'Ain't no shame in holding on to grief. As long as you make room for other things, too'

Don’t be ashamed of your grief. It’s a part of you. I know it will always be a part of me. Like the baby, for whom I had to fit a lifetime’s worth of love in to two weeks.

#misCOURAGE story, 30/05/2017, by Rebecca Kearns

It's now almost 9 months since my miscarriage. In the immediate aftermath I wrote about my experiences as a way of processing the trauma of what I was going through.

In those awful September weeks, that both seemed to go on for ever and pass by in a blur, it was my way of trying to make sense of the day by day onslaught of bad news, and also my way of trying to communicate to friends and family how I was feeling when I wasn’t able to express it verbally.

I wrote frequently and furiously in those weeks - I even blogged from my hospital bed, the morning after my operation. It kept me sane and it kept me going. 

I haven’t written anything since the start of October 2016, a few weeks after my operation. I wonder why. I have been having counselling since November, maybe for a time that replaced the need I had to pour my heard out on paper.

I think if I’m being more honest, I have held on to hope that things would get better, and that I wouldn’t need to revisit the darkest time in my life as at some point, I would move on from it.

But with each month that passes I’ve come to accept that the darkest time in my life didn’t come and go in September. It didn’t end when the remains of the pregnancy were removed. It is still happening. And that’s ok. That’s normal. 

Grief is a complicated process. It is different for everyone. There is, despite what people might tell you, no right and wrong way to “do” it. The grief following a miscarriage is perhaps one of the most complex types of grief of all.

I found out I was pregnant with my second child on the 20th August 2016. I found out I had miscarried on the 8th September. This means I had two and a half weeks of thinking I was pregnant.

When you think of it like this, it is perhaps not surprising that some people find it hard to comprehend the enormity of the loss. Some people cannot understand how you can still be so sad, months (years, decades) later, for a collection of cells that never even became an embryo.

Some people can’t grasp how you can feel such a deep, gnawing, overwhelming sense of loss for something that may have lived in your body for less than two months, and that certainly never became what would be medically recognised as an actual baby. 

As I said, everybody’s grief is different. No two couples will even grieve for a miscarriage in the same way. But to put our grief in context, I will tell you an abridged version of the saga of mine and my husband’s journey to parenthood.

It took us 18 months to conceive our first child. In that 18 months, I watched 12 people in my life, including 2 close friends, fall pregnant, seemingly just by happening to be in the same room at the same time (this may not have been the case, but when it’s happening for everyone but you, that’s how it feels). 

Up until the last year, the 18 months in which we tried to conceive our first child was the most stressful time in my life. Every time someone else announced a pregnancy, a little bit of me died inside.

I didn’t know if I could have children, I felt each monthly failure acutely and personally, and I started to panic. I had wanted to be a mum since I could remember – it was one of the only things in life I had ever been completely sure of. And month after month, it seemed like it wasn’t going to happen for us.

We moved to Yorkshire to make some positive changes in our life. We started to have fertility tests. We gave up trying. That was when we fell pregnant. Of course. We had a healthy baby girl. She was, is, and always will be, the light in our lantern. 

Two years after having our little girl, we decided the time was right to try for baby number two. The stress of not knowing whether we could have children was gone this time, so it would be easy, right? We knew we could do it.

My mother-in-law had just passed away unexpectedly, it was a very sad time, we felt like we wanted some happiness, some good news, some positivity.

We felt like it might happen quickly. This was back when we still had hope that good things happened to good people. Months passed. No pregnancy. We were back in the cycle of waiting, wondering, hoping and then…disappointment.

For someone like me, who likes to be in control, and who takes failure very personally, the process of trying to get pregnant is all-consuming. It takes over my life.

The saying “it’s the hope that kills you” could have been written about me, during the process of trying to conceive. Every month I hope. Every month, it doesn’t happen. The disappointment is crushing, but I have no choice other than to keep going, keep putting myself through it.

I can think of no other time in my life where I would willingly put myself through such a horrendous rollercoaster of emotions, month after month. I appreciate it isn’t like that for everyone, but for me, it’s a living nightmare. And I am a nightmare to live with, whilst I'm going through it. 

Until…finally. August 2016. After 11 months. The double line on the first pregnancy test! The cross on the second one (you have to try two different brands, just to make sure)! The absolute relief, elation, joy. It was going to be even better this time round, because we already had one child, we knew what awaited us!

I LOVED being pregnant the first time and now I would get to do it all over again! I would stock up on ice lollies and oranges in case I got the same cravings, and I now knew the best places to get petite maternity clothes! I would BOSS this pregnancy.

And best of all – this would be my last. I would NEVER EVER have to do this awful trying-for-a-baby crap again! It was over. We could finally move on! Phew.

And then at the end of it, we would get a newborn! I would get to be a new mum again! I would get to breastfeed again! I loved that so much with Martha, it made me feel like an actual superhero (are you kidding me, I can produce FOOD?!? That she likes?! I am literally MAKING HER GROW!!!)

And then this baby (definitely a girl. I could just tell) would become a little person and if we were extremely fortunate she’d be somewhere near as awesome as Martha, and then our family would be complete.

And I really wanted a 3 and a half year gap, because that’s what my sister and I have, and we have a brilliant relationship and only came close to killing each other a handful of times when we were kids, so my kids would get to have that too! 

Martha would be such a fantastic big sister. Almost all her friends at nursery had siblings already, I knew she was desperate for a younger sibling, and she would be so excited when we finally told her! 

This last year of trying had been tough, but it was over now. This feeling of excitement at what was to come - that was the reward for the hard bit. We would get to meet you in 8 months, baby! I loved you so much already!

Fast forward 2 weeks. A bleed. A scan. No viable pregnancy. The start of a chain of events that ended with me having the remains of my pregnancy removed, 2 weeks later, in the same hospital as I gave birth to Martha. Same ward. Same curtains. 

So if anyone, ever, finds it hard to understand why it takes months, years, decades, to recover from a miscarriage – that is why. The loss is not of the tiny collection of cells. It’s of the life, and the hope, that they represent.

When a woman sees that longed-for positive on the pregnancy test, she becomes a mother. It doesn’t matter that her “baby” is smaller than a poppy seed and has a 1 in 5 chance of survival. To her, it’s a child. Her child.

The length of time it has been her child, is completely irrelevant. It was a life, a life she made, a life she carried, a life she lost. 

The last 9 months have been incredibly tough. The last 2 months have been the hardest of my life, and I include the month I miscarried in that.

I had mentally prepared myself to try and deal with what would have been my due date in April – I knew it would be tough, and my god, it was. But I didn’t prepare myself for what would come after.

I have found that the next stage of grief is one that’s completely new - now that I am past my due date, I am physically grieving for the loss of a baby.

Having had a baby, I know what I would be doing now if my pregnancy had survived, and I miss every single sleepless night, projectile poo, and nothing-in-the-world-like-it newborn cuddle. My heart physically aches, missing what I should be holding in my arms now that my due date has passed.

So where does that leave us? Unfortunately, no further forward. In fact, feeling like we are back where we were 5 years ago – watching close friends and family members announce pregnancies and have their babies whilst we keep trying, keep failing. 

Stressful lives, stressful jobs, still grieving for the baby that never was. We fell pregnant around the time our daughter turned 3. She is now nearly 4. That three and a half year gap that I wanted, will now be at least four and a half years. 

It has been hard for some people to understand the depth of our grief. Somebody said to my husband in January that grief that lasts longer than 3 month is classed as “unresolved grief”.

I’d just like to say to anyone reading this, anyone who has been through this, anyone supporting someone through this - there is no time frame on grief. There is no right and wrong way to grieve.

In some ways, with a miscarriage, the grief will never be resolved. Even if we are fortunate enough to have another child, the gap between my first and second children will be a reminder for the rest of my life, of the baby I lost. A miscarriage leaves an absence of a life, and I will feel that absence for the rest of my life.

That doesn’t mean I’m not grateful for the child I have, or any future child that I might be lucky enough to bring into the world. I know I am a million times more fortunate than most people.

But as Bubbles says: “Ain’t no shame in holding on to grief. As long as you make room for other things, too”.

That sums it up, I think: Live. Enjoy life. Take the positives where you can. But don’t be ashamed of your grief. It’s a part of you. I know it will always be a part of me. Like the baby, for whom I had to fit a lifetime’s worth of love in to two weeks.

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