I am pregnant again, almost 12 weeks. I'm healthy, and I'm taking everything I should—naps each afternoon, folate tablets, iron boosters. But then it begins— a brownish smear on my underwear.
Within 48 hours, the smear becomes heavier and darker, then an inkling of pink.
I speak to my husband and family.
“Wait and see,” they say. My husband and I have our 12-week ultrasound the next day. I call a friend who has miscarried twice. I ask all the questions. I need to know what to expect.
I call the doctor. She sends me to emergency. Two hours later, my husband and I finally talk to a nurse. She uses phrases such as, “possible nonviable pregnancy,” “pathways of treatment” and “spontaneous abortion.” I feel helpless. I try to catch my husband's eye but he's looking elsewhere. I start crying. This is my baby we are discussing— life and death. The nurse tells us to return to the ultrasound clinic. It seems no-one wants to touch me.
God is the Lifegiver. In the moment of a new creation, God is. When two people conceive a child, God is. When a baby takes form in the womb, God is. When a baby takes its first breath, God is.
The sonographer places gel on my stomach. I'm too scared to look at the screen. “It looks eight weeks old,” she says. Could I have my dates wrong? Is this just a small baby? “Is there a heartbeat?” I ask timidly.
The sonographer places her hands firmly on my stomach. “I'll get a second opinion.” She leaves the room to talk to the radiographer. Thank you for caring enough to touch, I think to myself.
The radiographer and the sonographer return to the room. A pause, then the radiographer says, “I'm sorry, your baby has died.”
One in four pregnancies in Australia ends in miscarriage, according to the Bonnie Babes Foundation, an international non-profit organisation that raises money for medical research and provides counselling for families grieving the loss of a baby. The foundation says that in many cases, doctors can't identify the cause. If there is a cause, the mother usually has little control over it.
My husband and I return home, and now I'm angry. Why should this happen to me? I ask myself. I need an outlet for my anger. I start beating the doona.
I throw a family photo on the floor, smashing the glass in the frame. My husband quietly cleans it up. He doesn't know what to do. I'm angry and alone.
It's 12.40 am. I sit on the toilet in agony but every contraction brings the end closer. My husband holds my hands and gets me a warm pack for my feet.
Norah Jones sings softly in the night.
It's not meant to be like this, I cry. My head is spinning because I'm losing so much blood. I pass a large clot.
Could that have been my baby? What type of a mother am I, flushing my baby down the toilet? I cry with terrible guilt.
Counselling psychologist Diane McGreal says death seems most remote during early pregnancy. She says miscarriage may be the last type of death to which we accord its due. McGreal bases these statements on a 12-month study of how parents coped in grieving for the loss of a child following miscarriage or stillbirth. “One of the greatest problems faced by parents of babies who die through miscarriage or stillbirth is the failure of families, friends [and] doctors ... to recognise their grief has arisen from the real death of a real person,” she says.
“Legitimising the grief process for parents experiencing the loss of their child during pregnancy or at birth appears to be a major factor in encouraging parents to move through the grief process.” The doctor makes an appointment for me at the regional hospital's maternal health clinic. My husband and I sit in the waiting room with all the expectant mothers. Pictures of babies suckling their mother's breast and mothers cradling their babies adorn the walls. I feel they are taunting me. How could the hospital overlook this aspect of care? We see the gynaecologist—death shortens waiting times. He confirms what we already know. She is gone.
Telling people the news is therapeutic— my husband comes home each day with other stories of women losing children. It is sad but it is also comforting to know we are not alone.
Others have experienced the pain and have survived. We plant a tree in our front yard.
Another revelation: when God thought about my baby, He smiled in anticipation. When I conceived my baby, He felt proud. “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body” (Psalm 139:15, 16a). When her heart stopped beating, He cried. I have my husband to hold me. Whom does God have?
When I get to heaven, I know God will restore my child to me. It doesn't matter whether He places a baby in my arms, puts her back in my womb or introduces me to an 18-year-old. It will be a perfect beginning. And she will be a perfect child. (Or he—I love boys, too!) A friend who has suffered two miscarriages returns an email. “I feel we are left with sufficient comfort in the character of God and His loving mercy and grace,” she writes. God is, indeed, good.
Sources: B Sheridan, “Miscarriage and stillbirth: what are their causes and how can they be prevented?” You are part of our lives and will always live in our hearts, compiled by R Stanfield-Porter, Bonnie Babes Foundation, Canterbury, Vic, 2001.
D McGreal, “I just wish we could talk about it,” You are part of our lives and will always live in our hearts.