Risk

Written 13th December, 2014.

Last Tuesday we had what Professor Brosens described as a ‘highly reassuring’ scan. We are now over 11.4 weeks and the baby was leaping and dancing about, kicking and hiccoughing. As I commented to the consultant who scanned me, we’ve never seen one that big before. Every good scan means that it is just a little bit more likely to happen this time. The odds are, as you might say, increasingly are in our favour. But can we relax? Of course not.

Next Tuesday afternoon is The Scan. The Big One. 12 weeks. And we’ve been there before, and it was not a happy experience. Although we’re beginning to turn our minds to the possibility of there being a chicken, we’re still not quite ready to actually count it.

The 12 week scan comes with tests (http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/screening-amniocentesis-downs-syndrome.aspx#close) which we both (think we) want (great if the results are good) and don’t want (what if they’re bad?). The consultant gave us a bit of a talking to to ensure the implications of getting those test results. We have been through so much already. Have we considered what the possibility of high risk results might mean for us? She hastily assured us that she had not noticed anything on the scan that made her mention it, in particular, but that she felt that too many people have the standard tests without really thinking carefully about the implications of the results. The first thing to do is to realise that risk is not diagnosis. Lots of people, apparently, don’t understand the difference. So a risk of 1:150 is considered ‘high’, but, of that, it means that 1 baby in 150 with those results would have a condition such as Down’s Syndrome. 149 babies would be fine. It’s still pretty scary, though. We’ve been through so much to get to this point. Would we make a choice to end it? No. I don’t believe that I would even consent to further invasive tests like amniocentesis because of the 1% risk of miscarriage. But I think that knowledge is better than no knowledge, so we plan to go ahead with the screenig next week.

The odds are in our favour (mostly – they were more in our favour three years ago when we set out on this journey, but what can you do about time?). How much more can we take? Could we ever do it again, even if it works out? We always thought we’d have more than one child, but it’s been such a a struggle to get to this point, and I’m not getting any younger, and the risks will only increase.

And I know too many stories. My own sad ones, and the sad heartbreak of other women whom have been kind enough to support me on this journey. You think what I’ve been through is bad? I know stories of recurrent miscarriage that break my heart and chill my blood. No-one can keep their innocence about pregnancy after this.

At the end of The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (the film, sorry, not got my literary hat on this morning!), Frodo says: “How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back? There are some things time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep that have taken hold.” We did go back and are in the midst of having another go, but how many times can anyone do this? What has happened to us will stay with us forever. It has made us, in a really fundamental way, different than we would otherwise have been. What’s the cost? ££££ on counselling and cognitive hypnotherapy to try to repair the damage done by post traumatic medical shock. I still can’t look at other people’s 12 week scans on facebook. I think I could be The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe, with so many children I didn’t know what to do, and a babybomb scan photo would still turn my blood to ice. This is a terrible learned behavour. I feel sad that I seem to be stuck with it.

What else can I say? Wish us all luck for Tuesday.

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New ways to grieve for the future I’ve lost

For months I have been making big efforts to lead a normal life a not let what has happened get me down. I have invested time and money in therapy and making plans, and being positive; grateful for what I have. And I am grateful. I am the mistress of my fate, the captain of my soul. Like the Invictus poem by William Ernest Henley that so inspires us all:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.             

Well not today. I am crying because of circumstance. I am not beyond this place of wrath and tears. My soul, if I have one, is bruised beyond recognition and shaking in the corner.

It seems that was there was only a paper veil with smiles and brightly coloured illusions of confidence, now shredded by the happy dagger words ‘Exciting News’. I feel the happy announcement as a body blow, leaving me sick and reeling.

Today my circumstance is the master of me. My distress is compounded by the shame of it, but I can’t help it. It comes from a darker place.

It is an expression of the supressed grief for a future denied. It is the anger at realising that I have not moved on as much as I hoped. It is the sadness that I exist in Negative; others’ joy becomes my pain. It is the fading light of hope in the darkness.

I’m sorry, but it hurts.

So.

Very.

Much.

Supervolcano woman (infertility after RMC)

You may be aware that under Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA, lies a caldera (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowstone_Caldera). If you like bad disaster movies, (and I do), you may already be able to picture the kinds of destruction and chaos that the release of such a force of nature would unleash; the potential for devastation, just under the crust.

In the words of Newman and Baddiel’s (showing my age) History Today sketches (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UMedd03JCA), That’s you, that is.

That’s how I feel at the moment, anyway. Monstrous rage and heat and spiky bitchiness, bubbling, just under the surface. Beware, scratch it and you might glimpse the fire works.

Sometimes, I speak and the words come out a little too loudly, with too much of an edge. An emotional geyser? Not quite. More like the emotional equivalent of a volcanic mud swamp, toxicly bubbling away. Sometimes I feel like, in side, my attitude stinks.

Month on month on month, the surface breaks (almost breaks). Hormonal activity weakens the essential surface tension. Frustration. Disappointment. Inevitability. Self fulfilling prophecy.

To be honest, I wouldn’t want to make my home in me, either.

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Emergency bathroom midwifery ***Birth described***

I have written before about how difficult I have sometimes found it to be around pregnant women and babies. Emotions swing between jealousy, self-hatred (I never used to be such a nasty b*tch) and sadness for what I’ve lost. Self preservation has a lot to do with it, I’m sure. That and the abject humiliation of having to leave a 2 year old’s birthday party because you can’t stop crying (got the t-shirt).

The reality is that you’re going to have to face pregnant women (and all their worries and complaints about their aches and pains) at some point; whether at work or out and about, they’re everywhere (are they breeding?!). You can either get on with it, or let in ruin your day. I’ve opted for a nice balance of both.

I knew that my sister and her husband wanted a second child, and I knew that they were tying (the loaned What to Expect books had made the return journey from my shelf to her’s). When she told me that she was pregnant again, I was pleased, but also envious (and guilty because of feeling the envy). I wouldn’t be able to avoid her for 7 months, and I wouldn’t want to have to try; I love my family, and there’s no way I’d want to make things difficult or awkward. You’d have to ask them if I’ve managed it!

It was very exciting when I fell pregnant again myself a couple of months later, and we discussed the baby things we could share (I believed at that point that I would be facing something of a financial crisis due to being in the middle of moving jobs and there being big question marks over my maternity pay entitlement). I had a few scares with bleeding etc. and I am sure that my sister’s heart was in her mouth every time I went for a reassurance scan, being pregnant and emotional as she undoubtedly was. She was having the most dreadful morning (all the time) sickness and had a demanding toddler already, so was exhausted. Everyone was tired and emotional, all the time.

Then I found out that my baby had died at the 13 week scan.

Awkward!

No need for hand-me-downs anymore. And yet, I could not have predicted then that the sisterly bonding over babies I had imagined would be more powerful and visceral than any amount of hand-me-downs and baby talk could ever have facilitated.

Three months after my third miscarriage and two weeks before my sisters due date, she texted me to say that her waters had broken. Her first had taken several days to put in an appearance, so no-one was rushing to get warm towels just yet. I decided to go over to her place and have a cup of tea while we waited for her husband to come home from work. No problem. My niece was with our parents, we could have a natter in peace.

When I arrived, everything was fine. The things for the overnight bag were laid on the bed, her notes were in a file by the ‘phone. I thought she seemed uncomfortable. I made her some beans on toast to keep her strength up for the task ahead. She couldn’t eat them. She said she was fine. I suggested she ring the midwife. The midwife said that, if we were worried, we should drive down to the hospital and her husband could meet us there. I have a very tiny little sports car, and was slightly concerned about my sister’s ability to get in to or out of it. “No, you can’t have an ambulance, it’s not appropriate,” came the midwife’s reply. Fair enough; if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

I packed the overnight bag and put it in the car. My sister went to use the loo. I heard her shout to me from upstairs that she couldn’t move. I know a contraction when I see it; by the time I got upstairs, she could hardly speak. In an act of desperation and futility, I brought her two paracetamol. She barfed them on to the bathmat. I fetched the overnight bag back into the house and phoned 999.

If you’ve ever had to make a call to the emergency services, you will know that they keep the coolest heads in the country. The operator talked to me calmly, but with extreme authority as I helped (forced) my sister on to the bathroom floor (she waned to stay on the loo – “absolutely not allowed,” said the operator. “Get her on to the floor. Now.”) Could I see the baby’s head? “I’m sorry, I’m going to have to look.” I’ll take that scream of agony as a ‘yes’, then, shall I? “No, I can’t see the head, yet.”

“Help’s on it’s way. Can you hear the sirens? Don’t worry. Help’s on it’s way.” I rubbed her back as she knelt on the floor. Contractions were about two minutes apart.

“Have you got clean towels?” said the operator. “They don’t think they’re going to make it,” I thought, but didn’t say.

No-one tells you this, so I’ll tell you now; if you have had to call an ambulance because you are having to deliver a baby at short notice at home, take a moment to go and open the front door. It’s a small, yet essential detail. I dashed downstairs to answer the banging at the front door. I have never been more relieved to see a paramedic in my life. My sister, by this stage, didn’t care. She’d gone primal. Her labour cries came from the earth itself. I texted my mum; “It’s happening. The ambulance is here. Don’t worry.”

The bathroom was too narrow for me to get to my sister to hold her hand, so I held her knee instead. All attempts to try to transfer her to hospital had now been abandoned. Nature was going to take its course; it was unstoppable.

My nephew was born less than 10 minutes after the ambulance arrived. It was extraordinary. My sister’s husband arrived about 15 minutes later, and did manage to find a space to stand, cradling his new-born son in the shower cubicle. Paramedics tended to my sister, one from in the gap between the toilet and the sink, another crouching in the bathtub. Midwives ran up and down the stairs. I made a few phone calls. Mum, dad and new baby were taken off to hospital in the ambulance. I followed on in the car, with the now overlooked overnight bag. “Don’t let that baby out of your sight,” texted my mum.

It wasn’t exactly the circumstances I would have imagined for my first visit to a maternity ward, but I had one job to do, and that was to look after my nephew. My sister needed surgery, and her husband went with her. I was left, alone, in a side room, literally holding the baby. A nurse made a comment that made it clear that she thought I was my sister’s mother. I’d had a stressful morning, but had it aged me that much?!

I spent the day sitting by my sister’s hospital bedside, getting snacks from the canteen and waiting for her belated epidural to wear off.

Was it better for me, and for her, that I have coped in so many crises before that I could keep a cool head in that one? I will say this; someone’s got a wicked sense of humour.

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Extra special thanks to my sister for agreeing to let me write about this.

 

 

The hardest job in the world

No-one is disputing the undeniable fact that parenthood is tough. You don’t get to sleep, go to the toilet by yourself, or hold a conversation with another adult, and you usually have something wiped on you. This creates something of a paradox, since every parent I know swears that they wouldn’t change a thing, and it’s totally worth it. And yet they also complain.

I know from my experience of teacher training that worthwhile things can also be hard, make you cry and wring your hands and wish for the life before. And still you don’t stop it.

My problem is, I literally don’t know what I’m missing. I understand that the love you feel for your child overwhelms you; you didn’t know it was possible. You had no idea that you had that much love in you; to give away, selflessly. I understand it, but I don’t know it. I can only have faith that its true.

There have been times when I’ve felt like the worst, most selfish and unpleasant person that the earth ever spawned; I couldn’t type here the uncharitable thoughts I’ve had about parental complaints. The sweetest, most kind friends are made my tormentors with their bumps and their baby showers. I don’t like to be caught out. I need to know when a brave face might be required. It’s a bit like running in to an ex with a beautiful, successful and intelligent wife in tow, when you’re picking up your dog’s poo and in need of getting your highlights done. It makes you feel bad when you weren’t braced for it.

I actually find pregnant women more difficult to deal with than actual babies. This is probably because, in my mind, being pregnant I have had and lost, but the whole messy business never got near to a sniff of a T.H.B. (take home baby) of my own. I am actually starting to wonder if those sex education lessons got it all wrong after all; does pregnancy really lead to babies?

I’m not awful enough to really think that other women don’t have their own genuine fears, problems, aches and pains. But who knows what to say to the one with her bloodied nose pressed up against the nice clear social glass? With those I know well, its: ‘How are things with you?’, ‘Oh, you know. Nothing yet.’ Sometimes, in my head (and once out loud) I shout ‘You can’t out-complain me! Your baby is alive and mine is dead!’ And yet, however angry and bitter I feel, I try not to show it, because it’s not their fault that this is happening. And, there’s every chance that they’ve been though scary and sad times too, and maybe they don’t talk about it. The statistics tell us it’s quite likely.

And that’s why I like to keep work at work, and I carefully choose where and with whom I socialize. Got to keep up the act. Sometimes, I go where I know a pregnant friend will be, and I’m fine. Until, that is, we get to the invisible window and my mummy friends walk on ahead and leave me peering though wondering what it might be like on the other side.

If you like, or feel you have been helped by what you have read here, please share it. If you want to see more, why not follow me? Thank you for reading!