Friday, November 09, 2007

That empty feeling

Losing one baby was devastating enough, but multiple miscarriages left Kate Mulvey unable to cope. She explains why she can’t face trying again

When Oscar was christened in March, it was one of those memorable family celebrations. Photographs of mother and baby sit proudly on my mantelpiece. But each time I look at the pictures, I gulp with sadness. It is not me holding the baby. Oscar is my sister’s second child.

Six years after my first miscarriage — I have had three — the grief is still raw and the emptiness is overwhelming.

It seems odd now, but when I first saw that ominous blue line appear on the pregnancy stick all those years ago, I was horrified. I was 34, and the last thing I wanted was a screaming baby. My boyfriend was evidently thrilled. “Can we talk about this after the weekend?” he asked, annoyed that the news might interfere with his partying.

At eight weeks, the boyfriend had gone, and I was lying on a bed in hospital, staring intently at the scan. “There it is,” I said excitedly, pointing to what looked like a piece of larva on the screen. And that was when the nurse told me it was dead.

I awoke the next morning and felt like I had been kicked in the head by an elephant. I was numb, but as my body mended, the emotions weighed in. At first, I was annoyed that I had these feelings, and I didn’t want to deal with them. Losing my baby was an incredibly isolating experience. I didn’t think anybody would understand.

When my sister came over to my flat to check on me, I dug my fingernails into the palms of my hands so I wouldn’t cry. As soon as she left, I fell on the floor, gripping my stomach with grief. Ten minutes later, there was a knock, and I saw her Prada sunglasses on the sofa. I looked at my blotchy face, panicked and slapped on a face pack before opening the door, so she wouldn’t know I had been crying. She looked bemused; I looked like something out of a Carry On film.

When I found out I was pregnant for the second time, a day shy of my 37th birthday and with a much nicer boyfriend in tow, I felt a sense of euphoria. I was back in the special club, and I bought every pregnancy magazine on the newsagent’s shelf.

I lost my second baby at 12 weeks. We were sunbathing at my boyfriend’s villa in Marbella and talking names. I looked down and noticed spots of blood. I brushed the fear aside, but when I started to feel severe period-like pains, I knew something was wrong.

I can still remember lying on the bed. The sheets were soaked with sweat, and I was writhing in animal pain. At about midnight, a sac of what looked like coagulated blood, the size of a baseball, plopped into the loo, followed by lots more blood, and an hour later we realised we had inadvertently flushed away our baby.

The indifference of the Spanish hospital staff didn’t make things any better. Even though there were still bits of the foetus left in my womb, they said it would be better to let the remainder pass naturally, and I returned to England wearing a nappy.

To make things worse, back home, most of my peer group either were pregnant or had a bundle attached to their hip. Friends tried to stick their helpful little oars in. “At least it was only 12 weeks,” one said, bouncing her baby on her knee. “I know someone who had a stillbirth.” I felt like hitting her. As it was, I smiled and left the room. After that, pregnancies were announced in hushed tones, with a sideways glance to check for tears rolling down my cheeks.

Then, one afternoon, I went to visit an old friend who had just given birth. I sat in silent agony as she gave me her baby. As I held the tiny frame and smelt that unique baby smell, the years of grief and sadness that I had squished so far down came welling up, and I can describe what I felt only as a sort of breaking-down.

For a while, I was unable to cope. Everyday tasks seemed impossible, and when I left the house, I would find it difficult to focus on anything. When I met friends with babies, I was insanely jealous, but I sat with the discomfort of my emotion, saying nothing until it overwhelmed me. That’s the trouble with miscarriages — in the end, you fall apart.

Sadly, multiple miscarriages are all too common. One in 20 women will have two miscarriages. More worrying, women who have already miscarried twice are 30% more likely to miscarry a third time. And, as couples leave trying for their first baby until their late thirties, the rate of recurrent miscarriages increases.

Last year, I lost my third baby. Strangely enough, even though I had reached the end of my emotional road, on some levels this miscarriage was easier to deal with. It happened only a few days after I found out I was pregnant, and it felt just like a heavy period. When I expelled the tiny embryo, there was a sort of déjà vu quality to it.

While the mechanics of the miscarriage were a piece of cake, I am still experiencing the dull ache of someone who is emotionally spent. What’s more, at a time when I need more kindness, people have run out of well-meaning clichés. The message seems to be: sort yourself out quickly and don’t bother me. And who can blame them?

I’m tired of mothers who have had a miscarriage and say they understand how I feel as they cradle their baby. What they cannot imagine is the pain of losing one baby after another, the devastating feeling of loss, over and over again, and the thought that you are unlikely ever to be a mother. I don’t think I can take on such emotional and physical extremes for it all to go wrong again.

That said, I have learnt to handle my grief, even if it rears its ugly head every now and then. Years ago, I used to avoid contact with anybody who had children, including my sisters. Now, my priorities have changed. I collect my nephews and nieces from school twice a week and I take them to the cinema or the park. We have developed a special relationship, and I enjoy every minute of it. My grief never goes away, but it has become a part of me that I have learnt to live with.


St Mary’s Recurrent Miscarriage Clinic, St Mary’s Hospital, W2; 020 7886 1700 , a comprehensive site for information about all aspects of miscarriage. The Miscarriage Association helpline is open 9am-4pm, Monday to Friday; 01924 200799.

A database of counsellors in Britain is available at .

Miscarriage: What Every Woman Needs to Know by Lesley Regan (Orion £8.99) and Trying Again: A Guide to Pregnancy after Miscarriage by John Sussman and Ann Douglas (Taylor Trade £12.99)


No comments: