Guest monologue: Lessons from loss

A guest post by Bine @binemeadows

A global pandemic – what a crazy yet eerily quiet and slow world we have found ourselves in. Whilst some of us are fighting death and risking their own lives on the ‘front line’, many of us are in lockdown at home.

As much as my three miscarriages over the past one and a half years have hurt (and, boy, did they hurt) and as hard as I have had to fight to get through, I have learnt a hell of a lot of skills, some of which are now helping me to live through this pandemic. In the past, I’ve beaten myself up over how much I have struggled to come to terms with my miscarriages, but now seems like a good time to recognise that those struggles have also taught me a lot of hard-won coping skills…

  1. The skill to accept that grieving normal life is valid 

The newspapers are full of statements like ‘the virus that changed the world’. From one day to the next, our lives have completely changed. We all tend to fill our lives with things to keep us emotionally and mentally afloat – seeing friends, exercise classes, travelling. Almost overnight, most of those activities and routines were gone.

What we are left with is grieving the loss of our normal lives.

I have learnt a lot about grief recently. Next to the grief that I was never going to hold my babies, I was grieving that my world had changed irreversibly. Not so much the world around me, but the way I viewed the world, the way I saw myself; the small shreds of self-belief and self-trust were suddenly gone.

There were a lot of ‘at least’ statements after my miscarriages like ‘at least it was early’, ‘at least you know you can get pregnant’, ‘at least you are young and can try again’ and they invalidated my pain. I ended up judging myself for how much I was struggling. I had to take a step back and, instead of trying to deny my emotions, give myself permission to feel my grief, explore it, accept that my grief is valid, and separate myself from how others expected me to grieve. By doing that, I started the process of healing.

So now, I have the skill to acknowledge grief, know it will take time to adapt to this new way of being, and give myself slack for when this process of adapting does not feel linear but has lots of ups and downs.

I see a lot of those ‘at least’ statement at the moment, too. Mine would be: ‘at least I am not working for the NHS putting myself at risk all the time’, ‘at least I can easily work from home’, ‘at least I have a garden’, ‘at least I have my cat’… But instead of seeing those as ‘I am not allowed to feel my own grief because others are worse off’, I can appreciate them and feel them as joys in life that I have previously taken for granted. 

  1. Finding self-reliance to beat loneliness

Interestingly, I feel less lonely now than I did after my miscarriages (even though I have not met up with anyone for weeks, whereas then I had my friends around me).

I think that’s because right now I feel connected to other people as we are all in the same boat. It is something that everyone can relate to and everyone is talking about how they are coping.

That disconnect and the perceived expectation to ‘be fine’ meant that I drastically reduced social contact. The extrovert Bine before miscarriages loved seeing people ALL the time and was actually incapable of being alone – always being with people meant I had less time to think. Feeling alone, having to find my own way of dealing with the losses and eventually learning to be a good companion to myself was the hardest thing of all. I still love being with people and would love to see people right now, but luckily, I now have the skill to be content with my own company.

  1. Accepting uncertainty and controlling controllable things

Corona has scuppered our plans, maybe for the near future but maybe also longer term. I always like to plan ahead and schedule in things to look forward to, for example trips away – all cancelled now. Corona has taken away that feeling of being in control of our future.

Whilst I am sad about my plan scuppered by Corona, I have already had to learn that being in control of my future is an illusion. Something I thought of as a choice – whether to have children or not – is out of my control, through no fault of my own. With every pregnancy loss, I have had to say good bye to a longed for future.

OK, so I am not in control of my future, but I am in control of how I adapt to the now and how I shape each day. Instead of trying to control the uncontrollable, I am now (more) able to focus on things that I can control, which are living day-by-day and noticing the joy in small things that I usually tend to overlook.

  1. The skill to put normal life on hold and slow it down

Most of us live our lives at a very fast pace: rush to get ready in the morning, go to work, rush at work, rush to pack all social and fun activities in at the weekend. Suddenly, we’ve all had to put our busy lives on hold and live day by day.

After the initial completely incapacitating pain and panic following the miscarriages, my focus moved from longer-term thinking to just surviving in the now. At first hour by hour, then day by day. The focus on the now brought relief when my world was upside down. Just getting through the days, staying calm, avoiding panic attacks and regaining a little productivity at work felt like a massive win. It also is a win during corona lockdown.

I have learnt the skill of slowing down. Rather than doing a lot of things quickly as a means to an end, it means taking time to notice all those activities we usually do on auto-pilot. It’s that ‘even the simplest meal tastes amazing when camping’ feeling.

  1. Managing expectations

How many of us suddenly thought, ‘oh whilst I am in lock down, I finally have the time to do x, y and z’. Apart from staying safe, coping with grieving and anxiety and the pressure of functioning through this pandemic – which is quite enough to deal with for now – there is added pressure to somehow turn this situation into an ‘added bonus’.

I felt that pressure of the ‘added bonus’ in the summer after my miscarriages. Part of my healing was to think of the benefits of not having children and appreciating them more, for example having lie-ins and enjoying peace and quiet at home. That was helpful. What wasn’t helpful, however, was feeling additional pressure to do loads of fun summery things I wouldn’t have been able to do with a new-born or while heavily pregnant. I was still exhausted and needed time to process, but I wasn’t kind enough to myself to acknowledge that. Once autumn came, I felt relieved.

During lockdown, I have made a list of things I can be getting on with in order to have things to look forward to. But those are things to do when I have run out of other enjoyable activities rather than ‘must dos’ to make this time worthwhile. Staying home, staying safe and staying sane is worthwhile enough.

  1. Is getting back to normal the right goal?

 After my miscarriages I tried to get back to my old self and my old ‘normal life’ and was constantly frustrated that it was just not happening. I couldn’t motivate myself to reach old goals because they did not matter to me anymore. I started healing once I accepted that my old self no longer existed, because of what I had experiences and what I had learnt. I’m still in the process of adjusting to the new or, perhaps, ‘evolving’ me. At times, that adjustment feels hard, for example when friendship dynamics are changing.

A lot of us desperately want to get back to our normal, pre-pandemic lives. But is that really realistic? Or even desirable? Going back to normal would mean returning to an unresolved climate emergency, to an economic system that is failing both the planet and people, to politics that have degraded social systems and health services. Somehow, I don’t think trying to go straight back to ‘normal’ will work – just as it didn’t work for me after my miscarriages.

Thank you to my three little stars for teaching me that I have strength I never knew.

 

Other posts you might be interested in…

This post on survival tactics while trying to conceive

On coping with disappointment

This guide to what not to say after miscarriage (and what actually helps)

75 ways to feel (a little) better after baby loss

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