Reactions to a bonus baby – the pregnancy that comes when you think you’re done having kids – can range from shock to sadness to sheer joy. For writer Kathy Lette, it definitely wasn’t the latter. But it was her reaction to what happened next that surprised her the most.
The mum of two says when she realised she was pregnant for the third time, as much as she tried – and though her husband was ecstatic – she “just couldn’t get excited”.
“The trouble was that, with a four-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter, I’d only just got my body back. I didn’t want it to be stolen by aliens once more and replaced with the body of Pavarotti,” she writes in The Guardian.
Her son had recently been diagnosed with autism, and she was exhausted and “fraught”. “And then there was the thought of another long, arduous labour. I don’t even want to do anything that feels good for 33 hours,” she writes.
But a month later, even as she still struggled to come to terms with having a third child, an unexpected blow shook her to her core. First the spotting. Then the cramps. Then heavy bleeding. An ultrasound confirmed the worst – no heartbeat. A miscarriage.
“I peered in on the watery world where my baby should have bobbed, buoyant with life. I searched the little black sack for a grainy profile. Empty,” Lette writes. “I told myself how good it would be to have my body back. Not to feel ill. Not to feel sleep-deprived and exhausted for the next two years.”
But when she got home, the reality hit. “As I sank into the bath, sending tiny waves towards my toes, I was ambushed by unexpected emotion,” she writes.
“I’d wanted to pretend that it was just a missed period, just a tiny bunch of cells, just a blue line on a bit of blotting paper. I realised I’d qualified for the World Indoor Record for Self-Delusion. There had been a little miracle stirring inside me. A miracle I’d wished away. How callously I’d marked the gift ‘return to sender’.
Lette, author of Puberty Blues, says “waves of remorse” replaced the surges of nausea: “I thought of all the cracks I’d made at the baby’s expense … I thought of all the glib asides I’d made to my sisters about how the baby would be the only infant on the block wearing black baby clothes.
“But in truth, I’d secretly started to fantasise about his or her little face. The tiny clenched fist. The mouth puckered at my breast. The hushed excitement of the ultrasound as the doctors discovered the embryo’s sex. The euphoria, post-birth … I had started to think about Mother’s Day cards glued in macaroni and string. Guilt began to hammer on my mind’s door. Logic battled emotion.”
She says she told herself that the foetus had probably been compromised and the miscarriage was for the best. “The trouble was, I’d spent the last eight weeks secretly adjusting. The hormones had kicked in. Emotions began to tear at my throat. When my crying finally abated, I pulled out the plug and let the guilt drain away with the water.”
Guilt, she says, is a “useless emotion”. And she says the best cure for the grief is to talk about it – just like Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan earlier this month. Miscarriage has also been in the spotlight after the couple involved in a viral pregnancy announcement video sadly lost their baby.