Third time around; A father’s thoughts on recurrent miscarriage

On the 22nd March 2020, at roughly 11am, my wife, Jess, and I were told, once again, that we’d had a miscarriage. This was our third, having had one in January 2019 and another in June 2019. As it had both times before, my mind went blank and focused on a singular purpose. Something that was largely outside of my control, but something I would try to do nonetheless. How did I protect Jess. From the grief, the hurting and the frustration of the loss. Looking back on it now, I’d been a fool to worry as much as I did. I think it’s a very human reaction to want to protect those you love from the things that hurt you and you fear is hurting them too. But this was Jess and she is one of the strongest people I know; even if she rarely gives herself credit for this fact.

After the usual follow up with the early pregnancy midwife, we left the hospital, in silence for a while, until we reached the car park. There, I asked if Jess was okay. It was then I knew we’d weather this storm better than we had the first and second time. Her response was only to lament that, because of COVID-19, that we wouldn’t be able to see our family and friends, the people we rely on most at our very highest, very lowest and at every level in between. She swiftly followed it up with that she’d like a drink, which in itself is something as Jess isn’t a big drinker. “There’s some Gingerbread Rum left over from Christmas. I think I’ll have some of that.”

I didn’t cry myself until later that morning, as I sat at the dining room table, work phone sat in front of me, waiting for a text message back from my boss. Emotions always seem to hit me after the fact. They take a few hours to sink in, sometimes days. I often attribute this to why I rarely get excited about my holidays until I wake up on the day we’re going to the airport. As I sat in my little air pocket, staring at the black mirror of my phone, Jess floated into the room, cup of tea in hand and open arms to embrace her soggy faced husband. She always seems to know when I need her most. I probably shouldn’t be surprised after almost 13 years together, but I am. It’s part of what keeps the magic going. As she held me, I spoke about how I was angry. Angry that I had nothing to direct my hatred towards. And that I was also very sad. And finally that interspersed amongst it all, I was having strange moments of clarity. Clarity that seemed to say, “This is okay. You knew this might happen again and you will try again sometime.”

If I have any prevailing mindset that has come out of the third miscariage, it’s that everything is okay, despite the loss. It’s deeply saddening, frustrating and fills me with anger occasionally. But then I find myself often sitting in a daydream, thinking about holding my first born child, playing with them as a toddler, or acting as the sagely father to a teenager. And those emotions are still there, but more like a subtle undertone. They are almost silenced by the prevailing feeling of my willingness to soldier on. To try again and for those daydreams to one day become a reality. I feel it like some sort of driving force in my chest, pushing forward and outward. A yearning. I attribute this to something Jess said the day we found out about the third miscarriage. “This one just wasn’t right for us, but it will be when the time is right.” And I think my body is trying to pull me to that day. When Jess and I can sit in the darkened sonographers room, Jess on the bed and I sat beside her, holding her hand, and being told that we’re having a healthy baby and that everything is progressing as it should. But until then, I will write down my experiences, for what they’re worth. In part, to help myself collate my thoughts and order my feelings, like the robot I can be sometimes. But more so that someone, other than myself, can feel a little less alone in the darkness that swallows all those who lose a baby, and so that they might find some nugget of wisdom from my experiences or thoughts. 

Miscarriage and Coronavirus; what it’s like to have a miscarriage during a pandemic

I couldn’t tell you the first time I heard the word “coronavirus”. It must have been some time in early March, back when none of us could have had any sort inkling of the impact that COVID19 would have on the world. 

At the time, I was preoccupied with another health related worry; my third pregnancy. 

“Right”, I thought. “Let’s do this.” 

Getting pregnant again

After our second miscarriage, (first January 2019, second June 2019), we had needed space. Space to heal after our losses. When we lost our first we adopted a “get back on the horse” approach (if you’ll excuse the terrible innuendo) and tried again after three months, to get pregnant straight away. At the time it felt right, but when it came to being pregnant again, I was petrified. This time, after a six month wait, we felt mentally, emotionally and physically ready to try again. I was pregnant two months later. 

I remember us both having more of a sense of calm, this time. It’s amazing how resilient you become, despite the trauma of multiple losses; for us, it has made us feel stronger both independently and as a couple. We had a cuddle and a sense of calm washed over us both. Because the thing was, even if the worst was to happen for a third time, we were well prepared to deal with it – we knew the drill and felt prepared for anything. After being at my wits end during my second, I was determined to enjoy my third pregnancy. They tell you that every pregnancy is different, and so even the fact that we’d had two previous losses didn’t necessarily have any bearing on whether we would have another. We held onto this, not wanting to carry the sadness of our previous losses into this new, precious pregnancy. 

The other thing that contributed to this sense of calm was knowing that in Great Britain, you become eligible for testing via the NHS after three consecutive miscarriages (if you’re under the age of 35). So, in that event, we would be eligible for testing. And whilst it is an utter bummer that that’s the case, we at least had that to hold on to.

Now, it’s safe to say that this “sense of calm” was not something that I experienced throughout. It changed daily. Some days I felt calm and collected, other days I was on the verge of panic attacks, experiencing painful flashbacks and replaying the previous outcomes. At the time I was seeing a lovely therapist, who helped me to manage processing the previous losses and dealing with my new pregnancy (more on this later). 

Unfortunately, this pregnancy was not to be. I started bleeding early on in the pregnancy; which, while for many women is not a problem during pregnancy, for me this was an all too familiar early-onset sign of another miscarriage. 

Here we go again.

Back into hospital; mid-March 2020  

In the instance that a person has experienced a “missed miscarriage” (i.e. the pregnancy has stopped developing but the body hasn’t brought the miscarriage on yet), the patient is given options. The first, to wait for nature to take its course. The second, for “medical management”; where a pessary is inserted to soften the cervix and bring on the misscarriage. Or third, surgery; where the patient is taken into theatre (in my case, under general anaesthetic but I do believe in some cases this is done by local anaesthetic) and the pregnancy tissue is removed via the vagina.

I have gone full over-achiever on this and had all three. 

This time, I opted for the same as I had for my second miscarriage; medical. I’d had it before, I knew what to expect. I wanted to minimise any risk, and I wasn’t a fan of the thought of surgery.

At the time, this was mid-March and the word “Coronavirus” had become more than a scary word that only affected the larger cities. I think when you live somewhere like we do, in a little coastal town in the north west of England, it’s easier to believe that a pandemic will never make it to your little place in the world. But as the virus started to spread northwards, by the time we were in hospital, procedures were in place. No entry if you had a new cough or high temperature. We were advised that the guidance was changing by the hour and that there was a chance Mike would be asked to leave.

I had the medical procedure in the afternoon, and it was over later that evening. Miscarriage can be a painful, and sometimes frightening experience, so I was thankful that Mike had been allowed to be by my side. He held my hand, stroked my forehead, told me I was going to be okay. Brought me snacks. Called the nurse. Remembered details that I was too out of it to engage with when the doctors came in.

But later that evening, Mike was told he couldn’t stay. With my previous miscarriages, we have been extremely fortunate that the sensational nurses on the gynaecology ward set Mike up with a camp bed in the corner of the room so that I didn’t have to be alone. But this time, they gently explained that due to the changing guidance, Mike wouldn’t be able to stay overnight. 

I was so proud of myself that I didn’t stress, didn’t get upset; I just accepted that was the case and waited to see Mike the next day during visiting hours. It was already over, so I had nothing to do but rest, read and watch Netflix. Whilst it would have been a completely normal and acceptable reaction to be upset, I remember thinking to myself that this showed how much stronger and more resilient I had become.

The next day, I was experiencing pain and discomfort. I had an inkling that something wasn’t right; I didn’t feel that it was “over”. A scan later that morning revealed that I was right, and that this time, the pessary hadn’t successfully removed all of the pregnancy tissue. I was advised that to manage this, I would have to go into surgery. 

FOR F****S ACTUAL SAKE. 

Now, I did get upset. 

I was facing surgery, something I had never done before. I had thought that the pessary would do all of the work, that it would be over; it hadn’t and it wasn’t. I was alone, signing paperwork to state that I understood the risks and consented to being at the complete mercy of the surgeons. 

Now, it is absolutely true that the doctors and nurses were wonderful and the surgery was a complete success. This type of surgery is routine and extrememly common. But at that time, in a state of heightened upset and stress, I was frightened. I hated not having Mike with me. 

After the surgery the following day, Mike was allowed to sit with me whilst I recovered. 

We came home, ready to look after each other, and ready to surround ourselves with the support of our family and friends. 

Then, on the 26th March 2020, the country went into lockdown. This, undoubtedly, was the really hard bit.

Loss and lockdown 

Everyone copes with grief differently. Some people prefer to be alone, others surround themselves with friends and family. For Mike and I, our friends and family had been our place of refuge during our previous losses. 

But under the lockdown restrictions, I couldn’t see my mum and dad. I couldn’t hug my friends. I couldn’t go round to my sister’s for a brew

What we could do was sit in the house with our grief and not much else.

Now, this sounds like a lot of doom and gloom; and for a while, it was. 

Some days, we talked a lot. Others, we barely spoke to each other, going through the motions of waking up, eating, sleeping.

To be totally honest, we didn’t know what the hell to do with ourselves. When there’s nothing else you can do, you’re sort of forced to find things to distract yourself. There were a lot of jigsaws completed at the time (the perfect balance between needing to concentrate and not having to think too hard about it, would highly recommend.)

But after a while, we started to see silver linings. Because we had so much time to just be together, we talked more about our feelings. Whilst this had the potential to put enormous strain on our relationship, our previous losses had prepared us to understand what the other person needed. We’d had a lot of practise when it came to communication; I think that without that, being so on top of each other after something so heartbreaking would have been a lot harder. 

Not seeing our loved ones was hard. When we were allowed to start seeing people outside, it was a godsend. But I think for me, one of the hardest things has been no physical contact. Mike and I are both very physical people and we hug our loved ones constantly. Not being able to do so has felt totally unnatural, and has given us a new appreciation for what seems in the moment like a small gesture, but is a large part of our social dynamic and integral to our happiness.

Slowly, things started to change. Restrictions started to lift and social circles were allowed to widen. By this point our lifestyle had completely changed; we had gone from seeing our friends and family several times a week to barely seeing them at all. We were both working from home, and whilst we were incredibly grateful to be able to do so, it meant that we barely left the house either. The lack of normality has been a steep learning curve and has, in some ways, tied us more to our grief. 

To try or not to try? 

As I mentioned earlier, as I am under the age of 35 and have experienced 3 consecutive miscarriages, I am now eligible for testing under the NHS. However, after the pandemic struck, all non-essential services were stopped. This meant that we had no idea when we might be able to get any sort of testing done. 

What do you do in that scenario? Wait and hope the services will resume soon? Try again and hope for the best, risking another heartbreak? 

Being in this state of limbo has inevitably affected our recovery. We decided to wait, putting milestones in our minds for when we would give up waiting (“if we don’t hear by the end of X month, we’ll think about trying again” etc). Trouble is, when you’re on the road to parenthood, you can’t get off the road until you have a baby in your arms; whether naturally, via medical intervention, adoption or other means. Or, you make a decision that children won’t be a part of your life. This sense of perpetual waiting can be painful; even pregnancy itself is waiting, for 9 months in the hope that your baby will be born happy and healthy. So how do we navigate that waiting period without completely losing our minds? 

To be honest, I don’t think there’s any one answer to that. One thing that my therapist told me when I was stressing out about how to deal with pregnancy after loss, was to imagine the pregnancy that I wanted to have; how did the pregnancy look? How did I feel? What was I doing? How did I react to stressful scenarios? Whilst I won’t go into the detail here, this practice certainly helped me to deal with the severe anxiety that came with a pregnancy after two losses; as well as subsequently how to deal with the loss.

Anyone who has experienced baby loss will know the feelings; from guilt, i.e. “this is my fault” (it’s not) to questioning, i.e. “what have I done wrong?” (absolutely nothing unless you’re drinking, smoking and doing hard drugs on the daily) to despair, i.e. “this is never going to happen for me” (no one can predict the future and no two pregnancies are the same). 

And so this practice of imagining myself as a new person, stronger for her experiences, dealing calmly and rationally with anxiety and stress, did actually help me to create and become that person. It made the subsequent stress easier to deal with. (If you would like to see a separate post about this, let me know!) 

Thinking of others 

Relativity is a wonderful thing. Mike often says to me “it doesn’t matter if you’re drowning in 2 inches of water, or 2 metres; you’re still drowning”. He’s a wise old owl. 

So when I look at our experience, and then think of others, I have such empathy for those who have had it so much worse that we did. That’s not to say that our experience wasn’t difficult; but I can’t imagine the pain of having to go through baby loss, at any stage, without your partner or a loved one being able to be with you. 

A short while later, not one, but three of my close friends and family announced their pregnancies. (Separate, hopefully helpful post about dealing with other people’s pregnancies after loss on its way!) Whilst that ignited a whole host of emotions in Mike and I, one of them was huge empathy. I’d had a few weeks to start to worry about Coronavirus with my pregnancy; I cannot imagine what it must be like to carry a full pregnancy during a pandemic. It’s that waiting thing again; waiting for the moment when your baby is in your arms and hoping and praying that everything is going to be alright. 

And I’m sure that any parent will tell me that sense of worry doesn’t end when you have your baby – as my mum always tells me, she will always worry about my sister and I, because we’re her children. 

Remembering that we’re doing our best – and so are you

Now, we’re at what feels like a milestone in our journey; the one that comes after losses and before testing. The pandemic has meant that we don’t know exactly how long we’ll be here; for us, and others who are waiting for testing or others kinds of fertility treatment, it’s a hard slog. 

So while we’re here, we’re doing our best. If you’re here with us, know that you’re doing your best, too. There’s nothing that could have prepared any of us to deal with a pandemic; and experiencing any kind of life-changing event whether it be pregnancy, baby loss, financial struggles, bereavement, sickness, mental health issues or all of the above during this time is a challenge and a half. 

For now, I’m focusing on what’s in front of me. Keeping a milestone in my head (if we don’t hear by X time, we’ll start trying, etc.) helps me to let go of the worrying and wonder. So does letting go of the idea of a perfect pregnancy journey. This certainly wasn’t what I had in my head when I dreamt of Mike and I trying for kids, but it’s helped us to accept that things aren’t in our control. 

And when the time does come to either have our testing, or decide to try anyway, all we can do is remember that sense of acceptance and give in to the lack of control. Our journey to parenthood isn’t the beautiful, simple road we hoped it would be, but we’re stronger for it. And when we do have our baby, through whatever means that may be, it will be all the more precious.

A quick thank you to the NHS

💖💖A quick thank you to the NHS, especially Furness General Hospital, Ward 1 🏥👩‍⚕️👨‍⚕️

Whilst we battle the ongoing spread of the Coronavirus, it is so lovely to see all of the love and support for our NHS. Seeing windows filled with rainbows and people cheering, clapping and banging pots and pans at 8pm on a Thursday is nothing short of gorgeous and it is wonderful that their hard work and dedication is being celebrated during what is, for many, a really rubbish time.

Mike and I have another reason to thank the people of the NHS. Earlier this month, we found out that we were to go through our third miscarriage. Whilst this news was of course devastating, which somewhat eclipsed our worries about contracting the virus, we had no idea what this would mean for treatment and if I would even be able to go into hospital to be looked after.

We needn’t have worried. The staff on Ward 1, as they have been consistently throughout our first and second miscarriages, were nothing short of exceptional. It quickly became apparent that although a global pandemic may be taking place, and that additional measures were being implemented to address this, there were also patients that needed their help; pandemic or not. Mike and I were treated with the utmost care and attention, with such sincerity and sensitivity it made my heart warm despite a really upsetting situation. Each time we have been I’m always so blown away by the care and attention that the nurses, doctors and staff put into their care every single day.

So this is a small thank you, from our hearts to theirs. If you know someone that works at the hospital, please share this with them and let them know how grateful we are. That they continue to go into work so that we can be looked after in our hardest and lowest moments. We will never truly be able to repay that, but I hope that reading something like this helps them to know how much they are appreciated and admired.

Lots of love,

Jess