‘Words in my life: Miscarriage, IVF, bleeding, guilt, sympathy, anger, grief . . . and hope’
One woman charts two years living with the hope of pregnancy and pain of miscarriage
Sarah-Anne Buckley and her partner Adrian Connell at Spanish Point Beach near their home in Kilmurry Ibrickane, in west Clare. Photograph: Eamon Ward
I make my third cup of coffee without guilt. I am not pregnant, I am not trying to get pregnant and the smell does not make me feel physically sick. I savour this small victory. I had my third D&C (dilatation and curettage) three weeks ago after waiting 37 hours in hospital for a scheduled procedure, and I am beginning to feel like myself.
Recurrent miscarriage, missed miscarriage, D&C, T-shaped uterus, IVF, hormones, bleeding, not bleeding, guilt, sympathy, anger, grief.
These are words that have formed my life these past two years.
Hope, oh I forgot hope.
We are infinitely lucky in all other ways. Our words are not homelessness, direct provision, sickness, poverty, unemployment, debt, death. But since January 2018, I (we) have had four miscarriages. After three, the term recurrent is used, the internet tells me one per cent of women suffer from this, and in 50 per cent of cases no cause will be found. After three miscarriages, couples will be offered help and investigations in the public healthcare system. As we have resources, we did the tests after two, we did not wait months and years for some answers.
We are privileged in our infertility.
I have never made it to the second trimester, instead six weeks; four weeks, three days; six weeks and six days; seven weeks and three days, all loaded numbers – graphs on a baby app which show a miniscule entity and its development.
Now I hate being pregnant. I hate how my body feels and how forgetful I become. I hate the secrecy and the hopefulness. I hate the symptoms and wonder why more women don’t give out. Publicly that is. At one appointment with a different consultant I say I would like a D&C as opposed to a “natural” miscarriage or the taking of two tablets that make you shiver and cramp and may not even work. Just “make sure you are near a bathroom” they say.
A D&C is always the least preferential option – which I understand as surgery involves thinly stretched resources in our healthcare system – and there’s the 1 per cent chance of uterine perforation (which would mean no more baby-making) and a general anaesthetic. But his response, that if I were still pregnant, I would still be experiencing these symptoms, is like a blow to the head.
I campaigned to Repeal the Eight Amendment after my first miscarriage. To me, they were intertwined, my story of miscarriage and the women who had travelled for abortions for so many years. The loneliness of the process, the pain of the treatment, we are sisters in this. In a world that is struggling to hold and feed us all, we need empathy, choice, support and love. We need solidarity. During the campaign I was in awe of the couples who spoke of their experiences of fatal foetal abnormality.
Three times I stay in the ward where Savita Halappanavar died
Yet, like so many feminists and humans, I wish they did not have to, that they did not need our sympathies to access medical care. Three times I stay in the ward where Savita Halappanavar died. On the last visit, where I stayed in the new bereavement room which was opened after her death for women experiencing pregnancy loss, I think about her and her husband, the effect her death and the subsequent activism has had on our lives.
We have moved far from the silence of Irish society in some respects, but we need to go elsewhere, to the greater investment in medical care, to a greater understanding of reproductive rights, to the acceptance and equal treatment of women and men who don’t have children, be it by choice or not.
I listen to a female comedian talk about how the best thing you could do for climate change (other than die) is to become a childless vegan who doesn’t travel. Where’s my f**king award she says.
I have studied the effects of silences and euphemisms in modern Irish history, particularly around women’s rights, pregnancy and loss. The “cilliní”, the high infant mortality rates, the treatment of unmarried women, the institutionalisation, the shame. It is all connected. The lives of children mistreated, the families not supported, the medical framed as the moral. The class bias, the focus on “respectability”, the repression.
In two years, I have taken three days off work – all for procedures. I have travelled to conferences and given papers straight after. This was my choice; my job is important to me and I did not feel ready to discuss what seemed insanely personal then. I didn’t want to talk about burial or accept the kindness of staff in the hospital. I wanted to move on, I was the same as everyone else. But I can see now we do need a space where women and men can take more time, more talk, more whatever they need.
Miscarriage is medical, miscarriage is personal, but it is also political. Childlessness is political. Parenthood is political. I did not want to have a child until I was 30 years of age. I do not regret one minute of the time before that or feel any guilt in my choices, but I have been told I should, that I left it too late. We need to value the range of lives in this country and the people already here and make sure we value all families in all forms.
I have received the most incredibly kind and well-intentioned advice from some beautiful friends and family over the past two years. I have had doctors reassure me not to worry, we will of course have a child. I even had one promise me. I have heard the stories of successful IVF, of the woman who had a child after 16 miscarriages. I have read about my egg quality (because it’s all about the egg). I have removed BPA products because the chemical in the plastic is said to be toxic, I have eaten avocados, I have stopped drinking wine, I have cried many times for the previous wine I consumed. I have done yoga and I have stopped doing yoga. I have read blogs. I have had hushed conversations with friends and colleagues in solidarity. I have even read about celebrities who have suffered miscarriages, where everyone seems to persist and end up having a child somehow.
I have drunk the teas. I have not drunk the teas
I have embarrassed myself in my need, a need I didn’t have and can’t understand how I got here. I have read research articles on operations and procedures and checked the sample size and methodologies. I have gone to acupuncture. I have drunk the teas. I have not drunk the teas. I have injected myself with Heparin daily, hoping the bruises on my belly will be a sign of future success. I have taken enough progesterone to bloat any person. I have done it, or as far I as can go, and now, now I am out. We are out. And that’s okay.
And while I have appreciated every bit of advice, for me, listening when I needed to talk was the most important bit. Or understanding that I couldn’t come celebrate that amazing moment in your life. Or that I needed to be less considerate. Or that I wasn’t as good a colleague, friend, partner, daughter, aunt, sister, confidant as I would have liked to be. Or that I don’t want any hopeful talks right now, I want to live in our choice.
This article represents my experience, our story. It is not a reflection of anyone else’s, and I have chosen to write it as I feel it is right for me and for us.
Maybe it is inappropriate, the telling of these personal stories, it is definitely indulgent and it is certainly privileged. In the hierarchy of today’s issues it is far down the scale. Maybe I will regret it. I work in a university, what will the students say or their parents? What will my work colleagues say? Post-repeal and with the dominance of neoliberal feminism, is there a space where the personal is actually political? I’m not sure, but I guess I’ll deal with the consequences in the hope that is keeps a conversation going – one that is private and public in whatever way you need, but is, at its core about resources, about expectations and about removing a stigma that should never have existed.
My diary: writing miscarriage
March 2018: “Two red lines”
It stood out in the drawer, the drawer of messy bits – belts and blusher and torn tights. The two red lines on the white background. I had kept it to give to you when you were older, to show you how much I had wanted you. I imagined how I would frame it, how I would keep all the memorable mementoes for you to look back on in your 30s and 40s, after we had stopped fighting and become friends. You were a girl in my mind, for no particular reason. I had envisioned trips, food, sharing, us teaching you the things we find interesting in life. Probably too much of our life imposed on you – but that’s what loving parents do right?
It’s Sunday today and I am reminded of that Sunday. The spots of blood that had come three days previous, the inevitable I knew was coming but which my naivety and optimism refused to acknowledge. The small sac in the red dish. After it happened, I called him, knowing the tears would fall so hard with the sound of his voice. He was working and I thought little of what it must have been like for him, although a part of me knew he was not as invested yet. I rang my mother, more tears – hers, not mine now. Mine would stop that day.
Sure it was only early days, why would I be upset?
I told everyone I was fine, we hadn’t been trying long, it had all happened so quickly really. We’ll wait a while, maybe, I’m not even sure I really want a child you know? I got my story straight, learned it off and replayed it when necessary. I ignored the leaflets in the hospital, the groups where you go and talk. Sure it was only early days, why would I be upset? It’s not like I had planned it all out, like I plan everything else. It’s not that I had envisioned our lives with you. It’s not like I feel some hole that can’t be filled with travels or yoga.
Of course, it’s irrational that I felt a failure – I interpreted the sympathy and empathy in people’s eyes and took it as pity. I felt my body had betrayed me, that it was my fault. I felt stupid for telling people the news so soon, for the people that knew when we weren’t supposed to tell. Even when women told me their stories in hushed tones, I felt no solidarity as I did with so many hidden histories. I know we do not discuss this; I know women have suffered alone, yet I could only see me. Me and you. Us.
Looking at the two red lines now I call Adrian to the room. Like the day he came home from work with pizza and red wine and held me until I slept, I needed him to decide, to take control. He said to throw it away, as he had with that little sac in the little red dish.
The two red lines. The two powerful red lines.
Little did I know that day you would be the first of many.
August 2018: “I am not one of those women”
The second time wasn’t as bad. It’s not that I wasn’t upset, I was, but it was as though I knew it was going to happen. When I checked that morning, I knew what would be there. I had been unconsciously checking for the two weeks I was aware of this short pregnancy. It didn’t help that the day before at the EPAU (Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit) the sonographer all but told us.
See even with my most creative of date calculations, four weeks and three days was too small. The 3.2mm gestational sac with its small white dot in the middle was too small. Yet she offered me a picture and I took it. I knew even as I took it, I was being ridiculous, but I guess it was the same as those tests I’d kept – like what was I doing? Even if I did manage to hold on to one of these pregnancies, am I going to show that child some other test?
So the second time was better, I guess I knew what to expect. It was earlier, so maybe I wouldn’t need the D&C, and maybe it wouldn’t take weeks to stop hurting, maybe it wouldn’t take weeks to feel like normal.