No matter what your opinion is on abortion, whether you agree with the 24 week limit or not, or even what your thoughts are on when life begins, losing the life of a child you looked forward to meeting and had hopes and dreams for, is always a trauma. Sometimes it’s more of an emotional than physical trauma and sometimes it’s both. The human heart is not cold or over calculating, it hopes and when those hopes are dashed, it makes the heart sick.
I have had two experiences of losing a very much planned for and longed for child. The first was at 20 weeks, I was already feeling her kicks and hearing her strong heartbeat, but worrying bleeding had me in hospital on and off for two weeks, after which life decided that it was not to be. Unaware that I was in labour, having never experienced the kind of pain that has you out of your bed walking back and forth trying to ease it, I went to the toilet only to feel “something” down there. At 2am I hobbled out to the nurses’ station (I had earlier broken the cord on the call button), I very calmly explained that I needed the doctor. The doctor came in to examine me and quietly told me that it was my daughter’s foot; she was climbing out of me, feet first. Elizabeth Joy Robinson was born at 8:42am on Tuesday the 6th September 2011.
If you have never seen a baby at that stage of life, you might be shocked by the image of them, however all my husband and I saw was our perfect little daughter and it broke our hearts that she was no longer with us. She had the most perfect fingers, hands, arms and toes, feet, legs. She was miniature perfection. She had her father’s lips, cheekbones and big eyes, definitely a Daddy’s girl. Losing her was, at that point, the hardest thing either of us had been through. But her life to us was precious and she left her mark. Even though she is unseen by the world, the very fact that she existed, even if only for a short time, changed us forever and that is what children tend to do to their parents.
My second loss was very different, I was 10 weeks along and we were already planning our lives around the little one. We had the first inkling that perhaps all was not right when I went for a scan at 9 weeks and found that the foetus was much smaller, only 6 weeks in size, but still with a strong heartbeat. We went home, not too panicked; it was possible that I had just ovulated late. But the following week I started bleeding and a scan on the Friday confirmed that there was no heartbeat and I was to expect to miscarry within the next two weeks. It was all very medical in explanation. I was offered no emotional support. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me, that we were losing another very much longed for baby. I was numb. The actual loss took 3 days even though they’d said it would come out all in one. It was horrible and painful. I turned 30 a couple days later and the loss compounded with the loss of Elizabeth and my father earlier that year came crashing down. I lay in my husband’s lap and sobbed for what seemed an age.
Having had two losses in different stages of pregnancy, I am well aware of how vastly different the “aftercare” is. In Edinburgh with Elizabeth, I was treated with utter respect and was given the most precious memory box from a charity called SiMBA. It contained foot and handprints of our daughter and other little things that we cherish. We had the use of a room for the whole day, which we spent with our daughter. Once back in London the midwives followed up and I was offered sessions with a therapist to help me through. I was seen by doctors and by all standards had top-notch care throughout.
With our more recent earlier loss, I was not even given a leaflet to direct me to further aid should I require it, the only leaflet I was given explained my options and not in the best detail – I could opt for the surgical route (ERPC) or to wait for it to happen naturally. I opted for the natural route, but I was left totally unsupported emotionally. The professionals were just that… professional. Before 14 weeks, that loss is scarily common. However, no matter how common early miscarriages occur, it is a unique emotional trauma each time. Hopes are dashed, dreams crumble and uncertainty takes their place.
In pregnancy, loss at any time can be hard to grapple with. Often it’s the emptiness that hurts the most, the space that you carved out in your life for your precious child lingers and only you can see it, feel it. It’s an invisible trauma to the world but a very real wound to those who’ve lost. I hope for a day when each woman’s loss is recognised, no matter at what point it occurs, and our view on the sanctity of life is not dictated by a timeline, but rather in every beat of our hearts.