Tomorrow we were looking forward to telling the world about our expected bundle of joy; baby number two, she was on her way. We had told our families already of course, some close friends knew too. In the current madness of the world, the global anxieties, the strain of Coronavirus on life as we know it, our joyous news would be a welcome relief. It certainly was for us.
We had a scan privately. The same nerves as last time filled my bones; would our baby be okay? Were we about to become one of the 1 in 4 people who loses a baby? I think it’s only natural to worry as you approach your first scan of a pregnancy – the very notion that you shouldn’t tell anyone about your pregnancy until at least the three month mark tells parents that prior to this your baby is a potential sad statistic. This is something I have always disagreed with. I am a firm believer that you should tell people as and when you want to, whether that be at 5 weeks or 10 or 12, or at 6 months, or even if you want to shout it from the rooftop the second that two minute wait is up and that stick in your hand shows those big blue lines, exactly where you were hoping they would be. But still, you cannot help but be nervous. I lay on the bed, pulled my trousers down low and my top up high, felt the cold of the jelly hit my stomach, firm from the fullness of my bladder, and I held my breath.
It didn’t take long for the sonographer to find her. Congratulated me on my ability to drink so much that my swollen bladder pushed my baby right into sight and on the recognition of my baby. “Congratulations!” She said it over and over. Silent tears of joy rolled vertically from my eyes into my hairline as I watched the ultrasound in front of us, as I watched my baby’s heart beating on the screen. Jonathan squeezed my hand in his and smiled at me. I have always loved him in so many capacities, but there’s something so unique about the love you share not just as partners but as parents. The sonographer took pictures for us and saved videos to email to us. She showed us our baby’s head, the start of her feet; she was even able to tell us which ovary had released the egg from which she’d grown. We left with an envelope full of pictures and hearts full of hope. We had minds full of dreams for our baby, sat alongside statistics; once you see a heartbeat the overall risk of miscarriage drops to 4%. After 8 weeks this drops again to 1.6 – 2%, which is around the same rate as post 12 weeks… when society deems the risk low enough to share your joy.
With our risk hovering around the 2% mark we relaxed a little. All pregnancies are somewhat anxious times. You don’t only feel happy to know you’re pregnant once you can statistically reduce your chances of miscarriage; from the moment you find out you’re expecting that baby you wanted so much you dream of their lives, you plan for their existence, you fall in love with the life in your womb. But once you have seen them once, and you know they are okay, it’s a feeling that can only be explained by experience. You still love them just as much as you did when you’d seen nothing more than two lines, but the planning and the dreaming becomes so much more real. Someone else, someone medically trained to do so, has told you that the hope you hold in your womb is growing. It is no longer hope. It is a reality. To step away from emotion, clinically your baby and your pregnancy has just been deemed viable. There is no reason that can be seen yet why in seven months time you won’t be holding your newborn in your arms.
We told Harry. He loves babies. Everyone’s babies. Babies on the telly, babies in stranger’s prams, my friend’s babies, his baby cousins, his toy baby… obsessed. He is gentle with them and so kind. He asks to kiss their chubby cheeks and stroke their velvet heads. When they’re no longer around he remembers them, asks me where they are and if they are okay. He asks when he can see them again, tells me how he would like to sing ‘Baby Mine’ to them, just like I do to him. It seemed so natural to tell him, especially now we had been told that our baby was doing well.
He was excited. Every day from the day we told him he has asked if the baby is okay. He climbs into our bed in the mornings and after giving me my cuddle he would lift my pyjama top and hug my swelling stomach against his cheek and gently say “good morning baby.” He has asked me over again whether she would play with him when she came out. “Of course she will” I would reply, beaming. “She’s your baby sister. At first she will be little and you can help mummy take care of her. But as she gets bigger she will learn to walk and to play and to talk and you can always play together.” I think he may have been almost as excited as us.
And then she was gone. The next ultrasound. Another screen. A doctor this time. She’s bigger now, I was told my bladder needn’t be so full this time. No Jonathan this time. The invisible virus that is ravaging the earth put paid to that nicety. I lay alone in a silent room listening to the deafening silence of my womb. Watching the haunting stillness of my baby on the screen. I looked at the sympathetic sadness of the Dr’s big eyes and I nodded my head at her before the words had even come from her mouth. Though she did, she did not need to utter a word. I knew. And once again, ultrasound screen before me, tears fell from my eyes and into my hair, except this time it was not the single tear that escapes when your joy overflows; they poured with no control, soaking my skin, my hair, the Dr’s white pillow, as my torso shook with the sobs that I couldn’t hold on to and I stared at my baby’s body, willing it to move, knowing that it never would again.
The Dr explained that our baby had died a couple of weeks prior. She was holding on to her Mama and my body was holding on to her. During that time I had continued to have morning sickness, my stomach had continued to expand, retaining water with the increase in hormones and my breasts were growing still, sharp pains coursing through them as they swelled, still preparing to nourish a baby that was already dead. It is a cruel phenomenon that is not entirely uncommon; it is called a ‘missed miscarriage.’ Essentially, your baby has died but your body missed the memo. The pregnancy continues, your symptoms continue, but the life inside you has stopped. Ordinarily in a miscarriage the pregnancy tissue and foetus passes out of the body not too long after the baby dies but in my case, and 3% of others apparently, my baby remained safe and snug in the warmth of my silent womb.
I felt both traumatised and comforted by this fact. That I had been walking around, overjoyed by my progressing pregnancy, anticipating the joy of the next scan, with my baby dead in my womb was difficult to digest. On the other hand I liked that she was still there, in a strange and I suppose nonsensical way, now that she could feel nothing, I liked the thought that she felt safe with me. I wanted to keep her there forever. If I could have, I am pretty sure that I would. But I was about to learn that that was not one of my options.
I only really had one option thanks to Coronavirus. In most cases there are three options, natural management (you wait for the body to let go of the pregnancy in its own time), medical management (pessaries to encourage the body to let go of the pregnancy) and surgical management (a general anaesthetic and then the pregnancy tissue is scraped from the womb). I didn’t want surgical management – a combination of being terrified of general anaesthetic and the Dr’s brutal use of the word scraped – which was good because it is not being offered as a first option during the current pandemic. The Dr advised against natural management due to the amount of time that had already passed without my body recognising the need to expel the pregnancy – if too long passes this can cause problems of its own. So we were left with medical management. She arranged this for me. There would be two full days between the scan and the procedure. I left to tell Jonathan that our baby was dead and to try not to let Harry see me distraught.
I worked the next two days. I didn’t know what else to do. It wasn’t because I felt I had to. Most people at work knew about the pregnancy and so I told them about her death too. I have been told I can take whatever time I need and have been offered so much love and support. Under normal circumstances – ie no global pandemic – I would not have gone into work. Working at home though I just needed to have somewhere I could be away from Harry. I pretty much cried those first few days straight, so at least locked away in the office he didn’t have to witness that. I still burst into tears with very little control but on and off. In those days that I awaited the medical management my brain throbbed with dehydration and my body just sobbed for my baby. I just wanted my baby back. I still do.
It felt so very surreal in those days, hidden away from my family so as not to upset my living baby with the raw grief I felt for my dead baby. We did tell Harry and I somehow managed not to sob. It’s amazing how as a mother you can draw strength seemingly from nowhere in order to protect your children. He cried. It was a painful screech that sat somewhere between heartbreak and tantrum. It only compounded my pain to know that in my womb sat a baby that was dead and in my lap a baby who was hurting, and there was little I could do about either. We comforted him, we tried to explain as gently, concisely and as clearly as you can to a two and a half year old. We said it was okay to be sad. Mummy and Daddy are sad too. We explained that she would always be his baby sister, and that she loved him very much. We told him we could plant her a rose bush in the garden where we could remember her and talk to her. We told him that one day Mummy and Daddy would try to put another baby in Mummy’s tummy and that hopefully that baby would come home to live with us, but that unfortunately this baby never would. This baby was too small to live in our house, but she will always live in our hearts. This baby would never grow up, but she would be with us forever.
The days that followed – which are actually only two between then and now but seem like they could have been both seconds and years – I feel deserve their own place, not on this same post. They have been days filled with both physical pain and mental anguish. With hours of heartbreak and moments I will cherish. They are days filled with all consuming love and feelings of emptiness like I have never before experienced. This week, and those days, will stay with me forever. Just like my baby girl.
And probably just like you feel you have if you’re still reading this 2000+ words in. So if you are, thank you. My baby was alive and she deserves to be known. Her name, is Olivia.
This article was originally published on Rosie’s personal blog, Words for Olivia.
About the Author
Rosie is 28 and lives in Oxford with her husband, son Harry and their dog, Nigel. She is mother to three children, Harry who is now three, Olivia who they sadly lost in March of this year and their third baby who she is busy growing. Rosie has a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing and has always enjoyed writing. Since losing Olivia, Rosie has found it incredibly therapeutic to write and talk about the reality of miscarriage in the hope of supporting other women who have experienced the same thing.