People are always sceptical when you tell them that your pregnancy was unplanned. They say "But contraception is so readily available! But surely you know what happens if you have unprotected sex?!".
When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter in September 2013, it was certainly unexpected, and we definitely hadn't planned for it. We'd never for a moment thought I might get pregnant. So whenever people expressed doubt about unplanned pregnancies, I'd insist that people can have momentary lapses of common sense.
It wasn't until about a year ago that I realised that our momentary lapse of common sense perhaps wasn't as momentary as we'd thought. Neither of us had wanted me to get pregnant at that time - halfway through university was, without a doubt, the stupidest time to throw a baby into the mix - but neither of us had been strict on contraception for the previous six months, and it had nothing to do with common sense.
The summer of 2013 wasn't the first time I'd been pregnant. Six months earlier, when I returned to university after my first Christmas break, I was in the very early stages of what would have been a very unwelcome pregnancy. Almost as soon as I realised, before I'd even had a chance to tell my partner Daf, I started bleeding. It was like a period on steroids; I didn't go to class for almost a week. The pain was horrendous and the bleeding even more so.
I think I already knew what was happening, but a quick look at the NHS website gave me the proper name for it. A chemical pregnancy. Had I not realised I was pregnant, I might have written it off as a particularly heavy period. Instead, it was a very early miscarriage - and I was dealing with it alone, in my bedroom in halls. I called Daf and told him, wishing we were dealing with this together, and told myself it'd be over in a few days.
Physically, I was right. Emotionally, the effects lasted much longer.
If you lose a baby that you've planned and wanted and tried for, it must be unimaginably heart-breaking. People grieve for the baby they lost; for what could have been; for the pregnancy they wanted for so long.
When you lose a baby that you didn't really want to have, you'd think it's easier - that there's at least some feeling of relief. For me, it was so confusing. If I hadn't lost the pregnancy, there's no guarantee I would've gone through with it anyway. At such a difficult time, right in the middle of the university term, there's every chance we would have chosen an abortion. And still, after the bleeding had finished and the pains were gone, we were left with emptiness and grief.
The guilt was relentless. I was a first-year student; I'd been drinking without realising that I was pregnant. Not just the occasional glass of wine; proper nights out. I convinced myself that I was the reason for losing the pregnancy. The pain and the grief was the punishment I deserved for hurting what would have become our baby.
I didn't feel able to tell anyone. To this day, very few people know. I was scared of what they'd say - I couldn't stand to hear platitudes like "Well, at least you weren't trying", or "You weren't ready for a baby anyway". If people don't know the right thing to say when someone loses a longed-for baby, they're even more clueless when it comes to an unplanned pregnancy. It's not their fault - it's a difficult situation for all involved - but it makes people frightened to talk about it.
The grief and the pain brought Daf and I closer, but it made us reckless. At first, I think I was looking to replace the pregnancy I lost. Some sort of atonement for the dreadful thing I thought I'd done. When nothing happened after months, I convinced myself that I couldn't get pregnant anymore. That was part of my punishment too.
And then September 2013 brought along a little blue cross on a pregnancy test.
I've never seen my daughter as a replacement for the pregnancy we lost, but as time has gone by, I've realised that I didn't cause the miscarriage. Chemical pregnancies mostly happen because of chromosomal abnormalities; something no-one can help.
It's never been more important to speak out about our experiences of miscarriages and chemical pregnancies, to reassure people that they are not alone - and to help people know what to say if someone tells them about their pregnancy loss.
Planned and wanted or not, if someone confides in me about the loss of a pregnancy, I'll say to them what I wish someone had said to me.
"I'm so sorry. Would you like to talk about it? I'm always here for you".
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