There is a lady in my Pilates class who I’ve been watching a bit lately. She has caught me staring at her a few times now, she probably thinks I’m a bit weird. She’s pregnant you see, 6 or 7 months pregnant and she has been coming to Pilates for a couple of months. I find myself watching her, observing how she moves, how her body and her belly are in sync, how natural it seems for her to be planking her way through pregnancy.
My fascination with her is more about the ease in which she is exercising throughout her pregnancy because when I reflect back on my own pregnancy, exercise was unlikely and unthinkable.
When I was undergoing IVF I would often daydream about what it would be like to be pregnant. In my fantasy, I was all shiny and glossy, inside and out, I was the poster girl for miracles, calm and peaceful, nothing could possibly crash my pregnancy party. The reality, as is often the case, was so very different and though I will forever be extraordinarily and unbelievably grateful that I got pregnant, pregnancy for me was when anxiety came to stay and even in motherhood it still has the power to unravel me.
It started when I was 6 weeks pregnant and I started to bleed. Profusely.
Even now when I think back to that moment, the memory is as vivid as the blood. So much blood. A literal bloody nightmare. I remember sitting in the waiting room of the emergency department thinking “this cannot be my story”. Logically I could only think that I was having a miscarriage, it seems impossible to think that there was an alternative. I felt that if I lost this baby that I would also lose everything and that infertility would become the very thing that would define me. A miscarriage would surely be the end of my path to motherhood and at the time it felt like it would be the very thing that would and could dissolve me.
Fast forward a few hours and by the grace of God, there was a heart beat. I did not have a miscarriage, but I had what is known as a threatened miscarriage.
This turned out not to be my only threatened miscarriage. I went on to have two more. Some things just suck until they pass and it wasn’t until week 20 that the bleeding and spotting finally stopped.
In my case, the bleeds were all caused by subchorionic hemorrhages. Basically a fancy name for when blood accumulates between the uterus and placenta. It is thought that they occur in about 1% of pregnancies and there is some evidence to suggest they are more prevalent in IVF pregnancies. In my case it put me in the “high risk” pregnancy category. The post it note on my forehead would have read “geriatric, high risk, pregnant lady.”
I will never know the heartbreak and the anguish of a miscarriage and I am acutely aware that a threatened miscarriage does not compare to the experience of miscarriage. But my experience did take away the joy of pregnancy and I feel both sad and guilty about that. I was pregnant after IVF so how could I possibly not feel joy and yet it felt so hard to feel joy when you are going to the bathroom every hour, looking for the tell-tale signs of blood. Holding my breath for the potential faint stain of dread. Vulnerability is the colour red and I have never felt so terrified, anxious and on edge than when I was pregnant and unlike morning sickness and tiredness, it was not the type of pregnancy side effect I could talk about. Talking about it kept the threat real and to think that my body was once again defying everything that I needed it to do was a betrayal I could not bear to confront the reality of. I will never not feel thankful for the way in which my story ended because it could well have been very different.
Even after the bleeding had stopped and at around the 24 week mark when I could feel the baby’s movements, I could not escape the fear and apprehension and I developed a genuine anxiety disorder as a result. Going to the bathroom could induce a panic attack and sometimes even now a normal period can conjure memories I would much rather forget. This might all sound extreme, especially because I’m writing this as a mother to a wonderful little human who is currently reciting the sight words he learnt at school today but I cannot undo my lived experience. There’s a scene in the Sex and the City movie, when Charlotte is finally pregnant (at the time the infertility/ivf plot was fairly unchartered territory yet strangely refreshing to watch.) Charlotte who had always been a runner was terrified that running could trigger a miscarriage. The scene shows her taking the first few tentative steps on her first run and I found this so relatable. I didn’t come close to running during my pregnancy but I remember my first decent “walk” – I did so with a sense of both freedom and fear. The fear took over though and I only ever went for one walk.
It is only now, over six years later that I have felt compelled to write about it because of recent high-profile women who have announced pregnancies but have done so much later in their pregnancy because they too have had complications in the first and second trimesters. Threatened miscarriages are common yet unspoken. Soon after a bleed I would furiously google, desperate to seek out the experience of others and so I also thought that by writing this, somewhere, for someone, the experience would resonate and any opportunity to not feel like you are the only one going through something is a reason to speak out.
I see pregnant women every day and every day I am reminded that pregnancy not only makes you want to pee incessantly, it is a reminder that what the body is capable of is magical and pregnancy and birth a miracle.