Tag Archives: miscarriage

In bed with Dr Google (and ok with it)

Triggering for mentions of miscarriage, stillbirth and fertility difficulties

I’ve tried a few times lately to blog about this fertility rollercoaster but with little success. There’s so much to write about, and knowing where to start or finish is a problem. Disclaimer: everything I’m about to write about is subjective, and this is a sensitive topic, so if you think reading about someone else’s fertility “journey” or whatever is going to upset you in some way, stop reading now.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the feminism of how we think of and talk about women who are experiencing fertility “issues”. Here I include everything from difficulties falling pregnant to finding out you are categorically infertile for some reason through to pregnancy loss, recurrent pregnancy loss, and stillbirth/the death of babies shortly before birth. I also include women who have fraught pregnancies due to complications and disability.

I was finishing up reading J.J Keith’s book “Stop Reading Baby Books” yesterday on the bus while doing that “crying strategically behind sunglasses” thing as I read how she described what it felt like after she’d had three miscarriages before carrying her first babe to term. She talked about how she began to think about doing other things with her life; and about how deeply awful it felt to think that her urge for the motherhood of a living baby might never come to fruition.

I’ve now had two miscarriages, and still no baby has come home with me. It does something to you, that. Everyone responds differently of course, but in my case it has fundamentally changed how I approach life events – that capacity to relax and take good things for granted is completely gone. My counsellor said that something many parents grieve as a result of recurrent pregnancy loss is “the death of the carefree conception and pregnancy.” No truer words were spoken.

Yes, I’ve become the stereotypical hyper-vigilant woman who obsessively checks forums and web.md and knows everything you could possibly know about cervical mucus. I’ve watched youtube videos that demonstrate what egg-white mucus looks like, and I know all about how to thin it (Robitussin, but only in the original variety), how long sperm last in it (3-5 days in fertile mucus; 1-2 hours in dry mucus), what an open and tilted cervix looks like, and I’ve pissed on sticks twice a day for a week to pinpoint exactly when I’m ovulating. The things I could tell you about sperm motility and lubricants! About implantation cramps and spotting! About how HCG works, when you start producing it, how quickly it doubles, what a low or high reading means, and how to calculate your expected implantation date, your luteal phase or the best apps to track symptoms. And let’s not even get started on blood thinners and vitamins and iodine and spinach or the impact of the acid in saliva on sperm.

When I think back to the light hearted young lass who got pregnant all those years ago, in 2009, I mourn the death of that bright and breezy sureness that “things will work out.” I sometimes look at my browser history and it takes a good few minutes of scrolling before I get to any links that aren’t pregnancy or fertility related.

I’m sure some friends and maybe even my partner are quietly critical of this now rather intimate relationship with Dr Google, but I am interested in how images and ideas of the “good suffering woman” are constructed when it comes to fertility troubles.

I think our culture is set up to judge and condemn whatever women do, and fertility is one area in which women are often told they are feeling ‘incorrectly’. Firstly, if you have a miscarriage and you’re not that emotionally effected, this is seen as unforgivably pragmatic – as though you’re a cold individual who is incapable of feeling anything at all towards children or the events of your life. And then, when taken to the other extreme, women who are deeply emotionally impacted are seen as taking it too seriously.

If you fall into the camp of someone planning a pregnancy when you’re having trouble getting or staying pregnant, you may find yourself obsessively reading forums, articles, blog posts, and musing constantly in your own head and aloud with interested (and maybe not so interested) others. Let me tell you now: this is normal. Of course you bloody are. Needing to understand and find some answers among the inscrutable mysteries fertility difficulties throw at you is NORMAL AND OKAY. Doctors give scant support at best; hell, even fertility specialists shuffle you in and out speedily. Needing some control and grabbing for it via information addiction? Yep, taxing. But a part of life. You’re not alone, or strange, and if the plethora of users of online forums discussing recurrent pregnancy loss is anything to go by, you’re far from in a minority.

What I find interesting is that when you express exhaustion or emotional disturbance as a result of the massive head-trip this constitutes, you invariably get a lot of judgement from people about how you’re handling things. You aren’t suffering right. You need to just let it happen and just put it out of your mind and you’re just putting pressure on yourself and you want it too much are some of the tidbits of “advice” people offer.

Women who are embroiled in fertility woes are often painted in the media we consume as the pained obsessives who track every basal body temperature in a spreadsheet (pfft, we have apps now) and stand alone staring at a pregnancy test/ovulation test in despair and emptiness. We are supposed to feel sorry for this figure; to pity her and quietly pass judgement on her for “wanting it too much”. Often these women are painted as shrill, partner-organising/bossing harpies who poke and prod and chart and are somehow deeply insecure. Because you couldn’t just be having mundane, fair enough feelings about difficult circumstances, am I right? It is the same sexist, hetero-normative trope of the nag and the high maintenance, highly strung wife delivered through the lens of reproductive issues. It works effectively to erase the legitimacy of women’s experiences.

What winds up happening I’ve found is that many women flock to online forums because here, at last, they can somewhat lay down their burdens and be with their people – other women who are also struggling. Because of the endless judgement and platitudes, stigma and discomfort of others, they address their isolation by finding a  flock online to share information and feel understood – and this is kind of beautiful (while also being kind of problematic and filled with flaws).

While I’ve gotten quite a bit of support from within my immediate friends and family, I’ve still been judged by some I considered close friends. When it happens – when you are told you are suffering wrong – you shut off, go inward, and wind up reading 15 articles on egg quality before crying yourself to sleep wondering if you’ll ever have a baby and then wake feeling guilty for the reading and the tears. You start to buy in to the idea that you are doing this wrong. Cue more worry and anxiety you don’t need.

As I grow more and more aware of how “struggling correctly” with fertility issues is a fundamentally misogynist way of viewing this experience, it is helping me to let go of some of my apologist feelings and encouraging me to keep toxic people away. I’m getting better at just feeling my feelings, obsessing about what I need to, and being ok with my resting smartphone scroll reflex.


Snarling #12wbt: fertility and self image

I’ve been struggling so much to love my body on a fundamental, deeply emotional level in the last six months.

As many folks know, my husband and I are trying to have a baby. And we got pregnant easily last October; ridiculously easily. Within a few weeks of trying. We were both excited/terrified to be parents and spent a solid two months prepping and planning for our little jellybean to arrive (who from the start we named Elliot.)

And then, as easily as they came to us, bub was gone. We lost our little Jelliot bean in early December. It was my second loss, and my husband’s first – I lost my first baby, August, in February 2009.

Since then I’ve been incredibly angry at my body. Deep down, undeniably, bone achingly angry. I feel broken, and terribly incapable.

And now, undergoing fertility testing, my body has just become a site of emotional and physical trauma. It feels like all it gives me is pain, and heartbreak. I have felt, more than once, that I’d replace it with a new one if I could.

So doing the 12 week body transformation is about way more than just eating and moving for me. It’s about starting to get to know my body again, to try and get pleasure and health back. To forgive it, to enjoy it, and to start quarrying these massive stones of anger out, so that something beautiful can flow in.

Wish me luck! 

Strategies for dealing with grief anniversaries or difficult dates

I thought I’d compile a brief note on how to deal with grief anniversaries and dates of significance that are difficult.

I mark a few different grief anniversaries, and a few difficult dates. These are made up of a few things. Firstly, in February there’s the date of my hospital admission at the beginning of my miscarriage – which I mark as a ‘death date’, though truly, my child died in the womb some weeks before I began bleeding.

Much later in the year I mark my child’s ‘birthday’ – her expected due date was the end of August, as plotted by my GP. This is a more celebratory time, and less overlaid with painful memories of invasive medical procedures and trauma. This is a day when I allow myself to remember the exciting flutter of being pregnant, and give myself hope for that to happen again – one day.

And in early December I mark two years since I left my husband and moved to Sydney. Now I’m officially divorced, hurrah! This day is a sort of celebration of freedom and all the wonderful things that have flowered in my life since leaving, with a residual amount of sadness at having lost a good friend in the process.

I think anniversaries are a good opportunity to weigh our lives, reflect and think on where we’ve come from and what we’ve gained. It is also simply a good chance to pay respect to important people and processes that have changed us.

Marking that somehow can seem difficult.

I feel it is important to divest yourself of the notion that all ritual is meaningless and pointless. As a born cynic, I’ve really struggled with this. I found it hard to allow myself rituals, because my break from fundamentalist Christianity as a youth really built a harsh view of such things into my psyche. But I’ve recently been allowing myself rites that I self-construct, around which I build meaning.

Rituals help us to cope, and help us to look at our feelings about death, and the natural decay and pain that life brings. Hooray for those that don’t need such things, but I cope better by doing, not just thinking with no marker.

On August’s birthday this year, I plan to take a couple of friends I trust and climb the hill in Sydney Park, and from there, fly a kite with her name attached to the tail.

Last year, I took time out and looked through her things which I keep in a box in my room, I wrote a letter (unsent) to my ex husband, I blogged, and I wore the special necklace my friend Cassie bought me with ‘August’ engraved on it.

To mark the anniversary of the end of my marriage, I’ll probably go for a walk alone, and bury the few remaining special tokens I have from my husband. I have a friendship ring he gave me for our first Valentine’s Day, and the aventurine stone I gave him on our first date to ‘guard his heart’. I no longer need these things. I may bury them with salt, water, and bread to send them away from me in peace. I’m not spiritually inclined; this too is a reference to burial taken from a favourite novel, which he gave me as a gift.

In the end, the most important thing is that you mark anniversaries in a way that feels comfortable and true for you. If being alone brings you comfort, do that. If being surrounded by friends does, do that.

And most of all, remember that what applies in the blogosphere applies with grief – don’t read the comments. People will give you loads of flower advice and platitudes, but remember you are allowed to ignore all of it. It is sweet that people want to help, but these are often intensely private experiences that are hard to vocalise properly in a facebook thread. If you want to try, awesome. But silence is fine too.

As long as what you’re doing helps you and doesn’t harm you, do it.

Empty Chairs: tips for acknowledging a silent Mother’s Day

Death generally makes people one of two things: silent, or awkward. We clothed bipeds find death pretty confronting, after all.

Now take death and stir in some child death. This escalates the level of standoffish charm to something approximating a total communication blackout. In fact, you get up, leave your chair and exit the metaphorical room because it is all. too. hard.

On Mother’s day, other women are being showered with flowers and breakfast in bed and cards and calls from relatives and outings. But because of what I like to call “The Empty Chair Syndrome” women who have lost children in early or late pregnancy, stillbirth and childhood, receive a whole lot of fat nothin’.

Well, not nothing. If they’re like me, they’re lucky enough to have one or two friends who remember. Remember who the child was, their name, their intended life, the swirl of love felt when they were present. These friends validate it.

In the May of my first year without my baby, after having carried her through her first trimester and then having her leave me, I experienced my first mother’s day. August died in February, so it was only a couple of short months later. The proximity was terrible. Still morbidly depressed and teary at every prick and annoyance, I feared and longed for the day to arrive.

I held my breath, wondering what would happen, but I was sorely disappointed. No calls from family – from either my husband’s side or my own. The phone didn’t ring. No flowers, no gifts, no cards. I ended up having imaginary conversations with them, thinking what they would have said, what would have felt nice but didn’t happen. I was surrounded by a sea of empty chairs.

Well, one card. The one and only card I received was from my friend Erin, and despite the now large distance between us, the memory of this kindness and the enfolding hug that accompanied it moved me deeply. The card depicted a bird making a nest, and the nest had an egg in it. Inside, she’d written such warm words about motherhood and the enduring spirit of it – and that to be a mother is not dependent upon the immediate presence of the child. Mother once, love like that once, and you’re always a Mum.

I felt seen, I felt heard, and I felt real. Being a silent mother makes you a ghost having conversations with the dead. Acknowledgment, even now, adds flesh to the rigging of my ribs, to make me whole and moving through a world more tangible.

I still have the card. It helped me get through the day and focus on my own experience, rather than have it obscured by anger at the lack of emotional dexterity or remembrance from those nearest and dearest to me.

Another random act of love happened last Mother’s Day. My beautiful flatmates Cassie and Andrew gave me a custom made necklace engraved with a lemon tree, and August’s name engraved on the back, along with a sweet card patterned with baby elephants and gentle messages written inside.

I wear it on special days that I associate with August, so she’s sitting close to my heart. I’ll be wearing it tomorrow.

I’m grateful for the ways in which those around me have tried to help me make sense of Mother’s Day by their participation. I know, though, that in many instances this would not have happened for women quieter and less outspoken than me. It is partly because I speak of August often that I receive love and care; when you agitate for something, it is bound to happen.

But this post is not for myself, this year. This is for the women too quiet, still too tender, forced to be too ‘polite’ to talk about their little lost ones. For the women who have had miscarriages that their community has treated as ‘par for the course’. For the women who have made a choice to have an abortion but still grieve, despite knowing it was the right thing to do at the time. For the women who are surrounded by people who think talking about dead babies is inelegant and gauche. For the women who are given plenty of support at the time, only to have it evaporate in a month or two.

If you know a woman who has miscarried, had a late term loss, a stillbirth, or an abortion you know they grieve, here are five simple tips to marking Mother’s Day so they are less a ghost.

1. Give your fear it’s due but get over it. Yes, it feels strange and scary to talk to a woman about her dead child. But you are a grownup. You push through fears about plenty of things – push through this. They’re not going to think you’re rude; they might be quiet and not say much, but you’re not doing it for feedback.

2. Remember that your fear and awkwardness is less than the sadness and loneliness of being ignored at a really important moment in your life. Cover the distance between those points with action informed by love.

3. Acknowledge them with words. A card, a letter, an email, a phone call, a visit. Even a wall post on facebook or a tweet. Speak and affirm them just as you would any other mother.

4. Make your affirmation positive. This is Mother’s Day, not death day. You’re affirming all that they did for that child in the time they were here. For instance, maybe you could include a specific memory of admiration if you knew them when their child was around. “I remember how hard you worked to keep healthy when your baby was with us, and that makes a great Mum.”

5. If you can’t speak to them or write to them because you don’t know what to say, act. Send flowers, or a small gift, or take them out to dinner. Offer to help with some chore to make the day easier. Offer to keep them company. Bake them a cake.

No matter what you do, remember that ‘making someone cry’ by speaking their truth out loud is actually a good thing. When people talk about August, I often cry. It feels good to do so and I’m grateful for the people who are more than their programming and let me be that vulnerable with them (and they, in turn, make themselves open to me).

Just be present, in some way. It lets a little light and love in. Be brave enough to take a stake in a whole park bench and let us sit beside you to just…talk.

Or even just to sit in the weight of the day. Together.

The Heart Police: proposed law in USA to punish miscarriage survivors.

The memory wall at SIDS AND KIDS, Hunter region.

Few things, in my experience, hurt quite as badly as losing a much hoped-for child.

Can you imagine it? Buying their clothes, reading pregnancy books, putting up their cot and making lists of names. A happy cow, eating all the grass and getting lovely and fat with the wanted babe.

Then imagine their senseless death. And it all coming to nothing but wrenching pain and handfuls of painkillers as your body delivers you a dead baby or what hospitals tactlessly label “products of birth”. Sometimes whole, sometimes in bits, sometimes through a dilation and curettage (d&c) or through taking misoprostyl – a drug that speeds up contractions.

You drink a lot of fucking tea. And you learn not to look down each time you go to the toilet. And you cling onto your mother like she is all you know. And you numb, and you cry, and you numb. And it takes you years to get over it. Yeah, if you’re thinking the “you” there is “me”, you’d be spot on.

Nothing about this experience could get worse, right? This is humanity – we have a knack for making things even more unbearable for each other.

A proposed bill by US legislator Bobby Franklin – a State Representative from Georgia who seeks to bring law-making back to it’s ‘biblical roots’ – will, if passed, reach into the delicacy of an already terrible experience and twist.

The bill can be found and read here, at the Georgia General Assembly. In short, it exists so as to provide that prenatal murder shall be unlawful in all events” but more specifically, to establish spontaneous abortion (both a medical term and one favoured by the frothing-at-mouth conservative Right) as a site of investigation and suspicion.

Women who suffer a miscarriage will be able to be investigated to establish the cause of their baby or foetus’ death; a foetal death certificate must be filed; and if a cause of death can’t be ascertained from the woman herself, their loved ones may be interviewed. If a cause can be found, charges can be filed.

Yes. Miscarriage, now murder.

The bill gets off to a bad start anyway, by putting forth as it’s basis the belief that any death of a foetus where great effort is not made to preserve the life of the foetus is tantamount to the murder of a foetus (and presenting this as a known and agreed upon fact by all, and most especially supported by – you guessed it  – the big guy upstairs).

Obviously, abortion is out. But somehow, by this strange, internally self-reassuring logic, miscarriage falls under the gaze of the inquisitor.

Now, I don’t wish to draw us and them lines, here. I am not anti-abortion – I am most assuredly pro-choice all the way. But I feel I must clarify something about the language used by this bill – that of spontaneous abortion.

While yes, your body is aborting the child you are carrying, a miscarriage does not feel like an abortion of any kind. Not for a woman that knows about and desires the continued life of her baby, which may not be the case with all miscarriages, certainly. I have spoken with other women who feel this way. To them, calling the death of their little one an abortion seems to indicate a sense of choice, or agency, when this is far from the case.

It seems incongruous to many that thinking, ‘rational’ women get so ‘upset’ by losing their children – many observers feel confused, not even considering them children at all. I have had someone ask me how I could possibly be so invested – since there’s no way in hell I believed that life begins at conception…right?

Also, I have encountered the cold truth that miscarriage survivors who get ‘upset’ by their losses (especially the earlier ones) are seen by some as traitors to the pro-choice movement. This is surely by those who have forgotten that ‘choice’ includes ‘using my bodily autonomy to believe different things than you’. I personally have mixed feelings about the origins of conception, but regardless of what I may rationally have believed before I conceived, my pregnancy was wanted and the loss of it was devastating.

When handling language around pregnancy loss, you should remember this. Do it sensitively.

An abortion is a decision taken by the person with the body from whom the foetus is being removed. A decision I support the right to. But it is, and should be, made distinct from the involuntary process of a miscarriage. They are qualitatively different experiences, and should be handled as such. Not better, not worse – just different, with respect to the people in each camp.

There are those that mourn abortions, too. There are those that don’t. Reproductive processes and rights are a tricky business but we’re all equal in being owed respect, from our governments and each other. Everyone deserves a voice if they want it.

What this bill proposes though, is to walk up to a wounded woman, pick up her severed arms and beat her about the head with the bloody stumps. Surely you’re not in enough pain! Surely you’re not grieving enough!

This will allow Christian law makers to tell women they have killed their babies, that yes, indeed, it is entirely likely that it is their fault. All the therapeutic literature available to survivors of miscarriage strives to achieve the opposite. Women searching for answers are usually told to ignore that hot spa they had at 4 weeks before they knew they were pregnant; ignore that joint you smoked with your partner on the front porch – there’s no way it killed your baby and you know that? That doesn’t matter now. What matters is crying and burying and healing.

This horrifying bill would undo that message. Now our bodies would become toxic killing machines, our early-natal choices recalled and recorded at a time when we are psychically injured and less able for the daily fray of putting up with patriarchal oppression.

I drank five glasses of wine on Christmas day, before I knew I was pregnant. I spent six months after my August died feeling like hell for it – no matter the logic, I blamed myself. I had killed her, and nothing but time rinsed the dye of that one lingering stain from my mind. I don’t think I believe it any more, but under a bill like this I’d be encouraged to give my guilt as a testimony.

What kind of world is it, where a man can write words into law to punish a grieving woman?

Oh yes. This one.

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