Sunday, 24 December 2017

Losing My Potatoes by Alison

It never plays out the way I imagine it. Yes I do imagine it. Every scenario flashes through my head, I suppose in preparation for coping with the worst. I wouldn’t know, I’m no psychologist. My imagination tells me I’ll collapse, perhaps scream so loud the medical staff will feel awkward. Maybe I’d need to be restrained for threat of ending it all right there. Instead I am silent - the news registering but not processing. “Don’t take it off my belly,” I say to the sonographer. “Now’s the only chance to see what went wrong.”

They never find anything. 

The first night at home is always odd. There’s a baby inside me, but she’s gone. Yesterday I was pregnant, tomorrow I won’t be. But what am I now? I sip a glass of wine, hating that I’m allowed to, and welcoming the numbness it promotes. 

Necessary Processes

The car trip is silent. The occasional hand on my knee, which I usually can’t acknowledge. Sometimes I place a hand on top of his. It sucks for him too, I’m not completely self-consumed. Mostly I can’t think about it, I just have to survive. Everything about these days etches in my memory. The warm sun on the car, the sound of my footsteps upon the hospital floor. My trackies are dragging, I should pull them up. I look like a bogan. All the other day patients look better dressed – but I’ve been here before. After your hopes and dreams have been torn from your whatsies, the last thing you want to put on is your diesel jeans.

I hand my drivers licence to the clerk, knowing that if words are uttered from my mouth I’ll cry. A nurse gives me the hospital gown and shuts me in a cubical. Then the tears come. Right on cue. They ask me if I’m ok, I can’t answer. 

They hand me the chalky stuff and offer me pain killers in preparation for the cramping it will produce. I refuse. “I prefer the pain,” I lie and they look at me with sympathy. In truth I can’t swallow those enormous tablets with water. I can’t be bothered explaining.

I used to make ridiculous jokes with the anaesthetists. Some weird nervous response, I suppose. I don’t do that this time and I miss that little part of myself.

I wake up feeling groggy, but also better, as though my body feels relief my daughter has been removed from it. I hate myself for feeling like this.

The Healing Process

I sleep the first day. The second we get sushi and drink wine. Sometimes I even laugh, still numb to what I’ve just been through, enjoying the consumables I had to refuse only days earlier. I’m productive. I clean out cupboards, sort through junk. I’m keen to get the weight off, feel good about myself for once. I can’t sit still. Then it’s night and I have time to think. This time last week I had hope… I was almost halfway through, it was supposed to be ok this time. How stupid people must think me. I should have known. It’s the fifth time this has been my reality. Give up, idiot. Murderer. You should have known she wouldn’t make it. Another sucky Christmas without the family I dreamed of. I cry so much I at least don’t have to take my make-up off. 


They’ll test the product, then dispose of her as though she was nothing. I can’t keep her, it’s not procedure. I could have birthed her, they’d told me. A limited autopsy would have been performed. I know the result, all would be clear, it always is. My daughters are perfect. But I wouldn’t have survived another terminal birth. The hospital doctors feed me some stupid statistic that ‘historically after loss people have an 80% chance of success’. Specialists are a little more specific, telling me they’re sure it was this or that. Clearly I’m gullible, but it’s not as though I go into a pregnancy thinking I won’t have a baby at the end. I gamble responsibly. 

My Emotional Potatoes

The nurse calls me the next day. She’d prefer an adult home with me, she says. That’s because she doesn’t know the difference between being suicidal and not knowing how to live each day. I’m not alone, I assure her. Hubby is worried too.

Mostly I’m ok. There are triggers, many obvious. Bleeding, seeing pregnant mums, new born babies, siblings are a huge trigger for me, abrupt or snappy people, but also not knowing whether I’ll get my dollar back from the Aldi trolley. I had a full panic attack once because I ran out of potatoes for dinner. I didn’t need them, from a BMI point of view or for the night’s menu. But panic is a dirty mole. They say with panic your body goes into fight or flight mode. You know, where back in the days of our ancestors they would have run from the lion or tried to fight it. Well there’s another mode that doesn’t sound as sassy as fight or flight. Hide. That’s me. I shut down completely and can no longer process my environment. I literally blank people out if it’s too overwhelming. I tell myself that had ancestor me been faced with a lion I’d have scaled an enormous tree. Current me is just socially awkward.

Back to Reality

Then I’m back at work. Mostly I act as though nothing has happened. As though my belly doesn’t still look pregnant and my heart isn’t broken. They don’t give me bereavement leave, or maternity leave. Babies aren’t considered people unless they are born. Alive. And even then it’s apparently debatable. 

I’m triggered by everything and also nothing – A person talking about their grandchildren, a passing comment that brings me back to reality for no reason. Sometimes the conversations feel intentional. I’m probably paranoid. But also people can be heartless numpties. I excuse myself to go to the bathroom and then sloppy sob into my hands. I’m gone too long and don’t know how I’ll go back to the office. I should have bought makeup to work. Red eyes are in fashion, right? When I do go back, no one says anything. I make jokes to over-compensate and actually it’s so awkward that I’m a little bit amused at myself. I can’t tell if I’m weird or fabulous. 

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud
A few weeks after a loss comes the mud. The weight isn’t coming off, I’ve achieved none of the things I should have now that I’m not pregnant. It’s paralysing. I see the person I want to be, the mother, the wife, the human being, but she’s out of reach. Crying is unproductive, leaving the house unnecessarily presents too many unknowns. I took half a valium once, but felt trapped in my head, my muscles too relaxed to move. It was a strange kind of torture. I wish I’d enjoyed it.

One of the most difficult aspects of loss for me has been the reaction of others. The more losses I have, the less it seems to matter to the majority. I announce on facebook now. It’s easier than having to see the looks of sympathy in people’s eyes. Or watch them as they retreat into themselves, not knowing what to say. My close friends text me, usually with profanities and offers of alcohol consumption. These are welcome. I get private messages from people asking if it will be investigated or if I’ve considered this test or that. We’ve done every test. All of them. I want to tell them to sod of, but for some reason I still want to be liked. This all goes to snot when I bring up my losses randomly with strangers. Something about getting in before they ask me impossible questions such as how many children I have. At least now I have an excuse for being socially awkward (whoever said I couldn’t see the positives?!).

I go back to my GP for surgery follow up and her face lights up when she sees me. She doesn’t know. Screw you public hospital and your terrible correspondence records. More mud, more tears. I’d rather face a lion.

The Spiritual

I try to understand what lesson I might be supposed to understand from an ethereal being point of view. It’s too wasteful not to be angry about. If there is some higher power, it clearly has no idea who I am. This goes against everything I was brought up to believe. It makes me feel insignificant and isolated, and perhaps a little rebellious.
I have learnt a few things though:

I can only control my life to a certain point

A pregnancy will go the way it’s meant to, regardless of whether             you’re anxious about it or not
People suck at dealing with the grief of others
But their intentions are mostly good
You think you’re doing ok and then someone keys your car
Alcohol makes me happy, but also fat

Help, in all its Obvious Forms

You’re probably thinking I should see someone. I have of course. After I gave birth to my heart angel, Autumn, I was diagnosed with PTSD. My first psychologist focused on mindfulness and tried to teach me breathing techniques. There’s a place for mindfulness, but when I’m sobbing in a corner because I’ve lost my potatoes, the last thing I want to do is be in my conscious thought and experience every sensation. Perhaps I missed the point. Whatever. Hubby’s solution of a cider in the shower and taking over dinner is a little more genius. 

The second psychologist was brilliant. Apart from the fact he was on the other side of the city and both parking and being late are massive triggers for me. Also he charged $220 for 50 minutes, but I left his sessions feeling pumped. He told me my PTSD was more like severe depression, but actually I deal with it very well. Apparently the people he sees with ‘real’ PTSD are like shattered windscreens, which can be put back together, but will never function properly again. I’m balanced, he told me. Stable and strong. It took eight sessions before I realised I had paid him $1760 to complement me. He may also be a genius.

Self Perceptions

The strange thing for me is realising I’m no where near as resilient as I portray to others. When I was sixteen I lived in emergency housing, technically homeless, though less dramatic as I never slept on the street. The circumstances that landed me on the doorstep of Berry Street, a wonderful organisation, were domestic violence and a mother who couldn’t support us out of that situation. I’ll never forget the lady at Centrelink asking me why I didn’t live at home. I don’t remember if I verbally answered, but she saw something in my eyes (alright, I was probably snort-sobbing), and she lodged the documents as ‘unreasonable to live at home’. I was lucky. But at the time, I felt invincible. I had removed myself from the scary thing, got a job and supported myself. At sixteen!

When I was twenty-five I was in a relationship with an insecure guy with a temper. (insert metaphor of how you end up dating the same personalities as your male role-models). One night, after I’d broken up with him, but before I moved out, he wanted to go through my phone. He snatched it off me and hid it, then took my wallet and my car keys so I couldn’t leave. As I pulled out my laptop to message a friend, he marched to the kitchen to turn the internet off at the wall. This is when I grabbed the spare keys from under my pillow and fled.

On a digressive side note, if you find yourself sleeping with your spare keys under your pillow, you’re not dramatic, you’re clever. But maybe do a one, two, skip a few and leave now. 

My point of listing these two scenarios is that I still was somewhat in control of my life, regardless of how difficult it felt at the time. Pregnancy loss was new territory for my self-built life. I love the motivational speakers who tell you you’re the master of your own universe. Also I want to throw tomatoes at their stupid advertisements. 

Control. What a beautiful illusion. 

This gets heavy, but bear with me if you can. Before I birthed my Autumn they made me swallow a tablet to cut off the hormones. The theory was that she would pass peacefully inside me, rather than minutes after birth in a painful and traumatic manner. I thought of course that I was protecting her. Within an hour and over the next few days her movements slowed down. This is the worst thing I’ve ever been through. Ever. I had no control over her life. I couldn’t protect her and no matter what happened, I would have to birth her in a few days. It was like walking towards some kind of death. I knew I would be worse off for having gone through it, but I had no escape. No spare keys under my pillow, no centrelink lady rescuing me from starvation. I laboured for eight hours. I was refused epidural, but I needed the agony. It was the only proof I was still alive. She died in my arms. I wasn’t prepared for that. I wanted to die with her, as though I could walk her through the veil that separates life and death, in some ridiculous belief that she wouldn’t be alone. There was nothing spiritual about that day. No flash of light, no angels singing hymns of praise as they whisked her up to heaven. She was there and then she wasn’t. If I had died with her, I’d have simply been also dead. It was soul-destroying. 

The moment she was out of my body I felt relief that the worst of it was over. I was so wrong. 

And then…

I’ve lost three more daughters since Autumn. I don’t know why they’re girls, I’m assured in holds no significance to the pregnancy outcomes. The baby before Autumn was never tested for gender – or anything else. The first loss is not deemed significant enough for testing.

Where I’m At

I’ve explained my losses, given some insight into how I am (or am not) managing. I’m supposed to end on some positive note, so all the readers will feel warm and fuzzy. Humans need happy endings. I’m still working on coping. I haven’t discovered a fool-proof way through the mud, and I’m sorry that the only solution I’ve offered is alcoholic consumption. Maybe I’ll name my next blog post ‘Finding my Potatoes’ and feed you all some excellent story of how it all worked out in the end. Or maybe life is about moving on from the notions of happy endings – or endings at all for that matter. Perhaps life is about every moment, the good and the bad and how we adapt to what we’re dealt. 
My one little chestnut in my pocket is that perhaps when the mud hits after this loss I will find a way to feel alive. Maybe I’ll go skydiving and shock myself into living. I’ll let you know if it snaps me out of it. 
Alternatively I might have a freak parachute accident, furthering the doctor’s theories that I’m just extremely unlucky. 

Also, I’ll keep focusing on health and well-being, but because I’m vain, not responsible. That way when people ask me how I’m going, I can be honest and say I’m pretty shit. I’m shit, but I feel pretty so whatever. It’s the little things.


If you require support after reading this blog, please contact Sands on 13000 72637

Ally Pritchard is an author and mother from Melbourne. She writes fictional novels and novellas under her maiden name A. Finlay. She’s lost five babies at eight, twenty-one, twelve, twelve and just recently at fifteen weeks.

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