About This Site

This site is a collection of blog posts that were originally published by websites that are no longer live. They document my personal experiences of recurrent miscarriage, and how I discovered that mindfulness and self-kindness could help support me through some extremely difficult times.

I’ve received many comments and emails from complete strangers who’d found some comfort in reading these blogs. Often these emails expressed appreciation for my honesty (I didn’t hold back on describing some of the painful feelings that can be hard to admit to), or how the reader felt a sense of recognition, of not being the only one affected by similar issues; in fact when I suffered my first 7 miscarriages, I scoured the internet for stories similar to mine, and at the time I found nothing that resonated with me.

I know from personal experience that raw honesty is sometimes more helpful than airbrushed perfection, and so this is a very candid exploration of my own path through grief and loss, towards healing and peace.

As I write this introduction, I realise that some of these pieces were written when I was in a very different place emotionally from where I find myself today. But every stage on my own journey was valuable, and so I haven’t edited or censored what I expressed in the blogs as originally posted.

In my case, I felt like the experiences of loss offered me an opportunity:  they opened a door to the unknown which I could choose to walk through, painful as it was.  Personally I’m glad I did walk through that door – it woke me up to a totally new way to engage with life, and I wouldn’t swap that for an easier route to parenthood.  I learned the liberating truth that I’m not really ‘in control’ of everything; I opened up to a much richer emotional life; and I discovered how to truly delight in the quiet, unremarkable – yet miraculous – moments of experiencing this mysterious human life.

We all respond differently to pain and loss, and there’s no one right way to feel, but for those who might find something helpful in these writings, I offer them with love and compassion for what you’re going through.

PLEASE READ THE GUIDANCE NOTE at the bottom of this post, to ensure that you support yourself as fully as possible. Oh, and please forgive the presence of ads on this site (a free site was the best option for now).

ABOUT ME

I live in the UK with my husband and our son, and I work part-time as a Mindful Living coach. As a trained coach and mindfulness teacher, I’ve shared the practices of mindfulness and self-kindness with hundreds of people in classes and workshops. I’ve written for popular websites including the Huffington Post and Everyday Mindfulness. I’m passionate about contributing whatever I can to support others’ journeys of self-development, and I’m inspired by being human and discovering freedom.  You can access my Mindful Living resources at my main site sheilabayliss.com

GUIDANCE NOTE

This site consists of reflections on my personal experience, and as such is not intended as advice about how to practice mindfulness. If you have recently experienced a traumatic loss or are experiencing debilitating levels of emotional distress, it may not be advisable to learn mindfulness for the first time until you are feeling more settled, and I would recommend seeking the support of a suitably qualified mental health professional.

Alongside my own mindfulness practice, I relied on regular sessions with a therapist during the journey described in these blogs. Many therapists now incorporate mindfulness and self-compassion into their approaches, and can help guide you as to when to move on to a more general mindfulness-based approach.

The writing offered here is in no way a substitute for support from an appropriate health professional, therapist or counsellor.

Posts on this site include:

Life Lessons

Being With Sadness

When Baby News Hurts

The Anxiety Of Uncertainty

Self-Kindness For Beginners

Recurrent Pregnancy Loss And How It Changed Me

Life Lessons

Like most people, life has given me a bumpy ride at times. As I approach my 40th birthday, I find I’m grateful for so much that I learned through those tough times. The challenges of recurrent pregnancy loss and the ensuing grief have taken me into some truly dark tunnels along my journey so far. However, the growth I also experienced is very precious to me. I’d like to share 7 things I’m grateful to have been shown, despite the heartache that they emerged from.

Body wisdom can be trusted

It wasn’t until I experienced some health issues that I even realized I had a body. I was stuck in my head, constantly striving and problem-solving. When my body suddenly wasn’t working how I wanted it to, I felt let down and betrayed by it. But at the same time, I became aware of my physical self in a new way. I didn’t always like what I was noticing, but I began to experience a wisdom that goes way beyond thinking. Mindfulness has helped me to build on this: practices like the body scan and mindful movement have enabled me to come home to my whole self. With time, I’ve learned to trust the information that my body can detect, but which my mind is oblivious to. These days when my head and heart are in conflict, my body tells me what’s ‘right’. Now when I find myself looking for logical reasons to justify a gut instinct, I let go and trust that innate knowing.

Nature embraces all of us

Bereavement has often left me feeling incredibly isolated, and not just from other people. At times I have also felt like an outcast from nature and the world itself. My personal ritual for grief includes sitting with my sadness, letting it in mindfully and with self-compassion. One day as I engaged with this, something new happened. As I looked out of the window at the vast & eternal blue sky, I suddenly felt a profound connection to nature. I realized that I was still part of it, just another creature intrinsically connected to the whole – along with the sky, the birds, the plants. This is just as true when I’m sad as when I’m joyful. Whereas I had been feeling divided from nature, I now felt held and soothed by it. Finding solace in nature has become helpful to me when I need comfort. In my mindfulness practice, the connection meditations also seem to strengthen this bond.

Following my truth takes me where I’m supposed to go

From my work as a coach, I know that big life events can completely change your personal values. I also know this from my own experience. After my 5th miscarriage, I started to question my beloved career. I had what seemed like an impressive and exciting job in the TV industry and my work had always been something I’d defined myself by. I worked hard and I cared about doing my best. But suddenly I didn’t care about it any more. Compared with trying to become a family, it just didn’t seem important. I felt less able to handle the stress that went with a fast-paced job, and I knew that something had to give. I had absolutely no idea what would come next, but I left my job without another one to go to. Despite all the unknowns, one thing felt clear in my heart – that I was following my own truth.- For me at the time, that was the pursuit of a family. Looking back I can see that it also set me on a course towards a totally different career as a wellbeing coach. I wouldn’t have been bold enough to design that path for myself, but I’ve been carried along one incredible step at a time.

The heart is open to joy

One of the biggest surprises I experienced during my fertility problems was that I could still feel joy. I am certain that my mindfulness practice had something to do with this. On learning I was pregnant for a 6th time, fear lurked constantly at the edges of my awareness, often pouncing and overwhelming me. But alongside this, there were moments of happiness. I would take a walk in the spring sunshine, and my body would just open up to a warm feeling of joy. This happened in spite of the crippling anxiety I was also feeling. And I would let it in – let it fill me up, even if just for a moment or two. Even though I knew that it could all go horribly wrong again, I was able to take in that joy when it arose. That we humans can be that resilient still amazes me. I did lose that pregnancy too, but I still remember those happy moments with fondness. They weren’t in any way tainted by the loss that followed. If anything, the memories are more precious for that fact. That experience taught me that flashes of joy can enter my experience when I least expect it – and if I can stay open to it, I can be enriched. But I’ve also come to accept that these feelings are momentary. If I can hold them lightly, I can be touched by their beauty. And then, rather than clinging on, I can let them go to make room for the next moment of joy.

It’s OK to hope, even when there seems no reason to

People often ask me how I kept going through the 7 miscarriages we suffered before we had our son. During that time I learned that if Hope and Despair were competing in an endurance test, Hope would win. Although there was a medical reason for our losses, our unlucky experience wasn’t stacking up against the odds we’d been given. I started to wonder if something else was wrong that the doctors hadn’t found. Every time we tried again, it felt like stumbling forwards in a black tunnel. I couldn’t see a light at the end of it. But I could feel a light that hadn’t quite been snuffed out. And that was Hope, burning like a candle in my heart. To this day I’m grateful for that stubborn little flame that kept us going – without that, I might have given up.

Learning unfolds at its own pace

Many times during my journey towards parenthood, I struggled for something to hold onto. Something that would make all the heartache make sense. Journalling helped me immensely. And grief rituals were a comfort. I also came to recognize that one way I was coping was to find meaning in each loss. But by the 7th one, I was drawing a little blank. I was feeling defeated and unsure if I could carry on going down the same path over and over. And then I began to wonder – what if some of it wouldn’t make sense for a while? Many times in my life since then I’ve had the sense that I’m learning something important, but I’m not sure what it is. When I don’t force it, I find the learning unfolds. And that it sometimes has to unfold in its own time. We can’t rush wisdom.

When a storm hits, navigation is key

At this point I felt like life had knocked me so far off course that I couldn’t even see the destination I thought I was aiming for. My newly-wed bliss had been shattered by the misery of miscarriage, and I’d left my much-loved career due to stress. Without a job to give me a sense of purpose, and without any guarantee that I’d ever become a mum, I felt completely adrift. Until that point in my life, I’d tried to control everything. But here life was showing me that to keep straining for control was only exhausting me. Instead, I could let the wind catch my sails and navigate towards a new horizon. This spirit of brave exploration carried me far. I discovered mindfulness as a new way to deal with the anxiety that had always plagued me. Eventually, after more losses, we did become parents. And pretty much by accident, I’ve ended up doing work that feels more meaningful than anything I could have planned.

We were lucky enough to become a family in the end, and it’s impossible to express how grateful we are for our son. We did suffer more losses after he arrived, but our happiness as a family of 3 has enabled us to let go of what will never be. Perhaps it’s not surprising that I’ve found that process of letting go has brought yet more life lessons that I cherish.

The content of this site should not be used as a substitute for medical advice or support from a mental health professional – see About This Site for more info (plus author bio).

Being With Sadness

Sadness is as much a part of life as happiness. We may wish that wasn’t true, and it can be easy to believe that loss is what happens to other people.

Until it happens to you.

And then you’re flung into a new world that you have no training for, feeling totally lost and without a roadmap. Having suffered multiple pregnancy losses, I spent about 7 years becoming quite well acquainted with grief and loss. I learned an awful lot about being human, not least that to feel sad is to be human.

Feelings of loss are common to so many of us – whether through bereavement, infertility or illness and the loss of health. It has helped me hugely to read other peoples’ stories. So I wanted to write about how mindfulness and self-compassion have helped me learn to live with loss.

There’s no manual for loss

When it first happened to me, I wished there was a handbook or a manual for grieving – some guideline for what I should feel, and what I could do to get through it more easily. My first instinct was to do something about it. I wanted to fix or solve my sadness, make it go away, or find a project to distract me and replace what I was feeling.

I even wrote a list of self-improvement projects. So desperate was I to ‘do’ something as a way to cope that I even wrote a To Do list: it included things like getting a new job, meeting new people, a healthier lifestyle etc. Of course, loss has changed me – and all those things did eventually happen. But I can see that at that particular point, when my grief was still very new, it was an attempt to escape my pain.

I now know that there isn’t a set process that we follow until we’re ‘over’ a loss and ok again. A tough lesson for me was that there wasn’t anything I could Do with grief. And so instead I started to learn about Being with it.

Grieving takes great courage, and a lot of energy

Following a loss, I sometimes didn’t feel ready to grieve straight away. During these times, my mind and body would shut down. I’d either feel completely numb, or just sleep a lot. I think this was how my body made sure I had the energy to get through it all, by making sure I didn’t try to feel it all in one go, but rather in stages – as and when I was ready.

It would take time for the initial shock to subside. Several times my grief hit me hardest about 6 weeks after the event. It was as if I’d needed to recuperate some of the energy that I’d used in surviving the trauma of loss. Only then did I feel ready to deal with fully feeling the emotional impact.

Periods of sadness would then come in waves, some shorter and some much longer. Some would feel like a big black hole or dark tunnel that threatened to swallow me up. Sometimes the waves would take me by surprise, and my reaction would be shock that I still felt it so deeply. So it was important not to rush it, to ride each wave as it came and then rest deeply in between.

Not wanting sadness

Gradually, I became aware that I was scared to let myself feel the grief, because I feared I’d get stuck in it. An important step for me was learning to recognise when I was resisting feeling sadness. I started to see more clearly that my typical response to difficulty was to try to fix things. This was a well-worn strategy of mine to avoid feeling pain. It had worked for most of my life – but not now.

So I experimented with not fixing the sadness, not pushing it away – and instead, beginning to let it be there, to let it be felt. Several things helped me do this: my counselling sessions, my mindfulness practice and my journalling.

I began to just sit with my sadness. Literally, I’d schedule periods to just sit with it. I had to go gently – going at my own pace, letting it in a little bit at a time. Later, when my mindfulness practice was more established, I’d use my meditations like this. There’s a Danna Faulds poem that describes how ‘When loss rips off the doors of the heart, or sadness veils your vision with despair, practice becomes simply bearing the truth’. My meditations felt like that. Just being with it, bearing it.

Or I’d write in my journal – completely uncensored, pouring out all the shock, disbelief and anger, the guilt and feeling like I was being punished; how lost I felt, how dead and numb and empty at times, how scared that I’d feel this broken-hearted forever. In the private space of my journal I also investigated the different layers of loss: my separation from who I’d lost, and also my loss of identity, of the life I’d never have now.

In all these ways, I made space for my feelings of sadness to be there, just as they were – through talking (and being listened to), writing, and just sitting with.

Feeling is healing

This was probably the first time in my life that I’d let tears come without wanting to make them stop. And that began to feel healing. In a way, grieving forced me into a very mindful space, where all I could do was be with my experience one moment a time, even if that moment was filled with pain. Letting myself just feel whatever I felt was a big change for me. It was like exploring completely uncharted waters.

I found that allowing myself these short periods to be with my feelings, instead of wanting to ‘get over it’, meant that I could spot more readily when I was pushing sadness away. That would then become a cue to let it in a little more.

Ironically, letting the waves of sadness fully come (when I was feeling strong enough) meant that in time I was able to let the good things in too. These were tiny moments of goodness, like a hug from someone who cared, or the warmth of the sun on my face. It was as if letting in all the grief enabled me to let in these other aspects of my experience aswell, instead of shutting myself off from them. At times I found there was even a kind of beauty in that sadness. As if my heart had broken wide open, and so it had let in the full range of experience, including this beauty that I’d never been open to before.

From sadness to kindness

Although I felt positive about developing a new relationship with my pain, I found that other peoples’ reactions to it could be awkward. At times I felt that others treated my grief like an illness that needed to be cured. But to me, that grief felt like all I had left of my children. Sadness, after all, can be a form of love. What I believe now (and mindfulness approaches very much teach us this) – is that sadness itself isn’t suffering. It’s painful, yes, but where it became suffering for me was when I was resisting it, adding the pain and fear of not wanting to feel it on top of the sadness.

Once I did start to feel that sadness, I could release the energy that had been used in resisting my emotions. And then I could use this energy in caring for myself while it hurt so badly. I was mindful of the potential for getting overwhelmed by these feelings, and at times I needed to hold myself with a huge amount of gentleness. I would set up camp on my sofa with a pile of DVDs, like a form of extreme self-care that felt very necessary.

For me, grief opened the door – for the first time – to self-compassion. I discovered that when sadness arises, it’s kind to let it be felt. I’d never known feelings like that, and I also discovered a new self-kindness that I hadn’t known before either. As Naomi Shihab Nye writes, ‘Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing’.

After each loss, I’d felt so broken and in need of fixing. But over time, my sadness has in fact made me feel whole.

Note – it may not be advisable to learn mindfulness for the first time if you have experienced a recent or traumatic loss, and you may need therapeutic support from a health professional.

The content of this site should not be used as a substitute for medical advice or support from a mental health professional – see About This Site for more info (plus author bio).

 

When Baby News Hurts

Being human throws all sorts of difficult feelings at us that we’d rather not have. For me, some of the most complex are brought up when someone announces their pregnancy. My own story includes 9 pregnancy losses, 7 of them before we had our rainbow son. So over the years, I’ve dealt with those announcements more times than I’d like to remember. And they always happen with the worst timing, don’t they? Often it coincides with a recent loss, or a significant anniversary date.

Even though I’m content with our decision not to try for any more children, I still find pregnancy announcements hard. Having been lucky enough to become a mum, I do feel able to share in the joy of those who’ve experienced infertility who also get lucky. However – and it may not be very socially acceptable to admit this – I can find it painful to hear about those around me who are having second children, given that this isn’t possible for us. Over time, I’ve learned how to support myself through these times, thanks in no small part to my mindfulness and self-compassion practice.

Writing this piece was quite a challenge, so I’ve broken it down into some typical reactions I’ve experienced. For me, it’s a bit like peeling the layers off an onion, not least for the amount of tears that can flow! With each layer of emotions that I process, I feel a bit less stuck. Sometimes I need to stay with one particular layer for a while.

Fear

Ever since my first miscarriage, I’ve been hyper-vigilant about who’s likely to make an announcement and when. It’s a self-protection thing. If I can just be prepared, then it won’t hit me as hard. Except that it always does. At times I’ve felt completely consumed by it. It’s hard not to take it personally, and I would withdraw into my head. In there, a battle was raging between my emotional self and the part of me that didn’t want to feel so vulnerable. My knee-jerk reaction is still ‘Oh no, here it comes again – that awful feeling that I thought I’d seen the back of’. There can be a panic that these horrible feelings will be permanent, that I’ll be stuck in that place forever.

Anger

I’ve filled volumes of journals ranting about how unfair it all is. And I probably needed to do that. To let myself feel it and let it out. The anger can feel like humiliation aswell, a burning resentment about having to be all happy around the pregnant lady. If I’m really honest with myself, I think sometimes I’ve even wanted the poor lady in question to get something wrong, just so I can feel justified in being angry at her. Logically I know it’s not really her I’m angry with. But it’s alot easier to have someone to aim my rage at. So if she would just oblige by saying something irrefutably insensitive, then I could point to that and say ‘See? Look how she’s making me feel’.

Jealousy

The first umpteen times I went through this, I couldn’t even admit to what some of my feelings were. I just couldn’t acknowledge that I felt jealousy or resentment. Oh how I fought with myself. ‘I’m not this kind of person, I’m nicer than that’; ‘I don’t envy her anyway – look at all the things I have that she doesn’t’; ‘I don’t want to feel like this’. I may have been persuaded that sadness and anger were ok, but not jealousy – I judged that particular emotion as ‘bad’, and it therefore made me a ‘bad’ person.

Self-criticism

So then I’d be thinking ‘Everyone’s going to think I’m a selfish bitch for not being able to be happy for my friend, and they’re right’. Even now that I am a mum, I can feel betrayed by my mind, disappointed in myself that these announcements still bother me. There’s that sense of ‘I shouldn’t feel this’, or ‘I should be over this by now’.

Guilt

Once I’d been through the above rollercoaster and the news wasn’t so fresh, then I’d start to feel really guilty – how would I feel if something bad happened? Guilt can cut especially deep when the happy news comes from someone who felt like an ally or a safe place. I can feel they are deserting me they skip off into the sunset, and I can feel ashamed for this reaction.

Sadness

It took me a while to get the hang of feeling sadness and grief. I realise now that alot of the other emotions I feel are actually trying to protect me from feeling the deep sadness that underlies all of it. When I peel back those layers and really listen to the part of me that’s hurting, I learn that what I feel is grief for the babies I’ve lost, sadness for what will never be, or isolation (a feeling of being left out). So when a friend announces their exciting news and I burst into tears, it’s not so much about not feeling happy for them, it’s about grieving my own loss.

That all sounds pretty bleak, I know. However…

These experiences have also helped me discover some new feelings, ones which I don’t really think were in my emotional repertoire before. And they have come to my rescue time and time again.

Courage

Over time I’ve learned how to identify any feelings that I’m resisting. These feelings can become a much worse ‘problem’ for me the more I try to push them away. But to let them be there takes alot of bravery: I really don’t want to feel whatever it is, so it’s way too scary to risk getting any closer to it! But when I stop and ask myself ‘What if it was OK to feel this?’, something shifts. When I drop that resistance, I stop the war with myself and though the pain is still there, I don’t feel so suffocated. For example, getting angry can be a way of trying to push sadness away. But embracing that sadness – letting it be heard and recognising the loss that I (still) need to feel – actually helps me process it, rather than getting stuck in resistance. It takes courage to open up to these feelings, but when I’m not fighting with them, they seem to subside sooner.

Acceptance

It’s easy to judge these difficult feelings as ‘wrong’, weak or a sign of failure. But where did I get the idea that I can only feel good about myself if I never feel painful emotions? (Well, I could answer that but it’s a whole other blog post!). At some point during my journey of infertility and loss, I decided that I could feel OK about myself precisely because I was coping with something so difficult. I came to realise that my pain was bringing me closer to my own human-ness. OK, so it still hurt like hell. But I could feel the pain and feel self-respect. More than that, I felt proud of myself for surviving it, no matter how messy my reactions may have appeared to others.

Compassion

I’ve finally stopped putting pressure on myself to ‘be ok’ with pregnancy announcements. I accept that I may always find them difficult and I don’t try to force myself to feel or say what I think I ‘should’. I now understand that having difficult feelings doesn’t mean I deserve to be punished, but that I deserve to be cared for. It’s not that I would wish my suffering on others, a part of me just wants to feel understood. When I respond to that part of me that’s hurting with criticism and judgement, it doesn’t make the feelings go away. But when I meet this part of myself with understanding – with an attitude of ‘I understand why this hurts. It reminds you of what you’ve lost. It brings up alot that’s painful’ – then it feels like I’m on my own side. For me, it’s as if some feelings need to be acknowledged, and once they’ve been fully felt, they don’t weigh me down in the same way. Self-kindness helps me to hold myself until I feel strong enough to carry on with my life, even as I carry the painful feelings with me.

Connection

It’s no wonder I want to hide from the world when these announcements happen – it’s exhausting! But I’ve been able to find some people who can stand alongside me in making space for my own feelings. Often I have found these people at mindfulness classes. I’ve found that in that setting, everyone has their own struggles, different challenges in life like health issues, work or family problems, and we can be there for each other as fellow human beings. Loss and infertility can really mess with our ability to feel happy for other people’s baby news. But it can also hugely increase our sensitivity, and our capacity to be with others when they are hurting. And to be able to be with another’s suffering (without turning away) is no less valid than to be able to be with another’s joy. After all, everyone wants to be happy, but everyone also suffers. We can’t take away the pain that someone else is feeling. But we can make sure they’re not alone.

The content of this site should not be used as a substitute for medical advice or support from a mental health professional – see About This Site for more info (plus author bio).

The Anxiety Of Uncertainty

When I was going through recurrent miscarriage, one of the most difficult aspects of my experience was the uncertainty about whether we would ever become parents. I’m pretty sure that the anxiety provoked by that not-knowing is felt by many people facing fertility problems.

However, being forced to confront the uncertainty of life led to one of the biggest lightbulb moments I’ve ever had, without which I would never have developed the resilience that has seen me through much heartache and struggle. That learning is what I’d like to share here, for anyone currently in the grip of ‘Uncertainty Anxiety’.

Searching for certainty

Until we tried to start a family, I pretty much believed that if you want something in life, you can make it happen. For example, if I didn’t get the job I wanted, I’d dust myself down and apply for another, until I was where I wanted to be. Even challenges like crippling shyness and perfectionism had been issues I knew I could overcome with enough determination. So when we starting trying for a baby, I remember thinking I was being realistic in that I expected it might take a year or so to conceive. I figured I’d have to be patient, and focus on career achievements in the meantime, until it happened.

At no point did I have ‘recurrent miscarriage’ on my list of possible problems. Until we had our 3rd loss. And then we headed into that territory of always falling into the ‘very rare’ category – you know, where doctors tell you ‘well this might happen, but it’s very rare’, (and then it happens) and ‘well it’s so rare that we didn’t think we needed to mention it to you – but this is what’s gone wrong this time’. At every turn, just when we thought we knew every possible negative scenario that we could go through, we were flung into a different one. As the miscarriages started growing in number (we lost 7 before we had our son), so did my despair at the fact that I couldn’t know for certain when – or even if – this would work out for us.

Every time uncertainty reared its head, I would cast around for something I could do to make it go away. Usually, this meant getting lured into yet another internet search, in the hope that it would give me ‘proof’ that everything would be ok. In fact, all this did was keep me trapped in a battle with not-knowing. I wish I’d known more back then about self-compassion meditation – it would have been a much more self-supportive strategy than consulting Doctor Internet, which usually made me feel worse.

The illusion of control

One day, I sat in the bath ruminating on it all, trying to work out what to ‘do’ to make things work out – and an insight hit me like a bolt of lightning. ‘I’m not in control!’ This may seem obvious to someone outside the situation, but it was a complete revelation to me. I now look upon this moment as one of the first gifts of my (then very new) mindfulness practice. I’d really never seen that we just aren’t in control of everything in life. But here circumstances were forcing me to recognise that.

I’d spent my whole life trying to control everything and believing in the illusion that this was possible. Early on in my life I learned that being in control made me feel safe – no surprise there, as I didn’t have a particularly secure childhood. It’s also an illusion perpetuated by modern culture: adverts and magazines seem to be saying ‘buy this or do that, and you’ll remove all your problems and be totally happy – it’s up to you’. Until I experienced miscarriage, I’d never had to face the fact that I wasn’t actually in charge of everything. To control had been my main coping strategy in life, and until now I’d pretty much succeeded in pulling it off – although I hadn’t acknowledged that the stress of doing so had at times made me physically unwell. It’s natural to dislike uncertainty and want to avoid it, and we all want to feel safe. But I’d chased that sense of safety at the expense of my own wellbeing, overexerting myself at work and taking way too much responsibility. Although I’d always believed that being in control made me feel safe, in fact it just reinforced my fear of the unknown. In practical terms, the more I strove for control, the more anxious I actually felt.

Compassion, not criticism

In a moment that changed my life forever, I saw that life is full of uncertainty , and that I’d been resisting that with all my might. There was a dawning of realisation – lack of control over my fertility was making me feel unsafe, and causing me to cling to the control strategy that had always served me well. But it wasn’t working now. Of course this journey was hard for me!

I realised that this wasn’t all down to me, and that felt quite liberating. It was an instant relief from some of the guilt I felt about not having managed to achieve a successful pregnancy. I can’t control it all, therefore it’s not my fault. It’s not because I’m not thinking positively enough. Or eating well enough. Or not wanting it enough. It’s because nature is random and we can’t control it. My relationship with myself became alot more compassionate from that point onwards, as I realised that I didn’t need to beat myself up for not making it happen: I needed to offer myself compassion for how hard it was to live with uncertainty and lack of control.

A subtle shift happened following this pivotal moment. I still have a picture that I drew – at the invitation of my lovely counsellor who gently supported me on this journey. She asked if I could draw how I was feeling, and a picture just sort of landed on the paper in front of me, I didn’t really know where the pencil was going. It showed a winding path going into a wood, and I couldn’t see the end destination. This picture became a comfort. I didn’t know what was ahead – bad or good – so all I could do was take the step right in front of me on the path, just be with this moment. To begin with, I was just getting up the courage to walk into the wood, without knowing what was in there. Over time I added to the picture, letting my gut instinct guide the drawing. Gradually the page filled up with a picture that included representations of adventure, community and serving others. The weird thing is, at the time I didn’t really know what those extra bits were about – but much of it reflects how my life actually is now, in positive ways that I could never have predicted or even imagined back then.

A powerful choice

I think that picture was all about embracing uncertainty in a positive way. There were multiple possible paths, and outcomes I couldn’t foresee. Around the same time, I stumbled across a magazine article about mystery with a quote that said “Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved”* This really stayed with me (it’s still stuck on my wall). I began to feel I had some choice in how I responded to the uncertainty. My choice was to re-frame it and accept the not-knowing. I felt like I was catching the wind in my sails and navigating somewhere new, I just couldn’t see the horizon. It was as if I stopped fighting life and began to surrender to the mystery – not in a negative way, but in a way that helped me cope better with what was beyond my control.

Don’t get me wrong, it was one of the hardest times in my life. I didn’t leap out of bed each morning and joyfully exclaim ‘I don’t know if we’ll ever get to be a family – how exciting!’ But there was a subtle shift that strengthened my ability to cope. On some level I realised that if I wanted to continue down the path I was on – which I hoped would lead to parenthood – I had to be willing to encounter alot of uncertainty. From that place of openness, I chose to keep going – with no guarantee that the next pregnancy would work out, or the one after that… I chose to keep meeting uncertainty, over and over again. This willingness – I now know – is a key characteristic of the mindfulness skill of compassionate acceptance. We can’t choose what happens to us, but we can choose how to respond. Once I accepted that uncertainty was going to be part of my experience, it freed up the energy I’d been using to fight it. I put that energy into caring for myself, channelling it away from striving for control and pouring it instead into self-compassion. I was also able to accept that as much as I’d like to know what was coming next, I didn’t need to know in advance how things would unfold.

Letting go

I now understood myself better, knowing that uncertainty made me feel anxious because it made me feel unsafe. Striving for control wasn’t working, so I turned to mindfulness for an alternative. Focussing on the present moment helped me to feel like I could handle this moment, right now. I didn’t need to handle all the ‘What if?’ scenarios in advance, not until I was actually in one of them. At the same time, letting go of trying to control other things (such as others’ behaviour in work) helped me not only to look after myself better, but it also built up my tolerance for uncertainty. It was a bit like starting to give up a lifelong habit. I tried out just being with uncertainty, instead of engaging in ‘control’ behaviour with work situations, and then gradually found my response to fertility-related situations began to change. I could let the discomfort of not-knowing be there without trying to push it away so much.

After our son arrived, we embraced the uncertainty of trying for a sibling. Sadly, this didn’t work out and led only to more heartache. When we decided to stop TTC and enjoy the family we are, this meant opening up to another kind of uncertainty. How will I feel being asked by other parents if we’re having another one? Will it still hurt when friends announce pregnancies? Will our son ask me questions about why some of his friends have siblings, and he doesn’t? I can never predict when these things will happen, or how I’ll feel in the moment that they do arise. Granted, I know this is a whole different ball game from wondering if you’ll ever get to be a parent at all. But even though we were lucky enough to become a family in the end, life didn’t suddenly become magically ‘easy’ or totally uncertainty-free. If anything, the skills I learned during my fertility struggles have much better equipped me to learn to meet the anxiety of uncertainty with emotional confidence. Letting go can feel really uncomfortable, but I now understand and accept that one of the few things you can be certain of in life is uncertainty.

*I believe this is a quote from Soren Kierkegaard

The content of this site should not be used as a substitute for medical advice or support from a mental health professional – see About This Site for more info (plus author bio).

Self-Kindness For Beginners

Some years ago, when I had my first few miscarriages, people often said ‘be kind to yourself’. I would nod politely, but I had absolutely no idea how to actually do that. No wonder. It’s not something we’re taught at school. But we can learn it for ourselves – by practising mindfulness, laced with a hefty dose of self-compassion. I was fortunate enough to be booked on a mindfulness course just when I needed it most. Over time, I learned how to make space for what I was feeling – for me at that time it was an unnerving combination of grief, despair and anxiety. Then I got the hang of really caring for myself, because what I was going through was hard. This didn’t take the difficult feelings away. But rather than being overwhelmed by them, I came to embrace them as part of being human, and I developed a confidence that I was coping – and even growing – through my struggles.

Although it felt completely counter-intuitive at first, I began to just ‘sit with’ the difficult feelings. Bit by bit, I found that allowing them to just be there was actually less exhausting than trying to push them away. Strangely, I found I could then appreciate what was positive in my life alongside the challenges. I came to realise that I wasn’t ‘weak’ because I was experiencing powerful emotions. I started to cut myself some slack when I didn’t feel able to perform – at work, or in my life, as if it was ‘business as usual’. I began to take care of myself as if I really mattered, to identify and meet my own needs. This gave me the energy to keep going through the rough times, and in the end we were very fortunate to have our little boy. Given the choice, I’m not sure I’d change any of those experiences, considering the emotional confidence I gained from them.

A learning that has really stayed with me is that no matter what I’m going through, if I’m struggling, then it’s ok to find it hard. And it can really help to offer myself comfort for that difficulty, just as I would to a good friend. Telling myself ‘it’s ok to find this hard’ has become something of a personal mantra that helps nudge me into self-compassion when I need it.

When I look back on that time of beginning to learn what self-kindness might actually look like in practice, I remember a few other things that were new for me, which I’ll share below.

While I was going through that difficult time, unfortunately the rest of life didn’t stop. I had to be proactive in removing other stressors that I used to feel able to cope with, but which then began to feel overwhelming. Of course, some stresses I couldn’t control, but I could do something about others. I began to think about what additional resources or support I needed, and sought that out. Regular sessions with a therapist were a big part of this – for once I didn’t feel guilty about taking time away from work for looking after myself. I also needed to step back from some commitments, in both my personal and professional life. This meant asking colleagues and friends for some help and understanding: I recognised that not everyone could support me in the way I needed, but some people appreciated me spelling out what was helpful, and what wasn’t!

I also learned how to make room emotionally. What I mean by this is that I began to give some non-judgemental attention to the part of me that was struggling. This was my first step towards learning to support myself with compassion. I created more room for what I was feeling, instead of trying to push it away, or force myself to behave like I thought I ‘should’ behave. Instead of seeing certain feelings as ‘silly’ or as a sign of weakness, I tried on the idea that my feelings are always valid, and found that much more helpful. I would regularly ask myself ‘what is particularly difficult for me right now?’, or ‘what are my thoughts and feelings?’. Then I would imagine how I’d respond to a friend who was suffering, and try to offer myself the same gentle support.

I remember that I used to feel particularly challenged by certain social situations, when I wasn’t feeling like particularly good company, or just didn’t feel like being around people. So I tried to spend time with people I felt supported and nurtured by. I consciously noticed which particular situations I was finding hard, and gave myself permission to avoid them if possible. Instead of pushing on through and ending up feeling upset, I let myself off the hook more often. When I couldn’t avoid certain situations, I worked out how to be more gentle with yourself within that situation – even if it meant finding refuge in the toilets when I needed a breather. This was one of my coping strategies: finding a private space for a little cry, or to say something kind and supportive to myself. I also realised that people would often say things that I found insensitive or upsetting. I learned in those moments to recognise that they weren’t intending to be unkind, and to hold myself with compassion for how painful those moments were.

My physical wellbeing also took on an increased importance. I gave more consideration to what I needed to do to support myself physically. I chose to adopt some new healthy habits to safeguard my wellbeing. When I was having a really bad day, I made sure I had a default soothing activity that I’d feel able to turn to once I got home – things like a hot bath, a favourite TV show, lying on the floor or writing in my journal. I made yourself a priority, and did these activities with an intention of self-care and nurturing myself. Given that I was having a hard time emotionally, I felt like I needed this even more.

These are just some of the strategies that formed my personal self-kindness toolkit. Over time, this has created a foundation for my wellbeing that is accessible even in my darkest moments.

The content of this site should not be used as a substitute for medical advice or support from a mental health professional – see About This Site for more info (plus author bio).

Recurrent Pregnancy Loss And How It Changed Me

When we started TTC, I assumed that it might take us a while to get there, but I didn’t think about miscarriage as a realistic possibility. After 2 early losses, I’d lost that innocence, but I really did think it would be a case of ‘third time lucky’.

I’ll never forget the absolute shock of my third loss. I found out at a scan just before 12 weeks. There had been no sign that anything was wrong, and I didn’t even know that a missed miscarriage could happen. I’d totally been expecting to meet my baby for the first time, and it just felt like a cruel joke. I remember coming out of the hospital and saying to my husband ‘I don’t know how I’m going to get through this’. I was so terrified that if I let the sadness in, it would completely engulf me, that it would finish me off. I felt like someone had stabbed me through the heart and I was scared that I might bleed to death.

Something else I had no idea about was how gruelling the physical side of pregnancy loss can be – I had to have 3 different treatments before I could stop going back for scans and could start dealing with the emotional fallout. Because I’d already had a month off work, I went straight back at this point. Way too much, too soon. I coped ok with work for a few weeks, but then my mind just caved in and I was signed off sick. I needed to learn how to grieve, and how to look after myself. I was lucky enough to be assigned to a really skilful grief counsellor at the hospital. I also attended a mindfulness course, and this helped me learn – for the first time – how to actually be kind to myself.

A medical reason was found for our losses, but it wasn’t something there was a cure or a fix for. It meant that we might be successful, but we’d have a high chance of miscarriage with each pregnancy. The next time I fell pregnant, I became acutely aware of just how much courage I was going to need to get through a pregnancy. Each day was like torture, feeling like I was holding my breath. The lack of control could feel unbearable, and the list of things I avoided in case it caused a healthy pregnancy to miscarry was growing daily.

Inevitably, other people around me started getting pregnant, and it made me feel absolutely wretched. I lost my 4th pregnancy during the Xmas holidays and a close colleague announced their pregnancy when we got back to work. I’d been dreading it, and it was just as painful as I’d imagined. I got into a huge battle with myself because I just didn’t want to feel the jealousy. It was like I imagined that allowing myself to feel envious was somehow proof that I was a failure, a worthless person, a loser. Now, I recognise that it was perfectly understandable for me to feel that way: considering all the sadness and fear I was experiencing, why wouldn’t I feel resentful of someone else getting what I’d lost?

The list of difficult emotions you go through when baby-making isn’t going to plan is long and exhausting: hope, anxiety, sadness, frustration, anger, resentment. It’s a full-time occupation just dealing with all that, never mind if you have a job to hold down aswell. I really struggled to cope with the demands of my job ontop of the emotional stress of the miscarriages. Finally I decided there was no point hanging on for maternity leave benefits that I might never use. I was fortunate enough that with a few lifestyle changes, we could afford for me not to work for a while. In fact, taking some time to figure out a new career direction gave me a positive focus during this time. I also did some voluntary work, and when we raised a record amount at a local NSPCC fundraising event, I felt like I was doing something to honour my lost babies.

Although my story is about recurrent miscarriages, I imagine that feelings of disappointment, grief, anger and despair must be common to many of us who’ve been affected by fertility issues. Alot of my losses were quite early, and I’d guess that the pain of a failed treatment cycle must be equally hard to bear. In fact I often felt I had no right to grieve for an early loss, and I wonder if couples going through treatment are given enough acknowledgement for their losses.

When I had my 7th loss, I started to feel pretty bleak. At this point I’d got used to feeling grief, but the creeping fear about never being a parent was becoming more ominous. I felt extremely isolated: friends had run out of supportive things to say, and to this day I’ve never met anyone in real life who’s gone through as many losses. I wasn’t sure how many more times I could keep going through it.

On discovering I was pregnant for the 8th time, my response surprised me. The skills I’d learned through the mindfulness course really kicked in. I remember feeling weirdly calm and accepting of the fact that this pregnancy would either work out (which I almost didn’t dare hope for), or it wouldn’t – in which case I would cope, just as I had so far. I realised I had no influence whatsoever on the outcome, and I accepted that I’d have emotions that would jump around all over the place within any given day – from hopeful to petrified and back again. Whenever someone told me to ‘just be positive!’, I ignored it because I’d learned that trying to force myself to feel positive actually made me feel more anxious. So I just gave myself permission to feel how I felt at any given moment. We made it through the agonising early weeks and when we were told that the pregnancy would survive we were absolutely stunned. It took a very long time to transition from relief that we hadn’t had to face another loss, into believing that the pregnancy would in fact end in a baby.

When our son was born, I was so happy that I think I probably annoyed some of the mums around me who’d had an easier route into parenthood – because I was so ridiculously appreciative of getting to be a mum that even the challenging bits felt like an honour and a privilege to me. Friends of mine who’ve adopted also seem to experience a particularly high level of gratitude and appreciation of being a family.

After we had our son, we lost a further two pregnancies. The last one was particularly difficult and I’ve only been able to fully deal with it by recognising myself as a bereaved parent. After so much loss, we chose not to continue TTC, and to focus on enjoying how lucky we feel to have our son. I needed to make space for grieving the sibling he would never have, and I let myself feel that as deeply as I needed to, (and for as long as I needed to). I’m so glad that I had the resources of a mindfulness and self-kindness practice to support me in that work: I don’t feel in any way that those losses haunt me now, or define who I am in a limiting way.

Going through those struggles definitely changed me. For a long time, being with groups of mums felt really hard: at times I felt that although we were all mothers, I didn’t really fit in. And I can still find pregnancy announcements difficult as they bring up so much that’s painful. But I’ve learned to make room for the sadness which is part of my own personal experience.

Recurrent pregnancy loss is the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through, but it’s also been a period of my life during which I’ve learned so much about how to be human, courageous, compassionate and appreciative. And no, not for one second would I suggest that ‘everything happens for a reason’ (I still can’t believe anyone seriously thinks this is what they’d like to hear if it happened to them!). What I am saying is that I know I’m a totally different person to who I was before all this. I used to feel afraid of feeling difficult emotions, but now I know that when we are at our most fragile can in fact be when we discover our true strength.

I feel I’ve changed in ways that are positive, and that enable me to support others. Now, I help others to reduce stress, and my coaching work is so important to me because I know how it feels to be completely overwhelmed by stress. I also became qualified to teach mindfulness, because I felt I’d have been lost without it, and I wanted others to discover how to self-support through life’s tough times. I’ll never forget how distressing and lonely it is to not know if you’ll ever get to be a parent, and those who are going through that now are never far from my thoughts and my heart.

The content of this site should not be used as a substitute for medical advice or support from a mental health professional – see About This Site for more info (plus author bio).