Watching through my fingers…

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 stigmatised 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 you, 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 shit I put up with, but I still can’t fully convince myself I’m not 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.

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.

When will they stop…

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.

Blurry spinning image of trees & sky

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.

New born baby feet with words birth trauma Association

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.

Sands logo

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.

I miss you like sleep…

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.

Rainbow reflection on pale either arm

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.

Two lines to indicate positive result on pregnancy test

And a happy new year…

I think it’s fair to say that 2019 has been a shit show. A political nightmare on a global scale. Environmentally disastrous & frankly a genuinely worrying time to be alive. My faith in humanity has taken a battering this year.

It won’t be like this all the time stencilled onto a pavement

It hasn’t been an especially uplifting 12 months on the personal front either. There’s been loss, illness & a struggle for meaning. It has all felt a little pointless at various stages, but I made it. Here I am living & learning. Carrying on.

Woman in bed with teary eyes

The year got off to a heartbreaking start, but there have been ups. I cemented a crucial relationship & extricated myself from one, which in hindsight, I hadn’t wanted to be in for quite a while. My people have proven once again how marvellous they are. Circling around when needed & letting me be when required.

Txt conversation

There have been a few professional triumphs. I returned to public speaking (terrifying), embarked on a little social media consultation & posed for some excellent photographers. I produced writing I am proud of and my expanded audience significantly.

I applied myself to the task of enjoying life. It’s not always easy when dealing with chronic & mental illness; I’m pleased with my progress. My little ones continue to be of endless interest. I have immersed myself in the joy they bring as often as possible. I’ve allowed myself to enjoy time with someone lovely & undemanding. I even had some successful surgery.

Selection of pictures of children

Most importantly (I think), I have released myself from the need to know where I’m going. I always thought my biggest purpose was motherhood & letting go of that dream has been challenging. I felt bereft of meaning. It has taken time & wise counsel to discover that perhaps I don’t need all the answers right now. It’s ok to take some time to breathe & live. Hopefully other options will present themselves. In the meantime I can work on career goals and hopefully continue to squeeze maximum happiness out of life.

Path continued painted cement ground with foot & walking stick

So, it’s true. Life goes on. I suppose that’s as true on a larger scale as it is personally. We can still strive to be the change. Sadly, it looks like there will be lots of opportunities to test the courage of our convictions. I hope we prove ourselves brave.

Mirror image of fat women smiling

*

* Photography Credit – Megi Aben

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.