by Jacqueline Crompton Ottaway
A miscarriage is usually a sad experience for most people, although everyone’s time and circumstances are different. In my case, I already had two children, a boy aged five and a girl aged nearly three. I had decided that I would like a third child, but when I discussed the idea with my husband he wasn’t keen as he had just started his own business working from home and he felt that we were in a vulnerable position financially.
However, when he saw how much I wanted to have another child, he agreed that we could try. At the time, I had a part-time job which we were relying upon to provide enough money to feed all of us. After about three weeks, I could see how strained he felt at the possibility of feeding and clothing another child without the extra support from my part-time work. I agreed to put the idea of a third child on hold until we were more financially secure and he was established in his business. At this stage, I planned to start taking the contraceptive pill after my next period.
Typically, at the end of that month, we were stunned to discover that I was already pregnant. The first three months of the pregnancy proved to be quite stressful. I was under a lot of pressure at work because I was relieving for a full-time position doing ten hours per week. Consequently the work there was piling up. At home, many friends needed me to mind their kids, look after their pets while they went on holiday while I also had to give extra support and help to my husband and his business partner in their new venture.
I remember my father saying to me, “You’ll have to slow down or you could lose this baby. ” Although I realised that he was worried about me because my mother had experienced a number of early miscarriages before I was conceived, I just laughed and said, “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be all right, Dad. ”
During those three months I felt more strained than I had with my other pregnancies. and I also noticed that whenever I pegged out the washing I felt a slight “pulling ” sensation in my womb. At the time, I thought that this was because the baby was my third child, but later on I realised that this feeling probably indicated that the placenta was not attached as firmly as it should have been.
The May holidays arrived and I juggled my working commitments with the children’s needs. A friend asked me to call in for a cup of tea on my way home from work and while I was there I went to the toilet. It was a shock to discover that a mucus plug had come away and that I had slight bleeding. I rang my husband, who worked at the same place I did, and he said that he’d meet me at home straightaway.
We arrived home at about the same time and rang the doctor’s surgery. The nurse advised complete bed-rest. At this stage, I did not have much bleeding, but I did have some backache. I lay on the bed in the spare room upstairs and thought how desperately I wanted to keep this child. Already in three months, the baby had become part of my life and the children, especially my daughter, were looking forward to its arrival. I put all my energies into concentrating on positive thoughts for this new life that lay encircled within me, trying to hold on to her (for some reason, I was convinced that this child was a girl) and keep her in my world.
Later that afternoon a mid-wife and a doctor came to visit. The doctor was more positive about my chances of holding on to the baby, but the mid-wife whispered to me that my increasing backache was not a good sign. She also added, with a sympathetic smile that she, too had undergone a miscarriage recently.
Through the afternoon and evening the bleeding and backache slowly worsened. Luckily, my Dad had come up to stay with us in case I had to go to hospital. By about eleven o’clock that night my husband and I decided that we should go to National Women’s Hospital. We both realised that it looked as though I was going to lose the baby. When we arrived there, a doctor confirmed my fears and told me, in a kind and gentle way, that a miscarriage was now inevitable. They gave us a room on our own and my husband sat beside me. We talked about lots of things, of the good times we’d had with our families and our two children. Although it was a sad time, it was also a poignant time as we expressed our gratitude for the other two pregnancies that had turned out so positively.
By about three in the morning, the bleeding was much worse and I began to feel dizzy. My husband cranked up the bed to try and make me feel less light-headed. This helped a bit, but I decided that this was only a short term solution and he’d better call a nurse. When the nurse arrived, she got the doctor who made an immediate decision to give me a D&C operation to clean out the womb.
I was terrified when I went into the operating theatre. I had never had an anaesthetic before and was unsure how I would react to it. The anaesthetist recognised my fear and took great trouble to reassure me. I will never forget how kind he was because to him, this would have been a minor, routine operation. But to me, it was a traumatic experience!
The worst part came when I awoke from the operation the next morning. I felt numb with grief. The starkness of my loss overwhelmed me and I could not think of anything that could console me. If I’d had the strength, I felt as though I could have walked over to the window and jumped out. Of course, my rational mind told me how silly I was being, but at this point I no longer felt rational.
Probably the only thing that helped me keep my sanity was the look of love on the children’s face when they rushed into the ward with their father waving home-made cards that they had laboured over that morning. Afterwards, I often wondered how women who had no children coped with their loss of miscarriage.
When I arrived home, everyone rushed around after me and was really kind. My husband was shattered by the experience and he wanted me to rest and get completely well again. Friends arrived with cakes, cards, flowers and pot plants. I sat by the fire for three days reading poetry books and entertaining friends and relatives. I realised that I hadn’t sat down and browsed through poetry books for about three years. Strangely, I found the poems and the comfort I gained from everyone’s support was really therapeutic. I was disappointed after about four days when my husband said that I seemed strong now and suggested that I could return to normal duties.
Physically, I was perfectly well and outwardly everything continued as usual, but emotionally, I was still scarred. For six months my hormones were out of kilter and my yearning for another child and my grief for the child that I had lost continued in changing forms for another four years. It was only really when I became pregnant, partly by accident, four years later that my grief and loss became reconciled.
I lost my baby in the autumn. In the spring of the same year, I looked out the window of the spare room at the almond tree that was in blossom. Beneath the tree I could see my children dancing and singing with the small girls next door. I thought how the tree was now full of life and promise, whereas I was barren. I felt the contrast so strongly that I wrote a poem about my child “unborn, unnamed and unsung “.
Strangely enough, the almond tree was removed to make way for the building extensions we did when I had my last child, four years after the miscarriage. I have always meant to replace the almond tree with another. Perhaps it is a yet unresolved and undefined grief that has stopped me.