This story doesn’t have a happy ending. Bearing in mind some of the people who might read this, I thought I’d say up front that my tribe and I are all coping OK, and are still feeling delighted for our more fortunate friends. I don’t want there to be awkwardness, but I couldn’t cope with the secrecy any more. I’m not looking for sympathy, I just wanted everyone to know.
But first: kittens!
The first time I ever took a pregnancy test, it was because I really wanted a glass of prosecco.
I came off the pill in September 2012, but having been on hormonal contraception for more than eight years I was fully prepared for a long wait for my fertility to recover. In addition, I had no idea what my cycles would be like – I’d always been irregular, and didn’t expect that the various chemicals I’d been consuming to prevent babies would have helped. My first ‘natural’ period in nearly a decade came after only 25 days, but when my next one hadn’t turned up 30 days later I didn’t think much of it.
Which brings me to the test. For those counting along at home, we’re now up to November 2012. That was a crazy month for the inhabitants of Earth – Dan and I were still recuperating from the launch of Milestone Jethrik, a beast of an update to Three Rings which had involved many many late nights, but at the same time we were all rushing around preparing for Three Rings’ 10th birthday conference. We’d planned a drinks party at the end of the day as part of the celebrations, and after the countless hours of my life that Three Rings had by then consumed, I really felt like I deserved a slice of cake and a glass of fizz.
The day before the conference, my period still hadn’t come (at 34 days by that point). I decided to take a test, and then when it came up negative, I could drink my prosecco with a clear conscience.
It came up positive.
I sat in the kitchen, staring at the thing. Then I got up and paced around a bit. Then I raised my eyes heavenward and said something like “I really hope you know what you’re doing…”. I gave myself a little excited hug and then paced some more. And then, because it was the day before the conference and I had a lot to do, I went about my day, sorting gifts for the speakers, collecting the AV equipment, and generally making sure everything was ready.
The day of the conference passed in a blur. Every time I took a loo break I found myself staring in the mirror and trying on the label ‘Mother’ for size. I didn’t get my glass of prosecco. But I did have a small piece of cake. Pregnancy diets are all well and good, but I earned that cake!
JTA and I decided not to tell people until we were past the first scan at 12 weeks. We told Dan and Matt, naturally, and a few family members, but mostly we kept a lid on it. The first trimester is a risky time and neither of us wanted to jinx things. I nicknamed the little dude Jethrik, and teased JTA by pretending I wanted the kid to have that for a middle name. Our due date was the 27th of July, Samaritans Day (24/7 – Geddit?), and for all the talk of jinxes and risks I found myself thinking a lot about what life would be like when a tiny person arrived in our lives in the summer.
I started reading up on the subject of pregnancy, and did all the things I could find to give Jethrik the best start in life. I gave up pretty much all unhealthy food, started eating loads of wholegrains and washing all my vegetables, and even changed my commute to avoid cycling along congested (and therefore fumey) roads.
By the time Christmas came around, I was 10 weeks along and getting pretty excited about the whole thing. The extreme exhaustion I’d experienced in the early weeks was starting to pass off, and I still wasn’t having much trouble with nausea (except around fried bacon – the super-smelling skills I’d acquired weren’t always a blessing). It was weird spending the whole of Christmas sober (and having to try and explain my actions to all the various people we saw who weren’t in the loop), and not dipping in to the snacks with everyone else made me feel like a bit of an outsider. But my scan was only two weeks away, now – soon we could tell the world!
We got back from our annual Christmas Odyssey late on the 28th of December, and it was on that evening as we were all recuperating and gathering our energies for the Three Rings AGM on the 29th that I started to get some bleeding. It was only a little, and I knew that it probably meant nothing, so I dashed off a quick email to my midwife to let her know, and went to bed.
The AGM started just after lunch the next day, and as Managing Director I was chairing the meeting, so I put all thoughts of the bleeding which had worsened overnight out of my head and got on with the business of the day. Around 3pm I started to get cramps in my lower abdomen. I knew what that probably meant, but I also knew that there wasn’t anything that could be done to help, so I said nothing and we carried on with the meeting and the team Christmas Meal afterwards. Thanks to my voluntary first aid work with the Red Cross I knew the danger signs for haemorrhage, and I didn’t want to disrupt the meeting – it was the first time we’d got everyone together since recruiting a few very talented new volunteers, and we were getting a lot done. OK, so I’m a workaholic, but I still take a little faint pride in my professionalism at a time when I was miserable and scared.
After we got home from the meal (I don’t remember what time it was – everything’s a bit of a blur), I told Dan and JTA what was happening. I was in quite a lot of discomfort by then, and the bleeding was up to the level of a regular period. We went round to the John Radcliffe Hospital and after only quite a short wait I was seen by a doctor who took what felt like several pints of blood for tests and then sent me off to see the gynaecologist. I refused the offer of a wheelchair to get me over there, which left both the doctor and orderly confused – apparently, protocol is that patients are moved around the hospital by other people, not under their own steam – but I didn’t care. I was still clinging to the hope that there would turn out to be nothing wrong and I didn’t want to think of myself as an invalid.
The gynaecology ward was dark and eerie. It was the middle of the night by now and the residents were sleeping, so most of the lights were off while the minimal staff crept around trying not to wake anyone. We were sent into an examination room to wait for the consultant to come out of surgery, and someone stuck a pulse/oxygen monitor on my finger (mostly for something to do, as far as I could tell – my stats were fine).
When the gynaecologist arrived, he put me through a surprisingly uncomfortable exam and then told me that my cervix was still closed but in his opinion I was probably having a miscarriage rather than an ectopic pregnancy. Once I found out those were the options, I suppose I should have been glad it wasn’t worse, but mostly I just felt numb, and overcome by the unfairness of it all. I did everything the books said – why was this happening to me? It doesn’t work like that, of course, but it’s hard to be rational in the middle of the night when you’ve just found out you’re not going to be a parent after all.
The hospital staff felt that I was probably stable, so I was sent home in the early hours of the 30th and told to come back on the 31st when they would try and get me in for an ultrasound scan to find out what was happening with my insides. The boys took me home and I tumbled into bed for a good cry and a miserable attempt at sleep.
I have no idea what I did on the 30th. I don’t remember that day at all. Based on extrapolation from other times I’ve been sad and under the weather, I probably spent the day on the sofa watching Buffy, but I just don’t know.
On the 31st, I rose early and had a bowl of porridge. I was still sticking to my pregnancy diet, taking a kind of hopeless comfort in carrying on with the same routine I would have been following if everything was OK. In a stupid, superstitious way, I felt like if I pigged out on chocolate and then we lost Jethrik, it would be my fault.
JTA and I headed over to the hospital and camped out in the waiting room of the gynaecology ward. We’d been warned that they’d have to try and fit us in around all the scheduled appointments, so we were prepared for a long wait, but as it happened we were called up at 8 before the appointments started, thanks to one of the ultrasound operators arriving early.
The scan was the most difficult part of the whole thing. Sitting in the waiting room surrounded by excited couples, all I could think was that we were supposed to be like them – dammit, we were only ten days away! A short while later, we were ushered into a dark room and soon after that we were looking at Jethrik for the first time on the monitor. It was clear there was going to be no last minute reprieve. The little dude lay motionless at the very bottom of the uterus, and there was no heartbeat. It was the first time that the pregnancy had really felt real, and it was also the moment at which I realised it was really over.
Based on its length, our ultrasound operator estimated that Jethrik had stopped growing about two weeks earlier, never making it past the eight week mark. I’d had what’s called a ‘missed miscarriage’, where the embryo ceases to be viable but for whatever reason the mother’s body doesn’t notice. The operator was sympathetic, compassionate and understanding, but the simple facts were that the scrap of life which had been on its way to being our child had expired. I was handed a printout of the can results and sent back to the gynaecology ward for some more sitting around.
We made awkward conversation with another couple who were waiting for a scan. They also had a blue maternity folder, and I guess were in a similar boat. I wished the girl better news than us (and I still hope she got it). But mostly, I just read my book and waited to find out what would happen next. We spent what felt like a long time sitting in the waiting room (mostly uneventful apart from the brief period where I went to bits after a family with a young child came to visit someone on the ward), until finally a young doctor took us into the same consulting room we’d spent time in a couple of earlier. She explained the diagnosis to me – although I didn’t care much after “you’re not having a baby” – and then started talking about options. Apparently we had the choice between surgery (basically hoovering out the contents of my uterus) or waiting anything up to several months for nature to take its course. I didn’t at all like the sound of the latter!
Luckily, the JR were able to fit me in for surgery that same day to remove Jethrik’s remains. I was somewhat disturbed to find that the options for disposal of the embryo included taking it home with me (ick!) – we decided to donate it to science. Maybe our poor doomed offspring will still get to make a difference in the world, who knows?
And then it was all over bar the depressing phone calls.
It’s taken me a while to finish writing this, largely because I couldn’t come up with a nice conclusion to round it off. I’d like to be able to trot out a tidy moral; I drafted a couple of endings about getting stronger, how hopeful I am for the future and how grateful I am that we can at least try again at some point, but they sounded trite and irrelevant. The truth is, losing Jethrik sucked. I’m alright, most of the time, but it was a crappy thing that happened and I can’t pretend otherwise. Sometimes, I guess, things are just rubbish.
See also: JTA’s post on the subject