His Name Is Ben

Only a handful of people in the world know he ever existed, but there isn’t a day goes by that I don’t think about him.

I never met him, never held him, I never got to find out if he had inherited his dad’s piercing blue eyes.

The only images I have of him are blurred black and white scan pictures – his features impossible to make out.

Aside from that, the only other proof he existed are the pregnancy tests that signalled an exciting new chapter in our lives.

We were 10-weeks into the pregnancy when we found out he would only ever be a dream, that he had slipped silently away.

Even now, three years on, I’m not sure how I felt in those moments when reality hit.

I remember waiting for the scan, excited to see our baby’s heart flutter for the first time.

I remember the sonographer asking how I was getting on and me gleefully telling her the nausea had started to lift.

I remember looking at the screen and knowing within seconds, in a gut-wrenching moment, that my baby was gone but hoping, desperately hoping, I was wrong.

This can’t be happening to me.

I remember the sonographer pausing, asking me to change position, her attempt to reassure us as she tried to find a heartbeat.

After what seemed like an eternity, she suggested we go across the road to a coffee shop, that I should have an ice-cold drink to waken baby, to come back in half an hour.

I remember waiting on the kerb for a break in the traffic, I’m not sure when I started to cry.

As I sat at the table waiting for my glass of water, tears rolling down my cheeks, the man behind the counter asked my husband if I was okay.

We went back to the clinic and sat in the waiting room beside another couple holding hands, smiling and excited, just like we’d been less than an hour before.

This can’t be happening to me.

I remember going back for a second scan while the sonographer made more futile attempts to find a heartbeat, I remember feeling sorry for her, apologising over and over, the guilt already beginning to set in.

What had I done wrong? Was I being punished because I’d complained so much about my morning sickness?

I thought about the migraines I’d suffered just a few days before – had I pushed myself too hard at work?

When had it happened? How could I not have known my baby was no longer there?

Back in the car, my husband and I sat together in almost total silence, making no attempt to drive away.

“I’m sorry,” were the only words I could manage to say.

I felt like I’d broken his heart.

I rang the hospital once we got home – as the scan had been done at a private clinic, the miscarriage had to be confirmed by our own health providers.

I had to explain what had happened to three different people before I was finally put through to the correct ward.

“We can give you an appointment to come in on Monday,” I was told.

“But that’s five days away, I can’t wait that long.”

Apparently there was nothing he could do.

I phoned a friend, someone who knew my consultant, and within an hour she’d arranged for me to see her the following afternoon.

I lay awake all night, I watched as my husband crumbled with grief, my guilt swelling inside.

My parents arrived the next day to look after our daughter while we went to the hospital – as we got up to leave, I hugged my dad and my grief came crashing down in loud, uncontrollable sobs, my body heaving with pain.

I felt safe in my dad’s arms, I never wanted him to let me go, I didn’t want to go to the hospital and see my baby motionless on the screen, I wanted it to be a nightmare.

This can’t be happening to me.

At the hospital, the consultant confirmed our loss.

A silent miscarriage, we were told.

My perfect little baby had a fatal foetal abnormality, incompatible with life.

She suspected it was Edward’s syndrome and we accepted her offer for genetic testing.

I knew we were lucky – so many people never find out the reason for their miscarriage, so I held on to that small mercy.

The discussion turned to what would happen next – did I want to let nature take its course or did I want medical intervention?

I knew the answer even before I was asked.

Natural management would mean waiting for the miscarriage to happen on its own, a process that could take weeks.

What if I was home, alone with my daughter?

I was terrified of what I might see, how I would I cope.

I opted for surgical management where I would undergo a surgical procedure while under a general anaesthetic, but the earliest slot was three days away.

They were spent in a strange, surreal bubble, we took our daughter out for pizza, we continued on with our search for a bigger house.

But as I smiled and nodded at people proudly showing off their homes, my mind concentrated on what I carried inside me and my loss that seemed too huge to bear.

A dull ache developed in my lower back and I held my breathe with every twinge, terrified the miscarriage was starting.

My daughter was the chink of light through it all, but I was too scared to lift her in case my body began to reject my baby.

The day before the surgery, I attended another appointment to confirm my baby had no heartbeat.

Abortion laws in Northern Ireland stripped an already traumatic ordeal of any compassion or dignity.

Despite a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality by my consultant, despite the fact my baby was completely motionless, a tiny flicker on the screen was enough to warrant a second opinion.

“I could go to prison if I get this wrong, you know,” I was told.

I did know, but as I lay on the bed, unable to bring myself to look at the screen, I simply didn’t care.

This can’t be happening to me.

Sleep eluded me again that night, the day I’d been longing for came around too quickly in the end.

That morning, my husband brought me a glass of water to take with the medication I’d been given to help with the surgery.

Even though I knew my baby was gone, it took all my strength to swallow the pill.

Several hours later, as I lay on a trolley waiting to be taken to theatre, the tears started again.

I knew when I woke up, it would all be over and my baby would be gone forever.

This can’t be happening to me.

I don’t remember what came next, I don’t remember leaving the hospital or getting home, but I remember the emptiness, I remember how alone I felt.

Miscarriage is incredibly common we’d been told, and I remember feeling as though we should just pick ourselves up and move on.

The fact that I couldn’t made me feel like even more of a failure.

As I struggled on, consumed by grief, the results of the genetic tests came back – our baby had Down’s syndrome.

We also found out he was a boy and named him Ben, and I watched my husband break again.

My longing to be pregnant was terrifying but overwhelming all at once.

We’d been told there was no reason why I couldn’t try again and most people go on to enjoy a healthy pregnancy, so we were overjoyed when I found out I was expecting again.

That’s why I was so heartbroken when I had another miscarriage just a few days after the positive test.

I was angry, I was crushed, but with it happening so early on I felt like a fraud, like I hadn’t even been pregnant, and so I shrugged it off even to close friends.

Most people don’t know what to say when you tell them you’ve had a miscarriage and I don’t blame them.

I certainly had no idea how to react before I experienced baby loss, but I now know how important it is to celebrate these lives, no matter how brief.

We gave our son a name, we planted a cherry tree in the garden on his due date and watching it blossom each year brings a smile to my face.

While I never got to meet those two precious little souls, from the second I knew of their existence they became a part of me, my family and my future – and that is why I will carry them in my heart forever.

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