Zoe (UK): Diving for Pearl
I never dreamt of being a mother. It wasn’t a dream because it didn’t need to be; I thought it would just ‘happen’.
At 27, just off the pill, I got a positive pregnancy test. Tentatively, we told immediate family and friends, but at 8 weeks, something didn’t feel right, so we went for a scan. They were very cautious, saying I might be a few weeks behind my dates, but it didn’t look good. We were stunned. We’d heard about miscarriages involving pain, bleeding, but I’d had what is known as a ‘missed miscarriage’.
We waited to miscarry naturally, but it became clear that my body was clinging on. I was becoming a recluse, terrified that I would miscarry in the middle of the supermarket or walking the dog, obsessed by the idea of my dead baby inside me. I had always suffered from anxiety and depression but at that point I had a breakdown. I couldn’t leave the house alone, I barely ate, didn’t sleep, had panic attacks, and cried hysterically. Eventually, I returned to hospital for medical management.
It was agony. The cramps were so bad that I couldn’t speak, vomited, and shook with pain. Just as I was about to call an ambulance, my waters broke. Blood poured out of me all night, but all the pregnancy tissue hadn’t gone, so I had to go through it three times.
Despite all the pain, that loss confirmed I wanted a baby more than anything.
When we were ready to try again, I was having other symptoms: losing weight, painful tummy, bloody bowel movements, and a water infection almost constantly. My GP put this down to my body recovering from the miscarriage, but it became too severe to ignore and eventually I was diagnosed with Crohns alongside another autoimmune disease. The constant anxiety of chronic illness had caused my panic attacks to become panic disorder. Every time my period came and I saw blood, I had flashbacks to bleeding my baby away. Finally, I was also diagnosed with PTSD.
We struggled to conceive again, then a second early miscarriage left me not ovulating and with a luteal phase defect. We were referred to our local fertility clinic where they prescribed Clomid, and four months later I fell pregnant. Sadly, at our viability scan, there was no heartbeat.
As it was our third miscarriage, we had lots of tests, which revealed I have a prothrombin gene mutation, causing ‘sticky blood’, easily solved with baby aspirin in pregnancy.
When we started trying to conceive again, I went back on Clomid. A few months later, on the day my period was due, I had some spotting which tapered off, so I did a pregnancy test and it was positive! Our little Pearl had begun to form.
I had no expectations about my pregnancy with Pearl. When the day of our first scan came, I was hoping for the best, but prepared for the worst.
We waited those excruciating few seconds while the sonographer looked at the screen, and then… “I can see the heartbeat!”
It was unbelievable to hear those words. She showed us our beautiful baby, heart throbbing happily.
I stared at that picture for weeks. I clung to it, to that hope, like a lifejacket in a storm.
The weeks until our next scan felt like forever. When we arrived at the hospital, I was convinced something was wrong as my pregnancy symptoms had disappeared. I couldn’t feel my baby.
The sonographer pressed onto my belly.
There was a long silence.
I turned and whispered to my husband, tears running down my cheeks. “It’s not OK, is it?”
“I don’t think so, darling.”
I remember very little of what happened next.
I remember they said the heartbeat was still there, and then the “but”. It was too slow. Our baby was alive, but her heart wasn’t beating fast enough.
The sonographer showed us, and that picture is seared into my mind. Our daughter, the slow, steady thud of her heart. We watched her struggling to live, slowly dying inside me.
As she was still technically alive, we were given two options. We could terminate the pregnancy on medical grounds, or have another scan in a week, to see if the heartbeat had stopped. I knew we couldn’t terminate while her heart was still beating. We went home, and waited for our Pearl to die.
I can’t tell you how I got through that week. When I walked into the hospital, it was as if I hadn’t left. It sounds awful, but when the sonographer showed me the screen, filled with our silent, still baby, I felt relieved. We had been spared an impossible decision.
I cannot describe the day we said goodbye to Pearl. I don’t have the words. It is the single most terrible thing that I have ever been through, and I imagine it always will be. We will keep that day in our hearts, for only us, until the day we die and find our Pearl again, somewhere at the bottom of the sea, at the bottom of our grief.
We named her Pearl on the day we got her post mortem results. A Pearl is formed from an internal trauma. She was the most precious thing that came from us. She lived, even if she never took a breath. Her whole life and death happened in me, and somewhere deep in my body, the space she occupied will forever remain. I will never be whole.
While we had more tests, I changed my lifestyle. I cut back the intensity of my exercise, overhauled my diet, took herbal supplements, and began fertility acupuncture.
Then, for the first time in years, I ovulated on my own, and two weeks later, I did a positive pregnancy test!
We had a viability scan, where we discovered that not only had we got pregnant naturally, our little one had a perfect heartbeat. A room full of medical professionals were in tears at witnessing what really was a small miracle.
But, a few days later, I had some spotting, so they offered me another scan for reassurance. The room fell silent, and finally, we heard those awful words again: “I’m so sorry.”
I’m writing this a few weeks after losing that fifth pregnancy.
We have been given injections to induce ovulation when we feel ready to try again. If and when we start our next pregnancy, I will have lots of medicine, which I’m hoping will get us through. If that pregnancy isn’t successful, I think it may be the last one. The losses have taken their toll and there’s only so much we can suffer.
We began our journey into pregnancy so we could have a family, and amongst the heartbreak we have found positives that shine through the grief. We are stronger as a couple. We have a daughter, and we carry her always in our minds and hearts. We take nothing for granted. Our happiness is bright in contrast to the darkness we have come through. We appreciate each other more, and others around us. We know we can survive anything if we are together. The most important thing this has taught us, is that even if we never bring our own baby home, we are already an incredible, loving family.
Life doesn’t end with loss. We swim against the tide of grief every day. We will keep kicking, keep our heads above water, keep riding the waves. Because we have a reason to get up every day and dive into life. We will always be diving, for our Pearl.