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It took 10 years, eight pregnancies, six miscarriages and a great deal of pain to become a mother of two. Eight years on from the birth of my first child, it's only now that am I beginning to make sense of my fraught transition into motherhood.
When we started our journey to parenthood we were busy in good careers, happy in marriage, young, fresh and keen. Like many, we rejoiced in the set of double blue lines on the pregnancy stick. We told our nearest and dearest, and booked the relevant medical appointments. We had no reason to worry when we went for the 12-week scan, but at that moment our story grew dark. With no prior warning, the eyes of the ultrasound technician changed and she called for assistance. I knew. I went cold and my husband nearly fainted in shock. Their words will never leave us: "I am sorry there is no heartbeat."
That was just the start. Our lives became consumed by a further five ill-fated pregnancies, including complicated and extremely painful ectopic pregnancies; numerous operations; endless tests and samples; plus two rounds of IUI. As well as years of physical strain, the emotional turmoil was immense - so much so that I have blocked much of it out of my mind. At the time, we were left to wander aimlessly in our anxious state, offered no professional supervision and didn't have access to the kind of support that's now available on social media. We were lost and felt very alone.
I found it hard to deal with the things people would say to us. Even professionals would state, "at least you can get pregnant", or "it just wasn't meant to be this time", or "perhaps you are too stressed". With no other explanations, I began to believe it was all my fault. I tried everything to change it - I gave up alcohol and caffeine, ate healthily, reduced my working hours, took up reflexology and even got a dog! And just when I had given up all hope, pregnancy number seven stayed put. Cruelly, we lost our beloved dog in a tragic accident when I was six months pregnant.
I was terribly anxious throughout my pregnancy and never dared believe it would be OK. But, after a traumatic birth and a difficult first few weeks, we took home our beautiful, healthy baby boy. Three years later, we had another son. I will be eternally grateful that we were able to have children in the end. Even to this day, I pinch myself when I see them sleeping.
What do I see looking back now?
I see a young couple who suddenly changed from being open with full hearts, to being closed and struggling. We struggled to keep positive; to keep our careers going forward; to deal with profound and repeated loss and uncertainty; and to remain upbeat while others around us were having babies. We were full of negative self-talk, confused by the lack of answers and tormented by questions like "why us", and "what have we done to deserve this?" It was very bleak.
What has reflection taught me?
It's only recently that I've felt able to reflect on that time properly and understand what it has taught me. While I'd never have wished to go through that experience, it equipped me with stronger compassion, a deeper insight and a greater understanding of how to deal with life's big questions. It had a profound impact on me as a person and led me to take a completely different career path - retraining as a coach to help other people through change.
Knowing what I know now, I often wonder what I would say to my younger self in the midst of that despair. The list is endless but key things stand out:
- You can't control what is happening, or not happening. Don't torment or blame yourself looking for answers and try to live in the present as much as possible.
- You are not alone. There are many people going through the same experience. Reach out to others, be open about your pain and you'll find others open up too.
- Work on positivity. It's not easy when you are at the lowest possible point, but negativity and isolation are unhelpful and a waste of crucial energy. Find the environment and tools which nurture you and refuel your strength.
- Accept help from the now countless support agencies, you will empower yourself to heal and move forward. Grief for the unseen loss is important.
Most of all, this experience never leaves you - it will find you at the most unexpected times. But it will also give you strength when you need it most, and skills that you'll carry through life.
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