The Catharsis

My partner and I had fallen in love at first sight. Well within a year we were pregnant and living together. We adored each other, our son and our life together. Our boy was thirteen months old when I fell pregnant again. I knew straight away and when it was confirmed we were thrilled. Then, about three weeks in I turned to my partner and said ‘Baby, I don’t think this baby will make it to term’. Instantly I was overwhelmed with a sense of guilt for saying and believing such an awful thing so I put every effort into convincing myself that it wasn’t true and imagining who my baby would become. I became sure she was a girl, invested her with the qualities of strength, bravery and nobility and started calling her Ripley (after Sigourney Weaver’s character in Alien, what greater feminist icon?). At the time we spent hours each night rocking our boy to (back to) sleep so I’d tell him about the baby, the stage it was at now, what newborns are like and what a wonderful big brother he’d make. I easily managed to forget that terrible feeling that had struck and the gloss returned to our dream.

I had buried that spark of illumination so deep that I was only slightly perplexed by the length of time the sonographer was staring at the screen at our twelve week scan. However when she turned and asked ‘Are you sure about the dates?’ I knew exactly what had happened. Our ‘twelve week old’ was the size of an eight week old and there was no heartbeat. The doctors were concerned about the length of time she’d already been rotting inside me and wanted to hoover me out as soon as possible but the thought of evicting my baby, dead or not, before she was ready to come out was more than I could bear and, besides, I felt that it was my strength of believing in the pregnancy that had maintained it and now that I knew for sure it was over it wouldn’t be long before events unfolded spontaneously. I was quite correct and my contractions had begun by the next morning. I was losing fluid, blood and clots which I was trying to catch in a sieve over the toilet- unfortunately it wasn’t in place when the baby came- which felt something like a golf ball popping out-and disappeared down the u-bend. I told my partner and had a brief conversation which ended in me elbow deep in the toilet bowl terrified lest my baby was made out of tissue paper and disintegrated at my touch. Luckily she was a little more robust than that. She was in her sac which was complete so we never saw her ‘in the flesh’ but we could clearly see her golf ball sized head and her tiny spine and the beginnings at least of arms which was the most bitter sweet and tragically beautiful image I now have at my disposal. We wrapped her in our favourite of our son’s newborn babygros and buried her under a Eucalyptus with some photographs, an old toy belonging to my partner, a necklace I’d worn every day for five years till that point, a conker for each of us that our son had picked up at the park and a letter I’d had to write to her.

Day times I allocated to Our son with a ‘no grieving’ policy but my nights and my interior became darker and darker. Before the miscarriage I thought I’d found my calling in life, as a mother, but now I sneered at myself for imagining such a thing when I couldn’t even succesfully carry a baby. I hated myself for ruining everything and of course the depression fed into this as a vicious circle getting worse by the day. So… I starved myself. I cut off communication with my best friends (I didn’t know why at the time but now I think that I felt that the girl they’d known since they were eleven was a lie and really I was this… Monster who wasn’t fit to be in their lives). I used to secretly smash my head against the wall which would give me this enormous sense of relief, silencing the tormenting voices in my head to one delicious throb-throb-throb. My partner kept asking what the bumps were and as it became more and more frequent I got more and more scared I’d develop a clot and die (I can’t claim to have been too bothered either way for my own sake but I was terrified it’d happen when I was in sole care of Our child and he’d be in danger) so eventually I admitted what I’d been doing, promised to stop (which, but for one or two hiccups I did) and sought help.

Over the next few months I took antidepressants which certainly didn’t have quite the effect I was after and visited a councillor weekly. It was hard-going but I was determined to fix myself before we had another baby… Till one night. Which left us pregnant again. I couldn’t wait to kick the drugs and didn’t like the idea of them going through to baby so, against medical advice, I went cold turkey as soon as I knew. I actually found the side effects of the sudden stop (dizziness, hot and cold sweats) strangely satisfying as I knew it was part of my transition to something new. I discovered that without them I wasn’t strong enough to do the councilling but I had some useful tools to hand from the sessions I had had previously and things like the eating problem cleared themselves up because I had to look after my new child.

He’s just turned one. Looking at him helps me a lot because I would have been eight months pregnant with Ripley when he was conceived so I can’t long for her situation to be different without imagining him out of the picture which is, of course, impossible. I’m not the same person as I was before the miscarriage and my struggle with depression goes on but the dark times tend to be less dark and less inescapable now- and I’ve learned the importance of building my defences. Sometimes against my will, I get out there and meet people and talk to them; other mums especially, and meaningfully were opportunity arises. Let me tell you, I have been astonished by the number of people who’ve gone through this kind of thing and having their stories in my heart too now creates a tapestry that I can cloak around myself when I feel isolated and remind myself that it’s not only bearing children that connects you with Earths mothers but losing them too. In a bid to bolster my self esteem which was left in tatters I’m now running a weekly session of crafts, stories and songs for preschoolers and beginning to write. It’s refreshing for a mum of two preschoolers to do some work that you can actually finish (as opposed to tidying and bathing and feeding and all those mothers jobs that never end) but what has really helped me is the socialising and the networking where I’ve met such inspiring women who are all so generous and encouraging. Life is really hard, I realise that now, but I hope I’m also learning how I personally can cope with it and I hope that anybody out there reading this in a similar place to where I was in the dark days takes from this article that the darkness is just part of the human condition, try not to hate yourself for it, grope blindly for any opportunity that might just take you to a slightly new place in your life and, crucially, talk to anybody you can bring yourself to talk to. Bit by bit it gets more bearable.

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10 thoughts on “The Catharsis

  1. Le Clown says:

    Elizabeth,
    This was brutally honest and heartrendingly beautiful.
    A great piece of writing, and quite sad.
    I’m struggling for words.
    Le Clown

    • Thank you. It divides opinion. Some people don’t really dig my candour but your words mean a lot. I’ll let you know when I post part 2 which deals with my ongoing ‘recovery’. It’s being published in a baby mag in October for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. It’s called “How Losing My Baby Led to My Rebirth”. I love your picture by the way. Gonna get even more immersed in your blog ASAP. 2 kids here so give me a chance and I’ll be letting you know what I think.x

      • Le Clown says:

        Elizabeth,
        Take your time, and congrats on being published. I find your writing visceral (it’s a good thing).
        Le Clown

  2. Elizabeth,
    This is so heart wrenching and sad, but you came out of it so strong and now you are sharing with others who may be in a painful place. I remember I didn’t understand what a miscarriage might feel like until I was pregnant. Even though I never suffered through that experience, it bought me closer to understanding the loss one might feel, as occasionally my mind went there. I was especially touched by what you said here… “having their stories in my heart too now creates a tapestry that I can cloak around myself.” So beautifully expressed. I’m so happy you have found strength in others’ experiences, and I’m sure your story will help many people. – Amy

  3. I love how honest and candid this is. I am certain that this kind of sharing will help countless women who have experienced similar tragedy. It’s nice not to be alone. I love that you started a crafting/sharing group, and while I don’t necessarily condone going off one’s meds cold turkey, I applaud you for that too. In that regard at least I can relate. I look forward to reading the continued message of how you are coping. Best to you and yours…. 🙂

  4. I am with Amy, that section of words are awesome. I also appreciated the part “remind myself that it’s not only bearing children that connects you with Earths mothers but losing them too.” I have no children but I have had occasion to witness the incredible bond that mothers have all over the world, no matter the language barrier but never thought of how the losing (and the potential) of a child would give that bond extra depth. Thank you for your frankness, it is only when we are, that we feel less alone. And of course, thank you Le Clown for the link.

  5. ladyflowersbysusan says:

    How terribly sad. Few people know that post-partum depression can happen at the end of ANY pregnancy, whether full-term, pre-term, miscarried or terminated. May you continue to heal!

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