This isn’t my first marriage. My first was to an awful man. A nasty, violent, narcissist who brought me to my knees. I fell pregnant three times to that man, and miscarried each of them. Some god-faring folk might call that divine intervention, it helps me feel better about it to call it ‘character building’.
I still feel some guilt for losing those pregnancies. The last miscarriage was after I discovered his umpteenth infidelity and he – drunk – violently hit me, without me knowing I was growing a human. That man used my inability to carry children as yet another failing as a woman, and as a wife. I believed him and came to accept I was never going to be worthy of carrying a child. I really did want to be a mother. In some bizarre way I figured that having children was how to save that marriage (now that I have children, this actually makes me laugh out loud). Maybe if he saw me as a mother he would stop beating me like a dog?
I escaped a horrendous, domestically violent situation and after rising up solo, so much stronger than I’d ever been, I met my now-husband. I married my best friend, and despite him being a whinging pom, we go alright. We married a year to the day we met, and I was pregnant within a couple of months. But I was petrified. How was I going to be able to keep this wonderful man when he realised that I couldn’t keep a pregnancy? Eight weeks came and went. Twelve weeks, then sixteen. I started to rid myself of the guilt and actually start to believe I could do this! At nineteen weeks I started to bleed and found myself in hospital with my husband, petrified and fearing the worst. The obstetrician sat on the edge of the bed while I was in pain, and explained I was having contractions. She told me she’d do everything to keep my baby in there, safe. I didn’t find out until much later that the obstetrician had asked midwives to notify psych staff I’d require counselling – there was no way they were going to be able to stop our son from arriving that night.
I was pumped with steroids, loaded on drugs to stop contractions and put on bed-rest in hospital for the foreseeable future. Twenty two weeks – just two weeks after I discovered that this little trouble maker was a boy – the doctors came into my room armed with Social Workers and told me for the sake of maternal health, they needed to provide me with the option to terminate my pregnancy. What, the f**k? Were they serious? I’d seen my tiny human, my boy. My husband didn’t leave my side for the remainder of my pregnancy and hospital stays. I contracted so regularly, so intensely sometimes that I couldn’t talk, but I kept that baby in there until 37 weeks. Despite all the guilt I had about the number of drugs I’d been pumped with, he was perfect! He slept 12 hours each night from seven weeks old, he did everything he was supposed to – I’d done it!
I fell pregnant again when my son was seven months old. Sixteen months wasn’t my ideal age gap, but what is an ideal age gap anyway? I was mentally prepared for the tough years of two toddlers, and they were short years, so how bad could it be? Fourteen weeks into that pregnancy, I had a migraine. I’d only ever had three migraines in my life, so I went to my GP and she asked me to get a scan to check the pregnancy, and prescribed some medication that was safe for bub. I will never forget that scan – I told my husband that he didn’t need to come with me, it was just a check-up. We’d been to the twelve week scan just two weeks earlier, so there wouldn’t be much for him to see. The sonographer became noticeably uncomfortable while we were chatting. I looked up at the screen and she turned it off. She told me to get dressed and that she’d be back in shortly. I heard her words, but I didn’t believe them. ‘There is no heartbeat and no movement. Your fetus has died, Kayte.” I collapsed while she asked if she could call my husband. I frantically said it couldn’t be right, I have a son now, this can’t be happening. There is old hindsight again, combined with logic and perspective, of course it could happen. It did happen. I delivered that ‘fetus’. I cried hysterically, and rather angrily as the hospital staff the next day were referring to my baby as ‘the fetus’. Our fetus wasn’t just a fetus, it was our boy, why weren’t they calling him, him?
My son was eleven months old when I accepted I was postnatally depressed. A bucket-load of work, the right psychologist and a magnificent GP helped me work through my guilt, confusion, and the other 700 emotions that came with that shit-fight. I was strong again, and I no longer felt guilty when I laughed with my son, or enjoyed him even.
I’d almost given up on having another child. We’d been told just a few months earlier my husband had some issues with sperm motility. (The specialist took the time to explain that this meant that he had plenty of sperm, they just had no idea where they were going. We affectionately referred to them as ‘Homer Simpson sperm’.) I’d genuinely made peace with my one tiny human being my universe, when I walked out to my husband one Sunday afternoon with a pregnancy test in hand and said “You knocked me up!”
Because of the shit-fight that was my pregnancy with my son, and this pregnancy being my sixth – with only one other live child – I was classified as high risk. I was scheduled more frequent visits and scans, and courtesy of my anxiety being through the roof about the ‘fetus’ living, was referred promptly to one of the lead antenatal psychiatrists in the country. I had genetic testing done as I had with my last (miscarried) pregnancy but I told the doctors I didn’t want to know the gender at that stage – I needed to keep some distance between me and ‘the fetus’. My survival depended on it. Fourteen weeks came and went, and I went to our doctor and asked for the gender. We were having a baby girl! My anxiety peaked. I listened to the doctors tell me about how my pregnancy with my first born was probably a one off, so I could probably relax. Nineteen weeks came and went; hell yeah, I got this! Twenty week scan, perfect. Twenty weeks and four days – out for dinner for my birthday no less – and my waters leaked. So began the contractions. In I went to hospital and for three and a half months I contracted roughly every five minutes (a CTG registered them through the roof as the pregnancy wore on). I was plied with drugs to halt contractions, pain medication when I couldn’t bare it, and grit. Little lady arrived at 37 weeks and I couldn’t have been more exhausted.
Fast forward eight months, and that little lady is divine. Don’t get me wrong, if she so much as twitches I get mummy-guilt about the drugs they gave me to keep her in and what effect they might have had – that guilt never leaves. She doesn’t sleep well, and that makes my anxiety triple on a daily basis. I have the most amazing psychologist, and see a psychiatrist for medication reviews every so often, but I am getting by with knowing the postnatal black dog is sitting on my shoulder. She bites me more often than some days I think I can bear but overall I have her on a leash that keeps me comfortable and her frustrated.
What meaning have I found in my story? Perhaps it’s what we can do when we are focused, despite what our guilt tells us. Perhaps it’s about divine intervention and not being able to have babies with douche-bags, or that there’s no safety in the mind of a mother… even after she’s had one baby she does not think she will automatically carry perfectly again.
I set the kids up with email addresses when they were born. Partly because I didn’t want them to be applying for jobs with email addresses like ‘firstname.lastname@example.org‘ when they get older, but because I wanted to be able to email them while they’re growing up. Each week, or sometimes if I’m slack, each month, I email them stories about their journeys. I include pictures of them and us along the way. I’ve told my children about my struggles with PND, and how they save me every single day with their laughs, smiles, cheekiness, even naughtiness (threenager, anyone?). I’m honest about the journey for me. Because even the naughty days remind me how blessed I am to have these tiny humans in my life
Kayte, 37. Mum to two beautiful kidlets aged 3 1/2 years and 8 months
They live in Melbourne, Victoria.