Natalie’s mission to #breakthesilence around pregnancy and baby loss

I am an actor and self-employed everything (will tap dance for cash) in my early 30s, and this year, I lost a baby and a Fallopian tube due an ectopic pregnancy.

You would be so surprised how long it took me to write that first line. They’ve been through at least three guests on Sunday Brunch – you see, I’m not sure how you start such a discussion, which is exactly why, on #babylossawarenessweek, I am going to #breakthesilence.

Trigger warning- for anyone who has experienced miscarriage or loss of a pregnancy or child, this will not be too visceral but I will touch on emotions which I know at times are hard to let in. I hope when the time is right this provides a moment of catharsis which helps your individual journey of grief. Miscarriage is, I have recently discovered, a lonely, harrowing and under-discussed topic. I’m writing this to raise awareness, thank the incredible bodies of support that helped me, but most importantly to offer some support back and hopefully a hand of comfort to the 1 in 5 women, and men, in the UK who experience this loss.

A number of weeks ago, after a few days of feeling a little lethargic, I took a ‘I’m-defs-not-preggers-but-I’m-just-checking’ test. Something I’ve done a few times in my adult life as an Anxious Annie who must troubleshoot all possible outcomes before they happen. I didn’t even discuss this test with my partner, such was my confidence. I turned over the fancy digital number and, in the window, it said PREGNANT.

As a grown-up human, you never really quite know how you’ll react to this news, and once I’d peeled myself from the ceiling and regained feeling back in my face (I dribbled), a wave of joy, fear, joy, shock and JOY swept over me. I looked in the mirror at my tummy and vowed to love that child with everything I had. Some people are sure they don’t want to be a parent, some aren’t sure how they feel, and some have known they do since the Ice Age, and I’ve always fallen into the latter category. However, I’m a firm believer that we can never prepare fully for such an event, and, in this non-linear spinning globe we inhabit, it is practically impossible to predict and plan, BUT I was ready to grab this with both, slightly trembling hands.

After the initial news had landed, we began to get our practical caps on and organise our near future. I was only a few weeks gone so it wasn’t yet scan time and we had only told our DELIRIOUSLY HAPPY parents, God love ‘em.

Then one afternoon, when my emotions were running suspiciously high, I started to feel something was wrong. I stood up to get back into a rehearsal and a sharp pain hit my left side which made me yelp, there’d been a couple of such pains which I’d put down to my body simply going ‘yo this is mental I’m growing a baby’, which it ABSOLUTELY can be by the way. I’m assured. As far as instincts go though, there was a turning point that day which made my spider senses go, and when I started bleeding, I realised quickly I needed to get to hospital.

The staff were wonderful at the hospital, I thanked them profusely at the time and continue to sing the praises of them and our incredible NHS. They fast tracked me, heard my symptoms and assured me that, although they couldn’t scan at that time of night, it was perfectly possible there was nothing wrong with my baby at all, as first-time pregnancies can often have some hiccups in the first trimester. They told us to go home, get a good night’s sleep (LOL I’ve not slept since ’84) and to come back in for a scan first thing.

We did. There was silence. I knew I’d lost the baby. The kindest nurse put her hand on my leg and said, through a blur, that there was no pregnancy in the womb, but that there was a mass on the scan in my left-hand tube which indicated an ectopic pregnancy, and that she was so sorry.

This all went rather fast and is hard to revisit, but is important to revisit after the initial shock has passed. Mainly for acceptance, but also to listen to the information you will need to look after your body during this trauma. I highly recommend staying in contact with your doctor and getting information in writing to pass to someone you trust, as I can assure you, at the time it will sound like he or she is speaking straight up Teletubby.

She explained that in ectopic pregnancies, which happen to approximately 1 in 80 pregnancies, the embryo grows outside of the uterus and cannot survive. There are various reasons why this can happen and, in my case, it was just terrible luck. The hospital offered two ways to treat this, one is medicinal and one is via surgery, which they would try to avoid unless the pain developed. They would monitor my blood levels in the coming days to determine what would be the best course of action. So for now, I was to go home and rest.

‘Shock’, although it sounds a bit snappy and cold, is a vital coping mechanism. There is no way to process the trauma of grief without it and luckily it is unavoidable and there to protect us. I honestly can’t remember feeling much but empty. There were tears, sure, but my body and brain went into flight mode and all I wanted to do was check on those around me and pretend to be ‘normal’. Things would soon get far too painful for ‘normal’ though and I was soon back in hospital as the tube had ruptured, making surgery vital, and life-saving.

Again, in the safest NHS hands, I was under anaesthetic within hours and had my left Fallopian tube removed along with the pregnancy. I’m told I came round singing Queen (niche) and complaining LOUDLY of pain in my arms, which is caused by the gas used to inflate the stomach for surgery (I don’t remember much about this because – morphine). A wonderful doctor came to me when I had sobered up and told me the right tube was intact, so it was still possible, although harder, to have a healthy pregnancy.

If the pain had ended there I wouldn’t be writing this, and I must make it clear this is the entire reason I am. The physical effects of miscarriage and ectopics are painful and confusing, but in only my specific experience, the real pain which you can’t attempt to label or box is the process of loss and grief that comes in the aftermath.

I took two frustrating weeks off work. I was pretty much bed-ridden and sought solace in books and chocolate buttons, tending to my scars and wishing the painful swelling/gas to go down (srsly at one point I looked at least 8 months pregnant, ironic and not much fun – two words for you huns- PEPPERMINT TEA), then I got back to it. Some take longer than two weeks, in fact they recommend four – but everyone has their own path of recovery and it’s so important not to push your body or your brain. For me, the distraction of work (and that it wasn’t too physical) helped a lot.

I’d say it wasn’t until about a month after surgery that shock and natural defence mechanisms subsided, to be replaced with deep, dark and desperate grief. I was travelling home one day after a visiting a beautifully blooming mum to be, and (full disclosure) along with the joy and love I had, it broke my heart. I sobbed on the train, and a kind lady gave me her packet of tissues (ur a hun, hun), it was an all-consuming wave of pain and I drowned in it. Now, *gulps*, around this time my partner unexpectedly and painfully left, I had a desperate hate towards my own body, a suffocating fear of loss of fertility, and I couldn’t leave my flat. I couldn’t bear to look at my scars and wanted to hide in a box. I can with hindsight describe it like being buried in a mud pit, alone, and could only rise to wail and scream, sometimes literally.

OW that bit is hard, but what I so want to focus on are the various ways in which I have gotten help, which was a slow and arduous process, as initially I didn’t want to see or speak to a single soul. HERE GOES:

The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust

These guys helped more than I ever imagined possible. Go on there for facts, post-operative advice and more importantly unwavering support. My mum sent me their number and she’s pretty much always right so of course my inner teen didn’t call them for some time… but when I did I had the most wonderful lady speak to me at length. I was so afraid I was the only person in the world going through this as a single woman, which she assured me I wasn’t and offered a listening ear and call backs at intervals if and when I felt up to it. The women, who have all been through similar experiences, volunteer for this service and are incredible, so I highly recommend getting in touch when you feel it’s just too much to talk to friends or family, or even that you don’t feel like there is anyone around you that you trust enough to share with.

Facebook

I know! I’ve strongly believed of late it’s the root of many a problem BUT in this case it really helped. I joined a private group which acts as a safe forum for women to discuss their experiences, and get support from others going through the same thing. I was PETRIFIED to post at first thinking it would post to my page or again that no other single women would be going through it alone, but there were so many there offering words of sympathy and encouragement, all in different stages of their loss. I felt like I had a little team of comrades, and on stronger days I’d be able to return the favour and post links and ‘I HEAR YA HUNS’ to others in suffering.

Self Care

An absolute CLASSIC with huge connotations. I felt desperately solitary at times, so when I felt that, I listened. There were days where I handed work over to supportive colleagues and found solace in my duvet and Gray’s Anatomy. On days where I needed help, I called on a close team of family and friends, who I’m very lucky to have. They couldn’t solve my grief, but they could offer a listening ear or a sofa and blanket if needed (I napped on so many pals’ beds I was like frickin’ Goldilocks) – one of them ran me a bath lit candles and poured me wine V. CUTE OF THEM.

Paperback Writer

I usually leave this to the professionals, but honestly, scribbling this down has been an incredibly cathartic process. I’ve cried a lot, sure, as it’s hard to revisit at times, but I think it’s also a necessary part of the healing process. Even if you write it down just for you, or give to a pal if you feel you can’t articulate your pain, it puts it somewhere. And you get to listen to some bomb music and have a delicious glass of red while you’re at it am I riiiiiiiiiight??*

*Glass of red was not consumed during Sunday Brunch I’m not an animal I waited til Grand Prix

Mark It

I’m not encouraging y’all to go out and get ink- I mean my Nan’s gonna kill me – but I designed a little tattoo to honour and remember my lost baby. I also (big share ahoy) gave her (I had a hunch) a name and I lit a candle in this little angel’s honour. Variations on these things can help with acceptance. Do what feels positive and happy to you.

There are so many other things to say, this process is so vast. I must say very importantly that in the case of ectopic when you lose a tube, this does NOT mean you will not be able to conceive, or even that your chances are halved. It is possible to go on and have many healthy births. I know, I’ve asked a lot of women! Do not lose hope.

Grief has absolutely no timeline. If you are struggling and feel like you need a period of counselling to get through it – march down to your doctor and tell them just that. Our NHS is gold and hopefully without too much of a wait can help you cost-free. It might be that you feel you have recovered from the loss then BAM you are thrown back into bed again. I have certainly experienced this. There are triggers, most unavoidable, that bring the dark cloud over and feel impossible to clear. But they WILL pass. You have my word.

You are not a statistic, you are experiencing a loss that is entirely specific to you. Shout and scream and cry when you need to. Speak to employers, friends, and perfect strangers, they are full of compassion. WE GOT YOU. Immerse yourself in the pain, hold its hand and then wave it farewell. You’re not on your own. #breakthesilence