This week’s blog is written by guest blogger Martha.
I write this on the day my second daughter would have been born. In an extra twist of cruelty I have started my period. Women’s reproductive systems have long been used to judge, ostracise, and pigeonhole them. In Biblical times menstruating women were confined to tents, in the 21st century it makes the news when an athlete mentions the p word.
We are bombarded with judgments – that woman has too many children, while we are begged to question this woman’s ability to do her job because she doesn’t have enough children, that woman didn’t even wait until her first baby was one before having number two, this woman hasn’t had a second baby yet – there’s probably something wrong with her. Our reproductive cycles and fertility choices are nobody’s damn business but our own. However, our reproductive health should be everybody’s concern.
In a society where tampon adverts don’t show blood or discomfort, where vaginal health products sit next to lube and condoms, unlabelled and unspoken of, and where the rudest swear word you can utter is another word for our most glorious lady palace, it is not easy to talk about women’s health issues. Let alone reproductive health. It is a taboo, a mystery (even to the women experiencing it), and an isolating, physically draining, emotionally traumatic thing to go through. How are women who are suffering supposed to find comfort or closure if they can’t easily access professional or peer support, or even the words they need to describe what has happened to them?
I don’t want to be a trailblazer. I don’t want to be a mouthpiece or advocate but I also don’t want to live in a world where I have to silence my pain because it makes other people feel uncomfortable. When I am asked infuriating questions like ‘oh so do you not fancy another?’, or have to endure comments such as ‘I must be crazy for having a second’ I want to be able to say I have lost two pregnancies and not be met with awkwardness or pathetic cliché’s like ‘if it wasn’t meant to be’, ‘they’re in a better place’. A better place than their mother’s arms?
On 18 September 2015 I found out I was pregnant for the second time. Thirteen days later, in an annual board meeting while presenting statistics on a Powerpoint presentation I began to cramp, the next day there was a strange bright pink discharge, two days later there were full contractions and a significant amount of blood. A trip to A&E later a miscarriage was confirmed. I can’t describe the pain. Even with all the blood, even after feeling something physically leave my body – The exceptionally sad truth is that my ‘wasn’t-meant-to-be’ child ended up never seen and flushed down the toilet. I’ve never told anyone that – there had been hope until that moment. But that hope was smashed beyond all repair.
Unlike most other earth-shattering pieces of news given in hospitals it was not followed up with doctors appointments or medication, you are just sent out into the world clutching your then 18-month-old to carry on as normal. I sat numb in a fucking carvery with friends because it seemed rude to cancel. Did I tell anyone? No. I was still processing. I didn’t want six people’s sympathies in case they were the wrong sympathies. I carried on as normal as is expected of women who lose babies and pregnancies. It’s not an illness is it? She’s had weeks to get over it. It’s not like she knew him anyway. I may have even cracked a joke or two at the table. I get a sore throat when I think of that meal.
Blood from a miscarriage lasts weeks. Did you know that? Every trip to the toilet is a very real reminder that you have lost something. The loss of what might have been gnaws and chews. One in four pregnancies ends this way. Did you know that? For so many, fertility is a minefield and we have to watch stupid sanitary towel adverts where women enjoy their period rather than see it as a cruel reminder that once again they are bitterly disappointed, or pregnancy test ads where impossibly irritating women announce to the world that they are two weeks pregnant. Two fucking weeks? Please.
My doctor asked me a question after I lost that pregnancy. ‘Will you be able to go ahead with a termination now you have experienced this?’ I should mention at this juncture that I have a genetic condition that has a 50% of being passed on to my children. My partner and I made the devastating decision many years ago that if we were to pass on the illness, we would terminate the pregnancy to protect any future child from a shortened life lived in and out of hospitals, and also to protect ourselves. But now I had experienced the loss could I go through it again – willingly? I honestly didn’t know. I asked if there was any way we could have access to IVF because I didn’t want to go through anything like it again. We can if we have a spare £15k. Our one healthy daughter is an against-the-odds, entirely special creature, but she does block us from fertility treatment on the NHS. Fair but heart-breaking.
So in January I was an anxious mess when I found out that I was once again pregnant. Heavy bleeding sent me back to the hospital though this time it was nothing, and I saw a heartbeat. At 11 weeks I opted for a CVS, a test which involves an extremely long needle inserted through the abdomen into the womb to take a sample of the placenta. I watched on the screen as the 11-week-old foetus wriggled around. Then there was a week to wait. It was not good news. Our second little girl would be born with Cystic Fibrosis. Then there was another week to wait. A week of her little body developing further, my bump just appearing, and twinges feeling like the beginnings of kicks. A week of signing papers to say I consented to the operation, bloods needed to be taken, and a second birthday party that needed to be arranged and attended…oh did I not mention that life has to just carry on as normal?
The doctors and nurses were friendly enough but they weren’t good at communication. Using terms like unwanted baby and avoiding telling me what the procedure entailed. I still don’t know. But I am damned if I am Googling it, alone. It was their job to make sure I knew what happened to my body but because I was upset they deemed it too traumatic. NOT their decision.
I was told there wouldn’t be much blood and that an antibiotic suppository would be inserted while I was under. I went to sleep crying and woke up in a drugged and dozy state wanting to know about the physical state of my almost-girl. Immediately I felt a warm sticky ooze between my legs. When I went to the toilet enough blood and womb lining fell out of me that I could hear it splashing into the toilet bowl. It was heavy enough that it sent the nappy-thick hospital pad hurtling to the floor. I pulled the cord. I must be haemorrhaging. The doctor said there wouldn’t be much blood. The nurse told me that was perfectly normal and might happen another two or three times. They need to get their fucking stories straight. The last thing a woman needs after a traumatic experience is surprises.
One of the many problems with miscarriage and abortion is that no woman deals with them the same way so it is hard to know what support should be given. Though in my eyes that simply means more than one type of support should be on offer. However, we cannot always rely on the professionals. Peers need to step up. Until women feel comfortable taking about their wombs and vaginas when they are healthy how can they be expected to discuss when things go wrong? Until we can openly talk about the physicality of these traumas then I don’t even know how we tackle the far more complex emotional side of the events.