Again, I haven’t written for a while – surviving life takes up quite a bit of time and energy! And while I’ve had various ideas of posts to make, sometimes it feels like other’s have already posted on the same thing, so do we really need another one? I’ve also been having vague thoughts about setting up an entirely new blog with quite a different focus, so while I um and ahh about that I just don’t do anything for any blog haha.
I’ve had a few little unexpected moments lately that were like a stab to the heart, so I thought I’d just write a list of them. Might be a good way for people not living this reality to see how some of the most ordinary occasions can be painful…..and maybe you can add your own moments to the list in the comments?
It really does feel like there is no escaping reminders, but maybe I’m just over reacting?
With my psychologies studies I’ve read quite a bit about depression (not that I’m in anyway qualified to make diagnosis or anything though) and also read about complicated grief (a ‘disorder’ that’s in the Needs More Research section of the DSM-5 – the manual for diagnosing psychiatric disorders etc). The more I learn though the more questions are raised rather than answered.
Last year one of the Uni papers I was doing looked at assessment tools used for diagnosing mental illnesses. As part of the course we were given some of the self-report scales to complete so we could experience what they are like (in preparation for sometime in the future when we may end up assessing and/or treating someone). The ones I completed gave me a score indicative of having severe depression and anxiety. Kind of confronting, but also quite understandable – it was about a month after my 5th miscarriage….I wasn’t exactly in a great space.
A few months later we started seeing a counsellor. She talks a bit about feeling peoples vibrations/energy – not really my kinda thing, but in lots of other ways she’s a great fit for us as a couple. Sometime in our first few sessions she mentioned she didn’t think either of us were depressed, just grieving deeply. Again understandable.
Fast forward a few months. I wouldn’t say I’m in a great space, I don’t love my life, I still struggle getting through most days. But compared to back then, I feel I’m doing a lot better. I get out of bed much easier, I exercise 5 out of 7 days a week (most weeks), I mostly eat ok, I’ve been putting in full days of uni work when months ago I struggled to get off the couch and settle in at my desk. I make more of an effort to socialise, and have even been going out of my way to spend time with my niblings.
At our recent counselling appointment (we hadn’t been for a couple of months what with Christmas and holidays etc), the counsellor asked if I thought I was depressed. (She used to be a GP so was coming from a medical space when suggesting this). I didn’t really have an answer. Generally I think I’m just grieving. There’s no time limit on that right? And when every day, everywhere you go, you’re confronted by what you want but don’t have, smacked round the head by reminders of what you’ve lost, surely it’s understandable to not be the best company all/most of the time….
Where is that point that grief becomes depression? When does one think about medicating grief? I read a blog post a while ago that touched on this – but I can’t for the life of me remember who’s blog it was, if you know the one I’m talking about, please link me below! If I remember rightly, it talked about maybe we need to focus less on diagnosing people who’ve been though infertility treatment with depression, and focus more on creating space for allowing their grief. But then at the same time, maybe all the IVF drugs do mess with our brain chemistry. Maybe antidepressants are a good way of rebalancing the brain after all we’ve been through. And maybe it’s as much about trying to be a nice person to be around for those close to us, as it is about finding ways to cope with the world easier?
(Image found on Pinterest, not sure who to credit)
While Christmas Day itself was a non-event, as desired, it still resulted in feeling fragile. We had 8hrs in a car driving home, and besides the brunch we’d made together before leaving, we survived on petrol station food (only thing open on Christmas Day!) & candy – so by the time we arrived back in our township I was tired & cranky, and full of feels. I can only assume it was the sitting for hours with too much space to think that brought the wave of feels on. Mr then insisted in popping by his parents for a quick Christmas drink (they live 2kms from our house…), being social was the last thing I felt like doing, but he didn’t want to wait til the next day when we’d be fresh (he was going back to work late morning) so I reluctantly agreed. They’re super positive people, I sometimes wonder if they can even feel ‘negative’ emotions, so when I said “I’m ok” rather than “I’m great”, they jumped on the phrase, asking “why only Ok?” – I think I was also feeling a bit defensive, feeling like they expected me to be great because we’d been away, and I’d got my way of not having a family Christmas…..who know’s, I’m good at making stuff up so that could all be in my head. I managed to brush the inquisition off by saying I was tired from being in the car all day. They of course went on to tell us all about what Mr’s siblings were doing for the day, and all about the grandkids etc. Last thing I wanted to listen, to but I tried to appear interested & present. Then they showed a video clip of the youngest grandkid walking (he’s only just started)….the phone was handed to me so I watched that clip then set the phone down, however my FIL said ‘oh there’s another clip, just swipe for it’, I really didn’t want to watch another video of someone else’s baby walking, so just said “It’s ok” and set the phone down on the coffee table. Unfortunately it was within reach of him and he picked it up, found the clip and held it in from of me to watch….no escaping that then. Luckily Mr didn’t insist on visiting for too long and we were home shortly afterwards.
I never can tell if he just isn’t aware or if he chooses to ignore it if I don’t seem to be in a good mood because he doesn’t like dealing with the uncomfortableness. He never acknowledge the visit might have been difficult…he loves hearing about his niblings so it probably didn’t cross his mind.
Christmas Day was finally over, and I naively thought that was it. However, Boxing Day came, and with it a whole new wave of feels. I’d been so focussed on surviving Christmas I hadn’t put a care plan in place for the days after….silly really, when I know in the past the days after have been just as hard. Mr went back to work and there I was at home with only myself for company……I don’t much like my own company at the best of times. I’d thought I’d be focussed and super productive on my Uni work and therefore not have much time for feels. Unfortunately it’s really easy to be thinking & feeling stuff about non-uni related things at the same time as doing Uni work…..though my productivity levels were nowhere near as high as I need them to be….distracted by the feels, and having had a week of indulgent eating, I just wanted to eat my feels…..yes I had medicinal ice cream in the afternoon.
One too many Christmas Pregnancy Announcements finally pushed me to log out of my social media accounts and take a break – I’d planned to for the time we were away, but hadn’t…justified to myself by the fact I was watching lovely twitter people donating to charities on behalf of other twitter people (if you’re on twitter look at the #nzsecretsantasubstitute hashtag for some kindness stories). The irony of course, is without the distraction of social media, I’m even more alone with my thoughts, but scrolling mindlessly through social media just leaves me feeling lonely & left out, and reminds me of my childless state, so either way I can’t win.
Thankfully I have some fun plans in place for New Years Eve and the days that follow, so hopefully as I get further away from Christmas and closer to the New Year, the feels will reduce in intensity for the time being. And hopefully I’ll be visited by a burst of productivity that will see my Uni work actually progress! And thankfully my favourite local cafe reopened today, so at least I have good coffee to get me through!
Did you get caught out by the Boxing Day Blues too?
If you’re like me, then from about the time you’ve been pregnant for, oh, say a minute….you’ve started dreaming of a future with that baby. This years pregnancy was no different, in the short few weeks of pregnancy I’d imagined many times over what it would be like to have a new born next Christmas (we would have had a 6.5 week old if we hadn’t miscarried). So from when we found out this pregnancy was no more, I had started dreading this years Christmas. I’d found the last couple of years hard enough, the joy of the season stolen by years of infertility treatment and loss. The thought of pasting a smile on my face to make it through a day of family, where the kids would be doted on by loving grandparents (and a loving aunt & uncle, cos I wouldn’t deny those kids my love), where the family themselves are almost ‘picture perfect’ (such a loving, functional family I’ve decided they must be abnormal!). Not helped by the fact my family has had more trials this year, resulting in more separateness in those relationships. Christmas is a tough time when your family is difficult, and you don’t have the children you desperately want.
I read various blogs on tips for surviving the season, looking for the magic solution and my desire to just run away got stronger and stronger. Unfortunately, Christmas is yet another area where my husband and I aren’t on the same page so a lot of the tips I read aren’t quite so helpful because they rely on you both wanting to avoid/manage the season. He loves his family, he loves spending time with them, doesn’t seem to be affected by the same bittersweet pain I get from being with the kids and the others. To him they’re his niece & nephew, they’re not a reminder of the cousins our kids should be growing up with. Me playing with them seems to just be me being an Aunt, whereas for me watching him play with the kids reminds me of the great father he would be, and how much I wish I could have provided him with a child. For him the only way to have a Christmas, is to spend the day with his family. And due to the tension in my family, and the nature of his work meaning at best he’s home for about 12hours on Christmas Day, all the past Christmases have been spent with his family.
So when I admitted to myself that what I really needed to do this year, was have a year away, just the 2 of us, making some new, non-traditional memories, in the hope of having a clean slate next year…..it was a struggle to get him on board with using his annual leave to do something other than spend time with his family. In a time filled with other marital stress it was a tricky situation to navigate, lots of tears were shed, and we even had to communicate via written letter. Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote (with a few changes to keep it anonymous), trying to get him to understand why I needed a year away from family Christmas.
For years I’ve loved Christmas – after the Christmas when I had appendicitis and could barely even open presents because I was in so much pain, Christmas became about family for me. That was when my favourite Aunts and Uncles might visit, our house would actually be filled with laughter for a change, there’d be people chatting round the table at meal times, unlike the silence we often had when it was just the immediate family. I could actually have conversations with people, rather than just listening to my dad or brothers talk at me. It was probably then when I really learnt to love cooking and baking for people, the family that visited always appreciated what I made – and even said so. And I loved the camaraderie of preparing meals with my relatives. There was more fun in our house then. So Christmas became even more important, because that’s when I got a taste of the sense of family I’d always wanted. When I joined your family Christmas’s, it took a bit to adjust to because you had different traditions, and different ways of doing things – but that sense of family was there from the beginning. I was overwhelmed that first Christmas with your families generosity and inclusion – well I have been all the time not just at Christmas. From really early on I knew I wanted a future with you, and I started to imagine how wonderful and amazing it would be when we had children, for them to grow up in that environment, with such generosity and love and fun and laughter and attention. As your sister’s had their kids, I imagined even more how wonderful that would be for our children, how they’d get to have a lovely relationship with their aunts and uncles and cousins. I could picture it. And I did picture it, every Christmas. And then we started trying to have a baby. I remember us being unsure about how we’d managed Christmas and going to Queenstown for my brother’s wedding (when it was first planned for the end of Dec) because we thought we’d have a new born. But we didn’t because by then we’d found out we needed IVF. And then we got pregnant, and I imagined being pregnant at Christmas, and then we weren’t. A little of the shine of Christmas wore off, but not much. And then we had the Christmas with the chemical pregnancy just days before, that really spoiled the festive season, and the same year there was all the drama with trying to do Christmas with my parents separately. And then we were pregnant again, and I imagined next Christmas being pregnant, and how the one after that we’d have a baby, and how that would be with your family, and how spoilt and loved our child would be by everyone. And then we weren’t pregnant any more. And I wanted to avoid Christmas completely, but it was important for you to be with your family, so I tried. I did less Christmassy things than I normally would leading up to Christmas because I wasn’t feeling it, and I wanted to conserve my energy, so at Christmas I could keep a smile on my face, and ignore the pain in my heart so as not to ruin everyones day. And then last Christmas we had a tiny bit of hope again so I didn’t feel I could ask for a Christmas off, I wasn’t keen on Christmas, and well, nothing with my family felt Christmassy, but we did it, we had Christmas with your family the way they wanted it, but I could still see in everything we did that Christmas all the ‘what ifs’ – that was the Christmas we should have had BabyX with us after all. And then this year, for as long as our BabyY was with us, I had imagined the rest of this year, and into next year. I had imagined having Christmas with a newborn, finally we’d have that Christmas we’d talked about, that I’d dreamed about for years. And then that was stolen from us too. And on top of that every year at Christmas someone in your family says ‘Christmas is all about the kids’…..which as we haven’t managed to produce kids for Christmas to be about (and remembering I often feel like its my fault we don’t have kids) leaves me feeling even more pain about Christmas. You talk about how emotionally drained you are from all the years of treatment and loss. That is how I feel about having to go through another Christmas, trying to smile and pretend my heart isn’t broken, and not wanting to ruin the day for everyone else, but also seeing our BabyY & BabyX & other losses in every element of the day. That’s why I want to just do something different this year, just with you. So we can make some new and different memories. So that at the next Christmas I can actually participate in it, and find the joy again, & be fully part of a family Christmas again.
Our counsellor got it straight away, but of course she’s never going to tell us what to do. Eventually he agreed, reluctantly. We booked accomodation at a place we’d never been to together, so we could do different things and make new memories together, and where we knew no one so there’d be no expectations to socialise. Apparently when he told his family we wouldn’t be around for Christmas, his sister was upset “because the kid’s wouldn’t get to see us for Christmas”…….it probably had a more to do with the reasons he told her for us going away, than her specifically, but to me, the fact that that was her first thought rather than “oh shit, my SIL is really struggling, how can we make things easier for her” says a lot about this whole f’in pronatal world we live in. I was concerned they would try to recreate Christmas on another day – which I didn’t want to do…it’s not about the calendar date, it’s about the activities that make up the day. So we arranged to have a casual BBQ with a small secret Santa gift exchange the night before we left – control what you can right.
Of course, I was fully expecting our trip away to be amazing, full of fun and laughter, easy – and putting pressure on myself to make it this way. To prove to my husband we could have a good time together, and that it was a good choice to go away. I should have seen it coming, but I’d been so busy and exhausted that week I didn’t have time for self awareness. Our first morning away I was woken by the yelling, laughing and crying sounds of kids having the quintessential Kiwi summer holiday. Followed a few hours later by the lovely arrival of period cramps. Hormones & heart ache, such a lovely combo. It’s hard to be good company when you’re feeling dizzy, nauseous and crampy. Which of course made me feel even worse, that he wouldn’t have a good time & would regret agreeing to going away. That it wouldn’t be a good trip for us to reconnect with each other. That it wouldn’t be the solution to Christmas I was looking for.
I got even shittier with the situation and myself as we wandered around the township we were staying, and it was filled with happy families and pregnant bellies.
The grip the hormone gremlins had on my brain and body eased somewhat, and we did have good times, did things we hadn’t done before (like horse riding on the beach) and made some nice memories. I also realised it was better than a family Christmas – despite all the reminders, it was just the usual reminders I’d get on any summer holiday, rather than specific Christmas reminders to our family. I allowed myself to accept that while it was easier than dealing with a family Christmas it was by no means easy, and nor should I expect it to be.
Because after all there is no escaping the pain of heart break.
Today, Nov. 13th is World Kindness Day. It’s my kinda day – with all I’ve been through I’ve lost my belief in a lot of things, but I still believe in kindness….probably even more strongly. A charity I’m part of, Good Bitches Baking, has the goal to make New Zealand, Aotearoa the kindest place on earth. Gotta love a good ‘fuck off’ goal, and I definitely love this one. They’re asking people to start conversations about why #KindnessMatters to you, and to make some noise about kindness. So I thought I’d write a post about the different kindnesses I’ve been on the receiving end of during our infertility trials. (And it’s a good way to take a moment to focus on the positives and feel gratitude which they say is good for healing…win win really!)
And while I’ve mentioned a lot of ‘things’ being delivered or given to me, it’s not about the things. It’s about the fact that someone took the time to think about me, and to let me know they were thinking about me. I can feel lonely at the best of times, so when life is a struggle those lonely feelings can amplify, having someone reach out in those times really makes a huge difference.
Let’s keep this conversation going – what kindnesses have you given or received? Why does #KindnessMatter to you?
*Disclaimer: this is by no means an exhaustive list of all the kindnesses I’ve been on the receiving end of.
I generally think I’m an all or nothing kinda person – I’m either doing really well at sticking to my healthy eating plan, or I’m really not! And also, I grew up being told I never finish projects or stick to things, so often I feel I have to complete something because I said I was going to (being true to my word is really important to me!), and a lack of self-trust (and a lack of what some people call ‘gut instinct’) means I can easily keep going with a project or idea for longer than I should. Generally about the time I finally decide to stop doing something, I realise I should have made that decision earlier (fine example…going part time at Uni!). So despite the creator of Capture Your Grief, specifically saying, only do the days that feel right, and look after yourself etc., it wasn’t until TheEcoFeminist wrote this very wise post, that I gave my permission to stop doing this project. Part of me had felt maybe if I keep pushing through it, I’ll find some healing – you know ‘gets worse before it gets better’ kinda thing. But I was finding doing the project had me thinking about the babies we’ve lost, ALL THE TIME (and it’s not like I don’t think about them pretty much every day anyway) and looking at other people’s Capture Your Grief posts on various social media sights. It started negatively impacting my sleep, which is generally a bad sign, and brought on an all encompassing grief attack. Yep, I’d captured my grief all right, I was literally drowning in grief.
Of course, it may not have been this project at all that brought on this latest deep, dark grief attack. It may have been the lady who did my manicure (the one that was a birthday treat, supposed to be a nice experience of pampering)….the one who’s baby is due 2 days after the due date for our most recent miscarriage. Yeah, that was fun, sitting there captive, listening to her talk about going on maternity leave etc!
Or it could have been, just a normal, unexpected, wave of grief as sometimes happens. Whatever the trigger, it’s been a long lasting, smothering, horrible grief attack.
It’s really hard to keep your head above water, when none of your coping strategies seem to be making any difference, nothing seems to be changing, and then when it starts having a really noticeable impact on your marriage….well, combined with the general “don’t know whats going on with my life, everything is in limbo”…..it really feels like you’re a bunch of tiny pieces being tossed around in a horrible stormy sea (and believe me, I know how that feels to sail through an actual massive storm). There’s a decided feeling of ‘What’s the f%@king point?!’
It’s a real shame there’s not set of instructions for dealing with this kind of grief – follow these steps and you will start to feel better, or at least see some progress. Instead you try a bunch of different tips and tricks, and then try them all over again, and if something helps you keep doing that, til it stops helping, and then you starting trying everything else all over again. All the while, trying to support your relationships and your partner to get through this safely too.
So in summary. Grief sucks. What ever you’re going through at the moment, I hope you’re taking care, and that you’re surround by people taking care of you too xx
Support: Share your favourite support resources. Have you come across any therapies that have aided you and if so can you recommend any for others?
In all honesty I don’t feel like I’ve found anything that’s helped yet. I saw a psychologist last year & the beginning of this year, & while I found it good to talk with her I didn’t feel like I was making any progress as such…..maybe I needed to see her for longer but things got busy in those early days of pregnancy & while I was anxious I thought .i was doing ok, so to manage my time I stopped seeing her…..and when we lost this pregnancy I just couldn’t bring myself to tell another person our sad news….so I haven’t been back & I never told her. A few months ago we started seeing a grief counsellor together….I felt with the toll Grief was taking on our relationship that going to counselling together would benefit us both & help strengthen our relationship, so we found someone new to both of us. I do think it’s valuable but I also think there can be a period where it gets worse before it gets better as it brings all the feelings you’ve tried to hide back up……boy do I hope that’s the way it works, cos I’d really like it t9 get easier sometime.
Additionally I’ve been reading some books in the hope of finding something that feels like it’s helping. The pictured two are the current ones, I’m only part way into Empowering Fertility and Saying Goodbye literally just arrived today, so I’m not sure what they’re like yet. I did read Resilient Grieving a while ago, and while I like the concept, I didn’t find a lot of it was relevant to my situation…..often things about grieving talk about honouring memories, but when you don’t have anything tangible, no photos, no shared events etc like you do with someone who’s lived, or when there’s been a body to hold, it’s hard to make any of those suggestions work for you. It did however remind me that maybe I shouldn’t be expecting so much of myself yet, when it’s only been 6 months since this most recent loss…..and I have 6 years of accumulated grief….
Would love to hear if you’ve found any resources or therapies that have helped.
Wisdom: What advice do you have for friends and family wanting to help a loved one who has experienced the death of their pregnancy/baby/child?
Don’t leave them to grieve on their own. I know one of the common phrases when someone is going through a stressful time is to give them space, but if everyone is giving someone solace, they end up alone. And feeling alone & lonely is the last thing you need on top of grief. Admittedly it’s a fine line, I know when I’m grieving strongly, my emotional energy levels are low and socialising is tiring and hard work, but there are ways of ensuring someone doesn’t feel alone without overwhelming them. Just a quick text or email, with no expectation of a response (make that clear when you contact them), even a letter or card, or drop off some baking, a meal, send flowers, buy a plant in memory of their loss. Suggest going for a walk together, keep inviting them to events, but always make it clear you understand if they can’t make it. Ask them what kind of social events they can cope with, or like, or want. And ask again later….people’s needs, wants, coping strategies etc change over time, and not in a linear fashion. Ask what situations are hard. Don’t assume that cos they look like they’re coping they’re doing ok….struggle doesn’t have a look. Think about when and how you ask someone how they’re doing…..if I’ve turned up at someone’s place for a catch up & as part of the greetings they ask how I’m doing I’m likely to say I’m ok, or fine…..but if you wait til I’m settled in with a cuppa or whatever, feeling more comfortable, & the ask how I’m doing, or how I’m coping, I might be more open and actually talk about….it depends on the day and how I’m feeling, I might be out for distractions and not want to think about it, in which case I’ll brush over it, but I also might feel like talking or more connection, in which case I’ll probably be more honest. Take the decision making out of things, the cognitive impact of grief shouldn’t be underestimated. If someone is grieving it’s probably taking all their brain power and head space to get through each day……if you say “let me know when you want to catch up” & leave the ball in their court, they have to think about suggesting a catch up, deciding when they’re up for it, when and where etc….lots of decisions…..if instead you say ” how about a coffee on such n such a day” they just have to think about yes or no…..much easier when your brain is struggling.
Also while to you it might feel like ages ago, and the person experiencing loss might look like they’re “over it”, but it’s also possible they’re faking it, cos society has the, feeling like they should be over it, and for them it quite possibly feels like yesterday, so keep checking in. I know for me, that for at least until the due date of the pregnancy I just lost, I’m always aware of how pregnant I should have been…..I’d already imagine these months, and now I’m having to live them in a totally different way. Things like birthdays and Christmas’s are always going to be tricky…..good times to check in. Or even just acknowledge that you’re aware it might be tricky for them, it might not be, but at least then they know it’s ok if it is tough.
And from my understandings of humans, we all just want to be heard and know our experiences are valid.
Healing – What are your thoughts on healing, what does it look like for you?
Hmmm, healing feels like a big mountain I don’t know how to climb, no path to follow to know I’m making way through or at least in the right direction, and very uncertain about whether or not I have the fitness/ability/energy to make it up.