Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Numbness and Disbelief of Miscarriage

Sands blogger Rachel Brown shares her story of her Miscarriage.

It was intense, how it happened. I had no signs of a loss and went in for an ultrasound at 14 weeks into my pregnancy. I started getting cramping on the way there. I dismissed it as nerves, stretching pains, bubs moving or anything but what it was. Only weeks earlier, at 8 weeks into the pregnancy, we had a joyful scan with a wriggly baby with a strong heartbeat.

The next scan was the most surreal thing I had ever experienced. It felt like I was watching myself. I can’t think of that room without feeling fear and sorrow.

We could both tell straight away. I’ve talked about it to my husband about it since and our minds went through a similar process. As soon as the Ob/gyn zoomed in we desperately searched for a heartbeat… then movement… then watched as he measured our baby and it came up with under 10 weeks development. We both showed no outward emotion. Just numbness, disbelief, and shock.

Then he said the words that crushed our hopes…“This pregnancy is not progressing. There is no heartbeat. I am sorry”. He left us alone. Even though I knew it… the spoken words made it real… I made noises I never want to make again. I wailed. I clutched at my belly… I remember saying “I can’t do this! I can’t do this!” I cleaned the gel off my little belly bump and got of the bed. I sat with my husband and cried with him. Without realising, I was apologising. I blamed myself.

I felt empty, numb, and cheated beyond belief.

We were sent to my normal GP with a medical report that said “This is a failed pregnancy” and had pictures of my precious baby. “Failed”? There’s no failure to it.

So much of pregnancy loss is clinical. It’s managed in such an emotionless way and can leave you feeling isolated and even more upset - at a time where you are already struggling.
After research I decided to wait to miscarry naturally with the support of medical professionals. I went through many intense emotions in that time as I grieved.

I went through a birthing process a couple of weeks later at home. Holding my tiny baby in the sac and seeing his tiny umbilical cord, eyes, little arms, and legs helped me to process the loss. Birthing the placenta was the more difficult aspect physically as it was condensed and the size of a lemon.

During and after my miscarriage, I dealt with my fair share of well-meaning but ultimately hurtful ‘advice’ and opinions. What I learned, ultimately, is that most people don’t like to feel uncomfortable. And pregnancy loss makes them feel uncomfortable. So they want – subconsciously, or otherwise – for you to ‘move on’ so that they don’t have to deal with it.

People don’t know what to say. So they sometimes say things that are less than helpful. I surrounded myself with people who knew I just needed someone to listen. They knew that their being there and caring was enough.

My subsequent pregnancies were anxiety-ridden and I struggled with depression (primarily unrelated to my loss). I have since gone on to have two healthy children. My loss was a learning curve and part of my motherhood journey. It was painful but without it I wouldn’t be the mother that I am today. For those lessons and how blessed I am now, I am so grateful.

For Support call: 1300 0 SANDS

More about Rachel Brown
Hi, I’m Rachel and I am an Australian wife and mum of two. I love tea, reading, writing and finding creative ways to play and learn with kids. I’m an over sharer (‘sharent’), a Pinterest addict and am an avid blog reader. I am passionate about learning and sharing inspiration with like-minded mamas. Prior to motherhood I was a nanny and dabbled in study. I’m a miscarriage survivor and&nbsp. I have generalised anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder and although it is ongoing, I am doing better thanks to therapy and medication. I’m always willing to talk to others who are struggling. Motherhood is the most difficult and rewarding thing I have ever done.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Afraid of being pregnant, again

This week Sally Heppleston shares her story of two subsequent pregnancies after the stillbirth of Hope and the fear that stops her having more babies.

I READ one of those quotes on Facebook the other day that said if you think positively, positive things will happen.
Once upon a time I would have agreed with a sentiment like that. I know better now.

During my first pregnancy, which lasted 40 weeks and 5 days, I did nothing but think positively. Sure I had mild concerns early on but I breathed a huge sigh of relief once I got to the “safe” stage. Sure I knew some babies came prematurely and that some could be born ill, but that wouldn’t happen to me. I was fit, young and healthy and everything had been textbook, so why should I imagine the ending would be any other way?

Fast forward to four days past my due date, and I couldn’t feel my baby moving. A trip to the hospital confirmed our worst fears – our baby had died and would be stillborn. Eight pounds and perfect, just dead. All the positive thoughts in the world had been for nothing – I’d got to the finish line and didn’t get to keep my prize.

My dead daughter was still inside of me and already I was thinking about having another baby. I knew that would be the only thing that would propel me forward and give me a reason to keep living.

Six months after Hope left us, I thankfully got pregnant again. Though for nine months I couldn’t help but think predominantly negative thoughts. It had happened once, why wouldn’t it happen again? I was so shocked to learn stillbirth occurs in roughly one in every 140 pregnancies and when you’ve been that one, it seems only natural that you’ll end up being that one again.

People kept telling me not to worry. They seemed to have a crystal ball that I so yearned to own and to know things about a future that I was so horribly afraid of. Their thoughts and words did little to soothe me. I had counselling and I had extra antenatal appointments, yet I was an absolute basket case for the 38 weeks I carried my son inside me..

My son defied all the negative thoughts I’d had during the pregnancy and to my amazement, arrived pink and screaming and immediately filled our lives with relief and joy. And I say relief first for a reason, as that was without doubt the first emotion that washed over us.

When our son was a year old, we fell pregnant again. This time I promised myself I’d try and be more positive and to imagine a happy ending, as we now knew it was possible.

However this pregnancy was complicated from very early on and suddenly we found ourselves facing horrible statistics and frightening possibilities. This was unchartered territory for us, as even though we’d had two full term pregnancies with two very different endings, both had been incredibly healthy.

During this pregnancy I drifted away from a lot of people in my life. The friendships that were barely surviving after Hope’s death met their match this time around. I just didn’t have the emotional reserves. We got some good news at the 23 week mark from an amniocentesis, but we still held our breath until our third baby arrived pink, healthy and screaming.

This little girl ended up arriving on the third anniversary of her big sister’s death in utero, and the day before her third birthday. We knew all along with the pregnancy’s following the same timeline, their birthdays would be close and this too added to our stress, but in the end dates didn’t matter – getting her out safe and alive was the main thing.

Sometimes I think I’d like to expand our family as I love the idea of having another tiny baby to nurture, but it is the pregnancy I’m afraid of. I can’t do it again, nor can I put my family and friends through those months of anguish. Pregnancy is supposed to be one of the happiest times of your life, and the first time around for me it was, but when you find yourself on the wrong side of statistics, it becomes something you have to endure; a means to an end.

You get through pregnancy after loss one moment at a time, holding your breath until you cross the finish line and get your marvellous reward. You walk the tightrope of survival and somehow, I’ve now done it twice. I’ve been unlucky but I’ll never lose sight of just how lucky I’ve been also.

Sally Heppleston
Sally is a Melbourne based journalist and mother of three. Her first born daughter Hope was stillborn at 41 weeks in August 2008 after a trouble-free and healthy pregnancy. She and her husband Simon went on to have two more children after Hope passed away, Angus who is now four and Juliet, who is two. The children fill her days with chaos and her heart with love. She also runs a small community arts charity, which raises money for stillbirth research.

Sands has published a brochure on subsequent pregnancies you can find it here

If you require support please call 1300 0 SANDS

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Matthews Story

This story was originally published on the Sands Australia website

Matthew's son Jack George Wilkes was born on April 26, 2009. This is Matthew's story:

'Never had I been more excited about anything, than when my wife, Megan told me that she was pregnant for the first time. I was so excited about having a baby and being a father. I thought of all the usual things fathers think of - that our baby will be perfect in every way; how I will always protect him or her from any harm; that I will always make our baby's needs my priority; and so forth.

At the time I was a police officer and thought I was invincible and very strong. I always felt that I could take on the world's problems, and that I could help others through their difficult times. I was not, however, prepared for how to protect myself, Megan or Jack from what was to come. I would have to learn that as I went along.

On the 25th of April, 2009, I finished work and went to Meg's parents' house for dinner where I met up with Megan. Megan's brother, Matt and his girlfriend were also at home. I think back to how we were all laughing and joking without a care in the world. It was such an enjoyable night. Meg was at 37 weeks gestation and, like most pregnant women, was tired, sore and run down. I remember how after dinner she went to her parents' bedroom and lay down on the bed to rest.

A few moments later Meg's mother went to check on her. She came straight back asking for me to go to Megan. I went into the room where Megan was lying on the bed. She said that she had not felt any movements from our baby for a while. I began to talk to my wife's tummy which would usually cause a reaction from our baby, but nothing. We decided that we would go to the hospital to simply check that everything was ok.

When we went to the hospital we were placed in a room where a midwife tried to find the baby's heartbeat through a monitor. When she could not find the heartbeat she asked that we be patient as she would need the obstetrician to come and use the ultrasound. She was incredibly kind and compassionate. I think I knew from that moment something was very wrong; I saw the look in her eyes and how she became tense and guarded when she spoke to us.

After about 15 minutes the doctor came into the room and used the ultrasound machine. To this day, I will never forget the words she used: "Ok, so this is your baby here, and unfortunately the heart is not beating, I am so sorry."

My wife began to cry and as I hugged her I cried too. I remember thinking to myself, "I don't know what I am supposed do." I was told later that I had actually voiced this thought aloud. All I could think was: "why us?"

As a police officer I was used to dealing with people that were heavy drug users, alcoholics and violent people. A majority of them had healthy kids and I thought, "why doesn't this happen to them?" A thought I later became ashamed of, as I would never wish this sadness on anyone.

I remember my mother- and father-in-law arriving at the hospital, both of them so heartbroken. I called my family who live 1000 kilometres away and told them our devastating news. They were also overcome with grief and a feeling of helplessness. It all felt so unreal like I was in a horrible dream and couldn't wake up.

At the time I felt very alone with my family being 1000 kilometres away, but then my mother-in-law hugged me and told she loved me. I remember my father-in-law patting me on the back and making me feel very much a part of the family, something I am sure I always had been but had never noticed until that day. I still feel an enormous sense of gratitude towards Meg's parents. I had immediately become closer to them at that time and I am sure they felt the same.

Being part of such close families, our baby's death not only affected Megan and me, but all of our family and friends too.

The following day my wife was induced and she went into labour to have our baby. During that time my mother and father arrived. I remember my father hugging me and telling me, "Hey mate, Dad's here, Dad's here." I remember thinking that Dad had spoken the exact words that I had needed to hear from him. He was someone that I could lean on, to help me gain the strength that I would need to support Megan through this horrible day. I remember my mother hugging my wife and telling her that she loved her.

Like most young men, I knew that my dad was the best. He didn't let me down this time either. He knew precisely what to say to give me the strength and resolve that I needed to keep me going throughout Megan's labour, for I knew that the despair that I was feeling was also being felt by her. She needed me now more than ever as she gave birth to our darling boy. After a brief hug and kiss, Mum and Dad, together with Megan's dad and her brother were taken from the labour ward to a special private chapel to wait.

I clearly remember trying to reassure Megan with words like, ‘we will get through this together', ‘we will be ok' and ‘we will have more kids'. I remember how strong she was the whole time. She was a rock that was being pounded by the waves, but she knew what she had to do and she did it with dignity and strength for our baby. I was so proud of her. A short while later our baby was born. Jack (after my wife's Papa) George (after my grandfather) Wilkes.

I went to the chapel and told everyone that we had a baby boy and told them his name. We returned to the labour ward where, through our shared tears, we comforted each other as best we could. We spent hours with Jack, just cuddling him and crying. We knew our lives were never going to be the same again. We had Jack baptised and eventually my wife and I decided that we needed to say goodbye and allowed the midwives to take him from the room.

I remember when I got home, going out the back to feed my dog, also named Jack, a gorgeous German Shepherd. I gave him his food and then sat down with him as he ate. Mid-way through his dinner he looked up at me and he knew something was wrong. He walked over to me and put his chin on my lap and then buried his head into my chest. I began to cry and he would not leave my side. I often think it strange how, when the sad memories materialise years later, I still find comfort in the memory of my loyal, old friend.

When I came back inside my wife had gone to bed but our family was still there helping us. I remember getting a cup of tea in the kitchen and Megan's mum coming up to me and asking if I was ok. I replied, "All I want is my son." She hugged me and said, "I know." She was an amazing help to me and Meg at this time as were all of the family.

A few days later we had Jack's funeral and Meg and I were overwhelmed by the number of friends, family and work colleagues who came to show their support. It was a special day for all the wrong reasons. Meg and I cried until we thought there could be no more tears left inside of us, but when I looked around I saw our friends and family crying too. They all shared our pain. I chose the song, "Somewhere over the Rainbow" by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole as I felt it best represented how I would like to remember my son. Almost four years later that song still makes me cry.

My parents left about a week later to go back to Sydney, as I knew would eventually happen. They had been amazing, Mum's cuddles and Dad's words comforted me so much. I cried as they drove away but knew that they were always only a phone call away and still are.

One friend and work colleague at the time refused to budge from my side and he stayed very close to me the entire time. As police officers we always kept each other safe and I think he took that a step further and kept me safe out of uniform too. I will always be grateful and he knows who he is.
Then suddenly one morning, about five months later, Megan came to me and showed me a pregnancy test. She was pregnant again; it was relief and sadness all at once. I was so scared that this would happen again and so was Meg. I admit that the pregnancy was agony for us both, but we remained positive although we often cried together and regularly shared our fears. We even bought a personal Doppler to listen to the heartbeat of our baby every day. My wife was induced at 37 weeks gestation and we had a beautiful baby girl who we named, Poppy.

I cried so much, but with happy tears this time. My wife was my hero and I will always remember what she said to me, "We did it. Oh my god this one is making noise." My mother-in-law and I hugged each other and we both hugged the midwife, thanking her for helping us on this fantastic day. I remember saying my daughter's name for the first time, ‘Poppy Ann Wilkes'. I hugged her for the first time and there had never been a better feeling in all of my life.

Eighteen months later we had our baby boy, Archie Jack Wilkes. Again, the duration of Meg's pregnancy was a very difficult time for us both. We had our fears, but we were blessed with a beautiful, healthy son. Again, I remember my wife saying Archie's name for the first time and his first hug with me.

I consider Jack as one of my children and even correct people when they say, "You have the cutest TWO kids." I often respond with "Three." Then I'll smile and wink at them. We always include Jack's name on Christmas cards, birthday cards or other gifts and greetings and we always will.

I am now at a very peaceful part of my life. My children are my life and everything I do, I do for them: from recreation to work and everything in-between. My wife and I are more in love now than ever before and I think that is something we can take from our experience with our gorgeous boy, Jack - we have him to thank

It is funny, sometimes the remarks my wife and I make to one another in reference to Jack often bring smiles to our faces now instead of tears. We are able to laugh again and that helps us to be better parents to Jack even though he is not physically with us.

Having Jack has taught me so much about myself. I have learned that my children are paramount in my life. I have learned the importance of supporting your partner and accepting their support back in times of difficulty. But most of all I have learned that as human beings we are resilient, strong and, given the right support, can get though bad times and create good times. I learned that we can fill a hole in our heart with love and with the memory of those that we love. I think that Jack was simply too beautiful for this earth and as a result he is in a better place. Wherever he is, I am sure he is patiently waiting for his mother and I to join him one day, but he will have to wait a little longer yet.'

To view more stories on the Sands website follow this link

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Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Get Back On The Horse

By Lara Cain Gray
I experienced a ‘missed miscarriage’ with my first pregnancy.  It came as a complete shock.   
For a well-educated woman, I was surprisingly unprepared and uninformed about the possibility and frequency of this kind of ‘silent’ miscarriage, where no heart beat at your ultrasound is the only evidence that something’s gone horribly wrong.   My GP heartily assured me that it ‘happens all the time’ and I should simply ‘get back on the horse’. With the wisdom of hindsight, and having now known many women who’ve experienced pregnancy loss, I understand what my matter-of-fact GP was trying to tell me. One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage; it literally does happen all the time. But, when it happens to you, for the first time, or any time, the statistics are irrelevant. It hurts.

The details of my first pregnancy are boringly conventional.  I was in my mid-twenties and healthy.  I’d been married for about two years. We’d reached the point of not necessarily trying to get pregnant, but knowing that if it happened, we’d be thrilled.  And BAM! – it happened.  Just like that.  My breasts were the first to find out.  Their tell-tale tenderness soon coupled with an inexplicable repulsion at the smell of the freezer section at the supermarket; a strangely enjoyable kind of nausea. We confidently told our parents and siblings almost as soon as the blue lines were dry. The announcement rolled like a wave through our family, friends and colleagues. By the time we had our first scan, everyone but the nightly news was talking about the baby on the way.

We luckily got a window to see a warm and friendly obstetrician and jumped through all the usual hoops.  I was only 8 weeks pregnant, but she ran an ultrasound then and there.  There was no heartbeat, but it was very early.  We couldn’t be sure of the conception date. She wasn’t worried. She asked me to come back the next week, just for reassurance. 

At the next appointment, my friendly doctor had been replaced by a gruff temp who seemed to dislike me only marginally less than he disliked his chosen career.  He ran another scan, looked vaguely irritated, told me he couldn’t confirm anything and once again asked me to come back in a week.

The next week, the world turned upside down.  There was no longer any ambiguity.  There simply was no heartbeat. ‘Your baby has died’, said our doctor, not so friendly now.  ‘You have a choice. You can go home and wait to see if your body rejects the baby naturally. Or, we can book you in for a D & C to remove the cells.’  I remember the expressions so clearly; the terminology.  When and where did this change from a dead baby to a cluster of removable cells?  I had no idea, myself, what my beliefs were around the point where ‘life’ should be acknowledged.  
I had gone from picking out nursery furniture to questioning the entire meaning of being human within days. 

I cried for weeks. I hated every single minute of telling people what had happened. I hated every cheerful, sympathetic client who came into my workplace. Most of all I hated every pregnant woman I passed in the street. It was many years before I could put aside my sadness and try again for a baby. 

When I was eventually pregnant again, there was no joyful anticipation in the ultrasound process – only fear.  My blood pressure rode high right until I held my daughter in my arms thanks to the anxiety I felt at every scan and check up.  Now, of course, I am one of the lucky ones, with healthy children and all of this sadness many years behind me.  I’m in that place where women chat constantly about fertility matters, and I know that there are many, many scenarios far more traumatic than what I experienced.

But, having said that, my GP’s words – telling me to ‘get back on the horse’ – had a profound effect.  They made me feel as though I was expected to just forget about my pregnancy; a silent response to this silent miscarriage.  Medical staff are all too aware of the frequent occurrence of miscarriage but it remains important to sensitively acknowledge the genuine grief felt by every woman who loses a pregnancy – no matter when or how. 
A miscarriage is not just one foiled attempt at procreating; it fundamentally changes your understanding of your body and of the bizarre complexity of human biology.  For me, it left a permanent stain on my trust and comfort levels when visiting doctors.  It is a routine, every day, one in four, BIG DEAL and we should always acknowledge it as such.  

Lara Cain Gray
Lara Cain Gray (PhD) is a writer, academic, librarian, curator and mother-of-three.  The order depends on the day.  She enjoys writing social commentary, book reviews, travel tales and therapeutic ravings about being a parent.   Her words have appeared in a range of academic and popular publications, from the Queensland Historical Atlas to Brisbane’s Child.   She blogs as This Charming Mum - Books, Arts & Culture for the Sleep Deprived.
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