The Hardest Time Of My Life
A year ago our son was born. It was the happiest moment of my life. Although so much of those days is lost to sleep deprivation, the feeling of holding my son for the first time is something that I will never forget. And every day since then I have cherished as many moments with him as I can.
But getting there was not an easy journey - and that journey is not something I have talked about with many people, let alone in a public sphere. But at this point I am finally at a point where I can say this out loud.
We went through four miscarriages before having our son.
Many of my family and closest friends will be surprised to read that statement, as will almost all my colleagues.
Approximately 20% of all recognised pregnancies end in miscarriage. That is 1 out of every 5 pregnancies ends in miscarriage. That is not a small number, and probably means you know a few people who have gone through this devastating experience. And it is devastating. To have a child one day and then not the next is completely life changing.
And yet we don’t talk about it.
People going through this experience find it difficult to talk about. Other people find it difficult to talk about. It is not a comfortable conversation to have. But I am sure that if this was something that was more widely discussed, it would not be as difficult for those going through it.
So here's our story.
For all those who have been through similar, hopefully it helps you realise you are not alone. For those who have not experienced it, hopefully it gives you a glimpse into what people around you might be going through, without you even knowing. If nothing else, hopefully this helps raise awareness that millions of couples go through a hugely traumatic event every year. And maybe, just maybe, it will help people talk about it.
Having been with my wife since meeting at University in 2007, we got married in 2013, and moved to Peru in February 2014. My wife got pregnant in 2015, and we made the decision that she would stop working at the end of that year so she could be at home with our baby.
Life was good. We were enjoying our new life in Peru, we were travelling lots, and now we were going to expand our family. Plans for the next few years were starting to form. We were happy. The pregnancy was confirmed by the doctor, and we had fallen in love.
In June, the doctor told us that the baby was not growing as fast as it should be and that no heartbeat could be seen yet. We had to come back a week later to check the progress. A whole week of living in fear. Unknowing.
In the following appointment it was confirmed that the baby was not growing, and that my wife was well into having a miscarriage. But for some reason her body was not removing the fetus. She had to have surgery to remove our baby.
Our little baby girl.
It felt like a huge black hole had opened within me and swallowed my very soul.
Fortunately our school was very understanding, giving us both some time off, and then we had a 3 week holiday, and my in-laws were visiting. My wife needed that support. Understandably.
As if this wasn't enough to deal with, my wife ended up with an infection following the procedure. A week in hospital on antibiotics and a second procedure were needed. Just as we were starting to come to terms, and be relatively able to be around people, everything was brought crashing back into our minds.
When back at work you suddenly realise how very hurtful inconspicuous questions can be. "When are you two going to have a baby?" seems to be the default question to ask somebody when they are recently married. But that single question can shake somebody to the very core. It happened to me. Several times.
If you take one thing from this post, let it be this: don’t ask people questions like this. You have no idea what they are going through, and what you consider to be a light-hearted comment can bring people to near collapse. There will be people who you work with or socialise with who are going through something similar to this, and you are completely unaware. That single comment, said so flippantly, can scar them for years to come.
I didn’t tell people at work other than my line managers (who knew as I had taken time off) because I didn’t want to be pitied. I still don't. I didn’t really talk about it with anyone. I threw myself into my work. I stayed late, I took on responsibilities, I spent hours working on my website. I tried to distract myself from what I was feeling in any way I could. Not consciously, but looking back, I know that is what I did. I tried to support my wife as best I could. My way of acting strong for her was to not let my own feelings show. Perhaps that was a mistake; perhaps I should have opened up to her more at this stage.
We tried again.
1 in 5 pregnancies end in miscarriage, but the majority of these are first pregnancies. I was optimistic. It couldn't happen again.
Having one miscarriage is horrific. You feel awful every day. You feel like there is a gaping hole in your life. Something missing that you had. No matter how brief a time, you were a family, and that was snatched from you.
But that is nothing compared to the feeling of having a second miscarriage. Suddenly the things going through your mind are not feelings of depression about losing a baby, but feelings of depression about never being able to have a baby. That is a whole different level.
All future pregnancies are filled with constant worry. The optimism is gone. The thoughts going through your head are not "what if something happens" but "when will something happen". Living like that is near impossible. You start to question if you can keep trying. Can you go through that trauma for a third time? Should you just give up? Accept that you aren't meant to have children?
We wanted to be parents. But could we really cope with the agony of going through this again and again? Could we survive it?
I began to doubt everything.
I put on a happy face. People around me would not have known. But inside I was crying. Inside I was screaming. Inside, I was not the me I knew.
As bad as it was for me, I know it was worse for my wife. I got better at being properly supportive and opening up about how I was feeling after the second miscarriage, and we got through it together. If you are a couple going through a miscarriage my advice is to talk honestly to each other. You both need to hear that the other one is struggling and hurting. Don’t take it out on each other.
By the third miscarriage, it had almost become normal for us. The pain was not as sharp, but more of a dull aching of the soul. The knife was already in, this was just a little twist of the wrist.
The fourth pregnancy is a blip in my memory. I barely remember it as it was so run of the mill.
When we reached the second trimester of our fifth pregnancy (the one which eventually led to the birth of our son), we were on high alert. So many people talk about enjoying their pregnancies. We never got that experience. The whole pregnancy was filled with worry (and a host of drugs being pumped into my wife on a daily basis). It was a means to an end. An end I was always skeptical we would reach.
But we did. On 20 November 2017 our son was born. And life changed again.
I doubt that was easy reading. It was certainly not easy to write. It is a glimpse into the most difficult time of our lives. It does not do justice to the true feelings we felt.
As a teacher I question whether we should be doing more to educate our students about this reality? I know I was not taught that this was a possibility (and at 20%, not an insignificant possibility).
But as a person I just want everyone to know, that this is a reality for many people. It is probable you know several people who have gone through a miscarriage (be that recently or long ago). Or even were unable to get that far, unable to even get pregnant in the first place (that must be a completely different experience to which I cannot comment).
So be aware of what you say. Be there to support people who look like they might be going through a tough time (though don’t force them to share, but be there if they want to).
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