Wednesday 13 December 2017

'The grief was awful' - a husband and wife share their story of miscarriage

Husband and wife, Fachtna Kelly and Fiona Ness, share their story of miscarriage
Husband and wife, Fachtna Kelly and Fiona Ness, share their story of miscarriage

Fachtna Kelly and Fiona Ness

Husband and wife, Fachtna Kelly and Fiona Ness, share their story of miscarriage and how time works on the feelings of pain and loss

A mother's story

By Fiona Ness

Before I really began to notice the garden, I must have supposed you just stuck a plant in a hole and let it grow. No intricate interventions, just a measure of sun and rain to keep it alive, year-in, year-out.

But now I know differently. Now I know that sometimes, even if you tend to a living thing carefully, something can come along and take the living or dying of it out of your control, and that afterwards, the grief will be so huge that it will feel like the very essence of you has died with it.

We planted our apple tree in November 2012. The following autumn, the ants were harvesting the aphids on the tree, and there was rotten fruit on every branch. My husband began seeking out spiders and placing them on the tree, to hoover up the pests. They spread their sticky webs between the leaves. It didn't look good.

My husband persevered. He likes the tree. He says its apples are "not as sweet as a Pink Lady". I line them up in neat rows on the windowsill above the kitchen sink.

We planted the tree after I miscarried our third baby. It was, I was told, a 'missed' miscarriage - which I think means that the baby dies but your body holds on to it for a period of time because it hasn't noticed anything is wrong. I like to think of a missed miscarriage as an act of love, my body cocooning the baby, even in death.

I believed the doctor when she said it was nature's way of doing me a favour, of taking a baby who would not, ultimately, be able to live. Logically I can see that. Miscarriages are an obvious part of the process of life. The nurse said one in four women will experience a miscarriage, as if somehow an actuarial calculation makes everything alright.

I had never heard of a 'missed' miscarriage, and even if I had, I would never have thought it would happen to me. I had turned up for my scan, delighted with myself that I had sailed past the three-month mark, only to be told by the doctor that she did not see a heartbeat in the little curled up baby on the monitor. Not sleeping, as I had remarked, but dead.

I felt for the doctor that day, but over four years on, I still don't know how to feel for me.

After the scan I was taken from the ultrasound room and given time to compose myself. Women and their partners stared at me as I scurried past the waiting room. It always happens to someone else, until it doesn't. My husband was at work - we had done this too many times for him to need to take time off - so I had no choice but to gather myself and go.

I was told about the treatment options for a missed miscarriage. I could wait for my body to realise its mistake and miscarry naturally, book in for a D&C operation to clear the womb, or take abortifacient pills to complete the miscarriage. Out of expediency, I chose option three. I had two small children and a full-time job and this, I felt, would have me back on track quickest. So I took the pills and left the hospital. I felt like I had separated from my body as I walked the maternity hospital corridors, past waddling expectant mothers and new parents with newborns cradled in car seats, and out into the street. It seemed beyond cruel. I called my husband to tell him what had happened and started sobbing in the street.

"How much is too much?" I asked him later that night, trying to keep a lid on the rising panic I felt. Earlier, the hospital midwife had advised me that the pills would cause me to bleed and pass the baby. They would also, she warned, give me stomach cramps. If, however, there was "too much" blood, she said I was to call the hospital immediately.

How much is too much? Well, when it's all over the bathroom floor, it's definitely too much.

Ever practical, I insisted my husband stay at home with our girls who were sleeping upstairs, and I left for the hospital in a taxi, sitting on a towel to soak up the blood and frantic at the driver's ambling chatter. "Hold it together", I told myself.

At the hospital I was brought to the emergency room and the doctors worked through the night to stop the bleeding. It was undignified and painful and distressing. In rare cases, they said later, abortifacient pills could have this effect.

"Am I going to die here tonight?" I finally said, adding that I had two girls and so I really wasn't able to die right there and then. The doctor looked serious when he said, "we won't let that happen".

The fact of losing a baby was subsumed by my subsequent illness. I lost sight of everything. I lay in hospital for days. No sobbing or wailing, just tears running down my immovable face for days. I had no visitors beyond the evening hour with my husband who would sit beside me while I stared at the wall. I had been swimming 1km a day and now I couldn't even sit up. I was given pints of blood.

After four days I left the hospital, only to return two days later with a massive clot inside me. Nothing the medical staff had done had worked. There was an emergency operation and then I was home again to finally contemplate all that had passed. My muscles seized up, an effect of the anaesthetic from the operation. A week later, I began to work from home. After two weeks I returned to work. It was the best thing I could have done.

My husband had told my colleagues that I did not want to talk about the baby. But I am grateful to the people who ignored that advice. The older mothers - and fathers - who came to tell me their own losses, or simply just to hug me and be sad. Afterwards, my husband did some research as to what people do after losing a baby. We agreed a tree would be the thing. We planted it in the garden of our rented house, hoping we could uproot and replant it as soon as we had our own home and it would grow again, somewhere new.

The next autumn I gave birth to our son. The number three we had hoped for, but, in my mind, our number four.

I rarely think about the baby I miscarried now. I've locked it all away and when I do open it up I feel a nothingness, as if it all happened to someone else.

We go on. We are happy. No intricate interventions, just a measure of sun and rain, and being grateful for being alive.

A father's story: I didn't think anything could go wrong

By Fachtna Kelly

I didn't think anything could go wrong. We had been here before. We knew how it went. There'd be a few scans and a few months later the hospital would hand us a baby. And some of that happened. Fiona had a scan. We were given a date, March 17. Though he didn't arrive that day or any other day. Later I'd think of him as Patrick. Though we never talked about what to call him. Or even found out if he was a he. There was none of that.

One day we were expecting a baby, the next we weren't. Fiona had a constant feeling of sickness and exhaustion, and was concerned this would affect the baby. That had happened before, during the other pregnancies. And things were alright then. You gave yourself over to the doctors and you learned to let go a bit of the fear that came with expecting a child. And somehow things were okay. Except, of course, this time they weren't okay.

The grief was awful. There's all that expectation, that potential and then a line is drawn through all of that. Your son's heart or your daughter's heart just stops. Like light from a distant star, the information takes a while to reach you.

Things were compounded when Fiona became ill, a bad reaction to the drug they gave her after the miscarriage and she had to be taken into A&E. I remember walking into the hospital, almost following the exact same path I had taken when visiting Fiona after our daughters - now aged two and three - were born. Except in this ward there was no cooing or gurgling, and you didn't meet anyone's eye for fear of intruding upon their grief. I remember thinking how unfair it was that she had to share a hospital with women who had their babies placed into their arms.

The circumstances meant there wasn't too much time to focus on what had been lost. Fiona was in a hospital bed and our daughters were at home, there was enough to be thinking about. I remember a feeling of helplessness. Before you have a child you know what you're meant to do as a man and a father - protect them. With miscarriage you've lost before you've even had a chance to fight.

People were kind, if they knew. And the kindness was difficult also. Sure what happened? There was a child lost, but not one we ever knew or got to hold. To lose a child like that is surely beyond any grief we were experiencing.

And then some other men would tell you their stories. Fellas with grey hair telling you of babies they lost. That star winked out a long time ago - yet you could see in this hushed moment they still felt the light on them sometimes.

What did we do? What didn't we do? What do we do next? All these questions you ask yourself afterwards. But there wasn't much time to think about all that, thankfully. We had a family and a future. You have to keep the show on the road. You can rail against the capriciousness of the world but then you've got to make the school lunches. It's like all of these things that happen to you; at the start you think about it all the time and then a little less as the days go by, time abrading the edge of the emotions.

We felt we had to mark the loss. The only record couldn't be a few notes in a hospital file. So we bought a tree, an apple tree. Something that would grow and bear fruit.

When we moved house, the tree was the last thing to come with us. I dug it up in the failing light and swaddled it in tarp for the drive, worrying that it wouldn't make it. Time goes by, the children grow and our family has grown too. And in the garden the tree has begun to bud.

 

* INM is putting together a dedicated section on independent.ie where women and men of all ages can share their stories of miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death. The section will serve as a testament to the women and men who share their stories, a memorial for the babies lost and as a resource for other people who have gone through or are going through the experience.

Your stories can be anonymous or on the record and nothing will be published in any format without prior consultation with you. If you would like to be part of this and tell your story, email Yvonne Hogan at yhogan@independent.ie

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