It's hard to describe the sense of loss, when you've been carrying a tiny baby around for almost three months and suddenly it's gone. With the promise of new life, your life has already changed. You're not quite a parent, yet you've been in an exciting limbo between your old life and your new one. You feel special when you're pregnant with a much-wanted baby. Carrying around your delicious secret, you can't help but plan and dream.
It was the day before our 12 week scan when I began to have low level cramps that quickly progressed into agonising, body-wracking contractions. Time had dragged through that queasy first trimester and we were just on the brink of being in the 'safe' zone, about to tell all our wider circle of friends and family. Instead we were sent home from hospital, after a terribly silent scan, with a dead baby inside me; confused, bewildered and desperately sad. I missed my baby so much.
People rarely talk about the mechanics of miscarriage and in films and on TV you don't get a sense of how physically shocking it can be. After the furious contractions I took a week of waiting to 'pass' the pregnancy sac. A gruesome and painful experience I never wish to repeat. It took a long time for my body to let go of the pregnancy hormones. The longevity of it all was exhausting.
Worrying this was actually my third pregnancy loss. I'd had two miscarriages in my early 20s, before I met my husband David. It was upsetting, but I hadn't been planning on having children then so I'd brushed them off and got on with life. But this being my third lost baby I worried something was seriously wrong. I was surprised to find a lack of information and support out there and my main source of support became women I met online, on the miscarriage forum of parenting website Mumsnet of all places.
Lack of support and information
It was this lack of support that made me want to document my experience. Used to self-shooting travel films for my work, I started to film my findings. This soon progressed into an emotional video diary. The resulting documentary charts my research, meeting the experts, eventual treatment, more miscarriages and eventually having our two lovely babies.
My husband David was initially reluctant to film our journey. Whereas he felt it reduced his role even further to cameraman, for me this new purpose of recording our findings for the benefit of others kept me going. So I was really surprised when I looked back at the footage I found David had, without me knowing, filmed one of the most poignant parts of the documentary. Having just dropped me off at the hospital for an operation to remove another miscarried baby, his contribution gives a rare glimpse into a man's perspective on miscarriage, is a valuable part of the documentary.
We eventually found an expert, Mr Hassan Shehata at The Miscarriage Clinic in London, who diagnosed me with something called a high level of natural killer cells (the theory being that these attack the baby thinking it's a foreign object) and put me on several medications including a high dose of steroids and monthly infusions of something called Intralipids. His treatment is controversial but he was confident he could treat me. The relief of having someone doing everything they could to help was immense.
There are so many complex emotions with having a miscarriage, weirdly this includes a certain sense of shame. I know for me, after that brutal miscarriage, I felt somewhat exposed. Suddenly people knew I was trying for a baby and had failed, that made me feel really vulnerable. Despite this I really wanted to talk about it and when I opened up I found other people wanted to as well. For the documentary I interviewed women who'd had up to 14 miscarriages. Many had stories about insensitive treatment both fro medical professionals and also from friends and family who could't understand. I'm lucky in the way that my family and friends were incredibly supportive but the spotlight was then on me in terms of when we were going to try again. When we did try again we had another miscarriage, your worst fear when pregnant after a miscarriage. It was heartbreaking.
Thankfully our gorgeous little boy Sebastian was our third pregnancy of the year. But losing a much-wanted pregnancy means you're never going to have that carefree, blissfully unaware pregnancy. Every twinge, every scan and even the anxiety you feel when you're actually feeling well is mentally logged as a sign something is going wrong again. After Sebastian we had a rather miscarriage, another poignant point in the film, before going on to have our second baby, Elliot.
A strange cult of silence
Making this film really made me question the strange cult of silence that surrounds the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Why don't we tell anyone we are pregnant, is it in case we miscarry? Surely if we miscarry it's then when we need our nearest and dearest the most, not to sit at home keeping quiet in our grief. I know women who have had to go to work after an operation to remove a miscarried baby with some story about having had a tooth out. The physical and emotional fall out must be incredible, yet they feel they need to keep it to themselves.
The grief of miscarriage is something we need to acknowledge more. It's so common, but that doesn't lessen the impact on people's lives. I hope that people watching this film will also be able to take a new understanding of the impact of miscarriage - the physical, the emotional, how it affects relationships not just between you and your partner but in your wider circle of friends and family. Most of all I want people to know they are not alone.
Despite the heartache however this is a surprisingly upbeat film. It's full of hope and love and ultimately a happy ending. It's about something so human, yet from which we have taught ourselves to disconnect. I hope it will help us all connect with pregnancy loss and, if not help us come to terms with it, help make it just that little bit easier when it happens to you.
Watch First Heartbeat 10pm Thursday 15th October on TLC
17th Oct @ 21:00
19th Oct @ 21:00
28th Oct @ 22:00