As I was so overwhelmed by the positive pregnancy test and trying to keep myself grounded during this pregnancy, I haven’t kept a diary of my thoughts so this is a reflection of how we got through the days, weeks and months of the roller coaster that is pregnancy after neo natal death. Usual trigger warnings – I’m a plain speaker. Or blunt. Or very Yorkshire.
On the day that I took the test in the non-Covid world, I should’ve been flying from Dublin to NYC for a girly holiday. So, I was spared the prospect of doing a test in an airport or in a hotel the night before! The next few hours were filled with absolute pure joy. I was as high as a kite. I was so happy and then a day later “reality” hit me. Could I do this again? We had been so obsessed with getting the 2 lines on the stick that we had completely forgotten about what comes next.
The fear crept in and I was scared rigid. The blessing of a pandemic meant that I could be at home and not have to put a brave face on and pretend that I was ok. Lockdown actually gave me a safety net. Even so, just trying to honour work commitments and give Ophelia the attention she needed was tough. We worked from home without childcare for nearly 6 months in the end.
Over the next couple of weeks, I pulled up my girl pants and made my booking in appointment with the community midwife team and emailed by consultant to ensure that I could access consultant led care again. Even though I was convinced that I wouldn’t need the appointments, it gave me the first goal to get to.
A couple of weeks after the test “morning sickness” well and truly made its appearance. Whoever came up with the term morning sickness should be put in detention and made to write lines at the very least. Mine lasted for about 12 hours a day; it started at 6 weeks and ended around 14 weeks. It was tough but each time I felt a wave of nausea or ran to the loo we did a silly victory dance.
Now ladies, let’s talk breasticles. I’m well known for being blessed in that department. I don’t need help (apart from good scaffolding) so imagine my horror when they exploded in size, yay more shoulder pain in addition to what I already have! I don’t want to think about the small fortune I spent trying to get lounge bras that were comfy and supportive. Once they were back open for donations, Smalls for All got an absolute bonanza package from me. During the window of shops being open I went to Bravissimo to get sorted out and so far, so good.
My booking in appointment went well despite my nerves. I basically walked in with all the paperwork from the investigation into Alexandra’s death and shoved them at the midwife: “I’m really terrified, and this is why”. All credit to her she took it in her stride and was perplexed by some of the mistakes that had been made in my care with Alexandra. She was newly qualified, so I felt confident that her knowledge was up to date. I’d forgotten to be well hydrated, so my blood tests had to be rather forceful to get the stupid stuff out. She referred me straight away to the Rainbow Clinic to ensure that I could have the Bereavement Midwife Tracey with me at my first scan. I went away happy with the midwife assigned to me, so I left the appointment with a glimmer of hope. Little did I know that she was the first of many community midwives I would see.
The First Scan – Due to the pandemic I wasn’t able to have an early scan at 9 weeks like I did with Ophelia, so we had to wait for the 12-week scan. It felt like the longest wait. Those weeks were so full of fear. I was convinced that it wouldn’t work out for us. I thought back to the almost 2 years leading up to the test and thinking that maybe I had had very early losses but as I wasn’t testing so much, I’ll never know. I had nightmares of waking up in pools of blood. I was terrified of going to the loo. Every moment of that feeling of being a bit damp/moist (if you’re a Miranda fan; hello to you). I would avoid going until I absolutely had to.
We had made the decision that we weren’t going to pay for a private early scan so Andrew could be there. We’re firm believers in everyone having the same access to the best healthcare possible so we didn’t feel comfortable with the prospect of receiving this level of care when there are couples up and down the country that can’t. The internal wrangling that we did when we paid for an extra blood test at the fertility clinic and the thought of going down the paid IVF route was enough worry for us so that’s the decision we made. We’re incredibly stubborn, no actually, passionate (it’s all in the branding) when it comes to our core beliefs so yes we put ourselves through extra stress but that’s the decision we made.
The day of the scan was extremely nerve wracking. My appointment was the first of the day so off we trotted into lock down Leeds. Andrew had to wander around the city centre with Ophelia in tow with nothing open. On arrival at the reception for radiology, things quickly turned into an absolute farce. I was wearing my mask, and so was the receptionist who was also behind a screen. She couldn’t hear me properly when I was trying to explain that Tracey would be meeting me there, so I ended up in a situation where I was almost shouting the word “BEREAVEMENT” in front of a load of pregnant women. Vunderbar.
Once in the scan room the sonographer settled me down and once she realised why Tracey was there, got to work really quickly. Gel and doppler on…boom there’s baby, heartbeat and kicking around. The relief was overwhelming. Yep, my eyes leaked and Tracey broke protocol by stroking my arm and then giving it a huge squeeze at the news. I couldn’t believe that baby was real!!
The LGI is well known for having no mobile reception at the Clarendon Wing so this is where Andrew was left to wander with Ophelia in a black hole of communication. I was so excited chatting away with Tracey going down for my bloods that I forgot to let Andrew know that everything was ok. Soz mate. Eventually I remembered and sent out a message that of course he didn’t get and finally got through to me on the phone properly and we could share the good news. Andrew and Ophelia got a big box of Lego to celebrate. I allowed myself feel hope and dragged Andrew around Boots desperately trying to find a nice baby grow with rainbows on it. I was so excited that I stopped biting my nails and had some real talons for a little bit. I thoroughly enjoyed getting a couple of manicures to treat myself. They’re long gone now but it was nice while it lasted.
From this point I had my scan with my consultant as I had chosen to stay with him under his new placenta clinic (Iris Clinic) rather than go with Rainbow Clinic as there’s danger of conflicting opinions if you have 2 doctors so I stuck with what I knew as we both felt that the care we received with our consultant was top notch. I had my consultant scan at around 16-17 weeks and then the usual 20-week anomaly scan. By this point Andrew was allowed to come with me.
During one of my consultant scans (before the rules extended to antenatal clinics to allow partners) I was able to take a video of the scan so Andrew could see what I was seeing on the screen as the pictures don’t do it justice. My consultant was being coy and wouldn’t tell me on video what he thought the gender was so he wrote it inside an envelope that we could open together.
After the 20-week scan I’ve been on consultant scans every 3 weeks and having more regular midwife appointments too. I’m now on my 4th community midwife in 4 appointments! Not great for continuity but because I’ve been through a pregnancy after loss before I found I could take this in my stride a lot more than if this had been my first after loss.
My 2nd midwife looked like a rabbit in the headlights when she read my notes. She ensured that I was able to book more regular appointments because once you’re on subsequent pregnancies, the number of routine appointments is reduced. Me being me blurted out that I thought that was utter bobbins. The amount of people I know in real life and through Instagram who have experienced baby loss in subsequent pregnancies shows that we shouldn’t be having reduced appointments and the associated feeling of “just get on with it”.
I should be having midwife no3 or 4 until the end of pregnancy. As with Ophelia’s pregnancy I’ve had aspirin for some of the weeks, the diabetes test and all the extra vaccinations. My latest blood tests have thrown up my usual conundrum of a normal iron count but low iron stores so I’m currently on iron supplements. Honestly, I’m rattling with the number of pills I’m taking through this pregnancy!
Due to Covid I’ve not been able to do the things I’d planned to treat myself and also keep myself grounded but also to allow myself to actually enjoy a pregnancy. So no photo shoot in Somerset with the lovely Danielle Reeder, no pregnancy massage with Gillian from Calico Massage. In October, I thought “B*llocks to this” and through caution to the wind and quickly booked some photos and hair cut but then we got put into lockdown again. I took a risk with booking a photographer I’d seen others use on Facebook because I wanted something new, a fresh slate. All being well this is my last pregnancy and for once I wanted some photos to look back on of us all. I’ve got everything crossed we can fit this in in December. (edit: we managed it but “never work with children or animals!”)
I’ve been able to ride out the fear with the excitement. When I feel really low, I know to accept that that’s how I’m feeling at that moment and that it will pass. When I’m excited, I let myself look at the Mamas & Papas website and drool over a nursing chair that I’m hoping to get from their factory shop. I let myself imagine what future family photos will look like. It’s odd that I can see Ophelia with her baby sibling but only in a photo not in real life just yet.
My midwife bump measurements through up a little wobble for me. In my experience tape measurements are so subjective; it’s like trying to measure a car by measuring the garage. My measurements had crossed a couple of lines on my personalised growth chart so the midwife requested an extra scan. We felt this was overkill, but we happily went to the scan. What annoyed me was that this was something that should’ve been done in my care with Alexandra. My midwife at the time didn’t request it as she assumed that it would be refused as I was low risk. The request that my current midwife took literal seconds, I had a call within a couple of hours and was booked in for 2 days later. I’m left with the perpetual what if? What if I had that extra scan with Alexandra. That was what really annoyed me, the referral was so quick and didn’t take much effort at all.
We’ve done NCT classes via Zoom which is basically a gamble to find parents at a similar stage in our new area of Leeds. We didn’t keep in contact with the NCT group from Alexandra’s pregnancy. It wasn’t a massive falling out; I don’t think it was fair for either side when you’re the one whose baby didn’t come home. We didn’t do NCT when I was pregnant with Ophelia and this was a mistake in the long run as it left me incredibly isolated when attending baby things. People tend to go with their mate, and I was always going by myself. I then had to work out if it was worth giving other Mums the privilege of knowing about Alexandra or not. The guilt of not knowing if I should hide Alexandra or not was overwhelming. I found it really difficult to make friends that weren’t connected to Girlguiding or other things I was in, what I really wanted was a clean break to make new friends and that wasn’t easy at all. So if I come out of NCT classes this time with 1 baby buddy I think it was a gamble worth taking.
As I’m heading into the final weeks, I can’t believe how quickly this pregnancy has felt. It has landed somewhere in the middle ground of how physically and emotionally difficult I find pregnancy. Alexandra pretty much broke me physically. In hindsight, I probably should’ve pushed more when I had severe pelvic pain maybe even used crutches. I will forever be grateful for the counselling we had from Martin House Children’s Hospice. We credit this with not only helping us though Ophelia’s pregnancy but also it went a long way to saving our marriage and family relationship. We got nothing from the GP or the Health Visiting team. Evidently it has to be on the person suffering to pick up the phone; we couldn’t by the time we got home. Our reaching out from the hospital to Martin House luckily was the perfect support for us.
So here I am, just finished for maternity leave for the third time which is surreal in itself; never mind in a pandemic. Now is the final balancing act of making sure baby is baked enough and ensuring that I’m coping. I’ll be holding onto hope and trying to be gentle with myself.
Wishing everyone a peaceful end of 2020; see you on the other side.