Little Green, have a happy ending…

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.

Little green by Joni Mitchell lyrics in background on green ribbon

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.

Adult hand holding a child’s hand on green background

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

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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.

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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

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I give up…

The universe is determined to give me opportunities to discover social faux pas. The events of the last weeks have revealed to me a host of new things that lots of people say when one talks about miscarriage. The vast majority of these comments are very well meant, but nonetheless, have considerably missed the mark.

Being open about having had multiple miscarriages seems to unfurl two main threads of conversation. The most prolific being enquiries as to why it keeps happening and what I have done about it. I think I know why people ask these questions. Partly fear, no one wants this to happen to them. I suppose people think if they know the whys they can avoid it or fix the problem. The other side being an assumption that everything can be fixed. I understand that, we are so used to living in a world where things can be cured or treated. I know from having chronic conditions that people are often confused to learn that some things can not be corrected. In the case or recurrent miscarriage this enquiry is unhelpful for variety of reasons. Firstly miscarriage, recurrent miscarriage and infertility often fall into the category of ‘don’t know’. About half of those who suffer recurrent miscarriage are unable to find a reason after testing. I am one of those people. I have had all the standard tests and investigations to little avail. I did have some adhesions that were successfully removed and I have PCOS, but no Dr I have consulted believes that to be the cause. The short answer is, no one knows. Asking this question isn’t helpful. If a person doesn’t know, you’re just underling that difficult fact by making them explain it again. If they do, they may not want to discuss such private and sensitive information with you or anyone else.

Offshoots of this such as, Have you seen a Dr about this? You should get another opinion, My friend did such & such or surely there must be something they can do, are unwelcome. I have had four miscarriages. I have lost four children that I desperately wanted. Of course I have done everything within my power to find out why and prevent it from happening again. The suggestion that I haven’t offends me. It indicates that you think I am either stupid or careless. I understand that wasn’t the intention, but please, think before you speak. It’s also important to be aware that the NHS usually won’t begin these investigations until after a third miscarriage. Not everyone has the resources to seek private medical treatment. Anyone in that situation doesn’t need nosey salt in their wounds.

The other comments this loss has garnered are of the don’t give up variety. A lot of people have reached out to tell me there’s always hope. The have shared their own experiences of loss or struggles to conceive and assured me that miracles happens. That they eventually had their baby and it was all worth it. I know you think you are helping. I know you are trying to be kind. Let me just say this, not everyone gets a miracle. We are not all able to try again. There are limits to what the body can do, physically & emotionally. There are time constraints. Relationship constraints. Financial constraints. At this moment I don’t feel like I have another try in me. Losing another baby would destroy me. Maybe I will feel differently in the future (it would have to be the fairly near future), but I don’t think so. Facing the reality of my limitations is not weak. Recognising that I can not square this circle is not giving up.

I don’t intend this as an attack. I realise these aren’t purposeful attempts to hurt. I just want to have an open discourse. I think these confusions arise because we don’t talk about this topic enough. If you want to offer support to someone who has suffered this kind of loss it will be appreciated. Simply offering your condolences and assurances that you are available is enough. Respect that everyone grieves differently and your kindness will cherished.

 

On the plus side…

Fatigue is getting the best of me this week. I am out of spoons, but I don’t want to be out of words on this blog. Hence, I wil be sharing some short pieces I have written for other publications. I hope you find them as absorbing as my usual content.
First up a piece on how body shaming & fat stigma makes plus size infertility an even bigger challenge.
Infertility is  heart breaking affair for anyone who wants to have a child. With the NHS now reporting that 1 in 7 couples have difficulty conceiving, infertility is more common that we realise. Thankfully most people in UK will be able to access fertility treatment via the NHS. However, some people are not deemed suitable for treatment. One of the groups who may be denied access are those categorised as clinically obese.
Women with a BMI over 30 are routinely refused fertility treatment. Drs advise them lose weight before they can be referred to a specialist. There are a number of issues with this policy and some  are tied in with the way society as a whole views fat people. Let’s begin with index used to measure if a person is obese. Body Mass Index (BMI) has been widely discredited. The index has a number of problems including the fact that BMI does not differentiate between muscle & fat. Hence, people who are fit & have healthy body fat can be classified as obese. Another issue is that BMI does not recognise difference in body shape. It is well established that those who carry their weight around the middle (sometimes known as apple shaped) are at much higher risk of health complications than those who carry excess fat around their hips (pear shaped) [1].Thus women with very different shapes & risk factors can be labelled with the same BMI. Perhaps the biggest failing is that BMI  does not always change with lifestyle alterations. A person may make significant changes to their health without necessarily losing large amounts of weight. Partaking in regular exercise and switching to a healthy (but not calorie focused) diet will have a huge impact of a person’s wellbeing. Sadly, BMI would not recognise these positive changes unless there is also weight loss. This can put women in the position of focusing on how much they weigh rather than how healthy their lifestyle is.
Of course, there are also questions to be asked outside the clinical failings of BMI. It is important to note that there is no official policy on women who are under weight. Despite the fact that being too thin can have a bigger impact on a woman’s fertility than being too big. The medical community appear to jump to the conclusion that fat is always bad. A notion that is reflected in society & that causes plus sized women to face wide spread discrimination. It is estimated that half of pregnancies in the UK have obese mothers. Yet studies show that only 5% of admissions to neonatal units and 4% of preterm births could be avoided if all pregnant women had a ‘normal’ BMI at the start of pregnancy [2].The implications is clear, overweight woman are regularly having healthy pregnancies & deliveries. Still the overwhelming message from the medical community is that obese women automatically have  high risk pregnancies.
The most worrying part of this protocol is that women are often not even referred to a fertility specialist until the capitulate on the weight loss issue. This means that women who have specific medical problems interfering with conception are forced to delay interventions that could solve their problems. The bottom line is that women who are classified as obese get a raw deal. Underlying prejudices seem to be making an already distressing issue much harder of plus size women. Infertility can make women feel powerless and incompetent. When you are fat, those feelings are increased by the prevailing impression that your weight is to blame.
1 Mayo Clinic
2 Public Health England, Maternity obesity and pregnancy outcomes.