ParentsJanuary 2, 2017

We thought this one was meant to be: on the pain of recurrent miscarriages


Miscarriage is a heartbreaking reality for so many families, Liv van Leeuwen writes of her devastation at losing three babies in one year.

Content warning: Liv van Leeuwen talks about her experience of miscarriage in this post. If you have recently suffered a miscarriage this post may be upsetting for you. If you need support please visit SANDS New Zealand or call 0800 Sands4u (0800 726 374). Sands New Zealand is a network of parent-run, non-profit groups supporting families who have experienced the death of a baby.

We spent the final evening in the lounge, swaying to the heady vibrations of Nina Simone, while the pan bubbled furiously, familiar with the way evenings like this go. When we forget about the pasta, our heads filled with habitual notions of a home, permeated with dirty feet and unbridled laughter.

Liv walking in her backyard in Banks Peninsula.

We didn’t know it yet, that these were the last moments in a long time we’d be without the bulky mass of grief. The creeping darkness like the fleeting moments of dusk during winter. Its presence unable to be coaxed out of its new home in the very depths of your belly. Right next to where the baby used to be, almost teasing in the familiar heaviness resting deep inside, sick to your gut.

For the third time in less than a year, we lost our baby.

Our journey had started at the end of summer, after we’d eked all we could out of the sun filled days, our feet cracked and dry, hair grimy with sand and salt, satisfied by the waves ridden, days on the road and nights sleeping rough. It was time, we were ready, we had lived it out in our heads enough. No second thoughts.

We try and it takes three months, but finally we see the pink line, a little faint, but there. But then I bleed and it’s gone. It’s just bad luck, “totally normal” they say. So we try again undeterred, and this time it’s there straight away, the line. But again I bleed and it fades, along with our ignorant notions of an easy ride to the finish. Twice in a row? Maybe it was just too soon, after the first.

But it hits me harder this time, the lost possibility. I scour the internet for hope. I learn the science, understand the mechanics. It’s a good thing, apparently. Your body works, it gets rid of something that wasn’t right. Probably genetics they say.

Still, it hurts. What if it was perfect? What if it’s me that’s not right?

But still we try again. Not a third time surely.

It takes three months, but it happens. And this time, we know it is right. We wait an extra week to take the test, just to be sure we won’t be let down again. And there it is. A second line of hope, burning bright before even the three minute wait is up.

The doctor wants to take extra blood to check the hormone levels are going up. But I don’t want some chemical reaction to look into the future like a proverbial fortune teller through a glass ball or some manky tea leaves. I just want to let it be. If it’s good, it’ll stick.

On my way home I throw up. There’s no doubt the baby is in there from the sour burning enveloping my mouth. I never thought I’d enjoy that feeling as much as I did.

The weeks and days pass. We look for a midwife, hesitantly creeping around the possibility that it might actually happen. Like a five year old who’s just started school we grow more confident as each day passes.

I share the journey with my girlfriends. Four of us, pregnant all at once. We can’t believe it, our kids will grow up together.

But it doesn’t go unnoticed, that dreaded statistic – one in four pregnancies end before the first trimester is over. 25%. It’s almost like fate intended for it to be like this. But surely not me, not again.

You see, this one was meant to be. We found out on my 25th birthday. Perfect timing. Due in May, I’d never really thought about an autumn baby before. But really, May couldn’t be better.

You’d be ready for summer by the time the drawn out days rolled around again. We could swim, laze under the walnut tree and watch you discover the meditation of the trees, sip coffee and let you feel the warm winds for the first time. We could take you to our favourite spots. Camp out. You’d be big enough by then.

See it was perfect.

The days seemed to linger, as if they weren’t sure whether they were welcome to intrude on our new rhythm. Balancing on the edge of a darkened crevasse that was waiting to swallow us whole we slowly drew closer to twelve weeks, the safety net of statistics that would see us home.

The consuming wonder of those sunkissed days is lost in a haze of tears now, like the sweet smell of rain hitting the hot pavement, it’s all that remains to remind us the gold tinged moments really did exist.

The first hint that something was amiss was the tiniest streak of blood, once it was gone I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t something I’d just imagined. A trick of the light. But it came back again the next day accompanied by that kind of anxiety that makes you sick just to think about. The blood kept coming and going, its absence welcome, but never dependable.

Then it got bad. Really bad. The physical pain almost too immense to bear, the pure brutality of having a tiny life ripped from your womb. As if your body is screaming out for the child it had only just begun to nurture.

We waited stone faced for a scan, staring desperately at the fraying edges of the waiting room’s carpet, surrounded by parents squinting at the first glimpse of their offspring, the tightly clutched photos they now guarded as if their young.

We never got that glimpse, the screen was empty, a hole in my womb not nearly as immense as the gaping hole left in our hearts.

I see the pain in my husband, his need for one of his own intensifying with each breath. His struggle to comprehend his own grief, while he tries desperately to keep me afloat.

And yet there’s no real evidence you ever really existed. To me, sure there’s the weight I gained, the morning sickness, the wild hormone ride. But to those who surround us it’s just a blip in the radar, distant recognition of the child we would one day have. They forget, or maybe they just don’t know that you were arms and legs, flailing around. Already by 10 weeks you were a complete body, with fingers and toes, a brain, eyes and a nose. A child. Our child. The ultimate expression of our love, hope and desire.

How can we ever replace what has gone. The individual who shared my body for such a short time. The love we spent, unable to be replenished, as if washed from our bodies with the tide of tears never ebbing, always flowing. We heal slowly, taking back our life, enriched and entwined in our love for each other, the only thing holding us steady.

And it will get better, we know that. We will probably have a child, hopefully many. But right now that’s not what we need to hear. It doesn’t ease our fears. The weight of those words yields a pressure too heavy to bear. It’s just love, pure and simple, that’s what helps to mend those wounds. Love and just the tiniest bit of hope.

Liv van Leeuwen is a freelance writer and photographer living on Banks Peninsula. Her work is influenced by her home, and desire for a slower pace of life.

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