A few weekends ago, I attended the Pregnancy and Baby Loss Awareness Summit, organized by Tade Alalade‘s BeiBei Haven Foundation. I knew it was going to be a moving experience, but it completely blew my mind. Women shared their stories raw and unfiltered, and apart from being completely moved to tears, listening to them schooled me in ways I didn’t expect.
Even though I have never suffered a miscarriage before, I thought I perfectly understood the emotions women face when faced with such loss. With the experience from my failed IVF cycle, and first-hand stories I’d heard from my mother, close friends, and our community members, I thought I perfectly understood the pain and suffering that comes with this experience, and I even wrote an article about coping with the Aftermath of a Miscarriage. But earlier this year, all of that changed.
One of my closest friends, I’ll call her Amanda*, got married the year after my twins were born. She was diagnosed with fibroids shortly after her wedding, and eventually had surgery to remove them, sometime in 2014. After the surgery, when she didn’t get pregnant immediately after, as she’d anticipated, she and her husband proceeded to see a fertility specialist, where they were also diagnosed with male factor infertility. They were advised to move on to IVF, which they did in August 2015. Towards the end of September, Amanda sent me the image of the pregnancy test she’d taken, and for the life of me, I couldn’t see a second line…and neither could she. We thought it was a negative result, and I proceeded with all the pep talk that follows the disappointment of a failed cycle. But when she e-mailed the picture to another friend, who happened to open it on a desktop computer, she could make out the faintest of lines. We then proceeded to expand the picture on our own mobile devices, and there it was. A positive. My friend was pregnant!
The joy that followed was unimaginable. We were beside ourselves with joy! Finally, after years of medical issues, they were finally pregnant. Her due date was around my birthday, and we joked about how my Godchild and I would be birthday mates.
One day, while at work, at 17 weeks, her water broke. When she called me on her way to the hospital, my heart sank to my feet, but I kept a brave face for her, as we held on to hope that her baby would still be fine. But by the time she got to the hospital, a scan showed she had lost pretty much all of her amniotic fluid, and the baby, who was still very much alive at the time, would have to be evacuated. I immediately rushed to see her in the hospital, and I had to exercise all my self restraint to prevent from bawling like a baby. She had been administered meds to induce labour and was beginning to feel early contractions. This was on a Friday. By the time I left her that evening, she was in a lot of pain already, but nowhere close to birthing her baby. And she was in that pain until Saturday afternoon, when she gave birth to her son, who was already dead.
If I, an outsider, found it to be one of the most traumatic things I had ever experienced, I couldn’t imagine how it was for Amanda, who had to go through the throes of her miscarriage for over 24 hours. It was heart wrenching.
In the weeks and months that followed, there were questions. Was the miscarriage caused by a possibly infected cervical stitch? Should she even have gotten the stitch in the first place? Had she been working too hard? Could they have avoided this? Would she ever be able to get pregnant again?
We tried to console her with the usual platitudes, but she retreated into her shell and completely shut everyone out. Before the miscarriage, we used to chat on BBM daily and talk on the phone at least three times a week. Afterwards, messages and calls would go unanswered…for weeks. Understanding this natural reaction, I remember even explaining to a few mutual friends that she needed time. But by the fifth and sixth month, even I started wondering when this dark cloud would shift.
Eventually, it did shift. We finally were able to talk, and I understood when she told me that all she wanted to do during the weekends, when she didn’t have to put up a brave face at work, was to stay under her sheets, cry, and then watch the ID channel on TV, as solving crime puzzles helped keep her mind off her miscarriage. Her experience made me understand that not only do people cope in different ways, there are no timelines to grief. It could last a week…a year…a lifetime.
The summit on Friday opened my eyes to the fact that women heal in very different ways. One of the speakers said she hated hearing the platitudes. She hated hearing the “It is well!”, “God is in control”. She preferred people keeping silent than saying the wrong thing. Another of the speakers said she hated the silence, and worried people were thinking all sorts of things if they didn’t voice them out. What I took away from this was there is no cookie cutter way to help people through this. You just need to show the grieving woman love, support and solidarity…even if it is simply by holding her hand.
In one of the heart breaking stories, one of speakers talked about watching life ebb out of her twins, as they waited in vain for the main doctor to arrive, while they were being attended to by someone who appeared to be a trainee. By the time the doctor arrived at 5am, the twins were already gone. In a counter, Dr. Juwon Alabi of South Shore Women’s Clinic talked about the numerous risks doctors face, commuting in the early hours of the morning, and how he himself has encountered a few security threats in the course of doing just that. In the end, it was agreed that our hospitals should have enough doctors to keep on rotation, so that at any point in time, there is always an experienced physician available.
I learnt about the futility of self blame. Someone in the audience tearfully talked about losing her child at 40 weeks, and wishing she had read enough so she could have prevented it. Oh my goodness, my heart broke for this woman. I was happy when the wonderful Yewande Zaccheaus assured her there was nothing she could have done to prevent what happened, and that it was absolutely not her fault.
Another lesson I took away from the summit was that of compassion. I’m sorry to say, but some of us don’t know the meaning of the word. When my friend Amanda* had her miscarriage, I was sickened by the things that filtered to her ears. She heard office whispers about how she caused her miscarriage by working too hard. How she thought it was her father that owned the company, considering the number of hours she typically commits. How she had been foolish to fly to Abuja several times for meetings. How, how, how!!! How on earth can all these ‘hows’ change what has happened or offer compassion to someone already heartbroken? One of the speakers talked about how she was blamed for her miscarriages, and even her still-born, because of her active social media life. “Why won’t she lose her baby when she is always posting pictures on Instagram?!”.Really? These kind of comments are borne solely from spite, malice, and maybe even envy. Please, if you have nothing positive to say, it is much better to say nothing at all.
But what gladdened my heart was the message that there is always light at the end of tunnel. All the speakers there are now mothers to gorgeous kids today, and the one that got me the most misty eyed was the testimony of Reverend Laurie Idahosa. After suffering years of infertility and finally conceiving a son through IVF, he had died hours after his birth. I cried as she talked about asking to be able to take her dead son home. She said they’d had a 200-person baby shower, and had a nursery full of wonderful things for their baby…a baby who unfortunately would never be able to enjoy any of these nice things. At the very least, she wanted to be able to bring him home. She talked about cradling him in his nursery, and as she cried, she was able to release herself to the will of God. A year to the day her son was buried, she gave birth to another son. Three years later, another son followed, and two years after, yet another. All of them conceived naturally. Isn’t God just wonderful?
To all the women who have walked, or are still walking this road, my heart goes out to you. It is impossible for anyone to be able to fully understand how you are feeling. Even women who have also suffered loss will not understand the peculiar pains and turmoil of the next woman. Grieve however you feel you need to. There is no textbook method to this. Find what works for you, and do it. If the people around you are struggling with what to say to you, or don’t know how to relate with you in your pain, please understand that, most times, they mean no harm and even though they might not be saying the ‘right’ things, they love you very much and want to be there for you. And please don’t blame yourself, your husband, your doctor, your hospital, etc. Dwelling on what coulda, shoulda, woulda been won’t heal your loss. What’s important is for you not to miss the learning points, and if it means changing a few things next time, at least you know now. And remember that though it might seem darkest now, there is always…always…light at the end of the tunnel.
Baby dust to all!