I have a daughter called Elizabeth. She’s dark-haired and green-eyed like me. She rarely gets called Elizabeth, as I nicknamed her Bess from the scan I had at five weeks pregnant. The scan that I was having as a follow-up after my third miscarriage that had happened just under two months beforehand. As I’d never been able to see my previous losses on a screen, the lovely sonographer gave me a photo in one of those cute duck cards that hold scan photos. There was a real feeling that I would get to take this baby home. She felt more like a baby than I’d ever felt before with the previous losses.
Bess was placed on my chest at 06:52 on the nineteenth of January 2015, after a Ventouse delivery. She was a squalling, slippery baby weighing in at 7lbs 2oz, who struggled to latch and became jaundiced as a result of dehydration. She was allowed to go home five days after her birth with her granny—who took the longest route ever to go home as she was so aware of the precious cargo on board—her daddy, her Auntie Kit, and me. The next day, a male midwife—not my usual midwife—came to check up on us and to weigh Bess, who had only lost 40g due to her force-feeding schedule to ensure that she didn’t need phototherapy. Bess is an alert baby and always has been. Right from her birth, her blue eyes were open wide and drinking in the world around her.
She’s had no issue with weight, following the 25th percentile perfectly for development, as she was grinning and chattering earlier than most babies. Bess has always had a way of looking at you like she’s about to tell you a truly interesting story and I’m sure that as soon as she is speaking sentences, she will never stop. I think food will always play a big part in her life as she gobbles down all sorts of food sitting at the table, although she has just realised that dropping bits from her Tripp Trapp on high feeds a delighted dog waiting below!
The thing is, Bess died. Bess died back in March 2013. She was my fourth miscarriage. I would go on to miscarry again in September, bringing the total of failed pregnancies to five. I named Bess because there was a true hope that we might get a baby that time. The others weren’t named out of a fear of jinxes, but they are with me. When I gave birth to Beans on the date above, I held each of my babies whom I never got to cuddle. Each development check and weigh-in, I took all six of my babies. I’d like to tell you about what hard work it is to look after all my babies but, realistically, I have one little girl currently sitting next to me on the sofa.
Whether you have suffered losses or failed rounds of IVF, there are ghosts. The ghosts of what babies could have been. Perhaps Bess was in fact a boy. I could have found out at the follow-up to the ERPC when they gave me the reason for the miscarriage (my usual wonky chromosomes caused no chromosomes on number 9 and three chromosome 18s) but I didn’t, as it would end what few memories I shared with my baby. Those ghosts make themselves apparent at rises and falls of hormones and when Beans has reached milestones such as sitting and backwards crawling. They lift their heads and hold my hand when someone asks when I’m thinking about having a second baby—after all, I’m not becoming any younger and wouldn’t Beans love a brother or sister?
Those ghosts made my heart ache so much in the newborn phase. Why didn’t I get to cuddle and hold my babies the same way that I could with Beans? Why couldn’t I feed them their middle of the night bottles? Those bottles where you feel like you’re the only person awake and watching the first bus of the day start its journey. I do know why. I know my babies were not compatible with life. I know they never had a beating heart. Those ghosts represent a possible life I never got to know. They are the leftovers of a life I have never been able to lead.
Candles not blown out. Presents never bought, let alone unwrapped. First Christmas stockings never filled. I suppose life is full of these ghosts. As soon as you have a choice in something, there are untravelled paths. Some of my university friends never returned from our year abroad in France. I always wondered what would have happened if I hadn’t. I’m not a strong believer in anything, fate included, so the whole, you end up where you should never really felt like it applied. Unlike the choice in returning home, I had no choice in my miscarriages. Each of those babies would have been loved and spoilt by the whole family.
There is a whole heap of memories from the life I chose to live. Becoming a teacher, meeting the boy who became my husband and, now, we can start to build memories with Beans and allow the ghost of Bess and the ghosts of her siblings some rest.