Triptych (noun): A picture or relief carving on three panels, side by side
Special Post: This blog has been written for Baby Loss Awareness Week 2020, in collaboration with @Sketchpad_On_Tour
There are so many firsts and lasts, after loss: The last time I was in the office was in February and October was my first full day back. The last time I was commuting into work, I was pregnant, so it was the first time this year I’d done the walk into the City, alone. The firsts are miserable, the lasts are quite often, traumatic. The last time I was at my desk, I was 17 weeks pregnant.
Of course some firsts go unnoticed, but others are impossible not to think about. Because some of this stuff just hits you, out of the blue. A sort of “oh yeah” which just catapults you back into loss. Often it’s the visual reminders, that are the strongest. The flashbacks. The trauma.
You might have noticed that I said I haven’t been back to work since February, even though Summer was born in March. I’ve mentioned previously that I had put myself on bed rest for two weeks from the end of February, which my boss fully supported: but I have never fully explained why I did this. Last week, I remembered why.
I got back to my desk and started to sort through all the things I’d left behind. Everyone else left their desks at the end of March, knowing that we were heading into a UK lockdown. But when I left, I didn’t know that would be my last day in the office for seven months, my stuff was left as it was, ‘business as usual’. I opened the black canvas bag that was sitting under my desk, wondering “what’s this?” and then, I gasped. It was a complete take-your-breath away “oh yeah” moment. The bag was filled with sanitary towels, spare underwear and a hot water bottle. “I remember this” – the contents fully embodied the blood, the fear and the pain of the last time I was here.
10.5 weeks. I always start to bleed at 10.5 weeks, like clockwork. It was no different with Summer, in fact it was worse. As she grew in my tummy, the bleeding over the next seven weeks, just kept getting heavier. I’d had scans and scans. They kept saying it was a subchorionic hematoma which would maybe resolve by itself, but it just didn’t feel right: I was pregnant and having to wear sanitary towels. And as if that’s not bad enough, I wasn’t even wearing normal pads. I had to go out and find thicker heavy-duty ones (which I’ve never had to wear, not before, nor since Summer), because that was how much I was bleeding. It wasn’t the “four pads an hour” they warn you to look out for when it comes to miscarriage, but by the time I was 17 weeks, it WAS four pads a day accompanied by some pretty awful pain – usually at night. I never took any painkillers for it, not even paracetamol, as I just didn’t want to risk anything (but that’s not what I regret. I regret the thought that I never got to feel Summer move, because she was probably obscured by everything else that was going on), instead I used a hot water bottle, to help numb the pain.
Having identified a couple of reasons for the bleeding, the doctors were not overly concerned. They were happy for me to keep calm and carry on. My mum suggested that I stop going to work, but that didn’t really seem an option: apparently it was common for some women to bleed throughout, I couldn’t just stay at home for my entire pregnancy! Plus my boss was off on holiday and I was his cover, but more importantly at the time, the huge project I’d been working on for months was about to launch, and I just couldn’t sit that one out, I needed to be in the office. So I kept dragging myself in.
But having miscarried at home with My Baby, in such a traumatic way, I was really worried about miscarrying at work this time. Because the bleeding was getting worse, not better, I hadn’t told many of my colleagues that I was pregnant. I wasn’t ready to announce happy news to my team, when I was so worried about what was happening. So I came up with a ‘management plan’. I approached one of the older ladies, L, in my team and told her everything: about BoC, My Baby and my pregnancy. She’s very practical, and we came up with a plan: we were never to go anywhere without our phones. If anything happened during the work day, I was to go to the toilet or the 9th floor medical room – whichever was closer – and call her. She would go to my desk, grab the stuff we had stored in the black canvas bag and come to find me. We would take it from there. A good plan, right? But as Woody Allen said, “if you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans”.
The last day I was in the office, was not the first time I’d had a scare. But it was the last time I felt comfortable venturing anywhere without James. It was the end of the week and I’d been working flat-out on the newly launched project. I’d been focussing intently and given that it was a Friday afternoon, was hoping to scoot off early. I was just wrapping up what I was doing, when I felt a huge surge. Oh God, what was that? I rushed as quickly as I could to the nearest loo, which is about 30 metres from my desk and locked myself in the disabled toilet. I sat on the toilet, and a huge clot of blood slid into the bowl. Shaking, I tried to reassure myself: “It’s ok Anjulie, it’s not happening again. It’s just a clot. It’s because you’ve been sitting for a long time. This happens to you sometimes now, you know that”. The bleeding stopped, I collected myself best I could and returned to my desk.
Still incredibly shaken, I decided to head the heck home. As I was packing up, I felt another huge surge, this time my bottom felt cold. I reached down and touched the back of my dress. There was blood on my hand. This had escalated. I reached under my desk, grabbed some leggings and pads from the black canvas bag, collected my coat and ran back to the disabled toilet. When I sat down again, two more huge clots passed into the bowl. Clots the size of the palm of my hand. This was not normal. I picked up my phone to call L, and it dawned on me: she’s not in today. There is no back-up plan. You are on your own.
I needed to get home. But I was paralysed by my thoughts: I work on the 7th floor, how am I going to get out of here? I live a 45 minute train ride away, James is at work, how the hell am I going to get home? I have a grey coat, if I miscarry the blood is going to seep through. It’s incredible, the clarity and presence of mind you can have, amongst all the fear. I sat on the toilet, bleeding, crying, whimpering “please no, please no”.
The disabled cubicle I was in, is the one preferred by the women in my company; it’s bigger than the rest and it has a full-length mirror. Bizarrely, the mirror is positioned directly opposite the toilet bowl. So I sat on the toilet, watching myself, watching the horror unfolding, from my own objective eyes. I watched this sobbing terrified woman, blood on the floor, weeping yet hoping. Tights around ankles, sanitary pad and underwear soaked through. Legs dripping red.
Weeks later, medical staff asked me how I didn’t notice that my waters had broken over the previous few days. As if I were stupid and it was my fault. I did my best to tell them – again – that huge and sudden gushes of blood had been the norm for me, for some time.
Up until that day, I had been fighting to go into the office, but I was so traumatised by that afternoon, that I never went back. That was Friday 21st February. I kept thinking “I’ll go back to the office when I have three good days”. That stretch never came. Instead, what followed was some desperately needed iron and blood transfusions for me, before Summer was eventually born extremely prematurely, in hospital on Monday 9th March. She died shortly afterwards.
I have returned to work, but I have not yet returned to that toilet.
N.B. This blog has been created in collaboration with my insanely talented friend, Tori, check her out on Instagram @sketchpad_on_tour. Losing Summer has steered my life down unimaginable avenues, but not all of them unwanted. The absolute best thing that has come from this, is the wonderful new community of friends I have made.
Brought together initially by my @anjuliesmumoirs baby loss posts on Instagram, Tori drew us a beautiful picture and sent it to us as a gift for our home. Since then, we’ve found our friendship through our mutual love/hate of political correctness, chocolate brownies (are we allowed to say that anymore?!), terrible puns and questionable counsellors.
After hours chatting, we decided we wanted to do something together for Baby Loss Awareness Week, combining our ‘talents’ (hers more than mine!) in honour of our experiences. We toyed with the idea of a light-hearted post, but quickly decided that sunshine and flowers did not accurately encapsulate our baby loss journeys. We eventually decided to do something around the bruth and settled on the idea, that a lot of women who have dealt with miscarriage will have long lasting trauma and some experience centred around a toilet bowl. It’s not glamorous, but it is the brutal truth. So a huge thanks to Tori for turning my photographs into works of art. This is my story, in honour of all of yours.
To show solidarity and to acknowledge all of the babies who have died, please leave a comment at the end of this blog: It can simply be your name, a note in memory of someone, a “I remember” or a simple “I’m here”. This is simply a way to raise awareness for all of our babies that are gone, but not forgotten.
Please also join us in lighting a candle at 7pm tonight, for the culmination of Baby Loss Awareness Week in the global Wave of Light.
With so many thanks,
Anjulie & Tori xx
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