Trying to get pregnant and breathe

Today, I called the SANDS helpline and spoke to a lovely woman. I so needed to hear that the mess I’m in is ‘normal’. It makes sense. Other people who have been here get it, in all the horrible intensity. Trying to get pregnant again after we’ve lost Tam has bowled me over. I had no idea how hard I would find it. After the devastation of losing Tam, on top of the terrible string of losses Rose has endured, by mid year things felt so right and ready. We had a donor again, I had some fantastic opportunities for my business, Rose was working…

I remember that when we first started trying to conceive, I was haunted by a death sense that took me by surprise. Trying again after loss has magnified that to proportions I can hardly fathom. When Rose crashed into severe PTSD and couldn’t work, and my own business hopes were dashed, I went into meltdown. I fought and struggled and tried to find a way through. In the end I’ve had to accept that I can’t stop it happening and just accept it and be patient.

Some days I shift my sense of accomplishment to things like – well today I’m not in hospital. I’m not costing the taxpayer money for a psychiatric bed. (which would be find if I needed it, of course, but hooray that I’m not) I don’t have a string of medicos giving me conflicting advice. I get to choose my own reading materials from the library and I have control of the remote for the tv. Plus, I’ve showered, dressed, hung out with friends, and have all my pets around.

This week has been a lot better. I’ve had a number of good days, and the bad days have reduced me to ‘useless’ but been nowhere near the intensity of 8 hour crying jags or 6 hour panic attacks. I actually felt well enough to call a helpline today – I know that sounds oxymoronic, but it’s really risky for me to reach out when I’m not okay at all, because there’s an even chance of not getting help and then I’m in terrible trouble. Today I could risk it and it helped a lot.

It feels like my life has stopped. Every cycle we aren’t pregnant feels almost like we’ve lost another baby. I’ve never cared a whoot about my own ageing, but I fell apart in the shower the other night suddenly noticing changes to my skin. I’m plagued by nightmares about my friends and family dying. Sometimes when we’re not pregnant I’m heartbroken and relieved in equal measure because at least that’s a baby I won’t miscarry. I can’t breathe properly, all the time. Remember that nightmare ten days between our ‘it doesn’t look good’ scan and the ‘they have died’ scan with Tamlorn? Like my life is on pause. Just trying to catch my breath, all the time, every day. A scream inside that never draws breath. Trying to force myself to be reconciled to something that everything in me simply cannot accept.

I feel crazy. I’ve been vaguely aware of ‘baby mad’ people from outside and never expected to be one myself. I want to be able to have a life while we try to get pregnant, and that feels impossible at the moment. I can’t fathom how that’s the case, but but right now my reality is that most days taking care of myself – eating, drinking, coaxing myself to sleep, staying in touch with my people, and so on, is all I have in me. I can’t tell you how frustrating, humiliating, bewildering, and scary that has been! It is so incredibly hard to maintain any kind of perspective and it’s unbearably vulnerable.

It’s unbearably painful to keep trying, and it would be unbearably painful to stop trying. I chose this and I felt ready and I thought we could ride the roller-coaster and walk into whatever came without regrets but now – I feel trapped. I can’t breathe. I can’t make it happen. I’m out to sea and helpless. We might get pregnant and we might not. We might carry to term and we might not. All the assurances people give us (it’ll happen when it’s time, when you’re ready, when the universe or God decides it’s right etc etc ad nauseam) belong to another world, an illusionary place where there is justice and fairness and a grand plan and some kind of certainty. I don’t live there! I’ve read the stories and talked to the people and I can tell you for absolutely sure that fertility is not fair and there is no certainty. If I knew we would never bring home a live baby I would stop right now and throw no more of my life away on this impossible dream. No more days just trying to breathe, talking myself gently through every hour, every minute. On the other hand, if I knew we were going to conceive this month and carry to term… nothing in the world could stop me. But I don’t know, and I feel powerless. How to live without regret in the face of such unknowns?

I am so frightened. I’m scared that I’ll never feel better, that I’ll have post natal depression, that I’ll be an awful parent, that we’ll never have a child, that all our friends will leave us, that we’ll have another miscarriage, or a stillbirth, or a baby who dies at 2. I’m scared that I’ll lose my mental health, my family, my tribe, my capacity to work, my lovely partner. What am I willing to give up for this? What if it doesn’t work?

Strangely, just being able to ask these questions helps so much. It gives shape and form to pain and darkness. If I can name it, understand it, share it, it’s not so overwhelming. I spoke to a stranger on the phone today and told her how agonising it has been to watch my beloved Rose suffer through PTSD. Night after night of screaming pain, to be holding her hand when she can’t even feel me there. And somewhere in all my rambling I said the thing I haven’t been able to say even to myself – Rose has loved so deeply and lost so many babies, I am afraid that if we never bring home a little one of our own, her heart will be broken beyond repair and I will lose her. I type that with tears running and my face aching with a scream I can’t sound. She hurts so much and I can’t bear it or take it away.

I don’t know how I found myself here, feeling so stuck, feeling that all my world pivots on a single dream I have so little control over. I can’t go forwards, I can’t go back. I can’t breathe. I’m ashamed and embarrassed and confused. I am good at reconciling myself to terrifying things! I’ve supported people I love through suicide attempts, I’ve built a life from homelessness and isolation, I’ve escaped communities in which I was dying and I’ve been able to grieve my losses without going back. I am good at this!

But oh, watching my love in pain. Oh, oh, my heart. Like an addicted gambler, where the stakes are everything I have done with my life until now – each month I roll the dice and hope. I can’t bring the stakes down, can’t end the game, can’t breathe.

Yes, said the woman on the helpline. It makes us feel crazy. It sends us into breakdowns. It isolates us.

Writhing like a worm on a hook. Silent because too many people already think I won’t be a good parent, or that I’ll regret it, or that I’m not up to it. Silent and frightened and embarrassed as my sense of the world falls to pieces and I’m in the biggest free fall through the deepest black pit.

I didn’t have any idea just how hard the last few months were going to be. I wanted to be able to handle them so much better! I’ve tried very, very hard to do so. And I’ve done a lot even in this distraught place that I’m proud of. I’ve helped my love find the support she needs, held her hand and cheered her on as she’s moved into an incredibly fast recovery and return to work. I’ve supported my sister through a tough time. I’ve not leaned too hard on any one person, but I have asked for help and been honest about how not okay I am. And I’m still here, still with Rose, in our lovely home, caring for our pets, gardening, looking after myself, hanging out with friends. I might have flunked college and given up on my business and not been able to write or paint and have no idea what I’m going to do for work – but I’m still here. My life has  not burned down around me. I’ve read a lot of books. I’ve even joined a baseball team, just last night, with Rose and a couple of friends. I still have my life and I’m starting to come out of the deep darkness. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to hear a beautiful talk about supporting trans men at a local pregnancy service a couple of days ago and my heart was so buoyed by it – I love work like this so much! I can’t wait to be well enough to get back to it. Our stunning garden blooms outside my window and it feels like a metaphor on a day like today. All that hard work months and years ago, and today when I have done nothing – not even got dressed, I just sit here and watch it bloom. The effort pays off and carries me through the times I can’t do anything. I rest and it carries me through. I rest and it carries me. For that I’m thankful.

3 thoughts on “Trying to get pregnant and breathe

  1. Thinking of you Sarah. I wish there was something I could do for you all, too, but for what it’s worth I’m just…here. You’ve given me more than you probably realize, in our conversations, and I wish I could give back to you somehow. I’m listening and hoping with you.

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