Wednesday, 12 October 2016

New Beginnings ...

So ... I have some news.

I'm having a career  change.

No; really.

This is something that's been rather a long time coming and is also something I've kept very quiet for a number of reasons.  This post has also been brewing for a while and is one of those posts that I've started a few times and not managed to get much further than a bare skeleton of a plan.

And then I was listening to the radio and an old Semisonic song - 'Closing Time' - played.

Whilst not hugely life changing the song featured a single line that struck a chord with me and literally made me stop in my tracks.  The line was a quote from Seneca; a Roman Philosopher, and said 'Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end ...' It rang more true with me than anything I had heard in a while and throughout the course of the week I heard the same song on the radio a number of times.

As part of the preparation and study for my intended career change I need to keep a reflective journel.  On discovering this I later sat with a friend to have coffee and grumbled that I'm not a hugely reflective learner.  Lover of theory, yes.  Reflective,  no.
So to help me reflect on my learning I bought a book: The Reflective Journal by Barbara Bassot. I sat down and began to read coming to, of course, the first theme - 'Beginnings'.   Instantly, the Seneca quote (or Semisonic, depending how cool I'm feeling) sprang to mind.  '

'Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end ...'

I felt like I was going to cry.

New Beginnings are hard for me.  I don't deal with change or upheaval especially well.  My absolute need for control was challenged five years ago when my daughter was stillborn.  The rug was pulled out from under my feet and I had no control of the situation whatsoever.  This continued throughout both unsuccessful fertility treatment and successful fertility treatment followed by miscarriages. A total lack of control.  Riding the storm with no sense of direction. The path I had intended for my life had been completely demolished and my plans were razed to the ground.  I was totally directionless. And through this I learnt (a little bit) very slowly that I could not have total control over my life.  This is something I am still learning;

I am not the driver.

The Barbara Bassot book references William Bridges' Transition Model which highlights three stages of transition that people go through when they experience change. These are:

Ending, Losing, and Letting Go
The Neutral Zone
The New Beginning

This made so much sense to me and I began to unpack it.

16 years ago I moved to Liverpool to train as a teacher.  I couldn't imagine doing anything else and this sense of it being what I should be doing was reaffirmed by everyone around me.  I was meant to be a teacher. I was made for it; born to teach.  Gradually this affirmation caused it to be the only thing I could do; what else would I possibly do? There was nothing else I could do or wanted to do.  Part way through University a wonderful friend left her teaching degree.   She did not want to be a teacher and is now an amazing social worker. It was something I could never imagine doing and the very thought of it terrified me.

Through a maze of occurances  I left classroom teaching and worked towards setting up my own nursery.  They were baby steps but I was getting there slowly.  It was, in my mind, a natural progression and I carried on affirming my choice - there's nothing else I could, or would want, to do.

And then our daughter died and all of my plans and priorities changed.  I had to close down the business I had built up and had no capacity for teaching or childcare of any sort other than caring for my son, Samuel, who was 2 1/2 at the time.

A year and a half later we began our foster care journey which developed into an adoption journey (you can read about here and here) and I regained some purpose in my life.  My life was also actually so full of appointments for our foster daughter that returning to work - or even thinking of returning to work wasn't a possibility.  I always had lodged in the back of my mind that if all else failed I could always return to working in the childcare sector; could always use it as a fall back.  It was my security blanket and as it was something I was good at I felt it was a good security blanket.

Last year I picked up my career and returned to working in the childcare sector through liaising with a charity to set up a nursery.  At the tail end of last year this is what I wrote:

I blogged a few months ago about returning to work and what a big step it had been for me. I helped to set up a nursery which is something I've always wanted to do.  However, I have recently had to take a step back from my role as it wasn't working for my family.  Everyone was getting half measures.  My daughter took a turn for the worse and struggled to settle into pre school.  Her sleep disorder worsened.  My son realised that my attention was further split and, as he's only 6, began to act up too.  He has an intermittent stammer which worsened dramatically and his behaviour massively deteriorated.  Our marriage received whatever scraps were left. I felt relief at making the very difficult decision to step down until I saw on Facebook the number of my friends who manage to juggle children, marriage, life and amazing jobs and still have time to paint their nails!  And my relief and joy was stolen and I became a failure....

And that was my ending ... and my losing.  I was suddenly lost.  I had lost everything that was familiar to me.  I had grabbed my security blanket and returned to what I was good at and it hadn't come to fruition in the way that I had hoped it would. The start of this year began with me feeling incredibly low and things like blogging have definitely taken a back seat because of this.

And so I entered the Neutral stage; LIMBO.

As a bereaved parent, and for issues prior to that, I have had years of ongoing Psychotherapy. I became fascinated by the Transactional Analysis methods used in my therapy and following a lot of thought I decided to investigate whether this was something I could find out more about. At the start of this year I applied to study for a Foundation Certificate in Transactional Analysis - with view to training and practising a Psychotherapist - and was accepted! Although hugely excited I told very few people about this.  I was waiting for the 'how will you cope?', 'will you manage?', 'how will you juggle everything?', 'have you not already done a four year degree?', 'it's such a change from teaching' comments to come. They didn't; except from myself.

I still had the niggling suspicion that I had failed in someway - that a career change was to admit defeat and not to say 'I'm ready for a change; I'm ready to move on'.  I struggled to see that the experiences I'd had in the past, both personal and professional, had contributed to who I am and prepared me for the choices I will make in the future.  And as I reflected on this, the words that came to mind included: fear, nerves, uncertainty, trepidation, trapped, purpose,  lack of fulfilment ...

But slowly the feelings of failure began to diminish and were replaced by feelings of excitement - of anticipation and I began to let go.  I have not failed - I have simply developed and am ready to use my experiences for good.  Although I am getting there I still been to remind myself of this daily.  This needs to become my new affirmation.

... and as this season; as my last beginning draws to an end, I now await my new beginning.

Watch this space.

Barbara Bassot - The Reflective Journal (2016 ed)

William Bridges - Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes (2004 ed)

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Time is the Best Healer

This post has been brewing for a few weeks having just watched a couple of friends suffer recurrent miscarriages. 

I have been thinking a lot about the term ‘time is the best healer’ and wondering whether it is actually true.  One of the things that spurred me on to wonder this was seeing a post on Facebook about Rainbow Babies.  For those of you unfamiliar to the term, “a rainbow baby is a baby that is born following  miscarriage,  stillbirth, neonatal death or infant loss. In the real world, a beautiful, bright rainbow follows a storm and gives the hope of things getting better.  The rainbow is more appreciated having just experienced the storm in comparison.” (

Oh how I longed for my rainbow baby.

This year marks 5 years since Emilie’s death and 4 years since my last miscarriage; 3 years since we decided enough was enough.  We felt like we had exhausted every path and had continued to experience loss. We have 2 beautiful children; one birth child and one adopted child and we felt that continuing to pursue our rainbow baby was unfair on them due to the huge risks for me during pregnancy.  But the desire didn’t go away and I sometimes wonder if that can be misunderstood.

We did not have a rainbow baby.  We are one of the families who people can feel uncomfortable talking about.  Our happy ending was different to that which we had expected and that which women longing for children want to hear about.  I have been one of those women; I know the score.  When I was longing; when every fibre of my being was crying out for a baby to hold, I did not want to hear about couples who had made their peace with not being able to have any other children (or any birth children full stop). I did not want to hear about couples who had adopted children and moved on. I wanted a baby.  I wanted MY baby.   I heard inspirational stories of couples who had held strong in their faith in spite of their prayers not being answered in the ways that they had hoped and therefore not receiving their rainbow baby in the way, or timing they had expected. And sometimes not at all. 

But that wasn’t going to be me.

I was going to be different and was going to have my rainbow baby.  Except I didn’t.  I never got the opportunity to announce the healthy pregnancy of my rainbow baby on Facebook.  I didn’t get to share the scan photos, announce their birth or share anecdotes about sleepless nights.  There is still a void left where those experiences should have been and, nearly 5 years on from our biggest loss, I think that that is something that gets forgotten.  Not in us as a couple,  per se, but in couples who have experienced infertility and loss as a whole.

For couples who have experienced repeated loss, the pain does not diminish each time. There is no sigh of “oh well, it’s happened again, I kind of knew what to expect anyway ...”.  The pain is still there. Deep rooted and festering.  The hormones still kick in, the miscarriage (or for couples who have experienced repeated late loss – the birth) still has to take place.  The physical pain still has to be endured, sometimes surgeries still have to happen, and the emotions still have to be experienced. 

Watching my friends go through miscarriages recently has been like watching a mirror image of myself .  To a certain extent I knew what they were feeling. I could anticipate what emotions would come next and knew that when they were feeling it was all too much they would ultimately be OK. Not that day, and not for a long time afterwards; but eventually they would be OK, even if they didn’t know it themselves at the time.  Being ‘in’ that pain, however, is excruciating and sometimes you just need someone to come alongside you, not to say ‘it’ll all be ok’, ‘count your blessings’ or ‘at least you know you can get pregnant’ but actually just to say ‘it’s crap. I’m sorry’.

I have friends who have experienced loss and have had their rainbow babies and friends who have experienced loss after loss as we have. I can only imagine what it must be like to bring home your rainbow baby and often wonder whether having a baby after a miscarriage reduces the pain.  I’m sure it must to an extent but the lost baby will never be replaced and that alone is one of the most painful lessons I ever had to learn.

By the same merit I can only imagine the pain of experiencing loss and not having any birth children as a result.  My heart breaks for people in that situation and I wouldn’t want to add any more thought to this as I can’t comprehend how that must feel.

My children are such an amazing gift.  There are times when I am so overwhelmed with love for them that I actually fear losing them and how I would cope ...  but that’s another post altogether. My love for them does not, however, diminish the pain that I feel at losing Emilie. Neither does it take away the pain of not being able to have another birth child – of not being able to hold my rainbow baby.  That is something that I believe I will always have to deal with regardless of age or life stage.
So, back to the theory that ‘time is the best healer’.

With time, my capacity has increased, as has my acceptance of the situation.  My pain has become more manageable and my understanding greater.   But things still hurt.  Pregnancy announcements and birth announcements still carry a sting with them regardless of my joy for the people involved. That’s hard to say and it took me a long time to realise that that did not make me a bad person. There are still bad days, low days and days where life feels bitterly unfair. 

And then there is the fear of sounding like a broken record.

And that alone encompasses what I’ve learnt about recurrent loss.  I do sound like a broken record but it will stay with me forever. This is not the way things were meant to be; this was not my ‘life plan’. I did not set out to experience great pain and feel a hole in my life.

But that is what happened.

And for those friends, who know who they are, the pain is also very real and very raw.  I would love to be able to put together a wonderful ’10 things you can do to support your friend who has experienced recurrent loss’ or ‘things not to say to people who’ve experienced recurrent loss’ but would not know quite how to word it without causing offence!

So instead I’ve borrowed someone else’s! This is something I came across that I believed was too good not to share.

1. ‘Make sure you listen more than you speak. This conversation isn’t about you or your opinions but about supporting your friend’

2. Know your audience when talking about your own family
‘If you talk about your kids all the time you’re talking about the one thing they don’t have in common with you’

3. Be sensitive about telling your friend you’re pregnant
‘Tell your friend first before you announce it publicly… Don’t tell them in person (a text, email or letter gives them time to process the news)… Don’t show them your scan photos…’

4. Bite your tongue
‘Most people have a story about someone who couldn’t have children and then did… There’s always some weird herb or drug people have taken…’ In short, go easy on advice-giving

5. Stop trying to find reasons why
‘Faith doesn’t always resolve, we may never have our ‘answer’ and this is the complex journey you need to walk with your friend’

6. Infertility doesn’t always go away
‘It may be years since a diagnosis and your friend may seem much stronger, but this doesn’t mean they’re no longer experiencing loss’

7. Talking helps
‘You need to let your friend get angry, complain, cry and say what’s on their heart… help them let it out, then give them tea and cake’

8. Have fun
‘Organise some fun activities with them, get some dates in the diary and have a laugh. It gives them a break from obsessing over baby stuff and helps them remember there are still some good things in life to enjoy’

9. Be an advocate
‘At work, in friendship groups, church communities and family gatherings you can change the conversation when it’s been dominated by child birth stories and cracked nipples for the last half an hour…’