I originally wrote this as a Guest List for Clemmie Telford’s brilliant blog Mother Of All Lists. But I thought I really should share it on here, too. I wrote this in the fog of miscarriage number 3, signed off work, in a slightly frenetic mood trying to Do Something (anything) to feel normal again. Here’s the list I came up with…
- ‘What am I supposed to do with myself now?’ Those were my exact words to my husband Dan, nearly two weeks ago, on a drizzly Sunday evening. I didn’t say them so much as wail them.
- We’d kept ourselves occupied over the weekend after our third miscarriage and my ERPC (surgery following a missed miscarriage) as it was a friend’s birthday, but now everything had come crashing to a halt. Dan was going back to work, but I’d been signed off. The prospect of sitting at home with just my (dark) thoughts for company felt like too much to bear.
- What was I going to do with myself? Once again, I felt back at square one – the last few months had all been geared around being pregnant. Getting pregnant and staying pregnant. No booze, no coffee, gentle exercise only, early nights, lots of broccoli and salmon. Now what?
- This time, unlike before, I couldn’t even focus on dusting myself down and just trying again, because we’re waiting for a referral to the recurrent miscarriage clinic, who like to see you for tests before you’re pregnant again.
- Yet dust yourself off you must. It’s bloody hard. No one can or will do it for you. There is no routine after-care after a miscarriage, beyond a leaflet or two and being told not to have sex until the bleeding stops and a pregnancy test comes back negative. Generally, no one will call to check you’re OK or ask how you’re feeling. The best you can hope for is that the hospital or the GP remembers to cancel your midwife and scan appointments. Because those letters feel like a punch in the gut when you open them, weeks later, often just as you’re starting to feel vaguely normal again.
- Anyway, how to feel better. My mum put it best – you need to do things that make you feel like you again. Not pregnant you and not the sad, small and scared post-miscarriage you. It can feel a bit like a consolation prize, because it’s not who you wanted to be, but there is power in re-discovering who you were before all this. Though, of course, you won’t feel quite the same – possibly ever. But it’s a step in the right direction.
- Take your time. It’s tempting to rush back to work for the distraction, if nothing else. But, honestly, I think you need time to do nothing, cry, to sit around in your pyjamas, watch bad TV (or your comfort box set) cry, wander aimlessly round the supermarket, cry, manically tidy the house. Whatever.
- Just go with it. Having said you need to take the time to grieve, there’s no single right way to do this. It doesn’t look like you might expect it to. Yes, I have sat on the sofa, tear-stained and numb. But I have also masked myself in make-up and marched round John Lewis like a woman possessed. I’ve insisted on trips to the garden centre and gone to watch violent films. I’ve batch-cooked as if my life depended on it and baked elaborate birthday cakes. It’s grief. It doesn’t have to make sense. After our second miscarriage I stopped being quite so rigid with the pre-conception vitamins, at least until we were pregnant again. If we went away for the weekend, the bottle of pills stayed at home. It helps not feeling like trying to conceive is running your life.
- Hide everything and anything you bought. We were really cautious, even the first time around, but by ten weeks we felt confident enough to borrow a friend’s book of baby names. And we had folders and leaflets from our first midwife appointment. Stick it all under the bed. Or at the back of the cupboard. Don’t try and return anything or throw anything away. You don’t need that kind of pain. For now, out of sight, out of mind will do.
- Treat yourself. My post-miscarriage buys include: two deeply child-unfriendly cream fluffy rugs, a ridiculous orange dress, an over-priced bikini, succulents for the bathroom, and patio furniture. Yes, you’d rather have a baby. No, material things don’t change what’s happened. But do it anyway.
- Don’t diet. Not yet. One of the shitty things no one thinks about with pregnancy loss until it happens to you is that the baby might be gone, but the extra flesh, stretchmarks and alien bra size can remain. I was so angry at my body after our first loss – just shy of 12 weeks – at that extra half stone of wobble it had gained for no good reason. But a crash diet is not the answer. Especially not if you want to try again soon. Give it time. It’s a big thing for your body to go through, you need to eat properly. Though I also advocate ice cream after dinner every night if it helps.
- Be careful with the ‘at leasts’. Well-meaning friends often say things like ‘at least now you can have a drink on your birthday/over Christmas/at that wedding’. But it’s not always helpful. The thought that I was now able to drink just made me miserable – however much I’d missed the Lady Petrol, the first sip post-miscarriage made me cry. Don’t force it. The best ‘at leasts’ for me were letting go of all the slightly neurotic pregnant things I’d been doing (so easy to fall into after a loss). Things like not painting my nails and avoiding eating out of plastic containers (hello Chinese take-away!) on the scientifically spurious basis of what the chemicals might do to my eggs/the baby. Let it go, it feels good.
- Look for the little milestones. You may feel like you won’t ever feel better. But you will. No, the pain doesn’t vanish over night, but incrementally it gets easier. The first day you no longer need to wear a sanitary pad. When you finally get a negative pregnancy test (bittersweet, but still a milestone). The first time you can have sex again. The first time you ovulate. There will still be bad, crushing days that hit you like a truck, but mostly every day gets a little easier. Remind yourself this.
- Focus on what your body can do. Miscarriage is a bitch. You feel like your body has failed you. Not only has it failed, but it’s failed to do something so elemental, so tied up with womanhood. Women everywhere manage to have babies, so why the hell couldn’t you? Don’t listen to that voice. It’s amplified because we don’t really talk about miscarriages, but sadly it is normal.
- Exercise. Apologies if you’re not an exercise person, but after all our losses, the thing that has helped me the most is throwing myself into running and the gym. Not in any especially impressive way. I didn’t set myself massive challenges, just being able to run or spin again – which I hadn’t done while pregnant, because of The Fear – was enough. It’s not just that whole boring exercise-is-good-for-you thing (who knew?) but something about seeing tiny improvements, even if it’s just being ten seconds faster than last week, that crowds out the ‘my body’s useless’ talk.
- Say no. You will feel better soon, I promise, but there will still be days that you just don’t want to play. Stay home. Don’t go to the party. Be polite but firm. You don’t need to explain yourself if you don’t want to. Stay home and watch trash. May I recommend Designated Survivor on Netflix, possibly the worst political thriller ever written.
- Say yes. Go out. Book the holiday. Buy the dress. Apply for the job. Chug the prosecco. The thing I have hated about trying to conceive is feeling like your life is on hold. Policing your behaviour in case you’re pregnant; hedging your bets because you might be further down the line. It is crushing to go back to all that after you thought you’d hit the jackpot and knew where your life was going once again. It’s rubbish. So instead say yes if you want to – you’ll figure out the rest later.
Thank you for this.