Anjulie shares the trauma of losing her daughter Summer at 19+5 weeks gestation, and the horror that unfolded when she started bleeding profusely at work, all alone, in the disabled toilet.
Triptych (noun): A picture or relief carving on three panels, side by side
There are so many firsts and lasts, after loss: the firsts are miserable, the lasts are quite often, traumatic.
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.
The last time I was at my desk at work, I was 17 weeks pregnant. On my first day back to the office, after months away, I started to sort through all the things I’d left behind. Everyone else had 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 in 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 manager 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.
Having miscarried at home with my second pregnancy in a truly horrific way (my first miscarriage was a missed miscarriage), I was however really frightened about miscarrying this third pregnancy, at work this time. The bleeding I was experiencing was getting worse, not better, so 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: all about my first two miscarriages and my current difficult pregnancy. L’s very practical, so 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 my husband, 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 ladies room, 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: L is not in the office 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, in my arms. Summer was 19 weeks and 5 days, gestation.
I have returned to work, but I have not yet returned to that toilet.
Anjulie and James have been married 9 years, together for 15 years. They have experienced two first trimester miscarriages and most recently, the neonatal death of their daughter, Summer at 19+5 weeks gestation. They have no living children. After the death of their third child, Anjulie started her baby loss blog, Mumoirs, to help process her losses and to raise awareness around the topic. This post “Trauma” has been adapted from a blog on her website, for our use today. You can also find her on her Instagram @anjuliesmumoirs