By Bevan Morgan
When I sat down to write this at the start of the week, I had already decided that I wanted to talk about miscarriages. Gemma (my wife) and I are only at seven weeks, so it is a topic right at the front of our mind. What I didn’t anticipate, however, was that two days after I started typing, we would have our first big miscarriage scare of the pregnancy. Some of the profound observations I had poured out on Monday evening were made redundant by the 48-hour emotional rollercoaster we rode over Wednesday and Thursday night. It’s been a surreal experience I wasn’t prepared for, and one I’m only just making sense of now.
To give some context, right on the six-week mark, Gemma went from unbridled, abundant joy to some of the most violent ‘morning sickness’ you will ever see. I put the sarcastic quote marks around this term because she was sick 24 hours a day (it’s kind of like a bloke came up with the name or something).
After a week of this unceasing illness, Gems started getting more abnormal symptoms. Specifically, sharp pain in her abdomen that wasn’t regular cramping was overwhelming her.
Nervously, she contacted our midwives who instructed her to immediately get to E.D. as they were worried that these were signs of ectopic pregnancy.
Ectopic pregnancy, for anyone unfamiliar, is when the foetus is actually formed outside the uterus. Obviously, this is not a viable pregnancy.
An hour later, Gemma was lying on a hospital bed getting the first of three ultrasounds for the night from the brilliant staff at Waikato Hospital. The first two doctors couldn’t actually locate the foetus as it wasn’t their speciality. Worryingly, though, there appeared to be fluid in the general region, which usually indicates blood. We stared at the impossibly vague ultrasound screen with no idea what we were looking at. We also both anxiously tried to read the stone-faced doctors, as they puzzlingly moved the wand. Every repeated circuit felt like it must have been the worst possible news. Every hesitation or slight eyebrow raise implied that we were about to get a grim conclusion. The doctors both told us that they couldn’t really conclude anything and that we would need an ultrasound specialist to investigate.
After another couple of hours and more rounds of questioning, Gems was put on the move to get a transvaginal scan. I waited nervously in the short stay room, reading my phone and mentally diagnosing the other people in the room.
This more comprehensive scan found that there was a foetus in utero, and everything was okay. They told us that the bleed was actually something that 30% of women experienced and it shouldn’t be a problem.
It was a false alarm for the ectopic pregnancy.
The pain wasn’t subsiding, however, so a surgeon popped in to see us. He brought with him a diagnosis of appendicitis – which is not exactly what you want to hear at 1.00am.
After lots more testing and going back and forth over the next day, the doctors cancelled the surgery they had booked in the night before. The tests were starting to normalise, and the pain was going away, so they decided it wasn’t worth the risk to the foetus. She was discharged after 36 hours, and we left with a combination of both confusion and relief.
(Extra Note: What our G.P. would later tell us is that there were notes on the last ultrasound we didn’t know about. These notes indicated that the bleed might actually have been a miscarriage of a twin to the viable pregnancy. Nobody has any way of actually knowing if that was the case, but if it was, it answers a whole lot of questions. Either way, it was a scary and mentally draining 36 hours.)
Sitting here a couple of days later, I am still riddled with the same dread I have always had about becoming a dad. I have no idea how on earth I can possibly cope with parenthood, and I continually visualise resentment-laced failure. I don’t know what it takes to be a father, and I am almost sure that whatever it does take, I don’t have.
What’s surprising about this week, though, is how much nausea and emotional fatigue have challenged me. For the first time, the idea of this baby not making it is something I genuinely fear and has become something I can’t stop thinking about. I already felt that I was feeling this way before our drama this week, but I really had no idea how intense that feeling could be. Whatever ‘chill’ that may have been still lingering at the back of my head a few days ago has been definitively vanquished.
The notion that someone with a pregnant wife would be scared of miscarriages hardly seems noteworthy. Embarrassingly, though, this newfound intense fear has come as a massive surprise to me. I don’t like to admit this, but miscarriages are something that I did not think would be a huge deal.
I honestly just felt they would be something we would have a high probability of encountering, and we would inevitably move on from relatively quickly.
If you think this is a monstrous opinion to hold, I can’t argue with you. Hindsight has made me ashamed of many things in my life. But I don’t think much has made me more embarrassed than having a cavalier attitude towards the possibility of miscarriage.
There are reasons I felt like this. Unsurprisingly, most are steeped in male privilege and ignorance. Predominantly, I viewed miscarriage through a very myopic lens because it felt like a sensible defence strategy. It’s easy to think of miscarriage as something purely mechanical when you are removed from its reality. The vast majority of miscarriages occur because something is wrong with DNA in the pregnancy. Subsequently, once it notices this aberration, the mother’s body rapidly rejects what it was just pumping endless energy into fostering. It’s entirely out of our hands, and it sounds so rational when you put it in those terms.
More pessimistically, I’ve also always held a perverse notion that a miscarriage would be inevitable. Unfortunately, numerous women in our orbit have gone through miscarriages. I have never spoken to them about their struggles, because even if I wanted to (which I didn’t), I would have no idea how to approach them. Because I tend to ‘prepare for the worst’, that small sample size has always been representative of imagined data with no basis in reality.