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 anger after miscarriage

I recently came across the Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle in work, when trying to help a colleague with something going on in their life. In finding it, I found it spoke volumes to my own and continuing experiences with grief. 

Of all the five stages, during every miscarriage, Anger is the phase I have struggled with most, and continue to struggle with. And whilst I haven’t found a solution, I have found things that help.

I watched an excellent Ted Talk last year, in which Ryan Martin talks about why we get angry and why it’s healthy. My take away from listening to the talk was that we get angry when we feel injustice. When something happens that upsets our values or beliefs. In the talk, Ryan identifies that the five triggers for anger are things that we experience as being unpleasant, unfair, that block our goals, that are avoidable or leave us feeling powerless.

My experience of miscarriage is that it ticks four of these five boxes. The experience was extremely unpleasant, it felt unfair and like a milestone (or goal), was unobtainable and I was left feeling powerless. I don’t think for a second any aspect of it was unavoidable and this is something I think is important to mention. As one of the nurses said to Jess after our first misscarriage, “Unless you’ve been smoking a hundred cigarettes a day and drinking heavily, this isn’t your fault”. Self blame is a path that leads only to darkness and is better off avoided. 

But hitting four of the five boxes, it exemplifies why miscarraige, at whatever stage, generates so much anger. And it does. After moving through denial and fear of the misscarraige, I found Anger had built up in me to the point I wanted to do great harm to the world around me. I felt like I could violently lash out at any moment and a part of me wanted to. Because it would be a release. And that made me scared and upset. I didn’t want to become that person and was left feeling frustration, as I tried to control my anger. 

I think the thing I struggled with most was that I had no person or object to be angry at. Nothing with which to funnel my rage and anger. And I would not let loved ones become a target, so my anger festered. 

Even now, I have days where I want to scream into the void. I want to point the finger of blame. But I can’t. Because I have tried it and it doesn’t work. There’s no justice to be found in my anger, because there is no person or object to be held accountable. The situation just is. It is one of life’s great injustices. And as much as I hate that fact, I won’t give myself to it. 

In Ryan Martin’s Ted Talk, he finished by explaining that Anger is what benefited our ancestors, as it is part of our fight or flight instinct. And just as we cannot (should not) physically fight someone in civilised society, so it is the case for miscarraige (although I would welcome the opportunity to kick conceptual miscarriages arse). But we can use anger as a tool to identify injustice and find a positive way to fight it.

I’m not sure I have identified the ideal way to use my anger at miscarraige in a positive way yet. Writing for our blog, in hope it will help others, goes some way to helping, I think. I certainly feel it’s a positive outlet. Donating to charities that support those suffering misscarriage helps too. And I think one day campaigning for positive social and legal changes around misscarraige will fill me with a sense of justice too. Some small balancing of the scales. But if I do myself a kindness, I think this is enough. I hate to admit it to myself, but I think actually having a child is the only thing that will ever truly dispel my anger. Perhaps this isn’t true. I truly hope it isn’t. But if it is; that’s okay. Because there are many ways to have a child and no one of them is less worthy than the other. 

I hope, as you read these words, you find some comfort in them. I certainly, having started typing this whilst in a dark place, feel a little lighter. I hope that you will cut yourself some slack for feeling angry and try to find a way to channel it into positivity. But if you can’t, don’t berate yourself for it. It’s just not time yet; but it will come. 

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. 

Third time around; A father’s thoughts on recurrent miscarriage

On the 22nd March 2020, at roughly 11am, my wife, Jess, and I were told, once again, that we’d had a miscarriage. This was our third, having had one in January 2019 and another in June 2019. As it had both times before, my mind went blank and focused on a singular purpose. Something that was largely outside of my control, but something I would try to do nonetheless. How did I protect Jess. From the grief, the hurting and the frustration of the loss. Looking back on it now, I’d been a fool to worry as much as I did. I think it’s a very human reaction to want to protect those you love from the things that hurt you and you fear is hurting them too. But this was Jess and she is one of the strongest people I know; even if she rarely gives herself credit for this fact.

After the usual follow up with the early pregnancy midwife, we left the hospital, in silence for a while, until we reached the car park. There, I asked if Jess was okay. It was then I knew we’d weather this storm better than we had the first and second time. Her response was only to lament that, because of COVID-19, that we wouldn’t be able to see our family and friends, the people we rely on most at our very highest, very lowest and at every level in between. She swiftly followed it up with that she’d like a drink, which in itself is something as Jess isn’t a big drinker. “There’s some Gingerbread Rum left over from Christmas. I think I’ll have some of that.”

I didn’t cry myself until later that morning, as I sat at the dining room table, work phone sat in front of me, waiting for a text message back from my boss. Emotions always seem to hit me after the fact. They take a few hours to sink in, sometimes days. I often attribute this to why I rarely get excited about my holidays until I wake up on the day we’re going to the airport. As I sat in my little air pocket, staring at the black mirror of my phone, Jess floated into the room, cup of tea in hand and open arms to embrace her soggy faced husband. She always seems to know when I need her most. I probably shouldn’t be surprised after almost 13 years together, but I am. It’s part of what keeps the magic going. As she held me, I spoke about how I was angry. Angry that I had nothing to direct my hatred towards. And that I was also very sad. And finally that interspersed amongst it all, I was having strange moments of clarity. Clarity that seemed to say, “This is okay. You knew this might happen again and you will try again sometime.”

If I have any prevailing mindset that has come out of the third miscariage, it’s that everything is okay, despite the loss. It’s deeply saddening, frustrating and fills me with anger occasionally. But then I find myself often sitting in a daydream, thinking about holding my first born child, playing with them as a toddler, or acting as the sagely father to a teenager. And those emotions are still there, but more like a subtle undertone. They are almost silenced by the prevailing feeling of my willingness to soldier on. To try again and for those daydreams to one day become a reality. I feel it like some sort of driving force in my chest, pushing forward and outward. A yearning. I attribute this to something Jess said the day we found out about the third miscarriage. “This one just wasn’t right for us, but it will be when the time is right.” And I think my body is trying to pull me to that day. When Jess and I can sit in the darkened sonographers room, Jess on the bed and I sat beside her, holding her hand, and being told that we’re having a healthy baby and that everything is progressing as it should. But until then, I will write down my experiences, for what they’re worth. In part, to help myself collate my thoughts and order my feelings, like the robot I can be sometimes. But more so that someone, other than myself, can feel a little less alone in the darkness that swallows all those who lose a baby, and so that they might find some nugget of wisdom from my experiences or thoughts. 

Miscarriage and Coronavirus; what it’s like to have a miscarriage during a pandemic

I couldn’t tell you the first time I heard the word “coronavirus”. It must have been some time in early March, back when none of us could have had any sort inkling of the impact that COVID19 would have on the world. 

At the time, I was preoccupied with another health related worry; my third pregnancy. 

“Right”, I thought. “Let’s do this.” 

Getting pregnant again

After our second miscarriage, (first January 2019, second June 2019), we had needed space. Space to heal after our losses. When we lost our first we adopted a “get back on the horse” approach (if you’ll excuse the terrible innuendo) and tried again after three months, to get pregnant straight away. At the time it felt right, but when it came to being pregnant again, I was petrified. This time, after a six month wait, we felt mentally, emotionally and physically ready to try again. I was pregnant two months later. 

I remember us both having more of a sense of calm, this time. It’s amazing how resilient you become, despite the trauma of multiple losses; for us, it has made us feel stronger both independently and as a couple. We had a cuddle and a sense of calm washed over us both. Because the thing was, even if the worst was to happen for a third time, we were well prepared to deal with it – we knew the drill and felt prepared for anything. After being at my wits end during my second, I was determined to enjoy my third pregnancy. They tell you that every pregnancy is different, and so even the fact that we’d had two previous losses didn’t necessarily have any bearing on whether we would have another. We held onto this, not wanting to carry the sadness of our previous losses into this new, precious pregnancy. 

The other thing that contributed to this sense of calm was knowing that in Great Britain, you become eligible for testing via the NHS after three consecutive miscarriages (if you’re under the age of 35). So, in that event, we would be eligible for testing. And whilst it is an utter bummer that that’s the case, we at least had that to hold on to.

Now, it’s safe to say that this “sense of calm” was not something that I experienced throughout. It changed daily. Some days I felt calm and collected, other days I was on the verge of panic attacks, experiencing painful flashbacks and replaying the previous outcomes. At the time I was seeing a lovely therapist, who helped me to manage processing the previous losses and dealing with my new pregnancy (more on this later). 

Unfortunately, this pregnancy was not to be. I started bleeding early on in the pregnancy; which, while for many women is not a problem during pregnancy, for me this was an all too familiar early-onset sign of another miscarriage. 

Here we go again.

Back into hospital; mid-March 2020  

In the instance that a person has experienced a “missed miscarriage” (i.e. the pregnancy has stopped developing but the body hasn’t brought the miscarriage on yet), the patient is given options. The first, to wait for nature to take its course. The second, for “medical management”; where a pessary is inserted to soften the cervix and bring on the misscarriage. Or third, surgery; where the patient is taken into theatre (in my case, under general anaesthetic but I do believe in some cases this is done by local anaesthetic) and the pregnancy tissue is removed via the vagina.

I have gone full over-achiever on this and had all three. 

This time, I opted for the same as I had for my second miscarriage; medical. I’d had it before, I knew what to expect. I wanted to minimise any risk, and I wasn’t a fan of the thought of surgery.

At the time, this was mid-March and the word “Coronavirus” had become more than a scary word that only affected the larger cities. I think when you live somewhere like we do, in a little coastal town in the north west of England, it’s easier to believe that a pandemic will never make it to your little place in the world. But as the virus started to spread northwards, by the time we were in hospital, procedures were in place. No entry if you had a new cough or high temperature. We were advised that the guidance was changing by the hour and that there was a chance Mike would be asked to leave.

I had the medical procedure in the afternoon, and it was over later that evening. Miscarriage can be a painful, and sometimes frightening experience, so I was thankful that Mike had been allowed to be by my side. He held my hand, stroked my forehead, told me I was going to be okay. Brought me snacks. Called the nurse. Remembered details that I was too out of it to engage with when the doctors came in.

But later that evening, Mike was told he couldn’t stay. With my previous miscarriages, we have been extremely fortunate that the sensational nurses on the gynaecology ward set Mike up with a camp bed in the corner of the room so that I didn’t have to be alone. But this time, they gently explained that due to the changing guidance, Mike wouldn’t be able to stay overnight. 

I was so proud of myself that I didn’t stress, didn’t get upset; I just accepted that was the case and waited to see Mike the next day during visiting hours. It was already over, so I had nothing to do but rest, read and watch Netflix. Whilst it would have been a completely normal and acceptable reaction to be upset, I remember thinking to myself that this showed how much stronger and more resilient I had become.

The next day, I was experiencing pain and discomfort. I had an inkling that something wasn’t right; I didn’t feel that it was “over”. A scan later that morning revealed that I was right, and that this time, the pessary hadn’t successfully removed all of the pregnancy tissue. I was advised that to manage this, I would have to go into surgery. 

FOR F****S ACTUAL SAKE. 

Now, I did get upset. 

I was facing surgery, something I had never done before. I had thought that the pessary would do all of the work, that it would be over; it hadn’t and it wasn’t. I was alone, signing paperwork to state that I understood the risks and consented to being at the complete mercy of the surgeons. 

Now, it is absolutely true that the doctors and nurses were wonderful and the surgery was a complete success. This type of surgery is routine and extrememly common. But at that time, in a state of heightened upset and stress, I was frightened. I hated not having Mike with me. 

After the surgery the following day, Mike was allowed to sit with me whilst I recovered. 

We came home, ready to look after each other, and ready to surround ourselves with the support of our family and friends. 

Then, on the 26th March 2020, the country went into lockdown. This, undoubtedly, was the really hard bit.

Loss and lockdown 

Everyone copes with grief differently. Some people prefer to be alone, others surround themselves with friends and family. For Mike and I, our friends and family had been our place of refuge during our previous losses. 

But under the lockdown restrictions, I couldn’t see my mum and dad. I couldn’t hug my friends. I couldn’t go round to my sister’s for a brew

What we could do was sit in the house with our grief and not much else.

Now, this sounds like a lot of doom and gloom; and for a while, it was. 

Some days, we talked a lot. Others, we barely spoke to each other, going through the motions of waking up, eating, sleeping.

To be totally honest, we didn’t know what the hell to do with ourselves. When there’s nothing else you can do, you’re sort of forced to find things to distract yourself. There were a lot of jigsaws completed at the time (the perfect balance between needing to concentrate and not having to think too hard about it, would highly recommend.)

But after a while, we started to see silver linings. Because we had so much time to just be together, we talked more about our feelings. Whilst this had the potential to put enormous strain on our relationship, our previous losses had prepared us to understand what the other person needed. We’d had a lot of practise when it came to communication; I think that without that, being so on top of each other after something so heartbreaking would have been a lot harder. 

Not seeing our loved ones was hard. When we were allowed to start seeing people outside, it was a godsend. But I think for me, one of the hardest things has been no physical contact. Mike and I are both very physical people and we hug our loved ones constantly. Not being able to do so has felt totally unnatural, and has given us a new appreciation for what seems in the moment like a small gesture, but is a large part of our social dynamic and integral to our happiness.

Slowly, things started to change. Restrictions started to lift and social circles were allowed to widen. By this point our lifestyle had completely changed; we had gone from seeing our friends and family several times a week to barely seeing them at all. We were both working from home, and whilst we were incredibly grateful to be able to do so, it meant that we barely left the house either. The lack of normality has been a steep learning curve and has, in some ways, tied us more to our grief. 

To try or not to try? 

As I mentioned earlier, as I am under the age of 35 and have experienced 3 consecutive miscarriages, I am now eligible for testing under the NHS. However, after the pandemic struck, all non-essential services were stopped. This meant that we had no idea when we might be able to get any sort of testing done. 

What do you do in that scenario? Wait and hope the services will resume soon? Try again and hope for the best, risking another heartbreak? 

Being in this state of limbo has inevitably affected our recovery. We decided to wait, putting milestones in our minds for when we would give up waiting (“if we don’t hear by the end of X month, we’ll think about trying again” etc). Trouble is, when you’re on the road to parenthood, you can’t get off the road until you have a baby in your arms; whether naturally, via medical intervention, adoption or other means. Or, you make a decision that children won’t be a part of your life. This sense of perpetual waiting can be painful; even pregnancy itself is waiting, for 9 months in the hope that your baby will be born happy and healthy. So how do we navigate that waiting period without completely losing our minds? 

To be honest, I don’t think there’s any one answer to that. One thing that my therapist told me when I was stressing out about how to deal with pregnancy after loss, was to imagine the pregnancy that I wanted to have; how did the pregnancy look? How did I feel? What was I doing? How did I react to stressful scenarios? Whilst I won’t go into the detail here, this practice certainly helped me to deal with the severe anxiety that came with a pregnancy after two losses; as well as subsequently how to deal with the loss.

Anyone who has experienced baby loss will know the feelings; from guilt, i.e. “this is my fault” (it’s not) to questioning, i.e. “what have I done wrong?” (absolutely nothing unless you’re drinking, smoking and doing hard drugs on the daily) to despair, i.e. “this is never going to happen for me” (no one can predict the future and no two pregnancies are the same). 

And so this practice of imagining myself as a new person, stronger for her experiences, dealing calmly and rationally with anxiety and stress, did actually help me to create and become that person. It made the subsequent stress easier to deal with. (If you would like to see a separate post about this, let me know!) 

Thinking of others 

Relativity is a wonderful thing. Mike often says to me “it doesn’t matter if you’re drowning in 2 inches of water, or 2 metres; you’re still drowning”. He’s a wise old owl. 

So when I look at our experience, and then think of others, I have such empathy for those who have had it so much worse that we did. That’s not to say that our experience wasn’t difficult; but I can’t imagine the pain of having to go through baby loss, at any stage, without your partner or a loved one being able to be with you. 

A short while later, not one, but three of my close friends and family announced their pregnancies. (Separate, hopefully helpful post about dealing with other people’s pregnancies after loss on its way!) Whilst that ignited a whole host of emotions in Mike and I, one of them was huge empathy. I’d had a few weeks to start to worry about Coronavirus with my pregnancy; I cannot imagine what it must be like to carry a full pregnancy during a pandemic. It’s that waiting thing again; waiting for the moment when your baby is in your arms and hoping and praying that everything is going to be alright. 

And I’m sure that any parent will tell me that sense of worry doesn’t end when you have your baby – as my mum always tells me, she will always worry about my sister and I, because we’re her children. 

Remembering that we’re doing our best – and so are you

Now, we’re at what feels like a milestone in our journey; the one that comes after losses and before testing. The pandemic has meant that we don’t know exactly how long we’ll be here; for us, and others who are waiting for testing or others kinds of fertility treatment, it’s a hard slog. 

So while we’re here, we’re doing our best. If you’re here with us, know that you’re doing your best, too. There’s nothing that could have prepared any of us to deal with a pandemic; and experiencing any kind of life-changing event whether it be pregnancy, baby loss, financial struggles, bereavement, sickness, mental health issues or all of the above during this time is a challenge and a half. 

For now, I’m focusing on what’s in front of me. Keeping a milestone in my head (if we don’t hear by X time, we’ll start trying, etc.) helps me to let go of the worrying and wonder. So does letting go of the idea of a perfect pregnancy journey. This certainly wasn’t what I had in my head when I dreamt of Mike and I trying for kids, but it’s helped us to accept that things aren’t in our control. 

And when the time does come to either have our testing, or decide to try anyway, all we can do is remember that sense of acceptance and give in to the lack of control. Our journey to parenthood isn’t the beautiful, simple road we hoped it would be, but we’re stronger for it. And when we do have our baby, through whatever means that may be, it will be all the more precious.

Jess’ First Blog; My First Miscarriage

On a Saturday morning, I found out that I was pregnant for the first time.

I’d had an inkling that I was pregnant about a week before I took the test. But having had an erratic menstrual cycle since coming off the contraceptive injection 12 months previously, I knew that there was every chance that I was simply late. I had done tests before when I was one or two days overdue with the excitement that the possibility brought, but had always been met with the single pink line. So this time, I was patient.

Exactly 1 week after I should have started a new period, I took the test. I woke up with butterflies knowing that today could be the day that I received that life-changing news. I remember trying not to get too excited; I had been wrong before, and this could simply be another one of those moments. Mike I had been ‘not trying, not preventing’ for about 8 months; which in reality, meant that we were trying, but attempting not to think too hard about it. In the beginning I had tried ovulation sticks to try and pinpoint the optimum time to try; which, as per the aforementioned erratic cycle, proved to be completely pointless. I would look at the little sticks which gave me absolutely no indication that I was ovulating when I thought I might be. But when I started to question whether I was ovulating at all, and unhelpful thoughts such as “What if the contraceptive injection has made me infertile?!?!” started to enter my head, I ditched the ovulation sticks in favour of a period-tracking app.

Now this was something that I could get on board with. The app allowed me to track not only my periods, but my moods, diet, weight, water intake, physical symptoms – you name it – with the intention that this would help give you a comprehensive overview of your menstrual cycle. The app plotted my periods and told me when it thought I was ovulating – brilliant! This allowed me a small amount of control and knowledge, without being too much information. I could see when the app thought the optimum time to try would be, without the sad little ‘blank’ where a smiley face should be.

So, 8 months later, I crept out of bed in the morning to take the test. I read through the instructions carefully (despite having done pregnancy tests in the past, I knew to pee on the stick) but this didn’t stop me making a mistake – peeing on the window! The instructions state specifically not to pee on the window!! Better take another one, just in case.

I remember feeling nervous, but also sensing a strange sense of calm. I looked over to the first test and there it was, clear as day. A pink line, and a softer, faded pink line. But there it was! And another, on test 2.

I was pregnant. Right.

Now what?

I took the tests and put everything away neatly so that if Mike came into the bathroom, he’d be none the wiser, and went downstairs to make a brew. There was something special to me about having that little moment of knowing I was going to be a mother, but no one else in the world knowing my special secret. But as soon as I heard Mike shuffling about in the bedroom, I couldn’t wait to tell him. I wrote daddy-to-be a message using the magnetic Scrabble tiles on the fridge whilst I waited for him to come downstairs, perching next to my fridge-announcement.

Unbelievably, he couldn’t sense that something monumental had happened simply by looking at me as he pottered about getting his porridge, so I motioned heavily to the side of the fridge. We were going to be parents!

Throughout the first few weeks of my pregnancy, I felt sensational. Despite the horror stories that you hear about that first trimester, I felt amazing. I knew exactly what I was doing and why I was doing it – I was going to be a mum, and this was my life now as I knew it. I was so happy, I absolutely adored my husband, I had wonderful friends and family around me. Life felt brilliant.

Now don’t get me wrong, I had my negative feelings towards the pregnancy. I suddenly knew the truth of how I would feel when my independence was taken away from me. Would I still see my friends? Would I be able to travel where I wanted? Would I have time to pursue my career, or for hobbies any more? I had rose-tinted visions of my husband and I strapping our baby to us and continuing to travel, to live our lives as we had done throughout our twenties. But having watched my sister have her little girl the year before, I knew that this was possible, but wouldn’t be easy. It would be hard, it would be an adjustment, but it would be okay.

Around 8 weeks into the pregnancy, something started to bother me. Whilst I had been feeling a little tired, I had very few pregnancy symptoms. I waited every day for something to kick in – sore boobs, nausea, anything. I no longer had a sense of complete elation, and anxiety started to creep in.

I should mention at this point that I suffer, like many others, from Generalised Anxiety Disorder. This started in my late teens, and I first noticed it after going onto the contraceptive pill. The trouble with it is that it can be triggered by lots of things, but for me, often has a root that is sometimes very hard to find. It makes thoughts that a normal person can deal with and put away seem extremely overwhelming. I’ve only been diagnosed with this for the last 2 years, but in reality, I’ve dealt with it for more than 12 years. CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) and more recently, antidepressants, have been a godsend.

But, what this meant for me was, that I attributed my feelings of uncertainty to my anxiety. I spoke to the people around me about my worries; my husband, my mum, my sister, our midwife. My mum and sister shared stories of their own pregnancies and how they didn’t have a great deal of symptoms either, which was a small comfort. It was possible that my pregnancy would be similar to the women in my family, wouldn’t it?  I also asked our midwife about it, who told me “Don’t worry about it, everyone’s pregnancy is different. Enjoy it while it lasts. You’re one of the lucky ones.” But I didn’t want to enjoy it, and I certainly didn’t feel lucky – I wanted my body to give me a damn sign that something was happening. But I steeled myself with patience and continued to wait for symptoms to come.

On a Wednesday evening at about 9 and a half weeks pregnant, I saw what every pregnant woman dreads the most – blood. Albeit a very small amount. As I tried to remain calm I could feel the panic sweeping over me. I called to Mike and we decided to call our local Health On Call team for some advice, who called us into the hospital that night.

We were greeted by the on-call doctor; a lovely man who should teach bedside manner because I felt instantly comfortable in his presence. I described my symptoms to him and he reassured us that this sort of thing at this stage in pregnancy is extremely common and almost always nothing to worry about.

Wait – bleeding in pregnancy is common?

Seriously?

After waiting for some sort of reassurance, THIS is the symptom I’m getting? You’ve got to be kidding. But nevertheless, the doctor prescribed bedrest for 48 hours as a precaution.

The bleeding continued, lightly, but on the Sunday, whilst having Sunday lunch with my family, the spotting started more heavily. I tried desperately not to get upset but I couldn’t get past the fear that something was wrong. My sister put me in touch with a friend of hers who had experienced bleeding during the early stages of her pregnancy and had gone on to have a healthy baby boy, so I sent her a message with all the gory details in the hope that she would tell me that our symptoms matched exactly; which she did. She sent me some lovely, heartfelt messages and did everything she could to reassure me that everything was likely to be absolutely fine. But still, I wasn’t consoled. We went back to the hospital that afternoon.  

This time, the doctor asked to do an internal examination and because it was a Sunday, booked me in for a scan the next day. I was elated; finally, we’d be able to see for sure that something was happening and we wouldn’t have to wait until 14 weeks (the date that my first scan was booked for) to find out. The relief of just knowing that we had the scan was enough to calm me. And after the internal examination, the doctor confirmed that there was no indication of anything untoward; my cervix was closed which indicated a continuing healthy pregnancy.

The next morning, I waited for the scan. I remember sitting in the hospital waiting room trying to keep calm, but my nerves were all over the place. We were called into a small room for the scan where 2 ladies quietly explained what was about to happen. My partner sat to my side and I reached for his hand as the nurse moved the device over my lower abdomen. She said a number – 22.5, and then explained that she couldn’t see very much from this position and that she would try with an internal scan. I was sent to the bathroom to empty my bladder before the next scan.

Waiting to get into the loo at that moment as I waited for it to be unoccupied seemed to take forever.

When I returned, the internal examination was over quickly. She gently explained that she could see a sac, but no fetal pole and no heartbeat. “I’m very sorry”, she said. I had managed to keep it together up to this point, and thought about all the women outside the door waiting for their scans; I couldn’t let them see me upset, it would be terrifying to them. But as Mike put his arms around me, I cried.

We were taken to the Antenatal and Gynaecology ward, where we were placed in a quiet room and left alone for a while. I sobbed. I had been right, there was no baby. I sobbed with grief, for myself and for my partner; but also, with the strange sense of relief that I could let go of the worrying. I knew now what was happening. It was devastating, but I knew now what I was coping with. My head bounced between grief and relief as I tried to take it all in.

Mike was sensational. After I’d stopped crying for a moment he made me laugh by telling me “You can have a Maccies, if you want”. For context, we’re not big on fast-food and we only ever get McDonald’s once a year (it’s our hungover on New Year’s Day tradition) so the offer was extra-special, and it made me smile and glow with love for him. It sounds utterly daft, but it was one of the moments that helped me to see that we would be okay. As I watched him I was concerned that he hadn’t cried yet, but I knew he would be waiting to deal with his grief privately. This moment was for him to show his support to me, and I loved him for it.

Shortly after, we were joined by a consultant and a nurse. Upon seeing me at first, the consultant asked me why I was crying. Whilst this seemed like an absolutely absurd thing to ask, she explained that as I hadn’t shown any signs of a miscarriage, there was still a chance that the baby may be fine. They planned to scan me in another week to see if the sac had grown (I now understood the reference to 22.5). If it had, they there was a chance everything was fine if they could also detect a heartbeat. It may have just been too small to see.

But, the more likely occurrence is that I had experienced a ‘missed miscarriage’. This basically means that at some point in the pregnancy, the baby stopped developing, but my body had continued as if I was still pregnant.

What!?

I remember hearing this news and at the time, I understood it, but I had never heard of anything like a ‘missed miscarriage’. Didn’t your body just do its thing and end it if there was something wrong? Apparently not.

The nurse explained to me that she had experienced the same thing; she had a missed miscarriage and found out at 14 weeks. There was some comfort in speaking with this woman who had experienced the same thing; and, had gone on to have healthy babies. I wondered at the possibility of something being there when we had the scan the following week and felt confused; although it had only been 45 minutes or so, I felt that I had come to terms with the fact that I had been right, and there was no baby. I felt so sure, because what I came to believe was my instinct, my intuition, had been right. But here they were telling me that there was a chance something may be there. Though this would have been a personal miracle, and I would have loved it to be true, I knew that another week of ‘not knowing’ would be hard to take; and more that this, I just didn’t believe it. The nurse gently told us that in her opinion, she believed that to send us away with that belief would be to give us false hope. I was grateful for her honesty.

I will never be able to fully explain my gratitude to this woman who said so many things to me that day that I didn’t even know that I needed to hear. Although I knew, she told me “It’s absolutely nothing that you have done.” And topped it off with “Unless you’re taking drugs, smoking 40 a day and getting leathered every night”. She also told me that she was going to charge for the used tissues. She was brilliant for lightening the mood. But most importantly to me, she gently explained what would happen next.

She told me that they would do the next scan in a week to see if the sac had grown; but that in the meantime, there is a chance that I could miscarry. I knew in my heart that there was no baby and that this would happen sooner or later – but what if it didn’t? What if my body didn’t do what it needed to do? What would happen then? Or – what if it did? Was I on the brink of an impending miscarriage? When would it happen? What would happen? The images that your mind conjures in that moment do not bear thinking about, and the nurse knew this. “You won’t see anything formed” she said. Once again, the relief was palpable. I could have hugged her.  

As we prepared to leave, the nurse gave us some advice. “Get some new shoes, a new handbag, and go on holiday”, she said. “And then try again.” I took her advice on the retail therapy and have new boots and a handbag (and a few other bits, I’m not going to lie) to show for it.

The rest of that afternoon is a blur. I have no idea what we did. I think we watched some TV but the emotion was so raw, I can barely remember. After what felt like days of crying and looking at each other (but was actually later that night), one of my closest friends popped in to see us. She was a dream. After we explained everything that had happened, she talked to us about normal things – her day, a bit of gossip, what she was planning for the weekend. It was a tonic and we felt our spirits lift. My husband turned to me then and said “I know we’re tired, but I think we should get out of the house”. He was right, it felt good to be doing something so normal, but also to get out of the clothes we had been in all day and to move from the sofa pit of tissues. So we invited ourselves round to our friends house (we’re very much an open-door policy type friendship) and she welcomed us with cups of tea and a mountain of biscuits. It’s the best thing we could have done that night.

In the early hours of the Wednesday morning, the miscarriage started naturally. Throughout that following day, I had pain that came and went. They came a little like period pains but were more severe, and would radiate into my back. I could tolerate it through the afternoon, but later that night (is it just me that finds things like this always happen at night??) the pain became unbearable. My husband bundled me into the car and took me straight into A&E.

I remember gripping the desk in A&E and asking for help. They found me a wheelchair as by this point I could barely walk, and I remember inwardly laughing at the absurdity of it all as my husband desperately tried to navigate this wheelchair that was worse that a shopping trolley that just does what it wants. This was further exacerbated by the fact that as we were wheeled into to see the on-call doctor, “Hillbilly Rock” played casually overhead. Despite being in the most pain I have ever felt in my life, I still laughed at that.

I was seen by an absolutely lovely doctor, who after mistakenly addressing me with ‘Hello Kimberly, tell me about your rib pain’ and narrowly avoiding a swing from me, took me to the Antenatal and Gynaecology ward. Along the way he assured me, saying it was okay, my body is trying to do what it needs to do. He explained that he had been through the same thing earlier that very day with another patient who was now absolutely fine, she had got through it. And that he had been through the same thing with his wife, a few times.

There was a strange sense of comfort, hearing about all these women going through this same experience. A strange sense of ‘we are women, and this is what we do in order to one day have our children’.

Once on the Antenatal and Gynaecology ward, we were greeted by friendly doctors and nurses who smiled sympathetically and explained what would happen next. I was to be internally examined to determine how the miscarriage was progressing. If it appeared that I would not be able to pass the miscarriage naturally, I would be taken to theatre.

As I was inspected, the cramps continued. I remember one of the nurses so clearly telling me “You hold that fella’s hand”, and I did. I buried myself into him and leaned on him for comfort and strength. It felt right that he was with me; although I was the one in pain, we were both losing a baby that night. As we held each other I felt that we were going through this together, rather than feeling like I was in it alone.

A kind, young doctor told me that she could see that something was on its way, but that she would need help removing it. She called for the Registrar, who within a few minutes of entering the room, helped me to pass the miscarriage. The pain at the time felt horrendous, but it was over so quickly, I believe that the Registrar saved me what may have been a much longer ordeal.

The Registrar asked me matter-of-factly if I would like to see the pregnancy. Wait, what? I could see it? This option made me pause. Did I want to see? Would it give me some kind of closure? I thought the nurse last week said there would be nothing to see? Would I feel guilty if I didn’t? But when I looked at Mike, my instinct kicked in; I knew if I saw the pregnancy, I would never get the image out of my mind. I knew that even if I looked, what I saw wouldn’t be a baby. I needed to be able to distance myself from this pregnancy, so that when it came time to try again, I wouldn’t be haunted by the memory of this tiny image of what may have been. But as the kidney dish was taken away, I felt a pang of guilt and a draw towards it – they were taking my baby away. I wrestled with these feelings, between what was two instinctive drives; to protect myself, and to protect what was, or would have been, my child.

Afterwards, we were given the option of staying in hospital overnight, which we accepted; they had the good drugs, after all. And we’d be in the right place if I needed any further help. We were shown to a private room, which was a huge relief; the space away from other people was exactly what I needed in that moment. And what was more, Mike could stay with me. I wouldn’t have to face the sadness of that night alone.

Mike left shortly afterwards to pick up a bag of overnight things. During this time a kind young nurse, who had been with me during the procedure, brought me a small bag and a handful of leaflets. “You don’t have to look at or use all or even any of these if you don’t want to, but if you want them, they’re there to help”. I glanced through the bag; two tiny, knitted jumpers, about the size of a Christmas tree decoration. Soap, tea bags, tissues. A candle. A hanging pendant with the word ‘love’ engraved into it. And a leaflet titled “coping with the loss of your precious baby”. My gut kicked in again. This was too much. To me, yes, I had lost something extremely precious to me. Yes, I had lost a baby. But in some ways, I felt that what I had lost hadn’t been a baby yet, and so mourning for it like a child didn’t feel like the right way to grieve. I turned to the handful of leaflets which talked about the types of thoughts and feelings that you may be having, and that all of them are okay. This felt right; I would respond to my instinct. I wouldn’t feel guilty for not attaching myself to the despair of losing a child, and rather, I would mourn the loss of my pregnancy as I felt was right for me. I would respond as my instincts told me to.

At this point in my journey, I knew that my anxiety disorder (or rather, the counselling that I had had as a result of my anxiety disorder) would help me. I had, very clearly, experienced a gut reaction. And I had, off the back of that, had a million thoughts about what that gut feeling meant. But the clarity that this gave me was that I knew that they were all equally valid, but that I didn’t have to attach myself to any of them. I felt guilt, but I didn’t have to consume myself with it. I felt sadness, but I didn’t have to wallow forever. I could just watch my thoughts and feelings, and let my body do what it needed to do. And whenever I felt myself going into a spiral of negative thoughts, I could very clearly bring myself back and see them for what they are. This sense of clarity made me realise how strong I truly am; to go through the a truly heartbreaking moment in my life, and come out of it feeling immensely strong. I am enormously proud of myself for that. After my procedure, still lying on hospital bed, as the doctors and nurses cleaned up around us, I told Mike “I’d do it again. If it meant that at some point, we will have a baby, I’d do it again.” And I meant it, wholeheartedly. I knew that my body could cope, my mind could cope, my relationship could cope. I knew, we would be okay. It was one of the strongest moments of my life.

Mike and I left the hospital the next day. When I got home, out of pure exhaustion, I slept for around 15 hours.

The next couple of weeks were a blur of loved ones faces, tears, flowers, gift hampers, and the living room sofa. But each day, we grew stronger. Every time we told our story, it felt easier. I felt emotional, but clear headed and strong. I remember one day watching TV and hearing the phrase, “you have taken one of life’s sourest lemons. And all you can do is try to turn it into something resembling lemonade”. And I think that’s what we’re trying to do.  

Our family and friends have been absolutely wonderful. But being able to speak openly and to find people going through the same thing would have brought us some comfort. We’re reaching out and just letting you know, that no matter who you are, what you’re going through, it’s important to do what you feel is right for you. Don’t worry about other people’s perceptions, but take comfort in the knowledge that you’re never alone in your experiences.

The biggest thing that I’ve learned in it all is that in early pregnancy, as frustrating as it is, you simply don’t know what’s going on. Perhaps my anxiety was what made me wind myself up with thoughts of not feeling pregnant, and we didn’t actually lose the baby until the miscarriage started. After all, all signs indicated a healthy pregnancy. Perhaps I was right and I had an instinct for it. But we’ll never know at what point that baby stopped developing. And I could drive myself mad with questioning every niggle, every bodily change. But by doing that, I wouldn’t be allowing myself to enjoy any future pregnancies. I’m by no means good at it, but I’m working to get better at letting it go. The lack of control can be hard to cope with, but trying to control it only exacerbated my anxiety. What will be will be.

Talk to those you trust and love and never worry that you’re not coping “the way you’re supposed to”. Everyone’s experiences are different. In the bizarreness of it all, I actually found comfort in the wise words of drag queen RuPaul Charles; “feelings are not facts”. I went through so many thoughts that freaked me out, included but not limited to “What if this keeps happening? What if I can’t have kids? What if I keep miscarrying because secretly, I don’t want children? What if I have a baby but then don’t love it?” It took me a long time to work through my guilt to realise that these are thoughts, and not reality – and that they’re perfectly normal things to consider given the circumstances. I remember talking to a friend of mine who without even telling her listed all of those worries and that she knew that they would be running through my head and the emotional place it would take me to. And then she said “We won’t let you live there”. These mantras, and knowing I had unwavering support from close friends and family really helped me to let the intrusive thoughts go.   

I hope that in time, we can address the painful subject of miscarriage and anxiety during pregnancy more openly. From both the mother’s and the partners perspectives. As a society we’re so much better now at opening up, but I still feel that this still somewhat subject to secrecy and is shrouded in mystery. It makes the unknowns about miscarriage terrifying, especially for couples trying to conceive for the first time; and incredibly lonely for the couples it happens to. I hope that by reading this, it might open the door to those conversations.

I feel so much stronger now than I have done for years. I have no doubt that experiencing miscarriage has helped to build the person I am now. I don’t know what will happen next. Perhaps our next pregnancy will be successful, perhaps it won’t. But I know that I’m strong, and ready to find out what life has in store next.

All my love,

Jess

Mike’s First Blog; Experiencing miscarriage as a partner

I am not one for wearing my heart on my sleeve.

Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to share my feelings. But, I think it comes from wanting to be strong for those around me and not wanting to dwell, at least not for too long, on the negative experiences or feelings in my life. I have always been logical with my reaction to any bad life experiences and live by my motto of “take only what you can learn from and leave the rest”.

But my recent experience has shown me that dealing with my emotions in my own way, often privately, has made me miss something very important.  That sharing my experiences afterwards could help others. So that’s why, after experiencing our second miscarriage in six months, Jess and I have decided to share our relative experiences, in hope that they might help others through what we have been through. Something I don’t think anyone should suffer alone. Something I could not have weathered alone.

And I think this is why I have decided to write down my experiences, alongside Jess. Because I feel like miscarriage is a part of life that is still shrouded in mystery and is treated with negativity, to the point that those going through it feel they must hide away, as if it is shameful. And no one should be made to feel that way. The loss of a child you will never get to meet is hard enough, without having to hunker down for weeks or months, as you work through the grief alone, or with just your partner, who is as equally raw. Hiding joy, or in this case sadness, from others because you’re not at the 12 week mark seems absurd to me now, and yet it’s what we still tell one another. Granted, that rule makes sense for work, colleagues and distant friends and relatives.  But after our loss, Jess and I were only told of people we knew having suffered miscarriages. There was no community to discuss the issue with. No one seemed willing to talk about it. Instead it was like some weird underground network of information. It was known, but not spoken of. And I know not everyone wants to share. Nor do I expect them too. But what of the people who do want to reach out? To talk of what they have been through. Isn’t that what Jess and I wanted? So I am going to share my experience, in hope that anyone who has been through what we have, or may possible go through in the future, doesn’t feel alone.

In November 2017, after several months of trying for a baby, Jess broke the news to me with a message on the side of the fridge that read “Good Morning Daddy”.  Granted, I would have missed it had Jess not drawn my attention to it, but when I knew I was equal parts terrified and equal parts excited. Being a father is something I’ve always wanted.  To share my knowledge and experience with my child. Nurture them, comfort them and be a role model to them, as my parents were to me.

As the weeks drew on, Jess and I talked of all the things expecting parents talk of;  Will it be a boy or a girl? What names did we like? Did we need a bigger house? Where should we move? What would our lives be like? In truth, my general optimism for life left me thinking of only one possibility.  A healthy baby in nine months time. As the weeks drew on and we saw the new year in, we told our closest friend and family our good news. It felt good to share. Good to have something to celebrate and look forward to.  It was this life changing event we both wanted so much.

Jess had mentioned a few times that she hadn’t experienced any typical symptoms, but I, like the medical experts we saw, dismissed it as nothing to worry about. I didn’t want to entertain the thought that something could be or might be wrong.  Because I didn’t realise how common miscarriage was.

As the weeks drew on, Jess grew more sure that something wasn’t right. And then she started experiencing bleeding. A lot of that time leading up to the miscarriage is a bit of a blur to me.  I remember multiple night time visits to A&E. What I do remember is knowing I needed to be strong in the face of whatever this was. To give hope to Jess and myself that everything was OK. To make her feel happy and safe, despite all the worry we were going through. I like to think I did a pretty good job.  Jess tells me I did and I’m strongly inclined to believe her.

Finally, we were given an early pregnancy scan.  I remember sitting with Jess, holding her hand and watching the ultrasound screen, as the Sonographer looked for the baby.  I knew as I saw the blanks space on the screen it was bad news. I am in no way medical professional, but I’ve seen enough baby ultrasounds and TV to know what “good” looked like. Jess told me afterwards that she could tell from my face it was bad news. And then came the dreaded words of “I’m sorry”.  If “I love You” are the three most magical words in the English language, “I’m Sorry” has to be the three worst. I didn’t cry. Not at first. I’ve always had a delay on my emotions. I knew they would arrive later and they did. Instead I just held Jess as she cried and tried to comfort her. Tried to make her smile. The staff at Furness General were great.  They comforted, joked and advised on queue, never missing a beat. In what was probably the most emotionally difficult situation of my life to date, they made everything feel a little bit better. They gave us a sense of order in what seemed like chaos.

The next few days dragged out.  They were numbing and consisted of lots of staring at one another, as we embraced the loss and grief that come with miscarriage. But these were also some of the most strengthening experiences Jess and I have shared. No matter how close I think we are, life always seems to find a way to bring us even closer.  I think, for everything, this was the “silver lining” of the first miscarriage. It drove us to rally for one another, support one another, share our anger and frustrations. And most importantly, not to let each other linger in the dark places for too long.

A few days later Jess went through the actual miscarriage. This was the hardest mental experience of my life. Watching your partner, suffer in pain and in need of assistance from medical professionals, knowing you are completely incapable of helping, was immobilising and left me feeling less than helpless. But Jess braved it, suffered it and came through to the other side.  To this day I am immensely proud. Afterwards, she said she “would do it all again, if it meant we could have a baby”. I’ve always known Jess is strong. But in that moment, I was the proudest I’ve ever been of her. And, as much as it pains me to say it, she has come though it once more, with all the resilience she had the first time.

After the miscarriage itself was finally over, both Jess and I were left with time to think. And the thing that gave me pause was that through everything, there was no one to talk to who had shared a similar experience.  We were told that 1 in 4 pregnancies ended this way. But I wondered where all these people were. Sure, not everyone would be willing to share their experience, but surely someone would. Last year I read a book called Tribe by Sebastian Junger. In it he talks of various instances where people suffering through natural disasters or war talk of how they have come together into these tribes, to help them come together and survive the adversity. And here I was left wondering where my “tribe” was.  There was no one to share their experience of the same event. No one to learn from or share thoughts with. And yet, every time Jess and I told a member of our family, or a friend about the miscarriage, I felt like a little sliver of this crushing weight I was carrying was chipped away. It was in a way cathartic. Even now I wonder if any opportunity to share with those who have experienced the same might have aided in our recovery. And the most worrying part was that maybe there were others like us, but they didn’t feel it was OK to share.

So, I guess what I’m getting to is, there is a tribe.  I know, because me and Jess are part of it. And I know there are those in the shadows, who have had similar experience, but don’t know if it’s safe to share. But it is. You are not alone. And it might seem like a tough subject to share, but I think it could help to treat it much the same as mental health. Something we’re now realising cannot sit in the shadows.  Only by acknowledging and normalising it through shared experience, can we help one another. And that is what I hope I can achieve by sharing this. Even if only one person finds comfort in what Jess or I have written, then this has been worth while.

Please don’t berate yourself for how you feel.  Share with those who you trust and know that you are not alone in what you are going through.