Time to Talk Day 4th Feb 2021; The Power of Small

Today is Time to Talk day; a day where we acknowledge the power that even the smallest conversation can have. 

Having experienced various difficult points with my own mental health (including before experiencing recurrent miscarriage), there are two conversations that stick out to me. 

The first was with a friend. At the time I was experiencing high bouts of anxiety; and after a day out shopping including a panic attack, I was upset with myself. How could I have let myself get into such a state?

But then my friend turned to me and said something I have remembered ever since.

“This changes absolutely nothing, except for how you feel about it right now.”

MIND. BLOWN.

She was right. This meant two things. 

Firstly, just because my body was screaming DANGER! at me, it didn’t mean that anything bad was any more likely to happen. My anxiety was convincing me that something awful was imminent and trying to prepare me for it; but anxiety, although it very much likes to sit in this particular driving seat, is NOT A PREDICTOR OF THE FUTURE. 

Do you hear that, anxiety?? You do not predict the future!! *Pause for applause.*  

The second thing this meant was that she thought no less of me than had I not had that panic attack. She was still my best friend, nothing had changed. 

“This changes nothing, except for how you feel about it right now.” 

I honestly could not believe how much sense that phrase made, and still means to me.

One of the biggest things for me in having a healthier relationship with my thoughts and feelings was removing my own stigma in the way that I referred to myself. I remember thinking for the longest time, “I’m an anxious person”. And by constantly telling myself that, not only did I believe it, for a while, I became it. 

A conversation with a therapist told me, “Everyone has anxiety. Everyone. What you need to do is recognise when you’re having it, take responsibility for it, and learn ways of becoming calm.” 

This did something so important for me; it gave me power. I’m not “an anxious person”; I am a person who, sometimes, experiences anxiety. Just like everyone else. There is a fundamental and absolutely crucial difference between the two. 

Now that I knew that anxiety is not an uncontrollable thing at the core of my being that I can do nothing about, this reframed my entire relationship with anxiety. It normalised it for me.

I am not anxiety. I experience anxiety from time to time.

Simple, but effective! 

Both of these conversations have been hugely impactful in helping me to get through some really tough spots in life; including dealing with recurrent miscarriage. 

Have you ever had someone offer to help you when they’ve seen you physically struggling? For example, grabbing an item from a high shelf in the supermarket that they can see you can’t reach; or offering to carry your suitcase up an icy hill when they see you dragging it behind you (this one actualy happened to me and I’ve remembered that chap ever since).

This years’ theme for Time to Talk Day is “the power of small”. And it’s spot on! The conversation I had with my friend took so little from her, and was only a few words, but it made ALL the difference. Similarly, with the therapist I was seeing at the time; granted, I was there for help, but it was this one thing that she said that was incredibly significant.

This is what we can learn going forward. Even the smallest conversation can make the biggest difference. And this can come from anyone, to anyone.

The point is, those moments are often really memorable; and it’s in those moments that we pause to reflect and think “wow, there are still really good people in the world, that care.”

Imagine if we could take that little moment of “I can see you need help, here’s something small I can do for you” and apply it to mental health, too.

Granted, its not as easy to see if someone is mentally stuggling. But I think that what I’m trying to say is, if we could make a conscious effort to offer small acts of kindness in relation to mental health, this could have a huge impact.

These moments don’t have to be huge. They can be as simple as checking in with a friend. It can be asking again if someone is okay. Or – my favourite one – it can be being honest about your own thoughts and feelings when you’re having a bad day so that others might feel more comfortable to be open about their own.

Now, I know, that is a SCARY thing to do. But we’ve got to start normalising the fact that we all have ups and downs; especially right now during a national lockdown. The constant stream of social media tells us that others are being productive, they’re coping better, they’re not letting lockdown life get them down; and when that’s all we see, we start to believe that everyone is doing better than us. But a small act of admitting when we’re not “living our best life” every day can help us, and others, to remember that that’s normal. Everyone has ups and downs.

These small moments add up. They contibute to shifting our perceptions of mental health, breaking down stigmas, and opening up a conversation.

So as you go about your day today, on national Time To Talk Day, try to remember the power of small; you never know what kind of impact you might have.

Dealing with other people’s pregnancies after loss

As a couple who have just entered our thirties, we’re at the prime age where a lot of our friends are starting their own families. It’s inevitable that after loss, you notice more, and are super sensitive to, other pregnancies; in the same way that when you are pregnant, you notice ten times as many baby related adverts as you did before. They seem to be EVERYWHERE.

After our first miscarriage, I went back to work after around 3 weeks. The day after I returned to work was due to be my first scan at 14 weeks. On the day I remember sitting at my desk and not 10 minutes into the day, hearing someone in the office behind me happily announce “I’m pregnant!” whilst the delighted squeals of colleagues bustled around her in congratulations. 

For a moment, I was fine…. And then cue an overwhelming sense of “oh wait, no I’m not… shit”. And a swift run to the bathroom to cry my eyes out. 

I wanted so much to be happy for this lovely person who was having a baby, but I was too new in my own grief to feel that for her at the time. Instead I felt intense jealousy – this was her SECOND baby, and I don’t get to have one?

Cue feeling like the worst person in the world.

In hindsight, that was a totally normal feeling and I shouldn’t have beaten myself up so much for it. But I’ll get more into explaining the emotional rollercoaster stuff later (bet you can’t wait!)

Fast forward to our third loss. In many ways this one has been the easiest – we feel like seasoned pro’s now – but in others, it has presented new and hella difficult challenges. 

In the weeks following leaving hospital, I felt like I heard nothing but pregnancy announcements. My family. My friends. Friends of friends. Colleagues. That lady that works in little Tesco. The milkman’s wife. (Okay, I’m exaggerating – but you get the point). It felt like everyone was having lovely, easy pregnancies except us. 

But this is the fundamental thing. We celebrate the new pregnancies, the life that will soon come into the world – as we should! Gosh, if I’m lucky enough to carry a pregnancy to full term, you better believe that I will be that person milking every moment for all its worth; demanding chocolate and foot massages and posing for bump-photoshoots dressed in flowing fabrics and garlands of flowers depicting me as a glowing baby-growing goddess. 

But we very rarely talk about the grief that comes with loss, despite how common it is. So not only do we not know how to talk about it generally, we ESPECIALLY didn’t know how to talk about what we were going through when faced with other pregnancies. And on the flip side, people going through pregnancy whilst knowing people who have experienced loss don’t know how to broach it, either.

So when we were suddenly presented with two of my best friends and Mike’s sister all becoming pregnant at the same time – due dates in the same week – all due the month after our third baby would have been due? 

Well, shit. I’m not going to lie, we didn’t really know what to do with that. 

I think I can break this down into a handful of emotions; as follows, and not necessarily in order:  

  1. Jealousy – you better believe that green eyed monster is real
  2. Anger – why don’t WE get to have our turn?
  3. Guilt – we’re the worst people in the world omg
  4. Confusion – is there something wrong with us? Are we being punished?
  5. Sadness – we lost our babies
  6. Joy – our friends are pregnant and we’re going to have new babies in our lives, isn’t that amazing??
  7. Excitement – think of how much fun we’re going to have with them! There are 17 new baby things in my Amazon basket 
  8. Anxiety – what if we never have a baby?
  9. Depression – this feels absolutely awful and we can’t see how this will ever get better
  10. Insatiable desire for chocolate – Mike please bring me chocolate

It stands to reason if you wonder how one person could possibly feel all that. Now I know how Hermione Grainger felt when she told Ron Weasley he had the emotional range of a teaspoon. (Harry Potter joke). 

For the first few months, dealing with this was difficult. There was a sort of numbness that came with it; our own grief was so fresh that we couldn’t put into words how we were feeling about these happy announcements that were coming from a handful of the people that we love the most in the whole world.

For me, this period of time was the worst of it. I couldn’t talk to my friends about how I was feeling because I didn’t want to hurt them. I didn’t want them carrying any of my sadness through their pregnancies. I didn’t want to give them any reason to not celebrate those little miracles at every moment because I knew that they wouldn’t want to hurt me, either. 

It should also be mentioned here that all of this happened right at the beginning of the global Coronavirus pandemic. So there was that absolute beast to deal with, too. (We’ve written a bit about dealing with miscarriage throughout the pandemic; you can find it here.)

So for the first part, there was the avoidance of the issue. Lets just not talk about this overwhelming thing between us and carry on as best we can, because f**k knows how we’re going to go about this without hurting each other. 

But then there came guilt. Guilt that I couldn’t put aside my grief to support my friends and my sister-in-law. It wasn’t that I wasn’t happy for them – I was, and am, over the moon for all of them – but I couldn’t escape the fact that their pregnancies reminded me of my own loss. 

After a few months, this really, really started getting me down. I wasn’t speaking to my friends, the people that I confided in for absolutely everything. My confidantes, my rocks. I was relying on Mike for all my emotional support which in turn made me feel guilty too.

So one day, I plucked up the courage to talk to my closest friend about it. 

I weighed up how to broach this with her weeks beforehand. What would I say? This person has been by my side for all 3 losses and is my closest friend. I should be completely happy for her WITH NO OTHER FEELINGS BECAUSE THEY ARE WRONG, I should be able to put my grief aside, I should be able to be the best friend I can be to her as she is to me.

I knew that she would have had her own struggles, too. I reflected on her experience and I felt so deeply for her.  For many people who want to be parents, the day of announcing your pregnancy is one that you dream about. Not only was my friend dealing with her first pregnancy during a pandemic, but she was also dealing with being pregnant after watching us lose 3 babies. I wanted desperately to talk to her about how we were both feeling, but didn’t want to undermine her experience either.

“I don’t know how to do or say this, but I’m really struggling with this” was what I said, I think; or something along those lines. That was all it took to start the splurge of everything that I was going through, and for her to reciprocate and to admit her own struggles, too. I was equally relieved and gutted. Relieved that I had finally been honest. And gutted that she had been through so much herself and couldn’t come to me to help her through it like she normally would, especially after she has done so much for me and Mike. I felt in some ways like I had betrayed her. But after talking through it, it all made sense and we realised a bunch of stuff. 

Mostly, that we were doing our best. It was funny in a way – we were trying so damn hard not to hurt each other, that we ended up hurting each other anyway. Not being our true and normal selves was what was hurting us. 

That conversation took place on a very windy and rainy beach in the late afternoon; the kind where the rain pelts your face and you can’t keep your hood up because the wind keeps knocking it off your head. There were tears and we found ourselves shouting “I’M SO SORRY, I LOVE YOU SO MUCH” at each other over the wind and rain –  it was all very dramatic. We almost expected the clouds to part and the sun to shine down on us once we had chatted through everything.

The strange part was that there was no resolution. We came to a conclusion that we didn’t really know what to do. But that was enough. 

Because now, we could move forward, with everything out in the open.

5 months on from our loss, and after a lot of work to get there, I started to really celebrate the pregnancies of our friends and families with a full heart. They say that time heals, and it’s true. That’s not to say that I mean that we’re “over” the miscarriages; as we’ve come to learn, that’s not how grief works. Some days, particularly on days of any significance (baby milestones or what would have been our due dates) are harder. But as we continue to heal, we can feel more of the joy and love that was always there for our friends and family who are having their own babies, and really start to celebrate with them.

That healing comes down to being honest with ourselves and those around us, spending time with those we love, and with time. We’ve learned to treat ourselves with more of a gentleness and not to judge those scary emotions too harshly. We’re only human, after all. The most important thing to remember is that those thoughts and feelings do not define us; rather, what we choose to do with them does. 

I remember that Mike told me (the wise old owl that he is) to give support to my pregnant friends, even when I felt like I couldn’t. Bit by bit, little by little. Because he knew that was what I was craving; I wanted so much to be there for them. A big part of my problem is that I don’t just want to be a good friend; I want to be an AMAZING friend. But I had to let that go in order to heal – I had to do it slowly, and give as much as I could, when I could.

In time, and with patience and practice, it became easier. And now I can honestly say that I’ve gone from feeling that I would never be okay again, to being able to support my friends wholeheartedly – I can focus on them completely without feeling that sense of grief or guilt. It’s such a powerful feeling and one that I’ll remember in times when it’s harder.

There’s a gorgeous quote from Brene Brown; “We don’t have to do it all alone. We were never meant to”. It really highlights to me the importance of giving support to, and taking support from those you love. Being able to open up to our friends and family has been fundamental in that healing.

So when those darker days do come, we can be honest with our friends and family rather than hiding our inevitable twinge of sadness. Because what we’ve learned is that as much as we want to support others whilst dealing with our grief – our pregnant friends also want to support us whilst dealing with their pregnancies. We can be happy AND sad. We can be supportive AND dealing with grief. They can be understanding AND excited for their own journeys.

Who knew friendship was a two way street?! 

I’m incredibly proud of Mike and I for reaching this point and being able to feel it all at once, and to keep looking for the light in the darkness. 

Because one day, our time will come. We don’t know exactly when or how that will be, but there is no lesser way to become a parent. 

And you better believe that when it does, we’ll be equally ready to celebrate, and to support anyone around us that needs it.