Dominique McMullan: ‘Our pregnancy loss broke my heart. This weekend we said goodbye’
In this tender and heart-wrenching piece, Dominique McMullan writes about her miscarriage and the importance of talking
This weekend we buried our baby. That baby was ten weeks old when it died inside my uterus. I found this out alone, with a midwife, mid-scan.
One in four women miscarry. This is a sad statistic of which so many women are unaware. I knew it was a possibility, but I didn’t know that my heart would also break. I did not know that the grief would surround me in waves. My loss didn’t feel like some version of a period. It felt like some version of a death.
I became pregnant very quickly, just like the first time. I have an 18-month-old boy. His birth was traumatic. It took me a long time to come to terms with that, but my pregnancy with him was without fault.
When I found out I was pregnant for the second time, my mind immediately went to birth. As women we know not to think forward like that. But my first pregnancy had lulled me into a false sense of security. It was the birth that I was worried about, not the pregnancy.
He was our tiny, beautiful secret.
By week ten, I was cautiously having conversations with my baby when we were alone together. I had a name for him. He was our tiny, beautiful secret. I cradled my tummy in our bed, and silently told him ‘night night’.
Suffer in silence
What follows is graphic. Because what happened to me was graphic. I am telling this story because I wish I had read it. The shock would be have been less for me, had I known what was coming. Women suffer so much in silence.
The bleeding started on Wednesday. It was light. I rang Holles St and they reassured me, bleeding during the first trimester is very normal. The bleeding continued over the course of a few days. By the following Monday, despite being consistently calmed and told that everything was fine, I felt deep down, that something was off. I went to Holles St alone on my lunch break.
I was brought to a room as the midwife gently and kindly scolded me. I was reminded again that light bleeding was normal in the first trimester. In conspiratorial tones, she said, “Won’t it be nice to get a sneak peek at your baby now?” I felt safe. I felt relieved. I had been silly.
There he was. The second time seeing a human inside you is no less astonishing
She preformed an ultrasound and turned the screen to show me my perfect little child. There he was. The second time seeing a human inside you is no less astonishing. We both smiled. The image wasn’t clear so she was going to perform a transvaginal scan. With the bleeding, this was not a comfortable experience, but I didn’t mind.
Time passed. A few minutes or maybe seconds into the scan, I looked to her face. Reassurance didn’t come. She turned the screen away. She frowned and dug deeper into me, moving her device from left to right and tilting her head from side to side. The feeling in the room changed. Those words that you never want to hear. “I am just having a little difficulty finding the heartbeat…”
The next bit feels blurry. I did not cry. I expected her to find it. I told her to look for as long as she needed. There must have been a mistake. I had been silly. She stopped. She went to get a doctor. The doctor checked my cervix. The tears came. I took off my mask and used it to wipe the mascara from my face.
I left the hospital and went to my car, and shook.
The baby was measuring small and they still couldn’t find the heartbeat. The midwife sat on the bed, went to put her hand on my leg, and then remembered the world we know live in, and took it back. She told me, “I have to be honest. The prognosis is not great here. But we can’t be sure; you need to come back in a week.” I had to come back in a week for another scan. They needed to measure the baby again to see if it had grown. That was how they would tell if it was alive.
I left the hospital and went to my car, and shook. I watched a man get out of the car next to me with an empty baby car seat, grinning ear to ear. I felt like a sad woman in a story. I rang my husband. I couldn’t explain what had just happened. I sat in that car for a long time.
The following week I bled more and more heavily. I felt weak and like I was having a painful period. I had no energy. Clots started to pass. I continued to work and minded my son from bed. I told very few people what was happening. I rang my mum and sobbed.
I dried my eyes, put my second child into a jewellery box, and went downstairs to hold my first.
And then one morning, as my son and husband ate breakfast downstairs, I passed my second child. I caught him, fully formed and still in the amniotic sack, before he fell into the toilet. I don’t know what noises came out of me in the following moments. I crawled out of that room. I wailed and wretched.
Downstairs my son ran to the stair gate, scared at the noises coming from upstairs. I dried my eyes, put my second child into a jewellery box, and went downstairs to hold my first.
“I am sorry”
I know how difficult it is to read these words. It is difficult to write them. I do not want sympathy or to indulge in my sadness. Miscarrying is devastating. More devastating than I ever could have imagined. I want people to know that this is happening to women, women you know, all the time.
In the last two weeks, I have been fine and I have been not fine. So I have talked. Talking has helped. For me, sharing the bad is as important as sharing the good. I did not want to shoulder this loss alone. I wanted my friends and family to grieve with us. I rang my granny. I rang my closest friends. I rang the Miscarriage Association of Ireland helpline. Women rallied around me and they lessened our pain.
No mother should feel isolated in these moments.
I wanted people to understand, and to know what to say. But so many people don’t. It makes them uncomfortable, because it’s awful, and they are so rarely confronted with it. So let me tell you, all you need to say is “I am sorry”. We don’t need to hear that we are lucky because we already have a child, or that it happens to so many women, or that it is nature’s way. I know those words come from a loving place, but they don’t help the pain.
Last week Chrissy Teigan shared devastating news of pregnancy loss. This was one week after I lost my baby. No loss is the same. No loss is comparable. But in reading Chrissy’s story I felt less alone. I saw, mirrored in her deep grief, my own. It helped. No mother should feel isolated in these moments.
This weekend we buried our baby in a jewellery box with a letter that I wrote to him. His brother sprinkled Mayo sand below him and we planted snowdrops above him. My mum and dad stood nearby. On a rainy October day we said goodbye and we will always remember.
A friend described him as a star in the sky, who will always look down and watch over our little family. Night, night, little one.