As I reach the third trimester, my anxieties have started to increase. The closer we get to the time we lost Orla, the more the fear of history repeating itself kicks in. Add in a couple of other challenges and bumps in the road, and my anxiety this week has hit an all-time peak.
I knew from the start that I would struggle to ask for help in this pregnancy. Despite knowing that I would need to at some point and that this would be completely understandable, I still struggled to see how I would do it. How would I know what warranted asking for help and what I just needed to learn to tolerate and manage for myself? Would it be a slippery slope and that as soon as I asked once, the floodgates would open and I would be calling my midwife or the hospital every day? Would I be demanding to be admitted until the baby was born, banging on the labour ward door, hospital bag in hand, begging to be allowed in?
I think I have, and still do, worry about these things. But above all else, I think that asking for help means admitting to myself and others that I am feeling vulnerable. That I am scared – utterly terrified – that my life is going to be ripped apart again. That I have failed again. To ask for help means that I am not coping, and that the burden of responsibility that has weighed heavily for the last few months has become too much.
And what does that say about me? That I am weak? Useless? Stupid? A failure? That I’m not doing well enough? Although these aren’t things that I consciously think of, they are there. Niggling away, deep at the back of my mind. Maybe they were there pre-loss, but they are certainly there since. The sense that I failed at the thing that most other people seem to breeze through. And this isn’t something that you can just ‘try harder’ at, like at school or work. There are too many factors involved that are completely out of your control.
And this lack of control means absolute vulnerability.
Although my work has always involved working with vulnerability, it is more recently that I have explored the depths of what this means within our society. I absolutely love the way in which Brene Brown writes and talks it; she discusses how vulnerability is uncertainty, it is risk and it is exposing yourself emotionally. And the thing that scares us about it is that it is associated with fear and with shame. But despite this, vulnerability isn’t about weakness. To expose and lean into your vulnerability shows courage and authenticity, and only when you do this, do you allow the potential for joy, love and belonging: to be supported and looked after.
However, I struggle to lean into my vulnerabilities. I have some very entrenched ways of coping that do not involve asking for help. I am stubborn, driven and determined. If something doesn’t go to plan, I try harder and add extra pressure on myself. I work longer hours and take on more tasks. But I do not ask for help.
Yet, in pregnancy after loss, this is not an option. You can’t try harder or work longer hours to take away the fear. You could try to ignore it – but what if you get it wrong? What if your decision not to ask for help means that your baby dies? As much as you try to deny it (and my goodness, I think I’ve tried!), there is no way of escaping the vulnerability that pregnancy after loss exposes you to. It is part of the process, not an optional extra. You can’t take it or leave it.
So, what has helped me to ask for help?
- To discuss with my midwife beforehand about when and how to ask. To have a plan that I feel has been collaboratively discussed and agreed on, so that I don’t have to even deliberate or question what to do when I feel scared. When I felt sacred today, I didn’t even have to think ‘what should I do’ or ‘where should I go’. I just did what we had discussed.
- To have options that take account of my different needs. For example, during the week, I can go to the MAU which is somewhere new and not at all associated with the trauma of losing Orla. However, at the weekend I would need to go to the labour ward which, until today, filled me with complete and utter terror. So therefore, when I do need to go for further checks, to know that my midwife will come with me, or if that isn’t possible, that she can ring ahead to tell them that I am coming and what I need (e.g. to not put me in the triage room where we were told that Orla had died or the room that we delivered her in). I can’t tell you how relieved this made me and how much more confident I felt asking for extra monitoring today.
- But in reality, I think one of the biggest hurdles for me is acceptance. Acceptance that it is okay, normal and completely understandable to feel vulnerable in this pregnancy. Acceptance that needing help is inevitable and I am unlikely to escape or avoid it. Accepting that I need help and that I am worthy of it. And accepting that people want to help, because they too feel so invested in your happiness and wellbeing.
Today I embraced my vulnerability and asked for help. It was scary and it was hard. But I am so glad I did it – and I think it will help me to do so again, since the next 8 or so weeks are going to be really tough – and I can’t do it alone.