Roses For Thorns

Roses For Thorns: Mandy Lee Miller

Hi, I’m Mandy. I am a Cape Town based mommy of 1 gorgeous wildling little girl, Charlotte (Charly) Rose, who is far too smart. I live in a townhouse in the suburbs with Charly, my husband Brett, and our two cats. I am 36 years old, I have crazy curly hair to my waist (my favourite thing about me), and I never “lost the baby weight”.

My background is in PR and Marketing, specialising in writing and media relations, which I left when I found out I was pregnant with Charly.

I started my blog, Pregnant in Cape Town, (Facebook, Instagram) when I was about 5 weeks pregnant. I’m the owner and editor of an online pregnancy and parenting magazine, Tums 2 Tots Online. I co-own an online women’s only Facebook group, South African Sisterhood, which is much too neglected. In 2016 I started a national car seat awareness initiative called #CarseatFullstop where I spend most of my time and energy trying to teach South African parents why all children under 1.5m tall (between 10 and 12 years old) need to be in a safe, properly secured car seat. #ProjectMeZA is my next big project, where I am going to try to reprioritise myself outside of just being a mommy. I do a bunch of other things as well, which in essence boils down to me having a love and passion for connecting people.

#CarseatFullStop – Website | Facebook | Instgram

#ProjectMeZA – Facebook | Instagram

Tums 2 Tots – Facebook | Instagram

In May 2018, I knew I was pregnant. From the moment of conception, I knew.

I stopped taking my anti-anxiety meds and I even told a few of my closest friends, because I knew it was going to be a funny story one day. I never doubted it. The chances of me falling pregnant were incredibly slim. A few days late on birth control and just one time… that is all it took.

I had been on the fence about having another baby. My first pregnancy was difficult, with challenges like dislocating joints and chronic reflux. Our beautiful little girl woke every 45 minutes from 5 months to 2 years old, and slept through for the first time only at 2 years and 8 months. I’m a sleeper. I was sure it was going to kill me getting no sleep; but I managed. Not only did I manage, but I become bizarrely and uncharacteristically entrepreneurial, creating businesses and campaigns constantly.

Finding out we were really pregnant again took that decision away from us… and we were so happy – scared out of our minds at everything that was going to change, but happy. Because with every odd stacked against us, we were pregnant anyway! It was obviously meant to be. The friends who had been waiting to hear, instantly swarmed with love and support and excitement. I did the home test on the Tuesday, my doctor (who is also a very precious friend) squeezed me in for a visit the next day. Positive and the levels were exactly indicative for the date I knew I conceived and as soon as the blood test was done, I started preparing for how to tell Charly. For all the fears I had of the pregnancy, I never feared a miscarriage or losing the baby.

Now, I can’t imagine ever not being afraid again.

We told Charly by giving her tiny fluffy onesies and recorded her excitement. I immediately saw my future, two little humans sharing secrets and giggling away my trying to get in on them. Years of Charly being an amazing protective loving big sister – I feel like my chest is going to implode now at those memories of memories that never came to be.

1 week exactly after seeing that second line appear on the test, I was dropping Charly at school when I got really bad cramps. A part of me knew instantly what was happening. I left fast, but before I reached the second stoplight, I knew I was bleeding. Running past my poor terrified cleaning lady, past my husband, I couldn’t breathe. I needed to get to the bathroom. I was bleeding incredibly heavily. This wasn’t spotting. This was something irrecoverable.

Calling my doctor was so incredibly difficult but it was early so there was nothing that needed doing other than letting my body do what it needed to and trying to process emotionally. He gave me the choice to wait a few days before coming in, barring anything changing that felt wrong or scary.

I put on a pad and curled up in my bed with Brett, sobbing so hard I couldn’t catch my breath. Between heartbeats, I just kept thinking about what I was going to tell Charly.

My mom and aunt came through within an hour and we all cried together. And I decided that we would tell Charly that the tests had been wrong, that I had a tummy bug and that there hadn’t been a baby. When we told Charly, she sobbed and my heart shattered all over again.

All week I bled heavily. I cramped painfully. And I mourned. I cried for the baby that wasn’t – the baby brother or sister that Charly wanted so badly.

On Saturday I saw my doctor. He hugged me and we shared the hurt and the tears. We talked through the practicalities of miscarriage. He gave Brett and I the space to talk to him and each other… About where we were at emotionally and what we were considering next. Getting older was why we were facing the decision of another baby. Losing this one meant that was a decision we now needed to make. I was adamant that I wanted another immediately. For Charly, if for no other reason.

I think the guilt of failing to make her a big sister after telling her she would be one will haunt me forever.

My doctor did his examination and found that I had a large and possibly concerning clot in my uterus. I was going for blood tests to check my hormone levels straight from his office, so he explained that I may need to have a D&C (dilation and curettage) on Monday, depending on those blood test results. The hope was that my body would do its job and my uterus would continue contracting to break down the clot as the pregnancy hormones dropped. The blood test results showed that my HCG levels were higher than expected, which could be simply due to a spike in the days between my initial blood test and this one. A physical exam showed the clot had grown rather than shrunk and he explained that he was going to be admitting me immediately as an ectopic pregnancy.

He explained that the ectopic surgery was usually, barring complications, a laparoscopic surgery – three small incisions are made and they use miniature instruments and a camera to perform the surgery. I called my mom to tell her to take Charly home with her after school, because I was likely going to be having a more serious surgery and would be staying overnight.

They gave me medication to stay calm, but I think I was in shock. I remember joking with the nurses, and Brett coming to the room after checking me in. I remember him walking alongside me, talking to the anaesthesiologist, but I don’t remember going into the theatre. There are vague memories of moving from the trolley bed to the surgical bed. I don’t remember waking up, just being awake and Brett reading me all the messages from people who say my social media posts before I went in. So many messages. I just wanted photos of Charly.

My body underwent emergency surgery and I lost a Fallopian tube and had a D&C. Some ectopics resolve themselves and break down and pass in the same way as any other miscarriage. My Fallopian tube had been swollen and inflamed from the growing baby. If my doctor hadn’t been as careful and as thorough, the continued growth could have caused damage to nearby organs before causing the tube to rupture. The recovery was going to be brutal.

In recovery, the first day after feels very much the same as the first day you get up after a C-section. There is pain all the way to your core, pulling that feels dangerous and you feel like you might tear open. But that intense pain passes much faster than C-section pain; I think of it as C-section recovery on an accelerated timeline.

However, unlike most women, I continued to bleed heavily and cramp.  My doctor wasn’t happy that I was still in pain and bleeding –  I had to go in and he found the blood clot had returned. It was like I was just preparing myself for the next blow. That Monday night, I experienced contractions, the same kind that deliver babies, only this was my body trying to attack and destroy the clot. For four hours, I got to practice the tricks that I learnt 5 years ago in prenatal classes – except there would be no baby from it. I walked and crouched and breathed and I took all the drugs I safely could until I passed out.

The pain passed sometime in the night and eventually my body passed the clot. The celebrations were epic and I felt relief from the cramping and pain for the first time in 15 days. Three days later, my bleeding finally started to slow and the day after that it stopped. For 18 days I bled like it was never going to stop. I think my first period may well see me curled up under my duvet hysterical.

Miscarriage broke my heart in ways I didn’t know it could be broken.

I didn’t quite realise how far into the future we as mothers see and plan and project ourselves when we find out we are pregnant. And how completely we can mourn the loss of a baby that was the size of a grain of rice.

I think miscarriage made me realise how endless in depth a mother’s capacity for love is.

I experienced a miscarriage for 6 days, but then discovered I hadn’t really had one.

Ectopic Pregnancy has made me angrier than I can ever remember being. The fact that up to half of us who experience an ectopic pregnancy have no obvious risk factors makes me angry. That having one makes it likely you will have another, makes me angry. The fact that when you miscarry, you are losing a baby that was there; but when you have an ectopic pregnancy, you never experience a “real pregnancy”. There is no baby, there are cells. A tubal pregnancy is never “viable”. I’m not sure this makes me feel any different as a woman, but it makes me angry.

I feel like I’m still experiencing it, though I am still me. I am still excited to see my friends pregnant and to meet their new babies. I am still fiercely passionate about the causes I was before and appreciative of the life I have now.

Sadly, I’m more afraid of dying and what that will mean for Charly. I am torn between a lack of patience for small things and wanting to have Charly with me all the time – any mom of a four year old will instantly recognize why this is a problem.

I’m possibly an angrier person now than I was before but I have an incredible support system that has surrounded me from all sides and I don’t feel alone at all.

I think that I am more conscious of the incredible number of people in my physical and online world that genuinely care about me and love me just as I am. I feel like that will have a long term impact on who I am and how I see myself.

When I thought I had had a miscarriage and I started sharing, I was genuinely shocked at the solid and unwavering outpouring of love and support I received. There were a substantial number of men who reached out to me and showed such empathy and thoughtfulness; I found that so surprising.

I think the misconceptions I held were that other people saw miscarriage as something that shouldn’t be talked about and that others would minimise the loss. This wasn’t my experience at all and I received hundreds of comments, inboxes, emails, messages, texts from people from all walks of life, religions, races and sexes.

Overall, I feel like I am handling it much better than expected. I’m being very kind to myself in terms of managing my time. I’ve been letting myself be a little selfish in my priorities and when I can’t cope with the moment, I get lost in the Marvel universe for a few hours. I cry when I need to, I work when it helps and I’m focusing on the good things I can achieve with #CarseatFullstop in the coming weeks.

A spring will come…


So, what does this mean for anyone else in a similar situation?

Talk to people. If you can’t manage to speak to people face-to-face (I’m not there yet), share in your social spaces online. Too many women have been where you are and there is extraordinary healing power in knowing you are not alone.

You lost a baby. Maybe not physically a baby yet and I’m not a religious person, so I don’t mean it in that “moment of life” way. You lost the baby that you started imagining the second you suspected they were there. It doesn’t matter if that baby was planned or not, whether you were unsure if they were wanted or not, if you were a couple of weeks or months, if you were more afraid or more excited than you’ve ever been… From the moment you knew they were there, your mind played out a million different moments that make up a life… And that life isn’t going to happen anymore. Your heart has beaten in future moments with that baby in your arms and now it is missing that moment forever. You lost a baby and you have EVERY right to grieve for that baby.


The Concept:

The elation Mandy and I shared when she told me she was pregnant was so brutally destroyed when she informed me that she had miscarried. I knew the heartache, the pain, but I couldn’t comprehend the devastating surgical repercussions, the physical agony, or the endless days of seeing your body betray you.

A deep winter spread through Mandy and it was this chill that had set in her bones that formed the basis for her shoot. Stark, contrasting absence of color – silver, white and black – the use of almost Catholic-looking lace to portray mourning, and the open and empty mussel shells were all used to depict her inner sadness.

The hat box represented hidden pain and suppressed memories – filled with blooms as time progresses and spring begins to emerge.

This shoot wouldn’t have been possible without:

Dresses: Jacoba Clothing

Floral arrangements: Flowers on the Stoep 

Makeup: Smudge Hair & Makeup Academy

Venue: Welbeloond 

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1 Comment

  • Reply MommabearTrax September 10, 2018 at 10:19 am

    Sending love , as always, Mands. X

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