Everything’s been a little bit quiet around here. Quiet on the reproductive front, as we’re not currently trying to conceive, not pregnant, and I have managed to go several months now without having a miscarriage (that’ll do uterus, that’ll do). Instead, I’ve been throwing myself into a lot of freelance writing and trying to figure out how everything hangs together now that I’m self-employed. (The answer, if you’re interested, seems to be: lots of strong, black coffee, cats sleeping on the printer, a fair bit of writing in my pyjamas, Friday yoga, lunchtime runs and the occasional afternoon bath.)
The last week has been especially quiet for me though, as after a few months of ploughing through stuff, keeping busy, throwing myself into all sorts of projects and plans, I got hit by a cold. Just a cold, nothing to complain about, but it’s really taken it out of me – and when I didn’t immediately shake it off, I had to concede that perhaps I needed to press pause for a bit. So this week has been about switching into hibernation mode: no running, staying warm, hot drinks, early nights and late mornings, less Instagram, more Attenborough-centric TV, and plenty of slow-stirred comfort stodge (risottos, stews, a lot of porridge…)
I am not very good at doing this – taking a break. Doing nothing for the sake of doing nothing. I’m not telling you this in an ‘ooh-aren’t-I-marvellous’ kind of way, implying that I’m so wonderfully busy and productive that I never sit still/rest/sleep/breathe (none of which would be true), but because it’s something I’ve noticed has intensified post-miscarriages.
And I’m starting to wonder if it is a pretty common mindset after a loss or while trying to conceive (or both) – productivity as punishment. The constant, nagging desire to do something, try something different next time, take a new supplement, see a new doctor, or make interminable tweaks to your diet and lifestyle to make your body as baby ‘friendly’ as possible.
Up to a point, this impulse can be a helpful protection mechanism, I think – a useful distraction, when there’s so little concrete available to you in terms of answers about what’s happened, and, crucially, whether it will happen again. It gives an illusion of control, that sustains you – I knew the various changes and tweaks I would make after each miscarriage were a mirage, but they kept me moving forward through the arid landscape post-loss anyway. I used it a lot as a tactic: ‘If it doesn’t happen this month, then I’ll buy the Zita West fertility supplement’, ‘If I’m not pregnant, I’ll treat myself to some acupuncture, reflexology, a massage…’
There’s no shortage on forums and blogs about what to do differently, what to try, what to change, but there’s very little written about taking a break from it all. Simply doing nothing. Trying less hard. But there should be. For the simple reason that it gets exhausting otherwise. It’s so easy to fall down a rabbit-hole believing that bringing home a healthy baby is simply a matter of effort = results. It’s not.
As time’s gone on, I’m less interested in new ways to try harder – new tests, new explanations, new ways to spend my money and time, new tools for self-flagellation – and much more interested instead in making this process kinder on myself. Otherwise, I don’t think I have the resilience, the emotional reserves, to keep trying.
There is a heavy burden that comes with being the person doing the carrying and the concepting
Increasingly, for me, I think part of the answer is learning to divest from some of the emotional labour of trying for a baby.
Miscarriage and infertility is not something experienced by women alone, but there is a heavy burden that comes with being the person doing the carrying and the concepting. A certain self-policing that can quickly become a prison. It starts with little thing like less caffeine and more vegetables – sensible, solid things that no one would question or suggest you don’t do – but it can be a case of mission-creep and before you know it you’re at no caffeine whatsoever, no alcohol, no chemical deodorant, no perfume, no running, no HIIT, no hair dye, no nail varnish ‘just in case’, no food re-heated in plastic….and the bottom line is you’re miserable, wondering who you were before all this rubbish.
This is not my version of the old infuriating ‘just relax and you’ll get pregnant’ maxim. Far from it. I’m also talking about letting go of things that on the surface seem to be about being kind, gentle to yourself, but are actually taking up huge amounts of mental space and energy – whether that’s a timetable heavy on ‘relaxing’ fertility treatments and exercise classes, the cooking of nutritious ‘warming’ ‘fertile’ meals, or just generally trying to live an unsustainably beatific, leisurely lifestyle. No, a proper break in this context is about allowing yourself to get stressed, get hammered, to order the takeaway – guilt free. It’s about remembering that not everything you do has to be in service of trying to have a baby. Perfectionism isn’t going to work here.
Because you can’t keep giving it everything you’ve got – or at some point you will have nothing left of yourself to give. That’s how I’ve felt since the last miscarriage, at least. There may well be avenues I haven’t pursued yet, private tests I haven’t asked for, but for now I can’t keep being prodded and probed, or perfecting and polishing my lifestyle halo just so I can be totally confident I’ve done everything ‘right’.
It can make you feel guilty though: whether it’s stopping trying altogether for a little bit or stopping looking for new things to try while trying – as if this somehow means you just don’t want this enough. (Which is bollocks, of course). And, then there’s the whole other question of running out of time…
Taking a break is not always the easy option – but it can be an important one. Think of it as fertility hibernation mode. It’s not forever, but it is a vital survival tactic. No cycle tracking, no two-week wait, no worrying about every morsel and mouthful. Nope. For now, for perhaps the very first time in my life, I’m being a rebel; a fertility slacker and from a mental health point of view, at least, I highly recommend it.
Come join me at the back of the class?