One more loss on February 22
Breaking the miscarriage taboo
We were living in Christchurch on February 22, 2011.
I had learned, just after Christmas, that I was pregnant with an unexpected third addition to our family. With all three pregnancies I experienced very early symptoms - my babies like me to know they're there!
Mentally and emotionally I struggled with this pregnancy. I was one of three children and had always vowed I would never do that to my own children. At 35, rounding out the numbers to four was not an option for me.
A third child had big implications for us. We were living with my mother-in-law in a small three-bedroom unit, having moved from the North Island after the September earthquake to be closer to family.
We were in limbo job-wise, with my husband working casually while we sorted what the next step for us would be. Our car would be too small for three car seats. We'd given away all the baby stuff. It felt overwhelming to be beginning all that again.
It never occurred to me that this pregnancy wouldn't be a keeper, as I had no history of miscarriage and I was every bit as sick, if not sicker, than I'd been with my first two.
I worked really hard to get into a good head space and bond with our baby.
My almost 5-year-old son guessed. Our 3-year-old was ecstatic.
We told our families, needing the emotional support.
By February 22, I was around 12 weeks. Close to being out of the danger zone.
Most Tuesdays the children and I would bus into central Christchurch and lunch with my mum in Cashel Mall. That Tuesday was a friend's birthday, so we went to the Beach Cafe instead to celebrate. We had ordered, and were watching the kids play outside when the quake hit.
I have lived in Napier, Marlborough and Wellington. I am accustomed to reasonably large and lengthy earthquakes. This was nothing like them. Glass rained down from the shelves. The floor lurched. The goldfish and water were sloshed out of their pond.
My children were outside and all I could do was get to them. There was nothing else going on in my brain. I wrestled open an over-sized sliding door, that buckled and jerked in its frame. I flew over to them and commanded them to "get down and do a turtle".
The almost 5-year-old stated cheerfully, "look Mum, I'm not even holding on!" as he 'surfed' the seismic waves. My 3-year-old rocked on her heels and declared ''bumpy!''
I had little idea of the carnage that had been wreaked on the city. I just wanted to get home.
I had never been so aware that we didn't really have a home. My mother-in-law lived in Parklands, and despite my best efforts, the roads proved impassable.
We hunkered down for the afternoon at a relative's house and waited for news. I knew my husband was working somewhere in the CBD, and as the afternoon ground on and news filtered in, I became increasingly concerned for him. The children had a ball, and thought the aftershocks were great fun.
In between quakes, the eldest (pretending to be Fireman Sam) insisted we do evacuation drills. About 3 o'clock, I started to bleed.
My husband found us about 7pm. My first words to him were, "I'm bleeding", and I fell into his arms.
Dealing with the bleeding and its implications was a secondary concern, as we both wanted to get home. We checked on my parents in Burwood, navigating streets that looked like there'd been an afternoon civil war.
Finally we made it home at 8pm. We put all the mattresses in the lounge and tried to get the kids to go to sleep. We had an outstanding emergency kit that I had put together in Upper Hutt after the September quake, as we lived metres from the fault line there and it seemed prudent.
I had all the supplies I needed to deal with the bleeding, but I didn't have the time or safe emotional space to deal with any other aspect other than the mechanics of it.
The night was awful. Huge aftershocks rolled through and by now we were well aware of the buildings that had collapsed. I couldn't comprehend how any building could withstand the continued assault.
We were also unaware of the extent of the liquefaction under my mother-in-law's house.
I was scared. I was aware of how bad my stress was for the baby.
The next morning, my brother-in-law (a fireman) contacted us and advised that this was much, much worse than September, and that services in our area especially would be out for some time.
He said it was no place for children or pregnant women. My husband and I had a hurried conference. We decided the kids and I would evacuate to a friend's farm near Nelson, and he would stay to help. I threw things into the car (the things I took were bizarre) and we left within the half hour.
I shouldn't have been driving. I was terrified by every bridge we encountered. The mountains scared me. Valleys with rocks above scared me. I was aware like never before of being responsible for the lives of my children.
I got to Murchison and fell apart. I drove myself to the hospital, where I met two angels.
They listened as I sobbed out my story, they whisked my kids away for a drink and gave them toys to play with. They held me close and let me sob out my as yet unarticulated fears for my baby.
The niggle that I had caused this by wrestling with that door had started. They explained that many of my other symptoms (cramps etc) could also be from the shock we'd been through, and that I had two things I could do.
I could have a vaginal exam, which would show if my cervix was open and miscarriage was inevitable, or they could refer me to Nelson for a scan.
As we were going to sleep the previous night, my husband had given the kids a chocolate wheaten biscuit each. We slept in our clothes in case of needing to flee in the night, and I had woken (bizarrely) with a chocolate wheaten held snugly in place in the waistband of my undies at the back. We had left in such a rush that I hadn't changed (though I had removed the biscuit), but I was acutely aware the chocolate stain would still be there. Having no desire to be seen in such a state, I asked for the scan referral. I'm so glad I did.
I carried on to the farm, feeling much better.
My scan was booked for the Friday morning.
I kept the kids and I away from newspapers and TV. We had enough to deal with on our own. I was aware the CTV building had collapsed. My husband had been working there when I met him, and I had often taken lunch round there and eaten it with him in his office. I mourned the people he had worked with. I felt guiltily relieved that we had dismissed the idea of him seeking work there on our return to Christchurch.
The day of the scan my friend took the children to Chipmunks. I was still bleeding, but it was and always had been, quite old-looking blood.
I had convinced myself that the night before I'd felt kicks, and the scan would show the baby doing well.
The radiographer couldn't find anything. A vaginal scan thing was produced. The radiographer looked at the screen and said there never was a baby.
I went into some kind of emotional free fall. What?
He (she? I have no recollection), explained I wasn't and never had been pregnant. It was a blighted ovum. My understanding is the egg is fertilised, pregnancy hormones are activated, and that's as far as it goes.
There on the screen was a sac, no limbs and torsos like I'd seen in previous scans.
As I wasn't local, I was asked to wait in the waiting room while the report was compiled for me to take away. There I saw for the first time on the TV the images of Christchurch, notably the CTV building. I fell apart again.
The staff were wonderful, but I just couldn't stop crying.
It was so much to process. What right did I have to grieve a baby that never was? Especially in the face of the truly horrific tales of loss that were emerging from Christchurch.
I have never felt so incredibly alone.
I desperately wanted my husband with me, but didn't feel like I had a right to ask him to leave helping the people of Christchurch to help me mourn something that never was.
I felt like a fraud. What a big deal I'd made all along about a non-baby. My friend had lost a baby at 23 weeks. She was absolutely the best person for me to be with. I talked and ranted and cried and mourned. The kids were feral on the farm, having a great 'holiday'.
I was told the remaining 'material' would pass on its own in due course. I decided to go up to Upper Hutt as there was still no water, power or sewerage at home, and unlikely to be for some time.
Bluebridge were offering cheap fares for Christchurch refugees.
I had a fantastic support network in Upper Hutt, with my sister (who had miscarried several years earlier at the same point in her pregnancy) and all the mums I had started Playcentre with.
It was lovely, but hard. I sobbed at the drop of a hat. There was so much going on emotionally, with earthquake and miscarriage trauma often difficult to separate.
One night, as I was heading to bed I felt a gush of blood. My friend who we were staying with rang the hospital. They told us to come in. My sister picked me up and took me in.
By the time I got there, the bleeding had slowed. The doctor's attitude was pretty blasé, and I was told this was normal and to go home. We went home.
The bleeding continued at an increased rate, not enough to be alarmed about, but definitely no longer old blood. I had no idea it would be so painful. I was told very little about what to expect.
Two nights later the bleeding became suddenly heavier again, this time much worse. My friend bundled me into the car and we raced down the Hutt Motorway. I could feel waves of blood going out. I felt like blood was leaving my arms and legs.
I was fighting to stay lucid and I wondered if I would see my kids again. I got really angry and decided there was no way my kids would lose their mum while their dad was somewhere else.
At the ED I was taken in quickly. I had a massive towel wedged between my legs and it was soaked.
A young doctor was in charge of me. He seemed at a loss as to what to do, besides taking my blood pressure and temperature. He asked me to describe how much blood I'd lost. I told him that I'd been through five super maternity pads in five minutes and it had felt like it had continued at that rate since we left home.
I felt silly and foolish, like I was trying to make a big deal out of something very ordinary.
My friend stayed with me, and when a 5.3 earthquake rolled through, leapt on top of me to stop me running out the ED door.
I remember crying while the doctor stood beside the bed saying, "That was my first earthquake. They're quite fun aren't they?"
I was terrified the hospital would collapse like the CTV building, and I was on the ground floor.
Finally the doctor decided I should just go home.
I was still bleeding. He hadn't examined me at all. I asked if I could shower first, and I was allowed.
When the nurse pulled back the covers to help me to the shower, she drew back in horror and exclaimed, "Has the doctor seen this?"
I said he hadn't and she announced grimly, that there was no way I was going home.
She marched off and got the doctor. He came and looked to the blood and decided I should be admitted.
The nurse helped me to shower, and I was put in a bed in an alcove waiting to be taken upstairs. My friend went home, as it was now early hours of the morning. I waited for hours without seeing anybody. Finally I was taken upstairs to the medical ward.
I bless whoever made the call that this is where women like me go. I have heard of women being taken to maternity, and I think that is one of the cruelest things you could do.
The gynaecologist arrived first thing and was appalled at the state of me. I had no water, and I was seriously dehydrated. She organised a drip and pain relief.
I could have kissed her. My care from then on was outstanding. The doctors and nurses were so kind and lovely to me.
I had another scan which showed there was still tissue in my uterus, but due to the increased workload for other hospitals from Christchurch, a D&C couldn't be scheduled.
I was relieved. But my sense of loss was now acute.
My husband got on the next flight he could while I was in ED and he arrived about midday. We decided he would take me 'home'.
I arrived back in Christchurch two weeks after we had left, a very different person.
People don't really talk about miscarriage. It's a hard topic to bring up. I quickly realised who I could and couldn't be 'me' with.
Christchurch was a difficult place to be grieving. In the scale of loss all over the city, mine seemed so small and insignificant.
I sought counselling to have someone who would listen and not try and make me feel better or dismiss my feelings, which were all over the place.
It was worth every penny to be able to explore all my irrational thoughts and fears, and to accept that to me, the baby was very, very real.
I wrote a song, which was incredibly cathartic.
I believe that life begins at conception, and I had a vivid dream one night that I met a young man in heaven, tall and dark eyed like my husband, and I knew he was our son. I named him Timothy in my heart.
I kept the mass of tissue that passed and planted it ceremoniously under a rosebush.
I have grieved well, and I have healed well. I still miss him.
Every time I hear the death toll of the Canterbury earthquake, I silently count one more.
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