we can have a child. I hope my baby doesn’t die. Just, I hope we can make a sister for him, but if it’s a brother then I guess we’ll deal with it.
A girlfriend of a friend from school is around 2 weeks behind us – and they constantly post pregnancy updates on Facebook. I can’t stand them. I can’t look at their confidence and I worry for them that they don’t know the risks, and I resent that they are so blasé about it, but then I tell myself that their way of doing things is the normal way, not our way. You shouldn’t spend your pregnancy worrying that it’s going to end, that there’s not going to be a live baby. That’s just us. At Halloween she dressed her bump with blood and doll parts so it looked like a baby clawing its way out. I can’t imagine she’s ever looked at blood coming out of her and wondering which parts were her dead baby.
And part of me is jealous that it’s not me posting bumpies and milestones and cutesy pregnancy announcements (ours would be Dog and a pair of booties, now you ask). But I don’t think I could cope with the idea of unannouncing. It was bad enough last time having to unannounce to the very few people we had told. It’s almost worse having to deal with other people’s grief. Pregnancy-wise, I’m just going to lay low, off radar (well, off social media) until-when-if B is born. If he arrives safe then I will be able to tell people, this is our son! This is Dog’s little brother! I can breathe. Meanwhile, I’ll participate in the rituals of baby shower and shopping and dressing the bump and enjoying other people’s happiness for us, and I’ll try my best not to let the worries take over. Fake it till you make it.
But until then, I will talk to my bump, feel B kick, and try and impart some reassurance to him that his mama is doing her best to keep him safe until it’s time in three months to try and get him safely into the world.