Today marks the final day of Baby Loss Awareness Week 2016. It feels like this year, Baby Loss Awareness Week seems to have found a more prominent place in the public’s awareness, and this is very encouraging. Success in raising awareness of baby loss is thanks mainly to the tireless work of many brilliant charities, such as The Miscarriage Association and Tommy’s, and to the courage of many women – and men – who have blogged and shared their stories of baby loss and their difficult journeys to parenthood.
A very powerful addition to this year’s initiatives for BLAW was efforts by several Members of Parliament to share their personal experiences of baby loss to help raise awareness and to argue for improvements in public policy. A debate in the House of Commons, led by MP Antoinette Sandbach, about these issues was moving, difficult and inspiring in equal measure. The courage shown by MPs like Vicky Ashcroft and Will Quince (to name just a couple) in sharing their experiences to help tackle the taboo surrounding baby loss, and to argue for changes in policy was incredibly moving, and I thought the leadership it demonstrated was also very inspiring. As a lovely friend put it, ‘this was the first time I had heard sense and kindness in a public debate for a very long time.’
Politicians these days don’t always inspire confidence in their willingness to use their position to tackle difficult issues, and to do so meaningfully and from the heart not just the head, but events this week were a humbling and inspiring hint towards the finest manifestation of parliamentary democracy and (hopefully, in time) improvements in public policy. The debate in Parliament, the Twitter discussions about baby loss, and the question posed to Theresa May by Will Quince during Prime Minister’s Questions (and the PM’s impressive, very human response) – they all serve to reinforce the simple yet powerful fact that this matters. Talking about it matters.
BLAW is making it ok to talk, to share stories, and to campaign for better support in the healthcare system for families who experience loss during or after pregnancy. And that’s important for many reasons, most importantly because it makes people feel less alone, helps them feel that others recognise that their losses matter, and those two factors alone can only be good for people’s physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing following baby loss.
So after that perhaps rather meandering preface (I hope usefully so), now to the main focus of this post. I’ve been planning for a while to write something about Baby Loss Awareness Week, and it took some time for my head to percolate over what I might say. Because this year, I am in a very different place to previous years, and certainly to last year, when my fourth miscarriage had recently happened and I was in a pretty fragile way.
This year is different because I am pregnant. My pregnancy is at a stage well beyond the usual ‘risky zone’ and certainly at the point where most people would reasonably say I should sit back and relax excitedly into the prospect of a sibling for the little lady.
It’s not quite that simple. Pregnancy after multiple miscarriages is tough…. The worry (‘if I let myself believe it’s ok it will all go awry’). The achingly slow passage of time, followed by the guilt about wanting time to pass quickly. The cocktail of medication. The first 16 weeks of this pregnancy were utterly rubbish, beyond rubbish. The reasons why – and how I got through the rubbishness – are for another post. Yes I am excited (more on this below), and yes I feel so much stronger than I did this time last year (and I am just a little proud of myself for this), yet I also feel very protective towards my earlier losses, and in a warped if understandable bit of logic, occasionally I fret that being excited about this pregnancy means I’m forgetting those earlier losses. In short, pregnancy after many losses is a complicated thing.
‘So this is your second pregnancy?’ asks a well-meaning new acquaintance. ‘Yes,’ I say, stumbling on my words a little, as I think to myself ‘No, actually, it’s my sixth. Just the second one that looks like it might work out.’ ‘You’ll soon be back to nappies and sleepless nights!’ ‘Yes,’ I say. ‘All staying well.’ ‘So I’ll go on maternity leave around XX date,’ whispers my ever organisationally-inclined internal monologue.
All staying well. Everything about pregnancy after loss feels cautious – qualified even.
I think the internet’s depiction of pregnancy and parenthood (and life in general) has something to do with this. Our super-connectedness nowadays, and the way social media enables us to share our selves and our lives, is great in many ways. But it does have downsides (as I’ve written about before). Insta-filtered lives. No more less-than-flattering photos because they can be deleted, another one taken, and a nice filter applied. When it comes to pregnancy and parenthood, the power of social media and the internet to tell us ‘this is how it’s supposed to be’ is especially marked. All excited announcements or scan pics (sorry but I just don’t get the whole sharing these on the internet thing. Each to their own, I guess), by week X you should feel Y, baby’s first steps pics, first day at school pics. And so it goes on.
And that’s all lovely. But it is also – well – invariably a bit filtered. And not just filtered in the photographic sense: with pregnancy and parenthood, the reality is that many women’s journeys – towards pregnancy at all let alone successful pregnancy – are anything but straightforward. But social media doesn’t really ‘do’ this muddiness – this ‘noise’ behind the hoped-for ease and perfection. For those of us who have experienced miscarriage or other difficulties in having children, a relentless stream of subtle but ever-there reminders of others’ apparently easy journeys, and perfect sequences of events panning out just as they’re supposed to, can be really tough. I’m grateful that my own journey of building resilience to reminders of my own past sadnesses has now reached almost chess grand master levels. Thanks to all I went through after my fourth miscarriage last year, I have a trusty set of self-care tools that are pretty failsafe in helping me to look after body and soul. But that doesn’t mean that navigating pregnancy after experiencing multiple miscarriages is easy – far from it.
My experience of this pregnancy is inevitably framed by the sadness I’ve experienced before. But not in a negative way, I’ve come to realise – just in a human way. In a ‘this is my journey, my family’s journey, its twists are not what we expected but we are stronger and happier for the twists, and we are hopeful’ sort of way. (Why use 5 words when you can use 20+!). Jumping up and down with whoops of joy at the sight of positive pregnancy test just wasn’t going to happen. More like rising panic at the uncertainty ahead. Likewise there’s no shouting the news from the virtual or cyberspace rooftops – or even just the old-fashioned send a text or email route.
Happily, other people’s (naïve, so it often seems to me) excitement at their own pregnancies no longer makes me feel envious (well rarely) – just tender-hearted and kind towards myself.
My excitement is a quiet one. My hope is steadfast, but it too is quiet. I hold it close to my heart. I hold it in the spaces where I’m able to acknowledge the double-edgedness (such as with the group of amazing women I met online who have also experienced many miscarriages). I’ve realised that the whole point of my version of hope and excitement in this pregnancy is precisely that they are more real for me for their double-edgedness. All the more real for their surprise moments of giddy excitement swiftly replaced with feeling utterly terrified. I’ve released myself from the pressure to have a perfect, blooming pregnancy (whatever that is anyway). Not because I’m not optimistic (I am), but because after everything that’s happened, I’m ok with the in-betweenness of it. There is no need for the metaphorical Instagram filter – this is simply my journey – my family’s journey – towards a sibling for the little lady.
All staying well.
I must confess that sharing with cyberspace the news that I’m pregnant is pretty scary. I’ve managed to talk down the voice in my head telling me (without any basis) that by uttering the news here I’m risking everything going wrong. This is my rainbow pregnancy – it brings the full of the colour and range of emotions that experiences of multiple miscarriages inevitably imbue. It’s my rainbow baby, and it may just work out. All staying well.