It recently came to my attention that Joni Mitchell’s masterpiece, Blue is 50 years old. I find it incredible that words written half a century ago still cut right to the heart of me. I discovered Joni when I was around 12 and 28 years later I still love slipping into the blue. This week I have found myself listening to one song in particular on repeat. It’s Baby Loss Awareness week, as I see others share their own losses I find comfort in Little Green.
Little Green is perhaps the most perfect song ever written. I didn’t know precisely what it was about on first listen but I still got it. It still wrapped me in it’s magical sadness & hope. Green immediately struck me as a beautiful name for a girl. I decided there & then that should I birth a girl, I would indeed call her Green.
I’ve been listening to that song since my teens. Dreaming of the tiny bud who would be my Green. In the passing years I have learned the true meaning of the song, talked to the Green nestled inside me & discovered the reality of loss. Joni was writing about a different, but similar grief. Her words remain entwined with my experiences.
When I dream of a daughter she is a gypsy dancer. All tangled red hair & high spirits. She likes the scent of pine trees & bracing herself against a strong, cold wind. She’s quieter than me, but chatters when excited. I read her everything I loved as a child. Take her to the places that made me feel big things. Her childhood is filled with standing stones & patterned tights & Joan Lingard books & seaside air & empowering women & red liquorice. She is exhausting, exhilarating & exquisite.
When I wake she is a girl in a song. A fantasy my mind summoned; fuelled by 70’s folk poetry and my deepest longing. Listening now is a sweet agony. Pressing my sorest spot because I can’t resist the beauty of it all. The intro wrapping me in the blanket my babies never had. The lyrics bringing the sketches in my head to life.
I’m glad we’re beginning to open up about pregnancy & baby loss. I hope others won’t have to spend so much time alone in their heads with their babies. It helps to talk about losses. To give solidity to those tiny unlived lives. It is such an enormous relief to have the world acknowledge our children.
It’s been another insane blur of year. The pandemic has given me lots of time & motivation to do big picture thinking. There’s been so much talk of the impact on parents & kids. The decisions to be made about keeping children safe, healthy & happy get trickier in times like this. You’re not here. Neither are your siblings. Being forced to stay home alone for extended periods really rams that fact home. I still think about what I would do. How I would make sure my children would be ok. I don’t think that will ever stop. I’ve thought through how I’d handle every stage of your lives; agonised over choices that are entirely theoretical. I can’t help it. I’m always going to be your Mum on the inside.
This year I will be spending your day doing something joyful. It came about purely by chance. Pandemic rescheduling dropped an activity unexpectedly. It feels strange. It’s not a thing I would have planned, but I think it is good. I’m trying to see it as a celebration of you. Of the tiny amount of time we had & all the wonderful that could have been. I know you would have given me so much to rejoice in.
I’ve been fairly quiet on the blog front. Clearly we’re all under some pressure, but I’ve also been dealing with some bonus pain. I’ve had episodes of awful symptoms which signal that my pancreas may be acting up again. It’s been a while since I’ve had to deal with pancreatitis and I am scared of a comeback.
The pain triggered some really desperate memories. It also gave me lots of time to ruminate on how PTSD never stops giving me unpleasant surprises. The nature, frequency & severity of my reaction to trauma stimuli is forever changing. In my (also unending) quest to de stigmatise mental illness I thought some recent triggers might be worth sharing.
Waking up in the middle of the night to pee is not a thing that I do except during pregnancy. I’m a hold ‘til morning girl. The frustrating sensation of leaving a comfy bed & stumbling to the toilet in the dark is one I associate with pregnancy. Sitting on the toilet half awake looking at my painted toes I had the trauma version of de javu. My body remembers this. The exact emotion. The precise thoughts. I’m ok, but I know I won’t be getting anymore sleep. I’ll be distracting my head from going back there. Lying still in the dark would be asking to feel things I don’t want to feel.
Sometimes to occupy my mind through those sleepless hours I watch crap tv. Ideally something I don’t have to concentrate on. Mildly entertaining 90’s sitcoms work a treat. That is until the wife in King of Queens is unexpectedly pregnant & then just as they’re getting happy about it, not pregnant anymore. Numb viewing to uncontrollable sobbing in 20mins or less.
A fun park adventure with the rascal is momentarily derailed when someone calls me his Mummy. I smile, correct them & return to my role of bad octopus pirate. I feel the impact, but I look steady. Until much later when the memory of all the babies who’ll never call me Mummy knocks me flat.
I wake up bloody because my period has started in the night. I’m not inconvenienced I’m terrified. Those cramps ripping through my pelvic region signal disaster. It takes a bit of time to centre myself in the now. Repeat, ‘I’m ok’ over and over as I drag myself through a shower. Tampon, comfy clothes, paracetamol. I’m almost calm by the time I return to tackle the bedding. I’m genuinely shocked when the sight of blood on sheets sets me trembling. I was devoting all my attention to not getting sucked into one trauma hole that I forgot about another. I have to sit on the floor but I’m still watching an old iteration of myself. Younger, sicker me is ripping bloody sheets from an entirely different bed. More than the sheets are stained. My body is raw & dripping. I feel as exhausted now, in my healed, safe body as I did then in that recklessly butchered one.
My stupid period tracker with its stupid unwanted alerts. High chance of pregnancy. Such a simple sentence triggers such complex crazy. The stress and hope of trying. The heartbreak of failing. The unwanted reminder of how few of these high chance days may be left. Fleeting recollections of disappointing perfunctory sex and an even more disappointing man. Wearily buying tests. Angrily buying tampons. Wanting the monthly reminder to be over and fearing that end. Wrap it all up in a hollow ache in my middle that never leaves, but echoes as I read those words and you have my condition.
My ridiculous cat managed to injure his paw and now I must try to keep dressings on until it is healed. If you know anything about cats, you’ll know what a challenge this is. I have experimented with various ideas none of which preserved his dressings for long. I started thinking he needs a sock & then remembered I had some baby socks. They must have belonged to one of my nieces or nephews. Baby bits and pieces will end up in your hand bag/pocket after a day of auntying. I seized upon the long lost sock as the solution. I didn’t feel sad or even link the tiny item to anything painful until I started trying to put it on my cat. Then from nowhere I was flooded with too many feelings. I love my boy, he’s wonderful. Still, I couldn’t avoid the fact that he’s the sole recipient of my mothering.
A character in the book I’m reading is trying, with difficulty, to explain why she feels guilty for various past events. I feel as though I have taken a deep breath & inhaled fictional strife. My own twisted guilt is equally hard to comprehend. For me, self reproach is as essential as oxygen. The chord of perplexing guilt could catapult me into a multitude of memories. This time I land flailing in the aftermath of standing up for myself. I can feel the certainty that so recently fizzed go flat. That overwhelming sense of this must somehow be my fault returns. I feel angry about all the shit I put up with, but I still can’t fully convince myself I’m not to blame. Now I’m full of guilt for events long passed. Today is ruined as I attempt to untangle things that never made sense to begin with.
Triggers lurk. Sometimes entirely unexpected things stir up pain. It can be fleeting or set off a chain reaction. I have adapted to a life with booby traps. I often appear untouched, but only because I work so incredibly hard at hiding the mess.
On one of my recent insomnia fuelled drives for distraction I stumbled upon an interview that persists in my thoughts. It was Anderson Cooper discussing grief & loss with Stephen Colbert. Both had significant losses early in life. Anderson talked of wishing he had been physically marked by the experience. This is of course a reality I am familiar with. Which led to some slightly self indulgent word therapy.
He talked about how he felt it might be easier to have a permanent sign of the damage so that others may be aware of his condition. An idea I suspect he’d soon realise the error of if he actually did bear a mark of loss. He continued that he thought people should know that he wasn’t necessarily the person he should be. Tragic events had diverted him from the person he started life as. This concept felt lifted from my very own brain. Of course much thinking ensued.
When Anderson talked of being marked he suggested a scar running down his face. His reasoning being that in the wake of his mother’s recent death people had offered condolences, but also shared their experiences of loss. He found this sharing to be comforting and it’s not a thing that generally happens. The scar would show his pain & people would feel able to have those conversations. Colbert agreed in part as he recognised the feeling of his loss being a continual part of his life, whilst the world at large rarely considers it. All sentiments I relate to. I do often struggle with just how often I think of my babies when they’re rarely acknowledged by anyone else. That led me to ask myself questions I had thought settled.
I understand their reasoning, my experience just doesn’t bear it out. The look of my self harm was never a factor I gave much thought. Outside of the need to hide it from others, the visual of impact was a non issue. I never cared. Ugly scars were just a by product of a necessary thing. The pain & blood & release & expiation were essential. If mutilation was a consequence of that so be it. I don’t think it occurred to me that I had another option. Yet, now, clothed in the aftermath it does seem fitting.
If I could exclude third party reaction it would make sense. I can see a twisted symmetry in my flesh being ravaged, but still living. At my core that’s how I feel. I contributed to my destruction and then I toiled to repair the ruin. Of course, you can’t escape the opinions of others. Those who care about you are hurt by the reminder of your pain. Those who don’t know you are as often cruel as kind. Carrying your story everywhere is a complicated matter. Anderson might end up preferring the anonymity of a metaphorical scar.
The second part is harder to reason. For a very long time I wanted nothing more than to be the person I was before. It took me years to accept that wasn’t possible & several more to realise that wasn’t my fault. I still missed that fun, capable, handle it all girl. Still wondered what she may have become, but I didn’t hate the me that life had created anymore. Little by little I learned to like myself. I started to believe that might be able to take all the broken pieces & make something beautiful.
The universe had other ideas. It really does enjoy smashing me up. Each time I lost a bit making a whole seemed less & less likely. Now that I know for sure how unlikely, those other mes feel important again. I keep thinking about who I could have been. Which variation of myself was I supposed to be?
I can’t help but imagine that original version of myself would have made a shinier, happier life. That 19yr old was a powerful force. She’d have been unstoppable at forty. Even if I’d sustained the original hit there all there a still multiple variants. All these possible lys that could have existed if you subtract chips along the way. Sure, that could probably be said for anyone; I just don’t know if everyone can so clearly identify the points of impact. It makes it easier to compare the before & after.
I had made peace with the person I am. I don’t reject her now. The what if’s have simply grown louder. There could have been so much more. In the end I don’t care about the scars. I’d even take Cooper’s imagined facial disfigurement if it gave me a chance at one of those parallel lives. The older I get, the more certain I become; I want the more.
This month’s insomnia has been sponsored by infertility. My inability to reproduce occupies far to much space in my head & life. A big problem with healing from pregnancy loss is how taboo the topic remains. Things have improved a little, but on the whole I still feel like most people do not want to hear about it. Some have very valid reasons to shy away from those conversations. Others merely feel uncomfortable. Rightly or wrongly that leads me (& others) to feel we must keep it to ourselves.
Obviously I have attempted to combat the silence both in my writing & my life. I know it helps those who have lost & those around us to be more open. My own attempts to get on with it quietly were incredibly harmful to me. Still, there is so much that I have not shared. There are important people in my life that I’ve never spoken about my miscarriages or infertility with. It’s not a secret, but many things have prevented me from feeling able to discuss how I have felt.
Beyond emotion there are so many details that aren’t revealed. Common place aspects of miscarriage that are only ever referred to in hushed tones by those who have been there. There are various behaviours that I kept to myself because I feared they veered towards crazy. I’ve subsequently discovered they’re common rituals. Humans find comfort where they can, it would have been less frightening to know I was normal.
Most of all, the secrets are weighty. I feel laden with the obligation to keep the unmentionables shrouded. I don’t want to feel this way anymore. I definitely don’t want others strapping on this load. I need to let some of it go.
I say some, because, there are people & realities I cannot change. Crashing against solid stone will bring me no comfort. Thus, I want to reveal the parts that I can with this kind & ultimately faceless audience. Hopefully it can help others who feel burdened by conventional decorum. At the very least I may finally feel lighter.
I fear you’ll judge the box I’ve kept for 20 years. Adding items that others have hinted should not have been saved. Very few know it exists, the suggestion that it shouldn’t have has always hurt. I don’t think the positive tests from each pregnancy are gross. I’ve still felt the needed to hide them. Saving hospital bands & paperwork makes sense to me. I don’t understand why wanting to hold onto something (anything) connected to my children is morbid. I’ve been assured it is.
I’m embarrassed of the few new born pieces I dared to purchase. So often I’ve seen childless women with tiny socks stashed in a drawer portrayed as lunatics. Dangerous, even. The type who might steal your baby. I hide the pregnancy, early years & baby names book. They’re packed away with the baby grow I saved from my niece’s early days. I thought one day I could frame pictures of them both babies identically clothed. Yes, the frame that would have housed those photos remains box fresh alongside. I have no need for this paraphernalia, I just can’t bear to throw them away. I worry this will be viewed as pathetic. Another crazy lady whose biological clock went bang. They were logical purchases when I made them. I was pregnant. When those pregnancies failed I was certain the next one wouldn’t.
I’ve never shared the pictures I took when my stomach started to change shape during my last pregnancy. I wanted to show off that development, but I didn’t think I was allowed. At the time it would have been tempting fate. Afterwards, there is instant unease if the subject is approached.
Then there are the memories that will never leave and are never uttered. Unpleasant shards of the mess no one wants to witness. The exact tone a nurse used when she told me it was for the best because I was so young. Or the ice cold that runs through me everytime I see an examination table with stirrups. The fact that a miscarriage is more than blood and that more must be dealt with. I don’t talk about sitting alone in my bathroom trying to decide what to do with the bloody fragments of the child that will never be. Or the torture of bleeding a little & then having to wait. Clinging to hope through blood tests and scans. Only to be told you’re technically still pregnant, but it’s no longer viable.
Risk of infection, prolonged bleeding, the extent of the pain are all things I only become aware of through experience or via other women in private groups. We’re all so squeamish about the reality of pregnancy loss. I think it’s entwined with the patriarchal disgust of ‘female’ bodily functions. The same whiff of shame hangs over the process. I have felt I must not reveal anything too corporeal. Almost as though declaring the facts of my physical condition is gratuitous. Likewise, I have restrained aspects of emotional responses for the comfort others. It simply isn’t sensible to treat such a traumatic event with polite moderation. The inhibition has damaged me.
The older I get the more I seek clarity. Much of the pressure that society brings to bear obscures my view. I don’t want to submit to it anymore.
Today would be your 20th birthday. I’ve had the time it would have taken for you to become a man & still the wound is raw. It seems that a certain amount of pain will always be part of being an invisible Mum. I miss you and all your siblings. Even though I never got to make real memories, I hold our phantom family in my imagination.
My life will always be less for your absence, but I’d never forgo the time that I carried you. You will forever be the very best part of me.
Autumn has always been my favourite season. The drawing in of the nights & cooling of the air used to be welcome. These days this time of year is more complicated.
All of my babies were due in August or September. As the weather changes I am beset with anniversaries and reminders. People who were pregnant with me throw birthday parties. I quietly mark dates I had hoped to celebrate.
This year my orbit is congested with pregnancy announcements creating a perfect storm of emotion. All are depressingly familiar. I’m sad and lost. I don’t know how to find a purpose big enough to fill up my life. Each time I begin to believe I’m approaching acceptance I’m overtaken with this stale grief.
It’s so heavy and I’m so tired of dragging it around. I want to be able to move past this, but there are too many ghosts. A million tiny pricks. Triggers lurk everywhere; always something to yearn for. Even in my happiest moments I’m aware of what’s missing.
I can’t comprehend ever making this ok. Yet, I don’t wan’t to be this tragic old bitch. I’d like to stick all my consolation prizes together & collage myself a happy enough ending. I’m scared I’m not sufficiently good/strong/grateful to make do & mend.
I used a hand sanitiser in a train station the other day. It was one of those super strong types that you find in hospitals. As soon as it hit my skin I was whisked back in time. For a second or two I was somewhere else. Somewhere I didn’t want to be.
The cold sensation drifted through my body. A zoetrope of mixed up images spun in my head. Blurry flashes conjured by the clinical scent. I felt dizzy. I sat down, took some deep breaths. It passed. I was grateful.
It wasn’t entirely gone. That night the whirl of disjointed scenes dipped in & out of my dreams. Random words have jarred memories. My mind has wandered mid thought or conversation. I have felt the panic rising. Spells of forcing my head to connect with my physical reality have emerged. Struggling to focus on what I can actually see, hear, smell in this moment. Ignoring the feelings climbing my throat.
Tonight in the shower I couldn’t shake the feeling that the hot water streaming down my legs was blood. I couldn’t wipe the hospital aroma from my nostrils. Nor soothe the ache that spread from my back to my thighs. The hand sanitiser has triggered a reaction. My body is recalling the trauma stored deep within. It’s a phenomenon associated with PTSD known as body memories.
I haven’t experienced this symptom in quite some time. It lies dormant; rising unpredictably. Sometimes reacting to obvious & painful stimuli. Or, like this week, triggered by a tiny insignificant detail. My olfactory senses seem particularly attuned to old wounds.
This time it’s the initial loss. I feel my body failing. I know it isn’t happening. I have learned how to pull myself back to the here & now. Still, those moments when I’m dragged to the past feel completely real. I am not just thinking about unpleasant events. I am feeling them. My flesh & nerves & senses are reacting to something that happened 20 years ago.
Body memories are excruciating. It becomes a battle between what you know & what you feel. Fighting strong emotions is a challenge. When you add physical sensations grounding yourself is an onerous task. I have experienced these episodes replicating the sensations I felt during miscarriages & pregnancy. At times these physical memories are accompanied by flashbacks & other PTSD symptoms. Other times they occur in isolation. They mirror my actual experience so completely that I’ve found myself taking multiple pregnancy tests when I knew it was almost impossible for me to have conceived.
It’s another aspect of PTSD that I rarely see discussed in the mainstream. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not only (or even mainly) associated with combat trauma. Yet, it’s the link most people draw. The violent outbursts in media portrayals of the illness are not accurate. New studies are highlighting how prevalent PTSD is in women who have experienced baby loss & birth trauma. For most of us, managing PTSD is an internal process. Distress may leak out, but the grind is with yourself. Accessing the right help, surviving that help (trauma therapy can be brutal), learning to manage symptoms, accepting the parts you can never fix & the impact they will have on your life.
It’s painful & exhausting & many of us never completely recover. To stand any chance of healing specialised therapy is essential. There are so many barriers to reaching that help. It can take years to obtain any psychological intervention without the resources to pay privately. Even longer to receive the specialised therapy that can actually help. So many people can’t afford to wait.
This month I’m supporting The Birth Trauma Association and Sands. Both organisations support families who have experienced trauma surrounding baby loss & birth. Please join me if you can.
Too much time in my head is distinctly bad for me. Not getting stuck amongst all the crap i’ve crammed up there is an ongoing project. It is not an endeavour that is aided by inaction.
Staying home alone all day, everyday is not ideal. I require distraction. I need people who make me feel swell and to do things that help me feel worthy. I like knowing that I could jump in a taxi and go anywhere. Having a sense of control is massively important.
Being entirely reliant on others for almost everything makes my insides jitter. I feel more of a burden than ever. Which activates my guilt & anxiety. I’m obviously also worried about myself or someone I love getting ill. Plus the horror of all the people who are suffering & dying every day. I’m basically a big ball of negative emotions.
I’m struggling with pain. I miss my little ones. I miss all my people. I can hardly sleep. There’s very little work. There’s too much time to think. All this on my own time thinking about what I miss inevitably highlights the major omission.
When left to its own devices my is brain predictable. It clings to trauma. If not occupied with the business of living, I regress. Slip back into dreams of the births I’ll never labour through. Flashbacks of the blood & pain I did. Haunted by the over used phrase that always signaled it was over.
There are so many what ifs. Too many of my own actions to question. Huge & tiny alterations that could have changed the outcome. Things I never said. Words others can never unsay. Blame to place. Regret to carry. Penance to complete.
I feel trapped with all I’ve lost and every little thing I can’t share. The good memories are as painful as the bad. The selfies I took when my belly began to change shape. That magical second line on the test. Marking midwife appointments on my calendar. Blood tests with the right numbers. Making lists. Checking what ridiculous object the app tells me my baby is now the size of. Plans & scans & the bam bam of heartbeats.
My body remembers it all in such intricate detail. I recall the fractionally altered taste of mint tea. Sex felt different and the smell of everything intensified. I was heavy with fear. Dulled by fatigue. Yet still floating on hope and entirely delighted to experience whatever this new life threw at me.
It never goes away. I can never take my foot off the pedal. I’m always close to skidding off the road. Lockdown is like a battle not to drift to sleep at the wheel. Spending too long contemplating my past or the what might have been is dangerous. Finding ways to keep my eyes open is getting harder.
There’s nothing like a nation wide quarantine to really hammer home the fact that you’re childless. All anyone can talks about is their kids. How the silver lining of all this chaos is extra time with their cherubs. How being stuck in the house with them is driving folk crazy or all the creative ideas for activities to keep them occupied. It’s a non stop child frenzy. Unless you’re barren.
I hate that word. It feels accusatory & cold. It is, however the descriptor that keeps pushing itself into my head. Being alone in my house for over a month has contracted my world. There’s nowhere to hide. I’m content in my own company, but I’m accustomed to regular interruptions. Being unable to see friends, family or get involved in any outside work projects is tough. Those are my escapes. Adventures with little people. Laughs with big ones. Putting my skills towards something worthwhile. When you take all that away the only bit that’s left is empty.
There’s too much opportunity to be in my head. I’m not sleeping well, which facilitates bonus peak anxiety hours. Plus all this stress & uncertainty has opened the door to nightmares. Mostly relating to being pregnant & threatened by various dangers. With little snippets of real flashbacks thrown in for extra distress. When I’m not feeling powerless, I have a sense of being robbed. This strange, crazy time has necessitated hunkering down in family units. I don’t have one.
I have plenty of amazing people. I’m grateful, believe me. Lockdown has reinforced my belief that a husband is so not for me. With a little help from folks who are allowed outside I can manage my life just fine. If anything, it’s people to care for I want. I can’t stop myself from thinking how old my children would be now. I unintentionally look out for age appropriate lockdown activities. I imagine baking my Gran’s fruit loaf with tiny helpers. I caught myself constructing a home school lesson plan in my head. Fantasising about passing on one’s insights of the works of Lewis Grassic Gibbon is a lonely pursuit.
I have this sensation that I spend my life trying to squash. Hollow and raw. It’s as though someone scraped out all the essential parts of me with a dirty, jagged instrument. I occupy my time trying to keep the chasm sufficiently full. Packing in as many beautiful moments as I can find to prevent an inward collapse. Now my world is on hold, that void is ever present.
I know I am fortunate in many ways. I am able to stay safely at home. My housing is secure. I can video call the people I love. I will have access to healthcare if I need it. Life will resume. I do know that. I’m just struggling with the realisation that I’ll never fully heal this. Every time I think I have accepted my situation the wound is reopened & it feels fresh all over again.