It’s 1 November today. October is over and I feel like I can finally take a breath.
Today also happens to be the first Thursday of the month, and thus What’s New With You day with Kristen, so you should definitely check that out. I won’t be linking up – my regular readers know how my October was and those coming over just from the link up don’t need to be confronted with that – but I wanted to write something to mark the end of the absolute worst month of my entire life.
In October, we lost our baby boys. With them we lost our hopes and dreams, our joy about finally starting our family. All our plans for the future have had to be put on hold… we have no idea for how long.
In October, I also lost my grandma – an amazing woman who never stopped making everyone laugh, no matter what life threw at her. She raised nine children, lost her husband relatively early and still kept on going. If I can get through the hard times with even half as much strength as she did I’ll be doing okay.
While we’re on the subject of grandma’s, my other grandma had a pacemaker fitted about a week ago (eventually, after it was postponed twice!). The operation went well, thankfully, but really universe? Was it actually necessary to throw another thing at me in October?
In October I also learned that I can get through the absolute worst thing I could have imagined without falling apart. Whatever life throws at me, I can survive it. Of course I have cried, raged and felt numb at various times. I’ve gone through phases of being unable to believe this is actually happening to me. In the early days, I occasionally actually forgot I wasn’t still pregnant, then I would suddenly remember that it no longer mattered how I got out of bed or what kind of cheese I ate and the sadness would hit all over again. I feel like I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster for the past month. But I didn’t break down completely. Even at my lowest points, it never occurred to me to give up. It’s an ongoing process, my life will never, ever be the same, but I know I will get through this and whatever lies ahead.
In October, Jan and I grew even closer. We had already been through a lot over the past couple of years just trying to conceive our babies. We got through that together, and now we are getting through the loss of our babies together. I am genuinely so proud of how we handled this situation, and particularly of how Jan handled it. He dealt with all the practical aspects – keeping our families informed about what was happening, calling work for me when I couldn’t bring myself to say what had happened out loud, calling the hospital and the pathologist to find out what was happening. He held me when I cried, made me cups of tea and lit candles for both our boys and my grandma. And he also looked after me throughout my physical recovery – bringing me my antibiotics and breakfast in bed so I wouldn’t have to get up, making sure I ate enough even when I didn’t feel like it, doing a load of washing when I first came home from the hospital so all my maternity clothes were clean ready to be put away where I didn’t have to look at them. In the hospital we both talked a lot about our feelings (there wasn’t much else to do!) and I am now more convinced than ever that he is going to be a fantastic dad when the time comes for us to actually bring a baby home. Soon we will hopefully start the process of trying to conceive all over again, and there is nobody else I would rather go through it with.
In October, I also learned that people can be amazing. My friends, of course, have all been wonderful (they are my friends for a reason!), but I have also received lovely messages from the most unexpected people – from someone I knew at school and was convinced hated me back then to the colleague I would least have expected to reach out. I guess the old adage about finding out who your friends are is true. My entire extended family have also rallied round with messages of support. Every single one of my blogging friends (and I consider you all my friends) has been fantastic. Every kind word, every message of support, every e-mail and every text has meant the absolute world to me. Both people I love and people I barely even interacted with previously have reached out, told me their stories, helped me believe it really, truly will get better. Even through all the sadness, so many people out there have actually managed to make me smile.
Even though I am mostly okay on most days, I am glad to be saying goodbye to October, but along with the grief I will always remember the positives. It’s going to be a long winter this year, but with Jan, my friends and my family, I will come out the other side stronger than before. And I truly believe that one day we will actually get a baby to bring home and raise. I just hope we don’t have to go through any more heartbreak before we achieve that goal.
This morning my family said goodbye to my grandma. I couldn’t be there, but I was in spirit and I had one of my cousins read something out for me at the celebration of life. We will miss grandma always but we all have so many memories that will live on forever.
Meanwhile, yesterday was our follow-up appointment at the hospital. Pretty much as expected they have no idea where the infection came from. All my swabs were negative, so I definitely didn’t have any vaginal infection. They found traces of infection in the placenta and the babies though (the boys were otherwise perfect – no physical abnormalities/defects that would have caused a miscarriage). The most likely explanation is that some bacteria that’s naturally present in the vagina made its way into my uterus and developed into an infection there – a random event that couldn’t have been predicted and was undetectable from the outside, other than via a blood test. Next time I will be in a different risk category and if I start spotting again they will happily do a blood test even if I have no other symptoms or anything that indicates an infection. If there is a next time…
I have alluded to this, if not in blog posts then certainly in replies comments, but now I’m just going to say it outright. Our babies were conceived using fertility treatments. Not IVF (I know that’s where everyone’s mind goes first!), but the hormones I had to inject myself with were the same. We were incredibly lucky that it worked first time and resulted in not just one but two babies. I have no idea whether it would work a second time. Right now, I don’t even know whether we automatically get to try a second time or if my health insurance will have to approve the procedure again. We were originally approved for three tries, but the remaining two may have been cancelled out when I actually became pregnant. All I do know is that it’s highly unlikely I will ever become pregnant on my own. And I’m 35 now… time is not exactly on my side. And, whatever happens I have to wait two cycles to allow my body to physically return to normal before we can start trying again.
For now, we at least have some kind of closure. Perhaps not as many answers as I would have liked, but reassurance that it was nobody’s fault. Not ours, Not the hospital’s. We were simply the victims of bad luck. Now it’s time to heal. Then we will pick ourselves up, take a deep breath, and join the infertility roller coaster again…
This is going to be among the hardest posts I’ve ever written (this one was pretty difficult as well), but I hope also therapeutic. Writing my blog has always been a way for me to make sense of my thoughts and feelings and come to terms with what’s happening. And it feels important to me to write my boys’ story somewhere people can see it, knowing that it’s all they’ll ever have.
Please don’t feel you have to read this if it will be in any way triggering for you. I know it will bring back horrible memories for some people, and others may just not want to read something so sad. That’s okay. Also, for the squeamish, I won’t be going into gory detail but blood and fluids, as well as certain body parts, will be mentioned. Also, it will be long. Again, please don’t feel obliged to read this. I am writing it primarily for me and my sons, and also partially for any others who have experienced similar and may be feeling alone.
It all started on Sunday, 30 September. I woke up late to discover I was spotting slightly – just a little bit of pink, nothing really worrying, but having had no spotting throughout my entire pregnancy I was obviously worried. Jan was in France with one of his choirs so I was also home alone. I called the gynaecological emergency number at the women’s clinic and since I wasn’t in pain they told me I didn’t need to come in and should simply follow up with my gynaecologist the next day. I spent the rest of that day taking things as easy as possible. The pink eventually turned to brown (indicating old blood) and then disappeared but I decided I would still call my gynaecologist.
On the Monday, I started work early to try and get some extra hours in before I had to leave. The gynaecologist practice opened at 9 and I finally got through just after 10 – the phone was busy for ages. By that time the spotting was back – still pale pink with some brown. My uterus felt heavy but I still had no pain. They had just given away their last emergency ultrasound appointment and because I was having twins they preferred to send me elsewhere anyway so my midwife at the practice called the hospital on my behalf. She phoned back a few minutes later telling me to go straight to the gynaecological emergency area at the women’s clinic – they would do an ultrasound and make sure all was good. One bus ride and a lot of waiting later (there were more urgent cases before me) I was finally seen. The doctor took swabs, checked my cervix, did an ultrasound and could find no obvious reason for the spotting. He told me they would test the samples he had taken but it was probably just one of those things and nothing to worry about, so I went home and worked for the rest of the day.
On Tuesday I was originally supposed to have been in office, but I arranged to stay home as otherwise I couldn’t possibly have finished a job I was working on. I spotted on and off for most of the day, but I suspect that was at least partly from the examination on Monday. It had stopped by the evening and I went to bed relieved. The next day was a holiday in Germany and I decided I would spend the entire day relaxing in bed, only getting up for food (Jan was still in France at this point, but was due back on Wednesday afternoon). Instead, I woke up at midnight with horrible back pain – the doctor later told me this was probably when everything really started. I couldn’t get comfortable however I lay, so I got up, walked the corridor for a bit and drank some water. As soon as I had drunk a large glass of water the pain subsided and I was able to sleep. The next day I was up at 8 to check something for work, tired and failed to get back to sleep, then discovered at around 9:30 that I was spotting again. I decided to shower, try to eat and then call the hospital again. Because of the back pain, this time I was told to come straight in. By the time I got there I was also having intermittent tightening sensations in my uterus, some slightly painful. I was seen much faster this time – after maybe half an hour (I’m a bit hazy on some of the times though).
The doctor told me all the swabs from Monday had come back negative. They only one they didn’t have back was chlamydia but since I had been tested for that before by the very same hospital (routine during infertility testing) she knew I didn’t have it. She then said she wanted to do a transvaginal ultrasound because she suspected my cervix was short. She discovered that not only was it short, but also slightly open. It was definitely not open on the Monday, and she suspected that it had happened overnight, at the same time I had the backache. She could also see some yellowish “gunk” beyond the opening – inside my uterus – which led her to suspect infection. I was then told I was being admitted, that they hoped putting me on bed rest would stop me from dilating further, but if I actively started having contractions they couldn’t give me anything to stop them that early in my pregnancy. Somebody came by to take blood so they could confirm whether there really was an infection and the doctor then also did an abdominal ultrasound to look at the babies. Again, I’m hazy on time, but I think it was 12:30 (I now wish I had checked!). Both babies were doing fine, great heartbeats and I could see them moving around on the screen. That was the last time I would see them alive. I called Jan to tell him what was happening (he was now waiting for a train) and then settled down to wait.
I lay in the doctor’s office for what felt like forever waiting for the admission to be sorted. During that time I had no more pain or uterus tightening, but when the nurses showed up to take my upstairs I stood up and immediately felt a gush of liquid that leaked down my legs. The nurse had me pull down my pants and we saw clear liquid dripping out of me. I was given a pad and made to lie back down while they made more frantic phone calls. At this point I was terrified but trying to stay calm. Before we went up I got another, thicker, pad before being taken to the ward lying on the bed… no more standing for me! Once upstairs, the nurses gave the doctor my first pad for testing and I was moved over to the bed on the ward. The doctor came back a short time later and confirmed that the liquid was amniotic fluid and it was now even more likely that I would go into active labour. She told me that if I did start having contractions they would let me give birth by myself and explained what would happen if I needed an operation (curettage – the C in D&C) to remove any remaining tissue or parts of the placenta. An anaesthetist also came by to explain their role and get my consent for things, and a nurse then came to place an IV, at first just for saline. I was then also allowed to order lunch (I had eaten half a slice of toast all day). Shortly before 3 p.m. I had another ultrasound – because I was now leaking fluid the doctor wanted to check the babies’ heartbeats. The screen was turned slightly away and I couldn’t see anything, but they told me that both babies had strong heartbeats and were still moving around happily. Baby A’s sac had lost a lot of amniotic fluid but baby B’s sac was still intact. I was allowed to go to the loo (on what I can only describe as a potty chair!) and could still feel the amniotic fluid leaking out of me. I was also still spotting and it was more red than pink. By this point my only thought was please, please hang on until Jan gets here. I was having intermittent pains in my back and sides by this point, but not too bad and nothing I would describe as regular.
My lunch arrived and I managed to eat a little, but honestly not very much. I felt hungry before I got it but then had no appetite – the act of putting food in my mouth and chewing just felt like too much. I ate a little chicken breast and some rice and managed the whole pot of apple purée I’d chosen for dessert. The doctor also came back and said my blood test showed I definitely had an infection and I would be getting IV antibiotics. A different nurse (the original one had gone home due to a family emergency) brought the antibiotics at 4:30 p.m. and I asked for pain relief then as well. She took my temperature, which was 37.8°C (it had been 35.8°C when I arrived at the hospital so within just a few hours something had happened!) and gave me paracetamol. Jan was almost back in Basel by this time but still needed to stop off at home and pick up some things for both of us – the original nurse had told me I wouldn’t be getting a room mate and he could stay the night. Jan arrived at around 5:30 and at the same time I rang for more painkillers – this time I got Ibuprofen. A few minutes later, my dinner arrived. When I moved up in the bed to eat, I felt another larger gush of liquid and called the nurse to find that this time it wasn’t just fluid but also blood. She said it wasn’t too much though and I should still eat. Again, I only managed a few bites but did eat all of my apple purée. When the catering people came to take my plates, they offered to get me something else and I asked for more apple purée but I never actually got to eat it. While I was finishing the first pot I felt more liquid gushing out of me and this time it didn’t seem to be spotting. The nurse checked and then went to get the doctor because I was losing quite a bit of blood. The doctor came with more antibiotics – oral this time – examined me and did another ultrasound. She told us she suspected placental abruption and also said if one baby was coming but the other was still okay they wouldn’t induce labour with the second but would see about putting a stitch in my cervix. That brief hope was immediately dashed though – an ultrasound showed that only the placentas were still in my uterus. Both babies had already moved down to the birth canal. I asked whether we could find out what sex our babies were once they arrived and she said we could see them if we wanted. Jan wasn’t sure but left the decision to me, and I immediately knew that if we could see them then I definitely wanted to. The water I washed my antibiotics down with was the last thing I was allowed to eat or drink – as soon as the ultrasound was done I was made nil-by-mouth in anticipation of potential surgery.
The next few hours involved progressively worsening pain – mainly in my back, sometimes radiating round to the sides, and occasionally also in my uterus. Jan started timing the contractions (as I now know this was) at 6 minutes apart. Eventually I just felt back pain all the time and kept being given progressively stronger painkillers until morphine finally worked. Jan was there the entire time, holding my hand, stroking my hair and doing his best to distract me. I 100% could not have done it without him and will be forever grateful for his support. The doctor was in and out and at some point I was sure something was stuck in my vagina – the doctor could feel something but was unable to move it. Eventually I felt more awful pain in my back (although slightly dulled by the morphine) and told Jan I needed the doctor. Just then I also felt pressure between my legs, gave an involuntary push and felt something pop followed by a gush of liquid – Jan went outside and found the doctor just arriving, who came in and confirmed that baby A had arrived. She cut and clamped the cord and then picked our baby up so, so gently to be taken away and washed. A little later she came back and told us it was a boy. We had a son. The nurses washed him, wrapped him in a tiny blanket (sewn by a charity) and brought him in to us. He was so small but absolutely perfect – tiny little ears, hands, feet, even finger and toenails.
For the next couple of hours, not much happened. I thought the contractions were starting again, but they were very mild and quickly stopped. I wanted the loo and was brought a chamber pot(!) but couldn’t go while lying on my back. Eventually the doctor came back, did another vaginal exam, had me try to push and then went to speak to her boss She then came and told us that she was pretty sure everything was already basically out and that she thought it might help if I could sit up, so the nurse brought the potty chair and I was helped onto that. Everything went fast after that and I immediately passed the first placenta then gave birth to my second baby. The second placenta got slightly stuck, but with me pushing and the doctor giving a helping hand it also came out and I was put back into bed while the nurses took everything away. The doctor went out, then came back to tell us we had a second son. He was again brought to us in a tiny blanket and we were able to say hello. Both of our sons were then placed in a little basket, facing each other. We were allowed to keep them with us as long as we wanted, so I asked to have them in the room overnight so we could have at least one night as a family. Some may find that morbid but it was the right decision for me. The next day we had photos taken with them – our first and last family photos – before deciding to say goodbye. The nurses left us alone, we hugged, I cried in Jan’s arms and then told my baby boys that I loved them.
We decided to name our sons, choosing an A and a B name since they had always been known as baby A and baby B until that point. We picked names we both like but wouldn’t necessarily have used. If any long-term readers would like to know the names I am happy to share by e-mail (Jan prefers to keep them to a smaller circle – I haven’t shared them on Facebook because we don’t think every person I was at primary school with for a few months or who was indifferent to me in high school needs to know!).
A was born at 9:20 p.m. and B at 11:20 p.m on Wednesday, 3rd October 2018. I had been 16 weeks and 4 days pregnant.
I was taken down for surgery at around 1 or 1:30 in the morning – it turned out there was actually quite a bit of placenta left and it was good that they did it! Then I was taken back to the ward and we were left to sleep. I only managed a few hours and when I kept waking up I found it comforting to know that my sons were there, that I was being a parent to them for a little while at least even if they were already gone. Jan asked the doctor and it’s impossible to know exactly when they passed. All I know is that they were both fine at 3 p.m., but too fragile to live and breathe outside the womb. My babies didn’t die inside me… my sons would still be here if I hadn’t gone into labour. And if it had happened 5 weeks and a couple of days later, they would have had to be officially registered. They would have had birth and death certificates and have existed legally. All this makes the term “miscarriage” seem so inadequate, especially since looking around the Internet for late-term or second trimester miscarriages I mostly find stories of people who started spotting or had a routine ultrasound only to discover their babies had passed away a few days or weeks earlier. Obviously that is no less tragic and my heart goes out to every single person who has experienced a loss, no matter how it happened or at what stage. But of course the closer someone else’s situation comes to our own the less isolating it feels, so I am hoping other ladies who have experienced something similar will find comfort in knowing they’re not alone. Our babies were here. They existed and they were already so, so loved. I will hopefully have a living child at some point but I will always be mama to my first-born sons and I will never, ever forget them.
One final note… in German, babies lost during pregnancy or shortly after birth are known as “Sternenkinder” (star children) and the charity that provides the blankets is called “Staernechind” (star child in Swiss German). If our babies had lived, the blog pseudonyms I had planned in the event that we had two boys were Castor and Pollux, mythological twins and the two brightest stars in the constellation Gemini. So it seems appropriate to refer to them as our little stars (especially since neither of us is religious and we’re not really comfortable referring to them as having their “angel wings” We are not at all offended if other people do, it just doesn’t feel right for us.).
So, that’s my story. I cried for most of the time I was writing this, but I also feel a sense of peace at having got it out there.
(I’m aware that you can only see the photo in the previous post if you follow me on Instagram. That was the easiest way to get the news out there at the time. I plan to write a proper post explaining exactly what happened but I just can’t right now.)
The worst thing about this entire situation is that I’ve lost so much more than just our babies – and legally not even that. At almost 17 weeks, this is considered a late-term miscarriage. They don’t get to be registered or officially named. Legally, we are not and have never been parents. My baby boys will forever be no more than a footnote in my medical history. And yet they were here, they were real. I saw them. I told them I loved them. And now they’re gone.
But that’s not all I’ve lost.
We were, of course, looking forward to being parents… but also specifically to being twin parents. Two babies at once was obviously going to be a challenge, but I am convinced, also very rewarding. We had already started discussing twin prams, how to feed two at once, where they would sleep. Although we hadn’t bought anything yet, everything was finally starting to feel real. All those dreams, all those plans are also gone.
I had started daydreaming about life with our babies. Who would they take after? What colour eyes would they have? Would they be musical like Jan? Would they love books as much as I do? Now I will never know any of those things.
And beyond that… beyond just me. Yes, I’ve lost my babies… but I’ve also lost Jan’s sons. Our parents’ first grandchildren. They would have been nephews, great-grandsons… they would have been so loved and cherished. Now all that’s gone as well.
We will get through this. We won’t give up and we will have another baby. But we won’t have these babies. And that really hurts.
My plan for today was to write a post extolling the virtues of Paris. I wanted to tell you how I finally tracked down the Statue of Liberty in Luxembourg Gardens (the first time I was in Paris, I had read about it but couldn’t find it, leading Jan to think I was imagining things. The second time I discovered the place it was meant to be, complete with a sign telling me it was currently on display somewhere else. This time it was there, but without its torch). Instead, I am going to tell you about how my purse disappeared somewhere between paying to get into the Catacombs and going out for a meal to discover my brother’s 21st birthday.
I have no idea how it happened. I spent most of my time holding the zip of my handbag firly closed with one hand while being alert for suspicious looking people at the same time. The only time I wasn’t holding my handbag closed was when I needed both hands to take a photograph, and then I checked that there was nobody near me first. ANd ye somehow, somewhere, my purse disappeared. To make things even more mysterious, my purse was tucked down at the side of my bag. So a pickpocket would have had to pull up the velcro flap, unzip the handbag, entirely ignore the bag containing Jan’s medication and my camera, which were lying on top (at least if it was taken while the camera was in the bag. If I was taking a photo the camera was obviously in my hand) and then rummage around until they got their hands on my purse. I have no idea how anyone could have done that without me feeling it. The alternative is that I dropped the purse at the catacombs, thought I had put it in my bag and walked away down the stairs leaving it behind. But if that was the case, both my sister and her boyfriend (who were behind me) must have missed it and the purse must have been taken from the floor before any member of staff noticed it and picked it up – Jan called the catacombs the next morning (he speaks French) and they didn’t have it. Neither did the bar where we went for a drink pre-meal or the restauarnt where we ate said meal. It is gone. Disappeared off the face of the Earth. So today I worked from home so I would have the chance to go to my bank ebfore it closed (at 4pm, would you believe!) and order a new card. You have to go in personto show them your ID and sign a form. They also let me take money out using my passport. Actually, it was kind of cool. The woman asked me how much I wanted, programmed the amount onto a card then I had to go to a cash machine. The card was eaten and the amount I wanted came out. Much better than standing in a queue for one of the two counters that was open! My new card could take up to 10 days to arrive, but I can get more money out using my passport any time, as long as the bank is open.
Slightly more annoying is the loss of my card for the train. I was hoping to get a temporary paper one while I waited for the replacement to arrive. Unfortunately, there is no such thing. Instead, every time I get on the train, I have to go to the ticket inspector, tell him my BahnCard is lost and get a receipt. I then have 14 days to take the receipts, along with my replacement card, to a counter at the train station where I will have to pay €7 per journey. The replacement card could take anywhere between 5 and 10 days to arrive. And I also pay a €30 fee for the replacement itself. I don’t even want to try to add that up right now – it’s too depressing. But even without doing the actual maths I know it’s going to be a lot.
But even that is not the worst part. No, the most devasting part is that my purse contained a photo of my step mam – one of three I actually own, and the only one I had in Germany with me. It wasn’t a particularly special photo – just one of those taken in a photo booth, showing her and a friend. But it was hers. She had 2 copies and her friend had the other 2. About 2 years after she had died, we found her 2 copies in her old vanity case, and my dad let my sister and I keep them. And now, my copy is gone. My sister thinks she has lost hers too, but she’s going to have a look for it and see if she an scan it in for me. But even if she does find it, the scanned copy won’t be the same. It won’t be the actual photo that belonged to Shirley. And so I shall mourn its loss, just for a little while.