Thursday 19 September 2019

'I lost several pregnancies over a period of six years' - mother tells her story of recurring miscarriages

Pauline and her son
Pauline and her son

Pauline Harley

Miscarriage can be so raw, there can be so many questions left unanswered, and things never said, and sometimes that is just the way it is meant to be. But coming to terms with the loss and healing at your pace, while very painful at times, allows us to forgive and move forward. When I say forgive, I shall speak from my perspective because in my case, with each pregnancy lost, the sense of failure and guilt in my life as a woman seemed to worsen. Here is my story.

My name is Pauline Harley I am 41 years of age, I lost several pregnancies over a period of six years from 2006 to 2012. I have one son whom I gave birth to in 1996 at the tender age of twenty years, and while it was a big deal and quite overwhelming back then all I can say is we were very lucky. He is our pride and joy and is ready to celebrate his 21st birthday soon!

We married in 2003. Like all young couples with finance and work commitments having another baby was not on the agenda at this time. However, three years on in 2006 I fell pregnant when our son was ten years old so while I was a bit shocked after a couple of weeks, I fell in love with the idea of having our new bundle of joy and innocently did not think for one minute anything could go wrong.

I did have an underlying health issue as I have Crohn's disease, but I was hopeful it would not interfere with the pregnancy, and all would be well. The first few weeks I had significant pain - all of which I was assured was stretching. Then, of course, I started googling my symptoms and began driving myself to distraction.

Can I just say from experience: don't do it to yourself. If you are in pain and worried pick up the phone go to your GP or head into the hospital. The internet does not have the answers in this case. You are only setting yourself up for hours of mental exhaustion.

The June bank holiday was approaching, and I was eight weeks pregnant, and we were due to travel to Kilkenny for the comedy festival, but I knew something was wrong. I was bleeding.

We made it to my GP on the Friday morning, and in a very matter of fact way, we were told to let things run their course. An appointment was made for the Tuesday morning in the early pregnancy unit. 

I should have gone home to bed and let it happen in the comfort of my home, but I wanted to try and take my mind off it, if that makes any sense, so we still decided to proceed with our trip to, Kilkenny.

I will never forget that car journey with a hot water bottle embedded into my abdomen. My feet firmly pressed into the glove compartment. Physically I was braced in a fetal position trying to hold on, keeping it in there holding it together, but I knew deep down I can't explain it in words, as such you just know.

The sun shined all weekend in Kilkenny, but it was bleak. I miscarried what was to be my second child by the Saturday afternoon in a hotel room. I was devastated, I asked my husband to leave. I wanted to be alone. He respected my wishes and left for an hour,only to return with painkillers to ease the pain. Was that even possible? I didn't want the pain to end. It was my fault I had done something wrong.

I gathered myself together as best as I could and decided to head out to see a comedy gig for a few hours. My body was in fight or flight mode and was trying to trick me but was I thinking of I was in no frame of mind to laugh. So I did what I could to numb the pain I drank, and kept on drinking. My husband was distraught despite my adamant claims that all was lost he still clung to the possibility that on Tuesday morning all would be well. With each alcoholic beverage consumed he begged me to stop I recall him stating "That is my baby too". I didn't care, it was my body and self-destruct mode was in full swing. It had failed me I was going to punish it more.

The weekend passed in what was a blur of alcohol and paracetamol. We attended the hospital appointment and confirmed what I already knew: "I am sorry you have had a miscarriage".

I cried for weeks, then set myself a goal of getting pregnant again. And that was all I cared about this time. It would all work out. I was advised to wait a while and address some health issues as my Crohn’s had flared up, but who were they to tell me? I knew best and so I continued on my quest. I was pregnant within eight weeks, not having even dealt with the previous loss mentally or physically. I didn't give myself a chance. I lost my this baby at seven weeks.

Rollercoasters of emotions, feelings of guilt and helplessness. My confidence as a woman and in becoming a mother again were decreasing so I waited a few months this time around to let it all sink in. When my third pregnancy was confirmed, I felt I was in a better place. Third time lucky and all that. At seven weeks it ended. I wanted answers, and if no one gave me them, I would find my own on the internet.

Again, don't do it mental torture.

We were told so many times it happens - one in four. That is life. I know that is all medical professionals can say, they are only human, but at the time it was not good enough, I wanted a baby. I got angrier by the day, and each and every pregnant woman that passed me on the street caused me to seethe with jealousy. I am brutally honest, that is how I felt. I am not a jealous person by nature. I was not in the right frame of mind from the hormones, the stress, and the heartache, it does unusual things to your mindset.

So what next? Well, there were months of genetic testing and other blood work on my husband and I remember having 15 phials of blood taken from my arm and asking Edward how many blood tests did you have? He replied "six". I thought to myself it's a man's world. I sat in the chair as the midwife withdrew syringe after syringe of blood from my arm selfishly praying to myself that it would be his fault, as horrible as that sounds I was still in denial. Take the blame away from me, it had to be someone else's fault, oh the shame.

I did not know how I was going to face the truth if it was my body that had let me down.

After many weeks, I got the call I was waiting for with answers, not the ones I wanted, but at least it gave some clarity. It was me and my body. I had Antiphospholipid Syndrome an autoimmune disorder that is characterised by recurrent pregnancy loss, three or more with no more than one live birth as was my case.

APS is a blood disorder, also known as sticky blood thrombosis, is presumed to cause many of the pregnancy complications it causes. Aspirin was to be commenced and once a pregnancy confirmed I would need heparin daily. I subsequently fell pregnant four more times, between 2008 and 2012 and each ended in a loss despite medical intervention.

I decided to look at my diet and lifestyle and to take action, but it all fell apart. I was still grieving, so I emotionally ate. Over the six years from 2006 to 2012 I gained a lot of weight, went back on the cigarettes, and locked myself away. I lost my confidence.

When things could not have got any worse my beautiful mum died very suddenly on the 13th July 2010. Ironically I was due to give birth to one of my babies that I miscarried on that date. My Crohn's deteriorated. In 2010 I ended up having major surgery on my spine. I was in pieces emotionally and physically. 

My marriage suffered a lot after I decided I was not sleeping with my husband because I didn't want to get pregnant again and face another miscarriage but I also wanted to make him suffer. It was my way of punishing him for my pain all of which was totally out of his control. We did not sleep together for two years. It was a tough time and one I am glad to say our marriage survived. He is a very understanding and compassionate man. By 2013 my physical and mental health and my marriage were now a priority to salvage. A decision had to be made, and it was that a vasectomy was the best option for us. I had my beautiful son we were grateful. I had to let go, and when I accepted this, I was able to move forward. I attended counselling for awhile, and while it did help at times it was very raw, and I found that I got stuck there, so I left. I probably should have endured, but I did what I felt was best for me at the time. That is all you can do.

By January 2014 the final curtain closed I ended up having had half my womb removed after years of complications which were causing more health issues. Despite the fact that my husband had a vasectomy, it still cut like a knife. I hit rock bottom again, but I was determined it was the last time for me and reaching this point led me to the greatest changes I have made in my life ever. In May 2014 when my son turned 18 I took a look at myself standing beside him in this photo. I was so proud he was mine. But now was my time too. 

I had to heal and be grateful for the strength which every one of my seven miscarriages gave me. I had to tell myself the truth which was I needed to let go of what I couldn't control and take back what I could.

I was 38 years old at this stage, my womb was gone. There would be no more babies but there was life to be living. I am grateful to say by 2015 I lost five stone, regained my physical and emotional health, restored the gaps in my marriage, but most importantly I forgave myself. 

The moral of my story is there is no proper time frame to heal. You have to wait until you are ready and do what works for you.  You must heal at your pace. Everyone is different,there are no rights or wrongs. Don't expect anyone to understand unless they have gone through it. It is not their fault. They will say things that may upset you unintentionally because they do not know what to say; let it go. Remember also that family and friends who may be pregnant can feel awkward around us and be mindful it 's hard for them to relate to the situation. I know it seems like everywhere you look after miscarrying, there are pregnant women but the fact is they are there all the time. Our sensitivity and vulnerability in our fragile state can cause us to look out for them all the time which makes our situation worse.. 

Try and turn the volume down on the world outside and turn it up on you and what you can control. Develop a coping mechanism that will allow you to respond instead of reacting, breathing exercises, mindfulness, walking, reading, whatever you enjoy, do it to alleviate stress and enhance feelings of being in control.

I will leave you a picture of me with my son from this Mother's Day that recently passed. Know that with great pain comes strength and joy and being a mother takes courage, which sometimes we do not give ourselves enough credit for, so a big pat on the back to us all.

Please be compassionate with yourself whether you are a mum already who has experienced a loss or you are in the cycle of recurrent miscarriage awaiting a successful pregnancy from me to you and from the bottom of my heart I know what it feels like having walked that road.

Please believe with conviction even on the bad days that things will get better.

Let your pain be your fuel.

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