At Christmas, Andrew and I decided to have a baby. We’d been thinking about it for a while, but I had been slightly more ready than him. Then, I’m not sure why, at Christmas something clicked for him.
We were apart on Christmas Day, but I went to see him at his parents’ house, in between Christmas and New Year. Not long after I arrived, and we’d exchanged presents, he brought up wanting to have children.
I remember us hugging, sitting on the edge of the bed, in his parents’ spare room.
“Wow, this is it, then. We’re never going to be with anyone else,” I said, glowing with both relief and excitement.
“No,” he agreed.
However, I was about to start a new job. I have a couple of friends who just missed out on maternity pay by a few weeks, when they got pregnant shortly after changing jobs. Raising a child seems to be an expensive endeavour. So, back in January, on my first day at my new job, when no one was looking, I surreptitiously got the maternity policy up and sent it to my personal email.
One night, Andrew and I sat in a pub and looked the policy, the calendar and my menstrual cycle app, and worked out we should start trying for the baby in July.
For six months, we thought about and talked about the hypothetical baby all the time, and wondered if we were being silly, waiting. We knew it can take a long time to get pregnant, so maybe we should have started right away, and then it would have happened around July anyway, if we’d got lots of practice in. On the other hand, we knew that you only have to do it once and just as it takes forever for some people, it can be quick.
In June, a month before, we had particularly good sex. I remember thinking, It kind of feels wrong that sex this good might lead to a baby!
I kind of find it weird that sex creates children, because there’s no other situation where sex and children mix. Normally, even if I can hear children playing outside, it puts me off. I felt like maybe the sex that creates the baby shouldn’t be too racy or weird.
I remember thinking, that in a month, we’d be swinging from the chandeliers, doing it all the time.
Then, in July, we passed the date when I’d helpfully put ‘sex’ in my calendar.
In contrast, we had some of the worst sex we’ve ever had. I said things like, “Come on! You can keep Test Match Special on!”
In my psychology degree I learnt about how powerful the placebo effect is, and how our thinking and expectations can influence what our bodies do.
After every sex session in my fertile window, I got into a shoulder stand position and visualised sperm cheerily swimming up my uterus while my egg creaked its way along the fallopian tube to meet them.
We had been using condoms for the past year or so, since I got the implant taken out, and I’d forgotten how messy unprotected sex is, especially as Andrew brings a lot of DNA to the table. After each session, one of us would try and reach the tissues without getting out of whatever position we were in, and then Andrew would earnestly clean me up. As I hopped the bathroom with my legs together (after doing some visualisation) I felt very conscious of the bedroom carpet being new.
I knew the likelihood of getting pregnant first time was very low, so I tried not to get carried away. However, I think the six months of waiting put a lot of pressure on this first month.
Then we had the two week wait. I had a good feeling, but I knew it was silly. It was likely to take several months, and that’s if we’re lucky and don’t have any problems.
I looked up the percentage chance of getting pregnant first time, and saw a figure like 30%, and thought Brilliant!
Then I read on, and saw that if you’re over 35, it’s more like 18%. Damn.
My cycle is always between 25 and 29 days. Over the last few months it has been more at the 25 end.
When I was on about day 23 of my cycle, I thought, I’ll probably know either way in a couple of days, when I get my period.
I have very painful periods. I thought it will be a shit day when I get my period, because I’ll have the bad news and the pain in the same day.
I walked past the pregnancy test section of the supermarket that day. I knew you could get tests that can tell if you’re pregnant before your period is due, but they are less reliable than if you wait.
I decided to buy one, so when my period came, I would have got used to the news I’m not pregnant, and would be ready for the usual, physical pain.
It was a Saturday morning. I went to buy the test after Andrew and I had breakfast.
I know that the standard way of taking a pregnancy test is to wee on the end of the plastic stick, but when I had a pregnancy scare at uni, I preferred the method weeing into a receptacle first, then dipping the pregnancy test in. It feels more controlled – you’re more likely to immerse it for the right amount of time, and less likely to wee on your hand.
I finally found a use for the stack of Gu glass ramekins, that had been cluttering up my cupboard, and weed into one of them.
I went back into the living room and Andrew and I waited to see what the test said.
Only one line.
I was a bit disappointed, but knew it was fine. It was our first go.
I texted a couple of my friends saying I was disappointed but OK, and they sent nice messages back, and we had a nice day.
I enjoyed having a couple of consequence-free glasses of wine at dinner.
Over the next week, I waited for my period to come.
But it didn’t. I thought nothing of it at first.
I noticed my breasts were enormous and tender. They felt like two boulders moving around under my top, and hurt when Andrew hugged me. I have ongoing stomach problems, but even for me, my stomach was particularly bloated.
When I was out on the balcony gardening in the evening, I could smell my neighbours’ dinners, which I can’t usually. My sense of smell seemed really strong.
When I got to day 28, I thought, It’s a while since I’ve had a 28 day cycle. It should definitely come today.
But it didn’t.
My period almost always comes first thing in the morning, so when I woke up day 29, I was sure it would come.
Could I be pregnant?
I still had the second pregnant test from the packet. I knew people do get false negatives with pregnancy tests sometimes (you basically never get false positives).
At lunch time on day 30, I couldn’t handle the curiosity. I took another test. They are most reliable first thing in the morning, and less reliable if you’ve drunk a lot of fluids.
This is was a lunch time, clear wee, so not ideal.
I stared at the pregnancy test as the first line appeared. Then, a very faint, second line appeared.
It was so faint, I wasn’t sure if it was there.
I decided just to forget about it and concentrate on my work.
Then I abandoned that idea, and spent about an hour texting Andrew and two of my friends pictures of the faint line, and googling ‘faint lines on pregnancy tests.’
On the packet, it had said, even a faint line means you are pregnant. But it was very faint.
If it had been just the faint line, or just the late period, or just the swollen breasts, I would have thought – “come on, it’s probably nothing.”
But with all three, I thought I probably was actually pregnant.
Oh my god!
For the rest of the day, I couldn’t stop going back into the bathroom and looking at the faint line.
I decided to buy one of the more expensive, digital pregnancy tests, because they don’t rely on you interpreting faint lines, and to try again with a good, dehydrated, first wee of the day.
On Saturday morning, I woke up at about 6am, and got another Gu ramekin out of the cupboard.
I weed into it, and left it in the bathroom. Andrew was awake when I got back in bed.
“Shall I do the test?” I said.
He said yes.
I went back into the bathroom and put the flashy, expensive test into the nice, dark wee for the 20 seconds required, and then took it back into the bedroom.
A little egg timer was flashing on the screen. We both stared at it for a bit, then started talking.
We were talking about some ear drops we couldn’t find in the bathroom, when the word ‘pregnant’ suddenly flashed up on the screen.
“Oh my god!” we both said. For a few minutes we just stared at the word ‘pregnant’ and hugged each other and said “I can’t believe it!” and “Oh my god.”
“It’s good job we did wait!” and
“I can’t believe we did it first time!” and
“I’m so glad I’m doing this with you!”
“Should we move?” and
“You’ll have to get me down the aisle now,” and
“We shouldn’t count our chickens, of course, something could go wrong,” and
“When will it be born, touch wood?” and
“April? May? That’s good, part way through the school year.”
We were both naked as it was a heat wave, so I said ‘well done’ to his penis.
After a while, Andrew had to go to work.
I made myself a cup of tea and some cereal.
As I waited for the kettle to boil, I put my hand on my stomach and whispered “Hello.” Then I wasn’t sure what else to say so I didn’t say anything else.
I tried to read some of a book about pregnancy but gave up and texted the two friends who I had texted about the faint line yesterday.
Then, unusually for me on a Saturday, I had early morning plans.
I have missed swimming since lockdown started. I had always wanted to swim in the Swimming Pond on Hampstead Heath, so when it reopened recently, I started swimming there.
Because of COVID, only a limited number of people can swim at a time, and you have to buy tickets in advance. It’s hard to get tickets, so the only one I managed to get for that day was at the crack of dawn.
I got ready and got the bus to Hampstead Heath. I bought some water from a shop on the way, and then saw the chocolate bars and thought Eating for two and grabbed myself a Wispa as well.
I got to Hampstead Heath early, so I sat on the grass and googled ‘4 weeks pregnant’.
“Your baby is the size of a poppy seed,” it said.
I texted Andrew, “apparently it’s the size of a poppy seed.”
He texted a smiley face back.
It was beautifully sunny as I swam in the pond. It’s always lovely. It’s nice atmosphere, with just women. It’s amazing when you see a duck swim past. It’s wonderful when you look around you and see trees instead of the usual Leisure Centre poster saying “no petting” or whatever.
Swimming in the pond that day, I think it was one of the best moments of my life so far.
I’m going to be a mother. I thought, as I swam, in the sun. For the first time in my life, I could imagine myself as one.
My parents have been desperate for more grandchildren for so long. (The only ones they have so far are in Australia.) I thought about how happy they will be.
I had felt ambivalent about being a parent for a long time, because I wasn’t sure I could do it well enough. Every time someone told me how hard it is, I grimly logged it in my mind. However, over the last few years I have felt like my biological urge to replicate my genes has overtaken anything else.
That morning, I felt confident I could do an OK job as a mother because I already had so much love for the poppy seed.
I decided to swim an extra lap of the pond because I wanted to be fit and healthy for the embryo.
For the rest of the day, I felt the mood swings I had read about. Some compost arrived which I had ordered, and I felt over the moon. I cried at a podcast. I cried at an advert. I felt livid when my phone froze.
I did some gardening on the balcony, and later met Andrew after his work, for dinner.
We went out, and all we could talk about was the pregnancy. Who to tell when. He was worried about not being a good enough Dad, or what we would do if for some reason he lost his job. I said whatever happened it would be OK, and that most of the problems we would have would be things we had never thought to worry about.
We talked about what we were looking forward to, all being well. I said, feeling the baby move inside me. He said teaching it to ride a bike.
Then, I felt a twinge in my stomach.
I went into the toilets and saw tiny bit of blood.
I felt worried, but I knew it was common to have a bit of blood around this time.
We left the restaurant and I told Andrew about the blood. I also had a raging headache.
When we got home, I took some paracetamol and saw there was a bit more blood.
We both lay on the bed looking up what the blood might mean.
There is a thing called ‘implantation bleeding’ and it seemed likely to be that. It commonly comes along with a headache, and the blood is often more brownish than red, which mine was.
“I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about,” Andrew said.
We went to sleep.
I gave him a lift to work early in the morning, and then drove back.
When I got home, I went to the toilet and the bleeding seemed to have increased. Now it was more fresh, red blood.
Fuck, this doesn’t seem like implantation bleeding now.
I put a pad in and lay on the bed and tried to relax.
I had cramps in my stomach.
It could still be fine. I googled other types of bleeding besides implantation.
I was due to have my weekly family Zoom chat later that morning. I had initially decided to tell my family I was pregnant straight away. Because of my Mum’s memory problems, and how happy my brother’s children make her, I wanted my parents to get the maximum amount of enjoyment.
Once I saw the spots of blood the night before, I thought, “probably fine, but maybe let’s wait until it’s all been confirmed by the GP.”
Ten minutes before the Family Zoom Chat, I went to the toilet and blood gushed out. Some went on the floor and on my foot. Lots went on my underwear (which I had only just bought from Marks and Spencer).
This is a lot of blood, I thought, panicking.
I thought about telling my family I couldn’t chat and doing something else, but I wasn’t sure what else to do. I assumed if I was having a miscarriage, there wasn’t much anyone could do.
Maybe because I was in shock, I just went along with the Family Chat and tried to pretend I was having a normal day.
Towards the end, I made excuses and went back to the toilet. I had bled a lot. I had to change the pad.
I decided to call 111, the non-emergency medical line, and see what they said. After several annoying messages about redialling if I had coronavirus, I spoke to a nice lady. After going through my details and demographic information, she asked what the reason for the call was and I started crying.
“That’s OK, take your time,” she said.
I said, “I’m very early in pregnancy and I’ve started bleeding.”
She went through some questions and then said someone from the Primary Care team would call me back within 20 minutes.
Within literally 2 minutes my phone rang and another lady went through some more questions about the bleeding and things with me. She then said a doctor would call me back within 2 hours.
Again, literally within 2 minutes, my phone rang again. A doctor went through some questions with me and then said I should go to Accident and Emergency as I’m pregnant and bleeding.
I put some shoes on and tried to think what I needed to take to the hospital. For some reason, a hymn came into my head, which we used to sing at Sunday School. It went “Be bold! Be strong.”
In a way, I was surprised they told me to go to A&E. I thought if I was having a miscarriage, especially so early, there wouldn’t be anything anyone could do.
Andrew was at work. I tried to call him as I strode to the bus stop, but his phone was switched off.
I called my friend Tess, a bit tearfully.
She said that lots of women bleed in pregnancy, and not to panic. She said she would come to the hospital if I wanted, but I said I was OK.
It was really, really hot. I was sweating and my mouth was dry, on the bus. I had my fabric mask on, which is mandatory now, on public transport and in shops, and sweat was gathering in it.
When I got off, I went into a small shop to buy a bottle of water. The man behind the counter said, “how’s your day going?” as I paid.
I said, “OK, how is yours?”
When I got to the hospital, I saw there was a socially distanced queue of people leading to the entrance of the A&E department.
I tried to call Andrew again, as I joined the queue. Still no answer.
Someone came and asked me about the queue, and whether it was for people having an emergency. I said I thought it was, and then Andrew called me back.
I think at first, he didn’t grasp the gravity of the situation. He asked if I wanted him to leave work. I did, but I didn’t know that I did.
Someone in front of me in the queue started playing really loud music out of their portable speakers.
“Can I call you back?” I said, hanging up.
I still wasn’t even sure why there was a queue to get into the hospital. I knew it was to do with COVID, but it seemed like a shit system. I waited for about half an hour before I got a chance to tell anyone why I was there. I wondered what would happen if someone else in the queue was having a heart attack or something.
I could hear the nurse at the front of the queue having a really unhurried conversation with someone who didn’t seem to be having an emergency.
I checked with the people in front of me and I was in the right queue.
It was about 35 degrees C. I sat on the pavement and cried.
I texted Andrew saying, “I don’t want to be on my own.”
He replied saying, “I’m coming.”
Eventually, the queue started moving. Someone limping was allowed straight in.
Next, the lady in front of me had an injured toe. The nurse told her she just needed to strap it up, and they had a frustratingly long conversation about what kind of plaster tape she should buy.
I’m having an emergency here! I thought.
Finally, I got to the front of the queue. I said I had called 111 and they had told me to come to A&E, because I was pregnant and bleeding. I tried to keep it together as I knew everyone could hear our conversation.
The nurse started to walk into the hospital with me, asking when my last period was. When I said it was 4 weeks ago, she said, “Oh. So does this bleeding feel different to a period?”
I can’t remember her exact words, but it felt so dismissive that she was implying I was just having a normal period. She was the fourth healthcare professional I’d spoken to that day about it, and if it was a normal period, I wouldn’t have gone to hospital.
She did let me in. I had to fill in a card with my details, and then a receptionist typed them into computer painstakingly slowly.
I went and sat in the waiting area.
It was a strange mixture of wanting someone to do something but not knowing what anyone could do.
After not long, someone who I think was a nurse called me into a cubicle for an assessment.
He started putting a blood pressure cuff on my arm and something to take my pulse on my finger before I had got into the chair, and asked why I had come to A&E.
Haven’t you already got this on your form?
I said I was pregnant and bleeding quite heavily and had been advised to come to A&E.
He went through some questions while typing into a computer and made minimal eye contact with me.
He said to go back into the waiting area to wait to see a doctor. He gave me a plastic pot to wee in, so I could give a urine sample to the doctor.
There were two things I think could’ve been done better here:
- treating me like a human
- telling me what to expect.
I felt like a key theme throughout was medical staff not recognising that bleeding during pregnancy is a terrifying experience, and that the person in front of them was having a significant life event that will stay with them for the rest of their life.
I remember, a long time ago, a friend went to hospital with a scare during pregnancy. It was a different situation and she was further along than me, but she said it was great that the first thing the nurse said to her was, “before I take any of your details, everything is going to be OK.”
Maybe they couldn’t say that because they didn’t know it would be OK, but if someone just had said, “I’m sorry, this must be really scary,” it would have made such a difference.
Even just waiting until I was in the chair before trying to put the blood pressure cuff on my arm, or making eye contact while asking me questions, would have felt better.
Secondly, I had no idea what to expect. On a very practical level, when I went back into the waiting room, I knew I was waiting to see a doctor, but I didn’t know where they would come from or how I would know when it was my turn to be seen.
It was a pretty big waiting room, and there were healthcare professionals coming from opposite sides to collect patients.
There was also a tannoy and there were inaudible announcements every few minutes. I have been in doctors’ waiting rooms where they would call patients’ names over the tannoy. Every time there was an announcement that I couldn’t understand, I was panicking that I had missed my name being called.
I’m not sure how long I waited – I think it was about 1-2 hours (which is not bad, to be fair) – but the whole time I was like a meerkat, in fight or flight mode, every time someone walked into the waiting room or there was an announcement, in case I missed my name being called.
If the nurse had said, “now wait for the doctor to see you. They will come out of that door,” or “they will call your name over the tannoy,” it would have made such difference.
Also, clinically, I just didn’t really know what was going on. I knew I was probably having a miscarriage, and there was probably nothing they could do, so I didn’t know what I was waiting for. I had no idea what the doctor was going to do.
Even if he had just told me what my blood pressure and pulse were, after checking them, and what it meant, it would have been something.
From searching the internet, I think they wanted to check for complicated things that can be more dangerous, such as an ectopic pregnancy, but I’m not sure.
It would have been so helpful if someone had said what the possible reasons for bleeding during pregnancy are, and whether anything can be done or not.
After being assessed by the nurse, I went into the toilet and weed into the pot. I got urine and blood all over the outside of it.
Usually when I’ve been given something to put bodily fluids into, it has come with a sealable bag to put it in, but this time it didn’t.
I rinsed the wee and blood off the outside of the pot as best I could.
I had to change the pad I had put in, because I had bled so much. I knew that wasn’t a good sign. It seemed like very fresh, thin blood, like when you cut yourself, whereas I usually find my period blood a lot thicker and darker.
When I had called 111, each person had asked whether I noticed clots in the blood, which I hadn’t, so I thought that was one positive sign.
I went into the waiting room and sat with my jar of bloody wee.
Andrew phoned me to say he had arrived but wasn’t allowed into the hospital, because of COVID-19, so he was waiting in the car park. I was sorry he had left work (which is unheard of) for nothing, but he said he was glad he was there.
I understood they were trying to keep the number of people in the hospital to a minimum, because of the pandemic, but I also thought if they were that worried about infection control they should have given me a bag so I wasn’t traipsing my blood and urine all over the waiting room.
I started feeling faint. I felt like I do when I stand up too quickly – my vision went pins and needlesy – but I was sitting down. I thought it could be because it was about 2pm and I hadn’t eaten all day, or because I’m anaemic and I was losing blood.
I had a cereal bar in my bag, so I guiltily took my mask off and started eating it.
I got a bit tearful because I felt disorientated, so I sat and cried for a bit. I wanted to lie down but I couldn’t.
I went back into to the toilets, to check how much more I’d bled, and then moved to a different part of the waiting room, where I thought I might be able to hear the announcements better.
Andrew called me back and we chatted for a while. I was tearful and also conscious everyone in the waiting room could probably hear that I was having a miscarriage. When I said the bit of good news about the blood being thinner than period blood and no clots, a couple of men sitting nearby moved further away.
Eventually, the doctor called me in.
We went into a little room, and, again, she asked why I was there, so I had to say it again.
“I’m pregnant and I’m bleeding.”
She asked how many weeks I was pregnant and I said 4, and that I only found out the day before.
She said, “Congratulations,” which I found a bit jarring, considering I was probably losing the pregnancy.
She took the jar of urine away and tested it.
She came back and said, “obviously there was a lot of blood in there, but it was still testing faintly positive.”
I said that the person I’d spoken to on 111 had said to keep any pads I bleed into, in case it’s helpful for the doctor to see the kind of blood.
I got the used pad out, and she said, “Yes, it is heavy bleeding.”
She felt my stomach and then said what would happen next is that I would be discharged from the hospital, and someone from the Early Pregnancy Unit would call me the next day or on Tuesday, so they could do a scan and try and see what is happening.
“Is it a miscarriage?” I asked.
“It’s most likely that it is,” she said. She told me how common early miscarriages are.
“What other reasons are there for bleeding?” I asked.
“Well, it could be your period. The egg might not have implanted properly, so pregnancy won’t continue.”
I mean, that still has a very miscarriage vibe.
“Oh, I meant… have you got any reasons for bleeding that are more positive?”
She said that sometimes women bleed but don’t lose the pregnancy.
I thought it might be useful to mention the dizziness. I said I hadn’t eaten and that I was anaemic.
“I think we’re probably all anaemic, as most people don’t eat enough iron,” the doctor said, which pissed me off.
I started crying.
“Are you upset?” She said.
She said, “I’m really sorry. I’ve been in your position. I’m sure you will get pregnant again. And you still might not lose this one!”
After the doctor left the room, I got up and got my things together, and then followed her out.
When I came out of the room, I saw the doctor was at a nurses’ station a few metres away.
“Should I go?” I asked.
I wasn’t sure if there was anything else we needed to do, like if she had gone to get any final paperwork or anything.
No one seemed to hear, so I just walked down the corridor. Initially I couldn’t find the way out.
I walked out of the hospital and saw Andrew, sitting on the ground, reading.
It annoyed me that he spent ages faffing around putting his book back in his bag before giving me a hug.
We got the bus home.
I felt annoyed that after all that time, I still didn’t know what was happening, why I was bleeding.
When we got home, I lay on the bed and Andrew brought me a drink and made me beans on toast.
I’ve been reading a really good pregnancy book, and I remembered it said that “early pregnancy losses, far from being harbingers of future fertility problems, actually are a good sign about fertility. 95% of women who had a very early loss went on to have a recognised pregnancy. This is higher than for women who didn’t have an early pregnancy loss.” (Expecting Better, Emily Oster).
I tried to find that bit of the book again.
We tried to watch some lighthearted rom-coms but they were both so bad we couldn’t get to the end (Girl Most Likely and the Holiday).
The bleeding seemed to reduce when I was lying down and resting, which made me even more regret spending the last few hours sitting and feeling extremely anxious.
We talked about what was happening. Andrew was thinking it was most likely a miscarriage, but was optimistic about our future chances of having a baby.
“It could still be OK, though, couldn’t it?” I said. “There’s still a chance I might not lose it.”
As visualising had seemed to work for conception, I tried really hard to visualise the tiny poppy seed determinedly gripping onto my uterus, despite the tidal waves around it.
In the morning, I texted my friend who had a miscarriage last year. (And by a horrible coincidence, she replied she had just had another one, over the weekend, as well.)
I told her that I was waiting to hear from the Early Pregnancy Unit.
She said that last year, when she went to the Early Pregnancy Unit, the first thing they did was another urine pregnancy test.
She said when hers was negative, they didn’t do anything else and sent her home. She said being told that it was negative was a horrible experience, as the midwife was unsympathetic, so she suggested I might want to do another pregnancy test at home.
I got another Gu ramekin out of the cupboard.
I got the second pregnancy test out of the packet, and dipped it in.
This time, I cleaned the bathroom while the egg timer flashed on the screen.
And then, the words “not pregnant” appeared.
The Early Pregnancy Unit didn’t call me that day.
However, luckily, one thing I did have on Monday was a therapy session. I’ve started having my own EMDR therapy, since the vicarious traumatisation that started last year.
We spent the session working on what happened. I was impressed that my therapist, a man, asked me how I found all the bleeding, because it gave me the green light to be graphic about the miscarriage.
Towards the end of the session, I had an epiphany.
“I had been thinking it rubbish it is that I went from cloud 9 to -99 so quickly. From one of the happiest moments of my life, to bleeding, in pain, in A&E.
“But now I think, I’m so grateful to that poppy seed, which had mine and Andrew’s DNA, for all the joy it gave me, for that brief time.”