In the pub last week, a girl I vaguely know glanced suspiciously at my tummy and gave me a knowing look. « So…are you ? » she giggled excitedly. The other girls around her cottoned on and before I could say much else I was being enveloped in hugs and congratulated amid much squealing. « it’s early ..ish » I protested, « we’d hope to wait until the anomaly scan next week before announcing ». Cue confused looks. « 20 weeks isn’t early ! » « you’re practically home and dry ! » « your body has done it once hon, it will do it again and it’ll all be fine ! »
Of course, what these well meaning ladies don’t know is that last year, I was in this exact same position. Proudly parading my bump, telling anyone who would listen that I was expecting, offering up the information that it was a boy bump, even accepting offers of baby clothes…. Only to be given the devasting news at the 20 week anomaly scan that our little boy had a fatal condition and would not survive the pregnancy.
So, unfortunately, I know that reaching the 12 week milestone is no guarantee that you will go on to have a healthy baby in your arms. I know that each time I tell someone I’m pregnant, I might have to ‘untell’ them. I know that every scan photo might become a precious memory of a much loved and wanted little life. I know that surrounding myself with other ‘expat bumps’ (of which there are many in these parts!) is a dangerous game because once a bump is gone and there is no baby in its place, you suddenly have very little to say to those well meaning mums to be. ‘Bump dinners’ are suddenly no longer really your idea of a good night out, ‘Bloom and brunch’ is not a great way to spend your Sunday, and ‘Bump yoga’ is definitely no longer your exercise of choice.
So yeah…I’m a little cautious this time.
The internet tells me that a baby after a loss is called a ‘rainbow baby’. I like it. My (actually not so little !) rainbow bump. This baby feels so special to me – extra so because I know what it’s like to carry a baby for 6 months, give birth and experience new life and death in the same breath.
So anyways, here we are, a rainbow bump abroad. I’m almost 5 months in and at the time of writing I have not yet had the big anomoly scan. Here’s what I’ve learnt so far following the loss of Baby M and the beginning of this rainbow bump: (note – the ‘you’ in the below is a generic person who may have found themselves in a similar situation to me. I wasn’t sure if it was the right pronoun to use but hey…. Just wanted to make that clear.)
- What happened to me is, thankfully, very rare. If you move in very small expat circles as I do, it is even rarer. This is a good thing, of course, but if it does happen to you it means that you probably won’t know anyone else going through the same things. That’s tough. No two ways about it. It feels lonely. After I lost baby M, I had to face pregnant people and new borns A LOT. There are lots of expat wives in my town who, once they arrive here, seem to dedicate themselves to reproducing (not judging, just sayin.) So they are kind of…. EVERYWHERE. (And they all have bugaboos…. I don’t know why that bothers me …) A rainbow pregnancy can also be a lonely experience – you are guarded, you don’t want to share it with everyone, and you sure as heck don’t want to go to all those bloomin’ bump events….
- It’s hard enough explaining where your bump has gone in your own language. Explaning in a foreign language is…erm….challenging. Nuff said. With a rainbow, I find myself not wanting to tell many people that I’m expecting. Noone in my (very provincial little village) knows. Hopefully once day I’ll just kind of have a ‘bébé and the villagers will figure it out.
- You will find out who your friends are. Cliché, maybe, but oh so true. (There might be some surprises here too….since losing baby M I have, at the last count, 4 fewer friends than I did before. It’s great – trust me. It’s like an enforced friendship detox you didn’t even realise you needed).
- You give a loss less f**ks than you previously did. Talk about putting thing into perspective. That new expat mum who you’re not getting the good vibes from – don’t know why and don’t give a f**k. What the checkout lady thought when Chouchou squatted and did a big poo in the middle of the supermarket. Really don’t give a f**k. What our French neighbours thought when Chouchou refused to sit at the table for ‘gouter’ (that’s snack time to you and me – the locals are religious about it.) Really couldn’t Give. A. Flying. F**k. (For further reading I highly recommend Sarah Knight’s « The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck » Luckily you don’t have to go through a big tragedy to give less f**s as she will explain !)
- When you finally feel ready to tell people you have a rainbow on board, you will feel the need to pre-fix every statement with ‘if all goes well’ or ‘touch wood.’ It will feel like you’re tempting fate if you don’t do this. It’s kind of exhausting for you and everyone else but it needs to be done !
- On a similar theme, you will become ridicuously supersticious. I have ‘lucky scan’ leggings that I didn’t wear on the day we got the news that Baby M was so sick – I won’t be making that mistake again. The day before my 20 week scan last year, I taught a private English class. This same student has asked for a lesson next week – which just happens to be the day before our Rainbow’s anomoly scan. Erm…. I don’t think so. Even maternity clothes that I wore last time are out of the question. The Bespectacled one had to practically drag me to a birthday night out last week because we’d eaten in the same restaurant this time last year. I know, I know. The logical part of my brain knows that this is all insane but the part that will do ANYTHING to protect this baby and ensure that this pregnancy continues overrides it. Don’t tell my therapist (yes, I have one…more about that later.) She would not approve.
- At the risk of sounding a bit sickly smug, you will appreciate your rainbow pregnancy in a completely new way. I feel so awful saying it now but with both Chouchou and Baby M, the sickness was so bad that at times, I felt so resentful. I just wanted my body back. With Baby M it was even worse as I was chasing a toddler around interdispersed with the ‘puke – eat carbs – puke –eat carbs’ cycle. Now I’m not saying that this pregnancy has been a walk in the park. I did feel sick. I did feel tiredness on a scale that now seems impossible. I did struggle. But underneath it all I was just so insanely grateful to be pregnant. And I knew the sickness would end (I just had to hang on until 14 weeks….) And now that the ‘honeymoon trimester’ is upon me and I feel physically pretty great, I’m appreciating this time with my unborn baby so very much. I’m not doing it in a smug ‘look at me’ way (I hope !) It’s a private thing. Me and my rainbow bump.
- Even though your rainbow is so very wanted and loved, you will still s**t yourself about what it will mean to add a new baby into the mix. My current ‘mix’ involves a husband who works long hours and travels often, a house in the middle of effing nowhere, a ‘foreign’ culture I am still trying to get to grips with, an extremely needy toddler and an arguably even more needy huge fat cat. Oh – and my ‘mix’ does not involve grandmas, granddads, aunties uncles etc who will just ‘pop’ round (oh how I long for someone to ‘pop round’….. ) F**k, when I put it in writing like that it does sound quite scary….. Deep breaths all round. People do this all the time, far from home with little or no support network. I have some great girlfriends, the Bespectacled one who is basically a legend, and enough episodes of Peppa Pig to sink a ship….. oh…and I’ll be able to drink wine again in 4 months… and or gin 🙂
I feel that I should finish this post with a few links. I kind of hope ‘you’ are just an interested reader passing by and that you haven’t been through the loss of a baby yourself. However, if ‘you’ can relate more personally to my story then you might be interested to know where I turned to for support. Despite the fact that my local hospital and the midwives were amazing, there came a point when i just needed to speak to someone in English. There is a Facebook ‘Pregnancy Loss Support Group’ for Expats over here and whilst I understand the need to share stories (obviously!) I sometimes find these forums and groups can actually scare more than reassure. The stories are just so sad and from reading them I have learned of a whole host of awful things than can happen during pregnancy that I didn’t even know existed before. Also, the advice of other grieving mothers is not always the advice you need. What I needed, personally, was professional support in my first language. Cue these wonderful services:
- ARC (Anti Natal Results and Choices.) http://www.arc-uk.org. I used their helpline several times and was given some amazing advice and even put in contact with a lady who had been through an almost identical situation to me. I will never forget her kindness and how much time she took to speak to me and guide me through such a hard time.
- SANDS. (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity.) http://www.sands.org.uk. This organisation also has a helpline and support forums as well as lovely ways to remember your baby.
- Tommy’s. http://www.tommys.org This organisation conducts vital research into miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth. They have a ‘pregnancy information service’ and they have online support and telephone advice provided by in-house midwives.