This is a Part 2 in a three-part guest post series. See Part 1 here.
Miscarriage number 2
The trapdoor opens a second time. This time, 6 weeks later, ‘I am sorry but the hormone levels have already dropped again’ was the sentence that opened the trapdoor again. But this time it lead to an even darker place.
Loss of hope, naked fear and sheer panic. The only way to describe my immediate responses to my second miscarriage is a complete loss of hope, naked fear and sheer panic – not just about whether I would ever have a baby or not, but whether the emotional pain would ever go away again and whether I will ever regain control over my life. I was in a state of panic for 3 days with hardly any sleep. I constantly switched from fight (destroying things in anger, anger at myself, the world and others who had repeatedly told me that I need to hope and that it will all be fine the second time) to flight (running through the park, hyperventilating) to moments of howling on the floor and repeating ‘I can’t do this anymore, I don’t want to feel anything anymore’ again and again in a loop. My husband looked after me with endless patience, restrained me, held me, fed me, ran with me around the park, told me to breathe, let my shouting wash over him – the miscarriages have tested our relationship and brought us together.
The calm that happened after that storm (helped along with medication) was relief that is indescribable. I slept. I just existed. Having come out of the state of panic was the most important thing. The thoughts about the miscarriage were still there, but their severity was numbed for a while. Having had the panics gave me permission to take time off and all life goals were reduced to remaining present and not going to the panicky place again. I knew after those three days that something big had changed, that we needed a longer break from trying and that I wouldn’t ever go back to my old self and old life.
The dome of fog. Grief after the second miscarriage was like living under a dome of fog that shaded out everything and separated me from the outside world. I could only concentrate on myself and my issues, they were always present. The old life had been blocked out. The world outside was still turning at its usual rate, but my world was turning in slow motion. Staying in the dome felt safe, the fog numbed me from outside triggers and I could digest what was already there. My life seemed on hold, slowed down from the usual business and being goal oriented. The aim was to get through every day. Slowly, the dome seemed to crack in places, letting some light in for short periods of time. It started lifting for bits of time when I could do something else and concentrate on something other than my pain. Slowly I could let little things back into my life and test how they felt, for example going outside, seeing people or going for a swim. I am forever grateful for the few people who stayed with me through the time I lived under that dome and shut myself away.
Breaking bad coping mechanisms. Number 2 marked a complete breakdown of bad coping mechanisms I had built up through my whole life. I have always struggled with the motto ‘you can only do your best’, instead ‘if I haven’t achieved yet, I just need to work harder’ has always been my coping mechanism. Not a healthy one, I know, and one which only works if I kept being hard on myself. An important aspect about that coping mechanism is the belief that I am somewhat in control of where I am going. I always worried what would happen if I got to a point when giving my best was simply not good enough. Well, that moment had now arrived. The NHS did not help. Further investigations are only done after three miscarriages. There was nothing for me to work on to improve the outcome next time. ‘Simply’ just try again, sit back, ‘try not to worry’ (the best advice ever given in human history) and watch the shit storm hit again.
Acceptance and controlling the controllable rather than the uncontrollable. Whilst I had no control over the baby situation, I took control over other aspects. Whilst everything seemed on hold and old goals had gone, I had the headspace and time to invest in my well-being. Counterintuitive to my old coping mechanisms, that meant taking pressure off rather than putting more on. I worked at myself to accept the concept of luck. Whilst others have a baby because they got lucky rather than working harder or having better bodies than me, I was unlucky rather than having failed. That then worked to my benefit with other aspects, too. My parents had saved money for me which I had never touched because I felt I hadn’t earned it for myself. Now I could accept that I didn’t need to have earned it all – I was just lucky. Having the savings as backup and realizing that if we can’t have children, we don’t need that much money, I managed to ease off my drive to save money all the time and went to 3 days a week. Instead of trying to control the uncontrollable – the baby project, I took control of the now and invested in the life now, have time to heal, allow myself to have time to do nice things and see the nice things in day-to-day life rather than chasing big dreams. We also went to Hawaii and fulfilled a dream about diving with Manta rays and exploring volcanoes.
Miscarriage support literature. I read everything I could possibly find about miscarriages: the latest research findings, personal stories, Ted talks, podcasts and support literature. There is more information out there than I expected. The power of all those was learning about the science of miscarriages when doctors are reluctant to discuss it, permission to feel how I felt because others felt similarly and benefiting from what others had learnt. Whilst talking to fellow miscarriage sufferers after number 1 was helpful, it wasn’t enough after number 2. Now I needed more depth to those conversations and struggled to find them. On reflection I guess other people who publish their stories have explored the depth of emotions to a similar extent, but I also do think that multiple miscarriages bring up more than single miscarriages and most people I know have had single miscarriages and now have healthy babies.
Gifts from my second baby. Living under the dome has taught me how to spend time with myself. Many people advised me to ‘look after myself’ after the first miscarriage and I had no idea how to actually do that. Now I had made the first steps in easing off pressure rather than pushing and kicking myself when I am down. My husband’s support through my existential crisis has brought us closer and made our relationship stronger.
Climbing out of the dark hole. Three months after the second miscarriage I had managed to climb up and look over the edge of the dark hole once again. We attended a ‘saying goodbye’ event at Exeter Cathedral. I would highly recommend going to one of these. Three months seemed like a long break, but I now recognize that I had not given myself much time to heal at all.
Miscarriage number 3 and the due date of number 1
Denial. Miscarriage number 3, at first, affected me so much less than the others. I thought it was because I had faced so many aspects of grief and failure already and perhaps had invested less hope and dreams into this pregnancy. I worked a lot of overtime. It was only denial – the pain and grief was only delayed.
‘Nobody gets a hero card’. I learnt a very important thing: whilst I felt strong because I didn’t have time off work throughout this miscarriage, it didn’t earn me any respect from others. That was a very interesting finding. After the other two miscarriages I had craved acknowledgement from others and been beating myself up for not being ‘strong’ but falling apart. Was that feeling of being weak and dealing with it badly just within me? I still don’t know and this question still is a frequent visitor. When I went back to work too early after my first miscarriage and said to my boss that I felt I needed to be strong and function, he said ‘no, you don’t, nobody gets a hero card’ – I now understand what he meant.
The trapdoor opens a third time. The trapdoor opened up yet again in the week leading up to the due date of number 1. How was I going to face that day, having just had another loss? The feeling of emptiness and hopelessness was back. I was all too aware that I should have been off work already, anxiously awaiting the birth. I would already know the gender, the name. I would have seen the little face on a screen, heard the heartbeat, I would have already communicated with my baby via feeling the kicking, stroking the belly and showing it the sounds of the world, I would have bought those fabrics I love and made things for my baby. I should be in this weird moment, where any time, a new life will start.
It is my own responsibility to make myself feel better again – in that I am completely alone, nobody else can tell me how to do this, because I have to do it my way. I have never been good at dealing with my own problems on my own. That is where this really strong need to talk to others comes from and my comparisons to others. Their way didn’t work for me and that made me feel like I was a failure (hello again!). The strong feeling that others dealt with their miscarriages better than I have comes from that place, too. ‘Everybody deals with things in different ways’. Countless people have said this to me. It always seemed like an ‘empty’ saying to me, like saying something tastes different when it actually doesn’t taste as it should. My counselling made me realize that there are actually situations that I can deal with better than others. I know that is probably not a big surprise to you but it was a humongous finding for me.
Learning to distinguish between real friends and acquaintances. The understanding that I had to find my own way was terrifying. Does that mean that I am completely alone and that I shouldn’t talk to others about it, that I have been making a fool of myself for needing to talk as much and for oversharing all the time? No, it doesn’t mean that, but it meant that I also learnt a very important lesson: I learnt to define what good friendships are to me and therefore who are my real friends. I couldn’t be everybody’s real friend and not everybody I like could be my real friend. For me, real friendships are those in which both parties help each other find their own way through situations and share their inner world to a similar extent. Sadly that also meant realizing that some ‘friends’ are actually just acquaintances.
Am I going to be in the hole forever? The losses, the inability to carry a child (past the point of ever developing a heartbeat) and the sense of failure associated with that threatened to become my identity, it was all-consuming. Sometimes I could see myself from the outside and I always had this double loser badge attached to me: This is a woman only in shape, she does not function as a woman and can’t sustain pregnancies. Also, jealousy and self-pity were eating me up from inside. At best, a pregnancy announcement would send me tumbling down into the hole of grief about my babies and what I should have in my arms, or at least in my womb, right now. But let me be completely honest, at worst, a pregnancy announcement would highlight my failure, bring up anger that the other person is showing me up by easily doing the very thing that I desperately want but can’t do. I don’t want to be that person.
Climbing out, again. I really don’t want to be that person and also I recognized that I can’t live my life from now on in a constant loop of miscarriage – falling apart – coping by taking a day at a time – fighting my way back to some sort of normality – try again – miscarriage and so on. I also recognized that my other issues were there before the miscarriages and will be there whether I will end up having a baby or not. So I started working on myself and read self-help books – something my previous coping mechanisms of being busy and always striving hadn’t allowed me the time for. And time I had, as we had decided we needed a proper 6 month break. I also fulfilled myself another dream and went on a liveaboard dive trip around the Komodo Islands in Indonesia.
Continue reading: Part 3 (A way forward)