We talk about miscarriage, says Lou Conran, but when she had to terminate her sick baby’s life, why did she feel she couldn’t discuss it?
Originally Posted on 01/08/2016 - Standard Issue Magazine
I made a cashier in Boots cry the other day. I didn’t mean to make her cry. If anyone should have been crying, by rights it was me, but I was too preoccupied buying my waterproof mascara to commit to the tears properly.
You see back in November last year, someone put their penis in me and I got pregnant. It wasn’t supposed to happen because when I was 38, medical types told me my dusty womb was barren.
It took a few years to get my head round the fact I’d be childless, so at 41, to say this was a shock, was to say the least. It was wonderful but it completely floored me. I spent £100 in Aldi the day I found out and cooked enough food that weekend to feed not only an army but their families, and their families’ families.
I’m still eating the lasagne.
Emotionally I struggled. I’d always wanted children but here I was pregnant by a man I didn’t really know. I couldn’t bring myself to remain with someone in a relationship that was based primarily on Rioja, just because I was pregnant. Especially when we were clearly incompatible and he drove me bonkers.
I tried to pretend to myself and him that it would be OK but I wasn’t feeling it. After a few weeks I couldn’t bear the idea of my child coming to visit me in prison because I’d murdered their father, so I decided it was easier for me to call it a day than get banged up for bludgeoning someone because they’d weed on my bathroom floor and bought a suitcase to my flat full of shirts for me to iron. (Yes really, and no, I don’t even own an iron. I move quickly so people can’t see the creases). He put the split down to my hormones. I put it down to sobriety.
“My midwife said that your pregnancy controls you, you don’t control it and in hindsight it makes sense now.”
I remained unimpressed about my pregnancy for months. It wasn’t how I thought I’d feel at all. Every time I went shopping with a mate and they suggested we buy something to do with the baby I changed the subject. I couldn’t put my finger on it but the negativity wouldn’t go away and going to work of an evening to try to make people laugh when I felt completely troubled was incredibly hard.
At the 12-week scan I was nervous. I was scared my baby would be diagnosed with one of the three conditions they were looking for; Downs, Edwards or Patau’s. I hadn’t heard of the other two, but Downs I thought was a high risk given my age. If the baby had any of these then I guess that I’d have dealt with it.
The test results came back and all was fine. Except me. I couldn’t get excited. My midwife said that your pregnancy controls you, you don’t control it and in hindsight it makes sense now. I put my lack of enthusiasm down to the fact that I felt absolutely awful. Sickness morning, noon and night. Having to nip off at gigs to vomit in between acts was a joy. And I had such an intense sense of smell that I could actually smell my own bumhole when I weed.
When I started to feel a bit more human, I decided that I was going to get excited about having a baby. I started buying baby things to try to get into mother mode. I bought a cot and a sterilising kit and started clearing out the spare room for where they’d sleep. Generally after a while I started to get my head round having a baby.
At the next scan, I was excited. For the first time in five months. My friend came with me. We were excited to find out the flavour of the baby and when we got to the scan, that’s when my life changed forever.
“I’m just going to stop the scan here. I’m seeing irregularities that I wouldn’t normally expect to see at this stage,” the sonographer said.
I wasn’t really listening to what she was saying, so I just lay there, wondering what she was on about. She pointed out that the baby wasn’t well. Its body wasn’t growing the way it should. Its limbs were shorter than expected and there was a possibility that the baby had skeletal dysplasia, a condition I hadn’t even heard of, let alone considered.
“Is it because I don’t drink milk?” I asked, panicking I hadn’t been doing the right things. “No. It’s nothing you’ve done; it’s unfortunately one of those things. It means that the sperm and egg just weren’t compatible during conception.” (Like its parents.)
She sent us to another hospital for a second opinion straight away.
“The nurse spoke to her like she was a little person, like she existed, like she was my daughter, which was so comforting.”
In the car I knew it was game over. I just knew. My friend was trying to say to me that we didn’t know the full extent, so to try not to think like it was, but I just knew. The second hospital confirmed it with a bit more detail. The bones weren’t growing properly, the main issue being with the ribcage.
It didn’t feel real. It was like she was talking to someone else and it wasn’t until I asked what sex the baby was that it hit me. The sonographer confirmed it was a girl and suddenly it, she, became a real person, instead of this little alien growing inside me. Knowing her chest and ribcage were crushing her lungs was devastating.
I was booked in to see a foetal consultant the following week and the days in between were the longest of my life. My parents came up. Mum cried. My dad, who never expresses emotion, said nothing about it apart from, “It’s all very sad.” The equivalent of the Dalai Lama popping round.
We sat around waiting for the inevitable. You go out for the day and you try to pretend you’re all fine but the sadness in the air was stifling. When you all know this little miracle is now no more, it’s stifling. They went home in the end because there’s only so much waiting you can do.
Me and the dad went to the consultant and it was a very quick process. I had another scan but with more detail. She then moved us to the room with the tissues. The ‘we’re going to tell you something terrible, so we’ve catered for this situation by putting you in a room with comfy chairs, a box of tissues and pictures of flowers on the walls’ room.
“Your baby won’t survive outside of the womb. She could live a day but her lungs just won’t cope.”
Game over. I had to terminate my baby’s life.
The main question for me was, would I have to give birth to her? I couldn’t bear the idea of having to go through that. And my worst fears were confirmed. It wouldn’t be safe for me to do otherwise.
I started the process that afternoon. You get given a tablet that prepares the womb. You go home. You wait two days and then you’re booked into hospital where they induce you, and the worst day of your life begins. They call this ‘medical management’. I call it barbaric.
The dad didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want him there. We didn’t know each other well enough for him to witness me going through the most personal, painful journey of my life so my friend came instead. She was amazing, as were the nurses. Like, amazingly fabulous. So sensitive to the situation. And step by step they talked me through what was going to happen.
“The nurse bought her in, in a tiny Moses basket. She was wrapped up like a newborn baby and covered in knitted blankets, a little knitted toy by her side.”
You’re bombarded with questions. Do you want a post mortem? Do you want to see her when she’s born? What about the funeral? Gahhhhhh! I don’t know. The only thing I did know was that I definitely wanted her body to be left to medical research. Something positive had to come out of this, and if she could help answer a few questions about her condition then this had to be the right thing to do.
If you’ve ever been induced in pregnancy, you’ll know it’s not a picnic. It was around 3pm, and they put hormone tablets up into my cervix. Me being me, well I don’t like to hang around; she put them up me doodah and it pretty much started straight away.
Period pain they said, it might be a bit worse than period pain. Yep. Well, it was. For a bit, then it got worse. I was given diamorphine around 6.30pm and I managed to float off with the fairies for a few hours, until it wore off and the pain was unbearable.
The doctors had only signed me off to have one shot of morphine, so the nurse went off to get me signed off for another one, and while she was out of the room, my waters broke.
I had been instructed to give birth over a bedpan in the toilet (I know, glamorous). My mate was with me and held my hand and my baby was born pretty much straight away, over the loo, around 9.50pm. Classy. We waited for the nurse to come back and then this is when the fun began because I couldn’t birth the placenta. (Just to flag up there’s a bit about fisting coming up, so if you can’t stomach that, then I’d suggest you read something about fairies and cupcakes or something.)
I had to get back to the bed so the nurse followed me back, holding my baby between my legs, because she was still connected to me via the umbilical cord and the placenta, which wouldn’t shift. I pushed. I really pushed but nothing.
The baby was detached and taken away. The nurse spoke to her like she was a little person, like she existed, like she was my daughter, which was so comforting.
Then it all got a bit bonkers. The bed was surrounded by people; a doctor had her hand up my foof and tried to manually remove the placenta, which was the single most painful thing during the whole scenario. That didn’t work, and I was rushed down to theatre.
I had an epidural. Well, on the fourth go I had an epidural. By this point I was tired, drugged, slightly delirious and could not give less of a fuck what was happening to me. My friend was by my side, while this young bloke, Tom, had his fist up my fanny, trying to scoop out the last of the placenta. I tried to crack jokes. “Oh, if I’d have known this was going to happen, I’d have had a haircut” (pointing down there). No response. Tough crowd.
“I stroked her tiny cheek, and she was cold to the touch but she felt so soft. I kissed my finger and kissed her cheek with it and all I could do was say sorry to her.”
The day after, I was checked over, I got my legs back and I was anxious to go home. I knew at some point the nurse would come back and ask if I wanted to see her. I hadn’t been sure I would want to, but I knew if I didn’t meet her I would regret it for the rest of my life. I was just dreading it because I didn’t know what to expect.
They had told me not to Google the condition. And unusually for me, I did as I was told. So I really had no idea. My friend was with me and I didn’t know if she’d want to see her either but she said she did and it felt right that she be there as she’d been with me every step of the way.
The nurse bought her in, in a tiny Moses basket. She was wrapped up like a newborn baby and covered in knitted blankets, a little knitted toy by her side.
Her head was larger than I anticipated and a reddy purple in colour but her little face was pink. Her tiny nose was perfect and her little mouth was just like her dad’s. The nurse took out her fingers, which were tiny and I just couldn’t believe this little person had been growing, in her own little way, inside me.
She was amazing. Yes she looked odd. Yes, she looked alien-like at first glance but when you’d been with her for a bit, you stopped seeing the unusual bits and just saw this little girl’s face and fingers. My little girl’s face and fingers. She looked so fragile, so delicate.
I stroked her tiny cheek, and she was cold to the touch but she felt so soft. I kissed my finger and kissed her cheek with it and all I could do was say sorry to her. I was sorry for not ever getting to meet her properly, for not being able to do the things other mums did with their daughters, for not being able to feed her, or change her nappy, or be a mum to her. I felt so sorry for that.
The hospital took photos of her and gave them to me in a card with her name on it. I can’t show those pictures to anyone because they wouldn’t see the baby that I saw. And I don’t think I’d ever be prepared to hear anyone’s instant reaction to the pictures because they’re not her mum. They wouldn’t see my daughter’s beautiful face. They would see her illness. I don’t need to hear what other people think. There are no words in this situation. And I wouldn’t want them.
📷 I didn’t mean to make the cashier in Boots cry. I just went to buy a waterproof mascara for the funeral. I wasn’t prepared for her to ask what it was for. “Sorry?” “The waterproof mascara, wedding or funeral?” “Oh… funeral.”
“Was it anyone close?” and for a split second I didn’t know what to say. I’d not had to tell anyone I didn’t know yet and so I just said, “My daughter.”
She gave me my change and walked off crying. It’s weird hugging a stranger because you’ve made them cry with your situation. I got used to it in the end because most of my friends cried when I told them and in the end I got hardened to the fact that I’d have to comfort other people when it should have been the other way round.
The day of the funeral, Mum and Dad had come up and we geared ourselves up, bought some flowers and went to the crematorium. The sickness in the pit of my stomach and the dread were soon brought to an abrupt halt when all three of us inadvertently attended the funeral of a Jewish man.
I’d been given the wrong date and we were sat in the carpark surrounded by the hundred or so mourners, and a horse and cart. I mean, on reflection it was funny; this would only happen to me. So we went home, had a bottle of wine and had another go a week later.
The NHS paid for the funeral, which is amazing. She was cremated alongside all the other babies in my area, that didn’t make it that month. There were about 25 I think. Stillborn, unwell, medically managed babies. This many each month. And who knows about it? No one. I didn’t. Because we don’t talk about it.
I’ve never heard anyone discussing this before and I know it’s not a topic that’s a barrel of laughs but seriously, you’d be surprised how many people have been through this. I want to talk about it, because it helps. I don’t know about anyone else but I get pissed off when people call it a miscarriage. The word miscarriage is banded about like an umbrella term for when people don’t know what else to say.
It wasn’t a miscarriage. I had to terminate my baby’s life because she was unwell.
All the caskets were placed at the front of the chapel and there was a 30-minute service. The grief in that room was claustrophobic but weirdly comforting. There we all were, all of us affected by the personal tragedy in front of us, in a box. I wanted to talk to the other mums, I wanted to hear their stories, I wanted us all to be united in our grief. But, typically, in our very British way, we all went about our business, heads down.
My mum was devastated. My dad, the Dalai Lama, remained stoic and tried to pat out the rhythm of the organ that played Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, as if he was listening to the radio. I get it, he was staying strong. He was trying to be strong for his baby girl. For me.
United in our grief after the service, we did what we do as a family: we went straight for a curry and a few beers, and my dad being my dad, tried to lighten the atmosphere by ordering the hottest curry, enticingly called The Suicide. If you can’t show pain, why not eat it, eh?