real life

I don't know how to answer the question: "Is she your only child?"

The absolute worst question you can ask me when you see me out with my daughter is “Is she your only child?”. Quite an innocuous question I know.

Most would see it as a simple conversation starter with any other mother down the park or at the local pool.  But every time I am asked, my heart sinks.

You see, I want to tell you the truth, but I am scared that I might upset you.  I will look at you and do a quick assessment as to whether you can handle the answer.  Then I will do either one of three things:

1) Ignore it all, be polite and say “Yes she is my only child“.

2) I tell you “Yes she is my only ‘live’ child” and hope you miss the extra word. This one is often my preferred method as most people are too polite to ask and this relieves my guilt of not acknowledging my story.

3) I tell you the truth.

Today I am going to tell you the truth.

The doctors demenour changed from jovial to serious.

The truth is I have two daughters, maybe even six children, depending on how you want to think about it.  "Six!" I hear you say.  Yeah, let's rewind to the beginning and I will tell you all about it. My story starts like most others: Aussie girl meets Kiwi boy on a tour bus going through Russia (okay, maybe that bit is a bit unusual) and brings him home as her biggest and best souvenir ever.  After five years together, we get married in 2007 and decide to try and have a family.

We fell pregnant quite quickly and at nine weeks we had our first appointment with the obstetrician.  We went through all the usual stuff, family history etc, then he said, "let's hop on to the ultrasound machine and take a look at your baby".  Before I knew it I was staring up at the screen, thinking "I know ultrasounds are hard to read but..." I couldn't see anything except a big black bean. No head, no arms, no legs. Nothing that even looked like the beginnings of a baby.

The doctor's demeanour changed from jovial to serious. Paired with what I saw on the screen, I knew we were in trouble.  The Dr told me that we had what was called a 'blighted ovum'. When the sac grows and the baby doesn't. I had miscarried and I was going to need a D&C.

We went home and I watched endless infomercials on TV. I was in shock. How could we go from discussing when to tell our parents to this?  In my follow up appointment, my doctor assured me that this was very common and that we just needed to keep on going.

A few months later I miscarried again.  Luckily this time I did not know I was pregnant until I went into a natural miscarriage.  My period had been missing for a bit but after a raft of pregnancy tests, I got sick of peeing on a stick.  At least with this one there were no expectations, no build-up of hopes and dreams. Unfortunately nature didn't do the full job and I had to have another D&C.

After waiting another few months, we got back on the bandwagon again in mid-2008. We fell pregnant again (yeah, getting pregnant was never the problem). This time things seemed to be going well. We got a heartbeat.  Then we passed the 13-week scan, no problem. Then at 19-weeks we found out we were having a girl.

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My waters broke while I was in Emergency. Image: supplied

Given my history, the ultrasound attendant reassured us that everything was fine.  Then it all fell apart.  It was a Saturday night (all bad stuff happens on a Saturday night) and my husband I were watching Adam Sandler's movie Click, when I started to bleed.

Not a lot at first , so we called the obstetrician and he said it was okay. Then it got worse and we had to go to emergency because I was less than 20 weeks.  I was 19 weeks and 5 days.

Emergency on a Saturday night is hell.  It was in Emergency that my waters broke and we were told by a young doctor that we were going to have my baby in the next 24-48 hours and she would not survive.

It is hard to make a busy Emergency department go quiet, but I managed it when I started to wail that I did not want to have my baby now, it was too early.  Even Rachel, the drug addict in the cubicle next door shut up when she heard my cries. After a long wait I was wheeled up to the maternity ward. As I hit the doors of the wards hearing all the babies cry, I joined them.

Whilst my husband went home to get some rest, I was told we would have to name our baby.  So when he came in the next morning I told him and he said "do you have any suggestions?"  I had been thinking about it all night and the only two names I could come up with were Hope and Faith.  My husband looked at me and said: "Well it will have to be Hope because I am all out of Faith".  So that is her name.  I held on to her for another 3 weeks before she was stillborn on the 12th of September, 2008.

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This week as part of Never Forgotten: Mamamia's Pregnancy Loss Awareness Week we're remembering the babies we've lost. Post continues below.

I cannot explain the devastation and overwhelming grief. Until that point I never really understood people who do serious amounts of drugs or alcohol. I do now. I felt like my body had let me down. I had let my husband down. I had let my baby down.  How could I find something that everyone else seems to do, so difficult?

And of course there was the huge question of why? Was it something I ate, something I did, something I said, did I sit on my chair funny? Why did this happen to me? I have never been much of a crier but the grief was so overwhelming that I just had to go with it. I cried at home, at the supermarket (I could not go near the baby aisle), on the train, in the street, at my desk, everywhere.  Early on I was crying six or more times a day. I thought it would never stop. I thought I was losing my mind. I have never had any mental health issues but the way I felt back then was that the edge was close, darn close. That really scared me.

It was a long path back. Gradually, very gradually, the crying receded. A five week trip to India really helped and playing copious amount of World of Warcraft with my wonderful husband gave us something to both channel our energy into.  Amazing people came to rescue me and to them I am eternally grateful. I learnt to be vulnerable and to accept help.  I had no choice.

After losing our baby I thought that the universe "owed" me and that surely the next pregnancy would work. Well, no!  I went on to have a further two early miscarriages.

Each was devastating in its own right but it is funny how experiences can change you. In a way I was grateful that they were early. I remember saying to the universe, "Well if it isn't going to work out I would prefer that you tell me now!"

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However, by the time I got to pregnancy number five I knew I was running out of steam. It wasn't the physical side of the pregnancies and miscarriages that were causing the problem. It was the toll on our mental health. We felt like we were in the computer game Frogger, trying to get to the other side of the freeway, knowing it was highly likely we were going to be run over.

The question became, would we be run over by a mini or a Mack truck? Without a doubt there is only a certain amount you can take when going through these things. There absolutely is a limit. We went to tonnes of specialists that prodded and poked both of us. We were told there is nothing wrong with us and that it was the "law of large numbers". When you're in it, that doesn't help.

At the end of 2009 we went back one more time. Christmas 2009, I found out I was pregnant for the sixth time. My friend told me I was the unhappiest pregnant lady on the planet. Of course I was.

I felt like I had to divorce myself from the process just in case it all fell apart. My new Obstetrician made me make all the appointments for my whole of my pregnancy in the first two weeks. I said to him, "are you crazy?!" But as it turned out I made every single appointment and I carried my daughter to 40 weeks and 1 day.

We now have a happy, healthy, rambunctious, live three year old and we feel so grateful, even when she is throwing a tantrum. My husband and I have made the decision not to try for another child. We thought about it long and hard and yes, there is some part of us that would like to do it.

However, we know what we would have to put ourselves and our live daughter through to achieve it, and for us the price is too high. I feel like I somehow cheated the system to get my live daughter. I snuck one out when the universe wasn't looking. So we will stay just as we are.

We have never figured out why this happened to us. In the end I just had to tell myself it happened to us because it did, and be at peace with that. However, I am writing this so our story does not go to waste. Please share our story with anyone who is suffering loss or miscarriage. There are lots of us out there and if it is you, you are certainly not alone.

Have you ever dealt with the loss of a child? What advice can you give our author?

* Written in loving memory of Hope born on the 12th of September, 2008

* This post has been published anonymously because everyone deals with grief differently.  This story is not just my story but my husband's also.  My husband is a very private man and he feels differently to me about telling our story publicly.  So out of love and respect for my wonderful husband I have asked that this post be published anonymously. 

If this has post raised any issues for you or if you would like to speak with someone, please contact the Sands Australia 24 hour support line on 1300 072 637.

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