Thursday 28 July 2011

In the name of the father

I read with interest in the Guardian that the Office for National Statistics has released its annual baby names survey today. It feels a little sad to see all the names listed there - as until recently the Boy and I had a vested interest in children's names - but I enjoy casting my eye over the names all the same, and seeing where the names we both like rank in this year's ratings.

Most of our favourites are very near the top so we may need to do a bit of a re-think when (if? please, when...) the time comes. Or maybe not - I'm pretty sure the Boy and I would prefer to choose a name we both love rather than be dictated to by statistics, and if that name is a little more common than others, well so be it!

How life mirrors art

For the last four years I have volunteered as a counsellor at a small bereavement charity. I was drawn to counselling after receiving a few therapeutic sessions myself when life felt difficult about seven years ago. I qualified as a counsellor in 2008, having spent three years training at various colleges in central and South London. I find the work meaningful and rewarding, and get a lot from it. It feels important and real, and I enjoy doing something different outside of my full-time work.

The charity where I volunteer offers long-term bereavement counselling to adults for up to two years, in weekly sessions that last about an hour. Each volunteer sees two or three clients a week. In my four years with the service I have worked with eight clients, male and female, from a few months to the full two years. During these sessions a client has never brought issues relating to miscarriage or wanting a child - the work has predominantly been about the loss of a parent, partner or family member, and all the difficult feelings and thoughts that go along with such a painful loss.

Since the miscarriage I've noticed that the dynamics that have changed in my personal life have also changed in my counselling space. A client I had been seeing for about 18 months, who had never shown an interest in becoming a parent, informed me that she was beginning the IVF process in the first session we had following the short absence while I recovered from my miscarriage. My second client and I only began meeting in June - she was presenting for various family bereavements. In our last couple of sessions it has come to light that the most important issue for her has been how much she wants children.

I find it interesting to be in a position where the feelings, thoughts and concerns of my clients so closely echo my own, when with my recent experiences I can feel such strong empathy for them. I can't help but wonder about the timing... Is it just a coincidence that these two clients are bringing these issues now, when they are so parallel and coherent to my own?. Or has something changed subconsciously to allow these themes to come up at this point? It's the first time that my 'art', if you will, echoes my 'life' and I feel this is a really important stage in my counselling work. I'm working closely with my supervisor and the director of our tiny charity to make sure I am being the most effective counsellor I can be, and that my distress and anxiety is left out of the room and the client remains the focus. So far it's working well.

Wednesday 27 July 2011

The Beans commandments

I'm reflecting this afternoon on what I can do to help myself through this uneasy time. I can't dictate what's happening inside of me and if and when I might fall pregnant again. A lot of the emotions inside me are out of my control - but not all of them. I wonder if I can better manage what is in my control, then perhaps life will feel more settled and everything will begin to feel more in place. It's got to be worth a shot. So, here are my five Beans commandments for the next few months. Let's see if I can stick to them...

1. Not feeling guilty for saying no: Hmm. This is a difficult one, but hey - let's start as I mean to go on, and aim high! This is something I've struggled with my whole life. I'm a real crowd-pleaser and a complete 'yes' person. For most of my life my needs have come after those of everyone else around me, and it wasn't until I met the Boy and he helped me see how much I was giving others that I even realised I was doing this. I've always been one to go the extra mile and put the most in, from something small like buying the extra round in the pub, to wearing myself out working three jobs so I can still pay my mortgage and afford to be there for people at their birthdays or social events. I am a naturally generous and giving person. I like that about my spirit and I don't want the essence of that to change - but there's also something here about pleasing others and worrying about letting them down. At this time, if any, I really need to let go of that. What matters now is me. And the Boy. And if I have something planned or said I'd do something, then the day comes around and I realise it's too much, then I have every right to say 'no'. One of these days I might even learn to say 'no' upfront when asked to do something I don't want to! But I'm not sure that day is coming along any time soon. One step at a time!

2. Not hiding how I feel: It's been three months since the miscarriage now, and occasionally people still ask me how I am doing and if I am ok. Most people don't say anything, which I suppose hurts as well, as it feels our loss has been forgotten. I've started to go on auto-pilot and say I'm fine, to close the issue down. And sometimes I am fine. There are, in general, more good days than bad days and I am thankful for that. But there are times that I'm not fine, and I know that's going to continue for a while. I can't wish my grief away or expect myself to recover too fast. I need to be true to myself and be honest all the time about what's going on in my emotions. I am very lucky that the Boy is so open and willing to be there and listen to me, hold me, comfort me and share with me, so I must try not to bottle anything up for fear of over-burdening him. We've done so well coping with this together to this point, it should continue thus. I have some good friends around me that I know I can lean on - some who have been through the experience and others who have had losses so can empathise with how life might be for me. They are only an email or a call away. I also have this blog which has been such a welcome place for me to pour out my heart. I noticed my entries for July have been pretty few and far between compared to previous months, so I'm going to try and get back into the habit of writing my head and heart down. It really helped earlier on, and might help bring me back to the right path.

3. Making sure there is enough Beans time: I think this one is closely linked to my first commandment, but since the miscarriage there hasn't always been enough time in the week for me to have some quiet time, and take stock of what has happened and give it time and space to process. When I was pregnant the Boy and I stepped out of our busy lives a little and there was an abundance of time for me to read, relax, think - and just 'be'. Since the miscarriage we seem to have fallen back into old habits and I often find myself wishing there were more hours in the day. Fitting in full-time work, with family events and social occasions, as well as running the house, cooking, washing and so on takes up every inch of my waking life, so something has to give a bit, and I'm determined it won't be me or my mental health - or my relationship with the Boy. So going forwards I'm going to plan my weeks better - have a look on Sunday night what is coming up in the week ahead, and make sure I have a few nights where I can get home straight from work, do a few chores, and then have a few hours to unwind and take a load off. When the Boy and I were first married we marked out a weekend a month that from Friday night until Monday morning was Mr and Mrs time where we didn't see or speak to anyone else. That's got a bit lost since the miscarriage - mostly due to it being the summer and the plethora of birthdays, barbecues and weddings coming along - but that will be reinstated. It was a good Beans tradition and I miss it.

4. Watching what I put into my body: In times of strife this is always my Achilles heel. I have a tendency to revert to the old security blankets - most notably alcohol and junk food. They provide a short-term comfort, but don't do me any favours in the longer-term. We had a fabulous week away in Suffolk but we drank every night and I didn't watch what I was eating at all - I've come back a few pounds heavier, and the unhealthy living had a real impact on my sleep and my mental health. For me to feel good, I need decent sleep - I'm very ratty when I don't get this, and that is normally turned inwards and I beat myself up, or feel down on myself. Looking back on the pictures from when I was pregnant my skin looked so radiant being off the alcohol, and I don't need to be carrying extra pounds as that can have a negative affect on my self-esteem and confidence. So - it's back on the salads and low-carb diet for me! We have a holiday booked to Sardinia in September and I'd like to lose a stone by then. Hopefully watching the booze and food will make this happen... along with a bit of commandment five!

5. Work the booty: I feel a lot better about myself and my life when a workable amount of exercise is built into my life. The Boy and I go through phases of walking into work together - it's three miles and nearly an hour's stroll, so it's good for me to walk to and from work. A cunning way of incorporating exercise into my regime without becoming a gym bunny - guaranteed to put me off and send me straight back to the Pringles! We've started doing this again since Suffolk and I can feel the benefits already.

So - here's my plan for the coming weeks. See if I can stick to these commandments - that sounds simple in policy, but I know are anything but in practice! - and pray that they guide me back to the right track and the road that goes forwards... not backwards, sideways, or round and round the roundabout.

Order in the house

Something of a nesting instinct has kicked back into me in the last few days. It has know been three months since the miscarriage - a quarter of a year - and I wonder if the two things are connected. I realised this morning that it was actually three months yesterday since we lost our beautiful baby Beans - I only made the connection today when I consciously thought about the dates. I feel that might be progress, as in the weeks following the miscarriage dates and times jumped out of my subconscious at me all the time and I couldn't have escaped them even if I wanted too. Maybe those memories are finally fading now, although I still feel an underlying sadness that seems to be there most of the time - and I am aware that on Monday I could have been six months pregnant, I know that will cut deep.

Since the end of April, the Boy and I have spent a fair bit of time at home in the flat but we've also been out a lot together or with friends. We'd withdrawn from socialising when we found out I was pregnant - for someone like me who was regularly out and was often seen as the life and soul of the party, the excuses about not drinking were just too difficult! - and we also wanted to be together and excitedly talk about the future and this life that was growing inside of me. But we've certainly made up for that in recent times and I feel jaded and fatigued from that lifestyle and ready to think about doing things differently. We'd put a planned move from our little flat to a bigger place further out of the centre of London on hold when we found out I was pregnant. Even for me - renowned amongst my friendship group for doing 20 things at one - selling a flat, having a baby and buying a house was too much all at once.

I think since we lost the baby, our lives have also been on hold. We've not been able to look very far ahead  to a future without our child as it has been too painful. It's been about getting through life on a day-to-day basis, literally taking each 24 hours as it comes, and breaking up the weeks with nice plans at the weekend, going to gigs or the theatre, spending money and living life as if we were footloose and fancy-free, and peppering the months with short breaks and holidays, so we've never had to look ahead to a big 'chunk' of time, of life, stretching ahead.

I wonder now if that's changing. Since we came back from Suffolk the Boy and I have seriously been looking at our finances, working out exactly where we are now and where we hope to be in six months time and in a year's time, and so on. Curbing back the pennies that have been frittered away on short-term fulfilment to mask our pain. We've begun looking at when would be the best time for us to move and working out a spending and saving plan going forwards. I've also been looking at the flat in a new way, and thinking about the jobs that we could do around the flat to improve it and make it the nicest living space it could be for us while we are still here - and at the weekend we are going to look around Beckenham and West Wickham as possible places we could move too. We're still keen on East Greenwich and West Charlton but nothing is coming on the market, and it seems we can get more for our money just another zone further out.

I suppose what is happening is a realisation that life does go on. It has too. I have to face that, and I have to accept that sadness will be a part of my life for a time, and I have to find a way to let myself be ok with that. I need to live life and go forwards, and work out how the sadness can be alongside me in that journey - and not be holding me in the moment or pulling me back. I'm not sure yet how I can do that, how the Boy and I will manage this. But I suppose the realisation it needs to happen now is a valuable one, and an important first step in bringing order in the Beans house.

Monday 25 July 2011

Back to reality

Back from holidays, back to work and back to reality today. The Boy and I have had a wonderful week or so, first off away with the Beans family in Suffolk, and then at a wedding in Somerset. It was a real treat to have so much time together and we enjoyed the quality time with family and friends immensely. We packed the Suffolk holiday with really happy memories, including an awesome day at Latitude music festival, trips to Southwold and Aldeburgh, and a tasty trip around Adnams brewery. Happy days indeed. Some of my favourite times are captured below.

It was a good break and while the weather was typically British, it was great to get away from the hustle and bustle of our lives in London, and feel the breeze in my hair and the grass between my toes. I think it did us both some good, although the sadness I hold is staying with me at present - I am wishing it away as I want so badly to try and move on and feel happiness again, but I remind myself that sadness is the last stage of the grieving process and peace will surely come in time.

The Boy and I both feel strongly that falling pregnant again would be the best medicine for us... but it was not to be this month. We're both disappointed - I'd be lying if I said otherwise - but I think we're both getting much better at accepting that what will be will be, and we know my body may well need a bit more time to recover from what we've been through. In the meantime we are taking really good care of each other and are now building in a bit of quiet time. Some quality Mr and Mrs time is needed after so much time with friends and family, so we'll be shutting the door and having an abundance of chats and cuddles over the coming nights which I'm sure will keep us both on track.

Friday 15 July 2011

Off on our jollies

Woke up early this morning really excited about going on holiday this afternoon. The Boy and I are going to a lovely cottage in Orford for a week, with my Mum, Dad, sister and her feller. It is to celebrate my parents' 40th wedding anniversary which is really quite something - I hope the Boy and I can enjoy so many years together. I feel ready for a change of scene too. I know it's not long since we got back from Greece but it's been non-stop the past few weeks. I've ridden out a complete rollercoaster of emotions and feel pretty exhausted again. Hopefully a week in the countryside - and by the sea, where I always find peace - will help bolster me up once again, and I'll come back feeling ready for the next few months life has to throw at us.

I've been a real ball of emotions this week. A minor altercation with a woman on the tube on the way to work on Tuesday morning really upset me and I've been a bundle of anxiety and ire since then. The Boy and I started the holidays early last night with a trip to the cinema. We have cinema cards that enable us to see as many films a month as we like, and while I was pregnant we were going all the time - a couple of times a week even! Since we lost the baby we've started to go out for more meals and drinks, and I'm keen when we get back from Suffolk to get back to being a film geek / buff (depending on your outlook!).

We went to see Bridesmaids which was great fun and every bit as good as the reviews have suggested, and I did enjoy the film. It has a strong cast and the personalities and relationships were real and believable. There was a poignancy amongst the comedy and parts that I really related too. But I suddenly became overwhelmed in the middle and burst into tears. I think silent sobbing in the cinema is in danger of becoming my calling card at this rate - perhaps not my best look! I'm not sure still what upset me, I'd be feeling happy enough before the film and it had been wonderful walking out of work for a week or so. The yo-yoing of emotions makes me wonder what's happening inside of me and being a little hopeful. But I think it's really a combination of grief for what's passed, anxiety of what's to come, and the tiredness I feel in the here and now. Definitely time for a holiday...

Thursday 14 July 2011

Ignorance is bliss

Recently I've read a couple of articles in some of the more salubrious red tops (I'll get my apologies in quickly and tell you I have to read them for work!) about women who don't realise or find out that they're pregnant until the very latter stages of their pregnancies - or even in some cases until they give birth.

I find this quite incredible - and I am almost envious of their experiences. Since the Boy and I started trying for a family - and through my shortened-pregnancy - I've been so aware of my body and how I feel; when I'm hot, when I'm tired, when I'm nauseous... I imagine finding out very late in the pregnancy must be a great shock, but it must also alleviate some of the anxiety and concern that I have experienced, and am beginning to experience again.

Now that we've started all over again and I'm in that post-ovulation and pre-lady period, I find myself checking in with my body on a daily basis. What symptoms do I have? And what do they mean? Could I be pregnant? Could the Boy and I be lucky again? Will it be this month? Will it take longer? Will it be healthy... These little questions pipe up in the back of my head throughout the day, and I'm becoming quite deft at batting them away - but they are often there.

Right now I'm wondering if it might be this month that we get some good news. I feel a little disappointed that I don't have any of the symptoms I had last time, and I don't think I am because even though I know every pregnancy is unique I don't feel any different really - I'm tired and a bit more emotional than normal, but I associate that with the bouts of insomnia and nightmares that have been alternating in my sleep pattern in recent weeks. Last time something was different - I couldn't quite put my finger on it but I had my strong suspicions.

So I'm wishing away the next week or so until I think my lady is due (it's all been a bit knocked out of sync with the miscarriage) as the not knowing is so hard... I say that - sometimes - ignorance is bliss!

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Full circle

I feel like I've been through every emotion under the sun in the last few weeks. It's been quite a difficult time and there have definitely been more steps backwards than forwards. But it's starting to feel again like I've ridden out the storm, with the help of the Boy and a few good friends who've lent me their ears in recent days. Once again it feels like I'm stepping back into the sunlight.

Thus far my experience of grief is that it can grasp you when you least expect it - I felt like I had been making steady progress forwards but perhaps I had become complacent that recovery was in hand, and the grief came back to take hold of me again and remind me this process is far from over. I suppose this is how it will continue to be - I will be fine for a time, but the waves of sadness can come back and wash over me at any time, and I won't know to expect them. I feel a bit fed up today as baby Beans would have been 24 weeks today, and it's hard not to wonder what might have been. We head to Suffolk for a family holiday on Friday, and as excited as I am I always thought I would be pregnant when we went... so it'll be a different experience, although hopefully still as enjoyable and positive.

All I can do is take each day as it comes, and be thankful for each good day and do what I can to endure the bad days. I must keep putting myself first. I've had to pull out of a few social events recently and I am aware some friends have felt irritated by this. But I can't feel guilty - my whole life I've put other people before myself and to work through this grief, I must come first. Fortunately better friends understand this, and will be waiting for me when I am fit and ready to see them.

The Boy has had a difficult time lately too. A few of his colleagues have recently fallen pregnant and are beginning to share their news. He is pleased for them, but admits that it has to be a reminder of what we lost, and with such news the questions begin again. Why us, why them, why now. There are no answers - the only answers we find are in comforting each other. I lose count of the amount of cuddles I've had in the last few weeks. We're so lucky we've been able to turn to each other, and the love and support we have for each other remains unfaltering.

And so here we are. We've started trying once more for the family we so desperately want. And I'm reminded what that was like - obviously lots of fun in terms of intimacy and couple time! But then the waiting and wishing and hoping and wondering begins... will this be the month there is good news, or will it take longer. I'd forgotten how this felt in the couple of months we tried last time. Then, everything happened so quickly we were both taken by surprise how easily I fell pregnant. I can't help but wonder if that will be the same again? But I know every pregnancy is different, and it could take a while longer this time - I'm not even sure if my body is completely back to normal. Having only had one cycle in the two and a half months since the miscarriage I'm not sure where everything is up to.

So we've come full circle. We start again. I suppose the guessing game has begun once more... This week's horoscope says: "Trust is incredibly important this week and you should have faith that everything will sort itself out." Well - here's hoping!

Thursday 7 July 2011

Here comes the rain again

The rain is streaming down from the grey sky and banging on the window pane as I write this. It's been a while since I was last on here. If truth be told, it's been something of a bleak, dark week, and I've been floundering and have found it difficult to settle myself down. I had thought I'd been coping pretty well with everything that's happened in recent times, but I got incredibly upset on Sunday and it all came out and I had a bit of a meltdown in front of the Boy.

I cried the hardest I've done in weeks and the pain throbbed in my chest like it did in those early days. I felt raw, fragile, vulnerable and out of control. I hadn't realised how much I had been holding in - I certainly hadn't wanted to keep anything inside, but I didn't even realise this level and range of emotion was in there. The tears and the words came tumbling out as the Boy held me - how sad I am at the loss of our baby, how devastated I am my friend saw no way forward apart from taking his own life, and how scared I am that I might lose someone else. I feel like the walls are closing in on me, and I have been having nightmares about the Boy leaving me or dying, or about my father suddenly becoming ill and passing away.

I know in my head that this is a really normal reaction to what's happened - after so much loss I'm bound to be unsettled, and this is how I process this. But in my heart I feel anxious and scared. I can't help but be reminded of my own, and the Boy's, mortality - and I am really frightened about being without him. He is everything to me and my life would be so different without him. He reassured me he feels the same, he has no intention of leaving me, and we hopefully have long and happy lives to long forward to. He teasingly reminded me of a pact we made some years ago to live out our old age with matching purple rinses and mobility scooters, and race them up and down Eastbourne pier together and that helped the load feel lighter, and still the storm inside me. I think it's really important that all of this came out. As I say, I didn't know it was there but there was so much emotion it was vital it was let out. I feel like I can breathe a little more easily now, although while I am a bit calmer I have remained out of sorts this week.

There's also some feelings coming up for both of us now that we're trying again. It's lovely and exciting, but I think starting a new chapter really does mean leaving the old one behind and I find that very sad. We saw a friend's baby at the weekend who was just beautiful, and it left me wondering again what our baby would have looked like and what little quirky mannerisms or behaviours it might have had. I suppose again this is all to be expected and it will fade in time. I can't hope or expect to be over this already, that's not realistic or natural. I have to move through the grieving process and that will take time. At some point I will have to learn to be patient, and perhaps that might come through this experience.

And while the overriding feeling as we start out again is excitement, underpinned by hope, there is still some fear there, as the Boy and I know it won't be an easy road ahead. Once again we seem to be surrounded by material solely relevant to us and our experience - not one but two new pieces of research on the BBC website about miscarriages this week. I half want to ignore them as I don't want to be worrying or stressing about trying again... but I also half want to gobble up everything I can read on the subject in case anything is relevant or stops me miscarrying again. But I have to keep reminding myself that this is a process I can't organise or take control of - what will be will be, and I have to trust in the unknown and go with it.

I think going forwards I've got to put myself first more. It's been easy to slip back into life's normal routine, and for me to begin to have a full diary again, and say that I'm fine when people ask me. But I'm not fine, and I need to be honest with myself and make sure I have enough time and space to be as ok with everything that has happened as I can be. If I have to pull back a bit again then so be it. I know real friends will appreciate that, and will be ready and waiting for me with open arms when I do feel more like connecting with the world again. And hopefully that time will come soon enough.

Friday 1 July 2011

Goodbye my friend

Today is a day for pause and reflection, as today my friend Alex who committed suicide will be laid to rest. There is a big funeral in Islington that I am sure will be attended by many, many people. My friend had a way of touching the lives of everyone he met, and bringing warmth, light and love with him wherever he went. The world is certainly a less interesting place without his presence, and the Boy and I hope he has found the peace he couldn't find in this life now.

Another funeral - which would be our fourth in six months - feels too much for us, especially as this one will be such a big occasion and coming so swiftly on the back of us burying Baby Beans. So later this morning the Boy and I will go to our local church to say a private goodbye to a very special person. The last time we were there was to hear our wedding banns being read, in February last year, so today will be somewhat different.

As I prepare to say goodbye to my friend, memories of my time with him swim to the front of my mind. He was such a funny, lovely person. We spent a crazy weekend in Berlin together, just before I met the Boy, and many, many lost nights in Shoreditch. He loved the Golden Heart pub on Commercial Street and I shared many a pint with him in the Poet - the local pub to our work - on Folgate Street.

I remember one time a colleague had bought a scotch egg to have before we went out to the pub after work. Alex and I stole it from his desk when he went to the toilet and left him a ransom note for it, demanding he come to the pub immediately - where we had persuaded the bar staff to put the scotch egg in their fridge behind the bar. Alex had a way of enticing people to do anything for him.

I remember nights in with him watching the Scream and Scary Movie trilogies back to back in his flat in Tooting, while gorging ourselves on olives and houmous from his local Sainsburys and knocking back the wine.

I remember a day we both called in sick to work (hey, we were young!) and we lay in my bed all day watching Mean Girls over and over again, reciting the lines to each other. Alex had a memory like no other, and it always used to astound me as he would recount every detail from a conversation or a night out we'd had months and months later.

I remember us laughing so much I thought I would burst at a poster that had been put up for a lost cat in my street. It was entitled 'Have you seen my little girl?' and underneath was a picture of the most horrible cat you have ever seen, one of those hairless ones that looks like a plucked chicken. How we laughed, and ever since then I would get texts at random times from him that just read 'Have you seen my little girl?' and it would always bring a smile to my face.

I remember him driving the van full of all my gear when I moved into Empire Towers and it being about half an hour before we had to get the van back and it was still full of all my bits and bobs. We were literally flinging everything out into the communal hallway, laughing in that hysterical way that you do when you're under pressure, and we got the van back to the hire place in Vauxhall a matter of minutes before the deadline.

So many good times that jostle to the front of my mind, I also remember the bad times, when he first became ill and we first realised he had mental health problems. The first time he went missing and none of us could find him. He turned up months later after having lived under a hedge in Victoria Park, thinking he was married to Will Young... I wish we'd been able to reach him and that he'd managed to get the help he so badly needed and deserved, then I wouldn't be writing down my memories of him, we'd be creating new ones together...

But if there's one thing I've learned this year about life, it is what it is. Everyone's time here is limited and some don't get very far on their journeys. For the time A was with us and he was my friend, he made my journey that bit more colourful, my load that bit lighter and my soul that bit happier. And that is how I will remember him, today - and always. Goodbye my friend Alex. You will be missed.