Helen Purves All you need to know about Helen Purves. And, indeed, much more.


On miscarriage: A response from my husband

This is James's side of the story (here's his Twitter account - he's funny and weird and I love him). For context, see my last post

It's weird that I don't actually remember the details of that day as strongly as perhaps I should. I have a vivid memory of the day before, as I'd been to see banger racing with one of my best friends.

I think the reason I remember it so well is that on the way home I told my friend that Helen and I were expecting, and of course he was over the moon for us.

The next day, the very next day, we had bad news.

I don't remember much after getting the phone call and leaving work, I don't remember getting lost in the hospital (I will not deny that it happened, such is my lot in life that I frequently get lost in heavily sign-posted places), I don't remember what I said to Helen and I don't remember what the doctors said to me. All I can really remember is the simple denial that this couldn't be happening to Helen and I. I just refused to believe it.

There was no finger-pointing of blame. I seem to recall one medical professional, be it doctor or nurse, saying that these things do happen a lot more often than we'd have thought, and even a mild cold or infection could be enough to cause a miscarriage.

I still didn't really believe it. We spent a few days together. Helen was very weak with the emotional and physical damage that had been done, and again I can't remember lots about what happened or what we talked about or even what we did. I just know that seemingly days later I was back in work, still shell shocked and still very much in denial that something like this could happen to us.

It seems trite, but bad things happen to good people. I try to be a good person but I know in my heart of hearts I'm just an okay person, but bad things happen to okay people as well as good things. I'd only just gotten round to the idea of being a dad and at once it was ripped from me, my fiancée was in a terrible place emotionally and I had to keep normality because that is how I cope (or keep myself from coping - that is a whole other story) and so I threw myself back into my two hour commute to and from work, and tried to give Helen a sturdy emotional platform to balance herself from.

All seemed well...

For about 12 days.

Baby conversations come up at work when you reach that certain age, and one arrived fully-formed right in front of my face.

"What would you call your first baby?"

I didn't burst out in tears or fly off in a rage, that's very much not who I am in any shade of mood. I did have to leave immediately though, and I spent 20 minutes sat on a toilet lid wondering why I hadn't properly cried or exorcized my feelings. I still don't know, but when I got home I broke down a little. We'd lost our baby and I finally felt it.

One of the thoughts that went round my head is - how sad should I be?

Looking at the facts and stats, Baby G wasn't thinking or feeling yet, we'd not had chance to really get invested in the pregnancy but we were so excited about it. Time doesn't really count here. I'm not saying it's the same as going full term, but it was about the most devasting news I'd ever had.

I wasn't even the main victim!

Helen took the brunt of this, and I could only imagine the thoughts going round her head. What right did I have to mope and feel sorry for myself? How dare I? Helen was suffering here, she needed me to be there, and I had to help first and foremost.

This point has come up time and time again. It is horrible for the guy here, but I know it's worse for the mother. It doesn't diminish your suffering to know this though, and I found that this thought weighed very heavy on my shoulders for a long time and there are a lot of conflicting things I've been told about it (ranging from "MTFU" to the expectation I would sit there sobbing), but I just tried to take it all on the chin and carry on. It was hard.

Helen wrote in her post about how she's dealt with it moving forward, and I think she's actually had a much more mature response to it than I have.

For those who aren't aware, Helen has a form of epilepsy that is almost manageable with medication, but not quite 100%. It means I'm generally on the alert when we're not together, especially if she's overly tired, stressed, hungry or on any other medication. Once or twice I've even had to leave work to take her home.

The amount of times her epilepsy has been a BIG serious issue I can count on one hand, but it's always there at the back of my mind. Since we lost Baby G and gained a Nutlet, the fear... no, that doesn't cover it, the terror I had of that happening again prevented me from fully getting around to pregnancy straight away, and until about four months down the line I was very wary of something going wrong.

Helen as well felt the concern. If we thought the baby wasn't kicking enough we'd go to the walk in. I'm not joking when I say we did this at least eight times during the course of the pregnancy before we bought ourselves a hand held heart beat monitor we could use to listen to Nutlet's heartbeat. That was a huge help for me.

Even at the point of birth, I was terrified. What if something went wrong? Could I go through this again? I couldn't stand to lose my wife and my child. Why is the baby taking so long to come out? Why are they needing to use forceps? Why isn't she crying?!

When she finally came out and started wailing, I actually broke down and wept. The feeling of joy I had goes beyond anything I've ever experienced: it was pure ecstasy, a moment of true joy.

I won't go into details of the next few months, but I will colour in around the edges.

I used to get up at night to make sure Nutlet was still breathing.

I still wake in the night in a blind panic that something has happened to her, have to check a video monitor and heart beat scanner to make sure she's okay.

I miss her in the daytime.

I don't want other people to hold her in case they drop or hurt her.

In general, I guard her like a wary dog, and have been incredibly reluctant to let her go away from Helen and I. I know it's silly, but the bleakness and depression that hit me when we lost baby G is always in the corner of my mind.

I would do anything to not feel that again.

Nutlet is a bonny lass, and I can often be overheard saying she looks like a goblin (she doesn't), or she's a trouble maker (she's not) or she stinks (she often does stink), but this is a way I show my affection for a little girl who is basically my whole world now.

I want her to be able to kick ass and make people laugh, like Amy Schumer crossed with Ronda Rousey. I want her to be smart and in control of her sexuality, like Marie Curie crossed with Beyoncé. I want her to be political and engaging, but also whimsical and fun, like Emmeline Pankhurst crossed with one of those kids you see running around with a bubble wand at a festival.

I hope she can be all of these things. I will help her become everything she wants. I would have done this for Baby G, but now Baby G stays in my memory and by my side, along with everyone else I've lost. It's not a big group, I hope it doesn't get much bigger.

You never really get over these things - you just find a way of keeping yourself busy, and hope that someone points out your crazy behaviour to you.


On miscarriage

So, I had my little Nutlet (see last post) and she's over a year old, and all is good in the world.  I will perhaps write about her later but she doesn't belong in this post.

Her age constitutes an arbitrary deadline for me.  Now she is one, it is time for me to write about my miscarriage.

That arbitrary deadline says a lot about how my miscarriage has changed my mindset.  Basically, I didn't want to have to publicly deal with two dead babies.  I felt that at a year old, my successful baby would be past the risk of cot death and other illnesses and so I'd be "safe".

The story in short: it was my first pregnancy, and I was super excited.  We found out at about six weeks, and immediately told our parents - my parents over Skype (my dad cried) and my husband's parents in person.  I mention this because to announce it to my in-laws, we bought a little bib with "I love my Gran" emblazoned on it.  No, we didn't film it for YouTube etc - but she's always wanted to be called "Gran" as opposed to Granny/Nana etc and in fact the bib took some finding.  It was beautiful.  We were all so happy.  We nicknamed our little foetus Baby G.

Over subsequent weeks we told a couple of people about Baby G.  I think my best friend, my brother, but not many.  I knew I shouldn't be telling people until I'd passed the 12 week mark - everyone tells you that - but I was so excited.  James was too.

So, one day at work, I was putting up a load of stuff on the wall with my boss and somehow pregnancy came up and I just couldn't contain myself - I told her.  Just as I was telling her, I felt the need to go to the loo and when I did, there was blood.  A fair amount of blood.  Not loads, just some.  It was Baby G.

I was a shaking wreck.  I didn't know what to do with myself.  I instinctively headed to the sick room to try and contain my feelings but it was occupied with people having a meeting, so I hung around the printers praying nobody would need to print anything - shaking with fear, on the verge of serious tears.

Luckily someone senior in the meeting had seen me, and ordered everyone out and me in.  She was on the small list of people I'd told and I think the state of me told her everything she needed to know.  "The baby," was all I could say.  "The baby."

I should mention here that I'm pro-choice.  I always have been and always will be.  This foetus was in its extreme early stages.  I kept thinking about that.  That if I hadn't wanted this baby, it would have been a wholly expendable foetus to me.  It kept going through my mind.  What made this particular foetus a baby to me?  This little thing, this pip of flesh - what made it special?

I kept thinking I was a fool to nickname the foetus, the baby, Baby G.  I was a fool to love something that wasn't yet human.

I rang my husband - who at that time was my fiance, and many miles away.  I can't remember what I told him but I know I tried not to let him know my heart was breaking.  It would be a long drive for him.  I didn't want him to die too, from some crash caused by worrying about me.  Death was currently contained to the area between my legs.  I didn't want the condition spreading.

The walk down through my building, across the piazza and into a taxi was one of the most difficult of my life.  It seemed like I met everyone I'd ever worked with on the way, and all I could do was quiver and shake and cry, while feeling the blood coming out of me, while feeling the beginning of cramps coming in.

At hospital I was ushered through to the ultrasound waiting room area.  I had been told because my pregnancy was in such an early condition I'd need an internal scan, which means they stick a wand up you.  I was terrified.  Weirdly, I was terrified about cleanliness.  I kept going to the loo, seeing my pregnancy terminating in front of me, and trying to clean myself.  There's such a taboo around periods/feminine hygiene and I had no idea whether the operator would be male or female and actually it didn't matter because I just couldn't be dirty, I had to be clean - but was a cleaning my baby out of me?  Was it Baby G in my knickers the first time, or was that him, or was that him?

Every visit to the loo, I hunted for Baby G.  I'm glad, now, that nobody had told me I should have hung on to everything that came out of me.  That would have been the only thing that could have made it worse: having to cling on to my dead dreams, smeared across sanitary products.

It was awful.  There were so many happy couples that day, waiting to see the same person as me, who'd be taking home little black and white photos instead of stained knickers and heartbreak. I looked at them and tried not to let them see my pain.  I wanted them to feel the hope and happiness I'd felt - an hour ago.

Only the blandness and relative familiarity of the hospital kept me sane.  There's nothing like an NHS hospital to instill a stiff upper lip.  It worked.

It worked too much.  The lady who scanned me could tell I was going through a very private hell and she stayed calm and reserved.  It was too much for me.  Collapsing into a heap wasn't an option, somehow, so as she stuck the wand up inside me and told me there was no heartbeat, no foetus, no baby, just a "sack", all I had was sick humour.  "Oh well, just a foetus right, haha."  But no.  Not a foetus.  My baby.  Baby G.  Gone.

I was sent across the hospital to - and this still makes me cry, even now - the edge of a maternity ward.  Apparently this is extremely common.  At the time it made me want to die.  I felt like I was dying, in fact.  The cramps had set in.  I waited nearly three quarters of an hour to be seen, which is a long time when you're sitting alone in a waiting room hearing babies crying down the hallway and wondering if you'll ever have one, if you'll ever want to risk throwing your heart in the ring again.

Ringing James didn't help.  He was nearly there but he wasn't there and as I told him what had happened, as he navigated round the car park and got understandably lost down the endless, winding corridors of the hospital, it became real.  Every experience I repeated made it truer, as though I hadn't actually gone through any of it until I told him I did.

Of course, I knew what the nurse would tell me.  I knew by then.  James arrived and she had to tell the story again.

Then, of course, everyone who'd been told had to be un-told.  And I became so relieved there was hardly anyone to tell.  All the while, I hunted through the web trying to find similar experiences, anything - anything to validate my experience, anything even slightly similar.  Any account that matched mine.  There were none.  All there was, was stigma - or empty messages decrying stigma but with no content, no reasons, no story.

I became so happy that I hadn't released the news on Facebook that I began worrying on behalf of newly-pregnant friends.  "Are you sure you should be telling us all so early?" I said to one friend, who told us all at four weeks and one day.  She started a baby blog right away.  Six weeks later, she miscarried too.  I felt her pain so acutely, as she fell off the internet.

And that was when I realised that at some point, when I was ready, I should tell my story.  So here we are.

If you have just miscarried and find yourself here, know that you will not forget your baby.  They did not exist for nothing.  I'm not saying it will haunt you, exactly - I'm not saying it won't, though.  It is devastating.

At New Year's Eve, Baby G's due date, I thought of him and cried even as I held my eight month old baby in my arms.  Occasionally, the "I love my Gran" bib appeared, on Nutlet, and I secretly rage and silently cry for Baby G.  And if someone sees me, I look irrational, because perhaps they've never flushed their baby down their office toilet while someone does their makeup and chats to a friend in the mirror right outside your cubicle.

That bib has gone now, I think - if I could, I would have buried it to remember him by - the only possession he ever had.  Because you can't bury something that went round the U-bend over a year ago.  For me, it became a ridiculously powerful symbol of well-meaning insensitivity, of lack of understanding of my grief.  It became a bigger deal than it should have been.  I'm glad it's gone.

I suppose all I'm saying is, although you might feel alone, you're not.  Because although you might not find many accounts of miscarriage, or much support from friends or family (nobody I know, barring my long-deceased grandmother, had ever knowingly miscarried a baby), one in six known pregnancies end in miscarriage (NHS).  The vast majority of women conceive again.

James has pointed out there's no happy ending to this blog post - no "turnaround moment".  Well, there isn't.  The pain will soften over time, as with all bereavement.  This still affects me.  I still cry, occasionally.  For myself, and then for women who carry their baby much further along.  I had a relatively easy ride, physically and emotionally.  And now I have a baby.  I don't think about Baby G much any more.  Maybe one day I won't think of him at all.

Oh, and don't forget your partner by the way.  Nobody thinks about them.  I was the only person who asked how my husband was, who thought of the pain he must be feeling.  Poor James didn't have the rock solid confirmation of bloodied underwear.

It took him two weeks to begin to grieve, by which point everyone had stopped thinking of him and by which point he'd helped me through the worst of my pain.  Nobody talks about how hard that is.  He had nobody there for him at work when office chatter turned to babies.  Nobody.  Yet his loss was just as large as mine.  I grieved, then he grieved, and we've grieved together.

And now we tickle our baby and read her stories, because life must go on - it does go on.

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