A guest post by Isla, @izzymatt
‘At least…..’ ‘At least’ is a phrase I’ve heard so often in our journey through secondary infertility and, in truth, I imagine it’s probably the most used phrase tossed towards anyone who has suffered through loss.
It’s so terribly British. Our stiff upper lip sensibilities draw us immediately to this default pattern of always trying to find the silver lining, always trying to wrap up any conversation we find uncomfortable. We’d much rather get back to discussing the important stuff, like complaining about the weather and the ever-diminishing volume of crisps in a bag of Walkers.
I don’t say this in attack of anybody, it’s simply the socially acceptable response. I’m guilty of it myself. I know I said it years ago to someone who was walking the same path I now find myself on. But for one reason or another, whenever I hear it now, I hear this negative, accusatory tone behind it: ‘Pull your socks up’ and ‘just be thankful for what you’ve got’.
‘At least it was early.’
‘At least you weren’t showing.’
‘At least you hadn’t told anybody.’
‘At least you have your daughter.’
I especially can’t bear that last one.
It makes our daughter sound like some sort of fairground consolation prize, or, worse still, that people think we need reminding of just how lucky we are. As if wanting another baby meant that we didn’t adore the one we already had. I will forever be thankful that we had her first, that we were able to experience pregnancy without fear just once. It is not a luxury we will get again, no matter how our story ends. She is simply magical. Not to brag, but she can also drop a well-timed Ferris Bueller ‘Chicka chickow’ upon exiting a room and that for me is the hallmark of an exceptional human.
In five years, I have been pregnant four times. We had no reason to suspect after our daughter’s arrival that my body would fail me so spectacularly when we tried again. It’s why we waited until she was three. We had no clue there was a clock ticking and part of what has made this so hard is that we were, in all honesty, so blindsided by it. And then again… And then once more…
I’ve been pregnant so many times I know the symptoms by heart. My last pregnancy I predicted well over a week before we could even test. But that skill sadly now applies to the symptoms of miscarriage too. Occasionally, I’ll find myself in an Instagram hole and a video will pop up of some elaborately planned reveal of a positive pregnancy test, and it floors me. I just no longer have that kind of unbridled joy at seeing the blue line appear. My last positive test, I took alone in the bathroom. I opened the door and looked at my husband and nodded, and he nodded back, like two battle-weary soldiers. No words were spoken, we know better than to raise our hopes.
The danger of the ‘At least…’ conversation is it feels like everybody is telling you to take a seat, especially if you are already a parent. You know you are lucky. You know there are others who aren’t and you don’t want to take up their space. So you stay quiet and those ‘At least…’ conversations, they become internal. You don’t raise your hand and ask for help and you begin to berate yourself, to pick yourself apart for feeling how you feel. I know, because I’ve been there. Loss is loss, you can’t control the circumstance of yours.
Parenting through loss has been difficult. We feel our daughter is too young to be told, and so the harder, emotional moments have had to be concealed.
Our second miscarriage was particularly devastating. Having believed that the odds on having a second loss were minuscule, we really thought we were living our happy, Hollywood ending. I’m not sure I will ever be able to appropriately thank my husband for managing to swallow all of his emotion enough to form a human blockade at our bathroom door. Half in our bedroom making our little girl laugh as she danced on the bed to Peppa Pig and half trying to hold his devastated wife together on the bathroom floor, as she tried to silence her heartbroken cries.
We lived for a long time in a land of limbo. One room in our house was slowly filling with the nursery furniture and toys our daughter no longer required, but that we felt sure would soon be back in use. Over the years, it slowly became a dusty mausoleum to the ones who never arrived. She now asks me, regularly, why she doesn’t have a sibling (as do some adults), and whether or not I have a baby in my tummy. I have had to become well versed in distracting from what we don’t have and trying to divert attention to what we do.
After our last miscarriage, almost 18 months ago, we realised we had to make some changes. The mental load was too much and we needed help. We needed support. We had clinics and scans and tests to get through. We needed to try to visualise what our life might be, just the three of us. We cleared the sad room. I couldn’t bear to let go of things just yet, we’ve still not made the decision to give up, we’ve just pressed pause. (And I simply don’t go in the garage, which is like a disused Mothercare warehouse… Full of prams, a cot, crates of toys and piles of vac-packed clothes, all just waiting for a purpose).
The room upstairs has become an office for me, for a job opportunity I would never have accepted had things turned out differently. Life these days is all about living in the now and not holding off on moments or experiences ‘just in case’. We take the trips we talk about, we support each other to pursue different dreams and we focus on making everything count.
The biggest step? For the first time we talked, openly. To each other, to our family and friends. I no longer hide it away, berating myself for having bad days. If it comes up, I acknowledge it. For the first time we fully trusted people. We let them into one of the hardest experiences we would ever go through, unvarnished. It was difficult and scary, but those people never failed us, never faltered. They showed up, they listened and the ‘at leasts…’ stopped. Our parents went back to parenting us for a while so that we in turn could parent our daughter. Our friends and family showed up time and time again and gently pieced us back together. They packaged up and sent books they knew would be a distraction, not a trigger. They drove miles to take me out to dinner to make sure I ate (get yourself the kind of mates who will order every single starter on the menu because they know eventually your food envy will beat your heartbreak). They poured the wine and listened to the harsh unedited realities of miscarriage because they knew I needed to get them out of my head.
It is because of all these things, the big and the small , that this time I feel like I’m actually starting to recover. That the colour has started to come back in.
I don’t have all the answers, I still have bad days and I don’t know how our story will end. I do know that it’s hard in an age of social media comparison to stick your hand up and say ‘I’m struggling’ because you worry somebody else is more entitled to the help. Here’s the thing though, no story is the same as yours, the circumstances vary, but the trauma of loss remains the same. It is a lonely and isolating place but sometimes you just have to trust that you can open up a little and somebody will say ‘I’ve lived through that too’ or ‘I’m here for you’ and suddenly you’ll gain strength from a shared understanding that you are not alone.
And that is not the least of anything.