In the last couple of weeks my pregnant tummy has really popped out, so much so that even the lollipop lady said ‘congratulations!’ this morning as I walked my son to school. While I look and feel 24-weeks pregnant in every way it is still a struggle for me to accept those excited well wishes as easily as I did six years ago.
In 2010 when I was pregnant with Toby, I told just about anyone who would listen that we were expecting a baby by eight weeks. For better or for worse my husband and I were so darned excited it just made sense to tell those around us with our rationale being that that even if the pregnancy failed, we would want those same people to know and offer their support.
I might have been feeling nauseous and tired but I joyfully catalogued my physical changes with frequent side profile ‘bump pics’ on Facebook followed up with the 4D ultrasound scan photos. I would frequently moan to friends about feeling frumpy or laugh about weird food cravings and I read with enthusiasm books by supposed baby whisperers such as Gina Ford and Tizzie Hall.
Apart from the lack of alcohol and soft cheese, it was an exciting but tiring time and it is with a huge fondness for my old self and our relationship pre-baby that I look back at all of this. We might have been naïve but we were happy and full of hope for our future and I recognise that for many expectant couples or new parents, our joyful experience will sound familiar.
My current bump is to be our second baby but it is actually our fifth pregnancy. In the time between our first and our ‘second’ we have had three miscarriages and my eyes have been opened to the very different type of pregnancy that many women experience.
I wrote about my first very painful miscarriage in 2013 and immediately I began hearing from friends, colleagues and total strangers about their similar heartbreaking losses. As much as it is a ‘club’ I didn’t particularly want to belong to, being privy to other women’s private stories of miscarriage gave me so much more insight and empathy.
Where once those two pink lines appearing on a stick felt simple and joyful, I began to see how much more complex it can be. Pregnancy is no less beautiful or miraculous but it can also be frustrating, painful, anxiety-inducing and devastating.
Watch: the comments women get after a miscarriage.
When we found out I was once again pregnant in May we were cautiously happy, knowing the rollercoaster of emotions that lay ahead. We decided not to tell anyone (apart from a couple of close friends) until we made it through the first trimester. I didn’t want to have to talk about it openly and I also couldn’t quite believe that the pregnancy would lead to a baby.
During those initial 12 weeks I went into hibernation mode and coupled with the cold winter days and a seemingly endless amount of coughs and colds, I just tried to get through it one day at a time.
Every week I saw my obstetrician for a scan and every week I counted down the days with a mixture of dread and nervous energy. Once inside his rooms I would steel myself to prepare for the words, ‘I’m sorry but there is no heartbeat’, and I was flooded with relief each time he reported that all was well.
I was experiencing regular bleeding and cramping and while nothing ominous was discovered, it was extremely hard to concentrate on anything else. There were times I felt I might be going mad with the worry and all I wanted to do was sob under the duvet obsessing over each and every detail. Thankfully my husband and supportive friends encouraged me with positive words and everyday life with all its routine, work and my funny little boy kept me busy and distracted and eventually those early days of intense emotion passed.
A friend who also had three miscarriages referred to pregnancy post-miscarriage as ‘experiencing the dark side of pregnancy'. It is as if there are two types of pregnant women, those who have not suffered a loss and those who have, and the experiences can be vastly different and not always openly discussed.
As our fifth pregnancy progresses and the little kicks in my tummy remind me of the amazing miracle that is taking place inside me, I feel comforted that this time, statistically we should make it through to the end. That does not mean I won't continue to obsess over every little cramp or twinge, yet I do now feel excited as well as anxious about our future baby-to-be.
There are still times I light-heartedly moan to a friend about a lack of alcohol or laugh about feeling frumpy, but what this ‘darker side’ of pregnancy has taught me is I have a lot less time to focus on those insignificant details and a lot more time to feel grateful to have come this far.
Pregnancy much like life itself can be wonderful or terrifying and everything in between, and there is no right or wrong way to experience it. If you are lucky enough to have a smooth sailing nine months from start to finish, keep in mind that for many women, this is not the case and that again much like life, you don’t necessarily need to experience the trauma yourself to be able to show empathy and understanding.