The nurse’s face said it all.
I’d been sat squeezing the hand of my wife as she lay there with a nurse searching around inside of her. It felt like the longest moment of my life and ,as the seconds ticked by, I increasingly lost hope that our baby was still alive and kicking.
I didn’t look at my wife as the nurse’s eyes flicked around the ultrasound monitor. Instead, I stared intently at the nurse’s face, looking for any sign of recognition of a heartbeat showing on the monitor.
The moment that I was dreading eventually arrived. That slight grimace on her lips. That flash of disappointment that ran across her face before she quickly regained her composure. Anyone not paying attention may not have seen it, but I was staring so intently that I saw it straight away. This nurse has no doubt carried out this test hundreds of times before, but the dread of having to tell a young couple that they’ve lost their baby must always be in her mind during these moments. After all, she’s only human.
Because of what I saw I already knew that it was over before the nurse opened her mouth to say ‘I’m so sorry, but there isn’t a heartbeat’. But those words were always going to be a punch to the gut and they just confirmed what we’d been dreading for a couple of days.
The end of 2017 was shaping up to be a good one. We were giddy about Christmas coming up and over the moon that we were expecting. A few weeks before it all fell apart, I got a teary phone call from Alexandra, my wife, while I was at work. She told me that our cat Figaro had been run over and had died.
Alex was leaving for work when our little ball of fluff had spotted her from across the road. He immediately did what he always did, and what I said would get him killed one day. He ran across the road because he’d seen one of his owners. Unfortunately, he ran right into the path of a car that promptly ran over him.
Alex was locking the front door so didn’t see the impact. Instead, she saw his little body writhing around in the road as she turned around. She also saw the car speeding away. It never stopped and was travelling far faster than the 20mph limit on our street. It was terrible for her to go through, and she cried as she held our little cat in her arms as he died. By the time I got home he was dead and we had to bury him in the back garden. People will say ‘it’s only a cat’, but he was our family and had such a lovable personality. The loss was hard. Even today I miss seeing him running upstairs on a Saturday morning, jumping onto the bed and meowing in my face.
As horrible as the death of our cat was, we still had a baby to look forward to. But not for long.
We tried to remain hopeful when Alex told me that she’d seen blood on the tissue after using the bathroom. It was only a little bit, but any blood during a pregnancy is always a worrying thing to see.
We ran dozens of Google searches. Many brought up that horrible word that is ‘miscarriage’ while others had said it wasn’t always something to be concerned about. Some mothers revealed how they’d had floods of blood throughout their entire pregnancy, only to give birth to healthy babies when their due date arrived. Many more said they’d lost their baby, many before 10 weeks and, worse, sometimes even over 20 weeks. We were at 11 weeks, although our baby was only measuring at 8 weeks.
Googling is a bad thing to do when it comes to your health. Your doctor is there to give you the right advice, while Google often seems to make me feel like I have 400 types of cancer. But you can’t help doing it if only to reassure yourself that nothing is wrong. Of course, it often ends with you feeling like its worse than it is. Unfortunately, in our case, it was.
Over the next day or so the blood got worse. As clots made their appearance and Alex started to feel period-type pains, we realised this was far more than just spotting. Alex contacted our prenatal unit and booked an appointment for the day after. It wasn’t a long wait but it felt like forever. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be long before the actual miscarriage raised its ugly head.
The nurse sat down and explained what would happen now. She was very reassuring and explained that our miscarriage wouldn’t affect our chances of having children in the future, but I mostly zoned out and can’t remember much of what she said. I can’t even remember her name, which is why she’s just known as the ‘nurse’. All I could keep thinking is that our baby, our child that we’d dreamed about for years, was now gone.
Before the nurse sat down she asked if we wanted to see our baby on the ultrasound. Alex was too upset to look, but I looked and I’m glad I did. Other than the flicker of a heartbeat a few weeks before, it was the first time I’d seen anything fully solid on the ultrasound scan. At an even earlier scan appointment, the nurse found it hard to find our baby, and couldn’t be 100% sure she had even when she did. We put that down to it being very early days. Now that I could fully see the development of a human being, it felt heartbreaking to know that we’d never see our baby in the flesh.
We’d go back and get a copy of the ultrasound scan picture a few days after once Alex was ready. This picture now sits framed in our living room. It reminds us every day of what we lost.
As we left the unit, Alex broke down and slid to the floor. All I could do was wrap my arms around her and let her cry. I felt awful too, but I can’t imagine how Alex felt. She must have felt so broken at the fact that the baby she was carrying was no longer alive.
Women will always have a closer connection to their unborn child as they will hopefully go on to carry it to full term. They went through all the changes in their bodies and emotions and will experience the pain of childbirth. It is a unique experience that I, as a male, will never be able to fully understand. All I can do is be there for her, every step of the way. I knew that the hardest part was yet to come. I wanted to be able to help Alex get through that before I started to grieve.
We’re lucky enough to live right next to our local hospital. As we slowly walked home, arm in arm, we talked about what to do next. So many people already knew. So many people were excited for us. We were about to bring them all back down to earth.
It was never the plan to tell many people. We’d decided to wait until the magic 12 weeks, to wait until we thought everything would be ok. But you can’t avoid telling your close family, and it’s a secret we’d struggle to keep when we see most of them every week.
But once we’d told our family, it extended into friends. We’d attended a stand-up comedy night and Alex, for obvious reasons, wasn’t drinking alcohol. A friend put the question to us and our faces said it all. We didn’t have much of a choice but to tell everyone there with us, at least those who didn’t already know. Everyone was so happy for us and we came away feeling relieved that it was out in the open.
The first place we went to after our bad news was Alex’s parents. Alex’s mum was out shopping with Alex’s grandma, but her dad was there and he instantly realised something was wrong. It’s hard to see an ex-Royal Marine break down and cry, but his daughter had lost her first child and he felt as helpless as I did. The tears would come again once Alex’s mum and grandma arrived home. We’d talk about it for an hour so before we went home to await what would come next. They told us that the miscarriage could take a couple of days to finish, but we were about to find out that wouldn’t be happening with us.
Alex felt a stab of pain as soon as we stepped through the front door. I rushed her to the downstairs toilet where she almost fainted from the pain. I didn’t know what to do so I immediately called her mum, who quickly arrived.
We moved Alex upstairs onto our bed, where she writhed around in pure agony. She adopted a position on her hands and knees that a lot of women use when they’re in labour. The miscarriage itself isn’t much different, as you’re still having to push out what’s sitting inside of you. The difference is, of course, you won’t get a cute crying baby coming out the other side. I felt totally helpless. The only thing I could do was try to comfort Alex while she suffered on our bed.
Alex would later tell me that it was the worst pain she’d ever felt. She told me that she could cope with similar labour pains as she would know that she would be getting a baby at the end of it. The pain, combined with the emotions you feel when you know that nothing but death is coming out of you, makes it a thousand times worse.
Eventually, we moved Alex to the toilet, where she’d pass our baby. She experienced instant relief as the pain vanished. She looked exhausted but I was so proud of her for getting through it. As horrible as the situation was, we had to smile about being stood around Alex while she sat on the toilet. No matter how devastating the situation is, we can always find the humor in it. It’s why I call my dead cat a moron for running in front of a car and getting himself killed.
It was over. Well, at least the actual act of miscarriage was. What came next would be months of rollercoaster emotions as we came to terms with the fact that the pregnancy was over before it had barely begun.
If I’ve learned anything from what happened to us, it’s that nobody wants to talk about miscarriage, even though it’s a very common occurrence. It’s often repeated that 1 in 4 women will experience a miscarriage, but the topic itself remains almost taboo. While I know that focus is going to be on the woman, after all, she carried the baby and felt the loss the most, I do think the impact on men is glossed over. But I didn’t want any focus on me. My job was to support my partner through those terrible weeks, and I’d feel a little selfish if I wanted a moment to myself. They say that most men don’t feel like a father until they hold the baby in their hands, but I respectfully disagree. I felt like a father the moment Alex told me she was pregnant. I felt the loss hard, even if I didn’t overtly show it.
I’ve never been someone who shows his emotions particularly well. I almost feel embarrassed to cry and express grief. I didn’t even cry at my mother’s funeral, although the sadness etched on my face probably said it all. Every now and again I’ll break and that emotion will flood out, although this has usually involved some alcohol during the build-up. It’s probably not healthy to keep it all bottled up inside, but that, at least, has changed quite a bit.
I’d never found anyone that I can talk to and share my emotions with until I met Alex. She listens and she understands me. I still feel uncomfortable expressing my emotions, but I’m getting better at it. The morning after the miscarriage we sat in bed together and we cried. It wasn’t floods of tears and wailing, but I did what I needed to do while Alex held me. I had come to realise that, while I needed to be there for Alex, I also needed to express my grief.
I had my moments in private too, but I largely threw myself back into the daily grind to try and get through it. Beyond telling my boss at work, I barely spoke about it to anyone other than Alex. This is the first time where I’ve felt like it was time to sit down and get it all out.
Writing has always been my way to express my emotions. I’d rather write down everything in my head than say it out loud. I’d rather someone read my thoughts than hear me say them. Writing this was tough, but I’m relieved that I’ve got it out of its home in my mind. Writing has always been my way of coping, and I’m gutted that I’ve avoided doing it again for so long. While it’s a horrible situation to write about, the good thing is that it’s made me realise that I need to continue with my writing.
Getting this out is such a big help, as keeping it all inside has been harmful to my mental stability. I’ve felt quite down recently, even though I try not to show it, especially as Alex still goes through her moments and I want to seem strong and stable for her. But I’ll sit there sometimes and listen to people around me moan about such little insignificant things. You just feel like screaming ‘IT DOESN’T FUCKING MATTER!’.
Of course, no matter how small the problem sounds, it may seem like a big deal to that person so I can’t just dismiss it all. But following the miscarriage, especially the couple of months after it, I came to realise how fragile life is and how a lot of things simply don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. At the same time, I never expected the world to just stop because we’d lost a child. It’s our issue, everyone else has their own things going on. But maybe I should have talked about it more instead of largely keeping it to myself.
One of the hardest things for Alex is seeing all the pregnancies announced around us. We’re at the age where a lot of people we know have comfortably settled down. People marry, or at least get a home together, and they undergo the next step of starting a family. It feels like we hear about a new pregnancy every week. As much as I tell her that it’s something we’re always going to be seeing as the world continues turning, it’s still a little stab in the heart when you hear about another one.
I totally understand why Alex may feel jealous that the same thing isn’t happening to her. However, I always say that those are other lives and we should concentrate on us. Looking at a lot of other pregnancies, we don’t know how long it took for them to get to that point. We often don’t know if they experienced miscarriages too. Everyone is unique and that hard journey isn’t just exclusive to us.
It took us so long for us to get to our first pregnancy that the wait for the next is even more excruciating. Knowing that at least we can have kids is somewhat reassuring, but once Alex is pregnant again that thought of ‘what if it happens again?’ is always going to be in the back of my mind. It’s easy to say that we should remain positive and lock those thoughts away, but when we’ve been through it once already it’s not as easy as just forgetting about it.
When you learn that you’re going to have a child you start thinking about all the things you’ll do to bring up your child as a happy, healthy and intelligent human being. You go through all the hopes and dreams you have for them, and everything you’ll do together as a family. I couldn’t wait to share our love for geeky things with our child, to sit down and talk to them about the things I loved when I was growing up.
To show them and teach them things for the very first time. To see the wonder on their face when you show them something amazing, or the boredom in their expression when you get carried away with your passions. To have all those torn away in one moment is painful. To know you’re never going to see that child live their own life and make their mark on the world. To be proud of what they’ve achieved, to say to people that ‘this is my son/daughter’. To see their joy when you arrive home from work. To watch them wobble as they learn to ride a bike. To shed a little tear when they toddle off to their first day at school. To eye their first girlfriend/boyfriend suspiciously. All of it gone, gone in one horrible moment. It’s hard to get past that and tell yourself you’re going to try again. But we have to get past that. We have to move on if we ever want to create the family we always dream about.
We’ve always been incredibly close as a couple. It’s cliche to say this, but Alex is definitely my soul mate. I’ve never questioned our relationship or wondered if I was with the right person. We’re best friends who have so much fun together and can say or do anything without any judgement. Everything just clicks and I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Alex very early on. The miscarriage was tough, but we didn’t grow distant and it brought us even closer together. I know that next time we’ll be more than ready.
Whatever happens in the next few years, I firmly believe that we’ll end up with a happy and healthy child. Our journey has had a lot of tears, and will have another 9 months of worry once we finally do find out that we’re pregnant again, but that ending will be so much sweeter when it finally does come. I do think we’ll barely tell everyone this time until we’re deep into the pregnancy and know that everything is going to be ok. I don’t want to put everyone through that again.
We’ll never forget the baby that came first. We’ll never forget an experience that caused so much heartache but brought us closer together. You can never just ‘have another child’ as some people say, as well-meaning as they might mean to sound. It will be thrilling, exciting, and nerve-wracking when we get pregnant again. But nothing will ever replace the memory of the child that came before. It may not have been a fully-formed person who had hopes and dreams for their life, but it was your child. You’ll never forget that. I’ll never forget that.
If you want to read more about men and miscarriage, there’s a great article for men who have experienced miscarriage by Marcus Brotherton over at The Art Of Manliness. It was a big help in helping me come to terms with our miscarriage.
You can also read Alex’s blog here.
The Miscarriage Association has a page of resources for partners of women who have miscarried.
UPDATE: We’ve now had a successful pregnancy, which you can read about here.