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Sunday 4 June 2023 Dublin: 18°C
Mother on miscarriage 'I felt like a failure. I didn’t protect my babies. My body had let us down.'
Holding the tiny body in the palm of my hands, counting perfectly formed fingers, looking into eyes that would never see, my heart broke into a million pieces, writes Ethna Quirke.

SEPTEMBER AND NOVEMBER are months of celebration in our house. Both my sons were born in November and my daughter is a sunny September girl. But they are months of sadness too. September three years ago, days before my daughter’s first birthday, I had my first miscarriage in my 13th week.

I had started to bleed and a scan revealed that my baby no longer had a heartbeat. I’d never really thought about miscarriage before.

I had never discussed it with anyone who had been through it. I’d had two healthy pregnancies and births and to suddenly be experiencing difficulties was completely alien.

We had a pretty traumatic hospital experience. The doctor came and went but never addressed my husband. It was like he was invisible. He never told him our baby had died, that fell to me.

He never wrote me a prescription for pain relief and I was sent home bleeding without a sanitary towel. No information leaflet, no support, no empathy for that fact that our much loved child had died inside me.

Having to do something as mundane as stop at a pharmacy and get supplies when the arse had just fallen out of my life was an insult. Later when I had the strength to complain I was told we were treated that way because I attended out of hours – as if my baby couldn’t even afford me the convenience of dying between business hours.

Luckily, I had the most incredible midwife and friend who had been with me for the home birth of my daughter. She very honestly talked me through what to expect in the coming days. Two days later, I birthed my baby. It was a painful and utterly shocking experience. Holding the tiny body in the palm of my hands, counting perfectly formed fingers, looking into eyes that would never see, my heart broke into a million pieces.

I placed my baby into an ornate box and I held it through the night as if my own life depended on it. I felt totally empty but there was also a sense of real peace in being at home in my husband’s arms. I got to hold my baby, to kiss him and to say goodbye.

‘The emptiness nearly suffocated me’

Five weeks later I discovered I was pregnant again, and, although absolutely petrified I was certain that everything would be fine. I’d never be so unlucky twice. I was a fool.

I was seven weeks pregnant when I started experiencing severe pain and dizziness. A trip to the EPU, the day after my son’s 4th birthday, revealed that I was experiencing an ectopic pregnancy. My baby was growing inside my right fallopian tube. I was bleeding internally and required immediate surgery.

I simply couldn’t believe the cruelty of it and was stunned by the urgency of the situation. In consenting to surgery, I knew I was signing my baby’s life away and yet there was simply no choice in order to save my own. This is something I still struggle with.

The feelings I felt upon waking from surgery will haunt me forever. The emptiness nearly suffocated me. I felt incredibly violated. I felt like a failure. I didn’t protect my babies. My body had let us down. Being forced to endure the sounds of crying newborn babies on the maternity ward, when my own had been cut from me was a form of psychological torture that I sometimes wonder how I recovered from.

The weeks that followed are a blur. I started to experience anxiety and horrific nightmares. I got up each morning because my children needed me to but I was living under a cloud. Outwardly I smiled. Inside I was screaming. I knew I needed to talk it all through so I found a really good grief counsellor who helped me start to process my losses.

‘There were days when I thought I might never smile again’

I began to exercise and eat well. I set myself the goal of competing in my first triathlon. I needed to prove that my body was strong. I started training with a great group of friends and six months later I crossed the finish line, carrying my babies in my heart. I felt I was paying tribute to the lives they wouldn’t live.

Getting physically stronger helped me to get mentally strong. Spending time training and laughing with friends helped to heal the sadness. The following year I competed in the same event while I was 15 weeks pregnant. We welcomed our beautiful rainbow baby into our lives that November and he has been like a balm, soothing my soul.

When he was five months old I was shocked to discover I was pregnant again, my 6th pregnancy in seven years. I was just getting my head around it when once again the pain and bleeding started. I was experiencing what is called a “chemical” pregnancy and the tiny life ended almost as soon as it began.

Miscarriage affects 1 in every 4 pregnancies. Ectopic pregnancy typically 1 in every 80. Chemical pregnancies are as common as half of all first pregnancies. That means that each and every one of us knows someone who has been touched by pregnancy loss and yet the conversation around it is deafening in its silence.

At times I’ve felt incredibly lonely and broken. There were days when I thought I might never smile again. Loss has taught me so much about love and friendship, kindness and spirit. I have an incredible appreciation of women. We pick ourselves up and we carry on with pieces of our hearts are missing.

Ethna Quirke is owner of The Baby Room Family Wellness Centre in Carlow

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