Both Shariff and I are geographically challenged. We both don’t know how to use maps. Though we can see where the destination is and where the arrow is pointing, we don’t know where we are on the map in the first place to follow those directions!! So last year when I went into hospital with severe left abdominal pain, hours after testing positive on a home pregnancy test, and getting the devastating diagnosis of “Pregnancy of Unknown Location”, we knew that, “Yes! This baby was definitely ours” Even our little one couldn’t find it’s way to the womb J But, joking aside, this was probably the scariest thing to hear, I didn’t understand what the doctors were really saying except that they were worried I was having an “ectopic pregnancy” (where the fetus decides to grow outside the womb). It is a horrific experience, not only because you will definitely lose the baby, but also because at any point it may rupture the mother’s tubes and the internal bleeding could kill her. The advice was to come straight to emergency if the pain got worse, if I couldn’t breath, if my shoulder tips started to hurt, or if I fainted.
That day was incredible. I don’t remember as many details of any other event as I do this particular day. I remember deciding to buy a pregnancy test while I was out. After I peed on the stick, staring at the hourglass that’s checking for my hormones, I knew I was pregnant even before I saw those words. I had done this test many times before. Since I’d been married I was often asked in a multitude of different ways, why I hadn’t had a baby yet. The ways people asked this ranged from “you know, there’s nothing quite like being a mother”, to “you’re so passionate about children, are you thinking of having your own?” to “no children on the way?” to “do you want to have surgery to lose some weight if that’s stopping you getting pregnant?” to “do you want to lose weight to have a baby to make Shariff happy, if you love him?” to “Why haven’t you had a baby yet? What’s WRONG with you?” It’s amusing to me writing this and to think of the faces and reactions of some of those who will read this blog – to those of you who are shocked and horrified: thank you. To those women who’ve been asked the same, my heart goes out to you, because I know nothing can hurt as much – no matter in which way it’s being asked.
The last of these comments is what stuck with me of course, we have a way don’t we, us human beings, a certain refined capacity to hold onto, to carve space in our souls for painful slurs and hurtful comments. And because I am no more than human and no less than that, I have a great talent for absorbing the anguish. When the hourglass stopped and the words “Pregnant” showed up, my primitive response was “nothing IS wrong with me”. This made me angry. It made me realise that despite having convinced myself that I had dismissed this comment, I obviously hadn’t. That despite all the achievements that I had worked towards, that required dedication, patience, passion, hard work, sleepless nights, results, despite having impact on change that bought about better moments for those I worked towards helping – yes despite all of that – I was never going to be a success in a lot of people’s eyes if I did not have my own children.
Oh the woes of being a woman I thought, as the smaller hourglass was turning that would soon tell me how many weeks pregnant I was. I mourned something in those moments about how my entire being was being judged and evaluated by its ability to reproduce. I could get all the degrees in the world, get promoted to all the positions in a company I worked at, I could volunteer everywhere that needed people passion, I could be the best wife, daughter and sister, friend and neighbour, colleague and teacher; I could be the best at all my roles, but if I am not a biological mother, no matter how competent or incompetent in that role or any other role, it seemed I was not a whole woman without it. Some would consider my body a mere waste of space; if through it, a new life did not pass; that everything else I was doing should only be seen as a temporary distraction until my “real purpose” of living was fulfilled.
On Tuesday, the first drop of blood fell. It was a tiny, tiny pink spot of blood. I knew straight away this was the beginning. You feel it in your heart, you know. I was at my parent’s house that day, I remember seeing the cracking in the tiles for the first time as I sat on the loo, a small tiny detail that was too unimportant in day-to-day life. I also started to get some chest pain and decided that I couldn’t sleep upstairs in my old room because I may need emergency care during the night, so this body, proving that there was something “wrong with it” needed to be accessible. I laughed at that thought and how organized I tried to be even in this situation. It gave me a sense of control but I was angry that I couldn’t control my own body – damn my own body for having a mind of its own. I wanted this little baby and no matter how many diaries I kept, no matter how much I tried to keep the symmetry, no matter which height order my books were kept at, which colour order my clothes in the wardrobe were hung, the order and the control I need to keep this little baby where I wanted it to be was something I did not have. I was being betrayed, by myself.
Going to the toilet was the scariest thing. I didn’t want to wipe and find more blood, I didn’t want to give access to what I was beginning to understand was inevitable. But on Wednesday when the bleeding started to increase, clots started to pass, pain started to grip my organs, I knew. Shariff rushed me to the hospital as silent tears started rolling down uncontrollably. All I could think about was that comment “What’s WRONG with you?” I was so angry that as I sat in an emergency room losing my baby all I could think of was what this person was going to think of my impending loss. Of course I should not worry about it, I know, reader, I know. But I did and it hurt and it worried and it angered me all at the same time. The nurse that saw me asked if I was passing clots, asked if it was my first time, took my temperature and recorded my pulse was extremely fast and decided to channel me through to the majors. This is, if nothing else, an incredibly humiliating experience. You have to open your legs wide, two people, doctor and nurse put a lamp between your legs and insert all sorts of things to ensure your cervix is still closed to determine whether a miscarriage really has started. This day they sent me home saying, my cervix was still closed, they weren’t sure it would lead to a full miscarriage and all I could do was wait. It was a “threatened miscarriage”.
The next few days were difficult. I was obsessed with a support group where women would write on the forum about their experience of miscarriage. It was good and bad. It was good because it was comforting to know that I wasn’t over reacting, that I was justified in feeling all those things that I was, other people felt those exact feelings too. It was bad because some stories were worse, of pregnancies lost much further into the pregnancy, photos up of women holding the tiniest babies that had passed at 20 weeks, tiny fingers that weren’t even the size of their nails, tragedies that passed so clinically, in and out of hospital with something so achingly significant missing. I had to keep doing a pregnancy test for a few weeks to see if the hormones were decreasing. This was especially painful. It was the same stick, still saying “pregnant” rubbing salt into the wound. Perhaps because the NHS didn’t wait to spend time and money confirming that you had “passed away all products of conception” – such a terrible, terrible term.
The finality of it all was too quick. I wanted it to be finished of course, so I could “move on” what ever that meant after this. But, at the same time, I wanted some sort of ritual, some ceremonial procedure that would ease me to waking up and realising I’m not pregnant anymore, that this time round I’m not going to be a mother. I understood the idea of initiation and rituals so much better when I felt a need for them. I never really appreciated the traditions around funerals for instance, but I knew now I’d appreciate it, I’d appreciate the recognition of loss, of parting, of the acknowledgement of others that I was in pain and the reassurance that people gave during these rituals that this passing didn’t take anything away from the very real fact that for those weeks/months I was a mother and that no one could ever take that away from me. And that empty arms at the end of it did not mean I’d be any less a mother than if I did experience those sleepless nights had this particular baby come home.
I made some incredible discoveries during the weeks between finding out I was pregnant to finding out the miscarriage was at last over, things about my body, my marriage, my friendships, my family, my expectations and my own feelings around being a mother. I also, after the initial emotions and physical pains started betraying me by getting better, realized what an awful system of official support there is for women. No one at any point of my education spoke of miscarriage; what to expect, your options, about the stuff you lost and wipe away as you stare horrified not knowing if your flushing your child down the toilet – and I’m sorry I’m writing this, but no one talks about it and I’m all for the taboo because I could find nothing about this when I needed to. I also hated the “reassurance” the doctors provided telling me “1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage”. This amused me the most. What was it meant to make me feel? Was I expected to be happy I was that lucky one?! How does throwing a statistic like that make me feel better? And the term “product of conception” a term coined to probably emotionally detach everyone involved from the potentiality of what this “matter” was. How this made me angry. I was so angry that the crippling pain of the actual miscarriage, could not compare.
It has been by far the most painful experience of my life, both physically and emotionally. Without Shariff’s support, if it had not physically killed me, then something inside me would have died, but he was my breath of life, his grounded self that he offered so generously, his patience with the incredible mood swings I had, curling into bed and holding me every time when the physical pain was so bad it felt that some phantom hand was inside my very body ripping at my very soul. I fell in love with Shariff during these weeks a hundred times over, I knew now what it meant to be loved at your worst, to be comforted when you didn’t deserve to be, but because you needed to be. But it pained me how much love he showed, how much love I had for him, it hurt because the more amazing he was, the more I desperately wanted to have a child with him and the more I wanted all these ties that would brings us even closer – as I would have myself brainwashed into believing. I thought hard about all this during those weeks and though I still wanted a baby from him at the end of it all, I realised from the love he extended to me during it, that those ties I was craving had nothing to do with having a child together, but had everything to do with those midnight cuddles that he gave because he heard me calling out for him without my having said a word.
A couple of days after finding out I was pregnant, I went to have my favourite Nando’s meal. I’d never been there alone and feeling the need to be sociable, I started speaking with two teenage boys who’d sat on the table next to me. They were about 13 years old. I said “excuse me gentlemen, I need your advice. I just found out that I’m pregnant”, “congratulations” one of them interrupted, “thank you! So, I’ve decided I want to be a super good mum and thought getting some advice from some young men like yourselves might be a good idea, what do you advise me to do or not do?” I was incredibly touched at how open they were, how genuinely engaged they were in the conversation and grateful, too, that they were being asked their opinions. I received a wide range of advice, from letting my child play as much play station as they wanted, not going through their phones, not joining in after school activities after they reached ten years old, letting them chose the subjects they want to study and to give them hugs when they’re at home even though they say they don’t want any when they’re around their friends”. Even though I could not take their advice that time around, I promise I will not forget it now that I’m pregnant again.