I’m a member of a club no one wants to be part of. When I joined I thought I was the only member, but through the brave words of other members I’ve learnt this is a big club, but one that most members keep quiet about. To be a member you need to have made the heart breaking decision to end a pregnancy. This is what happened to me.
In April 2017 we started our first round of IVF, after three years of trying and a year of fertility tests this felt like a really positive step. I was convinced it wouldn’t work – I’m a medical statistician so I’d researched the chances of success, but decided that giving IVF a go meant we could say we’d tried everything and could move on (I now see this was very naïve) – I think this was a type of self-preservation, if it failed that would be fine as I expected it to (idiot).
But it worked – I’m not sure how, I only had five decent eggs removed and only one fertilised. I can still so vividly remember the day when we got the pregnancy test results. I was in tears in the waiting room – the anticipation was unbearable. When the nurse plonked down a pregnancy test in front of us and screamed ‘two blue lines’ in a very northern accent. I had no idea what she meant! It meant a life changing moment – it had worked. Bloody hell!!!!
I remember it hitting me as I drove home that now I had the same odds of something going wrong as everyone else. That seemed wrong – after having IVF you should be given a free pass to 12 weeks at least surely? So we anxiously got through each week. There’s this golden marker of 12 weeks, the time when you can tell people, the time when you can feel reassured. We did both (although quite a lot of people already knew as when I’m anxious about anything I cope by telling everyone about it!). All that changed at 16 weeks when we were told there were serious complications with our baby.
The days that followed this were the darkest of my life to date. I think both my husband and I had gut feelings about what we should do but neither of us wanted to make a quick decision. The care we received (actually care seems like completely the wrong word) during this time was appalling. We were given the diagnosis over the phone, we were told there was no one available for us to talk to about it and could we ring back when we’d decided what we wanted to do and they’d book us in (i.e. in her mind we would be ending the pregnancy). It was at this point, desperate for help, my husband came across the charity ARC (Antenatal Results and Choices) and rang them instantly. This was the best thing we could have done; just feeling that what was happening to us mattered to someone was so important. We rang them a number of times through the weeks that followed. They don’t tell you what you should do, they support you with kindness and balanced information so you can make the decision that is right for you.
We decided we would end the pregnancy. Those seven words represent the worst of times – I’m not sure I have the words to describe them.
What I didn’t realise beforehand was that once you had made this horrendous decision, more shitty decisions follow. The next was how this would happen. After 12 weeks, our hospital had one option – to be induced, i.e. to give birth to your baby. Both me and my husband felt we couldn’t cope with meeting our baby and that we would rather stick with our happy pregnancy memories rather than replace these with what could be very distressing memories (I know everyone will feel differently about this, but this is how we felt). After our conversations with ARC we knew there was another option – surgical termination. We mentioned this to the midwife who told us that this would ruin my cervix and I wouldn’t be able to carry another baby afterwards. This was obviously devastating to hear. Another phone call to ARC informed us this wasn’t the case and that although there are risks with any surgery, an induction was also not risk free. We decided a surgical termination was the best option for us.
On the day the staff at the clinic couldn't have been nicer and all said the loveliest supportive things to us. Without me saying anything everyone knew why we were there.
I thought I’d go in and have an operation. That did happen but other stuff happened too. I had a scan – they don’t show you the screen or have the audio playing, so you can’t hear the heartbeat. I asked to see the screen and was given a photo. I had a consultation and had to take loads of tablets. I was 18 weeks by this point, given the size of our daughter I required a procedure before the operation. At mid-day (we arrived at 9) I was taken up to the theatre. I was given a gown and slippers – you can take your own nightie – but I didn’t want any reminders, and asked to put all my belonging in a suitcase. I was taken into theatre – awake, where a number of matchstick like things were inserted into my cervix. These matchsticks open your cervix and you have to wait 3 hours for them to take full effect. This was the worst part. I went back to our private waiting room. I was uncontrollably shaking, in pain and finding it hard to sit down. In the end we decided to leave the building and sit in the car, the car was warm and I laid down on the passenger seat and actually fell asleep. This was the best thing that could have happened. We went back in just before our three hours were up and then taken back up to surgery. This time I was put to sleep.
When I woke up I felt relieved. I feel horrible saying this but I was so glad it was over (well that part at least). There were tears throughout the day but manageable. I think on days like this something kicks in and you just have to get through it. I held it together until we got home when I completely lost it.
So that’s my story, I’m now 3 years on and it’s still hard a lot of the time, but not so acutely so. Time really is the best healer and it’s so true – I guess clichés come from somewhere. I wanted to share this as some people might not know that surgical termination is an option and I think information is power. This won’t be for everyone – for some people having that time with their baby is important and they wouldn’t choose an option which doesn’t allow for that. But for me it was the right decision and there must be other people like me out there. So that’s why I decided to put pen to paper, or in my case fingers to keys!
The trauma of ending a pregnancy for medical reasons doesn’t end after the pregnancy. The psychological effects are long lasting. Your baby will always be a part of you and they will shape your life forever. Even with the way our pregnancy ended I don’t regret having IVF and I cherish the happy pregnancy memories I have.
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