For everything there is a season, and it’s time to write again…

It’s been a while since my last post. Exactly a year, in fact. This time last year, I wrote about Baby Loss Awareness Week and my teetering steps through the early stages of what was my sixth (and most certainly my last) pregnancy. So much has changed in my life since that post, those changes also underpinning the various reasons I’ve not written another blog post in the meantime….

Yes, that would be you, my darling baby boy – the angst that accompanied almost every moment of my pregnancy with you (ergo, if I wrote about it during my pregnancy, that might have tempted fate, and not in a good way); the not-a-little-dramatic nature of your arrival earth-side, which left me physically utterly wrecked for many months; the magical, precious early weeks and months of domestic life with a newborn – who gets anything practical done in that phase anyway? (hush, you lucky people who bounce back and operate normally before 6 months post-partum!); and of course your ongoing love of remaining within 2 feet of me at all times, and the consequent lack of sleep. It is a joy, really it is (yes, even the sleep deprivation). Just a pretty tiring kind of joyousness that isn’t all too conducive to crafting regular, carefully thought through blog posts.

All that said, I couldn’t let this date pass by without writing about Baby Loss Awareness Week, and how it feels one year on from those anxious days when I was, as I said in my post last year, quietly hopeful about my pregnancy. So here I’ll share a bit of a tumble of reflections about life and parenting after loss. I hope this will mark the beginning of more regular writing and blogging because, as I’ve learned over the last couple of years, writing and sharing my musings does good things for my head and soul. And when you discover those things which work some kind of funny magic, I reckon you should hold onto them, and keep doing them (more of that on another post soon, I promise). Back to my reflections, in a bulleted list, as is my way:

  • Experiencing multiple miscarriages has changed me, forever. And in really good, important nourishing ways. I have wondered recently whether the fact that my rainbow boy is here (and therefore, in some ways, my journey with the hideousness of pregnancy loss is over) would mean that BLAW2017 wouldn’t matter to me so much. But it does – because recurrent miscarriage is part of my story, I feel so strongly that the world will be just a little bit better and easier for people going through miscarriage if issues of pregnancy loss were spoken about more openly, and for those reasons I’ll probably never stop talking about it – in one way or another.
  • Navigating pregnancy after loss is tough. Pretty much every day of my pregnancy with my sweet little boy was marked by some degree of angst – sometimes in my head (note I don’t say ‘just in my head’ – the head kind of angst is as valid and important as worry based in something untoward actually happening); sometimes the angst was entirely founded in pregnancy stuff being actually awry, such as reduced foetal movement. I experienced several instances of this, including shortly before T was born. More on that in another post soon, perhaps.
  • Parenting after loss is tough too. I’ve not quite processed my thoughts on this properly yet, and when I do they may well stay off cyberspace, but what I can say now is that all we went through to have our little boy and give his wonderful big sister a sibling has left me with strength but also an awareness of the fragility of ‘how things might have been different.’ The positive, nourishing face of this fragility is – however clichéd it may sound – that I feel hugely blessed at the sweet faces of joy that greet my sleep-deprived foggy face every morning, and I take nothing for granted.
  • For all that recurrent miscarriage is part of my story, I am so so so happy to wave goodbye to all things pregnancy-related. The diary-tracking, the supplements, the concoction of meds that did weird things to me in pregnancy. Me and my body (and my family, of course) have had enough of you – be gone. Enough said.
  • Experiencing pregnancy loss taught me so much about love, and connectedness and belonging. (I know this is probably a bit cryptic for what should probably be a pithy, easy-read post. Sorry about that.) Experiencing miscarriage has helped me to know myself better, to know what I need to do to nourish body, soul, and mind. It has given me a new perspective on wellbeing and mental health, and has enabled me to have conversations with people – in real life and on t’interweb – about mental health that I think are [pretty powerful.
  • It has showed me the strength that comes from finding a community of people who can really empathise and support each other. And it has given me my sweet, joyful, kind little boy. The fourth in our quartet – as it was always supposed to be

All the love. Just that.

allthelove

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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.