10th November 2017
It’s November, and I’ve had two miscarriages in three weeks. That’s what it’s felt like, anyway.
It was my instinct to write about this. My logical brain told me not to… It’ll stop someone from hiring you, knowing you’re in the baby making game. It’s over-sharing, no one wants the gory details. If someone googles me, is this what I want to pop up? This is my first miscarriage. So many women I know, even in my innermost circle, have had two, four, six of them… am I being dramatic?
In the end though, as it always should, instinct won out, so here I am, sharing our news, in characteristic novel-like detail.
I wrote this letter after the ‘first’ miscarriage. I never posted it.
To Our Friends and Family,
We know Elliot would make a great big sister. We want to add another child to our family. We have been trying. Please stop asking us when we’re going to give her a sibling.
We lost a baby this week. Our baby’s name was Squid. Wasn’t even a baby really, he was a blighted ovum. But that blighted ovum was a positive test, and it was eight weeks of talking about little Squid, and planning how we’d move the bedrooms around to fit Squid into our home, looking up double prams and maternity clothes, dressing Elliot up in a ‘Big Sister in Training’ shirt for a daycare photo that’ll haunt me when we get it back next month, figuring out that June 6 meant a Gemini baby, that we could announce it properly to the world on November 22, budgeting for six months off work and two kids in daycare, booking appointments and scans, excitedly telling close family and friends and talking about what we might call Squid in nine months.
It could be tomorrow, or a few weeks or even a month before we can actually say goodbye to Squid. I have to carry Squid around until my body figures out that he or she isn’t even there. I don’t know if that’ll happen while I’m sleeping, while I’m teaching, while I’m grocery shopping, or while I’m at home baking muffins with my daughter.
Graphic, but like my wonderful GP said, ‘This is something that almost every woman of childbearing age will go through, whether she knows it or not. Nature is far cleverer than we are and she makes these decisions for us. There is nothing anyone could have done to prevent it’. So I’m sharing this to let my girlfriends and cousins and aunties know that I know now how shit it is. I’m letting everyone know that we’re pretty sad right now, and I tend to be extra snappy when I’m sad, so know that it isn’t about you if I bite your head off.
It hasn’t been as easy this time as it was with Elliot. So if you see us in the next few months, please don’t ask us when we’re having another baby. We just don’t know, and we’re yet to say goodbye to this one.
A very raw Monique Bowley speaks about miscarriage, grief, and how friends and family can help someone who is struggling. Post continues after audio.
Our scan had shown a uterus the size it should be for six weeks and six days, but it contained only a yolk sack, no foetal pole and no foetal heartbeat.
I have an amazing obstetrician. He is the eternal optimist, and he calms my anxious mind like no other doctor I’ve met. I waited a few days, then sent him a message to let him know we wouldn’t need our 10 week appointment, that I’d been told by my GP that this was almost certainly a blighted ovum.
‘Try not to stress,’ was his reply, ‘I find dating scans fairly useless at this stage as everything is so small and things often get missed. Try to get some sleep, come and see me at 11:45am tomorrow and I’ll scan you again so you can get some clarity.’
So we went in at 11:45am the next day. I’d already grieved for a few days. We’d cried, told our parents and siblings. I’d hopped on the bed, he’d popped on the gel… and there it was. A tiny, tiny flicker. An unmistakable heartbeat. It was slow, it was faint, but that was normal very early on, he assured us. A heartbeat was the very best sign we could get that things were OK. Babies grow at different rates, he said, we’re likely to find that in a few weeks he’s caught up substantially.
I’d had a bad feeling about this pregnancy from the day I got the positive result – the 1st of October, at 7pm, during the NRL Grand Final. I’d had barely any symptoms since then, in stark contrast to my pregnancy with Elliot. I had a bad feeling at the dating scan, when we didn’t hear that instant heart beat that we did with Elliot. That feeling was validated when my GP called and asked me to come and see her about the scan, when she held my hand and told me it wasn’t the ear infection, the antibiotics, the glass of wine, it was just nature.
I still had a bad feeling, even after this reassuring appointment with my obstetrician. But I told myself it was OK, that it was my anxiety talking, that I should trust the people we’ve chosen to handle our pregnancy. So I let myself think about having this baby again. I felt a bump grow between my hips. My chin broke out. I had a day or two of reassuring nausea. We told our closest friends, I told a few work colleagues. I told my 2015 mothers’ group. I joined a June 2018 mothers' group, and shared Squid’s story, hoping to reassure other panicked mums with ultrasounds that were way too far behind that there can be good outcomes.
Then it was Melbourne Cup Day, 7th November. Our 10 week obstetric appointment was at 3:30pm, right as the race began. I ran through my medical history with the midwife. I hopped on the obstetrician’s bed and we excitedly held our breath while he applied the gel. It had been faint two weeks ago, it should be nice and steady now.
There was no heartbeat.
‘You can see what I can see, Michelle. The baby has no heartbeat. I’ve put the colour on to show the circulation, and you can see there’s nothing happening there. I’m really sorry. This seems especially cruel given you got that reassurance. I’ll give you a minute’.
In the end, I know the doctors are right. That one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage. That most of the time, this happens before we even know we’re pregnant, so half the women who think they’ve never had one, actually have. That nature is smarter than us, that she takes the emotions out of her decisions. That to be a woman of or after reproductive age who has tried for more than one baby and not had a miscarriage, would be to belong to a minority. I know there’s nothing I could have done. I can wish it happened the first time, with the blighted ovum diagnosis. I can wish it happened before that.
But what do I do on November 22 and June 6? What do I do with the ‘Big Sister Elliot’ shirt, with the maternity clothes I just bought? All these pregnancy books in my house and the Facebook feed that is dominated by ads for double prams and folate supplements… Can I write to Zuckerberg and tell him his algorithms suck?
This is just a big hug to all my friends, family and to all the mothers and mothers-to-be. A big, non-touchy-feely, virtual hug, to say you’re not alone in going through this, it’s just really lonely right now, and God I get it. And it’s a love letter to my baby.
Catch you in 60 years or so, Squid.
15th April 2018
I’m still not ‘over’ the loss of Squid, and I’m still not OK with the idea that ‘we have the babies we’re meant to have’. I really wanted him.
November was bad, Christmas was bad, revisiting all the places where I’d been pregnant the last time I had been there was really hard. Waiting to try and then trying to conceive was hard. I’m not a patient, ‘trust-the-universe’ kind of person.
But then it happened. Meet Shrimp! Our newest addition is due mid-October, and everything has been green lights and thumbs up so far. Fourteen weeks, a zillion scans, months of anxiety, we’re past the danger zone and I’m beginning to accept that it’s happening this time.