Positivity can be a funny old concept. We are surrounded in life by positive messages – to the point that I am writing this in a book with the slogan on the cover, “Change your thoughts and you’ll change your world” - yet sometimes it feels like the biggest uphill struggle imaginable.
Above my desk at home hangs a key ring (random, but bear with me) that was given to me by a friend of my Mother-in-Law after our third failed pregnancy. It is a clear, circular disc and in it are three things; a tiny pair of angel wings, a cross and a crystal heart with the word “faith” inscribed on a mental tag. The lady who gave it to me doesn’t know me well but wanted to acknowledge what we were going through. That random act of kindness meant so much to me at the time that it felt (and still feels) like the most appropriate way to remember the babies I never got to meet. It hangs where I put it the day I decided I didn’t need to carry it round with me on a daily basis.
It serves as a reminder; a reminder to stay positive.
The thing I find with people talking about positivity is that so often, however well-intentioned, it can be patronising or just inappropriate. I appreciate words are difficult to find, and when on the receiving end of comments such as, “This just wasn’t your time, but it will happen for you; you just have to believe it will and stop thinking about it”, I found myself mentally clubbing said proclaimer’s heads with an imaginary baseball bat whilst fixing on a smile and nodding in agreement, hearing equally profane phrases come out of my own mouth, such as, “Perhaps next time,” as my brain worked overtime to try and think of a way to escape this awful situation.
I found the grief of miscarriage, although different from losing a close relation or friend, still followed the same five steps of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. There is no time limit for these steps, as we all already know. I have friends who have lost babies and have gone on to get pregnant again very quickly, only to admit a few years later they never got over the loss of their first baby. I get that.
I don’t subscribe to the school of thought that I have to experience everything in life to understand it – I’ll never be a man and I don’t plan on becoming a heroin user for example – but I do find those who have experienced the loss of a child through miscarriage have a mutual respect and understanding of the grief faced. We are mourning the unknown.
I think of myself as a naturally positive person who, when faced with most hiccups in life, have done my best to reframe them in a way that creates opportunity or positivity rather than letting them swallow me up, hoover-like, in a mood. The breakdown of relationships, redundancy and failures (although my Dad always says you only fail when you give up, so really that should read the first time I don’t quite make it) which at the time seemed so vital - like the multiple times I took my driving test - I have taken fairly and squarely on the chin. Miscarriage, I have to say, floored me - as did the years that followed with the plethora of various treatments and tests, a second miscarriage and then failed IVF. It left me at times desperate, depressed and feeling alone with no feelings of self-worth.
There is no magic formula to becoming pregnant and staying pregnant.
There is no one-size-fits-all, so all I can do is recount the circumstances in which it happened to me (so please feel free to mentally club me with that baseball bat as I’ve hung mine up for now).
By the time we started IVF I felt like had lost control of my situation (not that realistically I ever had any control). It felt like a game of Russian roulette. If it worked, then amazing. If it didn’t, then we would have two more chances (we agreed before we embarked on this part of the journey we would limit it to three attempts).
It didn’t work. We sat with the consultant afterwards for our follow-up appointment and in that terribly British way I tried to be extremely positive, in fact almost jovial about the situation. My husband and I react very differently in such situations – he wants answers, I want to be as accommodating as I can; it isn’t the fault of the person sitting opposite me delivering the news, so I bizarrely try and make it easier for them.
The Consultant bought me back to reality with a bang. One more attempt was all he would recommend. This attempt would involve steroids, anti-rejection drips, Clexane and Asprin – an additional thousand pounds worth of drugs on top of the standard IVF.
If that failed, he said, quite simply I would have to face facts. I’m 38 years old and my eggs are old (bearing in mind we are born with our life-supply of eggs, mine have attended a few good parties - that I cannot deny). If the second attempt failed, our only option going forward would be egg donation.
Egg donation is a very personal decision. I had bandied about the thought in conversations over the years but here I was on a cold March afternoon with a concept that suddenly didn’t sit all that comfortably with me anymore. We left the clinic slightly stunned by the news, but that night, having talked it over, we reached a decision; I would step off this hamster-wheel for the summer and we would take a break from the pressure and mechanical sex (let’s face it, it becomes a chore) and instead appreciate everything we have in life and have some fun. Once the summer was over we would re-group and embark on the journey once more. It felt like a weight had been lifted.
I’d set up my own company at the beginning of the year, so I certainly wasn’t short of things to do. In my opinion the stresses of working in the corporate world had been replaced by the pressure of making my situation work, so I didn’t feel any more relaxed than I had before (without reflexology, meditation and yoga I probably would have classed myself as less relaxed if I’m honest, but also less focused on the situation).
We did speak a lot about egg donation. It was a route my husband wasn’t eager to explore and I felt that actually being a Mum was the outcome I was after, so I felt that we should call time on that element of our journey and instead look into long-term fostering with a view to adoption. By making this decision I had reached the acceptance stage of the grief process.
I hadn’t given up on becoming a Mum but I was acknowledging for the first time that I would not physically carry that child myself.
It was then, of course, I found out I was pregnant again (Manchester United knocked West Ham out of the FA cup…he was upset…what more can I say?!). Our first scan was private and the sonographer, after a lengthy silence, explained she wasn’t able to diagnose; she showed us the outline of an empty pregnancy sac on the screen and told up that, in all likelihood, it was a missed miscarriage. She told me to go home and see what happened over the next fortnight but to expect to bleed. Naturally all the feelings came flooding back. Just when we thought we had been thrown a lifeline, it felt totally unfair and I felt very, very angry at how unjust this was. I had confided in one of my friends, who immediately pointed out that I am not the sort of person who sits back and waits and that I couldn’t just be left in limbo accepting a situation - so within 24 hours I had got myself a referral to the Early Pregnancy Unit…
…a week later they showed me a heart beat on the screen! It wasn’t until my second twenty-week scan, however, that I finally accepted that there could be a truly positive outcome.
For those first weeks I tried to avoid talking about the pregnancy and never at any point assumed that it was viable (I use the term viable as it made my baby less of a person and more of a process, so I could cope better should something go wrong).
At our first 20-week scan we didn’t get all the results we needed, as our baby was curled in a ball on his or her tummy and fast asleep. No amount of cajoling (eating chocolate, having a wee, running up stars, going for a walk or drinking cold Ribena) would make him or her move. At the second scan they asked me to do some star jumps to try and make the baby move (again in that British way having been told to jump until I was out of breath, I did a few extra as though I was trying to prove I am fitter than I really am!) and finally we got the results we wanted; as far as they can tell everything looks healthy.
I am classed as a ‘high-risk geriatric’ mother (for those of you who have watched ‘Bridget Jones’ Baby’ that is really what they call people over the age of 35, although I think they use the word ‘older’!!!) and as a result have to have regular 3-weekly growth scans from 28 weeks onwards. I am taking this, however, as a wonderful opportunity to see my baby a handful more times before he or she is born but also as a real comfort, because we will both be monitored closely and therefore it adds to the security that everything is going to be alright.
There is always going to be part of me that worries – it is only natural because I so desperately want everything to be ok.
I monitor movement, I count kicks but I also laugh when our baby kicks in time to music (loves a bit of Mary J Blige – good taste like Mummy, I’m glad to report!) or gets the hiccups and makes my whole bump jerk!
Over the past month or so I have totally rethought my outlook to this pregnancy – it hasn’t been easy but I think I’m there now. It may be the only time that I ever experience this and so I am determined to enjoy it. I know that all my family, friends and even people who don’t know me all that well are willing, praying and focusing on this baby.
It isn’t easy reaching true positivity rather than just paying lip-service to it and it is a journey that I found had to be taken on my own, but with the support of others. I will never forget how I got to where I have today, but the hurt and anxiety lessen each day.
I will always treasure my keyring as to me it’s symbolic, but now I need to focus on enjoying (if heartburn is enjoyable!) the remainder of this pregnancy, with a healthy reminder in the words of Billy Joel that,
“Lord you got to keep the Faith”.
Read more from mummy bloggers at BabyUrBeautiful.
Losing a baby at any stage of pregnancy can be a devastating experience. Baby Loss Awareness Week occurs every year to recognise the parents who have endured this heartbreak and honour the little ones they have lost.
'You never know what pages you might find, or people you might meet that could make this journey a little easier.'
'I wanted to share those stories and feelings to encourage other fathers to talk about their experiences and not feel alone.'
Read more about Baby Loss Awareness Week 2016
Tommy’s has received a grant from the UK Government’s Department for Health and Social Care to support the costs of its PregnancyHub information and support services throughout the summer, due to rising demand in the wake of coronavirus.
We know that parents going through miscarriage need support more than ever in coronavirus lockdown. In this blog, our midwifery manager Kate Marsh explains what miscarriage during the covid-19 pandemic might be look like and what support is available.
Emma and her husband Tim tragically lost their baby daughter Lydie in 2010. Having since struggled to explain her death to their living children, Emma has now created a picture book to help other bereaved parents explore loss and grief with little ones.