It was my birthday this week. Dan surprised me with a trip away – staying in a hotel in Marbella old town that we’ve been to before and loved. The last time we were there was five years ago, just after my third miscarriage.
Which made me realise that it’s also now been five years that I’ve been writing about recurrent pregnancy loss.
I’m never quite sure what to count as this blog’s ‘birthday’. I started it semi-anonymously, after the second miscarriage. I’d written a piece about the first loss earlier that year, under my real name, for a newspaper. At the time, writing that feature had felt like drawing a line under the experience. By the time it came to be published, I was already pregnant again – and, besides, hadn’t everyone I spoke to and everything I read reassured me that the first miscarriage was bound to be a one-off?
But it wasn’t a conclusion, only a pause. A line break – a gasp of white space before being plunged into the next scene in the same story.
It was only after the third miscarriage that I attached my full name to the blog and the thoughts and feelings it contained. And it seems strange to me now that there was once a time when I still took steps to obscure my identity. No surname, separate social media accounts. Which is not to say I don’t appreciate why it is sometimes hard to speak openly about pregnancy loss. (After all, this is one of the key questions of my book: Why do we keep it quiet? We call it a taboo, but why is it a taboo, what keeps it that way?)
But I suppose I have lived with my pregnancy history being public for so long now, it is hard to remember it being otherwise.
Anyway, this weekend’s trip really did feel like the closing of a circle, somehow. Returning to a place as tired, wrung-out parents when previously we’d walked its streets as two heartbroken parents-who-should-have-been. The plaza with its orange trees was the same. The bougainvillea still clambered up walls and along the thick vines of electric cabling overhead in the same way that delighted me before.
We ate in the same restaurants we loved last time. I even – unintentionally – wore the same burnt-orange dress as before. I’ve worn it so many times since, I’d forgotten that I originally bought it while pregnant that third time, optimistically hoping its loose, tiered shape would see me comfortably through the first trimester and beyond. In the end, it had proved the perfect fit for a body that was still recovering from miscarriage surgery; swollen and tender.
But what about us? Were we the same? Now there’s a question. Yes and no – and yes again, I think. There are certainly many things I’ve learnt in those intervening five years. Here are just five of them:
1. You will feel happy again – and sooner than you think
As in, the day after a miscarriage a friend will manage to make you laugh. The sun will still shine on your face. You’ll get drunk or go dancing. It will snow unexpectedly. You’ll eat something delicious. Sometimes it feels impossible that anything could lift your spirits – until it happens.
2. You will also feel sad for far longer than you might expect
This is a lesson I forget and have to re-learn, over and over. For days, weeks, months at a time, I can feel on an even keel. Things that would have once floored me barely register. And then a pregnancy announcement or a random remark at a toddler group will catch my heart off guard (and blow it open).
3. Whatever you’re feeling, you’re not alone
Your worst thoughts. Your ugliest urges and emotions. Things you feel after losing a pregnancy that you can’t admit out loud. Believe me, someone else has felt them, too. Whenever I’ve written anything I thought was weirdly specific, a bit near the knuckle, or just straight-up embarrassing, those are always the things that people message me about: ‘I thought I was the only one.’ ‘Me too.’
4. You can’t always fix it (not all on your own)
One unintended side-effect of more people talking about pregnancy loss is that it can add a layer of comparison where there wasn’t one before: How is it they seem so much more ‘together’ than you? How are they doing x, y, z while you are immobilised by depression/anxiety/exhaustion? Over the years, I’ve often felt crappy that others who’d experienced something similar seemed to cope so much better, projecting a much sunnier, positive attitude than I did. (Only to then learn further down the line that that wasn’t exactly the whole story for them, either). At different points in the last five years, I have needed counselling and regular sessions with a clinical psychologist. Outside help. Professional help. I’m sure I will return to those kinds of support again in future. We love the idea of self-sufficiency and a stiff upper lip. As a society we’re wedded to it, even. But you can’t always fix it all by yourself. You shouldn’t have to.
5. A baby is not the only thing that will heal your heart
I once thought the only way I would feel close to whole again was by having a baby. And while it’s true that some feelings and questions have only resolved since having a living child, I also know now that a ‘rainbow’ baby is not the only escape hatch out of grief. (Actually, another child is not really a route out of grief at all, but that’s another post altogether). We took a long break from trying to conceive after our fourth miscarriage. I didn’t always feel confident it was the right thing to do. Sometimes it felt like an imposition; something that was, ultimately, keeping us from the one thing that would make us happy. Yet, by the end of that year, I did feel happier. To identify any one thing from that year as uniquely healing risks seeming crass, because written down it all sounds so slight. Especially when set against the undeniable magnitude and magic of having a living, breathing child. Rather, it was a series of small moments, kindnesses, jokes, walks, and meals that returned me to myself. Salt, sugar, sex, sky, water. Just small things, strung together one after the other, bead on bead, becoming something bigger and more beautiful than the sum of its parts.