Novelist Emma Heatherington: I was pregnant that morning and now I was not ... I wanted to scream. How could my body let me down?
Novelist Emma Heatherington has twice suffered the pain of miscarriage. The 41-year-old, who lives in Donaghmore with partner Jim and their son Sonny James (3), and four children from their previous relationships, tells of the moment she was told her baby had no heartbeat.
I’m the first to admit that I never really understood the pain of miscarriage until just over two years ago, when it happened to me. It’s very common, people say. It’s just one of those things, it’s one in five pregnancies, it’s not something we really make a big fuss about, it’s taboo, it’s a bit like talking about your womanly problems in public; it’s private, it’s why we should wait until that all important 12-week scan before we even say that we’re expecting a baby.
But miscarriage should never be underestimated. Miscarriage is loss. Miscarriage is bereavement and, for couples who are trying so hard to start or extend a family, miscarriage can feel like a gaping hole, like the end of the world.
Looking back to five years ago, I was a very busy person and had plenty of commitments as I balanced my children around building a career as a novelist. If anyone had told me then that I’d have another baby in a new relationship when I was 38 years old, I’d have rolled my eyes and laughed it off. It was never going to happen.
I’d had my three children very young — from my first marriage, Jordyn (21), Jade (16) and Adam (15) — and, even though my early 20s were spent pushing a pram as many of my friends travelled the world, I was a great advocator of the positives in being a young mum. I wondered how on earth anyone would contemplate babies in their 30s when I’d been there and done that, ancient history and all that. I was 36, my children were at secondary school and the idea of going back to night feeds and nappies again was one I’d most definitely have turned my nose up at.
But then, one night in April 2013, I met my partner, Jim McKee, a singer-songwriter and artist who was living in Co Clare.
I went to his concert on my birthday with my aunt and my cousin. We got talking afterwards and an unexpected spark was well and truly lit. Jim was a single parent (Dualta, 16) and had been for many years, and I was in the same position by then.
Neither of us was looking for someone but, with our common creative interests, and despite a 200-mile distance geographically, we developed a deep friendship that grew quite quickly into a very strong bond, and we decided to make a go of it. Within months we were making plans for the future. When talk of babies came about, to my surprise we both admitted that it would be a dream come true.
We were soon blessed with Sonny James, a bouncing healthy baby boy, and the joy he brought to our home was immeasurable. I savoured every moment of that pregnancy — even looking back on it now makes me smile. It’s an old cliche, but I positively bloomed. I was older, more mature than before and it was a very different experience — and so, so exciting.
There was a big gap between the older children and Sonny, but they all adored him, so when I found out I was pregnant again, even though it was a bit of a shock, the positives were something I chose to focus on. Sonny would have a playmate closer to his age and I’d enjoyed every moment as I waited for his arrival and every single second since he came into the world, so how blessed was I now that I was going to get to do it all again.
I had an early scan, I got a due date and the excitement started to bubble again. I had all the symptoms, and then, 12 weeks into the pregnancy, just the day before that all-important scan, everything stopped. I had a bleed and it really took the wind from my sails, like a blow to my stomach.
I cried and tried to breathe. This had never happened to me before. It had happened to other people I knew, but it had never happened to me. What was going on? It couldn’t be ... We went to hospital and, as it was a Sunday, Jim had to really insist on a scan to let us know one way or the other after we were told that yes, I was “probably miscarrying”. We couldn’t just go home in that state of limbo — and we still had hope, didn’t we? I remember the long wait as I watched the sonographer watching the screen as she carried out the scan, the searching as she tried to find what she was looking for and then the sigh and face of sorrow when she turned the screen around to show me. I remember the rush of shock that engulfed me when she pointed at the perfectly formed tiny baby outline and told us there was no longer a heartbeat. The silence that followed, the grasping of hands, the flow of tears and the sad and lonely figures we cut as we left the hospital ward, pushing Sonny in the pram as I leaned on Jim, weeping for what could have been.
I was pregnant that morning. And now I was not.
I wanted to scream my head off for days that felt like years after it happened. I was horrified by the overwhelming sense of failure, that my body had let me and my precious baby down.
To my surprise, we were called to the hospital a week after the miscarriage. Jim was asked to sit beside me (he’d been busy trying to entertain Sonny while the doctor spoke to me). Was this normal procedure to be called back? I had no idea and then the doctor sensitively explained the reason for my miscarriage. A reason? I thought there normally was no reason.
“You have what is called a molar pregnancy,” she explained to us. “You need to be tested over the next few weeks for a rare form of cancer.”
At that moment the world stopped.
The C word was all we could hear, despite the kind doctor’s reassurance that it was unlikely as she rolled out statistics. I felt sick to the stomach as the roller coaster of emotions kept coming, wave after wave. I was pregnant, now I’m not and, to add to that, I may have cancer?
For the next few weeks, I had blood samples taken, which were sent to London. The wait was terrifying but, thankfully, within the month I got notification from Charing Cross Hospital that I didn’t need any further treatment. The indescribable sense of relief gave me a new appreciation of life and its fragility, but the feeling of loss was still there.
“At least you have Sonny, at least you have other children, at least, at least, at least ...”
But with grief there is no ‘at least’. There is no fast fix or sticky plasters to cover up the wounds you feel inside.
It takes time, tears and talking, I believe — lots of talking, whether it’s in hushed whispers in private, as is ‘expected’, or angry outbursts, if that’s what makes you feel better.
A year later I miscarried again. It was New Year’s Eve when I realised I was pregnant again and a few weeks later I wasn’t. The great Mark Twain advises us writer types to “write what we know”, and I believe that in his words of wisdom he didn’t mean that we should only write about actual things that have happened (after all, did JK Rowling ever get to be an actual wizard?), but more so to use the emotions that we experience in life to better our writing.
So, in my new novel, A Part of Me and You, I took all the emotion I’ve experienced through miscarriage and loss, all the love I have for my children, and all that fear of something happening to me and leaving them early in life, just like what happened to me and my own siblings when we lost our own mother prematurely, and I put it into this story.
I wanted to show my gratitude for all that I have and to make readers realise that no matter what life throws at us, with kindness and love we can get through it.
One reader said that A Part of Me and You had made her feel “hopeful and at peace that everything will be okay”, and to hear that was like giving me the biggest hug, as it’s exactly what I’d hoped this story might do for others.
I won’t say ‘at least’, but I do know that I’m well and truly blessed to have been given that all-clear and to be young enough (life begins at 40, I mean it!) and the time to enjoy the people I have in my life and what I get to do for a living.
I don’t think I can ask for any better than that. After all, everything can literally change in a heartbeat.
- A Part of Me and You, by Emma Heatherington, published by HarperImpulse, HarperCollins, is available at amazon.co.uk and other online retail outlets, £2.99