Frodo Baggins, The Mines of Moria. The Fellowship of the Ring. J.R.R.Tolkein
” A deep uneasiness, growing to dread, crept over him [Frodo] again. Though he had been healed in Rivendell of the knife-stroke, that grim wound had not been without effect. His senses were sharper and more aware of things that could not be seen. One sign of change that he soon had noticed was that he could see more in the dark than any of his companions, save perhaps Gandalf. […] He felt the certainty of evil ahead and of evil following; but he said nothing…”
In only 3 short cycles after our first miscarriage. We were pregnant again.
But this time would be different?
But this time was different.
Frodo still carries the effects of his wound and, unbeknownst to the others in the Fellowship, he continues on the journey. Through the Misty Mountains.
We decided to go home. Home, for those who don’t know, is Middle Earth or New Zealand for me. A safe place and surrounded by family. We had become desperate for the break and I had not had recreational leave for over 15 months from work. It became apparent that after our last couple of months that we needed to make decisions for us and have space and time where we could heal. So home we went.
I guess I suspected something when I started spotting around 6 days before my period was due. However, as my cycle had yet to really settle into the regular pattern it once was, I kind of took it with a grain of salt. We arrived back home in Australia after a wonderful couple of weeks feeling refreshed and slightly more social. I went to put my toiletry items back in the bathroom cabinet and realised I still had one pregnancy test left. I don’t know why I did it, but I took the test. Leaving it on the vanity, I continued to unpack and almost forgot about it.
A faded second line.
Were we pregnant again? So quickly? I told my husband and we decided to retest again in the morning to confirm as the line was a little faint – but certainly there. Morning came… another test – digital this time. YES +
I can’t tell you in words exactly what I felt. But it was a combination of fear, excitement, relief and anxiety. You see, if you have had a miscarriage before, and certainly if you don’t already have a child, a positive pregnancy test now doesn’t just mean excitement. I felt awful for feeling fearful and anxious. I should be excited and happy right? Well I was, just underneath a cover of fear. Could we go through this again? I heard the doctors words in my ear “Having another miscarriage is extremely unlikely. There is a greater chance of your next pregnancy being fine”. So I squashed the fear and booked a GP appointment that afternoon.
What happened from here is a normal progression when you have had a previous pregnancy loss. Immediately I was taken for HCG (remember, this is the pregnancy hormone) tests 2 days apart. More needles. They came back good – doubling every 2 days like they should. I welcomed the arrival of pregnancy symptoms this time, nausea, appetite changes, aversion to foods and smells and bloating. To others, these symptoms are often a source of complaints and negativity during their pregnancy journey. To the ones of us who have suffered loss – they are magical. I felt sick – but so happy to be feeling something.
We decided to keep this to ourselves, and only tell who was necessary. I was involved in a musical and so told our production team and we also told my work so that they knew in case I needed to go to the doctor or something happened. We tried to protect ourselves by keeping things quieter. We didn’t even tell our families. We were still a bit in our bubble and wanted to be ‘safe’ before we involved anyone else. Frodo and Samwise went it alone.
What I didn’t expect was the anxiety that was to follow me round like a lost puppy each day. Let me explain something to you about pain and neuroscience – as a Physiotherapist, this is language I have learnt to speak over many years and analogies kind of bring me home (as you have probably realized!).
Pain is in the brain. We learn to protect ourselves by observation and experience. Watch a toddler when they have their first stubbed toe – the first thing they will do is look to an adult – there is a beat… a pause before the tears. In this moment, the body is processing what has happened and determining whether this is a situation to worry about, or whether it is ok. Now a toddler has little experience to draw on, so looking to an adult helps the brain to confirm whether this is a worry or not. If the adult reacts with “OH MY GOD ARE YOU OK YOU POOR THING WHAT HAS HAPPENED LOOK AT THE BLOOD QUICKLY COME HERE” then the child will almost immediately begin to scream like a mandrake and the brain is now imprinted with “this is dangerous”. If the adult reacts with a calm “It’s ok, you’ll be alright. How about we kiss it better and get you a band aid? Sound good?” then the child is more likely to remain calm.
The child that reacts with the scream will likely, in future, exhibit that same reaction straight away when they next stub their toe. The child that has a calm reaction will likely stick out their bottom lip the next time they stub their toe and ask for a band aid.
What does this have to do with the price of fish? Well, you never really forget trauma. You learn to accept it and understand it which makes it easier to cope but the memory is literally burned into your brain. My reaction to the first miscarriage was not an abnormal tale from what most people would experience. Neither is what I experienced finding out I was pregnant again.
You remember trauma.
Where my initial reaction to the spotting that occurred during the first pregnancy was one of “It could be normal, don’t panic yet.” now knowing that it wasn’t normal and signified the loss of our baby my brain is automatically now wired to be cautious of that symptom should I face this trauma again. It is wired to make me not feel complacent about things and be on alert. This is a protective response that is the magic of neuroscience. The brain is learning that certain things result in certain outcomes (based on previous experiences). Initially, I was happy to have the blood tests and was relieved at the thought of a ‘check up’ early ultrasound…. now I’m not so sure that was a good idea.
You see, most of us would regularly go to the bathroom 4 – 5 times a day? Maybe more? Maybe less? Anyway, usually you go and then get on with your day. Well, 3 – 4 times a day my brain started to panic and create anxiety every time I went to the bathroom just in case I saw blood. Sorry about the TMI, but each time I wiped my breath caught in my throat with my brain preparing itself if there was the slightest tinge of red or pink. It never happened, but it was a constant fear.
Fear and anxiety place you in a state of ‘fight or flight’ with a chemical release in the brain triggering the body to go into protective mode. This, in turn creates stress. Every day, I had people telling me “you need to not stress because that will harm the baby and the pregnancy” and “stress is a cause of miscarriages” and “make sure you are relaxed and calm”. I also had my GP saying “no heavy exercise” so I quit my beloved pole dancing and resolved to walk on the treadmill at the gym.
Most women who have successful pregnancies and have never experienced a miscarriage will enjoy their pregnancy time and the glow and joy it brings. I fear that I have potentially lost this ability having experienced 2 losses from 2 pregnancies with no children. Pregnancy was a mental struggle. If I had symptoms I felt sick and tired but I was relieved to be experiencing them. If I had no symptoms I was stressed and sick with worry that something was wrong. It was really tough and completely out of my control. To the outside, I was happy and content and ‘coping so well’ after our recent loss, but inside I was a bubbling pot of worry ready to overflow.
This may sound extreme but it’s so normal. I must say that I wasn’t a complete wreck and clincially losing the plot. I was just in a state of imbalance and self protection – to the detriment of maintaining daily sanity.
I became bitter towards people complaining about their pregnancy symptoms when I was feeling simply lucky just to have one or two. I certainly don’t hold any grudge or expect people to change their social media posts or not post at all or not talk about their journeys – but I feel it is important to mention. These feelings make you feel like a horrible person. How could I be angry at my friends when they were so happy and I should be happy and sympathetic and empathetic towards them too. What people don’t talk about is that miscarriage kind of warps your ability to empathise like you used to. Especially if that is your personality type like mine.
Week 6 came. Time for our first early scan. We went back to the place where the bomb had dropped. It felt a little surreal and those protective feelings started all over again. My hands shook a little in the wait room as we sat.
I felt a little sick walking into the room. Even though the ultrasound technician was lovely I was frought with worry. She sensed that and calmly talked us through everything she was seeing.
“I can see the yolk sac” she said as she pointed this out on the screen….”but no fetus….”
More searching around (which by the way, is uncomfortable beyond all hell if you haven’t experienced an internal ultrasound).
“Hmmm……oh! Wait! There it is”…. relief.
“And there is a little heart beat”……. thInank God.
We were able to see our little bumble’s heart beat on the screen – so small. The fetus was only 3mm in length but there it was. A little flutter. Relief and fascination.
It turns out our Bumble was only just 6 weeks instead of 6.5 as we had hoped and so the fetal pole (heart beat) was able to be seen but a measurement was unable to be taken which is common this early on. We were encouraged to come back for another ultrasound a week later to see if we could get a measure of the heart beat then.
In the mean time, my excitement and happiness continued to tentatively grow. My husband and I felt so happy for getting this far and seeing a heart beat this time. I continued to love my small amounts of symptoms as they came and didn’t even mind feeling bloated and tired all the time. I remember my husband saying after the ultrasound “Seeing the heart beat was so good. Are you ok?”, I was quiet.
“I just don’t want to get my hopes up, I am so excited and happy but I am still so nervous and anxious”
“I understand” he said.
A week passed, but on the Sunday I had the tiniest bit of spotting. Just the once and that was all. I also realised that what symptoms of pregnancy I was feeling had been fairly dormant over the last few days. I tried not to over think it, I mean, we still had a heart beat not 6 days ago right?
So I went back for another ultrasound.
“I’m sorry, I can’t find the heart beat”
The technician left the room to consult with the doctor as I had my ultrasounds in two different places. She returned and said:
“I don’t think this pregnancy is viable, but we would like you to come back in another week for a scan to be sure.”
My husband asked “What chance is there that we could see a heartbeat then?”
She replied “I am 99% sure that we will not.”
You don’t think you can go through it again. But here we were. I left the ultrasound and drove home in silence. Then I burst into tears – again, tearing myself down for everything I did wrong and blaming myself for what happened. Feeling so angry and frustrated with the world. Angry that there are drug addicts who eat nothing but Maccas who can get pregnant and stay pregnant. Frustrated that this had happened again and that I couldn’t do what I am supposed to be able to do. Upset that I now had to face another miscarriage and all this emotion again.
I asked my husband if he wanted to leave me for someone who could give him a child more easily. I said I would understand if that’s what he needed to do. I felt alone again, and had an overwhelming feeling that I should be alone because I was defective in some way.
I had a work trip to Sydney planned for that coming Thursday – Saturday and debated staying home or going. As this was another ‘missed miscarriage’ it could be weeks or days or hours before my body realised what was happening and decided to take action. As it was I took a few days off work (which I immediately felt guilty for) because the last thing I wanted to do was listen to other people complain about their injuries and pain and expect myself to be empathetic. I was miserable and didn’t need others to have to deal with that so I retreated into my bubble.
I did end up going to Sydney for the course. My brain wasn’t really there but I am glad I went rather than spending all that money and staying home and regretting it. At the worst, if something happened whilst I was there I could go to the hospital. Only issue was, I was alone.
Alone at the airport.
Alone at the hotel.
Alone in my head.
I tried to make sure I was texting and contacting my husband as much as possible. I wanted to be home but didn’t want to kick myself any more than I already was for missing the course too.
When I returned home we had been lucky enough to have a friend recommend a wonderful doctor for us to see that Tuesday after our final ultrasound on Monday. He specialized as an OBGYN as well as fertility and also Gynecological surgery. Monday came and I dreaded every second of it…another internal ultrasound to nail the coffin shut.
“I’m sorry, guys. There is no heartbeat”
At this point I felt numb. Spending a week just waiting for confirmation knowing that your baby is dead inside you is just awful. I’m sorry for putting it like that but that’s what it was like to me. Reality is it could have been weeks, days or hours before my body realised what had happened and decided to take action. So we opted for a D&C (suction) with the doctor that coming Thursday. For those who don’t know what this is its a dilation and cutterage or a surgical abortion/miscarriage. I will explain this more in my next post.
I think I was more scared because I had never been admitted to hospital or had a general anaesthetic before. I had worked in a hospital for over 8 years but never been in as a patient. So the whole experience was a little heightened I guess.
I think having a timeline of when it was all going to essentially be over this time was appealing (given the last natural experience). I was in good hands with a wonderful surgeon and doctor and the plan also being to carry out some genetic testing on the fetus after surgery to determine whether it was genetics that ended the pregnancy or whether something else may be involved. At this point, more answers are welcome so I am currently still awaiting these results.
I’d like to tell you all that it is all too familiar and therefore easier the second time around. Unfortunately I don’t come with that good news. It’s not.
The frustration was higher, the disappointment was higher and the self deprecation is so much higher. I guess you hope that when you roll the dice a second time that you will come up a winner. Gamblers fallacy means that with each pregnancy your odds are reset. Just because you experience it once, doesn’t mean you are exempt from it the second time around. We are living proof.
We said we were going to be open about miscarriage and try to break the stigma, but I must say, I really didn’t feel like telling people that “I had failed again”. I know. I know. I haven’t ‘failed’ but I certainly did feel that way at the time.
Frodo’s uneasiness was right. This journey was not going to be easy and the mines were certainly not the smooth path they had hoped for. If you remember, here is where we first meet Gollum… he had been following the Fellowship (and the ring) for three days.
Gandalf: “Sméagol’s life is a sad story. Yes, Sméagol he was once called. Before the Ring found him… before it drove him mad.”
J.R.R Tolkein, The Lord of The Rings: Fellowship of the ring
Frodo: “It’s a pity Bilbo didn’t kill him when he had the chance!”
Gandalf: [glancing sharply at Frodo] “Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand. Many that live deserve death, and some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo?”
I would like to introduce Gollum as the summation of emotions that started to follow me around – anxiety, depression, anger, frustration, misery, fear, defeat, self loathing amongst helplessness, excitement and a glimmer of hope. All this into one, spineless, unrelenting shell of a being. Gollum.
Hope is all I could cling to at this stage, and believe me… there was very little left in me at this point. One day at a time….