Well, it’s been a little while since I’ve found myself tapping away on these keys. Since Benjamin’s death writing has in many ways been my saviour, an outlet for all the pain and suffering. So, to stop it, for me, has been hard. But I have needed time and space away to think, to just be me and biggest of all, to start trying for another baby, a sibling for Benjamin.
From the very earliest days after losing Benjamin people had asked me if we would try for another baby. Aside from the questionable timing, it has always been a topic that I have been very private about. You see for me having a baby is complicated. I’m not one of those people who looks sideways at their partner and gets pregnant. It is a long, emotional and drawn-out process. Add in the death of your first child and you have a pretty unique concoction of stress, anxiety, and emotion.
But I have to admit I always wanted to try for another baby. Not as a replacement for Benjamin but as an addition to our family. The idea of a rainbow baby*, however, is very different for bereaved parents versus those around them. Many see a rainbow baby as a happy ending. Once you have one all the pain goes away, and you are fixed. But of course, this is not the case. First of all, not everyone is lucky enough to have a rainbow baby and for those that are, a long, anxiety-laden 9 months awaits them. Second of all, nothing, not even another bundle of joy, can ever take away that deep, gut-wrenching pain of not having one of your children with you. To put it simply, a rainbow baby brings joy, but that joy comes at a price.
I have never made a secret of my dislike of IVF so the prospect of jumping back on that rollercoaster was daunting, to put it mildly. The clinic was aware that Benjamin had died and was really nothing short of amazing in how they supported me through the treatment. The endless tears, the additional phone calls, nothing seemed to be too much trouble. So, when I got the phone call to tell me I was pregnant after the first cycle they were all overjoyed.
For me, the reaction was different. Yes, of course, I was happy but mainly I felt scared. It felt too good to be true. But then maybe we were just finally catching a break? We had endured more than our fair share of heartache and now maybe things were going to start getting a bit easier. That night I started spotting.
I don’t really know how to describe the feelings after that first miscarriage. To me, it felt like it was almost inevitable. That might sound weird but in a lot of ways, it felt like tragedy and heartache were my new normal. But whether this was true or not it was a pretty cruel way to start. I think I would have just preferred if the cycle hadn’t worked. At least that would just feel normal. We could pick ourselves back up and try again knowing it took us three attempts before success with Benjamin. But unfortunately, cruelty was going to become a theme for us on the next step of our journey.
Our second miscarriage happened the very next month. I had to wait for one natural cycle before attempting another IVF cycle. So, once I hit day one of my new cycle, I headed off to the clinic to get my first blood test. We were on our way down South for the weekend when I got the call. I knew when I saw the phone number come up on my mobile that something wasn’t right. However, “Catherine you’re pregnant” were not the words I had been expecting. Confusion ensued as the tears streamed down my face. But how? I didn’t think we could get pregnant on our own. And I was bleeding. Did this mean I was miscarrying again? I was told to rush to a pharmacy and get all my usual medication and come in on the Monday for another blood test.
The whole weekend was agony. I must have checked for blood a hundred times each day. Every time it was clear there was relief and a glimmer of hope. Then every time there was blood, I fell deeper into despair. I jumped between hope and despair many times by the Monday morning. By the time I arrived at the clinic I was a mess. They kept telling me that bleeding in early pregnancy could be normal and not to jump to conclusions, but I think in my heart I knew that I had lost this baby too. Later that morning our second miscarriage was confirmed.
Some of you might think that this was good news, we got pregnant on our own after all, but it soon became clear that the news was not good. After a stillbirth and two miscarriages in a row, I was now classed under the “recurrent miscarriage” bucket. I mean seriously, could this get any worse? Well, the answer was yes. With another label came more drugs, the strongest to date with known side effects and risks. I didn’t want to take them, but they were supposed to give me my best chance of holding a pregnancy. So, the problem had now shifted from me not being able to get pregnant to me not being able to hold a pregnancy. You really couldn’t script this.
All drugged up and ready to go I started a new IVF cycle…BFN**. To say I was on the brink at this point was an understatement. I really just wondered how much more crap was coming my way and how much more of it I could actually handle. I’d like to think at this point I’m a resilient person, but everyone has their limits. We hummed and hawed and eventually decided to do one more cycle before taking a break (either temporary or permanent).
And with the 3rd round of IVF hey presto…we were pregnant…again. Every day I looked for spotting and every day there was none. My HCG numbers continued to increase, and it looked like things were holding. By the time we hit 7 weeks and were due for a viability scan it felt like I had been pregnant for ages, time was just creeping along.
I think the viability scan was one of the hardest things I have ever done. The last ultrasound I had was to confirm that Benjamin’s heart had stopped and that he had died. The flashbacks were overwhelming, and I was shaking in the waiting room. By the time I lay down on the plinth for the scan I was crying. With my heart pounding out of my chest, a very kind and understanding sonographer started the scan. All I wanted to see was a heartbeat. I needed to see a little heartbeat. And there it was…a little blob and a tiny heart, beating away. The relief overcame me with a force of emotion that I have rarely experienced. Maybe, just maybe this pregnancy would hold.
And that is how it would be for me. Every scan, every test, everything…fraught with anxiety and fear. Not until I held that baby would I believe I would get to bring them home, a feeling I know many bereaved parents share.
To be honest the rest is a blur. 8 months of the kind of stress no human should have to endure. Every day believing your baby would die but hoping they wouldn’t. Every day answering the same question over and over again that breaks your heart each time you answer it –
“Is this your first baby?”
“No, my second.”
“How old is your first?”
“He would be nearly 2 but he passed away.”
Some would then just breeze past it and others would look at you with shock and pity. I don’t know which reaction was worse. Either way, it took its toll, it all took its toll.
By the time I reached 35 weeks, the gestation when Benjamin died, I was close to losing it. Mentally I was drained, physically I was exhausted. I was so scared of going back to the darkness I had only so narrowly escaped two years previously. If we lost this baby too, would I be able to survive again? I was not so sure.
But 35 weeks came and went, and our little bean was still kicking away. Meticulous monitoring of movements along with twice weekly CTG’s*** and weekly scans gave me some reassurance. For those who have endured pregnancy after loss, however, you know that this only gets you so far.
I guess I felt a little better once we got past 35 weeks, but this would be short-lived. At 36+1 weeks I woke in the middle of the night. My usually active baby was quiet. An awful sense of dread filled my body. Could this possibly be happening again? I woke my husband and we went straight into the hospital. As we drove there, I couldn’t help but be brought back to that same fateful drive two years before. Would we have the same ending?
At the hospital, they hooked me up to a CTG straight away. I could barely look at the screen. But there it was…the heartbeat. The baby was still alive. Further monitoring and they were happy that the baby was ok. I, on the other hand, was not. I knew that something was different. The movements had changed. I knew it, 100%. No matter what that CTG said, I knew. All I could think of was when I had reduced movements with Benjamin. I accepted the doctor’s explanation of it being normal without any further tests. But I knew better now, I was educated on baby’s movements and the importance of speaking up, so I did.
Later that morning at 12.51pm on 22nd March 2019 our beautiful daughter, Benjamin’s little sister, was born. She came screaming into this world, much to the delight and relief of her Mummy and Daddy.
Lucy Catherine Travers, our rainbow and much longed for second child was here safe and sound turning our family of three into a family of four.
Photo by Samantha May Photography
* This is the term for a baby born after a loss, be it miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death. It refers to a rainbow after the storm, the storm being the death of your child.
** That’s a Big Fat Negative for those not in with the Trying to Conceive lingo
*** Cardiotocography (CTG) is the recording and monitoring of the fetal heartbeat