Amy Swales suffered five miscarriages, before a sixth, healthy, pregnancy. Now, pregnant again, she reflects on how it “feels like we’re pushing our luck by trying for another baby”.
I am pregnant.
I might have had an idea, before, of how and when I’d say those words. Joyfully, excitedly, an announcement to be made once, twice perhaps. I never thought of medical professionals tapping on computer screens, distractedly asking, “Your first pregnancy?” and my reply, “No, seventh.” A stutter, a paper shuffle.
We’re so good at the first couple of months, pros at early pregnancy. Second trimester proves trickier: five lost, then sixth time lucky. And now number seven is settling in; small, early, a tiny bud quietly deciding what hand we will be dealt this time.
I am pregnant.
Let me tell you about number six. One, two and three came and went in secret and their silent weight almost crushed me. We decided to share our pain, we needed to, so we wrote and spoke and wrote. Then four, then five, both there then not. I made a last-minute speech at a charity fundraiser, sobbing my way through as I urgently needed to explain, again, the lowest points to my family and friends, how I feared it was a rock I couldn’t crawl out from under.
Not long after that, number six. We were exhausted. And I realised I was angry. Why did we do this again, we cried to each other, what was the point? This, we said, should be the last time. No more. Fortnightly scans revealed a growing grey smudge, but we could take no heart from that heartbeat, trying its best. We’d been there before. We held hands through our very first 12-week scan in complete silence. After, the sonographer was shocked to hear what we’d been through. “But you were so calm, I was thinking you were the most chilled couple I’d seen all week!” We nodded. Not chilled, terrified.
And despite the first printed picture, the first heartbeat over a speaker, the first jumping bean baby, we remained terrified.
We tentatively started to relax. Until the morning I had stomach pain and within minutes, the gossamer-fine veil making us look like any other expectant couple was shed. I cried on the phone on the way to the hospital. Once again we silently hung on to each other waiting for the nurse to find the heartbeat. It took forever. It took long enough for us to look at each other and shake our heads slightly, to flash through how it was going to be from there on in.
That pregnancy, we were the lucky ones. But the pain, fear, anxiety, guilt? It doesn’t go away. A healthy pregnancy, a healthy scan, a milestone passed. It doesn’t go away. And I know it’s not just us: recently, I joined a support group for pregnancy after loss, to sit among those feeling the same and to offer my support. It’s clear that no matter whether one miscarriage or multiple losses, a couple of months ago or a decade previous, with five children between or none, these feelings can’t be magically erased.
It’s not because we’re not excited or hopeful. It’s because we are, and we’re holding our breath.
It all comes rushing back. The freak-out over an accidental unpasteurised ice cream or waking up on your back, the uncontrollable anxiety leading up to lying on a bed with crinkly paper tucked in your waistband in the same room where someone told you “I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat”, sometimes again and again and again. I’m sorry, it’s gone, I’m sorry, there’s nothing there, I’m sorry.
It was a big decision to try for another. We managed one healthy pregnancy and one healthy baby and it feels like we’re pushing our luck. It feels like shifting ground, this one; unsafe, unsteady, a swinging bridge with rotten planks. We’re asking too much, surely. But here we are. I am pregnant.
Those with kind intentions tell us to think positively, to forget the past and look ahead and enjoy it, to look at our child and feel confident that the worst is over. Those with perhaps not-so-kind intentions, we suspect, think us melodramatic, oversensitive, wallowing, despite our efforts to help ourselves and others by being honest about our grief.
Those people, who do or don’t realise the damage of their words, drive the secrecy and exacerbate the pain of baby loss. They are our worries made flesh: “I should be over it.”
But we shall continue to be honest.
It’s hard to enjoy a pregnancy while checking for blood every single time you go to the toilet. When obsessively worrying your symptoms have eased, or that twinge felt like it did the time it went wrong.
It doesn’t mean we can’t take joy in what we, so luckily, so unbelievably, finally have. Or that we aren’t excited or happy to be pregnant. But I guess what I’m telling you is that it doesn’t go away. I guess I want you to know how dark it can get. I guess I’m hoping that you cut us some slack when we struggle to think positively, when we still bang on about our loss, when we seem ridiculous insisting on washed fruit.
But I guess I’m not really talking to them, anyway, am I? I’m talking to you, pregnant again, and scared. Because I know how much it means to hear that others feel the same. Because it’s not our past, it’s our present. I am pregnant again, and scared. I understand. I know. Come talk.
Pregnant after miscarriage: support and advice
Ruth Bender-Atik, director of the Miscarriage Association, says: “Pregnancy after previous loss can bring a mixture of hope and anxiety, cautious optimism or almost waiting for things to go wrong. And you may well move back and forth between positive and negative – feeling reassured after a positive scan and then worrying that it may still go wrong.
“Those feelings are normal and understandable, but they can be difficult to live with, so it’s important to find what can help you through.”
Things that can help:
• Accept that this will be an anxious time, and don’t feel guilty about it. Anxiety can be tough, but it’s not going to harm your baby, so just tell yourself “Well of course I’m worried, that’s normal”.
• Enjoy the times when you feel positive and happy – and let it all out when you feel low.
• Find people you can really open up to – your partner, a friend or relative – people who understand and will be supportive. Check out the Miscarriage Association’s advice page, online forum or Pregnant after Loss Facebook group.
For Baby Loss Awareness Week 2019, the Miscarriage Association is campaigning for better mental health care following baby loss. Visit the website here
Amy Swales is a freelance writer who likes to eat, drink and talk about her dog. She will continue to plunder her own life and the lives of her loved ones for material in the name of comedy, catharsis and getting pictures of her dog on the internet.