Milestones and millstones

This week marks two years precisely since our first miscarriage. I almost didn’t remember…until I did.

I’m not normally in the habit of marking the anniversaries of our miscarriages – or even the due dates any more. For a start, I am yet to find any sort of ritual I feel comfortable with. But also there are too many of them scattered across the calendar for that now. Barely a month would go by without a significant date to dread and despond over. And I am fine with letting forgetfulness settle, like snow.

This may be different to how others feel after baby loss, and I don’t judge either way. There’s nothing wrong with remembering and marking milestones. It’s not that the dates don’t matter to me – or that I don’t have a sense, always, of how old our children might have been by now – more that the calendar isn’t where my grief truly lives any more.

The further we get from that first uterine catastrophe, the more time passes without another miscarriage, but also without a living baby, it’s as if two things are happening at once: Time passes and the grief for a specific pregnancy, a specific moment, a specific, unique co-mingling of our two sets of DNA, loosens; lessens, but at the same time the volume on a vague, formless grief at being childless – still, after so long – notches up. It is a grief that is no longer purely about the pain of missing something you cannot get back. It is something more nebulous now, shifting, softer, untethered to any one day in the diary.

Childless. Watching couple after couple we know cross over into parenthood. That’s where the nerve remains trapped. Vulnerable. Two years on, that’s what still has the power to wound. I could never have countenanced back then that we would be no closer to bringing home a baby in 2019 than we were that day, when 2017 was less than a fortnight old, the day we came home from hospital with nothing to show for our first pregnancy but a pair of paper hospital-issue pants and a blood-stained mattress.

And yet here we are.

There’s nothing quite like January, with its mood music of attainment, achievement and goal-setting, to get you thinking about milestones and what you want, what you really, really want. Or how far away you are from it. A new year plays tricks on you. On the one hand, it whispers possibility: ‘This could be the year, our year…’ Meanwhile, the other hand slaps you hard on the forehead in frustration: Another bloody year, and nothing to show for it.

And for this, I offer a small token of something approaching a semi-solution. Something to inoculate against these feelings – which I know have dogged me after each loss – of utter pointlessness, of time wasted. It’s also an antidote to punishing, pressurising new year’s resolutions, which I have little time for. It’s called 19 for 2019. It’s not my idea, it’s something I heard about via Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast and tried last year (when it was, you guessed it, 18 for 2018) and loved it. Essentially, you come up with a list of things you want to do in the coming year. The items can be anything – small goals or huge ones, shallow or profound – but they should be as specific as possible and things you actually want to do, rather than feel you should do. Things that perhaps you never quite seem to get round to. Things you have some agency over. Fun things.

This will not simply be another year in which I didn’t give birth. It will be the year I took piano lessons, pitched to three new publications to write for, mastered ‘crow pose’ in yoga, and gave money to a different charity each month. (Among other things even more mundane, that I’m even more embarrassed to list here). None of these small achievements will make up for not having a baby. Of course they won’t. But, speaking purely from personal experience, it does help to gently shift focus. It gives you something to measure the months and years by other than due dates and ovulation cycles. To really think about who you are and what you enjoy and what to point your life towards, beyond the dream of a baby.

After all, it does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live…

6 Comments

  1. That’s a lovely idea. I started golf lessons last week as a way to focus on something else and learn something new, but I think I’ll come up with 18 more things I want to do in 2019 after reading this. Thank you for sharing! All the very best with all of yours xxx

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    1. Thank you! Golf lessons sounds like a great thing to do. And I say that as someone who once got roundly thrashed by a seven year old at mini golf… Learning something new is really powerful, I think. Especially if there’s no pressure to be particularly good at it. Enjoy making your list, there’s something weirdly fun and satisfying about it! Jennie xxx

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  2. Totally stealing this idea, would you be happy to share your 19? I need some serious inspo- so far I’ve got make a good gluten free yorkshire!

    Love and light to you for 2019, may we always have the hope that this indeed will be out year!xx

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    1. Oh god, most of mine are really boring. But, to give you an idea some are: to do one running event every month, to join the library, to take a cooking class (our local bakery runs these and I have my eye on a Danish pastry one…) to read at least 30 books just for fun, i.e. not work-related ones, to do the Harry Potter studio tour and to find the perfect pair of flat black shoes. I did say they were boring (please don’t judge…) xxx

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  3. It truly does help having something else to focus on. After my first lost (an ectopic pregnancy) I took up running. It kind of became my therapy. My time to go through my thoughts and process them. Sometimes I would even end up crying during my run (which sounds a bit nuts) but always by then of it I would feel so much better. It has also helped my body become stronger and i am starting to trust it again after it has let me down. Even after my second miscarriage, after two weeks I got back to gently pounding the pavements and again it helped me find some clarity. We have taken the last 6 months out from trying to conceive and I’m not sure when we’ll start again, so for now it’s a welcome distraction and i have to say I really do enjoy it! X

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    1. Hi Nicola – I can relate to this. I’ve always been a runner (albeit not a very good one) and since the miscarriages it’s been my therapy too. (Though full disclosure, I have done actual therapy too…) After the first miscarriage, which was the most physically taxing, I was desperate to get out and run. I hadn’t been running while pregnant, and had eased off while trying to conceive. When I did finally get out, I cried as I ran and it was such a release. Clarity, resilience…a sense of my body being entirely my own again. It’s such a powerful thing for me, too. Jennie xxx

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