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Partners also need support after miscarriage

Scott shares his experience of miscarriage, pregnancy after loss and how important it is for partners to be able to find support.

Everyone we know was supportive, but I was struggling to cope... My brother in law sent me a text asking how I was coping and it was as if a weight was lifted. People naturally support the mother of the child, but few had specifically remembered that I'd lost a child as well.

“How are you coping?”

4 words that I found impossible to answer when I was asked them. I’d spent the previous 48 hours in a daze, concerned with my wife’s welfare and how she was coping. Nobody had asked me until then.

48 hours prior, I’d heard the 4 words which will haunt me until the day I die… “There is no heartbeat”. Laura’s pained crying the second we were told our baby had stopped growing at 8 weeks will never leave me either.

Everyone we know was supportive, but I was struggling to cope with the simple daily tasks, even getting out of bed, and the depression I’d been coping with for almost 10 years was getting the better of me again.

My brother in law sent me a text asking how I was coping and it was as if a weight was lifted. People naturally support the mother of the child, but few had specifically remembered that I’d lost a child as well.

We hadn’t told anyone out with our parents that we were expecting a child, so when I got a call at work from Laura to say she had some spotting for the third time that week and was in no fit state to stay at work I had to leave. Instantly. How do you explain to colleagues why you are suddenly having to leave and you are in a state of panic? You’re not supposed to tell anyone before the 12 week scan after all. I managed to tell a colleague exactly why and swore them to secrecy in case it was good news and we could stick to the 12 week plan.

We got an appointment with EPAS (Early Pregnancy Assessment Service) for a scan for the Friday and then set about trying to stay positive for the next couple of days. We binge watched ‘Scandal’ that week and we can have a rueful smile now at the first point we both knew we were getting bad news, when the character Mellie lied about having a miscarriage. I just knew that ‘Life’ was getting its first shot in then.

On the Friday we were driving up to the hospital for our EPAS appointment and Laura’s mum and dad called from New Zealand where they were on holiday, to thank us for a voucher we’d given them for a meal over there. They were full of the joys of life and we couldn’t tell them where we were headed, so we made up some excuse for us both being off work and having to end the call early. That was the second point I knew for sure. The third point came as we were walking in to EPAS and a young couple were leaving with a scan photo in hand, looking like they’d had the news they were dreading – she was pregnant. We’d spent months of fertility treatment getting to this point and we knew then for sure that we weren’t leaving with a scan photo.

The scan itself was fairly straightforward, but when the nurse called in a colleague and they both silently nodded their assent and the nurse told us she couldn’t find a heartbeat, well there are no adequate words. In that instant I’m expected as the father of the child to take in the news and offer support to my wife instantly. I’ve no issue with that, I wasn’t the one in physical pain or having to decide how to have our child removed, but it’s an incredibly difficult thing to do, especially when you have a history of poor mental health.

When we got back to the car the iPod continued to shuffle as it had been on the way up. The first song that came on was “Just the Two of Us”, followed by “Every Time You Sleep” and then “Fix You” – 3 songs I can’t listen to these days without welling up – and if we didn’t laugh at the irony of those random songs today we’d crack up.

We went home and phoned my parents, my mum answered the phone and I couldn’t speak, literally couldn’t speak, but she somehow knew what I had to tell her. By this point it was long past bed time in New Zealand so we had a FaceTime call with Laura’s parents to prepare for later that day. It was interesting to compare the responses, neither were wrong but very different. My mum was very much in the category of taking time to grieve properly while Laura’s mum was more pragmatic and felt it was nature’s way, as the baby wasn’t developing. Both felt they were offering the best advice but it’s interesting to note that different people react to these things in different ways and the advice can seem contradictory.

The day after the miscarriage I went down to New Lanark with a close friend to take some pictures. I wanted to be anywhere else that day but we often went down there to relax so it seemed an obvious place to go. I can’t remember taking a single photograph that day. He and his wife had a one year old daughter at that point and they had encountered a scare with some spotting and a rush to EPAS for a scan during the early stages of the pregnancy. Thankfully they received good news and went on to have a healthy little girl. I mean him no harm as he was obviously trying to help in his own way, but he said something that day that will always stick with me – “You’ll forget all about this one day”. He didn’t understand, he couldn’t – I hope he never does – but his moment of panic had a happy ending, mine didn’t.

Another friend told me on the day of the miscarriage that he had lost a child in the early stages as well and that “not a day passes where I don’t think of that child”. I thought he was exaggerating but I can attest to the accuracy of that statement as I can honestly say that I think of my lost child at some point every day. Even if it’s just a split second, the most random thing will remind me. A lyric in a song, a line in a TV Program or even just a throwaway comment. You don’t just lose a child, you lose a lifetime of firsts – their first birthday, first day of school, first word. We weren’t just planning a child, we were planning a lifetime.

Strangely on the Monday when we went for the D&C procedure we both felt very detached from the whole process, as if it was happening to someone else. We were asked if we wanted a scan photo of our child to keep and we declined. We still agonise over that. Some days I wish we had something to remember them by, others I’m convinced we made the right decision.

We decided that night to get away for a couple of days to try and come to terms with it all and even booked a holiday in Tenerife to give us something to focus on. We visited Laura’s aunt in Forfar for a few days, she was a former midwife who had also suffered a miscarriage so was very understanding of our situation. She recalled having to go back to work as a midwife following her miscarriage which I can only imagine was painful.

From talking to my brother in law after that text I was able to release a lot of my anxieties and worries, attending a miscarriage support group and speaking to Cigna (a workplace healthcare provider which provided counselling) further helped me along the way. It’s an ongoing process though. My birthday that year followed pretty quickly and I can honestly say that in a room surrounded by the people who love me most in the world I felt totally alone and I felt guilty at ‘celebrating’. We were due to start fertility treatment again so we were both on the soft drinks as ordered. What we were blissfully unaware of at the time though was that Laura was pregnant again.

On our second to last day in Tenerife Laura felt a bit unwell and she suspected she’d fallen pregnant, so we purchased a test and she confirmed the news. My reaction the first time was like a happier version of Hugh Grant’s opening lines in Four Weddings, this time? “Oh, ok… Where do you want to go for dinner?”. Obviously great news, but neither of us were as euphoric this time around. Friends and family assumed that we’d be overjoyed. We were obviously happy with the news, but the overriding emotion was one of fear and anxiety that we’d be back to EPAS again. Which in fact we were, but for a ‘reassurance’ scan this time rather than any emergency reason. They offer these scans for parents following miscarriage so that they can, hopefully, be reassured that everything is fine, which is a great service. This time we left with a scan photo in hand and we allowed ourselves a moment of happiness, before retreating into the cautious state that we’d maintained.

Throughout the whole pregnancy we were terrified. Literally terrified in case we miscarried again. Both mothers were in their element preparing for the new arrival. We bought everything for the baby at the appropriate time so we were ready. As time passed and each scan showed a healthy baby the anxiety eased slightly, but our neighbours had lost a baby at a very late stage so it never fully left us. It was almost a taboo subject in the house unless it was essential to discuss it. I feel a bit robbed of the excitement that we should have been feeling really.

On Christmas Eve 2017 we became parents to the beautiful Eilidh, and on holding my daughter for the initial skin to skin contact I was in floods of tears. It was a mix of emotions, primarily the emotion of holding my newborn daughter but there was also a significant amount for the child we’d lost.

It’s a difficult thing to try and explain but there’s a lot of guilt at times which I have to process. The anniversary of the miscarriage and what would have been the child’s first birthday are sad days, and I feel a lot of guilt being sad on those days when we’ve been blessed with a daughter. I’d lay down my life for Eilidh but there’s this horrible feeling of guilt when I mourn her brother or sister, as had they survived then Eilidh wouldn’t be here. Similarly, in the moments where we are celebrating Eilidh’s first birthday, steps, words etc. then my mind often wanders to the lost child and those happy moments are tempered somewhat. It’s wrong, it’s not healthy and it’s not helping anyone but that’s the way my mind is wired unfortunately.

There are ways in which I can use the miscarriage in a positive way. Firstly, I got through it. I thought our world had ended that morning but we came through it. Secondly, whenever Eilidh is having a tantrum I’m able to take a step back and tell myself “If you’d told me on the 10th February 2017 that I’d be dealing with this I’d have taken your arm off”, it’s true, and I am then able to deal with the situation a lot more calmly.

The key message though is to talk to someone. I was so caught up in supporting Laura that I forgot to look after myself after the miscarriage and during the pregnancy nobody would quite understand why we were so anxious.

The 4 key words I’d urge you to listen to if you are struggling with mental health –

Please talk to someone.