Not All Sunshine and Lollypops

Not All Sunshine and Lollypops

A few weeks ago I heard some feedback from an old friend of my husband that kind of stopped me in my tracks. “Elana has a great blog,” he said, “but it makes me so sad.”

Damn.

So not what I’m trying to do here.

Since then I’ve felt this pressure to keep things light. I mention miscarriage and pregnancy loss in my posts, but I’ve shied away from really going into my grief. Pushed myself to write about other topics. Given a stronger voice to my optimistic side.

But there’s a darker voice that wants to be heard every now and then, too. An internal struggle. Even if it’s hard for others to hear.

The grief from those two pregnancies didn’t go away once I got pregnant again. It stayed and brought with it an old familiar friend – anxiety. And I know every pregnant woman has her worries, but those based on trauma seem to hold a little more clout.

Every time I go in for an ultrasound I’m half-expecting to get bad news, even though I feel her moving around all the time now and there’s really no reason that anything should go wrong. The odds are solidly in our favor. But those statistics don’t mean shit once you’ve been on the other side of them. One in 1500 doesn’t sound so comforting when you know what it’s like to be the one.

I went to the doctor earlier this week and he was making small talk. Asked when we’d be taking the baby to Australia to visit, and I was suddenly like – holy shit! He actually thinks there’s gonna be a baby! Maybe this time it’s gonna be for real. I keep getting surprised anew at how I’m still holding myself back from getting excited, at the mechanisms of denial at work in my head.

Talking about the pregnancy is hardly ever fun. I find myself looking blankly at gushing faces, wondering how weird they think I am for failing to make the proper high-pitched noises about having a baby girl. Trying and failing to explain why I feel no urge to make a stop motion film of my blooming belly this time. Mentioning the past pregnancies and watching people screw up their faces uncomfortably, with this “shouldn’t you be over this by now” look.

It’s not just the anxiety that something will go wrong and the hesitance to let myself get hopeful. That’s fading. It’s this weight of expectation on me to get excited. To let go of the past losses. To let this pregnancy replace them.

But I don’t want this baby to be a replacement. I want to properly grieve the pregnancies that didn’t work out, so I can separate this one out and experience it in its own right. And the reality right now is that there are moments when this pregnancy is just fucking hard. Full of mixed emotions and baggage and hopes and fears.

The good news is – thanks to good friends and therapy and even this blog – I’m working through it all and I know that when it comes time to push this baby out, I’ll be well and truly ready. There will be a rainbow after the storm – she’s just not quite here yet.

 

 

First and only pregnant selfie so far this time ’round
Early Pregnancy After Loss: A First Trimester Diary

Early Pregnancy After Loss: A First Trimester Diary

This post has been a long time coming.

Part of me wanted to start blogging about this pregnancy from the first day I peed on a stick, about two months ago. It was such an anxious time, so raw and personal – especially after a loss – and also so lonely. I told some family and friends pretty early on but no one seemed to get it. The ambiguity, the fear.

I turned to the net for reassurance, and while there are voices out there – anonymous, neurotic women on chat rooms, for example – there are so few developed thoughts. So few full, first-hand accounts of those first, nervous weeks.

I started writing right away; I wanted to help fill that gap, to reach out to women going through similar experiences. But it was a bit too much for me to publish. I wasn’t ready for it to be public knowledge. So instead I saved my notes as I went, diary style, in the hope that I’d be able to publish it now – miscarriage-free, and after the first scan that could rule out the recurrence of anancephaly, the neural tube defect from my previous pregnancy. The fact that you’re reading now this is a big thumbs up on both counts.

Usually when I blog I have some sense of who I’m writing to, but this time I’m not so sure. Maybe women in similar situations? I’m not sure – it might just be therapeutic for me. And it seems important to put out there. Either way, here it is: a week-by-week of the first trimester.

 

Week 1:

Feeling great. Super excited to get my period and with it reassurance that everything is in working order after my D&C at the beginning of December.

 

Week 2:

Excited to start trying to get pregnant again. Appreciating that I’m feeling good in my body for a brief moment – it’s been a rough few months.

 

Week 3:

Convinced already that I’m pregnant – I guess I really am an eternal optimist. Definitely felt little twingy uterine cramps a few days after I ovulated which I’m convinced were implantation pains. Counting the days (hours, minutes…) until I can pee on a stick. Googling pregnancy-related subjects an embarrassing amount – I think the most horrifying thing that could happen to me right now would be Google publishing my search history.

Confession: I actually googled “Am I Pregnant?” today. What the hell. If it’s not the pregnancy hormones driving me nuts then there must be seriously something wrong with me. I used to be an intelligent woman.

 

Week 4:

Well, I was right. Managed to wait until the day my period was due to test, and it turned positive right away! Husband was super excited; I’m still cautious. Told a few friends because I’m the type of person that needs to talk in order to process – but I feel weird about anyone saying “congratulations.” Feels like I’m going to be holding my breath for the next couple of months.

On the plus side, I’m relieved not to feel guilty anymore for wearing maternity clothes most of the time. Damn these stretchy bands are comfy!

 

Week 5:

Starting to feel some symptoms on and off – exhausted by 7pm every night, reflux during the days and some light waves of nausea. Most of the time I feel fine though, which is of course the most terrifying thing as I’m on-and-off convinced that I’ve miscarried multiple times a day. Next week I’ll see my doctor for a dating scan and hopefully calm down after we see a heartbeat.

Every time I go to the bathroom it’s like I have the Jaws theme music in my head… Will this be it? Will there be blood? I’m struck again by the absurdity of this whole process – just a month ago I was so excited to see blood. Now it’s the nightmare scenario.

As well as miscarriage, I’m keenly aware that this is the week for the neural tube to do its thing. So I’m kind of double freaking out, in the back of my mind. I know there’s nothing I can do – apart from taking half my weight in folic acid daily, which I’ve been doing since the termination back in December. So I’m hoping for the best, and pausing every now and then to send good vibes to the little cells hopefully multiplying away in my uterus.

 

Week 6: 

I keep worrying that I’m not feeling over-emotional enough – an early sign in each of my previous pregnancies, which saw me bursting into tears at things like a mean teller at the bank or sad news on the radio. There’d been nothing like that this pregnancy until this weekend, when we took GG to watch people running in the marathon. One look at those crowds running their last kilometer and I was bawling – literally sobbing with tears rolling down my face. It makes no sense, I know – what a relief!

Another relief is that I’m starting to feel properly nauseated at least a few times a day. So in my better moments I’m pretty confident that everything is okay.

Still counting the days till the scan – this anxiety isn’t getting any better. I worry about every little thing and then feel stupid and neurotic, but my therapist says it’s to be expected so I’m trying not to beat myself up about it. Rather than buying into the anxiety I’m doing what I can to just accept it – this is a hard time. Nothing more, nothing less. I let the nervous thoughts do their thing and try not to buy into them too much.

The morning of the scan my stomach is a mess. I guess it’s a combination of morning sickness and nerves. Well, I hope it’s morning sickness. I’m playing scenarios over and over in my head, trying to convince myself that even if we don’t get a good result I’ll still be okay. That I can deal with this, too.

But I so hope I don’t have to.

The scan turns out to be kind of a disappointment. Not bad news but not yet good news either. Everything looks as it should for just before 6 weeks, but no heartbeat yet. Gotta wait another week and see.

So the anxiety continues.

 

Week 7: 

A week later and I’m filled with jitters before the scan, yet again. But I’ve been feeling so rotten for the past week that I’m pretty confident everything will be ok. And it turns out I’m right – we get a clear picture of the little heartbeat and the fetus has quadrupled in a week. Good stuff.

Next up: flying to Australia for my sister’s wedding. Time to see how morning sickness and turbulence mix, followed by first trimester exhaustion and jetlag. And did I mention morning sickness?

 

Week 8: 

Flying wasn’t as bad as I expected – I just rested as much as I could while my champion of a husband spent hours running around the plane with GG. Jetlag though, that was a bitch.

Great to be around family and off work while I’m feeling so bad, though I did get asked if I’m pregnant twice in the past few days. Once by a great-aunt who apparently hadn’t been updated about my previous pregnancy, and another time by an aunt who said she could just see it. Considering the fact that I’m carrying a fetus the size of a kidney bean, I guess she was just calling me fat. Oh well. The truth is I don’t really care who knows. All I care about is that this pregnancy goes smoothly.

I’ve got a scan scheduled for the week after we get back home. That’s in 4 weeks. We should be able to rule of the neural tube defect of the previous pregnancy… And then exhale completely and start getting excited.

All I need to do is keep myself distracted until then.

 

Week 9 

Pregnancy announcements have lost all of their fun for me. I’m surrounded by family and old friends and I want to share, yet every time I tell someone I’m pregnant I feel uneasy. I can’t accept the congratulations, and I then get worried that I seem weird for not being appropriately excited.

Just a few more weeks to go. Hopefully it’ll be easier after I know that anancephaly hasn’t recurred.

 

Week 10 

More of the same this week. Lots of nausea to keep me confident that I’m still pregnant but then I keep thinking… I felt like shit all through the last pregnancy and fat lot of good that did. Nothing to do but wait, and try to stay positive. The truth is that the optimistic thoughts do outweigh the pessimistic ones – it’s just that this fear hits me deep.

 

Week 11 

Flew back home this week and again – the flights were surprisingly bearable. One week until the nuchal translucency test now and I feel like time has almost ground to a halt. I just need the next week to be over. This wait is near driving me mental.

 

Week 12

I’m so nervous the morning of the scan I want to cry, vomit and run to the bathroom all at the same time. I keep trying to reassure myself with the probability that everything is ok – it’s like 98%, those are damn good odds. It works sometimes but over and over again I’m struck with the thought, “fuck, I’m going to have to terminate another pregnancy.” And even then the reassuring voice comes back in, telling me that I can get through that if I need to, that I’ve done it once and I can do it again.

But of course, I don’t want to. I can’t stop thinking about how unfair that would be. But fairness has nothing to do with this shit.

Bottom line: it’s no fun in my head today.

The scan itself is incredibly quick. I’d been imagining that I’d need to close my eyes as the doctor checked the brain but he had a visual of the whole fetus in a matter of seconds and reassured us right away that everything looked fine. Cliched as it sounds, the heartbeat on the sonogram was music to my ears. I look over at my husband and grin, and a few minutes later we’re outside hugging in the hallway.

And now it feels like a weight has been lifted, like we might actually be having a baby! I feel the fear disolving and my optimistic attitude seems to be taking its old place back on center stage. I’m finally starting to get excited.

How Meditation Got Me through another Pregnancy Loss

How Meditation Got Me through another Pregnancy Loss

This wasn’t the blog post I wanted to write.

The blog post I wanted to write was about early pregnancy – particularly early pregnancy right after a miscarriage. It was about overcoming my anxieties, exhaustion and nausea, about gradually feeling more and more confident that everything would be okay.

But I never got around to writing it. This is a different post.

This post about how the skills I’ve learnt from meditation over the past 10 years seem to have equipped me to deal with a second pregnancy loss.

The week before last I was 15 weeks pregnant. My husband and I went in for a scheduled ultrasound excited to find out if we were having a boy or a girl. Instead, we found out that the fetus had a serious defect in the skull, and were advised to terminate the pregnancy.

That was two weeks ago now, and somehow here I am on the other side of it all. The shock of the diagnosis. The weight of telling friends and family (on my birthday, no less). Through three horrible days of feeling fetal movement and knowing what was to come. The procedure itself. Hours of sobbing.

And somehow, I’m ok. We’re ok. Our little family is stronger than ever. And the sky is still up there. Somehow.

I’ve been going back and forth about how to write this post. How to word it so I’m best understood. And today I realized – everything that got me through this experience, I gained through meditation. Through dozens of Vipassana retreats and Dharma books. From the wisdom of teachers who brought Buddhist contemplative practices to the West. And from the simplicity of meditation practice itself.

Through meditation I learned the power of being present. I’ve learned how to center myself in the moment and to find out if everything is ok – and I’m yet to find a moment where it’s not. Once I filter out all the bullshit, all the noise in my head, everything is always ok. Even in that terrible moment, when the ultrasound technician shook his head, looked up sadly and said “the head hasn’t formed properly, I’m sorry.” Even then, somehow, everything was ok.

Through the practice of Vipassana I’m learning to come to terms with the reality of my human body. That it will get old, it will decay. Just like everyone else’s. That shit will go wrong. And rather than being sad and horrifying, that knowledge can be a comfort. Liberating, even. The knowledge that my body is just like every other body. That things that happen to other people – random, horrible, unwanted things – can happen to us, too.

But it’s more than just accepting my body. Through this  practice I’m learning the art of accepting reality as it is. Even when I don’t like it, and I wish it was otherwise. I’ve learned how to identify when the pain I feel is stemming from my refusal to accept the facts of my situation – from wishing something was different than it is. Something out of my control. And conversely, I’ve experienced the release and freedom that comes from surrender. From giving up the fight that doesn’t really exist to begin with.

Through meditation I’ve been exposed to the art of gratitude. To focusing on the “what is” rather than the “what isn’t.” I’ve been constantly surprised by just how much gratitude has naturally come up in my heart and my head during this whole experience.

I’m grateful to live in this age of medical science that can detect defects (relatively) early on in a pregnancy, and provide safe options for termination. Thirty years ago, this pregnancy would have continued to full term and the defect would only have been discovered at birth. The baby would not have survived. Thirty years ago, I don’t think my meditation practice would have done shit to make me feel better.

I’m thankful for my beautiful little family. For my eternally supportive, patient, rock of a husband and our beautiful son. We want another baby and I’m sure we’ll have one very soon, but even if we never do – that’ll be okay too. It’s not a tragedy. The three of us are healthy and happy – so happy – and that’s more than enough.

Through meditation I’ve learned that nothing is solid. I’ve practiced looking deeper and deeper into sensations – physical and emotional, alike – only to discover that everything is always flickering. Even in the midst of despair there are moments of happiness. With this understanding, I’ve learned to feel sadness when it arises, to be with it and acknowledge it and let it run its course, and then to leave it and move on with the next sensation that comes up. To be with my pain when it arises, and then to equally be with the pure joy of our 2-year-old son whenever he bounces in the room. I’ve learned that while I don’t have the power to control what emotions arise, I can take responsibility for my reactions to them.

To be clear: this diatribe on the glory of meditation is not to say that this situation doesn’t suck – it does. It sucks big-time. There have been many moments and minutes and hours of sadness and disappointment. Tears and sobs that come from deep within, seemingly out of nowhere. That sinking feeling of “I can’t believe this is happening to me.” The unfairness of it all. To have to terminate a pregnancy right after a miscarriage. I mean come on. But when these moments pass, they pass. I take a deep breath, wipe my face, and then move on (usually to a block of dark chocolate).

Sometimes, I feel like I’m kidding myself. Like I haven’t cried enough. Like maybe the worst is yet to come. Like this whole line of thinking is all bullshit rationalization and bravado and that actually I’m so broken inside that I can’t even see it.

And that might be so, I suppose. Only time will tell. But right now, in this moment – this long, eternal moment – everything is ok. For once, it seems like my mind is on my side.

Miscarriage… and Somehow Life Goes On

Miscarriage… and Somehow Life Goes On

I had a miscarriage last month. It was early, around six weeks, and resolved itself naturally. It was a two-week emotional rollercoaster – telling our parents and a few close friends that I was pregnant and then in a matter of days finding out that the hormone levels had plateaued and the fetus didn’t seem to be developing. A little scare when some tests indicated that it might have been an ectopic pregnancy, and then a huge relief a day later when my doctor calmed our fears and my body started to pass the pregnancy.

Two weeks later, and I’m so at peace with it that I find myself worrying I’m in denial.

It’s just… okay. It’s not a tragedy – it never felt like one to me. I felt like we lost a pregnancy – not a baby. Maybe because it was so early, or because we never even saw the heartbeat – there probably never was one. Or maybe because we have a beautiful toddler running around, full of life and joy and silliness, and to be honest even if we never have another kid it will still be okay.

As well as looking at my life, I’ve constantly been thinking of the strong, resilient women around me who have gone through so much tougher challenges in their childbearing journeys. And honestly, each and every one of their situations seems so much harder than mine. So I’m mindful that a big part of the reason this miscarriage didn’t knock me flying was that really – it just could have been so much worse.

There’s something about statistics that kept running around my head, too – we’ve all heard the numbers about how common miscarriages are, especially at this early stage. One in four or five according to most sources. There’s something very grounding about the realization that I’m just as normal as everyone else – just as susceptible to the forces of nature.

Of course, there were big emotions – don’t get me wrong. I was beside myself for an entire day, an uncontrollable sobbing mess. Just when I thought I had my shit together a new wave of grief would rush over me and I’d be down for another hour. Thick, heavy sadness. Plain and simple.

And there was a bunch of fear, too. Fear of what would happen to me physically, fear of how nervous I’ll feel if/when I get pregnant again. And a mix of fear and sadness for some sort of lost innocence, a chipping away of my formerly formidable trust in my body. My husband helped me out on that one actually, gently correcting me when I’d expressed a fear of what would happen to my body – instead urging me to think about it as something my body would do. So spot on. From that moment I was oddly looking forward to the bleeding, to get that reassurance that my body was sorting it out, completing the process of terminating a pregnancy that wasn’t working for whatever reason.

The next day I was a mess for about half the day, and then only a couple of hours the day after that. And then the beginning of the week rocked up and I went back to work, figuring that worst case scenario I could jump in a cab and come home if I started feeling uncomfortable – physically or emotionally. And indeed there was a weird sensation about being at the office – like, why am I having benign conversations around the water cooler while I’m in the middle of a miscarriage? But it still felt like the right move.

Because what was the alternative? Sitting at home and dragging out the drama, holding onto painful emotions, making myself feel bad when for the most part I felt fine? When the sadness crept back in I felt it, respected it, and just let it pass – and it always did. Happiness always settled back in – along with anger and annoyance and all those other everyday feelings, of course.

So eventually I had a few days of bleeding with mild contraction-like cramps – not much more than a heavy period, really – and it was done. I had a couple of tests, got the all clear, and I feel good now. Inside and out. Liberated, somehow. Like I got through something massive and waddayaknow – I came out the other side okay, and maybe even a little wiser for it. As is often the case, the fear turned out to be so much worse than the reality.

I hope I can keep this calm, level feeling with me into another pregnancy in the near future, as an antidote to the anxieties that inevitably accompany the fertility and conception process. To keep in mind that even if something does go wrong, I – we – can handle it. Mindfully, honestly, and with as much ice cream as necessary.