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.

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?

“Trying for a baby”: the most unhelpful term ever

My husband and I are into our second month of trying for a baby. The longer it takes us to get pregnant, the more I hate that term – to me, trying without succeeding equals failing.

The fact that you have to “try” for a baby makes it seem like like hard work, rather than something exciting with a lovely outcome to look forward to at the end of it. It puts the emphasis on the negative rather than the positive. If you’re an athlete at the start line of an Olympic race, the last thing you want is someone saying: “Right, you’ve done all this hard work and preparation, and now all you have to do is start trying.” You’ve been trying all along – trying to get your body in the best shape, trying to break bad habits, trying to keep your relationship on the strongest footing, trying to get as much from your pre-baby career and life as you can. And now the trying really starts, with the possibility you might not succeed at the end of it? How depressing. The word “trying” is a synonym for tiresome, difficult and stressful (eg “it’s been a trying time”) – and it still has that connotation even when it isn’t used as an adjective.

My Mum and Dad tell an awful story about some friends of theirs who had been trying for a baby for about a year, when they were all in their twenties. Mum and Dad asked them sympathetically how they were doing, whether they’d had any good news yet, and the man said, “No, we’re still slogging away”. Slogging away! Everyone was embarrassed and upset when he said it, but in lots of ways I understand him – I don’t see it like that myself and I’m lucky that things are so great between me and my husband, but society makes us all feel that trying for a baby is a “slog”, a protracted and difficult process. And a lot of that feeling comes from the word “trying”.

It’s not that I resent that you have to be committed to it, or the fact that “trying” for a baby might take some time. All that is part and parcel of the experience, and if it was easy and required no sacrifices or fears it wouldn’t be such an exciting and life-changing adventure.

Maybe it should be called “waiting” for a baby, or “hoping”. That’s a bit more how I want it to feel. My husband and I understand all the days when we could be most fertile, and all the reasons why we might not conceive in a given month, and so really we’re just waiting for exactly the right combination of timing and circumstance. We’re waiting for everything to be just right. And isn’t that a more positive attitude? You’ve done all the preparation and hard work, and now you’re waiting – like waiting for Christmas with an advent calendar. It’s exciting and fun and you’re filled with anticipation of good things. Not bogged down in “trying” hard work.

Anyway, back to the practicalities of the matter – my husband and I are still waiting. My cycle has never been particularly regular, so it’s hard for us to know exactly the most fertile days – maybe there’s a bit more of an element of chance for us than there is for a couple where the woman operates like 28 day clockwork. So we have a period of about a week mid-month where we’ve got even more motivation than normal to be ridiculously in love with each other. We’re in that period now (woohoo!) and I’m hyper-aware of every single thing going on in my body – is it a sign? Has it happened? Has a little egg been fertilised? I know there’s no way I’d be able to feel anything or know anything within one or two days of conception, so it’s purely in my over active imagination.

For now, then, we’ll keep on being excited, and try not let the process feel stressful and strewn with obstacles. And I’ll tell people that we are waiting and hoping for a baby.

How I sorted out my back ready for pregnancy

Back pain is the worst pain in the world. I’m really confident that childbirth can’t be worse. When my back has been at its worst in the past, I haven’t been able to move for days at a time without being reduced to tears of agony – it’s utterly debilitating. And as carrying the weight of a baby around is not exactly the best thing for bad backs, I was really determined to improve my situation before getting pregnant. As a result, I’m pretty much an encyclopedia of ways to improve a lifelong back problem.

First of all, it’s important that you ignore everything I’m about to say until you’ve been to a doctor. I’ve always suffered from back pain in a particular area on the left side of of my lower back, but I don’t have anything skeletal causing it, like curvature of the spine. It’s just muscular, and is probably caused by an old injury or trauma that I don’t even remember. Yours might be something more serious, so if you haven’t been to the doctor, go right now.

That’s how I started too – the first time my back got really bad, I was referred by the doctor to a physiotherapist. Their treatment made absolutely no difference at all, and nor did the treatment of a very expensive sports massage specialist that I saw afterwards a few times. However, the one wondrous things that the physio did do for me was to recommend that I try pilates.

I’ve already written about pilates and how wonderful it is, and how it will help when I’m actually pregnant. But it really has changed my life, firstly in the sense that my back and core muscles are much stronger which should make me less likely to get injured, but more importantly because it gives me a set of exercises to follow which really help to loosen my back when it’s bad.

I had a perfect test for this on holiday in Canada last winter – I had a bad fall skiing, and, aside from brusing my coccyx, I also jarred my back badly. At first I could barely stand up, but after doing lots of pilates that evening and the following day, I recovered really quickly. It was just tiny movements – that was all I could do – but they kept the muscles from seizing up, and gradually I could increase them until I got back to normal movement.

It’s really important, though, to find a good pilates teacher. Mine (www.pilates4life.co.uk) follows the Menezes method, which is based on a really solid understanding of anatomy and physiology. This is really important if you have an injury as otherwise you can hurt yourself more. Plus some pilates is just like a relaxation class – that can be valuable, but for me it’s not a good use of my time.

The second best thing I did was visit a chiropractor (www.ruislipchiropractor.co.uk). I’m really not a fan of some things that chiropractors do – it can be a bit New Age. But I can’t deny that mine has made a decisive difference to my back. His treatment has been based on the fact that my pelvis tends to slip out of alignment – and that’s something I can see with my own eyes, because when my back hurts my waist isn’t level (ie. the bit that curves in is at a different height on each side). He fixed this by cracking something in my back, and since then the standard everyday stiffness has hugely decreased and I haven’t had a serious episode of back pain (touch wood). I visit him every couple of months to maintain my good alignment.

My chiropractor also prescribed me custom insoles called orthotics which I wear in my shoes – I love wearing these, and find them immensely comfortable. I have fallen arches and a condition in my hips which makes my feet turn inwards, so my walking posture has been hugely improved by the insoles. This is a long term investment – I paid £200, but the insoles are guaranteed for life.

So, my pilates teacher and my chiropractor have been the biggest miracle workers in fixing my back, along with one very good physiotherapist (an NHS one, ironically, rather than any of the expensive private ones I saw initially !) who taught me some stretches to try and lengthen my hamstrings. I try to do them often, and it defiintely helps – tight hamstrings are one of the main causes of back pain, and sitting at a desk all day as I do really shortens them.

Aside from that, I’ve made lifestyle changes like not doing any activity crouched over the floor, like playing board games or wrapping presents. I got a new chair at work, and I try to stand up very often instead of sitting down for long periods. I wouldn’t say that I’m completely pain free, but at my best I’m 90% instead of 70%, and the bad times are few and far between.

It’s been a multi-pronged attack, and I think I’ve won! It’s one most important ways in which I’ve got ready for having a baby, and I’m proud of the changes I’ve made to feel better, healthier and more mobile, and consequently happier!

Will I have any friends when I’m pregnant?

One of the biggest problems with being ahead of the baby game is that I feel like I’m going to drift away from many of my friends when I’m pregnant (let alone when I actually have a baby to look after).

There’s the ‘going out’ type friends to worry about first. I won’t be able to drink. I might be tired and want to go home early! I might feel sick all the time. I’ll probably want to be snuggled up at home talking about nursery decor. So basically the friends I tend to do that with will be pretty bored of me.

Then there’s the ‘active stuff’ type friends – the people I might play tennis with, or go to Center Parc with, or (using this weekend as an example!) go segwaying with! I’ll be able to carry on with some of those things at first, but not all the way through.

Then there’s the coupley friends – they’ll be my best bet, but even so they’re probably not going to want to talk babies all the time. Lots of them are getting married so i suppose we could swap one-track-mindedness.

This is at the heart of my problem, really. I don’t have anyone that’s at the same stage as me and will want to talk about what colour to paint the baby’s bedroom.

I talked to my Mum about this and she says you make lots of new friends when you have a baby – but I’m not really worried about that. I’m sure that I’ll meet lots of other Mums at buggy fit, and baby groups, and things of that kind. It’s when I’m pregnant that I think I’m going to be a hermit. I kind of already feel like I’m nesting – I want to be with my husband at home. I’m quite a home girl I suppose anyway, but it seems like that drive to be with him is even stronger than normal. It must be my biological clock.

So should I cultivate pregnant friends? Do you tend to meet people at ante-natal classes? NetMums do a great job of encouraging people to make the most of their pregnancy to meet like-minded people: http://www.netmums.com/pregnancy/early-pregnancy/making-new-friends. They even have a ‘Meet a Mum’ board where you can arrange to meet up with another Mum or Mum-to-be from your local area. It’ great, but it all just feels a bit like a dating website, and I’ve never been keen on those. I want to have more in common with my friends than just being pregnant. (Like I’d want to have more in common with a man than just ‘wanting a partner’.)

So maybe in fact what I need to do is stop worrying about making pregnant friends, and start thinking about how things will change with my current friends when I’m pregnant, and how I can make that work. Maybe I need to have people over to my house more often – get into the habit of having people over for dinner or a BBQ or tea and cake. Those are things I’ll be able to carry on doing throughout pregnancy and having a tiny baby around.

Plus I could stay active by taking up some activities that are pregnancy-friendly but that will mean I meet lots of new people with more than babies in common. I’ve been thinking of starting archery again for ages – I used to do it at University, and it’s how my husband and I met. Maybe this is the time to get involved in something fun and active like that, that’s doable with a baby on the way or in tow!

I need to remember that change is good. I’m ready for so much of the baby adventure – this is just one more life change that I’m choosing. It could give me a whole new circle of people to enjoy being with. (My positive thinking hat is now firmly on.)