Pregnancy has turned out to be harder than I expected. I think they teach you some stuff about babies at school, but I bet you knew that stuff already. Didn’t you?
It turns out there’s a lot you don’t know.
Miscarriage is a lie of omission. It’s completely unexpected and impossible to handle. You didn’t know that one in five pregnancies will miscarry. Nobody ever told you that. Why did nobody tell you that?
You didn’t know that it starts with a trace of blood and a rush to the emergency room where you both sit, quiet as anything, desperately praying that someone will see you and check you and treat you before this gets any worse. Praying that this isn’t already the worst.
They didn’t tell you that the trip to the emergency room is awful. You step from the taxi through the front doors and to reception. You explain the problem to the first person. He gives you a red card and points you to the windows. You rush. At the reception window, you explain everything. You give name, address, phone numbers, so many details. You’re given directions along the hall. Next waiting room. You give your name, you explain everything. Please wait.
You’re sitting in a virtually empty waiting room, full of creatively curved furniture, not caring about anyone else being dragged past with a case of the sniffles, or a stubbed toe. All you can think about is that while these bastard receptionists are chatting, are trying to figure out their computers, are moving so very slowly, your child is slowly dying inside you.
Finally you’re seen. You explain everything. They take your name, your address, your fucking date of birth fuck god what the fuck. They fill in a form. You go back to the waiting room. You wait.
You try not to breathe. You try not to cry.
You’re through. They’ll escort you to the night-time emergency prenatal room. Ok, let’s go! Six corridors later, you’re there. Take a seat. It’s another waiting room. This time smaller, this time sadder. The noticeboard opposite has a thousand horrific notices that nobody should ever have to think about. You don’t look. You look. You look away. You wait. You wait. You sweat, for there’s no air and the room is cramped. You wait.
And you’re through. Through to the doctor. At last, a doctor. Two hours later, a doctor. The doctor takes your wife behind a curtain for a check. Not a scan, though the scanner’s there – I can see the scanner’s there, but there’s no scan. She just looks and prods. The advice?
“Go home and rest. There’s nothing we can do about it. It’s probably a miscarriage and if it is, it’ll pass out in the next few days.”
There’s nothing they can do. That’s “probably” it. All those months of trying, of worry and desperate hope. The joy of that positive test, the growing bump, the books you buy, the friends you told, the dreams you had. All gone in one night. “Probably”.
“Probably” is not good enough. “Probably” doesn’t cut it. “Probably” is a fucking stupid answer, doctor.
After a night of tears, you drive to a private hospital. A hundred quid, a scan. And the painful truth. Failure to launch, week eight. The last few weeks, you’ve been living a lie. It just wasn’t happening. Sorry, it will pass. But try again, you must try again.
So you go home. And the next day you go to work. Life as normal, or so you think. The emptiness in your heart is your own, for you tell nobody. It’s hard to think, hard to work, hard to do anything. But what you don’t realize is, your wife has it harder.
The last thing they don’t tell you about miscarriage is labour. That’s how it “passes”. All the horror and pain and trauma and hospital of labour. Why don’t they tell you that? Why don’t I know that?
Because people don’t talk about it. And if they did, I wouldn’t want to hear it.
Life can be damn hard sometimes.
Because of course any teenager will tell you how easy it is to get knocked up. Just once is enough. But the truth is, it doesn’t really happen that way. It doesn’t happen that way at all.
They’ll offer you help after a year. And after that year, that year of hope and worry, of trying and crying, what “help” do they offer? Tests. Wonderful, some tests, just to establish normal parameters. Could’ve done that six months ago really, but let’s keep trying and get some tests too.
So how long does it take to get the results of these tests? A week. Excellent. Let’s do it. Done.
Where’s the results? Where’s the results? Where’s the results?
Five weeks later, it turns out that the hospital with the lab is not prepared to fax the results to any other hospital, nor post them, so the results are given by telephone. Apparently, you’re normal. So, keep trying. No help.
It’s a wonder how anybody ever gets to experience the joys of modern medicine, because I’m buggered if I know how to access it. Maybe they all sign up for their breast implants and cancer treatments when they’re in nursery school? What’s the trick? Am I in the wrong fucking catchment area? Do I not pay enough taxes?
Getting pregnant in the first place is not easy. And I didn’t know this. Why didn’t I know this?
Because who would talk about such things? If they did, I’m not sure I’d want to hear it.
This time our hope is doing well. This time we hear a heartbeat. We breathe. We see a scan. We breathe. We breathe. We breathe.
The difficult bit is holding your breath. The difficult bit is crying when you can’t feel anything. Or when you feel too much. Or when you feel the wrong things.
The difficult bit is finding your belly riddled with tumours. The biggest of these, known as fibroids, is a ten centimetre monster that stabs you in the belly every time you move. They tell you to enjoy the second trimester, but you can’t sleep, you can’t move, you can’t eat. How can you comfort your wife if you can’t hold her?
The doctor gives you paracetamol, he gives you vicodin, he gives you ibuprofen. Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. They can damage babies in the third trimester. In the second, it’s safe, he tells you it’s safe.
You don’t take them. You don’t take them.
And then you have to take them.
And you breathe. Your hopes are bound up in a writhing ball of dreams you can hold in your hands, but is still so far out of reach.
A thousand times you ask: is everything ok? are you ok? is it ok?
The stress affects your fatigue. You’re at the doctors almost every week. The scans hurt, but with a scan you can see everything is ok. For now. So you tell your friends, you tell your family.
You get bigger.
And then they send you for the Fucking Stupid test. TheFucking Stupid test is a test for abnormalities and Downs. If this test is positive, then they recommend the invasive amniocentesis test. Because the Fucking Stupid test alone is not, itself, accurate. Not even close.
The Fucking Stupid test takes three rounds. The first round is a scan. This is stressful because it takes half an hour. Measurements are taken and you’ve got no idea if things are going well or going badly. Why does she keep measuring there? Is that normal? The innocent wonder of seeing your unborn child on a screen is mercilessly torn from you as it becomes a tool for seeking problems.
After the scan you wait for the doctor. The doctor needs to talk to you, not the nurse or technician who ran the test. They give nothing away. You wait and you try not to talk. You breathe in. You breathe out. You try not to think what you would do “if”.
The test is negative. Relief. At this point, our odds on something bad are about 1 in 400, which is as negative as it gets. In fact, they say, the risk from the amniocentesis test is also about 1 in 400, so the extra test is definitely not worth doing.
Next step is the blood test. The quad screen. You give blood, you await results.
Your wife gets the call on the bus. Positive, they say.
Would you like to come in and talk to one of our genetic councillors?
She calls back, gets more information from them. What does it mean? In fact, the risk has not dropped much. It’s at 1 in 200. Now I don’t know much, but I don’t know of a single fucking test that gives a 99.5% negative result that can be called “positive”.
Thanks very much doc. A world of pain, from a phone call on a bus. No follow-up letter, nothing.
And the third test is another scan, a few weeks later. All is well. The doctor mentions the positive result. We curse her. But we breathe. And we breathe and we breathe and we breathe.
For no matter how many tests we run, no matter what reassurances we’re given, we know that anything might happen.
Nobody told us it was this hard. Nobody told us.
But we hope.