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.
Oh wow, Jennie! This is exactly how I feel, without even fully realising it. Disappointment, or at least the expectation of disappointment, colours pretty much everything I try to do these days. Thanks for sharing – and hooray to finally getting into the new house! I hope you have many happy years there.
It took me a long time to work this out! That’s one benefit of not blogging for a while, I guess… it gives your brain time to work out what’s going on underneath all the noise. As you say, disappointment just colours everything. And it’s not exactly a fun, vibrant colour to paint with. Jennie xxx
I wholeheartedly agree. Underlying disappointment that affects every aspect now, miscarriages being proof that sth is not supposed to happen, an irrational believe that those who good things happen to attract more good and that therefore only bad is going to happen to me from now on. But also, I have always had that fear of what would happen if one day I wasn’t good enough, if one day I can’t achieve even if I try as hard as I could. I am clearly there now after three miscarriages. Had a chat with my boss yesterday and he was trying to give me confidence and said ‘you can do whatever you set your mind to’ and I just said, well apart from the obvious thing that I keep failing at and he wasn’t sure for a while what I meant. For him it is a minor detail about my life but for me it overshadows everything now even to making me less worthy than colleagues because it is evidence that I am not made for great things, or even the basic functioning of a female body. Sorry for rambling and thanks for writing
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Please don’t apologise… you weren’t rambling at all! I know exactly what you mean. It’s such a deep-rooted idea in our society that one – that we can have anything if we only try hard enough – and it’s a hard reality to face, that it simply isn’t always true. That’s not a reason to be defeatist, but I do think sometimes other people don’t like to be confronted with it. (Which in turn, I think, means they struggle to truly get inside how you might feel about yourself – the crisis of confidence it can have – in all apparently unrelated areas of your life. I know I have so much more self-doubt since the miscarriages. And I was never exactly swaggeringly confident before. Thank you for reading. Sending love and hope. Jennie xxx
I resonate so much with this. I once had a therapist say to me: “You have already decided that things aren’t going to work out for you, and you’re already upset about it.” She was (and still is) so right. I’m “perpetually braced for disappointment”, as you say, mostly subconsciously. Your post also makes me think about my fear (assumption) that the adoption we’re anticipating will somehow not work out. The legal process will fall through, the birth parents will change their minds, or (as horrible a thought as this is) the child will die – either in utero or after the birth. I’m bracing myself for yet another baby-related disappointment that will confirm my subconscious (but definitely present) belief that I don’t deserve the child I want so badly. Not a lovely place to reside…
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That’s pretty on the money from your therapist. I do think, though, that it’s easy to say things like ‘worrying only means you suffer twice’ and much less easy to actually know how to over-come that fear of disappointment when you’ve had such a run of bad luck. For me, just understanding that there was all sorts of stuff tangled up in how I was feeling made it easier to deal with. I think sometimes you just have to acknowledge these thoughts (i.e. not try and make them disappear/ tell yourself you shouldn’t feel this way). Wishing you so much luck with the adoption process. Jennie xxxx
Jennie, we bought our first home just recently too, offer accepted in September and we got the keys at the end of October, it all happened fairly quickly but for the full 6 or so weeks I felt like I was going to fall apart for this very reason. I couldn’t even allow myself to pack up our flat because I was so sure disappointment was round the corner and I couldn’t bear the thought of having to unpack and go back to how it was, because with two pregnancies and a whole lot of hope through years of infertility that had been what had happened. It’s exhausting. Anyway all that to say, I totally agree with all you are saying and it’s been my experience too, there’s a bit of hope in that I find, that we’re not alone in the experience.
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I completely agree. As soon as the penny dropped for me, I sort of knew I couldn’t be the only one who felt this way. I wouldn’t show anyone any pictures of our new place until we’d exchanged… in case that jinxed it how mad is that?? Jennie xxx
“Perpetually braced for disappointment…” Yes! This is how I feel now. And I relate it directly to infertility. Such a good post. Thank you for writing it!!
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Thank you for reading! Sadly, I think there is something a little inevitable about starting to think this way. Sending love xxx
This is so true! You posts have a way of expressing something I’ve been feeling but haven’t fully understood. I feel it most when people who haven’t been through a miscarriage are very blasé about their pregnancy. To me a pregnancy doesn’t mean a baby so I wince when they announce the pregnancy on social media at 12 weeks, or when they buy baby clothing or equipment when the baby isn’t viable. I’m now 31 weeks pregnant and still find it hard to believe something isn’t going to go wrong.
I think you’ve written about this before but I also don’t find it that useful when people say about needing a positive attitude – as if by expecting the worst we’re actually causing the miscarriage and to blame.
I hope you enjoy your first Christmas in your new home and that 2020 brings you much joy.
PS how did you get on with your 19 for 2019 list?
Hi Sarah… Yes, I know exactly what you mean! It’s like a double-whammy for me, with pregnancy announcements, because obviously they’re always tinged with sadness for us, but I also feel nervous on their behalf… And you’re right, I can’t bear it when people tell you to ‘just’ think positively. Obviously, I don’t think it does much good to dwell over-long on everything that might go wrong either… but you can’t ward off those things just by forcing yourself not to acknowledge them. It’s really toxic, the whole ‘positive vibes only’ mindset, I think. So happy you’re at 31 weeks now! Do let me know how everything goes. Jennie xxx PS. The 19 for 2019 list went well… I managed all the reading-related ones, and scraped a personal best for a 10k and ticked off a few random things, like a trip to West Wittering beach. Missed a few off my list, but mostly due to moving house, so I’m counting that as a win anyway! xxx