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Pain without a person

I have a complex with early pregnancy assessment units (EPAU) because in my experience, I’ve walked into the triage room full of hope, and left with three possibilities:

(1) Nothing to worry about, get sent home on bed rest.

(2) An inconclusive result, with further tests needed

(3) a confirmed pregnancy loss

Exactly four years ago, I went from (2) to (3) very quickly. After my spotting escalated to filling a pad every few hours, I knew it was time to stop listening to Mike Todd’s sermon on crazy faith and accept my fate. So, I checked in to the EPAU for another time that weekend.

After more prodding and poking, as well as an additional scan, the nurse replied, “I’ve worked here long enough and I’m 99.9% sure this is an ectopic pregnancy”.

“What’s the 1%?”, I asked, attempting to distract myself from seeing the blood that now looked like a deep crimson hue. I learnt red blood is good, but clearly not when you are 9 weeks pregnant.

Continuing with the small talk while tagging my wrist, she avoided my question with a compliment, “You'd never know you were having an ectopic”. Actually, I’m not sure if that is meant to be complimentary. Playing superwoman would have left my son without his mom, and my husband without his wife.

But I don’t blame her presumption.

"Black people are supposedly not meant to feel pain*. It's made out to seem that our skin is so “thick” and impenetrable, that the messengers (nerve cells) are blocked when trying to tell our brain that we are experiencing an unpleasant sensation".

That’s the most amount of Science I can explain after getting a D for GCSE, but one thing I know is even Flo app pro can’t compete with how well I know my body, and at times, to my own detriment.

Infertility gave me an illusion of control, and that combined with a once but now reformed control freak doesn’t mix. My period tracker was more up to date than my outlook calendar. I monitored my temperature, analysed my HCG levels, scheduled sex, and postponed it to protect the baby once I finally got pregnant. (yes, I know).

But still, I lost my baby, and in the bereavement midwife’s words, “There is nothing you [I] could have done to stop it from happening”. Because according to her, pregnancy loss in the first 12 weeks is so common.

However, in this context I’m not sure how it’s commonality would have been my comfort. To be honest, this haphazard advice (although well intended) makes it more painful.

Let me break it down further to hopefully help anyone reading this understand or get another perspective of how those words might break someone else:

By definition (stay with me) common means, to be shared or done by two or more people, groups, or things - and anything in two or more breeds comparison.

“How far gone were you ?” people regularly asked this after I told them that I chose to bury the pregnancy remains. If you sadly faced a similar experience of losing a baby, I imagine you already know what came next, starting with the comment “At least …”.

Rather than finish the sentence, let me tell you that there was a cloud but definitely no silver lining. To me, there was nothing good to take from the fact that not only did I nearly lose my life, but I lost my baby and part of my fertility – my womanhood, my identity.

I grieve and share sadness to fellow parents who have a experienced a stillbirth, or later miscarriage however their further gestation shouldn't invariably minimise my pain if in someone's else's eyes, our baby "barely existed".

There mere existence left an unfathomable pain that only recently I can understand to be what Jamie Anderson explained, as “Grief is just love with no place to go”.

It’s a pertinent reflection that further resonated in one of my therapy sessions. I’ll come back to that, but on the subject of burying my pregnancy remains; I thought it would give me closure, but rather it opened up layers of wounds that I had to uncover.

Burying our baby helped me to realise that I had a complex relationship with the inevitability of death.I detested the fact that it’s an unavoidable part of life. I hated what it did to people, and how the event left people behind. How it changed their life, their heart and even their appearance.

I look at my Instagram posts between 2019 and 2020. It’s lockdown and in one post my eyes tell a story, there’s an emptiness and moroseness. I don’t know who this woman is. I try to engage with her distractions – the statement sweater, the cute rainbow baby adding colour to disguise the gloom, and avoid appearing ungrateful. Even still, I recognise pain more than this person.
I don’t recognise myself.

Weeks after posting that photo, I found out that I was showing signs of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you’re wondering, it’s an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events.

In my case I learnt in therapy that my complex and fear surrounding death, and my close encounter to it were linked to said personal events. Tragedies in my family that were hardly uttered or spoken about, which I presume can be credited to taboo, folklore that have never been challenged.

But I chose to go against the grain.

And as a result, I learnt that those experiences conditioned me to be disconnected to the reality of what death was. “Pain without a person”, My therapist said, as I explained to her how I’ve always known to process it.

“I love my grandfathers, but never met them as they died before I was born. How can I miss someone I never met ?”. I remarked. “pain without the person” she emphasised on the ‘P’, and I felt that.

Suddenly it made sense why I was steadfast in choosing to bury my pregnancy remains when I could have settled for a communal cremation at the hospital. I didn’t want my baby’s mere existence to be erased.

I wanted to grieve on my own terms, and if that meant giving my grief a place to go, then that was my solution – We both needed a resting place, one where I could bury my baby, instead of my feelings.

If you stayed with me, I leave you with a quote:

“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.”

~C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

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