All stories of miscarriage and baby loss are utterly heartbreaking. Sometimes, the ones we read in magazines and newspaper articles end with a bright spot, a piece of good news and hope – a ‘rainbow baby’, who could never fill the void left by the death of a much-loved baby, but who brings sunshine after so much grief and despair.
But for some families that rainbow baby never comes. There’s are stories that are rarely shared or spoken about, so we could be forgiven for thinking they’re uncommon, which sadly isn’t exactly the case.
Here, Steph Whitehouse bravely shares her journey, in the hopes it’ll make other women – and men – feel less alone in their sadness.
“Six years ago, I was your typical NZ girl on a typical life trajectory. I had met and married the love of my life. We bought a family house with the future in mind. We did some travel before setting our sights on having a family.
We thought we might have some trouble conceiving due to my history of endometriosis. Therefore, we were pleasantly surprised when we fell pregnant after trying for a few months in 2017. Sadly, during a scan for abnormal bleeding we heard the words, “there’s no heartbeat.”
Our first baby had died and we were cast adrift.
There was no support from the health sector or my midwife. I had a D&C to remove the ‘product/tissue’ as my son was referred to. Ouch, who comes up with these words?
We fell pregnant again three times in 2018 and each time our babies died before reaching the 12-week mark. That magical 12-week mark where everything is supposedly okay to tell people. But conditioning people into thinking that they can’t say anything until the 12-week mark is hurting us. It is much easier to say, “I’m pregnant” and then, “my baby died” than it is to say, “I’m crying because my baby died, but I didn’t even tell you I was pregnant.”
Not confiding in our people before that 12-week mark sends a non-verbal message that they can’t be trusted. That they won’t offer us the support we need if our babies die. That they won’t know what to say. Sadly, all of that is true. But only because they are not exposed to the possibility of babies dying every day. If we removed the secrecy around miscarriage, if we talked about it and how it makes us feel. Then people would be much better equipped to deal with a miscarriage when it happens to someone they know.
I know all this first hand because I have experienced it and the silence around people not knowing what to say, or dismissing it as something unimportant meant that by my third miscarriage, I stopped sharing the news I was pregnant. Even with my husband. I had lost faith that I would carry a live baby to term and my husband’s way of dealing with our miscarriages left me feeling isolated from him.
By 2019 we had resigned ourselves to being childless. We were trying to work through the grief over milestones not being met, triggers that came unexpectedly, when our name came up on the IVF list.
We discussed it endlessly and ultimately decided to give it a try so we couldn’t regret not trying later in life. We did one round of IVF with three cycles. Each time the embryo failed to stick. They call it a Big Fat Negative (BFN), but the truth is they were all viable fertilised embryos. They were actually early miscarriages. But no one likes to call them that because then what does that mean for the IVF world?
I acknowledge my BFNs as miscarriages and it bothers my husband because he doesn’t see them that way. But he didn’t feel his body change, or be subjected to a rigorous drug regime. He didn’t hope the way I did. I named each fertilised embryo because it was once my living child, only in cell form. Personally, I think my husband should be grateful that I didn’t name all the eggs that were removed from my body. Trust me there were a lot. But I know they were just eggs, not fertilized embryos at the beginning of their life. They were not us.
After our last embryo failed to stick we called it quits on IVF and on having children. Adoption and surrogacy were not options we wanted to pursue. Instead we focused on living a life that we had wanted to give up – of being able to sleep in, of travel, of eating out in fancy restaurants…you get the picture.
But in living that life that we no longer wanted, my husband decided he no longer wanted me either. He wanted a ‘fresh start’. Had our children lived would we be together? Had we not tried IVF would we still be together? Who knows.
Sharing the basics of my story has barely begun to scratch the surface of what facing repeat miscarriages feels like. Of what living without children is like when I would give anything to be raising them. Sharing this hasn’t delved into the emotional cost of trying to have a child, the self-doubt, the feelings of failure, of losing friends, a marriage, a home, my husband, my job. The list of never ending milestones my children will never meet.
My story doesn’t have a happy ending. This is often what happens with loss stories, no one wants to hear the stories that end badly, unhappily, without children. Only the stories of those who get their so called ‘rainbow’ babies are shared. Whether this is intentional or not, I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because those parents without children are rare. But we exist and we hurt when our stories go unacknowledged.
So thank you, thank you for reading this, thank you for listening and being present to our grief. “