I’m standing in Scripps Hospital in Encinitas, a city in San Diego County. The nurses and doctors are handing me some scrubs before I enter the operating room. It’s August 10, 2019, and Jane has just been called in for a C-section to deliver our first child.
We’ve been here for nearly three days as she was overdue, and it’s time for my son or daughter to enter the world. As I stare in the mirror at my exhausted face, I ask myself, “How did I get here?”
This wasn’t our first pregnancy. No, it was our fifth. Unfortunately, we suffered four miscarriages in the space of four years. On the one hand, it was an incredible thrill each time to find out we were pregnant. We had expectations and excitement, and even some planning, wondering what he or she might be like.
Yet on the other hand, we had been faced with complete devastation when Jane had miscarried at various stages between six and twelve weeks. I must admit each of the four times, I felt like it was one of the lowest points in my life.
See, I’ve always been a solution-oriented person. I wished the doctors could have given us some sort of a medical reason for one miscarriage after the other miscarriage. I wanted to hear them say you need to do X or Y. Then we’d absolutely do that. All we heard, though, was that it was just Mother Nature, no other explanation. In some ways, that was the hardest news to accept.
At the time of each miscarriage, I felt completely helpless. I needed to sit with the loss and soak in the information, though it was never what I wanted to hear. We knew there was no substitute for time, waiting for when Jane would be pregnant again. However, we did hold onto hope and a strong belief that positive results would come for us.
If you’re a parent who is expecting, I think you’ll identify with the fact that when you’re expecting a child, and you’re out walking, or you’re at the grocery store, or you’re in the shopping mall or anywhere, and you see a baby, you smile a bit more. You may take note of the different equipment and items you need to buy. I’d often watch how parents handled toddler tantrums and other issues as I was preparing in my mind: what if our son or daughter does this or that?
I suppose that was key to maintaining a solid focus on what we wanted—which was to become parents. With the traveling we did through the years and the move to America and subsequent move back to Ireland and back to America again—and without consciously realizing it—we had put off becoming parents and starting a family. Finally, in our early thirties, we were content that we’d experienced most of what we wanted in life, so we felt we had all the time in the world to enjoy our child growing up.
Back to the waiting room… Dressed in my scrubs, ready for what lay ahead, I had to temper my nerves. I’d been nervous at big golf tournaments. I’d been nervous giving presentations in front of dozens of people. I’d been nervous at other times in my life—sometimes for what seemed like no apparent reason. This time, however, the nervousness morphed into complete excitement: this was it, the moment when we welcomed our child into the world.
We chose not to find out the gender beforehand. We wanted it to be a surprise. After four miscarriages, all we were concerned with was that the baby had ten fingers, ten toes, two eyes, two ears, one mouth, one nose, two legs, and two arms. When I entered the operating room, I saw Jane was already being operated on. I took my position at the head of the table and held her hand. The anesthesiologist was a nice man, and the nurses were super and aware of Jane’s long difficult trek to motherhood.
As the operation continued, the anesthetist started talking to me about golf, which was kind of distracting, though in a good way. We talked about the most recent winner of the Open in Northern Ireland, Shane Lowry, and what a fantastic moment it was for the country and what an amazing player he is.
The next thing I knew, our baby had arrived. He was lifted as I shouted, “It’s a boy!” That moment in time at 7:47 pm on the 10th of August 2019 will forever live in my life as one of the greatest moments and more than likely my greatest achievement. The sense of pride, the sense of fulfillment, the sheer relief that Jane and my son were healthy, and everyone was doing fine was almost too much for me. And it was one of the few times as an adult that I cried.
They were exhausting days, but the best few days of my life. The utter excitement of seeing Alfie Rian Fitzgerald for the first time was palpable.
Crossing the threshold of our house bringing Alfie through the front door, was a momentous occasion. And now it all begins, I thought to myself, all the fulfilling days ahead watching him learn and grow. All the rewarding days taking part in whatever interests, hobbies, and sports he shows an aptitude for. All the satisfying days watching his personality develop.
Will he be like me? What will he do in the future? Will he have more hair than me? Turns out he had more hair than me after two days than I have now.
I remember the first time Jane was pregnant. We were so excited. It was a new adventure, and everything was going well as we settled back in America. We were up and running with our new life, with a social circle. We wanted to be parents so much that we went for our first scan after week five or six.
As we entered the lobby at the doctor’s office, we saw other couples waiting to be seen. They were as excited as we were, though probably nervous as well. Some couples were coming out from their exams after finding out the sex of their baby. They’d have either a pink or blue balloon or a little gift package. And we wanted one of those as well. However, we had decided to keep the gender a surprise.
When we went in, we spoke with the doctor as she examined Jane. Then we were hit with the news, “I’m so sorry, but the pregnancy has stopped.” Such devastating news, those four words. “The pregnancy has stopped” reverberated in my ears. Jane and I hugged each other and cried.
That had to be one of the most difficult times in my life. We were shown the back stairs out of the building rather than having to go through the lobby. At the time I thought that was somewhat crass; however, I realized the doctor was used to giving bad news to parents and seeing how crushed they were. So it seemed best to go out the back stairs to the parking lot and get out quickly. We decided not to tell anyone about this. In Ireland, the general rule of thumb is you don’t tell anyone you’re pregnant until after twelve weeks, you’ve had your scans, and you’ve been through what’s considered “the safe period”. Whereas in America, I’ve met people who told me after four weeks they’re expecting a child or after six weeks they have a name picked out since they found out whether it’s a boy or girl.
Jane and I remained private about our loss. We didn’t want to worry anyone. As time has gone on though, we realized it would have been helpful to seek out support and comfort from others. We didn’t want to worry anyone.
As time has gone on though, we realized it would have been helpful to seek out support and comfort from others. After this experience, I’d advise those who’ve been in this same situation that by leaning on each other and talking or just sitting with the feelings and even venting, you’ll find your partner is probably the greatest support for you, even if you choose not to share the news with others. Jane’s mental health was important to me. I was there when she needed me to hold her, to let her cry, or when we needed to cry together.
The doctor said there was nothing we could do to achieve a positive outcome. It was just Mother Nature at work, no fault of either one of us. She said to go home and get busy in a different kind of way. So as time began to allow us to heal, we got busy with our jobs.
During our second pregnancy, we had visitors from Ireland. This time, Jane had been pregnant for eight weeks when she started to miscarry at home. I was at a sales meeting in Huntington Beach about 90 minutes north of San Diego. She called me to say what she believed was occurring, and I left the sales meeting worried and stressed that this was happening again. I felt helpless that she was on her own, as at the time the visitors were out exploring San Diego.
I called the police and told them I was going to use the carpool lane, that Jane was in the middle of a miscarriage, and I needed to get home urgently. The carpool lane in America is only for two or more people, so I gave them my license plate and name.
The dispatcher on the call said, “Sir, I wouldn’t advise you do that.” However, I did weave in and out of the carpool lane as I believed it was the right thing to do. It was important for me to get home quickly but safely as well. On arrival at our house, I could hear Jane withering in pain. We called the doctor, and the nurse immediately sent a prescription for pain medication to the local pharmacy.
This experience was totally different than the first one. The pain was intense as Jane passed the fetus. I can only say it was devastating to see our future child in the toilet, our son or daughter, the creation of life flushed away. The very term “flushed away” means you’re removing it, getting rid of it.
The following few days, weeks, and months were extremely difficult. We couldn’t comprehend what we’d seen and been through…again. We kept asking ourselves, “What can we do?” One answer was: Well, you can go into a state of depression, which would be perfectly normal. Another answer was: You can turn a blind eye and try to ignore what happened. And yet another answer was: You can meet it head on and speak with each other about it. Have emotional conversations and let it all out—which is what we chose to do.
We were still looking for answers. Why was this happening? What did we do wrong? What else could we do? Was it our diet? Was it stress? Jane, in fact, is a very laid back of person, so it would take a lot to fluster her. I didn’t think it was stress, and our diets and exercise were fine. We were both very healthy—and for the most part happy. At least as happy as we could be under the circumstances. All we could do was keep our hopes up for the next time to have a positive outcome.
Our third pregnancy was again a joyful moment, though we were also wondering, “Here we go again.” But this time we were positive it would work out.
Unfortunately, we miscarried again. This time, Jane needed to go in for a procedure called a D&C. It was surgery Jane hadn’t had to have before. In fact, she’d never had any surgery at all. And here we were, the two of us, no one in our lives knowing what was happening, heading to the hospital for a procedure. Like any surgery, there can be risks, so it was a traumatic day for us. Afterwards, the doctor once again reassured us that it was just Mother Nature, and there was really nothing more we could do other than go home and get busy. “Go home and get busy” was the recurring mantra from the doctor, so that’s exactly what we did. We buried ourselves in work— again.
“Go home and get busy” was what we needed to hear as it lightened the mood, but on the drive back to our house after the surgery, Jane broke down, and it was then that it became about us rather than Mother Nature. And there were no apparent answers available to us. I guess the most difficult emotions to deal with were the frustration and confusion. The doctors couldn’t give us any further information on why it kept happening and what we could do to prevent it from happening again.
It was difficult to see the friends we grew up with either pregnant or just becoming parents. While we are naturally happy for them and to see them happy, we felt a tinge of “feeling left out." No doubt, that was a common human emotion. When we were expecting, it seemed everywhere I went, I saw new babies or strollers or new mums and dads with smiles the size of the Atlantic Ocean. I guess they were always present as I went about my business, but of course, now I started noticing them more.
Jane and I sat down together with the emotions, with the frustration, with some anger or what we perceived as anger—not angry with each other, just angry at whatever forced caused this to happen again. And we sat and sat with the choice: either wallow in self-pity or adopt an attitude of positivity and hope, we chose the latter and “got busy”. Our fourth and final miscarriage happened right before our twelve-week scan. We were so close. The night before the big day, the special week, the golden twelve-week scan, Jane started spotting. We looked at each other, and on some level we knew. But we said, “Let’s just go to the appointment tomorrow.” As soon as Jane mentioned spotting to the nurse practitioner who was checking us in, I could see on Jane’s face that she knew it would be sad news.
The doctor examined her and told us she had miscarried—again. The pregnancy had started and stopped, and again she needed a D&C. This last miscarriage was probably the hardest one, because we’d been through so much already and because we’d gotten so close to the twelve-week scan.
Who knows why we needed to go on this journey, or even enjoy the journey, accept the bumps along the way, until arriving finally at our destination on August 10, 2019.
I’ll never forget how stoic and resilient Jane was during our four losses. For the male partner, I think there’s a range of emotions. But straight away I felt my role was to project confidence. If I showed too many negative emotions, I thought it might have a negative effect on Jane who was already dealing with a lot. Though because we had been around each other for so long, by osmosis we just rubbed off on each other, that is, we both became resilient. We really had no other choice.
Jane works in the corporate world as I do, so we threw ourselves right back into work after each miscarriage. That worked for us, although it may not have been the healthiest of distractions. Yet, we knew at some point we had to face the loss. We had to sit with and accept it, let it seep into our souls. We realized we were working ourselves too hard and our work was masking our pain and heartbreak. One Friday night after dinner, we broke down in each other’s arms and let it all out: the grief, the sadness, the endless tears. And this feeling we both had of being cold, as if we were in shock. I think sometimes you have to breakdown before you can build up again. For anyone going through miscarriages, you know you’ll have those tearful moments.
However, you must be hopeful, for without hope what is there? At one time we had considered IVF or adoption. We didn’t have any problem conceiving; it was just that we couldn’t carry the baby to full term. We could have gone other routes, yet we remained confident we’d be successful and have our baby one day.
If Alfie hadn’t been born three years ago, we feel we’d still be happy now. I can’t say for sure that I would or wouldn’t feel deprived of parenthood, but I know Jane would have missed out if she hadn’t become a mother. And our lives are incredible now with Alfie here. Had he not arrived, we would have missed so much.
Would we have tried for a sixth time if Alfie hadn’t come along? Yes, absolutely. 41 was still young enough to keep trying. Though some people might choose to accept that it’s not going to happen. Maybe it would happen by not focusing attention on it, at tracking ovulation dates, and being conscious of it all the time. And maybe that’s part of it too—when you’re trying so hard for something or you’re thinking about it so much, perhaps you need to just chill out, turn off, and forget about it.
Most of the doctors told us to get away, take a vacation, get relaxed, remove ourselves from our everyday surroundings, and wonderful things would happen. And they did, as resilience is in our Irish DNA.
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