(Or: A problem shared is a problem… doubled.)
Yesterday I found out that my sister is going to have a miscarriage.
She texted me at work, where I was concentrating on a report, her nickname (a funny family name she’s had since we were little) flashing up on my phone and pinging on my watch.
“Hello lovely Sister, I wanted to let you know that [fiancé] and I started IVF in September. We had a 9-week scan today and they confirmed a non-viable pregnancy, beyond doubt. I really want to talk to you but not ready yet. We hope this doesn’t bring back horrible emotions for you and T. Provisional ERPC surgery booked for next Friday. Talk soon? Just not now.”
In that instant, I realised that my sister and I have a lot more in common than I’d thought.
* * *
Growing up, we’d always been close but very different. I often felt that she was difficult to be around, for many reasons and probably because seeing weakness and brokenness in her was a reminder that I might be weak and broken too.
We have a lot in common.
But we deal with things very differently. She concentrates her pain and sadness inwards, selfwards… I generate rage and sarcasm outwards. Or I did. I’ve tried to become less angry and adolescent and it’s largely worked, mainly because I’m no longer an adolescent. And I went through a crazy stage but then I met T and Dog and everything crazy seems like a lifetime ago. (Nowadays I keep getting told that I’m “positive” which I think just means that when I have murderous thoughts, I keep them to myself. Although on a serious note, I do think age and a good relationship has a lot to do with it.)
Likewise, my sis stopped feeling so much pain. Or at least, she stopped visibly self-harming. I have a philosophy that adolescence is hard for everyone, but especially difficult for those who were adopted. It’s an untested theory – I didn’t know T when he was an adolescent, and he really is the most laid back man in the universe, so perhaps there are exceptions for every rule, and I also know a lot of people who had a difficult adolescence and hadn’t been adopted, so maybe it’s a faulty assumption I’ve made. But she seems so much happier nowadays…
And it’s kind of a swearword to say it, and I’ve seen adoptive parents get vilified for saying it, but I do tend to think love is the answer. (Not sure about the question…!) By which I mean that it seems somehow easier to move from a stage of uncertainty and self-doubt and insecurity to feeling self-realised, settled, secure… That’s pretty much where I’ve seen happiness in any people – when they’ve been settled with someone to love and be loved.
And really, over the past few years and my failed marriage my sister and I really have become a lot closer. Buddies. It’s strange really but maybe it was nice for her to have someone else having all the problems for once! I think time has rubbed off our sharp edges a bit, and everything has become easier… until this.
I understand why she doesn’t want to talk. I didn’t, either. Even when I messaged my BFF and told her about the miscarriage and she called up straight away, I really didn’t feel like talking. I think it takes time to process the feelings, and everyone has different ways.
Their situation is almost exactly the same as ours, a few months down the line. We started back in April/May and had the miscarriage in July. They started in September and she’ll be having a miscarriage or ERPC next week.
How can this happen just the same to the two of us? Two babies who were born halfway across the world and somehow ended up here in the same family, who aren’t genetically related… It’s a terrible coincidence, a horrible twist of fate. It’s an irony that the two of us who were “unwanted” babies (unkeepable, I call it) both have difficulty having much-wanted babies of our own.
Two dead nine week old babies.
Two families shattered.
I kind of can’t believe how life can be so cruel.
The other thing is, when I was thinking about this that I suddenly realised that I was okay. I’m okay compared to my sister for whom this is all fresh. Maybe I wasn’t okay for a while, but I can talk about it now without crying or feeling terrible. I can understand that, y’know what, s*** happens and it happens a lot and WTF, miscarriages are just stupid and I can’t believe that we haven’t figured out a way to prevent them yet.
T and I were talking about how it seems like this horrible coincidence that they’ve had almost the same experience as us, and wondering once again about the NHS success rates, and wondering why they don’t test the embryos a bit more before transfer but it must be for economic reasons, and wondering how many couples have a baby after how many rounds of IVF. It’s hard to get the stats as each trust has different policies on eligibility and how many rounds.
It also got us talking about adoption. (If you’re not a regular reader: there’s a lot of adoption in my life!) I think it brings up feelings of that. We even for some reason ended up talking about our birth mothers. (I feel like without giving away too many details of stories that aren’t mine, I have always found it easier to be okay about my adoption because I don’t believe my birth mother was coerced. That’s not to say she might not be unhappy about it now, but I also firmly believe that a birth family’s grief is not the responsibility of the adopted person. Maybe as I get older and think about it more, I’ll open up the lines of communication or possibilities. Maybe not.)
I don’t feel as an adult adopted person that I have a responsibility to trace my birth family – regardless of how much they might want me to do so. (That sounds harsh – I don’t mean it to; I just feel that adoptees have had something done to them that was outside their control and they should be in control of their own connection or not with their birth families… We have so much of other adults’ responsibilities put to us, to be “adoptees”, to be vessels for others’ feelings and hopes – I don’t feel we should be compelled to take that on. My opinion only and probably one for a longer post.) But it does kind of bring up feelings.
I guess what I’m saying is that it somehow seemed doubly suckerpunched to have this happen to my sister. Someone who has had similar experiences and similar but different difficulties in life. I certainly don’t feel that it’s alleviated my pain at all for her also to be going through it (in that “a problem shared is a problem halved bull****). For one, I’ve been kind of getting over it in my own slow background way. It does mean I think about it more because it’s all I have thought about since she told me. Secondly, I don’t know how to help – and yet I do have a bit of insight, uniquely and recently.
I know why she wouldn’t want to talk because I didn’t either. I know that they want to get away – and I urged her to, because that was something that really helped me/us. I think there’s a certain amount of escaping from it for a bit (I read a lot of books when I was off work) and not facing up to it until you’re ready. I still haven’t thrown away my nine positive pregnancy tests. That’s sad. I keep seeing them in my drawer but I can’t do it yet. All my pictures of PB are tucked into the back of the pregnancy Moleskine (book) I got that I never filled in because somehow I didn’t feel like it was actually happening.
I spent most of last night trying to send her something nice. I sent her a card, and a care box and some stuff from The White Company which she loves and which she sent me very similar when this happened to me. I have this belief that people send you stuff that they like… but also I feel like there’s something sad about being the sympathiser and comfort-provider; a role reversal from a few months ago. One of the things she sent me was a dressing gown, and I actually ended up wearing it a lot, and it was something I wouldn’t have bought myself (I have one but it’s not as nice and it’s not as white!) so I knew it was something she would like. I got her some fluffy slipper boots and a candle. I already got her an advent calendar with lots of toiletries and cosmetics in so I didn’t send her any more of those.
Really then I got to thinking: what made me feel better during the miscarriage? I thought I’d make a list. I feel like there should be some kind of miscarriage hamper/care package you could send when this happens, a way of showing you care and with things that make you feel better, so this is for my future reference more than anything.
So anyway, here’s my list of things that made me feel better. Obviously only time really did that, but still. Worth a note.
- Doctor’s note. This sounds silly but one of the biggest stresses to me was having the time to be signed off work. My employer is not sympathetic to women/pregnancy and it would be horrendous for people to think I’d been “trying”. My doctor was amazing and signed me off for two weeks (did not mention anything about miscarriage – said “abdominal pain”), which made me feel okay to take that time and not be checking in at work. I put my out of office on and disconnected from the stress.
- Dressing gown. I spent a lot of time in loungewear. It was great. Maybe if that’s too big to send, then a pair of slippers or socks or a blanket… something cosy. I think you want to kind of hibernate from the world.
- Getting away. We already had a long weekend planned, and we still did it. I had some remnants of the miscarriage going on, but just being away from the normal environment really helped. We had a fabulous short break with Dog, in a place where we were just us and hadn’t lost anything, and it was very healing.
- Planning the trip of a lifetime. We said if IVF didn’t work out then we would go to Disney World. I had never been before and I really wanted to go. We did a big trip (as seen on this blog!) and it was fantastic. I don’t think anyone can be unhappy at Disney. And it gave me something to look forward to during the dark days.
- Messages from friends… but space. I think this is really important and maybe it’s a personal thing but I found it very hard to talk on the phone or in person and I really didn’t want to. I am okay doing it on the blog or in messages but I don’t want to be crying down the phone or in public. I don’t want the “pity head tilt”. But – I had friends who were great, who messaged me every now and then to ask if I was okay – just checking in. Didn’t push it. And sent little cards/presents/flowers. I think you want to know that people care, but you also want time on your own. I even was fine with T going to work each day because I just sort of wanted to sit on the sofa and read and pretend it wasn’t happening to me.
- Time out from social media. I just think that social media can be a killer as well as a good thing. Blogging was really helpful but even then I didn’t want to blog all the time… I couldn’t face writing so much about it at times, but at other times it was very cathartic. But Facebook is a killer… All the ultrasounds, belly bumps, babies and children. I unfollowed certain friends (so you’re still friends but they don’t show in your news feed). And I didn’t go on very often. I just laid low for a bit.
- Candles. They’re one of my biggest indulgences but I love them. There’s something calming about a scented candle. Maybe because we don’t have a bath! I think you can’t go wrong with a scented candle (the luxury type in a glass thing and boxed up in a fancy bag, like Diptique or White Company or Elemis or Oliver Bonas… they’re my go to gift for all occasions and I have a stockpile at home).
- New clothes. One of the hardest things to deal with is the weight gain and body changes. You get this from the IVF drugs anyway even if you’re not pregnant. I ended up buying new clothes because I needed to be able to feel comfortable and not hideous and ugly and fat-not-pregnant. I really think this helped – I still don’t feel 100% confident and I don’t like what the weight has done to me, but I have some clothes I can wear and cope. A lot of my clothes got way too tight. I’ve lost a bit of the IVF weight but not all of it. It’s important not to feel like you’ve let yourself go entirely, I think. It’s partly why I didn’t feel confident in front of T… I felt very unattractive and I’ve had to work over the last few months to gain back some confidence, and clothes etc were part of that. You can’t really go out in public if none of your clothes fit, and if you read the entry about my awful colleague then you also know the importance of dressing like you’re not pregnant! It takes time.
- Haircut. It’s a cliché but I had a haircut. I went to the most expensive recommended place I could (as I never have haircuts – I hate them) and booked the expensive stylist. It cost me something ridiculous but it made me feel better about myself. The stylist was very sympathetic when I explained my lack of confidence and really made me feel better – when I next need a haircut in a year or two, I’ll go back!
- Massage/spa. My parents didn’t know what to do to help. They wanted to come and see us but I couldn’t face it and anyway we were away. So they said I should book myself in for a massage / facial / pamper and they’d send some money. It was nice to do.
- Chocolate. Obviously. And that stuff that’s banned during pregnancy, like rinded cheese and wine…
- Dog. I really think it helps if you have a dog.
I guess you could add blogging to that although I know most people don’t do that, and you can’t do that for someone else… but I think it helps to be able to talk openly to someone who understands. I think the thing is you don’t know how you’ll react until (if) it happens to you. Everyone is different. Some people are into full disclosure. Some not so much. Some people want their friends to rally round. Some want privacy. I’d hazard a guess that most don’t want to be surrounded by pregnant women and babies – either virtually or in real life. I found that very hard. I’ve avoided most babies – but some are unavoidable and I just had to suck it up, and I have realised that people are generally nice enough, and babies are not that bad.
Some friends say the stupidest things when you tell them. Some are sensitive and kind. Some say dumb-ass stuff about “At least you know you can get pregnant” and “It happens to everyone” and “There are a lot of children in the world who need parents” and “My cousin’s sister’s wife couldn’t have children and then they went on holiday and relaxed and she got pregnant” or “Why don’t you give up your job?” – none of which help. They really don’t. I know what not to say. I don’t know what to say because everyone is different.
I suppose the best start is to reach out – preferably via text, not forcing them to talk on the phone or get dressed out of sweatpants – and just say Hey, I’m sorry to hear that… I’m here for you.
One of my best most unexpected friends in this was pregnant. She’s not even geographically close but she messaged me to say hi, and I told her. She has kept sending me random messages throughout her pregnancy, which is really sweet and thoughtful, asking about how the op went and so on.
Miscarriage is horrible.
Bad things happen.
All we can do is get through…. carry on…