The black dog that keeps on biting me

Churchill called his bouts of depression, the black dog . I think of it like a heavy oppressive cloud which descends and blocks out all the light. Everything turns dark and meaningless. Whichever metaphor you use to describe it, depression seems to dog my footsteps each month that I try and fail to get pregnant.

This past month, the cloud that descended hasn’t lifted. It was the month that my baby boy was due and as the date came and went, the cloud seemed to settle itself more permanently around me. This was also the month that I made the decision not to continue with fertility treatment. After the last failed attempt, I found that I couldn’t face another month of injections, scans, procedures, waiting, hoping, and then, nothing.

I’ve had it said to me that you will know when you are ready to make the decision to stop treatment. I’ve had two years of TTC and three miscarriages in that time and I thought perhaps this decision might bring with it some acceptance, an end to the turmoil each month. Instead I am left with an aching emptiness and overwhelming grief and sadness. I don’t feel any certainty either that I have made the right decision. But I do know that I can’t keep riding this rollercoaster of emotions each month, so it is time to step off the ride.

My husband doesn’t agree with any of this. He thinks I am making a mistake and that I will regret my decision. We can’t seem to talk about it anymore without it ending in an argument and tears, so we’ve stopped talking about it.  

I feel like such a  failure – a failure for the months I haven’t been able to conceive, a failure for not being able to carry my babies full-term, and now a failure for giving up on my fertility treatment.

Miscarriage and Depression

A miscarriage can cause depression and anxiety that continues even after the birth of a healthy baby, research has shown.

Women who have lost a baby are significantly more at risk of mental distress during a subsequent pregnancy, a study found.

The symptoms carried on for nearly three years, on average, after they successfully gave birth.

Professor Jean Golding, from the University of Bristol, one of the researchers whose findings are reported in the British Journal of Psychiatry, said: “This study is important to the families of women who have lost a baby, since it is so often assumed that they get over the event quickly, yet as shown here, many do not. This has implications for the medical profession as well as the woman and her family.”

British and American scientists questioned more than 13,000 pregnant women enrolled into the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (Alspac).

They were asked about their previous experience of miscarriage and stillbirth, and assessed for symptoms of depression and anxiety. The assessments took place twice during pregnancy and four times after giving birth.

In total, 21pc of the women reported having had one or more previous miscarriages. Only 0.5pc had experienced a previous stillbirth and just three women had suffered two stillbirths.

Dr Emma Robertson Blackmore, from the University of Rochester Medical Centre in the US, said: “Our study clearly shows that the birth of a healthy baby does not resolve the mental health problems that many women experience after a miscarriage or stillbirth. This finding is important because, when assessing if a woman is at risk of antenatal or postnatal depression, previous pregnancy loss is usually not taken into account in the same way as other risk factors such as a family history of depression, stressful life events or a lack of social support.”

“We know that maternal depression can have adverse impacts on children and families. If we offer targeted support during pregnancy to women who have previously lost a baby, we may be able to improve health outcomes for both the women and their children.”

Louise Silverton, deputy general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “This is a welcome report that makes an important contribution to our knowledge in this area. It underlines the need for midwives to be able to spend time with women to discuss their pregnancy and their worries and fears. This is so that they can spot signs of depression when it is happening, offer timely advice and give these women the best possible care.

“I worry that the because of the significant time pressures on midwives and the fact that we do not have enough of them, this may mean that women suffering from perinatal depression will not get the help they need.

Press Association

Could endless IVF cycles be a thing of the past?

A pioneering new chromosome counting technique could put paid to endless IVF cycles.

Microarray CGH (comparative genomic hybridisation) is used to check for any significant abnormalities present in the chromosomes of the embryo before implantation in IVF treatment.

A small number of cells are removed from the growing embryo five days after fertilisation and the DNA in them is scanned for any clear problems.

The results are available within 24 hours, which allows the maximum information to be obtained from the embryo before it is used.

Armed with this knowledge, doctors can then ensure that only embryos with the correct number of chromosomes are transferred in IVF, thereby improving the chances of a successful pregnancy and reducing the likelihood of miscarriage or Down’s syndrome.

Read more on this story here

Meet Martine

Martine Brennan

Today I want to introduce you to a very special person.

Martine Brennan is a qualified Counsellor and Psychotherapist (Metanoia Psychotherapy Training Institute, Ealing, London, UK ’91 and ’93) She is a London born Irish woman with a background in Community work. Martine is the proud mother of three daughters. Hannah, her middle daughter, was born still, April 1st 2004. Martine now runs an online coaching programme for parents who are seeking to rebuild their lives following the death of a beloved baby through miscarriage or stillbirth.

Martine has been there for me over the past few months while trying to come to terms with losing my own baby boy last August. She is a truly compassionate, wise and warm woman, and I count myself very blessed to have met her. Martine has recently written an e-book, After Your Baby Dies.

Today I interview Martine about her work and why she wrote her book.

Martine, tell us a little about the work that you do

“Though my life, as I knew it, ended when Hannah died, I have found a way to live with her absence and experience joy again. I have rebuilt my life. I want to share this knowledge with other parents. There are so many of us..too many who struggle alone. I believe the first step for most of us is to come out of the isolation we all experienced, especially in the beginning. Then we need to be met with compassion and understanding. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. So the focus of my work is to meet bereaved parents with sincere compassion and a real understanding of the pain, the anger, the despair and the loneliness, the profound not knowing how to live anymore. I help people to rebuild their lives. No-one can bring our babies back but together we can rebuild our lives.”

Do you think the stage at which we lose a baby makes a difference to the grieving process?

“Whether a baby died in “medical terms” by miscarriage stillbirth or neo natal death or by a failed fertility treatment (I hate those terms) does not signify anything in terms of the degree of the loss/pain. “

Can you tell us a little more about this grieving process?

“The grief is real and can only be measured by the person feeling it. When I worked in London, I mainly worked with people who had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And now what I see is that many bereaved parents have PTSD. So when I work with parents I can’t “fix’ the fact that their baby’s are gone but I can help them to learn to take care of themselves, accept the changes inside themselves, deal with their PTSD symptoms and learn to allow pleasure and joy back into their lives while still living with the absence of their babies. Even though I am a counsellor, I don’t believe that everyone who is bereaved needs counselling. (I could be shot for that) Grief just takes time and compassion and understanding. But if someone is really struggling, has used up all their own resources and feels the need themselves then it is time for counseling. People themselves usually know if they are stuck. (Apart from writing there is nothing like the joy I feel when that light comes back on inside someone.)”

What do you believe is needed to help grieving parents cope with the loss of their baby?

“I  think that advocacy is needed. The medical profession (with some exceptions) want us to accept the death of babies (as once they accepted the many deaths of mothers in pregnancy and childbirth) and this has to change. Unfortunately our babies are invisible to the outside world, so broken as we are, we have to speak for them. The rate of SIDS has gone down worldwide since parents forced the medical profession to sit up and do something. I believe that we will do the same.”

You recently published an e-book,  After Your Baby Dies. Can you tell us a little more about this and where it is available?

The first year after a beloved baby dies is an especially painful one.There were so many things I didn’t know after Hannah died, things that would have helped me cope better. I have written those things in the e-book and it is available free from Stillbirth Help.

Any final thoughts you would like to share with readers?

“Some people work in this field to honour their babies but in my heart I believe that Hannah is well in whatever the next place is. My hope is that someday we will be reunited. I do this because I don’t want my living daughters to go through what we have been through.”

Visit Martine’s website at http://www.martinebrennan.com

New hope for women at risk of miscarriage

Great to read this latest piece of news in today’s Irish Times:

WOMEN AT risk of miscarriage are becoming pregnant following treatment with an inexpensive intravenous infusion, a major fertility conference in Dublin has heard.

A new study carried out by Care Fertility in the UK has shown that use of the special infusion resulted in 50 per cent positive pregnancy tests in a group of women with recurrent embryo implantation failure following IVF.

Dr George Ndukwe, medical director of Care Fertility, told the Fertility 2011 conference in Dublin that 20-25 per cent of women trying to have a baby could have faulty immune systems.

“Every day in my clinic, I see women who have endured numerous IVF cycles, all with the same negative outcome,” said Dr Ndukwe. “I also regularly see couples who have suffered the misery of repeated miscarriage.

“We are devoting our attention to finding answers when nature goes wrong. This infusion is inexpensive, well tolerated and easy to administer.”

The average age of the 50 women in the study was 37 and the mean number of failed cycles was six. A matched cohort of 46 women who had no therapy had a clinical pregnancy rate of just 8.7 per cent compared with 50 per cent.

“Previous studies had treated the condition with Humira, a drug used in the management of rheumatoid arthritis. Humira is expensive [a prescription costs up to £2,000], it has risks and is unsuccessful in about 20 per cent of patients, ” Dr Ndukwe said.

He found that intravenous Intralipid was more effective, and cheaper at £200. Intralipid is a fat emulsion containing egg extract and soya oil, used for patients requiring intravenous feeding

On being brave

This post is dedicated to all of us brave women who struggle with infertility and pregnancy loss.

Someone said to me recently, “you must be very brave, you’ve dealt with cancer, fertility treatment and miscarriages and yet you are prepared to keep going”. I don’t think I’m brave. In fact I am scared and anxious and unconvinced most of the time when it comes to my fertility struggles.  

But it got me thinking (adopts a Carrie Bradshaw voice) what is bravery? Can you still be brave and scared? I read a quote once from Bear Grylls, the Mount Everest climber and star of Born Survivor, who should know a thing or two about bravery.

“I’ve seen extreme bravery from the least likely of people” he said, “Life is about the moments when it’s all gone wrong. That’s when we define ourselves.”

Those of us struggling with infertility and pregnancy loss know all about those moments when it’s all gone wrong – and yes, it does ultimately define us. Do we go under or do we keep on pushing forward towards our dreams of motherhood?

Today I heard another quote (via freeingforty.blogspot.com) which really resonated with me:

“What is important is not to be defeated, to forge ahead bravely. If we do this, a path will open before us.” ~ Daisaku Ikeda

So let’s not be defeated, let’s forge ahead bravely, trusting that the path will open before us, and most of all let’s continue to support each other along the way.

Yours in hope

Marie xxx

About a boy

This is a story about a boy…

You know that scene on TV or at the movies, when the nurse holds a new-born baby aloft and announces “It’s a boy” to smiles and delight all round? Well that moment flashed through my mind yesterday, as I sat in the consulting room of the miscarriage clinic, listening to the doctor discuss the pathology report from my last miscarriage.

“The report shows nothing abnormal, a male…” I didn’t hear what he said next, as my mind wandered off, thinking “it was a boy”. And in that instant scenes flashed through my mind of the future we might have had with our baby boy. I remembered the words of Fiona McPhilips (author of Trying To Conceive: The Irish Couple’s Guide) “When you lose a child, you lose your future. It doesn’t matter how long your baby has been with you, you feel the gap that their death has left behind. From the moment you know about your baby, you plan their future — your future, together. You work out the due date, pick names, imagine who they will look like.” That is exactly what happened when I heard it was a boy – it felt like I could see, touch and smell this little boy in my heart and in my imagination, and I was overwhelmed with such a feeling of grief and loss again.

So this is a story about a boy, our little boy who we never got to hold and will never get to know and yet he will live on in my heart forever, that I do know.

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