This blog post comes with a trigger warning as I do discuss miscarriage in depth. There is another trigger warning reminder further down just before the paragraph I am referring to 🧡
Home birth dream
I’ve always dreamed of having my babies at home. I feel uncomfortable with the level of intervention that has been thrown into pregnancy and labour over the last few decades. After my nursing degree, I wanted to train to be a community midwife.
Unfortunately, there is not enough demand for it in this country. In certain counties in Ireland you can’t even have a supported home birth unless you pay thousands privately.
There is also so much legality and responsibility in the community I also didn’t feel comfortable going down that route. The idea of being a midwife in a hospital didn’t appeal to me either due to the level of intervention and meddling.
Our bodies were made to birth instinctively, but the natural urges and knowhow has been diluted with decades of medical interference. Don’t get me wrong, where would we be without it in certain circumstances, but I feel that so much power and autonomy is instantly removed from you the minute you check in with your GP with a new pregnancy.
This is purely my own opinion. I don’t expect everyone who reads this to have the same views. I’m so very glad that the health care system is in place in order to keep us and our babies safe.
I know a lot of people would feel far more comfortable and safe in a hospital environment. Having supportive, informative health care providers available is so important; but I also think that being able to make your own informed decision should be made more a priority.
I would love to aim for a home birth this time but we simply cannot afford that right now. The next best option is having midwife led care and planning for a VBAC (vaginal birth after c-section).
My preference is having fewer scans and more time to enjoy this pregnancy without the massive stress and worry that we had with Evie’s pregnancy.
High risk pregnancy
Evie’s pregnancy carried a lot of weight being “high risk”. Starting at our 12 week scan, it felt like everything was taken out of our hands and the whole 9 months were filled with countless scans and appointments. Each scan was a 2-3 hour drive away so we would either book an Airbnb in Galway or stay with Ross’ parents in Dublin.
We tried to make the most of our mini “getaways” but even these two hopelessly positive souls couldn’t shake the worry the night before and the morning of the appointments. It became apparent that the main reason they were scanning Evie so often was to see if she was still alive and growing.
Looking back, I think if we had the chance to change anything, we would have opted for fewer scans. There’s something magic about seeing the little human you’re growing on the grainy ultrasound screen, but after the umpteenth time you start to feel like it’s too intrusive. Feeling her wiggle, roll and hiccup was enough for me at that point.
Going to all of these scans alone was also so daunting and draining. Covid restrictions wouldn’t allow for partners to attend. Ross was left waiting in the car, while I was left in various different waiting rooms. He would be allowed to come in at the end when the consultant was talking to us; he missed most of the scans. Sometimes, they would do a quick one for him. Honestly though, it took a lot of the magic away.
We were told countless times to expect the worst. Evie had developed something called hydrops fetalis which is collections of fluid in the baby’s body. It is usually caused by an underlying health condition–in Evie’s case this was likely her heart defects or transient leukemia.)
The survival rate for babies with hydrops fetalis is significantly low (10% according to an article on NCBI). Thankfully, Evie’s condition in utero improved, and the fluid dissipated.
Unfortunately, we still had Evie’s cardiac diagnosis to contend with. Being told that your baby might not survive until term, or not survive birth due to her complex heart defects was extremely hard to hear.
What made it more painful was being told that the defects posing this risk might not be able to be corrected with surgery if she survived due to the severity of them.
In between appointments, I tried to carry on with the pregnancy in the best way I could and savour the sweet moments. I listened to the Gentle Birth app religiously, took a pregnancy and birth course online with Faye from Moon and Stars Birthing which I thoroughly enjoyed.
I researched the bejaysus out of breastfeeding, colostrum harvesting and pumping. Near the end of the pregnancy we relocated to Ross’ parent’s house in Dublin so that we were close to the hospital we were delivering at in case anything kicked off after 37 weeks.
Global warming decided it would give us a blast in Ireland during the two weeks leading up to Evie’s birth. I spent my time going for walks early before the sun came up with our dog Arya (the chosen one to come to Dublin with us while the other two stayed with my mum), hiding in our room with the curtains closed and the fan on full blast, harvesting tiny drops of colostrum 5-6 times a day, sleeping, meditating and breathing, having my lunch outside or laying under the parasol just for a little taste of summer.
Despite our pregnancy with Evie being “high risk”, I loved being pregnant. I felt super strong and feminine, and so connected to this little miracle growing inside me.
Postpartum was a strange time; it’s like missing a big piece of you all of a sudden. This was obviously amplified with being separated from Evie for so long after she was born.
Trigger warning–in depth discussion of miscarriage and the management of miscarriage in hospital, this may be distressing for some people.
Looking after people experiencing miscarriage
A lot of people think that miscarriage will never happen to them. I used to think this; that was until I started working as a nurse on a busy gynae ward. The first thing that shook me was the sheer amount of women who were coming in with bleeding or cramps, and resulting in miscarriage.
Younger, older, planned, unplanned, first, third, fourteenth loss. We looked after people who were miscarrying up to 16 weeks gestation, after that they were cared for on the maternity ward.
Before working there, I wasn’t fully aware of the various ways a miscarriage can be managed in hospital – including oral medication, intravenous medication, pessaries, surgery, manual removal of tissue or products that have already passed the cervix.
I also wasn’t prepared for the total contrast of emotions. Some people were completely broken, some appeared unaffected. Some had had time to process everything before their planned procedure. Some held it together beforehand and broke down when they woke up from surgery and realised the gravity of their situation. It was devastating to see this day in day out. Some had support and some had only us nurses.
We would receive lunchboxes or little cardboard boxes from women or their partners as they arrived to the ward, with tiny little babies inside wrapped in damp kitchen towel, or clots to show the doctors.
We would take receivers from the toilet and check through the blood, urine and tissue for signs of a fetus or placenta. We would then measure the blood in a plastic jug and act accordingly.
Sometimes if they were far enough along in their pregnancy, we would try to tell if the baby was a boy or a girl–at the request of the parents.
We would chaperone the doctor’s rounds, make tea for partners, sneak them in during the tightest covid restrictions, put tiny fetuses in little white coffins, support, hug, medicate, continuously observe and check, advocate, know when to leave, know when to stay and know when to call an emergency.
You never think it will be you; until you do. When colleagues started to open up about their own heart-breaking stories and I started to recognise or know people coming in with miscarriages, I realised how easy it would be for me to experience this too.
The first 8 weeks of my pregnancy with Evie I was hyperaware of this potential. Checking the toilet every time I went for a pee, checking my underwear if anything felt off. I had some minor spotting and I was then convinced. My manager at the time reminded it me it could be implantation bleeding.
1 in 4 pregnant people experience miscarriage. Up to 50% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, before the next period is due. Some people won’t know they’ve miscarried. Around 15% of known pregnancies result in miscarriage.
It’s far more common than most people realise and it needs to be talked about. Nothing you’ve done has caused this, nothing could have prevented it.
A dear friend’s mum described her miscarriage in the most comforting way. She described it as the baby’s soul not being ready to be a part of the world yet, and when she got pregnant again, the soul passed on to that baby. With her pregnancy after her miscarriage she said she felt a familiarity when her daughter was born, as if she had already connected with this baby during the previous pregnancy.
Finding out we were pregnant with Bear was quite magical. Evie was very sick in ICU at the time and although we hadn’t planned on getting pregnant so soon after having Evie, it just felt really right at that time.
We both had dreams about having a baby boy and we named the baby Bear (he was the size of a waterbear/tardigrade when we found out).
With Evie’s health being so fragile when we brought her home, knowing we had a little baby growing inside me filled our hearts with hope.
We deliberated about getting an early scan but when I had some minor spotting, I mentioned it to our GP and she said she’d send a referral. They happened to schedule our first scan on Ross’ birthday so we organised a Jack and Jill nurse to look after Evie and we went into Sligo early to have breakfast beforehand.
I didn’t actively have a bad feeling about the scan but when the grey and black screen showed us an empty pregnancy sac; I didn’t feel shocked. We were both devastated of course, but somehow I feel like I knew already.
When the sonographer told us this looked like a missed miscarriage, Ross and I both turned to each other and at the same time said “does this mean Evie is going to be okay?”
It was a strange concept, but we both felt that Bear had given us some hope and light during such a difficult time with Evie’s health. It was as if Evie had said “it’s ok to go now, I’m going to be alright, and so are mama and dad”.
We opted for conservative management which is a “wait and see” approach. We went back for a scan each week to see if anything had changed. I didn’t start bleeding until 3 weeks later on International Women’s day, such a poignant date.
Unfortunately, my bleeding got really heavy at home and wasn’t subsiding at all; we decided to call for an ambulance. Evie wasn’t really able for a car journey back then, especially when I could have passed out or the bleeding could have worsened while Ross was driving.
I bled so much at home, the whole 50 minute ambulance ride to the hospital, during the transfer on the stretcher, on arrival to the ward (that I used to work on), more in the toilet and then on the trolley in the exam room.
By the time I was seen by a doctor, my blood pressure had plummeted, I felt horrendous and so they called for emergency surgery right away.
The nurses looking after me that day were all dear, former colleagues of mine. So many people asked me if I felt uncomfortable being looked after by people I knew. Honestly, it could have been anyone there when I was in the midst of it and I wouldn’t have noticed.
After the surgery though, I was so grateful to have familiar faces around me, all so caring and understanding. They were amazing.
Ross and I had time over the few weeks we were waiting to miscarry naturally to grieve. Even though I knew there was no baby there anymore, my body still felt pregnant. I even went to a pregnancy yoga class that I had booked weeks before. I knew I was miscarrying, but I went anyway. It was quite a healing session and at the end, the instructor told us to take two roses–one for us and one for the baby. The next morning I noticed that one of my roses had wilted.
I enjoyed that time, in a round-about way, still feeling pregnant. They say that feeling nauseous during the start of your pregnancy is a good sign, but I felt awful and still miscarried. I stopped feeling that way a few days before I started bleeding.
Despite this being a missed miscarriage and technically there had been no fetus or baby to lose (they were likely reabsorbed within the first few weeks), it was still important for us to have a symbol for Bear. We bought a cherry tree and some flowers to plant in our garden.
I kept the placental tissue and clots that I’d passed in the hospital and brought them home. We buried them along with the petals from the wilted rose under the cherry tree. It didn’t blossom this year as it didn’t get a chance to settle but I’m looking forward to seeing those beautiful pink petals next spring and telling our other children about Bear and how important it is to remember him.
We had some really special photographs taken on my birthday and it’s really lovely to look at them. It was before we knew we’d lost Bear and we were there as a family of 4 enjoying each other’s company in our home. Thank you for that Oonagh 🧡
Pregnancy after loss
Ross and I knew that we wanted to start trying again for a baby soon after our miscarriage. I had one period 6 weeks after our miscarriage with Bear; after that we started trying again. Much to our delight and surprise, I missed my next period and our pregnancy test came up ‘pregnant’.
It felt important to us that Evie would have a sibling close in age. There are two main reasons for this:
The first is the idea that Evie would have a little friend to grow up with and aid with her own development. She’s so social but with her being very vulnerable and with her complex medical needs, it’s unlikely we’ll ever place her in a crèche.
The biggest reason for me personally is the idea of Evie dying. The thought of living in our home, the home we bought so that Evie would have a safe place to grow, without our baby. That’s not to say that we want this baby to lean on or to carry us after the potential loss of Evie.
My dream is for Evie to meet her little sister and for them so spend some time (hopefully a long time) with each other, learning and growing together.
We opted for an early scan again with this pregnancy. At 7 weeks we went to the Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit, with Evie, and saw our tiny blob’s flickering heartbeat. I can’t describe the relief I felt!
They asked us to come back in two weeks for another scan as we had found out about the miscarriage with Bear at 9 weeks. The 9 week scan went well, and we saw our little ‘Pip’ on the screen again, this time looking much more baby-like and much less blob-like.
From the joy of seeing ‘pregnant’ appear on the little screen of the pregnancy test, to the internal worry and doubt at our first scan at 7 weeks, to the relief of seeing a tiny blob with a heartbeat, and then seeing that blob grow into the shape of a baby.
Then struggling through morning sickness/all day nausea and severe fatigue in the first trimester, looking after Evie and battling hormones and my own mental health to the glow and relief of the second trimester.
Someone said to me “I wish you the most beautiful and boring pregnancy”, and I honestly think that’s the nicest thing I could hope for!
Gender scan and a huge sense of relief
After our pregnancy with Evie, I always said to Ross I wanted as little scans as possible with our next pregnancies. The scans with Evie had worn me down so much waiting to see a heartbeat on that black and grey screen.
The same with Bear; even though we knew he was gone, there was a tiny glimmer of hope that they might have missed something on the 9 week scan, or 10 weeks, or 11 weeks and we’d somehow see a heartbeat.
Despite this, we have had 4 scans already with Pip–2 early scans, one at 12 weeks and also one at 17 weeks. Curiosity got the better of me and as we were approaching 16 weeks, I got more and more interested in seeing whether we’d be welcoming a baby girl or a baby boy.
I wanted to find out as soon as we could; I couldn’t wait for the anomaly scan at 20-22 weeks, so I booked a private gender scan.
I didn’t realise how much worry I was holding onto until we walked out of the scan room with our sealed envelope containing our baby’s gender.
A friend had said to me a few days before “I feel that you will walk out of that scan so different from the Brana who walks in”, and she was dead right. I felt like a huge weight had lifted off me and I could breathe again.
Now, as I write this at 19 weeks, I can feel Pip moving around but that doubt is still lingering. I don’t think it ever goes away. So many women I’ve spoken to have said the same thing–until that baby is in their arms that sense of uncertainty doesn’t leave.
Since our gender scan, I’ve felt so much more connected to Pip. Knowing she’s a girl, we’ve started picking out names–I’ve fallen in love with one in particular, I’m excited to see her wear Evie’s clothes and find out who she’ll look like. I know I have to let myself feel these excited, happy feelings.
Another of my friend’s mums, who had also experienced a miscarriage, commented on a post of mine recently and at the end she said:
“If I could tell my pregnant-self anything now, it would be–relax, believe in magic, miracles do happen.”