The way forward?
‘Take responsibility of how I react’. I read in a book that we are always choosing. That sounds too easy, I thought, I didn’t choose to lose my babies. But the book actually meant that we are choosing how we react to what happens to us. I now choose to try to accept that it was not my fault that I lost my babies. My self-critical mind wants me to believe that I am weak, because I fell in a hole each time and that others wouldn’t have fallen so deep or would have climbed out faster and with less help. But I am learning to recognize that I have made a lot of good choices and am responsible for the fact that I did climb out again. I chose to talk, to face and explore all the emotions, ask for help, go to therapy, gave others opportunities to support me, challenged myself and perhaps most importantly I chose to be open to learning a lot along the way. Remind me of that next time I feel low and tell you how weak I am!!!
A plan B. Further tests did not yield any explanations as to why I keep losing my babies. Is that good or bad news? So what now? According to the doctors, we just need to ‘try’ again and either it will work, or have genetic testing done after 5 miscarriages. So I chose to take pressure off the ‘baby project’ by formulating an alternative medium-term plan. I am not giving up, but I want to face reality and put some control back into this process that seems mostly out of my control. I can’t live with having the baby dream as my only goal to work towards, as it can get all-consuming and self destroying. I always need something to work towards and to look forward to.
So in 2021, I will have 6 months of unpaid leave and travel – all arranged with work. Am I giving up? No. From now, that is another year of trying and then I will need a big exciting break. Every day, month or pregnancy will inevitably bring me closer to either my dream of having a baby or my dream of travelling for 6 months, rather than putting me back to square one. I can only hope that will take the pressure off a bit – which can’t be good for my physical health either. Maybe that is what people who had no problem having a baby meant by ‘just relax’. 2021 won’t be the end of the road, but the step up to level 2. We can keep trying and step up the game to private tests and private miscarriage clinics whilst further developing a model of a childless life with meaning.
Permission to be and explore. I have chosen to give this mindfulness thing a whole-hearted go and have committed to doing 30 minutes of mindfulness practice every day on an 8 week course. Mindfulness is all about noticing primary reactions to situations – noticing feelings, allowing them to be there and exploring them without judgement – and distinguishing them from secondary reactions – jumping on the old familiar association train that leads to self-critical thoughts. So far it has helped me to allow to feel grief without beating myself up and I have noticed that individual waves of grief or low self-worth are shorter and makes me learn new things when I chose not to board the association train. I noticed that instead of feeling an emotion, my mind takes it away from the body and tries to explain it with the old story I have pieced together about myself: ‘I am a failure’.
Break old measures of success and choose better values. One of my self-help books has made me realize that my values have been shit. I have measured my worth by comparing myself to others, being good at something, validation from others and money. I have friends I admire for their successes, but I don’t choose them as friends because they are successful, but because of their personalities. My double standards have always dictated that I had to prove that I am good enough (as a person, a friend, an employee, an acro yoga partner etc). One of my books suggest that good values are reality based, immediate and controllable. Validation from others, or feeling good enough, is not reality but just a reflection of what I think of myself, because I never know exactly what others think. Validation does rely on others and therefore is out of my control. Also, being good enough is not immediate, because I always move the goalpost as soon as one is reached. I didn’t feel good enough when I achieved a First in my BSc, when I got my PhD, when I got my job, or when I got married. I probably won’t feel good enough even if I have a baby one day.
So I have defined a few mottos that I have been experimenting with as measures of success and self worth – so far they have been helpful but of course the experimenting will continue.
- Fight jealousy and give others less power over me. Jealousy is a big issue for me – pregnancy announcements are very difficult (even though I do not wish baby loss on anybody), but also, if I feel low, others always seem to achieve more for less effort. But the sad truth is that other people’s healthy and happy babies won’t affect my future pregnancies and other’s miscarriages won’t bring my babies back either. Equally, other people’s successes or special skills do not lessen my own achievements and skills – they might just have chosen to put emphasis on different things in life than I have.
- Be emotionally honest, to myself and others, and to keep learning. Living by this motto means that denying my own emotions, not exploring feelings and thoughts, not learning from them and communicating that to others becomes the failure rather than having them in the first place. Doing this will continue to build the kind of relationships I value the most. A friend once said to me that I allow her to be herself and share her inner world because I am openly sharing my struggles. She also said that those struggles make me an interesting and likeable person rather than diminishing my worth. Those are some of the most treasured compliments I have ever received.
- Put emphasis on enjoyment in my life rather than success and validation. The things that give me the biggest sense of achievement are often the ones that I have enjoyed working on. For example handstands, climbing mountains, overcoming the fear of scuba diving, making pretty documents at work and crafty things. And the good thing is that I can ease off pressure now, because I have worked hard in the past and I have arrived in a financially secure position. I have shifted to valuing my job because of the day-to-day joys it brings (being outside, interactions with my awesome colleagues, colleagues form other organisations and landowners, lots of doggy cuddles, helping the environment, always learning more, being allowed to be me) rather than feeling unsuccessful because I am not earning as much as mister and misses x.
- ‘Be myself, everybody else is already taken’ – no further words needed here.
I find other people’s healing stories often sound like this: ‘I was bad and then I realized X and now I am wise, doing well and never look back’. And maybe this sounds like that, too. But that is not true. I am fully aware that recognizing these things and putting them into my own very personal context is a very important step. But forgetting it all after a triggering event has occurred is so easy. I can’t go back in time, I can’t do a factory reset of my brain and I can’t control or predict what the future will hold. All I can do is keep learning and keep trying in the now. And thank my babies for helping me learn and grow a million times more than any of my successes have.
‘Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying “I will try again tomorrow”’ Mary Anne Radmacher – stolen from my friend Katie’s blog. Katie has taught me a lot by talking and writing about her own journey through Lyme disease.
Things that helped me
Choices Exeter Baby Loss Counselling.
Saying goodbye: a personal story of baby loss and 90 days of support to walk you through grief. Zoe Clarke-Coates. Also Zoe’s Instagram @zoeadelle
Miscarriage, what every woman needs to know. Professor Lesley Regan.
The power of vulnerability. Ted Talk by Brene Brown.
The lost tribe of childless women. Ted Talk by Jody Day.
13 Things mentally strong people don’t do. Amy Morin.