Nothing is like it was…

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.

Positive pregnancy tests
Document requesting blood pregnancy test

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.

ly is wearing a red dress and taking a side on mirror selfie

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.

Pale white feet standing in Loch with pebbles

The best of me…

Dear Baby,

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.

Love always,

Mum.

The September Issue…

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.

It’s just the way I’m feeling…

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.

Lilac & pink sunset over houses

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.

Silouhette of toddler on sunny day

May all your troubles soon be gone…

All the last minute tidying is complete. The presents are wrapped, the festive bedsheets are on & the fridge is stocked. My final festive manicure is complete & my outfit is all picked out. All that remains to be done is put my feet up for the evening before the madness begins.

Xmas tree with presents

I’m getting very excited about the big day. I’ll be at my sister’s & her little man is so into Xmas this year. I can FaceTime my other wee ones to see them open their pressies. Plus I’m a big kid and I love getting gifts too!

Xmas nail art. Candy cane stripe & holly

As happy as I am to have friends & family to share the season with, there’s always a hole in my Xmas. Being reminded of all the family fun I’ll never have with my own children is hard. Lots of people who have experienced loss struggle over Christmas. That’s why organisations like Sands & Miscarriage Association are so crucial. Sands work towards reducing still birth and neonatal death. They also provide support for those have lost babies. The Miscarriage Association aim to support those who have suffered miscarriage. They also strive to end the taboo nature of baby loss. Both do essential work with vulnerable people. If you can spare a little, a donation will allow them to continue their essential mission.

Xmas tree, heart decoration with text no foot is too small to leave van imprint in this world

However you spend Christmas I hope it will be safe, warm & filled with as much joy as you can muster. If you are missing someone this year I send you love.

Just give me a reason…

I’m lost. I’ve spent this year trying to reposition my future & navigate the present. I have tried new things, met new people, considered a million & one possible permutations of the next 30 years. I remain astray.

I’ve always had an ultimate goal to strive for. I had one non negotiable role. Motherhood was at the centre of all my plans. It was a reason to do better and the motivation to persevere. I worked so hard on building a safe, comfortable nest. I fixed all the parts of me that could be corrected. Found a way to accept the parts that couldn’t. I believed I had a purpose. I wanted children powerfully enough to force myself into viability.

When it became clear that it wasn’t going to happen I was destroyed. I knew I’d have to fight hard to create some other life. I was aware it would be painful, but I really did believe I could lay a new path. Life’s been a fucking journey so far, but I somehow eventually arrive at ok. I thought I could do it again. I told myself I needed time to grieve, to heal, to process. Then I decided I must push a little. Or a lot. Get to the next step professionally. Say yes to things that scare me. Date fun people, keep an open mind, pay attention to what makes me feel good. If I keep moving I’ll stumble upon my new direction, right? Wrong.

Happiness ahead in lights

11 months of forcing myself to breath. Smiling, rascalling, writing, resting, networking, researching, grabbing hold of anything that sparks any kind of anything. Honestly, it is getting harder. There is no deeper meaning to my efforts. I’m proud of work success. I am grateful for all my gorgeous people. I have love and opportunity. My life is mostly in colour. It’s just very hard to keep the grey from seeping in. Even harder to convince myself it adds up to a reason for being.

I’m hollow with zero ideas of what I should be full of. I’m still at the reminding myself of reality stage. Checking myself daily. I don’t need to remember that gorgeous Swedish name because I won’t be naming anyone. Reading that piece on delayed cord cutting is futile. I should get rid of the paint for the spare room. Forget all my child rearing dreams & schemes. Thinking of this stuff only causes pain, but I have nothing to replace it with.

Search lights fanning out of darkness

I don’t know what to do. I’m not entirely sure I even know who I am anymore. One day at a time is good and well temporarily. It does not hold up as a long term protocol. When everyone else takes their children home there has to be something that makes my life feel significant. I need a reason. I need more.

Blue, I love you…

Dear Son,

Today has always been hard, but this year is worse. I always thought I’d give you siblings & they would help remembering you to be less painful. It never occurred to me that I would be reliving your loss over & over again. I hope they’re with you. I wish you were all with me. I’ll always love you.

Love

Mum

Sapling in moonlight

I’m longing for your heartbeat…

Saturday is my due date. Or would have been my due date. I’ve been so scared of its approach because I have so many unresolvable feelings.

I tried not to know my due date. I had asked in previous pregnancies not to be told because I knew the knowledge of the first one haunts me. I got a little too confident after I heard a heartbeat & let the midwife tell me. Then I made the mistake of setting my calendar to that date. Now I can never forget it.

It is sad & overwhelming for all the obvious reasons. I haven’t processed this grief. In that sense Saturday is just like every other day. I’m always thinking about this in some sense. Be it specific memories of the miscarriages or thinking about all the memories I’ll never make. Mostly, I feel lost.

Project post it

I am not entirely sure who I am anymore. I haven’t ever envisioned a life without children. I don’t know what to do now. I have to accept that my future can only ever be not quite enough. Moreover, becoming a mother has been my driving force. It’s the dream that kept me going when I wanted to give up. It was my inspiration to get stable & pushed me to pursue writing.

It’s very frightening to have your reason to fight melt away. It’s even harder to grieve the loss of this baby when it is such a crucial part of my big picture. I don’t know how to let go of that heartbeat.

I’ll be 39 next month and I have not a single clue about how I fill the rest of my life. A huge part of my identity was a mirage. I have a new reality. I don’t know how I learn to live in it.

Heartbeat on red background

Harder than easy…

I understand the appeal of ‘fake it til you make it’. It is definitely a strategy i’ve employed, but I’m beginning to wonder if maybe there’s a dangerous crossover point. Does acting like you’re ok until you can actually be alright lose it’s usefulness when OK ceases to be a realistic goal?

At the moment I’m wavering between distraction at all costs and crying in the dark. I’m filling the days with as many fun or productive things as I can physically manage. I carry on with the wee ones; go rascalling to farms & libraries & soft play. Have lunches & chats & belly laughs with people I love. They temporarily pull my edges together. I’ve been busying myself with tidying the spare room. Organising my wardrobe. Hanging art that’s been waiting in boxes for months. I keep going until my body screams. When I stop I realise the calendar is still set to my due date & there is just no way I can open the curtains today.

Calendar on pile of books

Some days I can almost fool myself that I’m doing ok. I can keep from asking what’s the point. Push the existential thoughts aside & paint on a smile. It never lasts long. I’m still hollow. I don’t know when the forced productivity becomes a lie. Left to my own devices I am pretty sure I would lock the door & perpetually reopen my wounds. Is this manufactured well being what people mean when they say ‘just keep swimming’? I have to be honest I feel like eventually I’ll probably drown.

Person submerged in blue bath water

I’m holding onto the possibility that it might get better. Time heals and so on. I’m not sure I believe that, though. I think most of the time you probably just get used to pain. Intellectually I can work our what’s happening. I’m grieving. Not just the baby I lost, but the idea of any baby. I’m grieving the entire life I wanted. All the babies I never got to hold and all the theoretical ones that might have made that easier bear. I no longer have hope. That’s what is making it so hard.

I’m worried that this is it. My life will always be waiting for the next life raft. Clinging to a few hours of something good before I wade back into nothing. Emotion aside I don’t even have the energy to keep up this level of diversion. The recovery to doing ratio is creeping up. It is getting harder to put on make up & push my arse out the door. I fear my real mood is leaking out.

How long can I keep this up? Congratulating myself on finally emptying the washing basket feels like a shallow victory when I can’t write anything that doesn’t make me weep. I really don’t know if I’m nailing the life goes on thing or just closing my eyes to reality. There are still pre natal vitamins in a cupboard I no longer open and a box of positive pregnancy tests under my bed. The perfume I wore when my own made me nauseous remains on my dresser. I can’t sleep. I’m struggling to imagine a future that feels fulfilling. I can’t help thinking that avoiding these truths won’t change them.

Moonlit sky

I can logic this out, but that doesn’t change the problem. I can’t afford to get crazy again. I also cannot stop wondering if this is all there is. This keep on keeping on farce is wearing me out, but I don’t see a functional alternative.

Welcome to my nightmare…

I didn’t sleep last night (shocker, right). Actually, I did kind of sleep. I was so dog tired by 11pm that I decided to try going to bed like a normal person. I read for a bit and much to my relief, I fell asleep. For about 45mins.

I was awoken by the first nightmare around midnight. By half three and the fourth nightmare I had given up on the idea of sleeping. Nightmares are the part of PTSD that I don’t really talk much about. Maybe because they are an intermittent problem. Probably also because it’s not something that people (in my experience) take seriously. Responses to my attempts to discuss my nightmares have ranged from vaguely dismissive to full on belittlement.

I think when I say nightmares people hear bad dreams. You’re probably thinking of anxiety dreams (teeth falling out, failing exams, getting fired etc) or standard scary dreams (trapped somewhere, being chased, really bad person creeping around your house horror movie type stuff). Maybe you’re even imaging those childhood bad dreams that are terrifying in ways that are incredibly specific to you. All of which are horrid, but not at all debilitating. I suppose I do understand why folk say things like ‘well, they’re not real’ or ‘as soon as you wake up it’ll be gone’; that’s their experience. Oh, how I wish it were universally true.

Creepy face

PTSD nightmares are a whole other thing. They are related to trauma. For me, they often mirror my flashbacks. Sometimes they’ll get creative and go abstract. I’m trying to get some rest and my mind will just be replaying amplified versions of the most distressing moments of my life. My head is a terrible editor; it just rapidly cuts from one horrendous image to the next. All of which are graphic. Blood and dead babies are the common denominators. They’ll begin in a very realistic & upsetting fashion and degenerate into gruesome bloodbaths (sometimes literally).

Blood splatter

As I mentioned the nightmares are a sporadic problem. They almost always have a trigger. That can be a really tiny thing that I possibly didn’t even pay that much attention to until it starts becoming a pivotal detail in my dreams. It can also be a major life event. My nightmares are usually accompanied by & linked to flashbacks in my waking hours. They always come in clusters. I never have just one upsetting dream. They plague me every time I close my eyes. All of which adds up to a significant disturbance.

The torment doesn’t melt away when I regain consciousness. There’s always more to come and it is real. Every scene is drawn from my reality. I end up scared to sleep and just as scared to be awake. I can’t be alone in this because nightmares are close to the top of every PTSD symptoms list. Any psych evaluation or questionnaire will ask about them. Yet, I don’t see much discussion of the topic. I include myself in that. It’s an aspect of my mental health that I feel really uncomfortable being honest about. I don’t know exactly why we’re all so tight lipped, but I’d bet stigma plays a part.

Sleeping ly

It’s always the messy parts of mental illness that we shy away from. Anything that feels uncontrolled or dark or too close to crazy is glossed over. Those who haven’t experienced it don’t want to think about. Those of us who have don’t want to deal with judgement. Where the nightmares are concerned I think there’s also an element of feeling stupid. Kids get frightened of bad dreams. It’s hard to shake off the feeling that you should be able to handle it. Especially when that’s the message the world is giving you.

I’ve yet to discover anything that’ll chase the dreams away. Sleeping pills aren’t helpful because they make the nightmares more vivid. Thankfully they occur less frequently than they used to. Keeping quiet certainly isn’t helping. Perhaps if people knew what I was referring to when I say nightmares they would be less patronising. A little empathy can go a long way, but you have to understand someone’s experience before you can offer that.