Grieving for the invisible

20 Jul 2023 | By Kerri

This is a difficult piece to write because I am not under any circumstances saying the loss of a baby in early pregnancy whether seen or unseen in terms of the baby is easy and I’m not saying one experience is harder than another. They are all deeply personal and hard. This is simply written from the struggles I had with having those quiet miscarriages and then an ectopic pregnancy. It focuses more on the latter. 


I struggled a lot at the time when losing my ectopic. Medically it was termed unviable and whether it is even labelled as a foetus, I don’t know. As soon as I was found to have an ectopic pregnancy, the word foetus disappeared from the nurse and the word “mass” was adopted. Scientifically I understand why. But to me it was a baby, it started off the same way as any other, but it just grew in the wrong place. With every fibre of my being, before the scans, I willed it to be alive. I prayed hard that all would be ok. The phrase “it just wasn’t meant to be” is true but cutting. The mass was my baby, it was my hopes and dreams after a difficult journey to become pregnant again. In total, I have been pregnant six times; I have two children here with me on Earth.  


I felt like my experience was a shadow though of those who had lost or have had to make the decision to terminate a pregnancy later in the pregnancy or around the 12-week mark. That’s why in the poem I wrote the baby was called Echo. The hardest part for me was having nothing to bury. There was no closure. No keepsakes. Somehow, the reactions of others were different too. There was no burial, no anything to mark what had occurred. That was the hardest bit for me, and it tore me apart mentally, spiralling into depression. I would exist on two crumpets a day and a hot chocolate. It took me a while to come out of that. For a little while, it was our secret pain, between me and my husband. 

We were looking to the future after I had gone through a difficult period of severe post-natal depression. The day the symptoms started, we had gone to look at a house and I knew I was pregnant. For a short while, there was the lovely dream that this house could have both my son’s room and a nursery. Although I felt the kitchen was far too big for my worthiness!  


It was that afternoon that uncharacteristically my son headbutted me in the stomach. He hadn’t ever done it before or after. I think actually it was a blessing in disguise. It meant the ectopic for me was discovered early, before it could cause extensive damage and loss of a Fallopian tube. I noticed the pain never left but persisted on the left-hand side. I had a feeling this wasn’t good and as the week drew on the pain worsened and that was the beginning of the ectopic pregnancy journey with the medics, going back and forth between doctors calls in increasing physical and yes mental pain as I realised what this could mean. I began bleeding too. It was different to the early miscarriages I had had, and my world was crumbling around me. My hopes and dreams seemed to be once again dissolving into the ether, right in front my eyes.  


When we lost a rabbit not long after the ectopic pregnancy, I realised the importance and difficulty around not having anything to say goodbye to. Our little rabbit (Babbit) was cremated at the cost of £100 because the thought of not being able to bury something was beyond me. Alongside the Babbit ashes, I purchased a forest scene animal cremation ash holder. Inside that I buried a copy of my poem. That took a long time to do though.  


I only laid to rest the ectopic pregnancy when I realised I was pregnant later that year. For seven days after I missed my period, I told no one about what my body was telling me. I even put off buying a pregnancy test because I didn’t know if I could face the pain of loss once again. The ectopic experience after the other miscarriages had affected me so deeply leading to severe suicidal depression. It’s now around seven years after and I remember standing in Waitrose, trying to summon up the courage to pick up a pregnancy test off the shelf. I think I stood there for a couple of minutes before I managed to put one in the basket and hurry off to purchase it. I took the test alone then put it out in the bin. A couple of days later, I decided to bury the ectopic. We’d moved house and the ectopic and Babbit ashes were just placed inside my bedside table. I suppose keeping them close to me as I slept, in a way I felt both Echo (the ectopic) and the Babbit were now peacefully sleeping. We’d moved to a house with a beautiful cherry tree, deep pink autumn blossoms and actual cherries in the autumn (although we’ve never tried to eat them!). I slipped outside whilst my husband was putting our son to bed. I buried both containers under the cherry tree side by side. As the last bit of earth was put into place, my husband came outside, wondering what I was doing. I’m not sure I said much beyond ‘burying the Babbitt’. Then I just said quietly “I’m pregnant”. 

We’ve just celebrated six years of our daughter who was that pregnancy. Thankfully an in-utero pregnancy. But the impact of the loss had an extreme effect on the pregnancy. I had support but anxiety is a tricky customer. The womb this time around didn’t feel like a safe environment; it was just an uncontrollable environment based on my ectopic experience. We waited for the six-week scan to know if the pregnancy was viable. Thankfully Matthew, the radiologist, confirmed it was! At 10 weeks, we had a bleeding scare. It was a Friday, and I rang the hospital as instructed. They rang back and offered a scan, but it would be the Sunday. The nurse (the same nurse who had termed Echo a mass) just kept saying the stupid line of “is that ok?” It was meant as a rhetorical question clearly. For once in my life, I spoke the truth and replied, “no, it is not ok. You want me to sit around and wait to lose my baby for 48 hours.” I couldn’t do that. We went for a private scan the same day and got to see my baby was safe and very wiggly.  


A family member later sadly lost a baby around the 17-week mark. I can empathise with the pain, and imagine it escalated, as once you reach the 12 weeks mark you are in the “safe” zone. We were pregnant at the same time. But my baby was wiggling like crazy from 14 weeks and hers never did. I am not underestimating the pain and loss. I did find it hard though. Facebook photos of a tiny coffin and flower arrangements and the outpouring of love. In comparison to my ectopic experience, well that was a shadow, a small shadow of this. I found that incredibly hard. I wondered how much of a difference having a “real burial” would have made to me mentally. The loss of a baby and tiny coffin was somehow more understood than the quiet disappearance of my ectopic. The family member was able to move on, it seemed, much better and they were pregnant again and gave birth later that year. None of that felt possible for me after my ectopic experience, I just felt broken by it for months. Our littlest was conceived when I was drawing the line on trying again. It was the last month I would try as I couldn’t cope with the emotional toll of trying and waiting.  


It was a long and bumpy pregnancy as anxiety found a way of coming out unexpectedly. The relief at finally holding my baby was immense. Thankfully I had a brilliant hospital team, my consultant being the one I had had for my ectopic. They ensured that the birth of my second child was very different to the traumatic birth of my first child, where I lost half my blood volume upon other things. I helped birth my baby girl and despite it being the longest day (Summer solstice) and possibly the longest birth as I went into labour on the two days prior, it remains one of the best days of my life.  


The other family member who had lost and buried her third child, had a baby girl the same year I did. They decided to celebrate a half birthday around the same time of my daughter’s actual birthday. I find it hard. So much of how bright and amazing she is, is shared. My daughter has challenges due to neurodiversity; life is not a picnic. I do know that she shares a view of the world with me that others often miss, and it is a privilege to be her mother. I love my crazy little bean immensely. Just as she is. But at the same time there is a nagging feeling about whether my anxiety changed who she was? I didn’t mean to, if that is the case. I’ve always done the absolute best for my children, even in deep depression, the question of my capabilities of me as a mother was never an issue. My children have always come first. Now I am learning that a little more “me first” is also a very good thing! 


Of course, every journey is personal and lots of factors likely attributed to the depth of loss and pain I felt with my ectopic pregnancy. I still wish that the world would be kinder and more understanding of ectopic pregnancy. Personally, I felt it was harder because I didn’t have a coffin, no keepsake footprints, and a strange goodbye. It was only when the Babbit died that I realised how much I had needed that. I question whether I am jealous? I don’t think I am of the other family member. I just wish that perhaps there was a better way to find closure after an ectopic pregnancy experience.  


Grief is a strange and personal journey. I am visual thinking and tangible objects can help. People who have ectopic pregnancies don’t get the keepsakes, the mementoes. We get blood tests for hormone levels, bleeding in a toilet, or operations. I wish there was a more standard way to mark the emotional and physical aspect of what we go through. So that people could understand that grieving for the invisible is incredibly hard.

Thank you to Lexi for bravely sharing her story. If you would like to share your experience of ectopic pregnancy, please visit our guide for more information. Please remember oursupport services are available at any time. 

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