Today I am pleased to present a series of guest posts from a good friend of mine, who is writing about her experiences with multiple miscarriages. Although miscarriages and chronic illness may seem like two very different things, we have found that many elements of our experiences, and the ways that they have impacted us, are actually quite similar. I am really delighted that she is sharing her story with us all.
Introduction and overview
A year ago today I had my first miscarriage. A year later, after 2 further losses, I am no further in this whole baby journey and still battling my way through the emotional and mental jungle. If anyone had told me a year ago, that I would spend this day having gone through 2 further losses and 2 due dates, I wouldn’t have believed that I could endure this.
A trap door opened with each miscarriage and I fell into a dark hole and worked hard to slowly climb out of the hole again, just to fall straight back in with the next miscarriage. The miscarriages have broken me, each in their different way, but in many ways I have come out of it stronger. It does not always seem that way; sometimes I get hit by a fresh wave of grief and am temporarily (seconds, hours or days) back at the very raw square one, worried I have to start all over again on the healing journey out of the dark hole.
Today I am sharing my reflections on what the miscarriages have brought up for me – so much more than ‘just’ the loss of a baby and each loss has brought up different things, challenged me in different ways and has also taught me new things. Why am I openly sharing something so personal, hurtful and unique to me? Well, miscarriages are mostly not talked about. In a world where one only posts about achievements and the beautiful moments in life, I want to be authentic and emotionally honest.
I hope that I or my story can be a lifebuoy for other women and men in the future, whether they know me or not. The very few people who had opened up to me about their baby loss before it happened to me were my lifebuoy that helped me from drowning when the news sunk in – I knew who I could confide in, who would understand me, I knew I wasn’t alone. The ‘1 in 4 club’ only revealed itself to me once I openly talked about it.
I hope this post will give people a glimpse of what the emotional and mental landscape of somebody looks like who has suffered miscarriages. How would anybody know when this topic is so hushed up?
Writing is an incredibly useful healing tool for me. It helps me properly sort through things and writing it as a post makes me do it properly. Despite talking to many people about this, I feel as though I never get the opportunity to explain myself fully.
I have faced the process of grief head on, with every miscarriage and have processed all the individual aspects of it. I wasn’t being brave. Denial was no option for me, the emotions were too strong to be pushed away and my babies were too precious not to be grieved and talked about. My path through grief is unique to me. Many aspects linked to the miscarriages are very similar to my all too familiar triggers of low self-esteem, anxiety and depression, which probably intensified everything I was feeling.
One of the most important gifts my babies have given me is to break me enough to actually start addressing much bigger issues. Formulating my way forward and trying to live to those new principles has really helped me – obviously, still with regular waves of grief washing over me.
With the anniversary of the first miscarriage looming and several pregnancy announcements, the trapdoor had opened once again. I was back in the dark hole with all the grief and associated emotions putting a heavy weight on my chest and making it hard to breath. What a set back! I was worried that all my ‘grief work’ had been for nothing and that I would always sit in the hole. So I started writing this. It helped. Last time I sat down and wrote for the due date of number 1, it felt like I had downloaded the mess from my brain, sorted it into something tangible and could then deleted it from the brain. I had a few months of breathing freer than before. The same thing happened again. Today, I actually feel good, even thought I was convinced two weeks ago that I would not be able to cope with the anniversary.
Keep calm and keep climbing. All I can do is try and try again to climb out of the dark hole, every time I have fallen in, whether it is caused by further baby losses or triggers of low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. And maybe, over time, I might even learn to recognize the trapdoor before I fall into it and acquire the skills to walk around it.
Miscarriage number 1
The first time the trapdoor opened. I booked a private 9 week scan, too impatient to wait until 12 weeks. I thought it could ease my anxiety whether everything is going alright. Despite worrying about it, I couldn’t stop myself from imagining what it might feel like to see a heartbeat, almost crying happy tears in anticipation. Instead, we heard ‘I am sorry, there is no heartbeat’. The sentence that opened a trapdoor.
Permission to grieve? How far does a baby have to be developed to be a baby? I struggled with the concept that there hadn’t been a recognizable baby shape, more a lump of cells that I had lost and that meant I wasn’t allowed to be upset. It goes hand-in-hand with a lot of (admittedly well meaning) ‘at least it was early, at least you hadn’t seen the baby yet’ statements. People from older generations always say to me that it would have been easier back then without early scans, because without having seen the baby one wouldn’t build a bond with it. Why was I so upset about losing something the medical professionals at best call ‘products of conception’? Because for me, it was my baby, a lost future, a loss of dreams and imagined pictures, from the moment the pregnancy test was positive. What helped me most was people verbally acknowledging the severity of what I was going though, it gave me permission to feel as I was feeling. The first time the baby-loss councillors actually said to me in words ‘you have lost your baby’ was incredible. Finally, I was allowed to call it my baby!
Failure. My body had failed me. I had always been able to trust in my body when I needed it to function and my good physical health was what in my mind made up for my suffering mentally. Despite all the worrying, I had started to believe in my body with every day that went by without bleeding. My body had lured me into a false sense of security. Being pregnant had helped me to take pressure from myself to achieve, because my body was busy doing more important things. That was a much softer and comfortable world to live in. The worst feeling for somebody with low self-esteem is having had confidence in themselves where no confidence was due. Not only my body had failed, but I had failed to anticipate the failure, making me an even bigger failure. Failure, failure, failure.
Shame. There was a very strong feeling of shame, complimenting that sense of failure. At first, I didn’t want people to know as they would know that I failed, when for most people having a baby seems a natural and easy thing to do (from the outside or how people want to portrait it). People don’t talk about their miscarriages for many reasons personal to them. Many admit to ‘failure’ only to others who admit to miscarriages first or once they have a baby in their arms. The general advice is to not tell anybody until after the 3 month scan after which the risk of miscarriages is lower.
I would like to note here that I am a person of double standards. I would never consider anyone who has had a miscarriage, health issues or anything else happen to them as failures, ever. But somehow I have to comply with higher standards than other people and am much more compassionate with others than with myself. The feeling of shame remained, but the need to talk and get support was much stronger. I was going through the hardest time in my life and needed to talk, I needed time off from work. Also it is simply not in my nature to be withdrawn and I am not capable of bottling things up – I need to talk, I always have and I always will!
One million what ifs and the feeling of guilt. Did I do something wrong? Have I killed my baby? Those few glasses of wine when I didn’t know I was pregnant? That time I didn’t land softly when doing acroyoga? Did my worrying about a miscarriage kill my baby? It is so much harder to accept something didn’t work when we don’t know what actually went wrong – that also means that there is no way of trying harder next time. I know that ‘it wasn’t meant to be’ is a comment that is supposed to take that guilt away, but it always made me wonder whether that meant that my physical and emotional pain wasn’t meant to be?
I am weak. Not only did I feel shame about the fact that I had ’mis’ carried my baby, but I also felt ashamed about how I dealt with it. Quite often I felt pressure from people to be positive and in a way sometimes felt like I wasn’t allowed to grieve. People want to say something positive to help (including me), but it actually had the opposite effect. It minimised the situation and therefore removed my permission to grieve. This feeling of having dealt with it badly is a really hard one for me to fight. I have always struggled with a need to belong, to be understood by others, get validation from others, fear from being alone and ultimately being judged as a failure (by others and myself).
Climbing out of the dark hole. Eventually, once the physical aspect had finally been resolved with an operation, I managed to find my way back into a life that somewhat resembled my life pre-loss. The first proper day back at work felt great. I found my way back to my hobbies pre-loss. I had hope the next pregnancy would work out, like it seems to with so many people who have had one miscarriage. I was crazily impatient to try again and try harder ASAP – a coping mechanism we will get to soon.
Gifts from my first baby. I have learnt what a big support network I have around me. I am so grateful for my husband and for having friendships that allow me to be myself and share my issues. I am so glad for having such a great work place. Most of my colleagues are good friends, everyone was supportive because I gave them a chance to be by telling them what had happened and how I was feeling. My boss was incredible, he advised me to take as much time as I needed and when I came back way too early and was crying in the corridor, he took two hours out of his working day and drove me home. I could cry now just thinking about such kindness. I am also very thankful to the ladies at choices pregnancy centre, who helped me work through it all.
Continue reading here: Part 2 (Miscarriage 2 and Miscarriage 3)