My new house and its ghosts

My lack of posting at the moment can be explained by the fact that we are in the midst of moving house. This has been going on for months and months and it’s been an epic struggle to finally exchange contracts today! The whole thing has seemed to represent the whole rest of my life at the moment – everything I plan goes wrong. Everything I want falls through.

But enough of the negativity. I’m really trying to be positive, and this is a good step in the right direction. Something has worked out! Maybe everything else will too.

The problem is that our new house has three bedrooms. One for us, and a spare room. And then the little tiny room that overlooks the garden. The one that was going to be the nursery.

So far, every time I’ve been in the room I’ve wept over the ghost it holds. I know we’ve got to use it for something else for now at least, until (hopefully) some day I’m pregnant again. But I almost can’t bear to call it ‘the study’. It’s still my baby’s room, in my heart. I want to put a cot in it, not a desk. I want to put a little chest full of baby clothes in the corner, not a filing cabinet. I’m planning to paint it beige – not to make it minimalist and neutral, but so I can add teddy stencils to the walls some day.

And amidst all this I know I have to be sensible and not worry about another month passing by, another month closer to my due date, another month where a little tiny life isn’t growing inside me still. I’m doing so much better – the house has been a great distraction. I want to enjoy it and have a fun time moving – and I’m sure we will do.

But in the middle of my lovely new house, full of our things and our tastes and our love, is an empty nursery, empty like my womb and my heart.

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Another month wasted

I started my period last night – so that’s another month of nothing. Another month of futile hoping and trying. Another month to wait before another chance.

I cried again last night, even through I thought I’d feel less hopeless this month – for all my rationalisation and talk of silver linings, I was still hoping with my whole heart, still holding on for one more day to pass without my period starting, just enough to make it worth a pregnancy test. Just maybe it would be positive.

I was just deluding myself. I feel utterly barren.

I really, really need to get out of this habit of counting the days and weeks and months as if they’re wasted. It’s just so hard *not* to see them as wasted when I feel like all I want is to be pregnant again. It’s the purpose of my life, much as I might try to find purpose in other things – everything else feels like marking time.

And time feels like it’s slipping away. I know I’m still only 29 and it’s only been four months since my miscarriage, but most of the time I just can’t envisage ever having any good news again, ever being able to actually announce that we’re having a baby. I just feel like all I’m having is blood. Blood and blood and blood and never a baby. I’m so sick of bleeding – I just feel like I never want to bleed again.

But of course I have to do this, have to come to terms with my cycle and all the traumatic memories and feelings it brings, because it’s the only thing that can maybe bring me a baby one day. My cycle is back to being fairly regular (normal for me, anyway) which is a good thing. I wish I could muster up any genuine feeling of pleasure about that.

So off we go again. Another month. In the meantime I guess I have few days of being able to enjoy a glass of wine – I’m not a huge drinker but not being able to have a glass used to feel like a big sacrifice when I was pregnant. What I wouldn’t give to have to say no to a drink tonight.

I asked my husband today if he really, truly, from the bottom of his heard didn’t wish he’d married someone else, someone who could give him a baby easily and quickly and with none of this heartache. He said he didn’t feel that way at all – that it could happen to anyone and that it wasn’t my fault. I’ve asked him that so many times but I believed him a bit more tonight. I know he loves me and won’t leave me, and doesn’t blame me. I just need to find a way to stop blaming myself.

Silver linings

I’ve been thinking over the last few days about some of the positive things I’ve been able to take from my experiences over the last few months, both of my miscarriage itself and also of the disappointment of my hopes and plans for the rest of this year. None of these things make it better, but they give me a different perspective sometimes.

The best thing is the hardest to explain. I feel like I’ve got a bit more back in touch with myself – my twenties have been a whirlwind of fun and good times and happiness and I’ve been swept up in that sometimes, forgetting to look inwards. I have spent a lot of time thinking about myself and my life since January, and where it’s heading now that having a family may not be as straightforward as I’d always assumed. I feel like I have got a clearer idea of where I am heading as a person and what I want, rather than just surfing on the wave of life. 

I’ve also remembered that I’m living my life for ME and my real family and friends, and not for other people. One of the things I was most looking forward to about being pregnant the first time was posting the 12 week scan photo on Facebook – of course my feelings about having a baby ran much deeper than that, but being excited about announcing it to all and sundry over social media was definitely a big element of it. When we lost the baby, the fact that everyone plasters their good news all over social media made everything ten times worse – Facebook seemed like a sea of baby photos and status updates, and it made me feel doubly bereft and like a failure. 

I left Facebook about a month ago now to escape, and I feel much better – I’m not inundated with everyone else’s baby news, and also, more broadly, I’m getting out of the habit of needing to announce everything I do to people I barely know. Thinking about telling my friends and family if we do get pregnant again of course makes me feel happy and excited, but now I’m excited just about telling the people I really love and see regularly. No one else really matters. And more broadly in my life in general, I’m remembering that I do things for me and not for the interest of people I haven’t seen for ten years. 

The last big silver lining is about motherhood itself. I’m not scared any more! Not at all. Not of getting saggy and covered in stretch marks; not of putting my career and social life second; and mostly not of the pain of childbirth, which had been scaring me profoundly. I just want my baby in my arms, healthy and whole and happy, and smiling or crying or both at once. I’ll go through anything for that. Maybe of all my silver linings that perspective, that level of simple appreciation, is the biggest gift. 

I’m halfway through my pregnant colleague’s last day

It’s my colleague’s last day today before her maternity leave starts. I found out that we’d lost our baby just after she announced to everyone that she was pregnant, and the awfulness of that has been intensified by her sadness and worry over the fact that they’ve seen on the scans that her baby has a cleft palate. There have been times when I wanted to shake her and tell her not to be so stupid – a cleft palate is nothing major nowadays and she still had a lovely healthy baby inside her! Alive and well and just with a tiny fixable problem. What wouldn’t I do for that? Doesn’t she know what a gift it is? 

I made it almost all the way through our little mini party for her today before I lost it. Even though I was standing right next to her, I looked at my feet and bit my lip, and coped with all the laughing and smiling and joking about how late her first baby was, and how she’s so huge that our boss has been wondering if he should keep clean towels and warm water on permanent standby. I even made it through all the good wishes for her to have a lovely maternity leave with her growing family. I was feeling lost and a bit poleaxed, but I thought I was doing OK.

It was the present we’d bought her that opened the floodgates – I hadn’t seen what had been bought with all our contributions. It was a lovely Cath Kidston bag with a built in little changing mat. I just looked at it and imagined her little baby lying on it, and her carrying it around filled with baby things. My eyes swam and my chin wobbled. Luckily my colleague who knows my whole saga saw that I was losing it and got me out. 

All I could think about as I sat in the corner office sobbing my eyes out was all the things people would have said if I’d been six months pregnant now, like I should be. All the jokes that would have been made. “There’s something in the water in this office…” “You’re going to bankrupt us with all the baby presents we have to buy!” “Anyone else want to tell us anything?” 

It would have been fun. Me and my bump and a little kicking baby inside would have glowed with happiness that it would be us soon. 

As it is, it’s just me, sitting back at my desk, feeling empty and barren and wishing it could have been me too. It should have been me too. 

Would dealing with a miscarriage be easier if I already had a child?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about whether my miscarriage would have been easier to bear if I already had a child. The obvious answer is no – the grief at a lost part of myself, a lost member of my family, a lost opportunity for life would be just as strong, just as hard to get past. I would still be grieving for the child I’ll never get to know, and I might still feel that my family was incomplete and that I wanted to give the child I’d had previously a brother or sister.

The physical trauma would still be just as disturbing too. Having to deal with the loss of a pregnancy is so visceral, so frightening and alien and unyielding, that no circumstances would make that easy to bear – even mothers losing an unwanted pregnancy still have that reality to live through.

But if you told me, right now, that I could just have one healthy baby and then no chance for another one – even if you got out your crystal ball and said that I’d had a terrible traumatic birth and couldn’t have any more children – I would say YES! Where do I sign up? Right now, the uncertainty of whether I will ever have a successful pregnancy, whether I’ll ever hold my own baby in my arms, is so dreadful that having one child would feel like such a blessing.

I was so afraid of childbirth before – afraid of the pain and the unknown and the indignity. Now I don’t care! I really don’t care what happens to me. Nothing will seem an effort if my own little baby – my own, healthy little happy thing – is with me.

In some ways, it’s not the miscarriage itself that would be easier – nothing can make that anything other than the hardest thing you hope ever to do. It’s the moving on, picking myself up, and looking to the future that I think would be a little easier. If that future already involved three, I’d feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

Increased fertility after miscarriage – an old wives tale?

In my previous post I talked about the frustration and stress and uncertainty of trying again after a miscarriage. One of the things that makes this worse is the old wives tale that suggests that your body ‘knows how to be pregnant’ and so conception should be quicker second time round. I have heard this from a few different people, and it definitely made it worse when it didn’t magically happen for us the first month of trying again.

I thought I’d do a bit of research into the suggestion and see whether there’s any truth in it. Most of the more reliable websites seem reluctant to say more than ‘some evidence suggests’ and ‘some studies show’ that miscarriage could increase fertility – many don’t even mention the possibility at all, and I am inclined to think that Baby Centre’s conclusion is sensible (http://community.babycenter.com/post/a26307987/helpful_ttc_info):

After a miscarriage it’s difficult to determine what a ‘normal’ conception time frame is. Some women will get their period 28 days after their loss and some won’t get it back for 8 weeks[…]. Once your period returns you fall back under the standard conception time frame (in other words, already experiencing a pregnancy doesn’t give you a ‘headstart’). There is a lot of misinformation about being ‘more fertile’ after a miscarriage. There is simply no scientific evidence to back that up. In fact, after a miscarriage (especially after 8 weeks) your body will need time to recover and get back to normal. Many women do not ovulate for a few months. It’s totally normal to take 6-12 months to conceive after a miscarriage no matter how fertile you are.

OK. So I should probably expect to be in this for the long haul – no more naive expectation that we’re young and healthy and therefore should be pregnant instantly.

BabyMed has a view that supports the ‘more fertile’ idea a little more:

While doctors say there is a brief period right after a miscarriage occurs that a woman experiences increased fertility, this does not mean that her fertility will be increased for long. Experts report that a woman’s normal fertility level should return within four to six weeks after the miscarriage when ovulation starts and her cycle begins to function as normal again.

Anyone who felt very inclined to actively try again within four weeks of a miscarriage gets top marks for effort from me – I was still bleeding for most of that time let alone being an emotional wreck.

In any case, some research has shown that it’s better to wait even as long as sixth months after a miscarriage – in fact that’s still the World Health Organisation’s recommendation, even though more recent research has shown that it’s best just to go for it straight away (http://www.nhs.uk/news/2010/08August/Pages/conceiving-baby-after-miscarriage.aspx). Physical symptoms and the benefit of dating the pregnancy accurately aside, I’m not sure anyone would be ready emotionally straight away, but also six months seems like a long time in limbo.

I’m now three and a half months down the line from my miscarriage, and in my second month of trying – last month was very difficult and I found it traumatic and upsetting when I wasn’t pregnant straight away. This month I feel much better about it, and think I will cope much better with negative results this time round. Although I can’t say I won’t be upset, I think I will be more philosophical and accept that we really, truly are back to square one.

In some ways I’m glad I haven’t got pregnant again straight away. It would have been hard to separate the two pregnancies in my mind, and I want next time to be a fresh start. It will be better for our next pregnancy if I can see it with hope and optimism, and see our baby as an individual and not as a replacement for the one we lost. Plus, it will be better for our lost baby too – not just swept under the carpet by a quick ‘rerun’, but remembered and grieved for.

Trying again might be the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do

Most of the time now I am well past the “spontaneous crying about my miscarriage” phase. I’m not randomly breaking into tears out of the blue like I was a few months back and I can talk about it fairly sensibly. Although I still feel so much grief for the baby we lost, I am managing to get out of the gloom sometimes and am counting my blessings that it wasn’t a later miscarriage or stillbirth, and that I am still happy and still rock solid with the best husband in the whole world. 

So the amount of crying I did two weeks ago, when our first month of trying again didn’t result in being pregnant, really shocked me. I couldn’t handle it at all.

I thought I was as ready as I’d ever be to start trying again – physically I’m pretty much OK and mentally I felt up to it. But what I didn’t expect was for my body to trick me so cruelly. From about three weeks into my cycle, I felt sick and a bit out of it, like I had when I was pregnant – I convinced myself that I was pregnant again and had gone through all kinds of imaginings, like laughing with the doctor about how stupid my fears about conceiving again had been. I had created a whole scenario in my mind about how exciting it would be to be pregnant again so soon. I many ways, I had thought that it was a re-validation of me as a fertile woman made for childbearing. 

I guess maybe the hormones produced during ovulation surprised my body after four months off them, and that’s why I felt ill. But even after two negative pregnancy tests I was still fooling myself. 

The day I started my period I cried like I haven’t cried since the day we found out we’d lost the baby. I felt like I had lost him all over again. It was so ridiculous, because I knew it was incredibly unlikely to be that first month – and yet it was impossible to be sensible about it, impossible to let my head rule my heart. I want to be pregnant again so badly, and yet I just felt like I was facing another unknown number of months where my entire life was centred on waiting and counting days and not knowing. I didn’t know how to face it. 

We’re in month two now, and I do feel a bit calmer. In some ways that’s down to this blog – I started it a couple of days after I started my period last time, and it has given me a focus beyond the counting and the waiting. I’m trying hard as well not to let it affect my relationship with my husband, and not to let ‘trying’ take over our love life. I’ve remembered that I want to be with him because he’s wonderful and sweet and sexy, and not just because I need his DNA!! 

Even though I’m filled with fear and worry, I also know that the only thing that can fix that is keeping trying and getting there some day. Somehow, that is making the trying again bearable. But only just. 

Was my miscarriage my fault?

After the scan showed that our baby had died, I sat with him still inside me desperately wishing I could go back in time and fix whatever it was that was broken and make my pregnancy successful.

I know that it probably wasn’t something to do with my body going wrong and the pregnancy ending because of that – I didn’t have a fall or trauma or illness and it all happened in a gradual way. Three different doctors told me that most first trimester miscarriages are caused by a chromosomal abnormality in either the sperm or egg, and the following article (really useful in general) puts the figure at 70%: www.ourbodiesourselves.org/book/excerpt.asp?id=80.

But why were the chromosomes abnormal? Is there something wrong with my husband or I? Another really useful although very depressing article puts the figure for chromosomal abnormalities at 50% of miscarriages, but explains what “chromosomal abnormalities” means really well: www.marchofdimes.com/baby/birthdefects_chromosomal.html.

Chromosomal abnormalities usually result from an error that occurs when an egg or sperm cell develops. It is not known why these errors occur. As far as we know, nothing that a parent does or doesn’t do before or during pregnancy can cause a chromosomal abnormality in his or her child.

In most cases, an embryo with the wrong number of chromosomes does not survive. In such cases, the pregnant woman has a miscarriage. This often happens very early in pregnancy, before a woman may realize she’s pregnant. More than 50 percent of first-trimester miscarriages are caused by chromosomal abnormalities in the embryo.

Parents who have a late miscarriage or a baby born with birth defects can learn whether it’s likely that there’s a fundamental genetic problem, but for us it’s just a case of not knowing. Apparently if it’s your first miscarriage, they basically refuse to do genetic tests – I suppose I can see that it’s not a priority for health spending, but I would find it comforting to have some answers even if they were scary ones. Also then I would know if it wasn’t a chromosome thing. What could it be then? That’s almost scarier.

Some other likely causes are explained here: www.pregnancyloss.info/causes.htm. I have always been worried about hormonal factors, as I have pretty irregular periods, so I was glad to read that some hormone problems are treatable (although only in advance – you can’t save a pregnancy that’s already afflicted with a hormone problem). Since my miscarriage I’m ten times more worried about hormones, as my ovaries showed up on the scans as being polycystic – the doctors say this won’t make any difference to my chances of conceiving again, or of having another miscarriage, but it’s just one more scary things to worry about. It’s nice to see, though, that most of the problems listed on the Pregnancy Loss website – hormonal and more structural – have some kind of solution attached to them.

This is the truest statement of all:

The Unknown

The hardest thing to accept is no reason at all. You live in fear, wondering if the same terrible cause of your first baby’s death will cause another one to die. You scarcely dare to try again. I have been in this situation and I tossed my doctor’s statistics aside. I had already been on the wrong side of the statistics; I didn’t care for anymore. But I do know this. One miscarriage hardly raises your chances to miscarry again at all. You are simply back at square one. Try to put the risk as far back in your mind as possible and enjoy another pregnancy. But I understand if you can’t.

I am trying to put the risk to the back of my mind, and I hope that when I’m pregnant again I’ll be able to feel positive about that, and about being able to conceive, and not to worry too much about a second miscarriage. But I’m not sure I’ll be that pragmatic. If our chromosomes didn’t mesh the first time, who’s to say they will a second time? And if it wasn’t that, what frightening truths lie in store for us to discover?

Surviving monthly miscarriage anniversaries, and dreading the due date

Today is the three month anniversary of the day we found out we’d lost our baby. I don’t know where these three months have gone – they’ve been a whirlwind of coping, not coping, talking, crying, going on a massive spontaneous holiday, and coping some more.

It’s been particularly strange today, too, because death and remembrance are all over the newspapers after Margaret Thatcher died – again, I am struck by the brevity of my baby’s life and by the enormity of what one person can achieve in a full, fulfilled lifetime. Being loved and loathed, experiencing epic success and epic failure, being iron-strong and then frail and ill – we all experience these things to some degree over the course of a normal lifetime, but that little thing that lived so briefly will never experience them. 

Anniversaries seem only to emphasise the time that I feel I’ve lost. It’s been three months since I was moving in the right direction for having a baby – in the right direction for the future and family I have always wanted since I was very young. Since it happened I’ve been becalmed, waiting for a normal period, and now trying again. Every month that passes seems like a marker of my failure to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. 

How will I cope with 29 July – our due date? I think if I’m pregnant again by then I’ll be able to handle it quietly and calmly, sad and aching for my loss but positive and hopeful for the future. It’s a delay in conceiving that I dread – if a few more months pass and we’ve been trying for a whole year, punctuated by our loss, and then the baby’s due date rolls round, I don’t know how I’ll approach that day and not feel overwhelmed by hopelessness.

Even worse, the Royal Baby is due in July (I live in England). Seeing him or her born, and knowing that that will be his or her birthday that month every year, and not my baby’s, will be terrible. And the Royal Baby will always be exactly the same age as my baby would have been – I’ll always be reminded, every year, as they get older, that my baby is not getting older.

I don’t know if it’s healthy to think of these milestones. I know I need to grieve properly, but I also need to try not to dwell on dates and facts. I just need to try and heal. 

Carrying my miscarriage is a lonely burden

It seems like I’m the only one that’s so upset about my miscarriage. In fact it sometimes seems like I’m the only one that remembers about it at all.

I know that seems like the meanest thing to say about my husband, and paints him in a really bad light. That couldn’t be further from what I mean. It’s cliched to say he has been my rock – but he has. I couldn’t have got through it without him. From the first day in the hospital, when he phoned my parents to tell them, comforted me, held me and talked to me; to those awful days afterwards when I was showing him sheets of bloodstained toilet paper and clots and he had to take endless days off work just to sit and watch me cry; and right through to now when he is so understanding and sympathetic to my various hang ups and concerns and still has to deal with the nights when I can’t stop weeping. He has gone so far beyond the call of duty, and has been everything I ever hoped for. Marrying him was SO the right move, and I love him even more after what we’ve been through together. I didn’t even know it was possible to love him more.

So it’s not that he isn’t supportive. It’s just that he’s, well, *him*. He’s a very logical, rational and intellectual person. And although he’s one of the most sensitive and non-macho men ever born, he’s still a man! He doesn’t want to dwell on things. He wants to move on, and think about the future, and he doesn’t want to have to deal with difficult feelings every single day. I don’t think he’s repressing it, really – he just doesn’t need to pick the scab all the time.

I seem to need to pick the scab constantly. This means that sometimes I feel like, even though I can share everything with him normally, I need to keep some of my darkest thoughts to myself.

And then there’s my Mum. My Mum is one of the best mums ever – I hope you’re getting the impression that I’m very lucky with my family. But she, too, is supremely practical. She came down to stay with us a couple of days after my miscarriage, and she came to scans with me, talked to endless doctors with me, brought me flowers, made me laugh, took me for a massive retail therapy session, and was everything anyone could ever need.

But now she too is resolutely forward looking. She insists that we’ll be pregnant again soon and is impatient at my worries that we could lose another baby or struggle to conceive again. Maybe she’s right, statistically, and I probably need a dose of optimism. I can handle her no-nonsense attitude in that way.

But what’s impossible to deal with it her conviction that losing this baby was a good thing, because, as the doctors told us, the most likely reason for the miscarriage was some kind of chromosome abnormality which made the pregnancy non-viable. She says things like, “you really wanted rid of that, whatever *it* was”, and talks about the horrible thing that I was growing inside me and how I needed to get it out fast. It wasn’t a baby – it was just a bundle of cells that went really wrong and could never have been a person.

That IS my baby she’s talking about. I know a person couldn’t manage to fully grow from those cells, but there was DNA there that was formed from my husband and me – there was a tiny heart that was beating, however briefly. That was my tiny little baby, that never made it.

I feel angry and so hurt that she talks about him like that. I know she’s trying to help but she gets it so wrong.

We didn’t tell many friends, although those we did tell have been wonderful, and much more prepared to see it from my point of view, as a loss to grieve for. But it’s the people closest to you that you really depend on when something like this happens, and when they can’t quite be what you need it’s lonely. That’s why I relaunched this blog, because it gives me the opportunity to articulate how I feel, fully and freely, without having a chorus of “come on, you need to be more positive”. It’s wonderful how the internet gives you access to a community of people who have been there too, wherever “there” is.

I want to move forward too, and I feel like I’ve been doing that pretty well, all along. But I can’t move forwards by forgetting what’s happened. I need to take it with me. It feels a bit like a scar – I’m glad to be healthy and to have recovered from the wound, but the mark is still there and sometimes I need to look at it, and remember how it got there. In some ways, remembering how I felt then makes me feel more positive because I can see how far I’ve come and how much better I’m doing now. It’s only been three months.

Maybe in the end the problem is that no one else experienced the full horror of what happened. My husband had the emotional trauma, but the combination of the emotional and the physical is something no one could go through but me. However they try to share it, it’s my miscarriage in the end.