6 week + 3 days pregnant
When I first laid eyes on my positive pregnancy test, I realised that it had the potential for incredible joy or incredible sorrow. I couldn’t help but put in protective measures to try to prepare myself and others close to me that things might not work out. I’d say things like “If this baby makes it” and “All being well…” I wanted to hope for the best but somehow prepare for the worst, to somehow manage my expectations. I have felt the need to say ‘if‘ and not ‘when‘ so that the rest of the world knows I’m not naive or taking anything for granted. I’m ‘expecting’ but I don’t want to ‘expect too much’.
A part of me thought that if I limit my joy, then I’ll limit my future sorrow, but I’m starting to think that this concept is flawed. Living as if this loss is inevitable doesn’t protect me from the fact that I am not invincible, and ultimately it will not protect me from the pain of losing another baby.
As soon as I saw that positive pregnancy test, I felt ready for battle. What I’m still not sure about though, is who, or what, I’m actually battling with. I’ve already been impressed by the level of care and support I’ve been offered this time around. The midwife is organising for me to have an early scan, my GP has been totally supportive, reassuring and seemingly ‘very available’, my Consultant has promised me frequent scans and I’ve already been referred to the mental health team for extra support. It doesn’t seem I’ll have to battle to get the correct care.
I have no apparent health issues and no-known risk factors so these aren’t the battles either. And with a verdict of ‘unexplained stillbirth’ from our post mortem results, it doesn’t seem there is a specific issue which may reoccur, a symptom to be treated, a condition to be monitored, or an ailment to be medicated.
The fact is that I actually want to ‘battle’, to feel ‘proactive’ in the fate of my baby. I feel like I’m standing in a darkened room with my guard raised, ready for the fight but I can’t see or hear anything. I am vulnerable. I am scared. And I am powerless. But what I am beginning to realise is that the battle is not external, it’s internal.
My inner dialogue over the last fortnight has sounded a little something like this:
Why am having stomach cramps? Does this mean I’m miscarrying? Could this be an ectopic pregnancy? Am I bleeding? Was that bath too hot? Was that bag too heavy ? …Am I bleeding? Why haven’t I had any nausea yet? Does this mean the pregnancy isn’t developing? In my last pregnancy I had sickness by now …Am I bleeding? My sickness is here! What if it gets so severe I miscarry? What if it starves the baby? ..Am I bleeding? My nausea has gone again. Why would that be? Has the pregnancy stopped developing? …Am I bleeding? I’m not bleeding- but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had a missed-miscarriage! Am I actually pregnant? Better take another test just to check…
On and on and on. Relentless. Suffocating. Opressive. Pointless? Pointless.
The problem is, I don’t have to search hard in my imagination to conjure up the kinds of things that can go wrong in pregnancy- I’ve lived them, or lived amongst them through the stories of other loss-mums I’ve encountered throughout the last five months. In grief, we were kindred spirits who could identify with each other’s pain and ease one another’s feelings of fear and Isolation. But in the subsequent pregnancy we can serve as scary reminders for one another of what can go wrong. We know too much. We now have an extensive bank of knowledge about the problems that can occur.
One of my close friends recently told me her neighbour had been taken to hospital with pregnancy complications. She then quickly apologised for telling me as she thought it would be hard for me to hear. It wasn’t hard. Tragedy and heartbreak are my normal. It’s a sad truth that it’s normal and uncomplicated pregnancies that are surreal to me now.
I thought that in a subsequent pregnancy I would get comfort from chatting to other loss mums in the ‘pregnancy-after-loss’ discussion forums. However, the thing I’m learning about forums is that they can be a vortex for misery, pain and fear. We often navigate to forums for advice and support at our lowest points, when we feel isolated, unsure, weak or scared. When we feel secure or strong we often use that energy to invest in ‘other things’. So forums can feel awash with misery, pain and suffering. Sadness can breed sadness and fear can breed fear and in the end, I often have to stop reading. I have enough ‘what ifs’ of my own.
This week I spoke to my counsellor about my ongoing paranoia over losing this baby. I told her how these thoughts were hard to rationalise because they came from a very real place- from evidence- from experience- 100% of my experience in fact.
She told me to imagine myself stood in front of two doors. Behind door number one is the fear, the doubt, the concern- it’s strong and its powerful and its convincing because it’s rooted in experience. Behind door number two is faith, the belief that things will be ok, the positive statistics and the living success stories. Neither door has a definitive answer. Neither door can give me absolutes. It doesn’t matter how many times I open and close each door, or how long I spend looking at the two doors, the fact remains that I won’t solve this insecurity by thinking my way through it. In the past I have spent hours going from door to door. Battling. But here’s a new phenomenon that my counsellor introduced; what if I was to just stop and close both of the doors? What if I just stood still and refused to engage in the battle in the first place? The battle is suffocating, oppressive, pointless? Pointless. Fear is only useful when it urges us to take necessary action. But with no answers to be found by engaging in the door-opening ritual, it remains a fruitless excercise.
“Worrying Is as affective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum.” (Lyrics from Sunscreen)
The phenomenon sounds quite liberating. It removes the responsibility from my shoulders and leaves me free from personal failure. I want to open my mind to fully embrace this pregnancy. I want to open my heart to loving this baby even if that means opening it to the potential of loss. For all the heartbreak that Nieve’s death brought, I’m so glad I got to have her in my life, even for just that short while. Likewise, this pregnancy has given me the gift of hope and hope is a beautiful thing.
‘A butterfly lights beside us like a sunbeam, and for a brief moment its glory and beauty belong to our world, but then it flies again. And though we wish it could have stayed, we feel so lucky to have seen it.’ (Unknown author)
I’m living this pregnancy expecting things to go wrong, limiting my expectations and expecting the worst, but maybe if I can step back from the ‘doors of conflict’ and learn to silence the what ifs, to let go of trying to predict an unknowable future, or of trying to control the uncontrollable, then maybe I can save myself from unnecessary additional pain.
Maybe I can learn to stop expecting heartbreak and learn to start expecting a miracle.