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Last year, Danielle shared her own story of miscarriage on the Cruse Scotland blog to help others going through a similar experience. For Baby Loss Awareness Week 2021, she reflects on how the simple act of growing, and losing, a pumpkin triggered feelings similar to her grief after miscarriage.
October 15, 2021
I know I know, it sounds mad, but bear with me…
I experienced a miscarriage at 20 weeks pregnant, back in January 2016. I was just a few days away from my scan, but something niggled at me to go to the hospital. I found that my baby had died at around 17 weeks and my body hadn’t realised. You can read my full miscarriage story here. Almost six years have passed since then and I have gone on to have two healthy children. I feel that I am in a good place with my grief, I am very open to talking about miscarriage and have made a career out of supporting others who are going through similar experiences. However, like anyone, sometimes the memories can just hit me in the most unexpected ways.
For Christmas 2020, my kids got a “grow your own pumpkin” kit from a distant relative. My kids LOVE Halloween and we had recently moved from a flat to a new house with a little garden, so we were excited to put our outdoor space to use and do this activity together for our favourite holiday. We planted the seeds indoors in March, had lovely big shoots by April, replanted outside at the beginning of summer and had about 6 separate plants by this point. I had been reading up on how pumpkins grow and what you can do to give them their best shot but even in replanting them, some died. Some died in the late frost (because, Scotland!) and some became victim to my two-year-old ripping them out from the roots whenever he was outside playing. I was pretty relaxed about the process - it was a fun activity to do with my kids and if no pumpkin materialised in the end, it would be fine, we can always just buy one like every other year. As summer went on and I replanted the pulled-out roots almost every other day, we ended up with just one thriving plant. It had grown to about 2 foot long by this point and had started to bloom bright yellow flowers. I had read up about how there were male and female flowers, and how conditions had to be just right for a male and female flower to be open at the same time to allow bees to pollenate. (You could always pollenate by hand but I was willing to let nature run its course…also something about me rubbing flowers together felt a bit strange). Then one day, mid-June, I saw it…a little green ball starting to form on one of the vines. I didn’t say anything about it, scared that I would draw a child’s attention to it and it would immediately become a casualty of their heavy-handed curiosity. I sort of watched it out of the corner of my eye for a few weeks, and sure enough, it was growing! By July it looked like a tiny watermelon, dangling off the vine. My kids had noticed by now and knew not to touch it. They were suddenly very gentle and even spoke softly around it. I was taking pictures, showing friends, documenting the process. I wasn’t even that invested in growing a pumpkin a few weeks ago and now it was the most exciting thing in my life! I was thinking about how cool it would be to make a scrap book to show that in our first year in our family home we grew and carved our very own pumpkin. It could be our new tradition! A legacy that my kids could even carry on to their families!
August was drawing to a close and our pumpkin really did look like a pumpkin now, just still a little green. We had almost made it to autumn when we could show off the fruits of our labour. Then, my partner came home from work one evening and asked if I had seen the pumpkin today. “No?” I said, heart sinking. We went outside to see it had fallen off the vine, ashy and covered in holes. Bugs had gotten to it, and there was no saving it this time. I felt angry that I hadn’t considered bugs – I could have stopped this from happening. I could have saved it if I had just been paying closer attention. I felt embarrassed at how excited I’d been and how much of the process I had shared with others. Now I would need to go back and tell them all that the pumpkin was gone. Would they think it served me right for showing off about it? I felt disappointed that my vision for the future was shattered. No homegrown pumpkin for us. No wholesome legacy story where, by some miracle and against all odds, we managed to grow something special.
It wasn’t until I was in it that I realised how closely this aligned with my miscarriage experience. My first pregnancy was a surprise. I wasn’t actively trying so although it was something I wanted in my future, I just kind of fell in to it – much like the pumpkin growing. I wasn’t that particularly invested to begin with…I didn’t give it much thought or tell anyone, scared that it would go away or not work out somehow. Then, it didn’t go away...things progressed…I got symptoms…I got my small bump… I looked at it through the corner of my eye, afraid I would scare it off. Then I got my healthy 12-week scan, which was like seeing that mini watermelon pumpkin. I knew I was out of the woods. It was real. It was happening. So I told EVERYBODY who would listen. I dreamed. I planned. Convinced that nothing could stop me now. Until it did. Until I was blindsided by the bugs. The bugs in this case being a heart defect that no one could have determined at a 12-week scan. And the feelings were the same then. Angry for not seeing it coming. Embarrassed by my naivety. Ashamed to have to face people and live my normal non-pregnant life again. The aftermath was also similar as I was frantically looking for my flower buds to bloom in the hope that we could still salvage this and a new pumpkin might grow in time for Halloween. Every time a male flower bloomed, I would urge a female bud to open too so that they could pollenate – even if I did have to do it by hand this time! This reminded me of the months after my miscarriage where I felt like the only thing that would make me feel better was to be pregnant again – when I urged my body to heal and the stars to align...
The stars did not align again for my pumpkin and I have had to accept that it will be store-bought Halloween squashes for us again this year. But the stars did align for me and my family, and I have been lucky enough to have had two wonderful, healthy children since my loss in 2016. I know that many others out there are still wishing for their stars to align and their buds to bloom - so this is for them. May you find peace and happiness in any way you can this autumn.
If you need support with a bereavement, please call our free helpline: 0808 802 6161 or start a webchat on this site. Our kind, compassionate, carefully trained volunteers are ready to listen, and to help.
Danielle Cooper-Lowden - Cruse Scotland Volunteer
Danielle is a qualified psychologist and counsellor who has volunteered with Cruse Scotland since 2019. Her journey to become a counsellor began after she experienced a miscarriage in 2016 and felt "stuck" in her grief until seeking counselling herself. She felt how useful it was to have that safe space to explore her feelings and wanted to be able to create that for others who were on a bereavement journey. She studied Pluralistic counselling part-time at Abertay while also working and raising her young family (one of which was still in the womb during her Cruse training!). Danielle has a particular interest in pregnancy loss and fertility struggles but works with all types of loss at Cruse.