Sometimes I wonder if everything that’s happened has changed my personality in some fundamental way. In particular, I’ve noticed that my reflex these days is to expect things to go wrong. Not just pregnancy related stuff, but all my stuff: work, home, life admin. All and any of my carefully laid plans. I will get stuck in traffic. Of course my pitch to a new publication will be ignored. That website I just ordered from will turn out to be an elaborate scam. The holiday home I booked for a weekend away with friends won’t actually exist when we get there…and on it goes.
I don’t think I was always this way. I’ve always been cautious, certainly. But not pessimistic. Not perpetually braced for disappointment as sometimes I wonder if I am now.
I don’t think we talk about disappointment, as an emotion, very often – and rarely in the context of miscarriage(s). Pregnancy loss, when it is discussed, is almost always framed as devastating, heart-breaking and profoundly, achingly sad. And it is all of those things. When you feel you face an uphill struggle to get other people to recognize your grief, it’s only natural that those would be the aspects we choose to emphasise.
But, for me at least, disappointment has turned out to be the long-term companion here. And in some ways it has been the hardest thing to learn to live with.
It sounds so under-whelming, doesn’t it? To describe how you feel at the loss of a pregnancy, a baby – the child you held in your mind – as merely ‘disappointing’. But disappointed is what you are: that flat, damp ‘well of course it wouldn’t work out for me’ feeling. Underneath those more fiery emotions, the shock, the anger, the feeling that your chest might burst open from grief (just love with no place to go, after all), disappointment is always there, too. It underscores everything, threaded through like a fat, grey ribbon.
And if it keeps happening – if you repeatedly miscarry or fail to conceive – that drab band only widens and tightens its grip around your life. Yet I can’t say I’ve come across any experts, manuals or articles doling out advice on dealing with – living with – disappointment.
As some of you will know from my Instagram, we’ve been trying to move house. (This is why I’ve taken a bit of an extended break from blogging here – and, for anyone who’s been wondering, the Mum’s Voice series will return in the New Year). Buying a house is obviously its own privilege, one not available to many people, and I’ve tried not to forget that, but I have also found the past five months close to unbearable at times.
Because here’s the paradox about disappointment (or so I’ve found) – on the one hand, I expect it and plan for it at every corner, and on the other it still sends me into a complete tailspin when it does, occasionally, arrive. There have been so many moments in trying to co-ordinate this move where I’ve thought the whole thing was about to collapse. For six weeks, at least, we kept being told we should be ready to exchange tomorrow, always tomorrow…no wait, Monday…actually, it’ll be next Friday now… It was maddening. I couldn’t think about anything else. I couldn’t write. I felt all the progress I’d made this year unravelling. And for a long time, I couldn’t understand why I was finding it so hard to deal with. It was just a house after all. Just stones and mortar. Sure, it was annoying not to know where we would be at Christmas, or even next weekend. Yes, I was spending more time on the phone to the estate agent and solicitor than I did to my mum. Or indeed, my entire family combined.
But none of it was the end of the world, by any means. Yet to me it felt painful and deadening on an almost cellular level; as if I was being taken apart, piece by piece. Then it dawned on me that perhaps this wasn’t all about the house. Perhaps part of the problem was how the cycle of hope-and-hopes-dashed was so redolent of trying to conceive after a miscarriage. Of pregnancy after loss. Of how it feels to lose another one… and another one. The loss of control, of agency, of feeling able to plan ahead also felt uncomfortably like the worst parts of trying to conceive.
This story has a happy ending. We’re in. I’m writing this in my new office. I can see dry stone walls, laced with ivy, from my window, as well as a motley queue of plant pots lining the front of the cottage, which I hope will be bursting with daffodils come spring. Beyond the wall, if I crane my neck, are fields, stretching away, and the purple tops of the moors.
I feel relieved and grateful and like I’m… home. Yet I also can’t shake a sense it might still, somehow, be taken away from me.
This, I think, is recurrent disappointment talking. I don’t (often) feel the all-consuming, quicksand sadness about our losses any more, the way I once did. I can buy baby clothes for the newborns of friends and family. I can hold other people’s babies. I can imagine our future both with and without children and feel something close to confident that it will be OK either way. But, underneath it all, I do still feel disappointed. And that, I’m discovering, runs bone-deep.