Reality Posts

Single and ready to mingle?

As a single woman in my mid twenties I find reactions to my seemingly permanent singledom status are hugely varied. Exclamations of “Don’t worry, you’re young, go and have fun before you’re tied down. The world is your oyster” to being informed at the age of twenty-two that I should hurry up and have children as my biological clock is already beginning to tick, “time is limited don’t you know”! I have also been surprised by people intensely questioning or commenting; “why are you single?” to “you’re just too picky”, often from people I would view more as acquaintances than close friends.

I know from friends in different stages of life that these questions and pieces of advice are often posed in slightly different ways e.g. “When are you getting married?” “When are you going to have children?” as we progress through life. I’m sure I myself have asked similarly tricky questions to an unsuspecting friend or relative which undoubtedly sent them reeling in embarrassment, not quite sure how to respond. I’ve been thinking through these questions and I’ve come to the conclusion that, because we hope for the best for others, particularly those we care about, we can often project our idea of “the best” onto those around us. We want to know that others are ok. I’m sure the questions or advice given to me come from a place of wanting to make sure that I am okay and that I’m happy. In this way, it is great to know that so many people are there, rooting for me, wanting the best for me.

However how well-meaning the questions and comments may be, it doesn’t necessarily make hearing them any easier. No I don’t know why I’m still single, apart from the fact that I’ve not met the right person yet. Yes I am “fussy” because I want to make sure that when I finally commit to someone, they are the person who God wants me to be with, that they bring out the best in me and I bring out the best in them.

Unfortunately, well-meaning questioning can unintentionally strike a chord. Yes I do know that my fertility window is limited. I am in fact more aware of this than most people my age, having had gynaecological treatment at the age of seventeen which will have a long term impact on my life. Most of the time I am totally ok with this. It was actually a massively transformative time in my life and is a huge part of my testimony. It is probably the time when I decided to take on my faith as my own. I am totally convinced that if God would like me to have children, that I will, no matter how old I am, or what my fertility statistics may be. However, being reminded of this, even when the person asking has no idea of my history, can be hurtful and cause me to doubt this.

Similarly, my feelings relating to my singleness seem to change sometimes on an hourly/daily/weekly basis. Sometimes I am totally happy being single, knowing I have lots of opportunities which I wouldn’t necessarily have if I was married and I’m content enjoying my life in the phase it’s currently in. At others, I can be deeply unhappy being single, aware of the fact that many of my friends are settling down, getting married, buying houses and having children and ultimately this is the stage I would like to be at now too. I am super happy for my friends but it can also be hard being the only one at a wedding table without a plus one, or the only one at a family BBQ without a significant other. At these times, being questioned about my “choice” to be single can be hard.

Dating and relationships are hugely personal and we all have different views on the way we want to experience this part of our lives. One way is not necessarily better than another, but just different. For some reason God is working differently in my life than he is in others. But isn’t that great? It would be so boring if we all lived our lives the same way and if God had the same plan for each of us!

So from me, here’s some helpful tips as to what I’ve found helpful and what has been less so and is probably worth avoiding:

Please don’t question me about the phase I’m in at the moment. The honest truth is that I don’t know why God has chosen for me to be single at the moment. Asking me this can make me feel inadequate and as though there may be a problem with me. Instead I’d rather focus on the positives of where I am right now and experience all of what God has for me.

Please don’t mention fertility. I know you are probably just joking, or genuinely concerned, but you don’t know if this will strike a chord with someone and cause unintentional upset.

Please do ask me how I am, but rather than focusing on my relationship status, ask what’s going on for me at the moment. The chances are, if I want to chat about a fun date I went on recently or the fact that I’m not seeing anyone at the moment, I’ll start the conversation.

Please do include me in your family fun, I love this and also love when people go out of their way to chat to or include me in big gatherings when there are often a lot of couples.

Please do feel you can pray for me if you’d like to. I don’t always love being single and I could definitely do with an extra dose of patience!

Most of all, thanks for being there and for caring. I am so grateful for all of my wonderful family and friends. You have such an amazing impact on my life and I’m so grateful for all the fun times we have together and for your support!

To my son

The journey from trying to conceive right through to a baby being born and beyond is often not smooth. This powerful and honest letter from a mother to her son, shares the ups and downs of trusting God in the midst of challenging times…

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Sebastian,

You are so fearfully and wonderfully made by our creator. He has watched over you and held you in his hands while he knitted you together in the womb. I prayed so often during my pregnancy that he would protect you and bring you safely into this world. For someone who doesn’t like crying I shed many tears for you and had quite a journey as you grew inside me.

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We waited and prayed for the blessing of a second child for many many months and were so thrilled to finally have a positive pregnancy test in August 2015. But it was coupled with anxiety as at the same time I was experiencing bleeding and blood tests lead to the doctor telling us: ‘I’ve never seen such low hormone levels and it not be a miscarriage.’ While waiting for a second test to clarify the situation I went to church that Sunday and wept for the baby I thought I was losing. As I broke down in tears Ben and Mary came and looked after your sister (Daddy was on a plane to India with work), Mary made a coffee and Anna sat and prayed with me. While praying Anna had a picture which she was concerned about sharing due to the potential meaning but she spoke out in faith…she had a picture of Jochebed putting baby Moses in the basket and letting him drift down the river. There was an element of concern that this could mean God was taking the baby away but my over-riding feeling was that this was not the case. Instead I felt strongly that God was telling me that I needed to trust this baby to him, not just 90% and hold onto 10% but completely, totally, whole heartedly trust the pregnancy over to him like Jochebed did with Moses. Oh how that rang true over and over again.

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I trusted in God everytime the bleeding sporadically re-occurred over the next 6 weeks and when early scans found a bleed 3 times the size of the foetus. Medics were unable to say whether it would bleed out, be absorbed by the body or break away in clots triggering a miscarriage. Everytime I had another bleed I feared it was the beginning of the end.

I was so thankful when we reached the 12 week scan and there was still a heartbeat.

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I trusted God when we were told the screening tests had returned as high risk of chromosomal abnormalities. I stood firm in my decision not the take invasive tests and thanked God for his provision of finances that meant we could have a different screen which gave us more information without any risk of harm. I am thankful these tests came back clear and I stood firm every time a new doctor reviewed my case and I had to listen to the words ‘so you refused a chorionic villi test’. I wanted to scream back; ‘no, I haven’t refused, I have carefully considered, cried and discussed with many councillors on advice lines what I do with the information from the screen and my over-riding desire is to protect my baby and not risk any harm, so I am not going to have a needle placed in my womb when there are other options.’ I am so grateful for homegroup friends who listened and were completely non-judgemental in what I might want to do. I learnt in this situation that your mind can consider things you never previously thought you would. The most helpful thing a friend said when I asked about their similar experience was that they decided only to accept intervention that would help the baby and avoid any risk of harm. This became my mantra and really brought me peace of mind.

I trusted God when your growth checks were dropping off the projected size and further scans were booked for closer monitoring.

I trusted God when I spent Easter Sunday in hospital for low foetal movement. I trusted God when this lead to almost daily checks for pressure in the umbilical cord and placenta function.

Perhaps now is the time to caveat what I am saying. I say trusted God. I confess, I did not always stand strong in this trust. There were so many times I walked into church carrying a week of worry on my shoulders. No sooner did I get in the church door and I would collapse in an emotional heap exhausted by it. I am so grateful to the many many women who sat with me, prayed over me and listened to me speak out my fears for your well-being and my struggles not to listen to the enemy’s voice. Having experienced a colleague have an unexplained still birth at 42 weeks I feared everytime I went for a check that I would hear the words: ‘I’m sorry, but there is not heartbeat’.

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I trusted God when the Consultant made the call to admit me and bring you into the world on the day you turned 36 weeks. It was rather quicker and sooner than I had anticipated. I trusted God when your arrival was delayed while they awaited a neonatal bed to be available for you. I trusted God when you got into difficulty and we were rushed into theatre for an emergency C-section. Hearing the words: ‘this baby will not survive a normal delivery’ I then lay on that table, the lower half of my body numb from anaesthetic the upper half uncontrollably shaking. I waited for what felt like eternity to hear your cry…it didn’t come. Eventually your Dad caught site of you lying on the observation table, looking around with your big eyes not making a peep.

I trusted God when you struggled to feed and your blood sugars were unstable. I trusted God as we went down to NICU for feeding and praised the Lord as your admitting blood tests came back within acceptable range and we were given another 3 hours to keep you out of intensive care. And praise God we managed to keep you on the up. I am so thankful for the specialists who managed to get you feeding with aids and we no longer needed ‘top up’ bottles.

Looking back now I think I was in shock during those early days just processing all that had happened in such quick succession and trying to release 36 weeks of worry. It rather hit me like a brick wall when I spent a morning in hospital on my own with you. I was exhausted cycling round 1 hour of rest, 1 hour syringing 0.4ml of milk into you, 1 hour expressing 0.4ml of milk. Those quantities sound so ridiculously small now, they felt massive at the time. All I could do was weep.

I trusted God as the surgeon later cut your tongue tie to help your feeding further. It took another 4 months but we eventually got you feeding without support.

I trusted, I trusted and I trusted some more. I am still emotional when I think about all we went through. However, you are now strong, healthy and a growing happy boy. We love you so much. Your sister has adored you since the moment you came home. I will always feel a little sad you didn’t come into this world naturally and we didn’t get that immediate skin-to-skin contact – ironically something I didn’t really give much credit to before. I will always wonder if such high levels of medical intervention were actually needed or not. But you were safe and well, that was the main thing.

On reflection I recalled 2 dreams I had while pregnant. For some reason I asked God to tell me what we were having and that night I dreamt we had a baby boy. Later on, when there were concerns about your health, I asked the Lord to show me how everything would turn out. That night I had a picture of us standing holding a baby and saying over and over again ‘ It’s a boy and yes he is fine, he’s fine.’ After all the worries that was exactly what we found ourselves saying!

Finally, I am so grateful for 2 women God placed in my life. I met Joannah 2 days before your arrival while we sat next to each other for 3 hours waiting for our daily CTG. Both being monitored for low foetal growth. We immediately ‘clicked’ and exchanged contact details. Somehow she was one of the most supportive people when you arrived even though we’d only just met. We kept in touch and I was able to return the support when her boy arrived 2 weeks later. Sadly Samuel Archie went to be with the Lord shortly after that, but we have remained in touch and I am sure we will be lifelong friends.

God then placed Julie in my life. We met at gymnastics, both sat watching while bouncing a baby. Turns out you and Sophie were born 2 days apart, both a 36 weeks due to low Pappa-A hormone. It’s been so lovely having another person to chat to who is managing the same concerns and worries. During those chats we’ve sat quietly celebrating that our babies have made it onto the growth charts while other Mum’s are worrying that their baby has dropped to the 91st percentile.

I am so grateful for these 2 special friends I have met. Our shared experiences have meant so much as we have an understanding and insight into each other’s feelings that goes so much deeper than any good-willing person can offer unless they too have been in that same circumstance. In further conversations it’s come to light both women are also Christians and we have shared our faith together. We agreed it is no coincidence we were sat next to each other on those days, God was totally in it.

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So, as you see Sebastian, God watches over you, protects you, loves you and knows you intimately. We chose your name just because we liked it. But some name books suggest it can be shortened to Bastian – a wall of a castle that sticks out to protect it. Or another meaning is something that defends or keeps a belief or way of life that is disappearing / threatened. When I picture a ‘Bastion’ I think of a solid brick tower that is strong and then I think ‘how fitting’ for my son who fought off all those medical concerns and is strong and healthy.

 

All my love

 

Mummy x

Baby Loss Awareness Week 2016

So I am a day late (blame a sociable weekend) but was really keen to post something for baby loss awareness week this year. Two and a half years ago, I had a pretty horrendous week, the events of which were the initial inspiration for this project. I have learnt and grown so much from others sharing their stories and thought it was about time I shared some of my own.

For me, losing a baby (a term I’m not a big fan of by the way – it sounds like you’re an irresponsible parent who has just misplaced him/her) was a hard lesson in the need to experience and process grief in real time. The extracts below are from a journal entry several months later, by which point I was having panic episodes and really struggling with life because I’d tried to carry on as normal and hadn’t allowed myself to acknowledge that it was hard. Months on, it’s easy to forget and play these things down which is why I’m doing a straight copy-paste job as I recount my thoughts and feelings on, what has become known in our household as, ‘the week of grief’. You’ll see a bit of added explanation in italics, which I hope makes it possible to follow and I’ve summarised the actual process of having a missed miscarriage (as I don’t have my journal entries for that on this computer but feel free to message me privately if this is something you’re going through and more information would be helpful).

I’m sharing this because I want people in the same position to know it’s okay to struggle, to be confused and to grieve even though you never met your child. I know this is different for different people, but for me the whole experience was about the disappointment of never meeting and knowing that particular child rather than a more general desire to have a baby and the sadness of that being (at least temporarily) taken away.

So, here we go…

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‘Just had a total meltdown as Matt [husband] left [just for a couple of hours to go to sports training]. That now all so familiar feeling of panic, fear, loneliness, losing control rising up… I feel like I’m totally losing it. Most of the time I can’t even pinpoint what it is that what has triggered the pain and upset or even what it is that I’m feeling so scared about it. One moment I’m fine and the next, a total wreck. Most of the time, I just feel numb. I just don’t care about anything. Things that would normally make me feel happy, excited, motivated feel fleeting and hollow, unstable, unsure. I get through them rather than relishing them; welcome distractions but I don’t find any real joy in them.

Thought it might be helpful to revisit that week and some of my thoughts and feelings around it. It already seems so distant. I don’t really want to forget. I’ve tried and it doesn’t make it better, so here’s to acknowledging that it sucked. Was going to say one of the worst weeks of my life but on reflection it’s the hands down winner.

Monday 28th April – The funeral of Harry, stillborn at 32 weeks.  Such a painful and emotional occasion. I remember Tony’s [the vicar] wisdom; Chris and Kat’s [Harry’s parents – read their honest, helpful and moving post herestrength but also the overwhelming sense of pain and loss. I couldn’t sing. I remember feeling guilty that I was carrying (what I thought at the time) was a healthy baby when there’s had gone. It was a beautiful day and there was a lightness I didn’t expect at the gathering afterwards.

Tuesday 29th April – We went for our dating scan. As soon as the lady scanning me said that the baby was looking a bit small, I knew it wasn’t good news. We has another technician come in for a second opinion who confirmed that the baby no longer had a heartbeat.

Wednesday 30th April – I opted for an induction rather than D&C (or whatever they call it now, I can’t remember) and went to my parents to await the outcome of that.

Thursday and Friday went by in a blur of drugs and distraction. I was totally unprepared for the physical discomfort of my milk coming in but not having a baby to feed – nobody had warned me that could happen.

Saturday 3rd May – The funeral of my uncle Raymond. Again the service felt totally surreal. I didn’t see Raymond every day so while I’m not at his house or a family party I can just pretend he’s still here. The tributes were witty and interesting but I just didn’t want to be there. Again a beautiful day, fantastic people but this time I felt no hope. I wanted to leave but I didn’t know what I wanted to leave to or for, I just wanted the week to rewind and replay a different story.

Sunday 4th May – In the afternoon, mum called and told us that a friend from church at home and old colleague, had been killed in a car crash the day before, leaving behind her husband and two small children. I couldn’t believe it. Enough. I turned over and went to sleep – a tactic I’ve frequently employed to silence my mind in the last few weeks.

I feel unable to live my normal life and yet the weird thing is pretty much nobody seems to have noticed and why would they, I’m a good bluffer. I know I need to grieve. To acknowledge it hurts and express that and move on, but I don’t know how. Someone needs to write a manual or something. I know God understands but I don’t feel like I have much to say to Him at the moment. I’m not angry or confused or anything just empty… there’s just nothing in the bit where normally my thoughts and feelings would all be swirling around.’

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To everyone I have interviewed, I’ve asked the same questions about anything other people said or did that helped or didn’t, so that we can all learn how to support each other better. So here’s my tuppence worth…

On the less helpful side, I am now an even bigger advocate of never ever asking anyone if they’re pregnant, planning to be, or their plans for having children. A few weeks after our second miscarriage I remember a well-meaning member of the congregation suggesting I was being unwise by ‘waiting’ to have children and I should hurry up and get on with it (I was at the grand old age of 26 don’t you know). Ouch! As someone who works with children, I cannot tell you how many hundreds of times I’ve had a variation on this question and I hear it all the time with the people around me. Just for a moment, let’s think through the options people. I’m not sure anyone, anywhere had ever got this response…

If someone is pregnant and at a stage where they are happy to tell people, they will probably tell you. If they don’t want kids; aren’t in a relationship; are struggling with infertility; are trying to conceive; are newly pregnant and nervous about it; have ever miscarried;  or (insert a million other common scenarios in here) then that question can be incredibly damaging. Given that you don’t know, seems like a pretty big gamble to go in for the question to me!

Some of the best advice I received was to ask God the names of our babies (I had also had a much earlier miscarriage). Although at the time I thought this was an odd suggestion, for me it has been an incredibly healing way to know they are not forgotten, and that one day I will get to meet them and to remember and cherish them but without remaining in a place of grief and sadness. I like knowing if they were boys and girls and to have a way of referring to them that isn’t any of the terms we commonly use, all of which to me feel detached and heartless.

I also had an amazing mentor who kept reminding me that grief was a normal, healthy process; that I wouldn’t always feel like this; and that I wasn’t going crazy. Listening and praying for me was absolutely the best gift that I received in that period. That said, another thoughtful friend gave me some really nice Hotel Chocolat chocolates and just said ‘I’ve no idea what you’re going through but thought you might need this’ and another sent me via post some amazing flowers – those things meant a lot too. Anything that acknowledges what’s happened is a big deal, not something minor to be brushed under the carpet, was really significant for my emotional processing and health.

I am a massive fan of the power of music and forcing yourself to be in a place of worship even when you know you’re not going to be able to get a single word out. I think it’s the adult equivalent of sitting on you parent’s knee when you’ve hurt yourself. Just knowing God is there and cares about your pain means that you don’t have to say anything which is an amazing relief and comfort. My absolute favourite song from that period is Beautiful Things by Gungor, so I’ll sign off with that.

As always, if you’ve got a story you’d like to share to help others, I’d love to hear it.

This is a place to be honest about the tough times. Everyone’s experience is different but often hearing the stories of others can help us in our processing and moving forward. These are the stories behind the ‘fine thanks’ and smiley exteriors.

Please be sensitive in making any comments (and aware that these are moderated) and respectful of people who’ve shared a deeply personal part of themselves in order to help and encourage others.

If you’d like to bless and help others by sharing something of your journey, email me for more info. I’d love to hear from you. It’s a hugely brave and courageous thing to be totally honest but incredibly liberating and cathartic too. Feel free to be as vague as you need to be about the details of the situation if you’d like to remain anonymous.

The only thing you can choose in life is your attitude (Part 2)

So, just a few months later and I’m having coffee with Wendy again as she shares the next part of her and her husband’s journey.

She began by bringing me up to speed on the heartache of further failed attempts at IVF. First in November and then starting the new year with discovering the transfer from Christmas Eve hadn’t worked either. Each with an agonising 10 day wait between the transfer and pregnancy test.

At this point they decided on a break for the whole thing – a new start for the new year. She wanted to focus on getting back to business and getting back to herself and booked a holiday. However, they found out that due to current guidelines they had to be treated in concurrent months so despite wanting a break, it was time start the process again at the end of the January. She was encouraged to try scratching and had that done. On the day of having the process done she came to a healing service at church. Her birthday was given as a ‘word of knowledge’ so she came up for prayer, specifically that the embryo inside her would attach properly. She had some more prayer on the Sunday night with her husband as well.

Psychologically she was really low. She spent the whole day that she had to go into London to get blood results mentally preparing for yet another negative result.

As she walked back from the train to her car, she honestly and completely turned the situation over to God, telling him ‘When I get that call later today. If it’s negative, I won’t get angry or sad with you but will continue to serve you faithfully’. She talked about the freedom of really meaning that and the peace of having surrendered it to him.

An hour later, she got a phone call to say she was pregnant.

And so began the psychological warfare. Such excitement and joy to receive a positive pregnancy test but hard not to fear the worst or wonder if it’s all just in your head. A six week scan made it real to them but waiting another six weeks was torture.

They went on a trip to the States, still struggling to accept or believe it. They flew back on the Sunday and thought they had a 12 week scan on the Tuesday. This turned out just to be the the booking in appointment, thankfully they had an understanding superintendent who saw how crucial it was for them to have a scan and managed to push it forward.

Now, at over five months pregnant, Wendy said it was only really in the  last two or three weeks that she’s felt like should could fully enjoy it and embrace it. Once again, deciding that controlling your attitude is key she’s resolved to try and own and enjoy it more. She talked about some teaching from Joyce Meyer about finding peace and rest within the madness. That said. she was keen to reiterate that she doesn’t want to talk about babies all the time. Like many pregnant women, that’s often the subject people immediately jump. ‘I’m still me.’ she said. ‘I like to have normal conversation‘!

She talked about the battle with anxiety even at the 20 week scan and waiting for kicks when she didn’t know what she was looking for. She also had issues with her placenta being in the wrong position but again, miraculously this moved through prayer.

So, now a bit further on in her journey I asked her what not to say to someone who’s struggled with infertility and is now pregnant.

  • Assume they only want to talk about babies.
  • Ask whether it happened ‘miraculously’ of through ‘IVF’. Does it matter?
  • Ask private details on social media – not the place people!
  • ‘That is great, maybe with baby no. 2 it will happen naturally’. The issue of second child infertility is particularly delicate as you don’t have access to IVF on the NHS, this is often even harder than people’s struggles the first time round.
  • Assume they’re feeling confident and together. They’re not immune  to all the feelings normal expectant mums get. The overriding thought is often ‘Help, I’m having a baby!’
  • It’s very common in our culture to place negative expectations and assumptions on expectant mums. Often well meant but everything from ‘Just make sure you enjoy yourself now while you still can’ to ‘get lots of sleep you won’t see much of that again’ can make entering into parenthood scarier and harder than it needs to be. There are so many positives about having a baby – perhaps there’s a way to focus on these… Loads more on this in Helen Goldenberg’s book ‘Jesus, Your Baby and You’.