I’m British (by adoption, but pretty much since birth) and culturally this means I’m predisposed to having a Stiff Upper Lip. This means that we don’t like to dwell too much on things that have happened to us, preferring instead to Keep Calm and Carry on.
This wartime adage has gained almost legendary status in the British lexicon, spawning countless knock offs (Keep Calm and Get Pregnant, anyone?) and embedded itself deeply into the British psyche.
As Brits, we’re quite proud of the fact that we don’t need to sit around and “pontificate” or “navel gaze” about things, and quite frankly if we could have had our tear ducts removed at birth, we would probably find this very convenient.
Unfortunately, there’s another saying that also rings true.
Yup, really rotten stuff happens to the best of us. (And I’m not even the best.) And there are two schools of thought here in how to deal with it. The first is the one I usually prefer. In British, it’s keeping calm and carrying on. In American (and English generally), it’s man up!
Yes – in order to deal with the £%!* life throws at us, we need to:
- Suck it up
- Man up*
- Keep calm and carry on
- No use crying over spilled milk
- If life gives you lemons, make lemonade (or G&T)
Basically, we need to get over it.
This is easier said than done, when you’ve had the biggest bestest news of your life with your wishes finally granted only to have them snatched away. Or even if you weren’t that keen on the idea (as countless people going through IVF and infertility treatments are, wishing and hoping every single day), the physical trauma of having a miscarriage is enough to put a dampener on things even if you’re emotionally fine. Not to mention the slow burn of the sadness, embarrassment and anger at long term infertility. I gotta tell ya, it sucks.
(* I don’t think there’s any evidence to show that men are better at getting over things than women are! Many men I know have to go off into a room and seethe for a bit before they get over anything!)
Onto the second school of thought: one of the ways that’s recommended by many people is to talk about it. To process it. To get closure, to understand the feelings, to make sense of things. And having studied in this area, I know that the stats speak for themselves. It’s pretty much the best way to deal with trauma and sadness and depression, all of which might be induced by a miscarriage.
The thing is – I’m used to dealing with stuff in my own way. And that way involves dogs, making like an ostrich and generally pretending that if I don’t think about it too much, it will go away.
In contrast, the idea of the talking cure is that in order to get over things, we should “talk it out”.
I’ve got to say, the idea of this fills me with dread.
I’m processing my thoughts and thinking them (pretty much constantly) on here – this is my way of getting things out. But I’m not used to talking about really personal stuff, particularly grief, in front of other people. I’m quite open in many ways – I’m not repressed I don’t think, but I’m just not comfortable doing that whole crying in front of someone else thing. Which, let’s face it, is the likely outcome of processing my emotions.
To be honest, I think the first time in our entire relationship that T has ever seen me cry is when we were told that we had to come back for what turned out to be the final scan of doom in a week’s time. I didn’t cry when we had that final scan of doom – I’d already felt as bad as I could do by then, and I’d sort of gotten it straight in my head, and lowered my expectations.
I don’t know if it’s a British thing but I’m often told it is (which is funny, because I don’t look typically British). I’m the sort of person who is more likely to cry in non sad situations like when someone is being really nice (in response to sympathy or kindness), or if someone’s being really horrible (in response to injustice or unkindness), or if I’m watching a cheesy film and I can sort of disconnect (and I still sort of pretend I’m not crying, unless I’m on my own, in which case I have a big ol’ snotty cry). Maybe that says something about me, that I can only cry with sadness when it’s something on the TV or in a book.
Call it British reserve. Call it my upbringing. To be fair, my parents and family are great and we’ve had our ups and downs but they’ve never encouraged us to be anything but present and owning our emotions, and my mother especially is a passionate and emotional person. However I found school very traumatic – I hated it, most of the time, and it taught me that the best way to deal with the bullies was to bottle everything up inside. And never cry. Never show weakness. There’s actually a syndrome associated with the kind of experience I had at school, but that’s probably a post for another day…
The upshot is, I really find it quite horrific to think about having to devote an hour a week or whatever to talking through my feelings. But the other funny thing is, when I’m given the opportunity and the right kind of person, I am pretty much non-stop. (Probably why I blether so much on here, because there’s no-one to stop me!)
So what happened to me is that I went for my appointment with occupational health. My company scheduled me an appointment with an external healthcare company to assess my ability to return to work. (No matter that I was already back at work! And it wasn’t voluntary!) I found this a bit funny as I’d been off for the same amount of time last year (for my endometriosis op) and nobody said anything. It’s like they didn’t care last year but this year they actually noticed.
I wasn’t expecting much. I kind of thought I might have to pretend to pick up boxes or sit at a desk or something. In the event, I went to spend an hour talking to what must be one of the nicest doctors in the world.
She was a sort of large and smiley woman, who instantly put me at ease. I’m a generally not that at ease person and I was surprised how much I warmed to her. We had “bants” as the kids say. She was the kind of friendly lady that every hospital, school and workplace should have onsite, just to cheer people up.
She was super sympathetic (or empathetic?) from the outset. She asked me about what had happened and after getting reassurances from her that she didn’t have to share anything with work that I didn’t consent to, I explained that I’d had a miscarriage after IVF.
I think the fact that she was so nice about it and said something to the effect of “That must have been horrible” made me feel quite emotional. I didn’t cry or anything and she didn’t push me. But she gently asked me questions about it and she was understanding and sympathetic in equal measure, and it was actually really comforting to be able to speak about it, but also not to be pushed into crying about it (which I think sometimes people want you to do, particularly in a counselling space). She had the medical knowledge, which helped, but she also diffused a lot of the awkwardness or emotion with humour, which really worked for me. She kept joking that she was trying to be scary, because I said I hadn’t expected her to be so nice – she kept joking that she wasn’t doing her job properly.
In the event we had an hour and she asked me questions about my health and what had happened, and took notes, and she composed what she was going to send to work – I asked if we could not mention the miscarriage or TTC because I felt that wouldn’t go down well with work. She did say that she thought that they wouldn’t take it as badly as I thought they would, but that she also knew that certain teams were better than others. (Let’s just say mine is worse than others from what I’ve seen. They tolerate women.)
I’ve sort of built my career on being a non-childbearing woman who can do almost what a man can do (“almost” because I tend to work in a rather misogynistic industry where men think it’s okay to say that women aren’t as good just because they’re… women). I always sort of thought it was a consolation prize to make up for not having children. Like, I feel I should have a better career than my friends who have children, because I have to give up so much quality of life for it. The reason I stay in a job where I was effectively being bullied rather than leaving and getting a nicer job where they treat me like a human is because I thought, I need to keep this stability so I can eventually go on maternity leave. A lot of my female friends have gone freelance as they can have a better paycheck without having to put up with the politics and the kind of corporate gameplaying that males tend to be better at.
And I guess one of the things I explained to this doctor was that I felt sort of sad because I’ve put up with all this hassle and I don’t have a baby to show for it.
Anyway, we had a lovely chat. And she suggested that maybe I should consider getting some counselling – but that she wouldn’t force me to do it. She said that I wasn’t just dealing with the miscarriage but also the infertility/IVF situation and a difficult work situation (not to mention the financial situation with my ex). She said she thought I might benefit from being able to talk to someone. I explained how I talk to you lovelies on here!
I actually think blogging has been a lifeline for me throughout this process. I’d been thinking about starting a blog for ages but then actually went and did it in April (I think?) and it has been so nice to feel like I’m not alone. Everyone has offered such good advice, and sympathy and understanding, and I feel like it’s really boosted my emotions to know that people are rooting for us and also that I can offer understanding and advice to others. I’ve kept it relatively anonymous because of not wanting it to be associated with work and my other (numerous!) online profiles. I think people who know me would be able to recognise me, but I guess there’s no real reason why they might be looking for blogs about infertility or adoption, both of which I write about quite a lot! And also it turns out my ex is quite active as a blogger and I’m not sure it would be ideal for him to be reading about my plans to have a baby with someone else… although maybe it would also offer some understanding. Anyway, I feel like the relative anonymity allows me to be a bit more honest and uncensored.
My experiences with counselling, on the other hand, are mixed…
1) University counselling
I had the usual (I think) adolescent depression at school and university. Actually, I think it was possibly not that usual in that I was probably more of a depressive child than most. Although I think from my discussions with others that most people I know went through patch(es) of depression at uni. This isn’t to downplay it, but I think that naturally I sort of healed up on my own. (Although my ex thought I still had repressed issues – I say, if it works then it works! No need to dig ’em all up!)
I think the reasons for my depression when I was younger were quite understandable; at least that’s what the counsellor said. I was adopted as a baby and I think maybe you naturally start to process that and ask questions about it in adolescence. As I’ve discussed elsewhere (several posts if you click on the Adoption category at the top of my blog), I think adopted people have a certain set of experiences and needs that are different from those who aren’t adopted. I don’t think these are unsurmountable at all, and if it sounds blasé I don’t mean it to be – but I think we all sort of grow out of those feelings as we get older and more sure of ourselves.
I had a really nasty experience of school. I hated it, to put it bluntly. There are many reasons for why I turned from a confident child to a shy, sad child who immersed herself in books but probably the main one was going from an international experience to a school where I was one of the few non-white children (my younger adopted sibling arrived a year later) and I was bullied pretty much relentlessly until my final year (when the older kids who used to bully me had left). As a child in that system I fully subscribed to the unwritten rules of British schools: Thou shalt not sneak (grass). This meant that no matter how bad the bullying got, I could never tell. I also had some low level experiences that now, in retelling, sound like s** abuse. (I’m not prudish; just don’t want it to show up in searches!) It was never anything really concrete, but the situation I was in meant that I was kind of prey to a certain type of older male – a pattern for another post, really.
For me, the counselling at uni really helped. It was free and recommended by the doctor. I really gave the counsellor a hard time – I used to go and not speak, or I would “forget” to turn up. An ex of mine once said I used to test him and that I should not keep expecting the worst of people because he would still love me. Maybe it took me a while to get that message, but the counsellor – I can still remember his name, a rotund guy with braces (suspenders in US!) – always took me back. And he validated my experiences. He said once that I had good reason to be depressed. It was good for me. One day I went in and I said I thought we were fine now, and we shook hands and I never saw him again.
2) Relationship counselling
There’s a part of me that should have considered whether to fight for our relationship so hard, as we kind of had a few problems from the start. We ended up together for a long time and I don’t regret being in that relationship – although I regret any hurt that both of us suffered in the ending of it. Anyway, we ended up going to relationship counselling really early on. The catalyst was a lack of trust on my part (based on some behaviour on his part) and we ended up going to counselling, which we paid for.
At the time I felt like it was a very positive experience, as did my ex. We were able to talk through our issues in a non-combative environment. The counsellor was a lovely man. We even felt like we were a success story because we ended up married. I hadn’t wanted to go to counselling then but it turned out okay in the end.
3) Marriage counselling
We ended up going for marriage counselling after the catalyst that sort of ended our marriage. This was a completely different experience to the previous relationship counselling. (The previous counsellor was no longer working as otherwise we would have tried that one.) I think there was just so much anger that I found it difficult to deal with and just shut down. It didn’t end well and we ended up separating.
4) Life event counselling
My ex was convinced that our marriage had ended because of my actions and that my actions were to do with some unresolved issues on my part, and he kind of insisted I went to see someone to talk about it. And at the time I did think it might help, because I was feeling pretty bad. Our shared medical insurance covered some of it. (He thought it was all about adoption and he also thought I had a psychological condition that made me unable to relate to other people. The psych thought this unlikely.) This was an actual doctor rather than a counsellor (they need more qualifications – apparently anyone can set up counselling) and I had a generally fine experience, although I was mainly concerned by the huge amount it was costing as I didn’t end up claiming all of it back from the insurance.
In the end I stopped because I didn’t feel like the amount it was costing would deliver the benefit, and I was really improving in terms of how I felt in my everyday life.
So… That’s my background in counselling. Overall, I can see that it does sort of reflect a more positive than negative story, and the times that I didn’t enjoy it, there were probably good reasons for it (relationship breakdown). For me, though, I think that the pressure of having to go to appointments and really face up to talking about difficult issues is something I’d rather avoid.
The lovely lady at occupational health was sort of sanguine about my push back around counselling. I have two opportunities to go and talk about miscarriage (and the rest) – they offer counselling at our hospital where the fertility clinic is (so would be free on the NHS I think) and I could also get free/included counselling through my work. I am completely averse to doing anything work related as I feel like I wouldn’t be reassured that it wouldn’t get out. Of course my work, being a corporate, would be ostensibly fine with it, but already I feel like I have to give reassurances that I’m not going to have a breakdown.
I actually was asked by someone when I was off sick from the miscarriage whether it was stress. I was aghast, not because there’s anything wrong with stress – I think you have to be pretty strong to resist it if you work where I work – but because I’d put up with so much and not had a breakdown, and really I want some recognition for it! Also I still think there’s a taboo in my line of work around stress. You’re expected to be stressed, and to handle stress, and I don’t need any more problems with them having an excuse to think I am somehow defective as well as being a female. (I must clarify here that I think it is not my company overall but a smaller sub section of where I work where they seem to look on females as being somehow weaker. I have made it my aim to try and disprove this.) Anyway, it seems easier to deal with if it’s a physical thing, as men get physical things too.
In the end, I think Lovely Doctor decided that I probably wasn’t going to take up the offer of counselling, but that I had the offers on the table if I wanted to take it. I’m okay with that. The other thing she did was ask if we could meet up again in a month. I’ve never seen occupational health before, but I think it was her way of doing a bit of stealth counselling! I’m okay with that too. I like people who try and think of clever ways to beat the system! And I don’t think of meeting her again with dread… She was difficult not to like. She also said that she would write back something suitably un-pregnancy related to my work, which I really appreciated. (In fact the doctors I’ve seen have all been very nice, to varying degrees, and have reacted with sympathy and understanding whenever I’ve asked for it not to be mentioned for work purposes. I know it would cause me more stress to have to deal with them treating me differently because they think I’m going through fertility treatment or pregnancy/miscarriage.)
So… I’m not really sure what I’m blethering on about here. I guess my post is about how I do think that in many situations it is good to talk… Although I think you can talk in different ways. I’m much more articulate in written words than I am in person. In person I’m kind of okay interpersonally, but I can often be taken in the wrong way. I am not great at self-censoring which means that I can’t delete something I’ve said and rewrite it, like I can do on here or in an email! I went from being a really shy child and introverted adolescent to a pretty outgoing adult (probably too outgoing at times; I need to be more measured and grown up than I often appear!) so it’s not like I can’t talk, but I find it really gut-wrenching to talk about emotionally difficult things. I will do, a bit, with my friends and family, but I don’t see the point of dwelling on it… I feel like that prolongs the agony.
And relating to adoption stuff… I’m what’s probably known in the literature as a happy adoptee. And what I’ve noticed is that a lot of us “happy” ones are the ones who aren’t too consumed by The Search, by which I mean we either aren’t looking for reunion or we have had it and it didn’t have a big negative impact on our lives. It’s sort of a pragmatic acceptance of the way things are and a conscious decision not to dig up sadnesses, I think. We know they are there, but we choose to concentrate on the positives and the life we ended up with rather than the life we were born into that we didn’t end up living.
I guess what I’m saying here is that I recognise that there is value in talking, I really do… but for me, the answer is to “talk” in slightly unconventional ways. I feel like I don’t want to feel forced into talking about difficult things with my family or with friends. (I saw an old friend yesterday and we had awkward moments whilst he looked at me sympathetically, and I really wanted us to move on, which we did – with wine!) I’m good with having that sort of separateness and relative anonymity that I get with blogging, and potentially with going to talk with the Lovely Doctor. But right now I do feel like I’m coping okay with everything – I am processing it in my own way.
As I said to Lovely Doctor – I don’t want to cry. (She said “I know you don’t and I will try not to make you… The tissues are staying over here!” – pointing to the other side of her desk.)
I know if I started crying I wouldn’t stop.
But I’m okay. We live. We carry on. We’re good. And I promise myself – just like I used to try and promise the teenage me, full of adolescent self-loathing and doubt – it will get better.
And it did.