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Losing a child: After the storm is the rainbow

Kiri ten Dolle reveals how a missed miscarriage turned into a long and emotional journey. Pictured pregnant with her "rainbow” baby born in October 2016, and husband, Matt.

Losing a child: After the storm is the rainbow

I SWORE I would have no more children. The morning sickness was so debilitating it became normal. Back and forth to the GP, he reassured me that this was pregnancy and it soon would pass. Only it didn't.

I was velcroed to the couch, surviving on ginger tea and Saos. I still cringe at the smell of garlic. The only light at the end of the tunnel was our first scan.

"What a job, introducing couples to their babies," I said to my husband, as we entered the ultrasound clinic. We were intoxicated with joy.

We walked into the dark room, lit only by a TV screen. I lay on the bed as the young sonographer squeezed cold gel on to my tummy. I stared at the screen. At first she was quite hasty, moving the remote across my belly. A tiny baby the size of a grape. A little smile grew on my face as my husband took a photo.

The sonographer zoomed in. Measured. Zoomed again. Measured. Colours appeared on the screen. The silence was deafening.

"It looks like you are about nine weeks," she said.

That couldn't be. I was 12 weeks plus five days or more. I started to worry. The sonographer stepped out of the room. Was she doing it right?

She returned a few minutes later.

"The baby has no heart beat or blood supply. Your baby passed at nine weeks and one day. I'm so sorry."

For the first time, I saw my husband cry. We left heartbroken. Torn. Lost. Empty.

We were completely different people to those we were when we walked in.

By lunchtime we saw our GP who brought us no answers or relief. She told us it might have been a "thickened placenta".

We were sent to the emergency department at our local hospital bearing a sealed yellow A5 envelope, inside the ultrasound report containing the answers we so desperately sought.

The morning sickness was stronger than ever. Part of me didn't believe the news we were handed. We were sent home.

I still carried the metallic taste in my mouth that for weeks had driven me crazy. The nausea was still present and the pork we ate for dinner still made me sick.

I found myself rubbing my belly like you were there, but you were not. I hoped nobody saw.

What if they had made a mistake? Then came the thoughts of "what had I done at the nine-week mark that could have caused your little heart to stop beating? What had I done wrong? Did I drink too much coffee, hold my phone too close? Was it that one wine I drank before I knew I was actually pregnant?" I was drowning in a pool of guilt.

The next day, we returned to the hospital's pregnancy clinic. Inside was swollen with outpatients, heavily pregnant women and their midwives with smiles from ear to ear. It felt as though they knew, like I was wearing a giant neon sign.

A doctor delivered the news. I had a partial molar pregnancy.

My pregnancy hormone hCG (human chorionic gonadotrophin) levels measured much higher than a normal pregnancy. Heightened hormone levels associated with molar pregnancies increase symptoms of morning sickness and the womb can grow larger than normal.

A partial molar pregnancy results from an extra set of chromosomes. With an imbalance of genetic material after conception, the pregnancy develops abnormally and the placenta outgrows the baby. The condition affects one in 1200 pregnancies in Australia each year. Sometimes a baby is present in the womb, other times not. In my case a baby did form but it would never be viable.

Partial molar pregnancies are more common than complete molar pregnancies, which result from an empty egg and two sets of male chromosomes. In complete molar pregnancies no baby grows. Instead a mass of fast growing placental (trophoblast) cells develop, producing hCG and triggering a positive pregnancy test. A proper embryo is unable to form. In both cases, initial treatment is usually a dilation and curettage (D&C).

A few hours passed before I was wheeled into the theatre room and put under anaesthetic. In what felt like a split second I was suddenly no longer pregnant.

And then the tests for cancer followed. I would undergo weekly blood tests every week for two months screened by the Queensland Trophoblast Centre, based at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, to ensure my hCG levels were falling. The tests would then go on monthly for almost a year until my hCG reached and stayed at zero. The end of any wanted pregnancy is devastating, but the possibility of persistent disease added another layer of concern for us.

In up to 15% of women, abnormal placental cells can remain and continue to produce hCG, which can lead to more persistent diseases that require chemotherapy. Women with molar pregnancies are advised not to fall pregnant for 12 months, though the chances of a recurring molar pregnancy are 1%.

Two years later I would welcome a delightful baby girl into the world on October 15, 2016. By coincidence the same day is International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. A gentle reminder of our past, because you never forget.

More blood tests and my hCG levels were monitored again after this birth and will be for any subsequent births, in the rare chance molar cells remain.

In the weeks and months that passed, I found strength in the fact that I was not alone. According SANDS Australia up to one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage before 20 weeks, impacting 96,000 families each year.It wasn't until we shared our story, people around us shared theirs. Because something that broke our hearts equally brought us closer together.

About 96,000 Australian families experience the death of a baby each year.

October 15 is International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

Despite the many advances in technology, research and medicine in the last decade, the rates of early pregnancy loss, stillbirth and newborn deaths have not changed, says SANDS Australia CEO Andre Carvahlo.   

"International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day gives parents an official opportunity to acknowledge their precious babies," Mr Carvahlo says.  

"It is also a chance to raise awareness of the emotional impact of pregnancy and infant loss.  

"Much of the taboo comes from friends and family not knowing what or how to say it. The most important need of parents is to have the loss acknowledged."   

SANDS offers support and guidance to bereaved families across many platforms.  

"For parents bereaved by the death of a baby during pregnancy or shortly after, few will understand the depth and extent of their loss," Mr Carvahlo says.   

"It is thought that the unique nature of the loss, the societal norm of not announcing a pregnancy till a certain number of weeks, compounds the enormity of the loss.  

"The loss of what could have been is a very difficult type of loss both for bereaved parents and for friends and families. So few people are equipped with the knowledge of how to deal with these situations."   

If you are affected by the loss of a baby, SANDS Australia offers support through local support groups, a 24-hour phone line on 1300 072 367, and