October is a great month. While everybody is encouraged to ‘Think Pink’ for Breast Cancer Awareness, I like to take that one step further and ‘Drink Pink’, and feel a little bit blue, for two causes very close to my heart.
October is also Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and Monday October 14 is International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, and I for one, will be finding a very nice bottle of pink champagne to pop on the occasion.
The double whammy of health setbacks hit me at the same time, 10 years ago, so it is somewhat cathartic that they are both raised to public awareness in the same month.
While I was living in Tokyo in 2003, I woke up one morning with a large red swelling on the side of my breast. I was terrified. My training as a Radiation Therapist made me overly cautious about any unusual lumps and bumps. But I didn’t know who to see. I was in a foreign country and had no connections. I rang the local ex-pat medical centre, and as luck would have it, their visiting ob/gyn was due that day and could see me later on in the evening. He was a kind faced Japanese man, with very good American accented English. The first thing he asked me when I described my symptoms was ‘Are you pregnant’? I replied I was not, that we had been trying for quite some time to have a 3rd child, but I didn’t seem to be able to conceive. He decided to perform an ultrasound, just to rule pregnancy out, since I really couldn’t be 100% sure. As fate would have it, the ultrasound revealed that I was in fact about 4- 5 weeks pregnant. This would put the due date at around Christmas time – our 10th wedding anniversary – what a wonderful surprise gift!
Then I remembered that I had really come to see him about the swelling on my breast, which he set about examining closely. ‘This is very bad’ he said, grim faced. ‘We will have to get you seen by a breast surgeon. It is possible we will have to abort the foetus before we can continue with any treatment’.
Tears were escaping the corners of my eyes as I lay there, not really listening to what he was saying, because I really couldn’t do that to my baby – the one I only knew I had about 2 minutes before. But then, should I really risk leaving the 2 children that I already had without a mother by refusing treatment?
The next month was a bit of a blur. I was booked in very quickly to see some top specialists, had an array of tests, and was finally told that the condition was benign and that I could continue with the pregnancy. I was booked in for some more scans at 14 weeks, and I allowed myself to dream a little of my family being complete.
The day of the long awaited scans came. My husband couldn’t come with me due to work commitments, but since it was the third time we’d gone down this track, I wasn’t phased. It was just a routine scan, and I would hear the baby’s heartbeat and have the dates confirmed, etc, etc. Only, there was no heart beat.
The doctor checked again and made an appointment for me to come back the following week, just to make sure. What? He prepared me that I might miscarry in the interim and told me what to do if I started experiencing ‘symptoms’. I left the office in another daze, and can’t really remember how I got through that week. I went back and was the next scan told the inevitable, and the doctor confirmed what he had suspected – that the ‘foetus’ had died. He sent me home to wait to miscarry. The whole situation was crazy. I was still getting horrible morning sickness, by belly was starting to swell, and for all intents and purposes, I was not ‘having a baby’.
I didn’t miscarry naturally, and ended up having to have a D & C procedure. I had been ‘pregnant’ for 16 weeks. I asked afterwards if it was a boy or a girl, and was told it was too soon to know. I wish I had insisted.
About 6 months later, I went back to the ob/gyn and asked when it would be safe to start trying for another baby. He said ‘Why do you want another? You already have 2 healthy children.’ Needless to say, I never went back to that doctor again, and decided to wait until we moved back to France to see if I could get some answers.
It took a long time, but we were eventually blessed with a lovely baby boy, who enriches our lives and completes our family.
I found, though, that I was never really given the chance to grieve my little Tokyo angel. Possibly because I was far away from my family and friends, and not wishing to burden my ‘new’ friends with such an emotional subject, I did what I have done for most of my life – sucked it up and got on with it.
Now, though, thanks to the work done with raising awareness on infant loss, I know it OK to let myself feel a little bit sad for the baby that I never had. It was still a dream lost.
And it’s OK to talk about it. And your breasts. So get your boobs checked this month, ladies. Wear some pink, colour your hair.
And drink some pink bubbles for all the little angels who are always amongst us.
If you need help dealing with pregnancy loss, stillbirth, or newborn death, visit SANDS
If you need help with Breast Cancer Support, visit The National Breast Cancer Foundation