Often when we describe pregnancy loss as a taboo, what we really mean, I think, isn’t so much that it’s completely unmentionable – or impossible to admit to – and more that we feel other people have no idea what our lives are like afterwards. That sense of feeling invisible and not properly understood can be what ‘taboo’ is shorthand for.
Here is one element, then, that is under-appreciated after miscarriage, especially recurrent miscarriage: Logistics. Along with grief, anger and anxiety, it adds a boring layer of extra practical considerations to all but the most simple transactions of your daily life.
It’s like a tedious little traffic warden who’s set up shop in your brain, tapping their watch and calling time on any possible plan, parroting: ‘but what if you’re pregnant again by then?’
It could be a friend asking if you want to train with them for a half marathon. It could be a job that you really want to apply for. It could be a proposed trip to a festival, a gig, a gin tasting, an escape room…In theory, whatever is being suggested sounds great, exactly what you feel you should be doing, something ‘old you’ would have enjoyed, something that makes the most of the miserable fact that you’re not pregnant, or kept home by a new baby.
And yet, that officious little voice pipes up and you start to think that maybe this isn’t a safe place to park after all. So you don’t commit. You prevaricate. You stay home drinking peppermint tea.
For us, the biggest casualty has been proper holidays. Despite a few people gently suggesting from time to time that we should ‘just’ go on holiday (something I’ve no doubt is meant kindly, the implication being that we deserve to get away from it all; that it would do us good) it felt impossible to commit to while we were caught in a cycle of miscarrying, trying again, conceiving again, losing again…
Quite apart from the fact that the thought of parading your soft, broken, potentially still bleeding, body on a beach in any sort of swimwear is deeply unappealing right after a miscarriage, a reluctance to book a holiday too far in advance in case I was pregnant again has also kept us close to home.
I know most ‘normal’ people wouldn’t see a holiday and pregnancy as mutually exclusive. What’s the big deal? Pregnant women aren’t invalids. Just go anyway! (Sidenote: In the pregnancy information I was given in my first pregnancy there are more paragraphs devoted to advice on flying long-haul while pregnant than there are on coping with miscarriage).
But pregnancy after miscarriage is fraught enough, without adding jet lag, potentially undrinkable tap water and an unfamiliar healthcare system to the mix. A holiday isn’t really a holiday if you’re spending the whole time Googling ‘insect repellent safe while pregnant?’, ‘signs of DVT in pregnancy’ or wondering if the ice cream you just ate had been properly pasteurised.
Even things you know in your rational mind are statistically very unlikely seem eminently possible in pregnancy after loss(es). Bad luck is your entire evidence base. And as for the thought of actually miscarrying again while away….
Obviously, in the grand scheme of grief and human suffering, not being able to take a fancy holiday is a very minor gripe. But when you’re not making any other plans, life does start to feel like you’re just circling the block; spinning your wheels while you wait to conceive – or for something bad to happen.
And this feeling of being stuck, of your life shrinking, can be toxic. You start to envy not only the friends who are conceiving, gestating and birthing with apparent ease, but also the friends who are just off living their lives, travelling, going to parties, moving to new cities, training for marathons, getting exciting jobs.
I’m afraid I don’t have a magic fix for this mindset. I only hope it’s reassuring to know that I and countless others have felt this way, too. You are not being lame or neurotic. You don’t need to ‘just snap out of it’. You don’t need to ‘just’ do anything. There is no ‘just’ about any of this.
In fact, in her book Miscarriage: What Every Woman Needs to Know, Professor Lesley Regan specifies that the one activity she thinks should be avoided while pregnant if you have a history of miscarriage is long-distance travel: ‘Not because a transatlantic flight or a long car journey can cause a miscarriage, but because being a long way away from home and the doctor and hospital you are familiar with, is bound to cause you even more distress if you start to miscarry again… the chances of this happing to you are small, but it is possible to avoid the risk completely by not exposing yourself to it.’
I don’t know why I find a medical expert saying this so comforting, but I do. Perhaps because it is so different from the impression I’ve often been given by doctors and midwives – and the world at large – that you should be ploughing on regardless, acting as though there’s nothing to worry about; pushing the thought of another miscarriage far from your mind.
It is reassuring to be told that you are allowed to build whatever kind of wall you need to protect some fragile sense of emotional well-being.
Which brings me to the fact that we have just got back from our first proper holiday in over two years. A holiday that involved a long-haul flight, a four-hour stopover in Bangkok and a seven-hour time difference. A holiday that wasn’t hot off the heels of a miscarriage. A holiday where I could eat and drink and have a second (and sometimes third) coffee without giving it a thought. I swam in the sea, trekked round temples and rice paddies, got massages, ate some slightly dodgy, seafood barbecue and read the Cazalet Chronicles in the bath.
It was bliss. But in order to feel able to do this we had to make a concrete decision that we would take a break from trying to conceive. We will also have to wait a few months to start again, even now we’re back, because we went to Bali and technically there’s still a risk of Zika (I know, I know, other people probably wouldn’t give this so much as a backwards glance… but, I repeat, with our track record?).
It’s not a decision we took lightly: deciding to take a break feels like a gamble, acutely aware of time ticking away. I really don’t need reminding that I was still (just) in my 20s when we started trying for a baby and yet I will be 33 by the time we can try again. By then, we will have had more than a year off since our fourth miscarriage.
But a break has done us the world of good. I almost (almost) feel excited at the thought of trying again. I also think it has been useful to make a deliberate choice. It’s been helpful to accept that, as frustrating as it is, we cannot have it both ways. ‘Just seeing what happens’ while casually getting on with life isn’t really possible for us any more. So the last year has been about freedom, slacking off from tracking my cycle, fertility diets or pursuing extra tests. The next year will be different, more careful, more self-conscious, more constricted, perhaps. But that is our choice. And sometimes feeling you have a choice makes all the difference.