I still have such vivid memories of the day that it terrifies me. Sometimes it’s all my mind will allow me to think about. The thoughts crop up every so often, and they’re almost always without warning. I could be watching the television, reading a book or even relaxing in a nice hot bubble bath then suddenly there it is – right at the forefront of my mind. It can feel like I’m watching a film, only I can’t stop it, can’t pause it and can never ever find the eject button.
I read somewhere that the brain can remember bad memories better than the good ones so while the details of my wedding day might fade or alter, I’m destined to remember that dreadful day in all it’s explicit detail forever. I know for the most part our brains are brilliant things – it’s an intriguing, complex and mysterious organ – but, and this is important; it can also be an absolute bastard.
It’s been about six months since I lost my unborn baby and I keep wondering if it’s normal to still be hurting, to still be having bad days. I have so many questions and I admit that I’ve succumbed to using Google in search of answers. Should I have moved on? Should I be over it by now? When will I be able to see a baby and not picture what mine would’ve been like? When will people stop being sympathetic? Have they already stopped?
I was never really one of those women who knew immediately they wanted a baby. I don’t ever remember being particularly broody – even around other babies. Truthfully, I always felt a bit awkward just having one near me. I was terrified that someone would pass them over to me and I wouldn’t be able to hold them correctly. People are constantly pointing out how soft and fragile a baby’s head is that I ended up almost entirely convinced that no good would ever come from me holding a new born child. I mean can you imagine dropping someone’s baby? How could that thought not instil terror in to every human?
Then I met Kian. He’s my stepson, and I met him a few months into my relationship with his dad and fell in love with him almost straightaway. He was three back then and being around him felt so natural to me. There weren’t any feelings of awkwardness around him and that wasn’t just because his skull was fully formed by the time we met. Something just felt different. As much as I loved him though, he still never made me yearn for my own. I was happy how things were. After a while, I knew Kian loved me even though I wasn’t his mum. I knew I played a huge part in his life. His mum is great with me that way – she allows me to be completely involved in his life and any important decision making, so in my eyes – at that time – I didn’t need anything more.
I began to feel a change as certain events were occurring in Kian’s life. His first day of school – I was there with him he as walked through the gates in his brand new uniform, clutching his superhero schoolbag, full of anticipation. It was great to be a part of it, but then I quickly went from feeling included to feeling like an outsider, like I wasn’t really involved. I waved him off at the playground and watched his mum and dad take him inside to have his induction and to finish sharing the excitement. The doors closed and I headed home with the aunts and the grandparents and all the other family members that weren’t important enough to be asked inside. I had this feeling in my stomach that I couldn’t quite place.
A few days later, I took him to school and watched him running around playing with his new friends. I felt so much like a mum doing regular kind of ‘mum’ things. But the realisation hit me like a knife; I wasn’t his mum and I was never going to be. I wasn’t anyone’s.
I thought about how much of his life that I had missed out on and that killed me. Still does actually. I never knew what he was like as a baby. I never heard his first words or seen him take his first steps. I never woke up with his cries at three in the morning, desperately trying to rock him back to sleep. I never even got to change his nappy. I’d always been content but now something was different – something wasn’t quite complete. I knew then that I wanted to be a mum.
I’d been on the coil for around eight months and I was constantly having problems with it; I found myself frequently sore and irritable so after a lengthy discussion with my now husband, we decided that I would have it removed and just not go on anything else. If it happened, it happened. Then around 2 months later, I took a test and on a cold wintery December afternoon I got my first positive result. It was a cheap test and showed a pretty faint line so it probably wasn’t until my fourth or fifth result that I finally believed it.
It came as a shock if I’m honest. Yes we were trying, but we weren’t actually trying you know? I had no idea when I was ovulating or even how to go about testing for that kind of thing. I guess we kind of just lucked out. We were getting married in January and I hadn’t really expected to be a pregnant bride wading up the aisle but nonetheless we were happy – really happy. We were in love, we were getting married and now we were going to have a little baby to join our family. My sister-in-law had recently had a daughter too so I knew our kids were going to grow up and play together and everything was going to be just perfect.
From the minute I found out, I was so committed to the pregnancy and everything that came along with it. I signed up for weekly emails detailing my baby’s growth, sent away a form to be a member of some high street parenting club (it came with a free changing bag which sealed the deal), stocked up on folic acid, decaf coffee and stretchy leggings to accommodate my impending weight gain. Oh my god – the weight gain. By nine weeks, I was already four or five pounds heavier and my boobs felt huge. My mum later told me she ‘showed’ almost instantly as well, so perhaps it’s genetic.
My pregnancy was relatively easy actually. I got the sore, swollen boobs but being a B cup I actually kind of liked the bigger boobs thing. I had a little nausea for a week or two but the morning sickness never really reared its ugly head. I had one day of light bleeding at around seven weeks but after panicked phone calls to NHS 24; I was assured it was normal for most women. When it had disappeared the following day, I pretty much forgot about it.
I received my pregnancy folder from the doctor that had loads of information leaflets, a free pen, free samples and a little notepad where I could jot down any issues or reminders. I flipped to the back of the pad straightaway and scribbled down all my baby name ideas.
We told our immediate family fairly early on. Nikki – my husband – has always been a nightmare when it comes to keeping secrets so I knew it’d be better just getting the news out. Next up was my work. I work in the Care sector and it can be pretty physical at times so I wanted to let my bosses know so I didn’t have to put my body under any unnecessary strain. Unfortunately, my work can be a hot bed for gossips so within a week everyone knew my business. I was probably only slightly annoyed if I’m honest. I guess I was more excited to share my news with everyone.
The day we told Kian he was going to be a big brother was amazing. He was so excited to have someone he could play with and help take care of. He’s such a sweet loving little boy that I knew he’d be a brilliant sibling. He was doing a reading at our wedding so we thought it would be perfect for him to announce the news at the end. We told him it was a super important job – the most important job of the day. I was only going to be ten weeks at that point, but we didn’t think we could hide it from people for much longer. Let’s just say my family are pretty insistent on trying to get the guest of honour drunk at weddings and birthdays. Denying it didn’t seem a viable option.
We flew to Cuba after the wedding and to be honest; the ten-hour flight time didn’t even bother me. I got the okay to travel from my doctor, I’d stayed hydrated and after reading horror stories about the increased risk of pregnant women getting DVT, I took regular walks up and down the aisle. It was a breeze. A few in-flight movies later and we had landed. It was idyllic. We stayed in Cayo Coco, which is a little island in Central Cuba. It consists of All Inclusive hotels, white sandy beaches, turquoise waters and not much else. What else could you really want on honeymoon though? There’s a five hour time difference there, so for the first few days we were waking up at half six in the morning and walking down to the beach at the back of the hotel to watch the Sunrise. We’d see the locals brushing the beach wearing hats and jumpers and we’d laugh at how inconceivable it was that anyone could ever wear a jumper in Cuba
The first week in and we’d been on a few trips – a boat ride in the Mangroves, some snorkelling, we’d taken a trip to a crocodile farm with one of the hotel workers then stopped off in Moron – one of the main cities just outside the Cayo’s. We ate fresh lobster and plantain in an authentic Cuban bar and listened to live music. He’d taken us to his house and showed us how real Cubans live. We ate guavas fresh from the trees and honey straight from a hive. He gave us all bars of chocolate from the factory his mum worked in, and gave us a Cuban cigar each too. Obviously I couldn’t smoke it, but he insisted I take it home with me regardless. They had very little, but they had everything they needed. They didn’t panic when there was no WIFI around, or get annoyed if their mobile had no battery. For the time we were there – that kind of stuff was irrelevant to us too. Who needs WIFI when you’re in paradise?
If I could press a button and be taken back to that precise moment in time, I would do it in a heartbeat.
We decided to do one last trip before we flew home. Another local who worked in one of the hotel restaurants agreed to take us on a trip to Ciego de Avila – a city in central Cuba where he was from. We settled for the Saturday, which gave us a couple of days to relax before flying home on the Wednesday.
Saturday morning I woke up with – well I don’t know the correct term, but I’ll call it ‘Cuban Belly’. My stomach was cramping and I was worried I wouldn’t make the two-hour car journey incident free. Thankfully, it seemed to pass as quick as it came on and I was fine to go. Again, we were taken to a house where the waiter stayed and he introduced us to his mum, his girlfriend and his pet dog Stinky – who took an instant liking to my right leg. He took us out for lunch, coffee and cake and insisted on paying for the whole thing, as we were his guests for the day. It was a beautiful city – completely untouched by tourism. His girlfriend joined us and we spoke about Kian, and baby names and they told us a little more about Cuban culture. We even bought two pairs of hand knitted baby booties – one pink pair for our niece and one white pair for our little one. It was another perfect day. I keep repeating the word perfect, but nothing else seems to fit or do it justice. We have pictures of everywhere we went but they can only capture the physical things – I have no way of explaining the essence of the place, the feeling it gives you. It really is just well, perfect.
I woke up the following day with the horrible cramps again. I’d hoped it wouldn’t come to much. Going to the toilet, I’d noticed a little blood in my underwear and mentioned it to Nikki. I panicked a little but he rushed off down to a WIFI spot and carried out some extensive Googling. We’d been a little amorous the night before and apparently it can be quite common to bleed a little afterwards. I relaxed a little and we headed downstairs for a coffee before the buffet opened for breakfast. I knew I shouldn’t really be worried – I was nearly twelve weeks. The ‘danger’ stage was pretty much over. Besides, I had done everything right and everything I was supposed to do. I don’t smoke, I had one coffee a day and I was taking all my prenatal vitamins. I mean I didn’t even have bloody runny eggs any more.
I asked to visit the onsite doctor to see if he could shed any light, but he wouldn’t be in until after nine and by this time I don’t even think it was half seven. I wasn’t in the mood to wait around, so I took myself to our hotel room while Nikki went to reception to organise a way for me to get to a doctor or hospital sooner. Around ten minutes later Nikki came back to tell me there was an ambulance at the entrance. I was starting to bleed more at this point and the cramps were getting worse.
Nikki led me to the ambulance and we tried our best to explain what the problem was. The language barrier was a huge struggle and all we could do was repeat that I was pregnant and bleeding. That was all they needed to know. I lay on the stretcher holding Nikki’s hand and cried the whole way there. The pain went from mild to unbearable within minutes and at that point I knew in my heart something was seriously wrong. I looked up at my husband and could see he was crying too. I knew he was holding back, he was trying to keep it together, trying to be strong for me. Even to this day he’s still trying to be strong. He’s been my rock throughout everything. I know that’s clichéd, but it’s the best way to describe him. I can’t even begin to imagine how much harder it would’ve been without having him by my side.
I remember walking in the hospital – which was more of a small clinic actually – and just being greeted by dead silence. The place was near empty. As far as I’m aware, I was the only patient. I only ever remember seeing the doctor who was with us in the ambulance, one more doctor and one nurse. They lay me down and gave me an ultrasound. The doctors spoke between themselves in Spanish and I had no clue what was happening. The doctor with the slightly better English explained that my bladder wasn’t full enough and it was too difficult to see anything. They wanted me to drink more water. The more I drank, the sorer I became. It felt like something was pulling on my stomach from the inside and not letting go. I told the nurse I needed to pee and she fetched the doctor to give me another ultrasound. I lay down and looked over at Nikki. I could see him crying and praying that everything was going to be ok. My husband isn’t religious at all, but I guess when you’re desperate there’s always a part of you that wonders ‘What if?’ The doctors kept speaking in Spanish first before explaining anything to me. I tried in vain to guess what the outcome was just from their tone, or from any words I may have recognised Finally he turned to us and told us our baby was ok. There was a heartbeat. He printed off a scan picture and handed it to us. It was our first picture. Nikki burst into tears and thanked the doctor. He looked so relieved, but I just couldn’t relax. I tried to explain that I was still in agony and asked why I was still bleeding but he couldn’t answer me. He wanted to send me to the main hospital a few hours away for observation or tests or something. I don’t think they had ever dealt with something like this before; it was just a tourist clinic. The worst they’d seen was probably a little heatstroke. At this point I was desperate for the toilet, so I said I had to go there first before even contemplating our next move.
The next part is the most vivid of my memories – the part that relays all the time. I wish so much that it was all a blur. I wish my mind would just block it out, but it never does.
Afraid and sore, I sat on the toilet to pee and felt something. I knew it wasn’t normal; it felt thick and warm and whatever it was, there was so much of it. I put my hand down and it landed in my palm. I screamed for Nikki. In my head it was deafening, but I don’t know how loud it actually was; I’ve never asked. He ran in with the doctor by his side and I showed him what was in my hand. I knew exactly what it was but still, I held it out for the doctor to see. He looked at me, shrugged and said “maybe.” I know he wasn’t intentionally being cold, but with the language differences it just never really translated properly. It sounded so cold and detached. ‘Maybe’. Maybe that’s your baby.
I don’t know if I’ll ever get that image out my head; of looking down and seeing what was once part of me, what was once a living thing now resting in the palm of my hand. Nikki told me later that once he took the baby from me, he was left holding it for what seemed like forever. He didn’t know what to do, and the doctor wasn’t giving him any of the answers he was looking for. The only reasonable nearby option was a bin. He hates himself for that. What else could he have done though? He should never have had to make that decision – we were both going through enough already.
I stayed on the toilet and cried. Sobbed, wailed, I don’t know how to convey it properly. My heart was broken. Something I loved was taken away from me and I didn’t deserve it. Blood kept coming but the physical pain was away. It was like a switch. My body turned it off instantly. The nurse was there with me, staring at me awkwardly. I asked her to leave, to please just give me a minute on my own. I was naked from the waist down, I was crying, I was a mess. I felt so vulnerable and wanted more than anything to be home. Not home to the hotel – just home. What had been a paradise to us for nearly two weeks was fast becoming hell; an all too real nightmare that we were going to be stuck in for another three days.
I was advised to go to the main hospital, but I refused. What could they have done for me? Nothing was bringing my baby back.
We lay in bed together and cried. I held the booties we’d bought and wept. I blamed myself. I’ve been honest through whole story, and I need to continue to be. During our wedding toast I’d had a glass of bucks fizz. Everyone told me not to worry, that it was just one glass. Was one glass too much? Was I responsible? Maybe the flight was too long; maybe I put my body through too much? I’d relaxed on holiday slightly and had an extra cup of coffee on one or two days so perhaps it was that? Or was it when I slept with my husband? I still blame myself and constantly wonder if things would be different if only I’d been a bit more cautious. I can’t help thinking that I was in some way responsible for killing our baby?
Nikki had the unenviable task of breaking the news to the friends we had met. We still had a few days left and knew we couldn’t stay in the room the entire time. At some point we’d have to leave, and people would have to know. He took that burden away from me. He wandered the hotel grounds and found most of the people we’d forged relationships with. He told me everyone seemed truly upset for us and a few even cried. I knew I’d have to face them myself eventually, and when I finally did, it followed the same routine. They were sorry and they hugged me. I cried and thanked them. No one really knew what to say to me. I knew they pitied me. I was, and always will be the girl who lost her baby on her honeymoon.
Cuba wasn’t the same to me after that. We’d watch the sunrise and I couldn’t see beauty anymore. Everything brought sadness and pain. My mind wouldn’t let me enjoy or appreciate anything anymore. It didn’t matter where I went, or what I saw – I just couldn’t escape the grey.
I used to look at Nikki and catch him smiling or laughing with people. I resented him for being able to do that. I now know that it was his coping mechanism. That he was pushing things to the back of his mind not wanting to deal with anything until we were back home. I think I was more annoyed because he was succeeding in doing what I so desperately wanted to do. I would be so mad at him at times, but then I would look and see the pain etched on his face and hate myself for being mad. He was going through this just as much as I was. I needed him, and he needed me. I would struggle to make it through the nights and would wake myself up crying. Nikki would hold me until I fell back asleep. Then we would wake up and have to repeat the whole scenario again.
We asked ourselves if we should take the booties home, or if that would be too painful. I didn’t think I could trust myself to stop looking at them every day. In the end we decided to bury them in a patch of soil in the hotel gardens. We both wrote a note to the baby to be buried along with them saying how sad we were that we would never meet them. It was our way of saying a proper goodbye. We felt by doing it in Cuba, it would give us some kind of closure. As if we could leave the pain behind. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Once we got home, it only became more difficult. We had to phone family and friends and tell them I wasn’t pregnant anymore. I had to unsubscribe from all those bloody emails. I had to watch as my body returned to normal, disposing of every part of the pregnancy. We had to have another scan to ensure it was complete. I was supposed to have my twelve-week scan at this point, and here I was in the waiting room having a scan to make sure all trace of my baby was gone. It just wasn’t right.
The first couple of weeks passed in a blur. There was a continuous pain in the pit of my stomach like I was constantly being hit and I could never find a way to dodge the blows. I didn’t want to see anyone either, couldn’t face their questions, their pity. I couldn’t be around babies – seeing them destroyed me. I’d find myself resenting strangers that had children. Why did they get to have one yet mine was taken away from me?
There’s a saying that time is a healer, but for me it only made things worse. I kept saying to myself that I would be pregnant again soon, that it would hurt less knowing that I was at least still going to be a mum, but as the months came and passed the only gift I ever received was mother natures nasty little red one. All the websites tell you that getting your period is a good sign; it means your body has returned to normal but for me it just brought more sadness. It was a stark reminder that my baby was gone.
As my due date approached, there were days I would become more withdrawn from my husband. We would still lie together and cuddle, but then I would suddenly become quiet and he would have no idea why. I just wasn’t communicating with him. I would go in to a room, see myself in the mirror and find myself becoming upset that I didn’t look pregnant anymore. I’d have a glass of wine and be upset that I was allowed alcohol now. I’d be going in to work feeling frustrated that I should have been on maternity leave. I’d see baby clothes on sale and be disappointed that I’d miss out on the great deals.
I probably wasn’t the best person to live with for a while, and admittedly Nikki got the brunt of my moods. A few days ago he admitted to questioning whether he still made me happy and it killed me. I’d been so annoyed at him at times for not knowing why I was upset, while at the same time telling him I was fine. From his perspective my moods were completely out of the blue and eventually I guess he got pissed off with it and began to argue back. Part of it felt good though. I could get all these emotions out in a fight that I felt I couldn’t get out by talking to him and telling him what was really upsetting me. It felt easier that way.
I regret so much of it now and I hate how I handled things. I jeopardised my marriage and I could easily have lost him. I neglected to see that he was also in pain. It wasn’t just me that lost a baby; he did too. He kept it together for so long that I sometimes misconstrued it as not caring. He told me how tormented he felt at times, and that he didn’t want losing his baby to mean he would lose his wife too.
Now we’re communicating with each other and we’re as strong as ever but I’ll never forget all we went through to get here. I still get days where I feel more sad than happy. I still get days where I want to avoid the baby section in shops, but those days are getting less frequent. I’m coming to terms with what happened and I think that’s because I’ve learned to express my feelings. Talking to my other half, and writing my feelings down has helped immensely. The most dangerous thing to do is keep everything inside; it will consume you. It can make you someone you don’t want to be, someone surrounded in darkness. Opening up has helped me find my light.
It’s now less than seven days until our little one should’ve been coming in to the world to greet us, and I’m utterly dreading it, but I know whatever I will be feeling is perfectly normal. There is no time limit on things like this, you can search and search for answers but no-one can give you the ones you need, no-one has the right to tell you when you should stop hurting. I don’t think time will heal my pain, I don’t think anything will. There will always be a part of me that’s hurting and yes that part will get smaller and smaller through time but it will never completely go away and that’s okay. I don’t ever want to forget about what happened. The pain I feel will only serve as a reminder of the love that I felt.
I don’t ever want to forget about my baby.