Five things I've learnt Five Years on From TFMR
- All types of baby loss are horrendous.
In the aftermath of having a termination for medical reasons and losing my tiny baby five years ago, I felt desperate for people to know it was more than ‘just a miscarriage’. I was really angry with people who said, ‘I’ve had a miscarriage too.’ In those words, they were seeking to comfort me but in hearing them, I just felt they couldn’t possibly compare the two. Five years on, I’m angry with myself for feeling that way. Nothing in the world of baby loss is ‘just’ anything.
Directly after the loss, it was hugely difficult to speak about what happened in person to anyone. When I returned to work one week later and broke down because I wasn’t ready to face the world, I felt like I needed people to know. I remember describing the whole incident to the school counsellor, who was at that time my absolute angel, and asking her to relay the details to my boss so they’d hopefully understand why I was so devastated. I needed them to know that there had been a baby, that ending the pregnancy had involved being induced and that our tiny little baby was now going to be cremated in the coming days. These facts felt like the validation of my grief. A grief that in all honesty, I hadn’t expected to hit me as hard as this tidal wave had.
Three years later and I found myself once again calling work to let them know I wouldn’t be in work because I’d had a miscarriage. This time I was confident that this was all that needed to be said. I now knew that this loss was devastating too and that I needed time to recover. This realisation not only came from personal experience but from listening to the community around me and learning from the experience of others. There is no type of baby loss that doesn’t leave a mark on you. It is all utterly devastating. It is all shit. No two losses are the same, but they are all the loss of a dream, a future and a life you thought would be. Sometimes a life you have held in your arms but always a life you have held in your heart. It’s futile to compare grief and in doing so we ration our emotions. Imagine a world where there is a sliding scale of grief and you qualify based on your type of loss? Early miscarriage? You can be sad for a week but then you must really get back to work. TFMR? You can be a bit sadder if you like but you did make the decision perhaps not. Oh this is your second miscarriage? Definitely take longer then, but not too long please. Your baby was born still? Oh, but I see you have had another child since? Well smile then. The list could go on, but you get the picture. It’s awful. Society needs to be better at accepting that a loss is a loss and the grief is real.
- No-one really knows how to talk about baby loss.
I’ve got some friends who openly talk about Neve with me and some friends and family who never do. In the early days, I found it really difficult to talk about it openly with people IRL and I think many people were led by me and my silence and didn’t open up the conversation either. I found solace in speaking to strangers on the internet. They never spoke any of the clumsily worded platitudes that are most common in our society when it comes to baby loss and that was a huge relief because sometimes with the best of intentions people say the stupidest things.
However, I know now that those stupid things come from a place where baby loss hasn’t existed and what a wonderful place that is. As humans we live and learn from our experiences. Those that have been through the loss of a baby are better placed to know what to say to others, but no one can ever really know what the right thing is to do unless we tell them. I posted recently about the phrase ‘Don’t judge a person until you have walked a mile in their shoes’ because I actually don’t think this is possible. I understand the analogy but we can never really know the extent of someone else’s truth. I actually think it can be quite dangerous to act on the knowledge of what you think you would want in a given situation as that puts your own feelings onto someone else’s situation. All I think we can do is be more kind, empathetic and listen. We can understand what other people want and need, only when we truly listen.
- Everyone is fighting a battle… you just can’t always see it.
Watching other people seemingly breeze through the process of having a family never gets easier. Pregnancy announcements, scan pictures, baby showers and births will forever be a tough watch no matter how much you love the individual. Where social media has a mute button for those times when it’s just too tough to see, real life has no such option. This is why I find it helpful to remember that everyone is fighting their battle. You never know, particularly in the case of strangers on the internet, what the person has endured to get where they are. It might not even be pregnancy or baby related, but you just don’t know. What appears to be simple and easy, probably isn’t. Sometimes it helps to curb my resentment for the simple, naïve joy I lost, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes other people’s lives still make me want to throw things at the wall and curl up and cry, sometimes they don’t. We are all human and that is ok.
- A rainbow baby is not a happy ‘ending’.
Because there really is no ending. Once you have lost a baby, another baby doesn’t replace or lessen that baby’s existence or the hurt you hold that they are missing.
Initially, after our TFMR, I thought I could never try to have another baby ever again, but surprisingly quickly this turned to desperation to be pregnant once again. This led to some devastating moments when tests showed positive only to discover that my pregnancy hormones were just taking a very long time to return to pre-pregnancy levels. What a punch to the gut. I can’t remember exactly how long it took but it was months before my blood results and tests returned negative. Never before or after have I been so desperate to see a negative pregnancy test.
Trying to conceive at any time can be a gruelling experience. Trying to conceive after loss requires a level of determination, I didn’t know I possessed. It took nine months to conceive again and although this is a relatively short period of time in the grand scheme of things, it felt like my life was on hold forever, waiting for the rainbow that would heal me once and for all. When that positive test came, I was momentarily elated before being paralysed with fear. What followed was months of debilitating sickness, anxiety and denial. When our rainbow was born, she brought so much colour and light into our lives, but that anxiety didn’t dissolve, it doubled. I’d thought the safe arrival of a baby would be the end of my worry, but the reality is parenting after loss is tough too and there really is no chance to catch your breath.
As we head towards our rainbows 4th birthday, I am finally finding ways to clear myself of the crippling anxiety that has hung over me. It didn’t occur to me that losing Neve would impact on my mental health as a parent. It didn’t occur me that trying to conceive after loss would leave it’s own emotional stamp. I was so focussed on the physical well-being of my growing child that I neglected to protect my own emotional and mental well-being too. It seems obvious to me now and it might do to you but as I continually lessened what was happening to me by comparing to others who had it worse, I was distancing myself from emotions that were key to surviving.
At this point, it is also really important to recognise that as a society we cannot hold a rainbow baby as the ultimate cure after the loss of a baby. What happens when there is no rainbow baby? This is the reality for some. Simply there is no cure. The grief of losing a baby can last forever but I believe the only way through life after loss is to allow yourself to wear that grief and slowly but surely the light will find its way back in somewhere.
- The fear of the judgement of others is real but judging myself is more dangerous.
If you've had a TFMR, it is true that some people will disagree with the decision you made but that’s ok. If, god forbid, they were in the same situation themselves, then they will be able to make that decision themselves. But if you surround yourself with kind, caring and compassionate people then this rarely happens. On one occasion, someone said, ‘Calling TFMR babyloss is hurtful to people who have had a miscarriage’. There is plenty of inferences you can run with from this statement and it’s painful for anyone who has been through the devastating loss of a baby through a TFMR to read but the truth is that this kind of statement comes from an experience too. We are all products of our experiences. As someone who has been through a miscarriage and a TFMR I know that they are two different experiences with equally devastating results, but it takes kindness, compassion and empathy and sometimes a little distance from your own devastation to acknowledge that.
For a very long time, after the initial angry stage, where I felt no one really understood the intricacies of a termination for medical reasons, I compared my emotions to others. To some extent I still do but I’ve now learned that I was silently judging myself. Refusing to give yourself the permission to feel the emotions you need to feel is the biggest barrier to healing. I’m an absolute pro at lessening my experience by comparison, and we all know comparison is the route of all evil. ‘But others go through so much worse’ was my favourite go to line and I think if you have lost a baby there is a natural reaction to look at others and compare. In my head I thought anyone who had experienced multiple losses, or a TFMR at a later gestation or a stillbirth, or a loss after birth, had it much worse. More importantly, I believed that others had more right to be sad. One year on if I was still feeling sad, I had a word with myself. Five years on if I’m still feeling sad, I let myself cry. And the truth is I feel lighter for it.
- The impact will last a life time but happiness is possible again.
I wish I could go back to myself in those early days and let myself know that I would find happiness again. What I’ve learned is that happiness does not come from the perfect life but it is found in the smallest of ways right next to all of the imperfections. It's also important to never feel guilty for those hints of happiness; even in the worst of storms its ok to have a little dance in the rain.