Everybody in the world is pregnant (or so it seems)

I wrote so much yesterday (and then got really angry and upset, but I think that’s good). After months of mostly silence in my head, things seem to be a bit shouty in there.

I can now look back at the last 5 months and realise that I’ve largely been frozen in my grief. The first few days after my operation (which ‘removed the product of conception’, a phrase that still haunts me) I did feel crushing grief. It really was crushing though.  I remember crawling to the back door to get some fresh air (in November) and look out at the garden as I was so sick of being on the sofa/in bed. And then the realisation that my womb was empty took over. I was shaking and crying, and my partner came down (who was working from home to be with me) and lay next to me and cried too. But the sound that came from me mouth – it was that deep, guttural cry that starts from the bottom of your lungs. The wail of grief. It was frightening to hear, and to know it was coming from me. And after I was all cried out, I didn’t feel any better. It hadn’t helped.

I don’t have any relationship with my mother – haven’t had since I was 22. That was a good decision for me. One of the things I remember about her is that, although she had 3 healthy children, she had a stillborn in between my second and third sister. We were never really allowed to talk about it. I remember asking her about him – it was a him, different to the three girls she had and perfect in her head for many reasons including that – when I was around 15. She started to cry almost immediately and then my father got really angry and started shouting at me. Her grief for him was unhelpful, to put it mildly, for the rest of us (all good kids you know – none of us caused any trouble). We never measured up to him and I was always confused that having 3 children to raise couldn’t take the pain away of the death of a baby.

So the fear I have – of doing that to my own children – is huge. They were with us when we saw the scan that told us the baby had stopped developing. We were all sad together on that day. After that they have asked me about it from time to time. They have been worried that I’ve been ill. They thought it was a good thing for us to try again. But I have wanted to move the grief on so that I don’t affect them the way my mother affected me. I was crying the other day because I was just really tired. ‘Mummy, have you lost an egg?’ my daughter asked, concern all over her face. My heart broke – I don’t want her to be worried about me, or tiptoe around me. I want her to know nothing but love.

When I was first told I had PTSD and I had to answer lots of questions, I realised how much I’d been blocking things out – avoiding thinking about it. But then in the last few weeks, perhaps because I have allowed myself to see things, babies are EVERYWHERE. Every time I turn the radio on, go onto Instagram, watch TV, go somewhere – pregnancy and babies are mentioned every single time. Every single time. I explained this to a colleague in an email (still only teaching 1 day out of 4 at the moment) and she said ‘It must be hard to see them when you’re out and about’ and I thought, No! You don’t get it! It isn’t just when I am out, it is EVERYWHERE. I can never escape it. Never. And that makes me realise why I’ve blocked it out because, how AM I supposed to cope with it? I don’t want to break down every 5 minutes – and if I did, would it even help?

But also – I can see why I won’t often allow myself to grieve, and this is because of other people. My partner didn’t tell many people that we were pregnant, but he did tell a few friends. Then he had to tell them what happened. We have met those people for a few occasions – one was the first birthday of a friend’s child. I prepared myself about that – about seeing a beautiful, happy baby. What I hadn’t prepared myself for was the pregnant woman at the table, a family friend. I caught my breath when I saw the bump and then locked the pain away. And only one of my partner’s friends has even spoken to me about what happened (and he was actually wonderful, and held my hand and let me talk and cry). The others – some of them I had last seen when pregnant, and the next time I’m in a pub but without a bump and no sorry at all? No ‘how are you?’? Really?

My son has a friend who goes to a different school so doesn’t see him much. His mum saw me the day before the scan, when I was sick, and so I told her I was pregnant. She took the kids home to look after them a bit, and then we had each other’s kids over, once at Christmas and a few weeks later. Then I had him over during February half term, along with 2 other children – so 5 children to look after for the day. She had sent me texts every now and then to check how I was. So when she turned up on the doorstep and was very obviously pregnant, I went into complete shock. The whole time I was pregnant, then lost the baby, then was ill….all those times I had seen her, she’d been hiding her own pregnancy. Now – I can understand why she might have found it difficult to talk about it, but telling me just before I had a day of looking after children was NOT the time to tell me. I had nowhere to put that grief. She sat there, going on about she’d had PND with her other two and that this baby was for her, that it was a girl and so I’d need to help her as she didn’t know anything about girls….and while she was talking, I was going the calculations and realised that my baby was due 3 weeks after hers. My eldest is 11 and I’d comforted myself in knowing that none of the mums I knew were having kids anymore – but no, one of my son’s best friends is now having a sibling at the same time my own son would have had one. Because she thought it was OK to tell me all this – to not recognise my grief, to not think that perhaps I might want nothing whatsoever to do with her baby, and that whenever I see it my heart will break and I will always, always, always think of my own baby – because she thought about none of that, it’s made me think that I should think about none of that too. In fact, the grief was too much with her revelation and I had to message two super good listening friends about it to just get it OUT so that I could then function. But what I wanted – or needed to do – was cry, and pause, and think, and I could do none of that – and then the moment was gone.

We went out for a meal last month – again with these same friends of my partners – and again there was a heavily pregnant woman on the table. My partner knew she was going to be there, but hadn’t thought about it – he thought he’d told me before. Maybe he had told me about her in the past but telling me just before I was going to have to be up close and personal with her 8 month bump, that I *did* need to have mentioned. Again, what I wanted to do was run into the toilets and sob and then just go home. But I didn’t because you just don’t do that kind of thing, and we were there for someone’s birthday. And so the grief gets pushed further down.

It feels like I am walking around this world, full of grief, but that no one – sometimes not even my partner – will recognise or take into account. It is something that I have to force myself open to feeling – but it would be so much easier if people around me could just acknowledge it, and think about it, and make allowances.

As I said to my partner the other day – I want to tell everyone I know that a baby died, that I am still grieving, but that I don’t want to talk about it with them at all – I just want them to know. But I know that even if I said that, people would still offer their opinion and I can’t handle that.

Why is it so hard for me to recognise my grief? Because I am worried it will destroy me. Why can’t others acknowledge I might be grieving? Who knows? Maybe it’s too uncomfortable for them. Whatever the reason though – it makes everything that much harder.

EMDR session 2: it turns out I haven’t accepted anything

I had my second EMDR session last week, and that is what led me to be able to write this blog. It was an exhausting session and I have really struggled this week. I can see why I have tried to completely ignore what happened and my grief.

The things I learned about myself this week are:

  1. I haven’t accepted the death of my baby as being part of my life narrative whatsoever. It is so awful and upsetting and there is not one ounce of positivity about it, and so I don’t want to take it on. In my therapy, my therapist would keep gently saying ‘but it did happen’ and I’d be furiously shaking my head. Oh. And OK. I live in stories I make up half the time and so I can see why I just think I can re-write this.
  2. I don’t know how to accept my grief because it is MASSIVE. It is far beyond anything I could absorb. It is too big for me to control. My greatest fear is that if I allow it to touch me, it will make me really ill. Possibly ill forever. I had no idea I felt this until my EMDR session. I find it kind of ironic that I am actually already ill, and that this is most likely caused by my refusal to deal with it – it’s not like in a good condition at the moment!
  3. I have spent a lot of time since my EMDR session being very angry about everything. I guess that’s probably necessary but it’s been very exhausting, and hard for my partner. I am most angry, looking back, at the comments I had from people when they first learnt that my pregnancy had ended. I need to write about this.
  4. That carrying on with IVF – which I launched into as soon as I could persuade my partner – is actually not massively good for us right now, and most particularly, having a successful pregnancy (if that even happens) is not going to ‘fix’ the death of the baby I had. I will still need to grieve for that baby, and will probably always be grieving for it in some way.
  5. But the fact that we *are* carrying on with trying to have a baby – at some point – means that I don’t know how this overall story is going to go. Will there be more pain to come? Will be relationship with my partner be partly defined by this loss and sadness? That also makes it hard to deal with. I don’t know if this is part of the end of a sad story, or just a low point in a different kind of story altogether.

Psychotherapy on speed is definitely an effective way to describe EMDR!

Miscarriage, PTSD and EMDR

I have since learned that PTSD is not unusual for women who have suffered a miscarriage. I can now accept that I have suffered a traumatic experience. I can also accept that I’ve spent a lot of my time refusing to think about what happened, or acknowledge/allow grief. At the same time, my body has been trying to deal with it too.

I am usually an insomniac. I have always found it hard to get to sleep and stay asleep. Yet since all this happened, nearly every night I have had 10 hours or more straight sleep – falling asleep instantly, even though I’ve not moved from my bed or sofa all day. This has been the case for 5 months – but every single day, I have woken up from this unbroken sleep in the middle of vivid and unsettling dreams, and also feeling completely exhausted. I have eaten breakfast and then felt so tired that I had to lie down again – not able to go to sleep, but not able to keep my eyes open (though I have often fought this really hard). I’ve then been in this horrible paralysed state where I can’t get up, or open my eyes, but I absolutely have not wanted to deal with my own thoughts, and so I’ve spent all that time blocking them out, prising my eyes open to stare at the news app on my phone; anything to avoid being inside my own head. During the day I’d slowly improve, being able to sit up eventually and then manage to get the kids from school. The evenings were the best – I could actually properly sit up on the sofa! Then I’d go to bed and it would start all over again: crushing exhaustion.

When I said all this to my doctor, she just shrugged. When I said it all to my EMDR therapist, there was recognition.

My dreams have been so unsettling because in them there will be someone from my childhood and also my first boss as well as my current students, all jumbled together. They will feature people or events that I’ve not remembered in years. But as my EMDR therapist has pointed out – and my ‘traditional’ psychotherapist – what is happening is that my brain is furiously and frantically trying to sort things out on its own.

A discussion with a close friend and my first EMDR session made me realise just how much I have been refusing to deal with things – and so my poor brain was trying to do it whilst I was unconscious (and not getting very far). No wonder I was always so exhausted when I woke up – my brain had been working super hard!

It is pretty easy to Google EMDR, but just to explain briefly what it is. It is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Eye movements or other stimulus is used to help access distressing memories or beliefs. Actually the eye movements don’t work for me – they make me feel sick – so my therapist uses a method which involves tapping my knees. Apparently, plenty of psychotherapists doubt the effectiveness of EMDR but my friend has found it very effective. I was open to it, without expecting miracles, and as soon as I started it I knew it would help me, and be much more effective than traditional psychotherapy which I have had in the past, but have been having for this and it has helped very little.

My therapist explained that the hippocampus is the part of the brain where we file and store memories. While she was telling me this, I kept thinking of Rainbow, the hippo campi in Percy Jackson. DO look up an image of our hippocampi. To see it as a sea monster / sea horse is to have a hopeful imagination; it actually looks like a baby from ‘Alien’. Then there is the amygdala (it actually means ‘almond’ because it super vaguely looks like an almond). This is the part of our brain to do with survival. When something traumatic happens, the amygdala blocks the memory processing, and can actually destroy some of our memory. THEN when the rational part of the brain tries to make sense of the trauma, the amygdala continues to block it. Recalling that trauma isn’t just thinking about it – it’s reliving it, exactly as it happened, and that is awful and that is why the amygdala won’t let that happen. So there you are – you have both a sea horse AND a super almond in your brain. (Disclaimer: I am a patient, not a psychotherapist. This is probably self-evident).

This made a HUGE amount of sense to me, and gave me such a huge sense of relief. No wonder I wasn’t getting anywhere with traditional psychotherapy – I was trying to sort things out with the rational bit of my brain, but the Mighty Almond (amygdala) wasn’t having any of that. No wonder my nighttime brain activities weren’t getting anywhere either. Just knowing all this has been hugely empowering. I now also understand why I’ve been so resistant to dealing with it – even though I really want to – because when I’m on my own, it’s back to the trauma and understandably, I just don’t want to go there.

The other development in my first EMDR session was that my therapist said I was safe. I burst into tears and was then really surprised. I had no idea I had been feeling unsafe. It made me realise that actually, I have no idea with what’s going on in my head and thank GOODNESS I have someone to guide me.

I had a very deep sleep after my first EMDR session (which takes place during an evening, so no wonder). BUT after that, the deep sleeps got so much better. I was actually kind of annoyed to go back to struggling to get to sleep – it’s still so weird to sleep as soon as the light is off and then, the next thing, it’s 8am. But with struggling sleep comes normality. I am still sleeping much more than I would do but crucially, I don’t feel as exhausted. More days than not I am able to get up and dressed by 9am. This is a MAJOR development for me. I am not having such crazy dreams and I feel like my energy reserves have suddenly increased. I can only put this down to finally finding something which enables me to deal with what is going on in my brain. For the first time in 5 months, I can see a way out.

Where to begin?

Writing is important to me, sometimes for me to make sense of things or to get things out of my system. But this is the first time I’ve written about the loss of a baby. I actually hate the phrase ‘lost a baby’ – I haven’t misplaced one. I also hate the word ‘miscarriage’ as if it’s simply an unsuccessful outcome.

I count myself very lucky to have two amazing children who are 9 and 11. I always wanted children, and to have them relatively young, and I was 29 when I had my son. The relationship I was in, though, was horrific. Trying for children was not easy with him, for reasons I don’t need to go into, and my son arrived because of IUI – in utero insemination. Somehow I conceived my daughter naturally but I don’t even remember taking a test or seeing it. I just don’t have babies easily in my mind.

One of my best friends became my boyfriend – a surprise to me but not my children who had always wanted him in their lives. We hadn’t been officially together more than a few months when a chance conversation with another friend revealed that he’s always wanted kids. This was a complete surprise to me and as soon as I knew, I also knew that I wanted to have a child with him. In a way, this was complete madness as I had hyperemesis gravidarum (extreme morning sickness) with both my children and the idea of putting myself through that again….Well, it’s crazy, but I could see how important it was to my partner and so I volunteered to do it again.

We did try naturally for a few months but I soon found it very stressful – it brought up old memories of what it is like for me to have a baby. So we went to a fertility clinic where they told me that my hormone levels were low (as expected with my age). We *could* get pregnant naturally, but our chances were very low.  They recommended IUI.

I was very positive about IUI and the clinic, as that was where my son had been conceived first time. But this a different experience. One missed opportunity – they scanned too late when my follicles had collapsed – one failed IUI and then one successful one. It felt like I’d spent the whole summer traipsing in and out to be scanned or have blood tests, and inject myself and take drugs that made me feel ill. I knew before the pregnancy test that I was pregnant because at 3 weeks (and so really only 1 & 1/2 weeks from implantation) I was already throwing up. I then spent the next month just about getting through teaching. It was just like my previous experience of being pregnant – horrid.

We had an early 7 week scan and because it was during half term we were all there – my partner and my two children and obviously me. I knew what I was going to see – a tiny kidney bean with a heart beating away. I’d seen it with my son. So I was really excited and keen to see the person in miniature who I’d been talking to for weeks before.

The clinic experience had not been as good as when I’d had my son there. Mistakes had been made, blood had been taken badly, information had not been passed on. Nothing major, but not a great service. I had already resolved to say all this once we’ve got this scan out of the way – I hadn’t wanted anything to affect it.

The kids were reading books, and my partner was next to me while the nurse began the scan. Completely out of the blue – with no warning, no preparation, no nothing – she said ‘There’s nothing there, your womb’s completely empty – look’.

That was the moment when something fractured in my mind (& my body). It felt like an electric shock – my body went completely cold, my heart was pounding and I stopped processing everything.

The nurse then asked me if I was sure I was pregnant and what did the tests I’d done at home say? I was totally numb at this point – I did cry, but not as myself. I absolutely did not want to be there and to listen to her. She made me do a pregnancy test, telling me it would probably show anything straight away. In fact, it came up instantly and so I had to have my bloods taken. As she did so she said that I would obviously have to stop taking the progesterone supplements, which had been supporting the pregnancy (obviously) and then we were sent home.

That afternoon, being with my children who were very sad about the baby, and then waiting to hear – that was surreal. When the blood result came through it showed my pregnancy hormone (HG) as really high and so we had to then speak to my doctor to arrange to go into the Early Pregnancy Clinic at Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

We went the next day where the scan experience could not have been more different. Even though they knew what they would see, and I knew it too (though I secretly hoped that maybe I had two wombs and the baby was just hiding), they were kind and considerate and compassionate. The sonographer held my hand to tell me that she could see something but that it had stopped developing. She cried with me, and then let me sob my heart out in a private room. My bloods were dropping but not by much and I had to go in every day to be monitored. Somehow we did things with the children the next few days. The Monday, 4 days after, was upsetting because I stopped feeling sick. Then on the Tuesday, unfortunately on 31st October, a day I cannot possibly ever forget, I had to go in early because I was suddenly in a lot of pain and feeling unwell. They decided I needed an emergency operation to check my tubes.

I had a laparoscopy that afternoon. It turns out that my tubes were OK – not an ectopic pregnancy as thought. There was something in the womb – ‘the product of conception’ as it says in the clinical notes – and this was also removed. I also had internal bleeding, which was the cause of pain and feeling awful. At that point, I felt pretty good! I’d survived an operation, there *WAS* a pregnancy – my womb was not empty – and I could only get better after this right? Wrong. The day after I came out of hospital I felt unwell. First, with a heavy cold and then with labyrinthitis and then total exhaustion and nausea that despite many, many blood tests, was unexplained. I should have been able to go back to work within a few days. Instead, I was laid out for weeks – unable to get out of bed until 2pm if I was lucky. Not able to work and so also not earning any money, as I’m self-employed. Not able to see people or go out for walks.

How I deal with things – life in general – is to eat well, exercise, get out in the fresh air, and see friends. I couldn’t do any of those things, except the eating bit. I was stuck at home, mostly too tired to read. Stuck with daytime TV and just existing, rather than living.

My doctor, I have to say, was very unhelpful. I was so distressed about still being ill but she dismissed it. She never asked me about what had happened – she only knew the medical facts. It was entirely clear to me that my unexplained exhaustion (not just tiredness, as she liked to call it) was obviously because of what had happened. Telling me I needed to have it for 6 months before it was regarded as chronic fatigue was not helpful when they were such an obvious cause.

Letting my students down caused me significant stress and distress; I love my job and have never had a day off teaching in 7 years. But I felt that people were judging me, disbelieving that I was ill, constantly telling me that I looked well (even though I’d been in bed all day). I tried to have psychotherapy but it got me nowhere. A good day, being able to sit up by noon and possibly managing a small walk, would then see 4 or 5 or even more bad days. My improvement was in continuous fluctuation with no obvious sign that I was actually just getting better. There was no real improvement.

Then a friend suggested that I had PTSD. They’d had it themselves (from an actual war zone). Another friend told me about EMDR. I researched both and suddenly, my world did make sense. EMDR also seemed to make a lot of sense to me. My doctor, again, wouldn’t really listen, so I referred myself to an NHS psychologist. We had a phone referral session – I didn’t think I’d like talking to someone over the phone, but it was fine. They confirmed that I most certainly did have PTSD, that I was really high on a scale of it affecting my life, that EMDR would be great for me, but the waiting list was over a year (eek). Thankfully my partner has insurance at work and this was covered on it. All I needed was a letter of referral from my doctor, to get on and have this treatment and not use NHS funds, but it took weeks for me to get it. Fighting for something while you were ill is pretty bloody awful, but I got it in the end. The day I got the letter, I sorted my first EMDR session out for the week afterwards.

It is 5 months since I had the operation, and I’ve now had two EMDR sessions. I am finally able to start processing things and write about how I feel (hopefully with shorter posts)! I hope this will help me to begin to heal.