2015 can FRO (yes, that’s ‘f*** right off’)

I do love a plan. “Structure” really could be my middle name. I love systems, routines, institutions (that would be the 14 years spent singing in cathedral choirs in my youth). So when 2015 turned into a year of one mahoussive curveball after another, that was more than just a little bit rubbish. (“Mahoussive” isn’t actually a word, obviously, but I really think it should be. It’s so much more onomatopoeic than “massive.”)

2015 was a textbook case of “What happened to the f****** plan?” Of several unexpected twists (most of them pretty stressful), the big ‘event’ was that I had a miscarriage in September, which I write about here. It was my fourth loss – emotionally heartbreaking and physically traumatic in equal measure. It challenged all my expectations of how things are supposed to turn out according to “the plan”: mortgage, wedding, baby 1, promotion X, baby 2, promotion Y etc etc. So when 2015 threw the plan out of the water on multiple fronts, that surfaced lots of tough (pretty personal) questions about motherhood, work, identity, family, wellbeing – basically some of the big stuff of life.

Cue many musings and chats with myself as I gradually re-oriented myself to all that 2015 threw at me. Gradually, I started to feel stronger and enriched for having gone through pretty difficult times. And I realised that I wanted to write some of my musings down, and perhaps even to publish them on t’interweb.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am an intensely private person. In deciding to write publicly, on a blog, I’m baring more of myself – and my soul – than I ever thought I would. But for some reason it felt right to get some of what’s inside my head out of my head by writing, and to share it. I’m choosing not to analyse why I’ve decided to do this now; my instinct tells me it’s a good thing to do for myself, and if I’ve learned anything over the last year, it’s to trust my instinct.

So what’s my aim for the blog? It’s to help myself continue to heal and make sense of my experiences and, just maybe, to connect with others who’ve had similar (or indeed different) life curveballs and found effective ways of adapting and becoming stronger as a result. I know that’s a simple, humble objective – especially to this structure-loving, “one-must-be-clear-about-objectives-and-desired-outcomes” social policy wonk, but I’m going to allow myself the simplicity of my objective just this once.

Whilst the blog has been prompted by my experiences of recurrent miscarriage, it won’t be about miscarriage (though I’ve already allowed myself one post and there will probably be more in future). There are three reasons for this:

  • Many other bloggers have already written about miscarriage, and much more eloquently than I could ever hope to. I would like to link to other blogs about miscarriage, with permission, of course. (Two posts from other blogs which I’ve found especially powerful in making sense of my own experiences are this one about planning limbo following miscarriage, and this one about miscarriage from a man’s perspective – it highlights very movingly how miscarriage is about families, not just the woman going through the physical and emotional ordeal.) Linking to other blogs about experiences of miscarriage brings me to my second reason….
  • Miscarriage really needs to be talked about more. The isolation that comes with pregnancy loss, and the incomprehensible stigma attached to it, are two of the things that are most difficult about it. Connecting with others who have experienced recurrent miscarriage, and thereby feeling empowered to talk more openly, has been an unexpected and hugely positive consequence of what I’ve been through. So I’d like to use this blog to link to other blogs and to highlight various initiatives aimed at understanding miscarriage, including the work of several excellent charities.
  • There’s other (equally important) stuff I want to talk about! Some light-hearted topics, and some more serious. Many aspects of life – family, work, friendships, wellbeing, for example – can be significantly affected when something like a miscarriage (or four) happens. Lots of these topics interest me and I want to write about them.

 Thanks for reading. Please feel free to get in touch: lkosullivan at googlemail dot com

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Here we go again: miscarriage 4

I have rather a love-hate relationship with Mother Nature. Ok so perhaps ‘love-hate’ is a bit strong, but certainly ‘love-fervent resentment.’ Not quite as catchy as ‘love-hate’, I know. But the important nuance justifies the extra word in this instance. Having had not just one miscarriage but four, I have several examples of Mother Nature’s cruel ways from which to choose. But with my fourth miscarriage there are two particular howlers:

(1) Everything appeared fine at my 12-week scan, so after many weeks of anxious waiting and hoping this time would be different, we excitedly announced that we were expecting a sibling for the little lady. Our excitement was all the more sweet, and mistakenly confident, because my previous miscarriages were all before 12 weeks. We naively thought we were out of the woods after the 12 week scan, and so we shared our happy news. At 13.5 weeks, on a Wednesday morning at work, I had the tiniest not-even-really-a-bleed. I trotted across Westminster Bridge to St. Thomas’ hospital for a scan just to reassure myself, fully expecting to be told all was well. When I was pregnant with my daughter I had many, many scans for reassurance after 12 weeks, even a couple of times with bleeding, and was always sent off safe in the knowledge that I’d been worrying unduly. Not so this time. Our baby had died a couple of days earlier. I can’t quite put into words the shock and the feelings of sadness and emptiness that ensued. I still haven’t been able to delete the photo from my iPhone of the 12-week scan, where an apparently healthy tiny bean was happily kicking away while we pointed excitedly at the screen.

(2) What should have been my due date for this pregnancy fell on Mother’s Day 2016. Now that is just cruel. A coincidence, of course, but COME.ON.MOTHER.NATURE. Anyone who has experienced a miscarriage, let alone several, will know that thoughts of  “I’m supposed to be X weeks” or “I thought I’d be starting mat leave next week” are torturously, and yet entirely understandably, never far away. And they hurt – they hurt so much. On the other hand, acknowledging those thoughts is also (in my humble experience – an unscientific sample of one) a really important part of healing, and of gradually feeling stronger.

There is so much more that I could write about my fourth miscarriage: such as the trauma of having a D&C (the ‘surgical route’) in an over-stretched NHS day surgery unit where nobody, at any point during those horrible hours, made any acknowledgement of why I was there. Nobody that is save for the very sweet trainee theatre assistant who, late in the evening when I’d woken up and was about to be discharged after 12 long, exhausting hours, handed me my rucksack into one hand, and a leaflet for the (excellent, so I’ve since discovered) Miscarriage Association into the other. “If you have any questions about miscarriage, you could give them a call.” Sweet, yes, but oh so little, and just too late; or I could write about how lucky I feel for being able to take time off work to deal with my grief. My amazing boss and colleagues recognised the loss for what it was – a bereavement – and I was supported in so many ways to deal with and recover from that; or I could write about the various ways that people reacted (or didn’t react) to what had happened, and how that all felt; or I could write about the brilliant campaigning work being done by various charities, such as The Miscarriage Association, to raise awareness of miscarriage, which has inspired me to talk more openly about my experiences.

I may write about those things at some point, but this post is already longer-than-ideal. So for now I’ll default to my fondness for bullet points and share five reflections about miscarriage. (There are many more aspects of the experience of miscarriage that I feel strongly about and will probably write about at some point, but the following five are those that feel most important for this post.)

  • For something that is so common, it is baffling that there is a still a taboo about it. Miscarriage affects around one in four pregnancies – yes, that’s a quarter, as in quite a lot – that’s a lot of women and their partners going through what is, in many cases, a very physically traumatic and emotionally draining experience. Miscarriage needs to be talked about more. Miscarriage is part of my story, my personal narrative – it’s part of me and my family – and trying to pretend it didn’t happen would be completely dysfunctional.
  • Physically, miscarriage is hideous. I won’t go into details. Of course people’s experiences vary (my four miscarriages were not all the same). But trust me – it is tough going. As well as the physical ordeal, your body usually still thinks it’s pregnant so hormones wreak havoc in various ways (thank you, once again, my old pal Mother Nature). So if someone tells you they’ve had a miscarriage, try not to assume it was just like a heavy period. Or that somehow it’s physically bearable because the pregnancy “just wasn’t meant to be” (which is something I’d suggest not saying anyway…in my experience it is not comforting). Miscarriage is horrible, and the physical pain is intensified by the fact that you’re losing a baby you hoped for, planned for, dreamed about.
  • There are many brilliant posts on other blogs and websites about what to say and – much more importantly – what not to say to somebody who has had a miscarriage. (A couple of such posts are this one and this one.) In my experience it’s unfortunately, if rather unsurprisingly, the case that lots of the things people often say feature on the lists of what not to say. But do say something – not acknowledging something so significant to a woman adds to the silence and perpetuates the (misguided) idea that a pregnancy somehow ‘didn’t count.’
  • Miscarriage is not just about women. It affects partners too – the hopes for a much longed-for (or even unplanned) pregnancy are likely to be no less intense (if probably in different ways) for the partner as for the woman who goes through the physical ordeal. The prevailing view of miscarriage as simply an event that women experience completely overlooks the fact that men can also experience serious trauma from it, not least in watching their partner go through intense physical and emotional pain. There still isn’t very much written about men’s experiences of miscarriage. One blogger whose partner wrote very movingly about miscarriage from a man’s perspective is worth a look here.
  • Suffering recurrent miscarriages has reminded me of the therapeutic power of community and shared experience. I’ve been lucky enough to connect – through an online forum – with a wonderful group of women who have also experienced multiple miscarriages. A group of stronger, funnier, wiser, and more courageous women you could never hope to meet. All the more amazing for the fact that I’ve never properly ‘met’ them. I feel utterly blessed to have found my rmc ladies (‘rmc’ is the shorthand for recurrent miscarriage used by those of us unlucky enough to find ourselves ‘in the gang’). The online group is one of the positive consequences (of several) of having gone through the hideousness of rmc. Back in the day, when I studied social and health psychology, I read lots about the whole idea of group belonging and shared experience having positive effects for wellbeing. But it’s taken rmc to appreciate fully the amazing healing power of feeling understood, and supported, by people who really ‘get’ what you’re going through. Especially with something like miscarriage, which can feel so so lonely, realising you’re not alone is very powerful.

Very soon I will write a separate post with links to websites or posts about miscarriage that I’ve found useful and informative in recovering from – and looking forward after – my experiences of multiple miscarriages.

In praise of the predictable: the warm joy of routine

I am a creature of habit. A lover of structure. A big fan of familiarity. I have worn the same perfume for 14 years, and I’m never going to change it. (I’ve tried. Really I have. Nothing comes close to my favourite scent). In the past I’ve tended to see my fondness for things staying the same as a negative trait, or at least certainly something that doesn’t exactly set me up for embracing the unknown. And as I’ve already written about in my first blog post, it was the experience of various big things not going to plan in 2015 – finding ways of making peace with that and discovering new contentment from acknowledging not everything goes to plan – that led me to set up this blog.

Interestingly enough, having spent a long time beating myself up for my tendencies towards the predictable, one of the happy consequences of the last few months has been my renewed respect for the little, every day things that do stay the same. Especially when the bigger stuff of life goes awry (such as experiencing multiple miscarriages), I think there is real, healing power in everyday things that are familiar, that help bring that sense of ‘all is well’ or more correctly ‘I am well, happy, resilient, able to take on whatever comes my way, partly because of the happy rhythm of simple, routine things.”

Here are five of my favourite reassuringly mundane pick-me-ups:

  1. The lovely guy in the station café who knows exactly how I like my morning coffee. I don’t need to ask. He sees me coming and my coffee is ready one minute later. What a legend.
  2. The quiet, slow humming noise of the automated security gates which greet me as I arrive at work, and the familar, friendly faces I encounter at the other side as I make my way upstairs to my desk.
  3. My number at choir – 20 is my folder (though I have no actual proprietorial claim over it!). It’s always in the same place, and I reach for it in the same sequence as I walk through the vestry en route to the choir stalls for rehearsal.
  4. Knowing that when I open my handbag everything will be in its proper place, and that when I reach to a particular corner, my lip balm will be where I expect to find it. (Yes, there will also be old baby wipes, dried satsuma peel, crayon fragments, or whatever other toddler-related detritus has made its way in there. Annoying as it is when my hand gets covered in mouldy mushy banana, it always makes me smile wryly when I think of my daughter leaving “little presents for you, Mummy.”)
  5. Driving over a bridge to cross the Thames heading south. Home to South London. My heart always jumps a little, especially at nighttime when the lights sparkle along the river. There are many lovely bridges, but my favourite is Wandsworth Bridge – because it’s on my route to/from choir so I know all the bumps on the road. Weird, I know.

Of course, on their own these fairly trivial things aren’t an instant fix for dealing with whatever big curveballs life throws. But I think there can be something very meaningful about the humdrum of daily routine and minutiae for easing stress and building resilience – because of the comforting, hope-giving certainty of knowing there are some things that don’t change, even when all is else is in flux. Of course there are other (even more important) constants too – family, good friends, nourishing food, fresh air and exercise and the rest. But little, mundane daily prompts that help me feel centred, and feel like me, have their place too.

Treat yourself: A bit of the light fantastic

“Oh you do take yourself very seriously, lovely Lucy! I’ll tell you what you need…a bit of the light fantastic.”
A very dear friend in Ireland – a very beautiful, glamorous and wise lady now in her 80s – coined this wonderful phrase to describe the importance of allowing ourselves to make time for a little deliberate indulgence and treating ourselves to our favourite “nice things” every now and then.

Here are my favourite “light fantastic” go-tos:

  1. Pretty hair clips for my little girl (or ‘carelips’ as she calls them)
  2. Smarties. I know they’re made by Nestle. I’m sorry. I just love the colours (and the chocolate inside, obviously). They make me smile.
  3. A cup of tea, with a slice of coffee cake. Coffee cake ROCKS.
  4. Laughing hysterically, at anything really.
  5. Colourful post-it notes. Strange I know, but I love post-it notes.
  6. Posh make-up. Just because.
  7. A good blow-dry. See previous.
  8. A Dermalogica facial. Hmm I spot a theme emerging.
  9. A glass of champagne, from a beautiful glass. And it must be champers – on light fantastic days, no other fizz will do.
  10. The Golden Girls. This needs no explanation.

Know then thyself: my ‘wellbeing break’ top 10

It’s fair to say I’ve always had a tendency to be a bit of a stress pot. The annus horribilis that was 2015, and the way it affected my wellbeing and (at times) my self-confidence, made me realise I needed to take steps to make small changes to how I manage stress when it lands.

Here are my favourite 10 simple, easy, wholesome pleasures I’ve come to rely on for what I’ve started to call my ‘wellbeing breaks’ – the little things that help me feel mindful, self-aware, relaxed, and ready to take on whatever a busy day (or a stressful situation) might hold. Such things are inevitably quite personal – what works for me won’t be everyone’s cup of hot lemon – but maybe they’ll prompt ideas about what your go-to wellbeing breaks might be:

  1. A train journey, spent mainly looking out the window at the loveliness. If the train is delayed, I make an extra effort with my window reverie, noticing the trees/people/whatever London landmark happens to be passing, to minimise the stress of worrying about whatever meeting I’m late for – focussing on enjoying the moment, which is what I can control (Southern Railway, I cannot control…sadly).
  2. Podcasts! A recent discovery for me. Where have you been all my life?! These are especially lovely when paired with (1).
  3. The Desert Island Discs archive. Bit of a cheat as it’s a subset of (2) but it merits its own slot. What a treasure chest of insights – into the castaways, into bygone eras, and into how people construct narratives to make sense of their experiences.
  4. Walking slowly. This makes me more aware of my breathing, and slows it down. Double win.
  5. Singing along loudly to Adele in the car, with my toddler joining in with the spontaneous, unanalysing joy that only a child knows. Precious.
  6. Watching the world go by – the rhythm of life – from the window of a café, hands wrapped round a cup of good coffee. Or a cup of hot lemon-y water, which is how I always start my day.
  7. Not rushing the washing (I’ll write a separate blog post post all about this) – hanging clothes up on the washing line in the fresh (ahem, ‘London fresh’) air, in my garden.
  8. Writing a letter – even a short one – to a dear old friend. It always feels lovely.
  9. Making soup, especially with colourful veggies (I like carrot, sweet potato and parsnip) and lovely warming spices (turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger).
  10. Acupuncture. Ok, so not exactly simple and easy as I’m not an acupuncturist (obv). But I love, love acupuncture and it has been especially powerful for me in the last few months as I recovered from my most recent miscarriage. I have acupuncture with the lovely Lilja Katanka at a wonderful haven of peace and tranquility in Crystal Palace called The Little Escape – I heartily recommend both Lilja and the Little Escape for any readers in South London looking for a bit of TLC in the form of holistic, alternative therapies in a really lovely setting.

Things I’m interested in

As trailed elsewhere on the blog, I love a bulleted list. So here’s a trot through some of the stuff that I am interested in – the topics I wonder about when I’m driving alone listening to the radio, or that I rant fervently about when having a glass of wine with close friends who love me enough to listen to my ramblings.

  • Work life balance/family/parenting (e.g. the decisions we take), “leaning sideways”. Job-sharing, about which I am more than a little evangelical.
  • Singing – I’m an occasional soprano in semi-professional church and chamber choirs. I’ve sung since I was little and it gives me great joy (not to mention huge comfort and perspective when life stresses pile up).
  • Telling stories/narratives/the “making sense of life” and how social media has changed how we talk about ourselves online – the downsides but also the exciting opportunities of this.
  • Mental health, and particularly the links between mental health, relationships, group belonging, and identity. Because of my personal experiences (as a general stress-pot, and given the inevitably pretty dark times that accompanied my multiple miscarriages), alongside my psychology studies back in the day, I’m passionate about making it more ok to talk about mental health.
  • Miscellaneous other stuff I like to talk about: various public policy issues, religion (occasionally), politics (very occasionally), human behaviour in organisations, especially topics like leadership, decision-making, productivity and wellbeing in the workplace.