Dark days can lead to sleepless nights
Stuart shares his experience of miscarriage of an IVF pregnancy, and the importance of being open and honest.
Key to getting over those first few days was talking with my wife, being open and honest about our feelings. We’d said from the start of our pregnancy journey that we were in this together – whatever the outcome, baby or not...
They started as soon as the door behind us closed. I’d been holding them off, as bravely as I could, since we were given the news moments ago by the oh-so stern and slightly dismissive sonographer at the early pregnancy clinic at our local hospital in Bristol – but I guess she has to be like that in order to cope, all too often having to give couples the news they most dread. Alone in that room together time seemed to stand still; alone in the room which I suspect no one ever wants to have to go into. Once they started, they took a long time to stop, but eventually they did.
My wife and I married in 2002, having been together a number of years prior. Our journey to start a family was no different to anyone else’s, but after a year or two of no success, it became clear that we might need some sort of help. After numerous trips to our GP, a referral to the excellent Bristol Centre for Reproductive Medicine and a couple of exploratory operations, we were resigned to the fact that IVF would be our only chance of becoming parents. ‘Stay positive’ we told ourselves, ‘the wonder of science has helped millions before us, so we have a chance’. Our first IVF attempt, in the spring of 2009, was unsuccessful – it simply didn’t work. We picked ourselves up from the obvious disappointment, consoling ourselves somewhat from the fact that IVF success is broadly one in four – everyone can’t hit the jackpot first time, can they?
We decided to wait a couple of months and then have another go, ensuring that we continued with our lives as normally as possible while waiting and not becoming too obsessed with our drive to become parents. With slightly increased confidence of knowing what to expect second time around, we were both ecstatic when the little line appeared in the pregnancy test kit several weeks later. ‘We’ve done it, we’re pregnant’, we both thought, ‘we’ve made it’. In hindsight, and to use a running analogy, the gun had only just been fired – this was the start of the race, with many hurdles left to overcome during the following nine months – IVF was simply the help we needed to get to the start line.
The following weeks passed quickly, both of us trying to balance our excitement – which had been building for some time – with the reality of what the next nine months may bring. Little did we know that all would change so quickly?
After about ten weeks after finding out we were pregnant, my wife got an inkling that something might be wrong. We initially talked ourselves into the fact that it could be due to a number of things – the worst didn’t always happen, did it? – but we decided to get go for a check at our local hospital. As we sat waiting that Friday morning in August 2009, I remember thinking that all would be OK – we’d had our fair share of difficulties up until now, surely all would be alright?
After a nervous wait, eyeing up the others sat in the waiting room, we were ushered into see the sonographer. Once in her treatment room, I sat looking at my wife on the couch – nervous smiles between us, nothing more, no words at that stage. The dreaded image appeared on the screen – the outline of a very small foetus, but different this time from when we had our six week check at the fertility clinic – no little flickering heartbeat. The sonographer confirmed the worst – it had stopped living a couple of weeks prior, we had suffered what’s known as a missed miscarriage.
And that’s when it felt like our world had ended. I fought back that awful feeling in my stomach which one gets fortunately only very rarely, one that desperately wants to make you sick and manifest itself in uncontrollable tears. But the tears didn’t come then – it still strangely felt a bit ‘public’, in front of this hospital worker who we didn’t know from Adam but had just changed our lives forever. I remember grabbing my wife’s hand and squeezing it so tight, somehow hoping that the harder I squeezed the more likely the whole horrible situation would go away; we looked at each other but still couldn’t speak.
We were then ushered into the ‘quiet room’ at the end of the corridor – and then the tears came, both of us not quite knowing what to do.
My first thought was for my wife. I assumed that, given it was her body and mind that had been through the two rounds of IVF, administering drugs every three hours like clockwork, that she was feeling ten times worse than me – she had been carrying what was to be our baby. We plucked up the vocal strength to ask each other how the other one was – our first words to each other in ten or so minutes, and what a stupid question – ‘I’m doing just fine thanks’ was never going to be the answer.
I can’t honestly remember what we talked about, but after a while the immediate tears stopped, we saw a consultant – again, can’t really remember what she said to us – and were sent home.
And then the tears started again – the familiarisation of home triggering more emotion. They reappeared when we had to share the news with our family and friends, most who knew we had been through IVF and were keeping everything crossed for us. And back they came again, stronger than a Take That comeback tour, when we climbed into bed that night and turned the lights out on what had been a long, long day. And there they were again when the first bunch of condolence flowers arrived the following day.
But, over a relatively short period of time they dried up. The reality bedded in – we had lost a baby at a very early stage, but being as positive as we could, the situation would, we judged, have been much worse had my wife been further along in the pregnancy. And we drew strength from the fact that others had been through this, including close family and friends, whose support and words in the immediate aftermath were invaluable – we weren’t the first, and, sadly, we wouldn’t be the last to experience this. Very close friends who had been on their own pregnancy journey were particularly inspiring (you know who you are). We also drew on wider sources of information for comfort, including material on the Miscarriage Association’s website.
Key to getting over those first few days was talking with my wife, being open and honest about our feelings. We’d said from the start of our pregnancy journey that we were in this together – whatever the outcome, baby or not, the journey began as the two of us together – and we were determined that this would be the case at the end of the journey, whether we were still a two or had grown to be a family of three, four or even more. And this was the biggest thing I learnt – don’t sacrifice what you’ve already got at the absolute expense of achieving your goals.
But I also learnt other things from our experience. Clichéd as it is, stay positive – you have to believe that your time will eventually come. But, as best you can, try and keep a balance – try not to let the drive to become a parent take over your life and be so all encompassing that you lose perspective on reality. Continue to do the things you like doing – they’ve helped you get to where you are today, why change that now, although you may have apply some sort of sensible moderation of course. And, when – and if – you’re ready, use the people who have been through similar – whether they’re medical professionals, friends and family, work colleagues or anyone else, you’ll be surprised at how much support there is out there.
And that leads me to my final observation – if you can find the strength to talk about your experiences, you’ll also be amazed at how many other people have suffered a miscarriage. I was staggered how many people told me their story, or their brother’s story, or a sibling their parents lost when they were younger. While not everyone will want to be open – we’re all different after all – miscarriage shouldn’t be a taboo subject in society these days. And these are points we should draw collective strength from, while respecting an individual’s rights and wishes to grieve, cope and talk about their experiences in different ways.
On 17 April 2011, Stuart ran the Virgin London Marathon for the Miscarriage Association, raising over £2000. His wife gave birth to their first child three weeks beforehand.