Keeping Mum

Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

A death in the family

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For so long my husband and I had disagreed on the subject of having a third child. And then, without warning and certainly without planning, some six weeks ago, I found myself pregnant once more.

Strangely, when the idea of having a third child - which I had once thought about with pleasure and excitement - became a reality, I was horrified at how tired and afraid I felt about it.

Granted we have all been extremely sick this winter. I have been in hospital; I've been bed-bound, my poor mother-in-law has clocked up a lifetime of frequent flier points roaring up from the South Island to help us out.

I've been down as a result of not being able to breathe, or stop coughing, or have enough energy to read a book to my children before they go to sleep at night.

Even so, the idea of having a third child just twenty two months after having a second seemed like an insurmountable challenge, and one that would push me over the edge from redeemable old hag to absolutely past-it old crone.

And another thing bothered me, taking me by surprise:
a) how stupid I thought people would consider me for getting pregnant by accident in the first place, at my age; and
b) whether people would think to themselves "she can barely handle two, how the heck could she handle three?!"

Nevertheless in my heart of hearts I had wanted a third child, and as the fog of sickness cleared I started to feel excited. That excitement, that is, that is so familiar to newly pregnant women - what the child will look like, who he or she will become, how we could possibly fit one more child into this tip of a house full of toys and other child-related detritus.

As I felt more than nauseated every day I assumed all had to be well. My belly was growing - a bit faster than I had hoped for, but I guess I don't have any stomach muscles left anyhow - and the indigestion, fatigue and general slug-like countenance were all present and correct.

And then, at my 12 week scan, my obstetrician told me the baby had died.

A "missed" miscarriage, apparently, where there is no blood or any sign at all that anything is wrong, and a placenta that continues to pump out pregnancy hormones, tricking you into thinking you are pregnant long after you are.

Like I felt when disaster blighted my first pregnancy, the grief was immediate and overwhelming. My three year old son asked the obstetrician for a box of tissues and wiped my tears, telling me "Mummy it's ok. Mummy you're ok."

With young children tearing up your obstetrician's office - in between their random acts of kindness - there is no time to absorb the news, just to react. My shock was extreme.

Perhaps people who have not been pregnant or had miscarriages might misunderstand how devastating losing such an early pregnancy can be.

Three years ago I lost a pregnancy at a much later date, and so I thought this time round the feeling would be more "cést la vie", but no - the intensity of loss is just as great. Compounded in my case by a severe sense of guilt that I got so sick and possibly - because I barely had enough air to breathe myself - starved this little baby-to-be of the oxygen it needed to survive.

I take some comfort in the fact that this baby died because, like most miscarriages, it was "incompatible with life" for reasons that we may never know.

I am resolutely pro-choice in matters of abortion but what I can say about this experience is that a pregnancy, if at heart wanted and cherished, is invariably agonising to lose.

I know that so many women and men suffer this awful experience and I now join their silent ranks, knowing too that if it happens again, I will inevitably be a little less blase about nurturing a life through its sometimes stormy first months.

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