Making some sense of a fraught transition to motherhood

It took 10 years, eight pregnancies and six miscarriages to become a mother of two.  Eight years on from the birth of my first child, it’s only now that am I beginning to make sense of my fraught transition into motherhood.

I was 28 when we started ‘trying’.  I had a busy and successful career, making my education count and progressing well through a blue-chip company.  Both my husband and I were frequently away with work and our stress levels were through the roof, so it wasn’t really surprising that it took over a year to get pregnant the first time.  We were over the moon, and told everyone close to us.

I will never forget the 12-week scan.  We went to the hospital, paid for our token to get a picture and went into the room so full of excitement to meet our baby for the first time. But I felt something was wrong before they even began to explain.  Their eyes, their energy, the colour in the room went dark for me.  My husband went in to shock when they told us; he needed help.  It felt like all our dreams and future had ended in that moment.

The following few days were horrific where I experienced my first D&C (a surgical procedure to remove the contents of the uterus) and had to tell the family what had happened. We felt like we had let everyone down.  We knew we couldn’t do that again, so we decided that next time no one would know till we were sure we were safe.

When we eventually got pregnant again another year later, we were extremely apprehensive.   Once again the scan revealed that the pregnancy was not viable.  I could not bear being out of control of my situation.  I wanted to control it, fix it.  I stopped all alcohol and caffeine, ate healthily and invested in weekly reflexology. I even spoke to my employer and reduced my working hours.  There was never any explanation for our recurrent miscarriages. We were tested and monitored for everything, and our lives were taken over by rushing samples to the hospital, genetic testing, intrauterine inseminations, daily self-injections and endless internals.  I felt completely let down by science which was my usual go-to for facts and answers.

Three further miscarriages were also ectopic, each one a crisis in its own right.  They lead to more painful operations, more general anaesthetics and a greater sense of failure and despair.   We became experts in our own ‘fertility’, or lack of it.  It was more than frustrating to have to repeat our story again and again to each new medical professional.  Each time they offered awkward words of comfort with comments like: “my you have had a time of it”, or worse still, “at least you get pregnant”. Like what? Did you really say that out loud!  The longer we were on this journey the more cynical we became, we wanted t-shirts printed saying “Yes tried that”.  We were educated people, used to researching science, so of course we had tried everything.

At the time, I never voiced how this made me feel or explained the real sense of loss that we’d experienced.   There was so much rage inside me, I was angry that it was so hard, I was angry that I found myself again having to ‘work at it’ to get anywhere.  I was angry that I had covered so many other people’s maternity leaves and now being my turn, it wasn’t happening. Walking round in everyday life all I could see were families with seemingly loads of kids, stressed beyond their means, when all we wanted was just one.

Or seeing my peers with their new babies discussing ‘baby stuff’. I didn’t know where to stand at gatherings, I had nothing to add to the conversation and I was not forward at discussing our situation.  The simple truth was it HURT so GODDAM much.  To share any of that pain right then in the wrong hands could have resulted in irreversible damage to myself and relationships with others. So I went silent; I buried it.

There was no miscarriage support offered to us; I didn’t feel like I had a right to grieve. There was a sense that we must not speak about it, even with our GP, for fear of getting hurt by people’s reactions, lack of empathy, or understanding.  A stiff upper lip was the only obvious way forward.  I felt I had to sweep away any emotion and get on with it, get back to work and get my head down and on with my career.  I told myself “it wasn’t meant to be this time, oh well……..”  But that attitude did not help me, it built up anger, frustration and resentment inside me and I carried it for years.  I wanted answers, I wanted to know “Am I going to be a mother? Will we be parents? If not just let me know for sure so we can make different choices.” But I didn’t want to plan anything else, because I wanted a family.  I knew we could make it happen I just didn’t know the method!! Science again!

It had never felt like the right time to get a puppy, as our careers were so full on.  But soon after yet another miscarriage, we just did just that.  When he entered our lives, we both let go of some of our pain.  We loved him unconditionally – he brought laughter, fun and allowed us to focus on another living being that looked to us for everything.  He taught us and helped us so much.  We lost our puppy when he was 18 months old in a road traffic accident. I was six months pregnant.  To this day we still believe he was given to us, albeit briefly, to help us in our transition and I know he still watches over us.  Our path was not an easy one to travel and he blessed us with love in abundance.  Three months after we lost him, our first child was delivered, not without serious complications, in what became another chapter of our transition to parenthood and beyond.

Putting the pieces together

I never imagined there could ever be a ‘purpose’ for us having to experience such trauma, gut wrenching pain and raw emotions. I had a huge sense of failure, I hated the lack of control I had over my situation and I had no experience of how to cope with such destructive thought processes.  I was told a thousand times to be patient, “there is a reason for all this”; “it’s just not the right time”, but all of this first lead to more rage and then, after hearing it so many times, it just left me numb.

It is only recently that I have started to piece together an understanding of this experience. The lasting impact of this journey has most definitely shaped me as a person and as a parent.  I never realised how much I would call on this experience on a daily basis, both in my personal life and in my professional capacity as a coach.  It has truly changed my life and given me so much to offer with regards to my soul purpose.

I know our journey to parenthood ended with us being blessed with children, for whom we give gratitude every day and we still pinch ourselves.  However, there are countless people right now on their own journey, not knowing how it will play out, and it’s the not knowing which is one of the hardest emotions to deal with. There are others who have been on their path and have had to completely alter its destination when they realise it won’t lead them where they initially wanted to go.  Each personal situation is unique and each carries an immense burden which should not be underestimated.

With one in six couples facing fertility issues I know now that we were not alone – but at the time we felt very alone.  There are millions of people, straight, gay and single, facing these challenges right now. Sharing our story may just help someone feel less alone and give them motivation to keep going.  For all those women enduring miscarriages in silence, at work, on the commute or at home, each one takes a piece of you with it. That’s why I feel it is important we support each other, continue to open-up the conversation and get rid of the sense of embarrassment or shame.  Making this topic less taboo empowers friends, family and employers to support staff where they can through this journey.  There are now so many more helpful resources on offer and community groups to join, so let’s keep the conversation flowing.

Positive thinking has become a bit of a habit for me now, and I know it feels incomprehensibly difficult in dark times.  I can only truly get there when I am surrounded by nature.  Nature has always provided me with an avenue for expression, creativity and deeper understanding.  When my body and science were seemingly letting me down, I was still able to find short periods of relief by the ocean or in a wood.   I do however remember telling my mother as a late teenager that I would struggle to have a family but I would have one eventually in some shape or form.  Unknowingly I sent out that intention without understanding.  I had always had to work hard at everything I did to achieve success, so I naturally applied this logic to pregnancy and this was reinforced the harder the journey became.  What I didn’t appreciate at the time was that by applying such strong belief to this intention and then reinforcing it, could possibly lead to the greater chance of it manifesting in that way.

What gave me a tiny bit of hope was that although it hurt, in my dreams I always saw myself with a family.  In my darkest hours, on cold operating tables, or miscarrying alone in hotel rooms, I believed I would one day have a family.   The questions which circled like vultures at the time, were how far down this path of trying for our own children do we go before we call it a day and take another path towards our desired family unit?  We didn’t know when or even how to make that call!   We had proactively saved every year on year during the recurrent miscarriages our small bonus to put towards potential IVF and that was being scheduled and planned at the time we fell pregnant for the 7th time.  What we did know was that if we ran out of money then the decision was taken out of it.  But even that fuelled rage at the time, why do we have to plan to pay for this?! Perhaps it was always our destiny to have a ‘harder’ time than normal, all I know is that we have learnt a great deal and want to help.

This journey has also led me down a bit of a spiritual path, which is something I have always felt was part of me but never allowed myself to express it, in case people didn’t understand.  I was a scientist, I worked in logic and fact.  This spiritual realisation was triggered by a few events, one being when a stranger stopped me in a waiting room and told me out of the blue that I was “helping unborn souls reach their right destination by offering my womb for their journey.”  Now this may seem a bit ‘woo woo’, but it had an immediate and dramatic impact.  It gave me a sense of purpose in my journey; I was ‘helping’ and that felt good; I was grateful immediately to that stranger; and from that moment, something shifted inside me.

In another desperate moment, I called out for an angel to help me!  I just knew she was there for me.  The angel I called on was a good friend who had recently passed, she was very young and had a full life to lead.  I was in the car and called out to her from the pit of my belly. There were no more miscarriages after that.

While I would never have wished to have gone through what we went through, I do believe it has shifted my focus in life on to what matters most to me. I hope that by sharing some of our experiences it provides some level of comfort to people who can relate to this story, and that it may help to educate others a little about how to support anyone who is going through something similar.

Below, I’ve put together a few practical steps you can consider, not all will work with your situation but something may resonate to help you through difficult times. Knowing what I know now, I wish I had had more awareness of tools and resources like these to deal with our situation; but more than that I wish I had been more self-aware of the help I needed at the time and known where to go to ask for it.

Reflections from my partner:

This is a very personal and at times tragic story, but it does show the human strength to overcome adversity and the power of companionship through times of hardship and challenge.

With hindsight it is clear that we went through this process in silence and sometimes even in denial, but over time you realise this is something that affects many people and many relationships.

As a firm believer in fate and now with two incredible children, I reflect on this as a journey that has got us to a wonderful place.  It is not a journey we would have chosen from the start but I believe it happened to us for a reason and the situation now far outweighs the challenges to get here.

We know that the most effective learning is experiential and that talking with someone who shares similar experiences is not only reassuring but vital when facing new challenges or uncertainty.  If you take anything from this, reach out, find that person for you to talk to and let them help.

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We are grateful to all those who supported us in our journey and to anyone who is feeling this blog, we send endless positive vibes your way.

Little positive steps:

Acceptance of where you are:

It is helpful if you can reach a level of self-acceptance of your current situation.  By this I mean try and accept where you are right now, not where you have come from and not where you want to be.  Yes, it is fact that it is proving seemingly harder for you than others.  Yes, it is true you don’t understand why.  Yes, it feels unfair, yes it hurts, yes you can’t control it.  Yes you may be fuelled by rage.  All of these emotions are relevant.

Write each of your emotions down, make them real, name them.  Begin to let yourself come to terms with your current situation.  Let yourself  go to places you haven’t been before in your mind, allow your intuition to speak to you.

Be in that moment with yourself, let go of the fear, don’t judge yourself just be present with yourself and listen.  This can be achieved by giving yourself the space to think.  Letting thoughts come and go, surrendering to them, no chasing the outcome, no running away from fear, pure surrender of where you are right now.  You will know where you feel most connected, for example outside, in a special room, by water.

Our lives and careers are now frequently exposed to volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous episodes.  It is more important than ever that we connect regularly to our inner compass.  There are studies ongoing to monitor the psychological wellbeing of women who have suffered recurrent miscarriage to explore coping strategies to help manage the very real anxieties experienced.

If you find it hard to get to a place of surrender, perhaps consider some regular reflexology, join a meditation group, book a frequent restorative massage, plan a hiking weekend, go for a swim in the sea, walk through your garden with bare feet.  Anything that allows you space to breathe, space to be, space to release.  Self-love is important, and is within your control.  The physiological impact of stress and anxiety on our body and individual cells, is very real.  Give yourself space.

Allow vulnerability:

If you are a couple; talk. Try not to get too busy, too bored of talking about it, too tired.  Try not to assume how each of you is feeling.  I know my husband struggled too, I know he hated not being able to ‘make it okay’.  I know he hated seeing me in pain.  I don’t believe we ever allowed ourselves to grieve for our lost babies or the lost time it took from us.  If you have the support of a partner, involve them in your thoughts, and be involved in theirs, hold their space for them, let them safely show their vulnerability to you so you can be their strength too.

Take control of your communication:

Your friends and family love you.  Therefore, it is your opportunity to let them know exactly what you need from them, don’t assume they know what to do.  If they have upset you with their questions or language used, take the time to help them understand.  You can only try, no one can ever really ‘feel’ your feelings.  If you run into difficulty you may want space for a longer period-of-time. You may no longer want to communicate but be secure in the knowledge that they are there when you need them.  Take a moment to explain this to them, let them know what you need, they love you and want to help.

If you feel able then take a moment to speak to your employer. The greater the level of transparency you can obtain, the less negative energy you need to hold on to.  Don’t assume or predict how people will react to you.  Own your journey and present it as you need.  People have a habit of surprising us when we don’t expect it and statistics support that they are likely to have experienced their own journey.

Grieve if you need to:

If faced with miscarriage know that you can grieve, and you are allowed to speak about your grief.  It is helpful to acknowledge your grief, feel it, break it down and then let it go. You will likely always carry a certain vibration which attracts people from similar situations towards you.  See this as a gift from your experience and use it wisely. Acknowledge that your emotional attachment to your unborn baby/babies may appear repeatedly much later in life too.  I like to think it is them communicating that they are okay.

Know that there are many professional support services available to you and your specific needs, here are a few examples which support people who have experienced miscarriage, any stage baby loss or ectopic pregnancy, or provide counselling for trauma and loss:

http://www.misscarriageassociateion.org.uk.

http://www.achingarms.co.uk

http://www.tommys.org

www.ept@ectopic.org.uk

http://www.petalcharity.org

Positive thinking:

The power of positive visualisation is a sensitive topic and some people find it useful and others not. In this setting in particular, trying to maintain any positivity over a sustained period of unknown is a huge challenge.  The concept itself has been proven in a number of studies e.g [1,2,3] and been used successfully for years in sports psychology since the brain cannot easily determine the difference between a clearly imagined situation and the actual situation.  If you are on your own journey and finding it harder than expected you could consider finding some space to ask yourself what are your true beliefs around your pregnancy journey?  Where are you actively focussing your daily thoughts? Do they include “I can’t, I don’t’? Even seemingly positive thoughts can carry a negative undercurrent.   Are your intentions clear and positive?  Every single ‘I am’ is considered a creation.

Being grateful:

Gratitude opens us up to receive regardless of our current situation.   It has a huge number of benefits for our lives, our health and well-being and it takes no time to do. Once again nature offered this to me, I was hugely grateful for brief moments of joy being within nature.  I was grateful for many other things even when struggling.  There is always something to be grateful for.  Even that healing cup of tea.

What is gratitude? What do you mean?  One definition may help:

[4]Gratitude is the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself and represents a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation

From your own journey what can you say you are grateful for? In your darkest hours, what are you grateful for? Keep a journal and add to it daily or simply sit quietly regularly and give thanks that way.

Be brave and reach out for help when you need it:

It is important to say here again, that you do not need to do this alone.  You do not need to feel there is no one to talk to.  The right kind of conversation does help, find the right person for you, you will know.  You have many professional options, health professionals, psychologists, counsellors, fertility experts, life coaches to name a few. We are all here for you when you need us.

With love

Sam x

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References:

  1. B. Bobbins. (February 2010). How to really use visualization to achieve your goals-no bs secret stuff here. Don’t Step In the Poop: How to Avoid Screwing up Your Life and Your Career. [Online]. Available: http://dontstepinthepoop.com/visualization-for-success-goals
  2. A. Reyes. (April 2012). Does visualization really work? Here’s evidence that it does. Expert Enough: Just Enough to be Dangerous. [Online]. Available: http://expertenough.com/1898/visualization-works
  3. A. LeVan. (December 2009). Seeing is believing: the power of visualization. Psychology today. [Online]. Available: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/flourish/200912/seeing-is-believing-the-power-visualization.
  4. Sansone RA, Sansone LA (November 2010; 7 (11): 18-22).Gratitude and Wellbeing, The Benefits of Appreciation. Psychiatry (Edgmont). [Online]. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3010965/.

 

 

 

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