March was Pregnancy after Loss Awareness Month. It took me awhile to write this, so many emotions and so many feelings. I haven’t written much lately, let alone about Kiek’s pregnancy. I guess we have been trying to survive Kiek’s first year and although many of you may think that this has to do with the newborn fog, sleepless nights etc that is the very least of it.
Pregnancy after loss is really really hard. Not to start about parenting after Boet’s passing and all the miscarriages. So here is a bit of our story, hoping it might help someone. This is about Kiek’s pregnancy, I will do a post later about parenting a rainbow baby.
So Kiek’s pregnancy… here we go. After 5 miscarriages and our amazing and strong Boet, I saw both our Maternal-fetal medicine (MFM) specialist and a reproductive immunologist (RI). We connected with our RI through recommendations of an incredible Facebook support group that has helped me so much. We initially only saw him to get more answers about what was happening. He did extra tests (all non-invasive quite standard blood tests) and connected the dots. He finally had some answers for us. Apart from elevated Natural Killer cells, I also have a T- and B cell imbalance. In simple terms: my body is allergic for placentas, so when I am pregnant, it starts to fight the pregnancy till the threat is gone. And, due to the number of pregnancies and my age my body over time has gotten very good in getting rid of the threat. The RI said to us, I know you are just here for answers but just in case you want to try again, this would by your recommended protocol. He mentioned a whole lot of meds which I recognised and were doable. I asked him if he could give me an indication of the chance for a successful pregnancy. He said 75%.
By that time, Eef had started telling us that she never wanted to have any kids as they would all die anyway. Caat was telling us: I would like to try and have kids at some point, but I am so scared to lose them. They were 5 and 8 at that time and this was their view of the world, their reality. So, the decision to try again was not just Joris and me desperately wanting to grow our family, it was also to show Caat and Eef that pregnancies can also produce a healthy, living and thriving baby, hopefully. We decided to try again, and I was pregnant within weeks (thank you universe!). The medical circus was kicked off straightaway with fortnightly scans and check-ups with our MFM and every 3 weeks with our RI. Our RI would do blood tests every time and based on the results he would adjust my medication. As this was the first pregnancy under his care, I was managed this way, so that we could finally clearly see how my body responds to a pregnancy. Most tests doctors do when you are not pregnant and therefore, there is no real way of knowing how a body responds to a pregnancy.
We didn’t tell anyone about the pregnancy apart from a few very good friends who lived in Melbourne. See, it was also Covid with a million and then some lockdowns in Melbourne with home-schooling and we had to drive into the city at least every fortnight for appointments. They were amazing in supporting us and look after the girls without telling them.
When I was 28 weeks gestation, we finally told Caat and Eef. By this time the baby had grown bigger and stronger than Boet. Caat and Eef were very happy, but also very worried, and they threw about a million questions at us. We had also not told our families until this point. Not because we did not want to involve them, but to protect them from more heart break. To add to that, we couldn’t fly due to Covid and by that time we already hadn’t seen each other for 2 years.
The days were long, and the weeks felt like months but we made our way forward. Joris and I both took it day by day and we did everything together, all the appointments Joris was there. The impact the miscarriages and Boet have had are immeasurable. The only one who gets me is Joris, a true partner in crime. My RI and MFM were both very positive from the start which helped so much. They were calm when I was a mess, they talked me through scans and check-ups and they remained positive, always. The baby grew well and as we did not know the gender, we had a working title and name: Kikker (which means frog) just because the baby was very active and kicking lots.
Since Boet was an emergency classical c-section and Kikker’s placenta was on top of that scar, I had to have another c-section plus an MRI to make sure that I didn’t develop placenta accreta. This is a condition where the placenta grows to far into the uterine wall. We started planning for the delivery and the checks leading up to it, extra CTG’s, steroid shots (just to be sure), scans and blood tests. Obviously, nothing ever goes to plan, so 10 days before the planned c-section Caat and Eef tested positive for Covid and 5 days later Joris did too. I was in isolation in our house from the first positive test. Not being able to see anyone, just on my own with my nerve-racking pregnancy and too much time to think. The planned c-section had to be moved as we were still in full Covid mode; otherwise Joris would not have been able to be in theatre. I didn’t want to deliver this baby without him, we had to do this together. In the meantime, I was being treated as some sort of criminal, getting steroid shots in the parking lot as I wasn’t allowed inside, being guided through the service elevator by nurses in full PPE to the room for my regular CTG. It was weird, awful, and just all around bizarre.
After careful consideration we moved the planned c-section by 3 days so Joris could be there. I can tell you; I didn’t sleep, I barely ate and hated those 3 days. I was tracking all the movements and anything funny that was happening.
But there was D-Day, I had thought about this but not as much as some other loss mums, I just wanted to get it over and done with. No birthing plan, music, smells whatever others do, just a whole heap of doctors, Joris and me. However, I did bring a few pictures from Boet and the girls. I put 2 of their pictures in the cot that was meant to be for the baby who was about to be born. They had to be there as well. The girls were not allowed in hospital at all, and I just needed to feel Boet close. That morning I had a slight panic attack convinced that the baby wouldn’t have a heartbeat anymore and I probably wasn’t the nicest person when I was being prepared for the c-section. I think Kiek knew that she had to make a sound as soon as she could. My MFM told me I would feel some pushing and pulling and that the baby would be there in a few mins. The next thing I heard was Kiek screaming her lungs out. This was what I needed. She kept screaming and screaming until I could hold her. She never stopped making noise since the minute she was born. She is always chatting, smiling, screaming, or crying! Boet was there all along in our heads and hearts. We found out that Kiek had a true knot in her cord, a miracle she made it, but there she was in our arms, happy and healthy. I still can’t quite believe it even after a year!
Pregnancy after loss is so very hard, it’s facing your fears each second on every day. It’s always trying to protect your heart and at the same time somehow trying to connect with the baby growing inside you; knowing that it is healthy and good for both the baby and you. It's lonely as most people around you will never fully get what you are going through. It's trying to be brave and vulnerable at the same time by taking your living children by the hand on this rollercoaster. It’s never living in the present, its either looking back to moments where it went wrong in other pregnancies or it’s looking ahead wishing this baby would make it earthside, happy, healthy, and big, ASAP. It’s not trusting your body or birthing process; it’s constantly counting movements and always doubting whether it is too much or not enough. It’s not trusting and hating scans with a vengeance. It is hating the hospital and the smell that comes with, in my case it is loving each blood test as I found those more reliable in Kiek’s pregnancy. It is not preparing anything at home until baby is there, it is not coming up with a name until the night before the planned c-section (which is uncommon in our culture).
But you can do this! I am lucky enough that I can now support and help other women in similar but different situations through their pregnancies and I always tell them: one minute at a time, one day at a time and all your feelings are valid. You will get there!