How To Not Be Completely Terrified When Life Gets Scary
If your first baby has died at 22 weeks and 5 days, the thing you really don’t want to hear in your second pregnancy at 22 weeks and 6 days is that your cervix is shorter than expected and that’s a risk factor for pre-term labour.
When the doctor told me this last week, the fear began. Lying back on the examination table with a lubricated probe in my vagina, I started shaking; my heart was thumping, my palms got sweaty. After a discussion, she fetched a midwife and then fitted me (quite painfully!) with a cerclage pessary, booking me in for a check-up scan in one week.
Afterwards, I sat in the maternity hospital café waiting for my wife to fetch our car, blinking back tears, trying to stop the world spinning. When Sam arrived, I walked gingerly to the car, nervous about the silicone ring that was now wedged in around my cervix. I arrived home and lay myself on the sofa and the sobs began – How can it all be happening again? I cannot lose another baby.
I lived in fear for five hours – the time it took until I messaged my friend Bethany, a fellow facilitator of The Work, and asked her to help me inquire into my thoughts.
“My cervix won’t keep my baby safe,” I told Bethany as we looked at each other over Zoom, and the shuddering tears began. I kept flashing back to the cervix measurement on the ultrasound screen, a few millimetres under where we’d want it to be, and my whole body became rigid, frozen with panic. “Is that true?” Bethany asked gently, and then waited. And I waited. I held the thought and watched the images that accompanied the thought. Images of dead Alfie, my first son, and then this second son dead too. But was that real, or were they images? Did I have any evidence, any actual proof, that my cervix wouldn’t keep my baby safe?
I saw that I couldn’t know. It wasn’t a watertight factual statement. It was a hypothesis, only – a theory. One possible option. But I couldn’t prove it. I couldn’t say it was a definite fact. “No,” I said, quietly.
In that moment, my baby was safe and kicking inside me.
In that moment, my cervix was short, but it was still closed.
In that moment, my baby had been kept safe for nearly 6 months.
Once that “no” had been found, my mind opened more and more. I saw in my mind’s eye the website which had stirred up my fear on my return home, which said 20% of women with my length cervix would go into premature labour. With an open mind, the statistic flipped – that meant 80% of women wouldn’t. So I had more chance of being one of them, plus I now had a highly effective preventative measure in place, fitted by a highly competent obstetrician, who had asked to keep me under regular surveillance. It was actually more likely that my cervix would keep my baby safe.
With each opening of my mind, I was reassured – not falsely reassured, but by facts. Facts my mind couldn’t see when I was terrified and unable to see beyond one terrifying future possibility.
I saw that at 9am that morning, I’d been feeling wonderfully peaceful. I saw that at 11am that morning, after the scan, I was in terror – but nothing about my cervix had changed in those two hours. Therefore it must have been my thinking that had caused my fear. My cervix wasn’t the cause of my suffering – my thinking was. (And in fact, something about my cervix had changed in those two hours: it now had a supportive device cradling it, so actually my situation at 11am was safer than my situation at 9am, despite my mind responding in the opposite direction.)
Writing this, I don’t know if I’ll go into pre-term labour. But I also don’t know that I will. What I do know is that, right in this very moment, it’s not my experience. My baby is kicking. My cervix is supported. And I have a fail-proof way of meeting my fearful thoughts, whatever happens.