Claire's Story | Baby Loss Portrait Project
My husband and I decided to try and have a baby fairly late compared to our friends, all of them had conceived within a few months and the picture surrounding pregnancy and childbirth seemed a fairly rosy one.
When we got to six months of trying, I tried to stay quite positive and the planning we'd made about nurseries, names and baby showers all seemed exciting still.
But when the year came around, the novelty had started to wear out and the constant worry had set in. There was no reason for us to find it difficult, we were both young and healthy, so no reason at all.
Eighteen months later and we found ourselves going through fertility testing, which brought with it a whole new set of delights; trips to the hospital and more constant worry. I had begun to think that it perhaps wouldn't happen for us and that maybe we weren't meant to be parents at all, which in itself is quite a process to go through.
We were so ecstatic when we found out I was pregnant, as everyone knew what we were having to go through and I couldn't resist telling everyone the happy news. I hadn't had a scan, but all the signs were there; feeling sick, smells that I'd loved were turning my stomach, my periods had stopped. There's not much else right?
At what I thought was 12 weeks pregnant, I went for my initial scan. My husband and my mum came with me. I imagined the screen, seeing my baby for the first time and what that might feel like. Apart from none of it happened like that.
I turned up with a full bladder and full of excitement. It didn't even cross my mind that anything could be wrong, so the first inclination I had that all was not well was when the person completing the scan did not turn the screen to face me. She asked me to go to the toilet to empty my bladder, telling me not to worry as I might not be as far along as I thought. I then had an internal scan and it was at this point that it was confirmed that my baby had died at what looked like six weeks. I had worked out I was 12 weeks at least, in fact, it was more like 13.
The first thing that hit me was utter disbelief; there was no way my baby was dead, I felt sick, my breasts still hurt, my tummy was growing… as it was explained to me, I'd had a missed miscarriage. My body still thought it was pregnant, yet the foetus was dead. There was surely a mistake, right?
This all meant that I would have to have a procedure to remove the 'matter' as the doctor referred to it, and with it came risks. The worst one being that I might contract an infection afterwards, but this was unlikely. He suspected that if I used the medication to expel the ‘matter' it probably wouldn't work as my body had already missed the signals once anyway. I still couldn't shake the fear that there had been a mistake.
All the time anyone started to explain what was going to happen next it felt like someone was stomping harder and harder on my dream and on my self esteem. Not only was my body useless at becoming pregnant, it was useless at being pregnant, useless at miscarrying and most of all, it felt like I should have picked all of this up, like I should have spotted something, so I was useless.
Each time a nurse or a doctor came to speak to me I felt like my baby were dying inside me all over again and there was nothing I could do to stop or change any of it.
I effectively had my abortion on the 6 March. I was admitted to a ward filled with elderly ladies in convalescence after operations. One of the nurses took pity on me and got me a side room.
As soon as I arrived, I curled up on the bed and silently did everything I was told. I don't really remember much apart from this but on waking up from the operation I asked the nurse to help me sleep again. I did not want to face the pain I could already feel deep inside.
I was discharged once the bleeding had slowed and I rested for a day or two, before going back to work. I had to face all of the colleagues I had excitedly told I was pregnant and my first step across the school threshold was exceptionally hard, but I did it.
Two days later I began bleeding again and the pain was excruciating so I went back, and this time I had an infection.
Through all of this, I just felt numb, I wanted to hide away from the world and most of all I felt a complete and utter failure. Somebody must have definitely made a mistake. But no, now I had also failed at getting better.
A year and a half later again, I fell pregnant. This time I had given up any real hope of getting pregnant and did not believe any of the signs and it actually took the doctor who was treating us at the fertility clinic to confirm that I was indeed pregnant.
Because of what had happened the first time, I hadn't told anyone, not even my mum, and it took us a while to come to terms with it all. This time it was ok to let ourselves dream and plan for the future. Except it wasn't like that. Everyone seems to think it is, but really in the back of my head there is always a what if? We have the most beautiful son, and if I hadn't have had this experience I wouldn't have had him, but it doesn't stop me wondering.
After a couple of weeks of it all happening, people had had enough of our grief. We had all the cliches; time heals, you're healthy, there’s no reason it can't happen, it just wasn't meant to be... but all of that isn't helpful and just made it worse. We even had 'it happens to loads of people, just get over it can't you?'. Yes, death comes to all eventually, but the circumstances are personal and a little empathy goes a long way.
And this brings me to why I wanted to tell my story and why now. My father passed away at the end of January and yes, he was at the other end of life, but our grief now has led me to think about ours and others reactions when we lost our child (and yes, it does feel like I lost him or her).
I am so proud of my husband for his support of me and my family throughout what has been a very dark time for all of us, and I am so proud of his unwavering and undying support during the time I was in hospital over 10 years ago, as well as now. But I'm lucky, and not everyone has this.
If I had listened to those cliches (and still listened to them in my present grief) I would not be able to move on. Because you don't feel glad it wasn't worse, I don't feel any better about any of it as time ticks on, and maybe it wasn't meant to be, but to me, it was.
For a while, I wasn't able to kick myself out of the hole I was in thinking that it was all my fault and I could have helped it and that I am a complete failure. Just like now. Because grief makes you feel like that and nobody has the right to make you feel like you made it worse.
I hadn't had my pregnancy a full 9 months, true, but I had imagined the little life growing inside me, we planned, we thought about the future we may have together. Really, losing a baby made me lose hope for the future and that was part of our grief.
Until it happened to me, I didn't know that so many women had had similar experiences to me but when it did, I had people coming up to me at work who would whisper things like, "It happened to me too”. For some reason, this conversation is always hushed. Even now, people wince when I say I've had a miscarriage but it's this reaction that makes me braver and to say out loud what others have tried to make me talk quietly about.
After a tricky pregnancy and lots of time in hospital, I had my son and I wouldn't change our little unit for the world. It took us three years to get there and it was hard work, we went through a lot of pain and tears to get there but even now we still get the questions, "So when are you having the next one?" My answer is always never. We are perfect as we are, with the memory of what was and the hope of what is yet to come.
*Claire chose the above portrait to accompany her story for it's significance at the time. After having sat and talked about her story, we headed into the garden to take some portraits. As I was taking this particular photograph I saw a single feather float down in front of the camera. I had a look back at the image and saw that I had captured it just as it fell into the frame, streams of tears flowed from us both and I think we both instantly knew that this was the image to use.