We had always known we wanted to have children, so it felt like all our dreams had come true when we fell pregnant.
Everything seemed to be going well, until I had a bit of spotting. What we’d read and seen about miscarriage talked about heavy bleeding and lots of cramps, but just to be cautious, we went to the early pregnancy clinic to get checked out. I honestly believed everything would be fine. I’ll never forget the silence in the room as she scanned me, I watched her face, and knew it couldn’t be good news. Finally, we heard the words every pregnant mother dreads – ‘I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat.’
We were we had had a missed miscarriage. A second scan a week later showed there had been no growth, so we were given three options: We could wait to miscarry naturally; we could have medical management (a pessary to bring on the miscarriage); or surgical management (which is when they sedate you and empty the uterus using surgical instruments in an operating theatre). We wanted to manage it in a way that was as least invasive as possible, so we chose to wait, believing my body would eventually realise it wasn’t a viable pregnancy. We waited, and waited, and waited. Months later, things had become very distressing. My body still hadn’t miscarried naturally, and scans showed that the gestation sac had continued to grow (this happens very rarely), which meant my body not only thought it was growing a baby – it looked like I was. I had become obsessed with the idea that I might miscarry in public somewhere. Eventually, I stopped leaving the house altogether without my husband. Anxiety and depression, which I had always struggled with, became an acute mental illness. I was having a breakdown, and we made the decision that to be able to finally start to heal from this loss, we needed to take the medical management option.
I had the pessaries inserted in hospital, and then we went home to wait for things to start happening. We were told it would be like a heavy period. The pain became unbearable quite quickly once the cramps started, and eventually my waters broke and the bleeding began, along with, for me, the vomiting. There was so much blood, and I was in so much pain that I couldn’t speak to ask my husband to call an ambulance. It eased off eventually, but a scan the next day showed not everything had come away. I had to go through the same process 3 times, before finally everything looked clear. The loss had been so long and drawn out, that I was later diagnosed with PTSD. I would have panic attacks every time I saw blood or my period started, and vivid flashbacks prevented me from sleeping.
At first the thought of being pregnant again terrified me, but gradually we began to heal, and try again. After 18 months we fell pregnant, but I had a very early miscarriage a few weeks later. My GP referred me to our local NHS fertility clinic, where, after some tests, I was given Clomid to induce ovulation. It took a few months until we fell pregnant for the third time. We had an early scan at 6 weeks, and it was there we heard those dreaded five words for the second time. Another missed miscarriage.
We chose to have surgical management, as we couldn’t face going through the experience of the first loss again, and then we returned to the fertility clinic for recurrent miscarriage tests. Everything came back normal, apart from one of my blood tests, which revealed I had ‘sticky blood’, an issue that aspirin in pregnancy should solve. I went back on Clomid, and five months later, I found myself holding a positive pregnancy test again.
Our first scan was nerve-wracking to say the least, so when the sonographer almost immediately turned the screen round and showed us the flicker of our baby’s heartbeat, I was so stunned I couldn’t look at it at first. Everything was going perfectly and aspirin seemed to be working. We were still extremely anxious about something going wrong, so we didn’t tell anyone we were pregnant again, not even our parents, and I hid away from the world. I look back on those months now and wish I had taken more photographs of us and my bump. But at the time we just couldn’t bring ourselves to document what we constantly feared would be yet another heartbreak.
In July 2017, we walked into a routine scan with our little girl safely in my tummy. But from the beginning, something felt wrong. Eventually the sonographer left and returned with a doctor. They explained that she still had a heartbeat, but that she was very poorly. Her heart appeared to be too large, and was beating very slowly. They showed us the monitor, and the image that stared back at us is one that is scarred on my mind. I see it when I close my eyes to go to sleep. I see it whenever my mind runs away with itself and starts dreaming about what could have been. Our perfect daughter, struggling to live. Our daughter – dying in front of us. Dying, inside me.
We were taken into a room while doctors and midwives rushed around. Our midwife explained that our daughter would most likely not make it to term and if she did, it was unlikely she would survive birth or the first few hours afterwards. But for now, she did seem to be fighting. We were given the option to terminate the pregnancy for medical reasons, or to wait, be closely monitored, and see what happened. We seriously considered termination, but ultimately we knew that her making it much further was very unlikely, and while she was fighting to stay alive, we would fight with her. It was the hardest decision we have ever had to make. For us, she was our first heartbeat, our first daughter, and we couldn’t imagine being the ones to stop that beautiful, big heart beating.
We went home, cried, screamed, sat in stunned silence, and waited. I’m a military wife, so my husband had to go away the next day, so we went through those next few weeks apart. One morning, I woke up, and I knew instantly that she had gone. I called my husband, he began the process of coming home, and I returned to the hospital, where a scan showed her perfect, still heart. The next day was a calm, peaceful day. The 30th August 2017 was the day I finally became a Mother. It wasn’t in the way I had ever imagined, but it was our daughter’s birthday. The day we said hello, and began to say goodbye. Now, I realise that it was just the beginning. The grief never ends; we will forever be saying goodbye.
We named her Pearl. I have always felt most at peace when by the sea and now, whenever I am there, I close my eyes and I remember our beautiful little fighter. I will always be diving for her, searching for her on every horizon, always hearing her call me back, to the sea, my precious, my Pearl.
After we lost Pearl, we were surprised to fall pregnant naturally. Sadly, we suffered another missed miscarriage with that little boy, who we named Robin. We were under the care of a specialist Tommy’s centre by then, and they suggested my sticky blood might be something more serious. Amongst other drugs, they recommended daily Heparin injections. The side effects of Clomid had become detrimental, so for our next pregnancy, we conceived on our first round of using injectables. At an early scan, we were thrilled to discover that we were having not only one baby, but three. All boy triplets! I used the injections to thin my blood, but nothing could prevent all three babies dying due to full Triploidy.
After losing the triplets, we decided to take a break. I was put on the waiting list for a hysteroscopy, and we tried to grieve the loss of our babies, and heal. We were pretty astounded when I fell pregnant naturally in November 2018. I started the blood thinning injections straight away, and lived every day fully believing that I would lose this pregnancy too. I had a lot of scares with spotting and symptoms disappearing over the first 12 weeks, but every scan showed our baby developing perfectly. I am now 31 weeks with a little boy.
There was a point, about a year ago, when we thought we were done. We considered the very real possibility that our dreams of a family may never come true. Nothing can ever bring Pearl back – we will always be missing our daughter, but we also didn’t give up. Slowly, as this little boy grows inside me, I am starting to hope and believe, that dreams can come true.
Zoe and her husband welcomed baby Kitto last month, a few weeks earlier than planned but they’re now home enjoying their life as a family of three x
(Zoë writes about recurrent pregnancy loss, pregnancy after loss, infertility, and Pearl on her Instagram account @motherof__pearl)