This post has been brewing for a few weeks having just watched a couple of friends suffer recurrent miscarriages.
I have been thinking a lot about the term ‘time is the best healer’ and wondering whether it is actually true. One of the things that spurred me on to wonder this was seeing a post on Facebook about Rainbow Babies. For those of you unfamiliar to the term, “a rainbow baby is a baby that is born following miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death or infant loss. In the real world, a beautiful, bright rainbow follows a storm and gives the hope of things getting better. The rainbow is more appreciated having just experienced the storm in comparison.” (www.kickscount.org.uk).
Oh how I longed for my rainbow baby.
This year marks 5 years since Emilie’s death and 4 years since my last miscarriage; 3 years since we decided enough was enough. We felt like we had exhausted every path and had continued to experience loss. We have 2 beautiful children; one birth child and one adopted child and we felt that continuing to pursue our rainbow baby was unfair on them due to the huge risks for me during pregnancy. But the desire didn’t go away and I sometimes wonder if that can be misunderstood.
We did not have a rainbow baby. We are one of the families who people can feel uncomfortable talking about. Our happy ending was different to that which we had expected and that which women longing for children want to hear about. I have been one of those women; I know the score. When I was longing; when every fibre of my being was crying out for a baby to hold, I did not want to hear about couples who had made their peace with not being able to have any other children (or any birth children full stop). I did not want to hear about couples who had adopted children and moved on. I wanted a baby. I wanted MY baby. I heard inspirational stories of couples who had held strong in their faith in spite of their prayers not being answered in the ways that they had hoped and therefore not receiving their rainbow baby in the way, or timing they had expected. And sometimes not at all.
But that wasn’t going to be me.
I was going to be different and was going to have my rainbow baby. Except I didn’t. I never got the opportunity to announce the healthy pregnancy of my rainbow baby on Facebook. I didn’t get to share the scan photos, announce their birth or share anecdotes about sleepless nights. There is still a void left where those experiences should have been and, nearly 5 years on from our biggest loss, I think that that is something that gets forgotten. Not in us as a couple, per se, but in couples who have experienced infertility and loss as a whole.
For couples who have experienced repeated loss, the pain does not diminish each time. There is no sigh of “oh well, it’s happened again, I kind of knew what to expect anyway ...”. The pain is still there. Deep rooted and festering. The hormones still kick in, the miscarriage (or for couples who have experienced repeated late loss – the birth) still has to take place. The physical pain still has to be endured, sometimes surgeries still have to happen, and the emotions still have to be experienced.
Watching my friends go through miscarriages recently has been like watching a mirror image of myself . To a certain extent I knew what they were feeling. I could anticipate what emotions would come next and knew that when they were feeling it was all too much they would ultimately be OK. Not that day, and not for a long time afterwards; but eventually they would be OK, even if they didn’t know it themselves at the time. Being ‘in’ that pain, however, is excruciating and sometimes you just need someone to come alongside you, not to say ‘it’ll all be ok’, ‘count your blessings’ or ‘at least you know you can get pregnant’ but actually just to say ‘it’s crap. I’m sorry’.
I have friends who have experienced loss and have had their rainbow babies and friends who have experienced loss after loss as we have. I can only imagine what it must be like to bring home your rainbow baby and often wonder whether having a baby after a miscarriage reduces the pain. I’m sure it must to an extent but the lost baby will never be replaced and that alone is one of the most painful lessons I ever had to learn.
By the same merit I can only imagine the pain of experiencing loss and not having any birth children as a result. My heart breaks for people in that situation and I wouldn’t want to add any more thought to this as I can’t comprehend how that must feel.
My children are such an amazing gift. There are times when I am so overwhelmed with love for them that I actually fear losing them and how I would cope ... but that’s another post altogether. My love for them does not, however, diminish the pain that I feel at losing Emilie. Neither does it take away the pain of not being able to have another birth child – of not being able to hold my rainbow baby. That is something that I believe I will always have to deal with regardless of age or life stage.
So, back to the theory that ‘time is the best healer’.
With time, my capacity has increased, as has my acceptance of the situation. My pain has become more manageable and my understanding greater. But things still hurt. Pregnancy announcements and birth announcements still carry a sting with them regardless of my joy for the people involved. That’s hard to say and it took me a long time to realise that that did not make me a bad person. There are still bad days, low days and days where life feels bitterly unfair.
And then there is the fear of sounding like a broken record.
And that alone encompasses what I’ve learnt about recurrent loss. I do sound like a broken record but it will stay with me forever. This is not the way things were meant to be; this was not my ‘life plan’. I did not set out to experience great pain and feel a hole in my life.
But that is what happened.
And for those friends, who know who they are, the pain is also very real and very raw. I would love to be able to put together a wonderful ’10 things you can do to support your friend who has experienced recurrent loss’ or ‘things not to say to people who’ve experienced recurrent loss’ but would not know quite how to word it without causing offence!
So instead I’ve borrowed someone else’s! This is something I came across that I believed was too good not to share.
1. ‘Make sure you listen more than you speak. This conversation isn’t about you or your opinions but about supporting your friend’
2. Know your audience when talking about your own family
‘If you talk about your kids all the time you’re talking about the one thing they don’t have in common with you’
3. Be sensitive about telling your friend you’re pregnant
‘Tell your friend first before you announce it publicly… Don’t tell them in person (a text, email or letter gives them time to process the news)… Don’t show them your scan photos…’
4. Bite your tongue
‘Most people have a story about someone who couldn’t have children and then did… There’s always some weird herb or drug people have taken…’ In short, go easy on advice-giving
5. Stop trying to find reasons why
‘Faith doesn’t always resolve, we may never have our ‘answer’ and this is the complex journey you need to walk with your friend’
6. Infertility doesn’t always go away
‘It may be years since a diagnosis and your friend may seem much stronger, but this doesn’t mean they’re no longer experiencing loss’
7. Talking helps
‘You need to let your friend get angry, complain, cry and say what’s on their heart… help them let it out, then give them tea and cake’
8. Have fun
‘Organise some fun activities with them, get some dates in the diary and have a laugh. It gives them a break from obsessing over baby stuff and helps them remember there are still some good things in life to enjoy’
9. Be an advocate
‘At work, in friendship groups, church communities and family gatherings you can change the conversation when it’s been dominated by child birth stories and cracked nipples for the last half an hour…’