Please note this post contains content that may be distressing to some readers.
Approximately four weeks before the UK government announced that we were to go into lockdown due to a worldwide pandemic, my husband and I found out that I was expecting our second child. Our daughter is almost four years old; we had been trying for this baby for about a year, and the news filled us with incredible joy and happiness. Despite delight at our personal news, there was a shift occurring in the minds of everyone we knew. Everybody I spoke to was beginning to worry about the implications of the virus due to its prevalence in other parts of the world and what it might mean for us here in the UK. Questions were beginning to arise for all of us and an uncertainty and anxiety was beginning to set in my heart. I was not concerned for myself. I was concerned for the life that was growing inside of me and I felt genuinely afraid.
My professional background is as a research scientist so I started to do whatever I could do to reassure myself. I read as many news articles and scientific journals on the topic of coronaviruses that we know about and this new one. What has been the effect on pregnant women? Being a completely novel virus, the majority of data was scant to say the least, most of it conjecture and so my anxiety grew. Understandably so, when lockdown occurred, pregnant women were put into the vulnerable category. My husband insisted on doing all the grocery runs himself, despite being asthmatic. But we had to do whatever we could do to keep our family unit safe, including our newest addition to be.
I was finding even the thought of isolation demanding from a mental and emotional point of view. I am an extrovert with many friends and an extensive social circle. For the past ten years I had been working as a private tutor and was lucky enough to work around my daughter’s schedule. Not a day went by without a range of activities planned for myself and our little one. Trips to the farm, preschool, music classes, soft play. Our social diary and commitments were always filled to the brim. In fact, my husband and I used to yearn for weekends where we had no plans and could stay at home. And now we were living that reality.
The first couple of weeks of isolation went by painfully slowly. I was struggling like many people to get used to the new normal. Having my daughter and other half at home all the time. Coping with immense fatigue, brain fog and morning sickness that lasted throughout the day. I was really missing my friends and mum (who was isolating in another city) and I was not feeling myself. I had to have my pregnancy booking appointment partially over the phone and partially in hospital in order to limit the amount of time I spent outside the house. Going into hospital was strange. I was all masked and gloved up and the EPU was eerily quiet. It felt like I was in a horror film. The midwife told me my scan would be in three weeks’ time, but I would have to attend alone as partners would not be allowed due to the new rules.
Life under the new normal went on. Human beings are adaptable. We adjust. The days started to pass by a little faster and we started to find our rhythm, keeping in touch with friends and family via technology as best we could. The papers were filled with comforting articles on how the virus was not affecting pregnant women in an adverse way and children and babies were the least at risk. I started to feel mentally and physically better and by my eleventh week of gestation, my pregnancy symptoms that had been so overwhelmingly strong only a few weeks prior, had started to ease. I suddenly had my get up and go back! My nausea has started to lessen, and I felt a clarity that I had not felt in about two months. I felt happy that maybe this pregnancy would be easier than the last (nausea and fatigue pretty much well into my fifteenth week). My scan was only days away and I was happy and excited to finally see my little one that I had nicknamed Blimp wriggling around, and to finally be able to share our news with extended friends and family members. I was only a little sad that my husband would not be able to come to the scan with me.
The day before the scan, I woke up as usual and went to the bathroom. I noticed that I had a trace of brown spotting which immediately unnerved me as it would do any pregnant woman. I shared the news with my husband who reassured me that he was sure everything was fine and that we should just keep an eye on it. Luckily I was due to go into hospital the following morning. I called my midwife and she said the same. Spotting can be very normal during pregnancy, especially during the first 13 weeks, she told me. I spent the whole day in a state of tension and nerves. And despite the reassurances that I received somewhere deep down I felt, knew, in only a way a mother can, that something was not quite right. I did not sleep that night but tossed and turned and googled and prayed. The morning of the scan, I went into hospital and was asked to wait for the scan in a room with about five other women at various stages in their pregnancies. I was the last one in and went in feeling exactly 50/50. Half of me feeling everything was fine and I would be going home happy and excited. The other half was expecting the worst with certainty.
When the sonographer started the ultrasound there was a look on her face that I could not quite work out. I turned to look at the screen and I could not see anything. Having had this happen only a few years prior I was expecting to see a picture that most of us are familiar with. She kept looking and finally found our little one. She told me that the baby did not seem to be as big as she was expecting it to be this far into my gestation. My first thought was that I must have got my dates wrong. She took a measurement and told me that it was around 8 weeks in growth and at this stage there should be a heartbeat but there wasn’t one. Again, my brain was not processing the information. So, would I have to come back in a couple of weeks to see if there was a heartbeat? It was only when she held my hand, squeezed it in consolation and told me that she was sorry, but it looked like my baby had died at around 8 weeks that I finally understood. In a haze of shock, disbelief and tears they put me into a private room where I had to relay the bad news to my husband. He was as together as only he can be and was worried about me having to drive back home on my own. “Don’t worry”, he said, “you just need to get yourself home safely. We will get through this together I promise you. Drive slowly and carefully”. I was unable to even contemplate speaking to my mum who had been bombarding me with messages and calls to see a picture of her second grandchild. A midwife entered and explained that I had experienced something called a Delayed Miscarriage which is where the baby dies in utero, but the woman’s body keeps producing hormones, so you still feel pregnant. She told me my options were limited due to covid19 so I could either allow my body to miscarry naturally or to have some pessaries inserted to start the process off more quickly. I decided to go with the former. I felt that due to spotting the day before maybe my body had begun to realise the loss and also, I needed time to talk with my loved ones and start the grieving process without having to do more hospital visits. I was given a leaflet explaining what would happen over the next week or so and was told I would have some pain and cramping akin to strong period pain.
I really don’t quite remember making that journey back home. My husband was waiting for me and we hugged, and I cried. The next few days were surreal. I was not sure what to expect so I read as many articles on delayed miscarriage as I could find. I found solace in hearing about other women’s experiences as I felt so very alone. I prayed. I finally began to tell friends what had happened and the outpouring of love and support that I received was unbelievable. Friends from around the world called me daily, cried with me, shared their own stories of pregnancy loss and made me feel that I was not alone. It sounds strange, but by now I just wanted the physical process to begin so I could start to emotionally heal. Some light bleeding and cramping had already started. About five days after my scan around 10am, I started to get severe, contraction-like pain. It was not like a strong period pain. It was far, far worse and only what I can describe as labour pains. Hour by hour, minute by minute the pains got stronger and stronger. My husband managed to find some codeine phosphate that we had in our medicine cabinet of which I took 60mg, with 1000mg of paracetamol which did not even touch the pain. All the while trying to shield our daughter from what her mother was going through. Finally, after eight hours of the worst pain I have ever experienced in my life, I finally passed the pregnancy sac. I was exhausted mentally and physically and could do nothing more than sleep. I woke up the next day still having mild contractions, pain and bleeding but nothing like I had experienced the day before. I genuinely had no idea that my body would go through labour. No one had told me that it was even a possibility and I had not read about it anywhere. But having been through it and after more research I now know it can and does happen like that for some women.
I am writing this post five weeks after an experience that genuinely feels like it did not happen to me. It almost feels other worldly as if I experienced it from another plane. I have spent the last month or so of my life in contemplation. Trying to heal as best I can, crying when I need to and finding gratitude in all I have. As a Muslim woman, I believe that God has everything planned for me. We plan but he is the best of planners. I know that there is a reason only known to him why this child was not meant to be in our lives. And there must be goodness in it for me and he will bless me with better. I have patience and belief. I feel blessed to have had the support and love from family and friends that I have had, even whilst we have been in the one of the worst situations of our lives with this pandemic. I do not want you to read this post and feel sad. Or feel sorry for me. I want you to realise how amazing we are as human beings. We are strong. We are resilient. I have a newfound love and respect for my body and my mind. I will never forget this experience. And I will never forget the child that I loved, from the very moment I found out about its existence. And the child will always be alive in my heart. But I feel stronger for having been through this experience, despite the dark days. Sometimes when life deals us a hand which we feel will cripple us, we must always remember that given time, we will find light again and bounce back. Life is difficult for all of us right now. Living through this pandemic, all of us are going through our own journey. Countless lives have been lost to a new virus. We are all having good days and bad days and just trying to get by as best we can. Know that we will and can get through it. Remember that no matter what, we have a resilience and strength that we do not even know we have until we are forced to find it.