The Silence of Miscarriage

Miscarriage often brings silence. We even call some miscarriages “silent miscarriages”.

From feeling that there are no safe places where they can talk to thoughts that other people are fed up hearing the same story over and over again. Parents experiencing the deep loss of miscarriage often find themselves silencing their stories … yet the pain and grief shouts ever louder – not wanting … or ready … to be silenced.

Over the years I have spoken with mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, other relations and friends … all grieving the loss of a miscarriage in different ways. The losses may be different, but the grief is real. Painfully real.

Time and time again I hear things like “no one understands” … “I can’t speak with them about it – they have their own pain” … “I don’t want to open it up for them again” … “they must be fed up hearing me talk about it” … “it was all so long ago everyone else has forgotten”. And so, they silence their story … for days, weeks, months, years, decades.

But the story is more than a story.

For someone grieving the loss of a pregnancy it is the death of a baby, the death of parenting that child, the death of being able to watch them grow and develop, the death of hopes, the death of dreams and so much more.

The layers of grief are wide, complicated and interwoven.

The pregnancy may have been planned and hoped for … or unexpected and unintended. It would be easy to think that the grief is different … but it isn’t … it just holds different silences.

It may be hard to voice the emotion of relief where you know others are devastated … so you silence that. It may be hard to voice that you didn’t feel ready to be a dad but knew your partner wanted to be a mum … so you silence that. It may be hard to voice that you fear that this was your last hope and you are tired of trying … so you silence that. It may be hard to voice that you feel that you have lost everything that you ever hoped for … so you silence that.

To be an ear to hear some of those silences voiced has been one of the most humbling things in my life. Where someone trusts you to listen and not judge … to hear and not advise … to hear the baby’s name spoken for the first time … to receive a photo on Christmas Day, or due date, of how baby was remembered … these are sacred spaces that it is an honour to share.

Silences can be dangerous … they can push and bury grief deep, deep down – I read this quote recently and found it to ring very true:

“Like trying to submerge a beachball under water, it became almost impossible for me to hold my emotions down. The longer and more forcefully I tried to hold them down the more violently they burst up through me again.”

ALAIN EMERSON – LUMINOUS DARK – 2017

Grief is normal … it is part of our healthy response to loss. By giving ourselves the time, space and permission to grieve well we do ourselves a great kindness.

If you are grieving the loss of a pregnancy there is support available. It might feel difficult to reach out for that and I know that breaking the silence takes courage … but you will be doing yourself a kindness as you make that first connection and start the conversation.

If you know someone who has experienced a miscarriage – be brave and connect with them. That takes courage too. You will not make them feel any worse – the worse thing has already happened. Just a simple “I’m sorry to hear what happened. How are you today?” will help them break the silence.


Support organisations:

Alternatives – Counselling & Listening Rooms – Dundee

Cruse Bereavement Care Scotland

Miscarriage Association


written for Cruse Bereavement Care Scotland – Baby Loss Awareness Week – Facebook Post

Fatty!

Facebook. A picture of a young girl. Eyes twinkling with mischief. A rascal!

Second comment: “Fatty”

For a moment I was almost physically paralysed as I read that comment. Outraged.

But … realisation dawned … the author of the comment was a Facebook friend … the girl herself … now all grown up … years distancing her from the young girl who was looking out at me from the screen.

My outrage subsided. Replaced with anger. Laced with sadness. Thoughts swirling in my mind. Bile catching the back of my throat. Hot tears forming and stinging my eyes.

I couldn’t scroll past. I had no words. My mind was a jumble of thoughts …

What if that was a picture of a completely different young girl …

…would my Facebook friend have penned that same word against her picture? Probably not.

… would she have thought that same word about her? I don’t know.

What if a different young girl … my daughter … her daughter … someone else’s daughter … saw that picture … read that comment below it … compared herself with that young girl … would she see the rascally, mischievous, little girl and allow herself to imagine what fun they could have together … or would she allow that word to take root inside her and begin to define how she saw herself?

I was back to outrage!

I tried to scroll past … but I couldn’t. I was paralysed here … looking at the picture and not able to connect it to the word that jarred in me sitting just lines below.

I penned a response … clumsily … but something to ease that bile in my throat and allow my fingers to scroll on:

“oh my goodness … stop! Don’t go there … for all the young girls we know!”

And Facebook does what Facebook does and attracts other comments and other attention. In the midst of this a glimmer of the why comes out.

This word was a repeat of what my Facebook friend had heard when she was that young girl all those years ago.

She was just repeating what had been cruelly spoken over her.

Only now … here she was, the grown up girl, saying those same cruel words to her younger self.

The bullied becomes a bully … to herself … and those words are all the more powerful because she speaks them over herself … she cannot escape that voice very easily.

So, still, I am outraged!

Outraged … but with a little more understanding … with hotter tears behind my eyes … with anger that those words still carry power because they are still spoken over that young girl who lives inside my grown up friend.

So I revisit my clumsy first comment .. and edit … to a still clumsy comment:

“oh my goodness … stop! Don’t go there … not for all the young girls we know … but for yourself!”

And, yet, I am still drawn back to this conversation with my Facebook friend.

On holiday I read a book … a children’s book … recommended to me by a friend … about a little refugee boy … bullied by the cruel words of other children. And there is a line in that book which has stuck with me:

“Sometimes words hang around longer than people, even when you don’t want them to.”

Isn’t that just so true?

Those children who spoke that “Fatty” word over my Facebook friend are LONG gone … but here we are years later with the word still hanging around … still being repeated … still being reinforced … still landing … still blinding her from the gorgeous, mischievous, cheeky little girl that she actual was!


My Facebook friend isn’t a distant stranger that I have followed through a long chain of someone who knows someone … she is a woman who I know in actual REAL life.

I know her … her sisters … her family … people who love and care for her … people who are for her and want to champion her to be ALL that she can be.

She is a fabulous, gorgeous, woman who I have watched grow up, mature and blossom in lots of different ways. She is an amazing mum, a fun filled wife and a loyal friend to many!

But … she also holds a little girl inside her … her little, younger, self who she calls “Fatty” … and I want to tell that little girl that she can silence the bullies by not repeating their words when she grows up to be the woman that I know she will become.

I want to whisper to that little girl, ‘Always remember that “you are fearfully and wonderfully made” and use your words wisely – they have “the power of life and death” in them.’


I also know that there is a deeper discomfort within me … a reason why I keep coming back to this conversation … a reason why it stings within me … because in hearing her write “Fatty” … my Facebook friend might as well have been shouting it directly at me …

… I recognise the voice … the words may be different … but there are the same echoes of old that I still speak over myself …

So … I need to pull up a chair and have a conversation much closer to home … with the little girl I hold inside of me – to remind her that she is fearfully and wonderfully made and to use her words wisely because they have power!

Lessons from the Garden I

#1 – Shame!

Let’s start with the biggest punch in the guts … no point in building up to a big finale when you don’t know where the journey will take you!

When I say that the garden was transformed “through the skills of a team of guys” … what that actually translated as was: a friend of ours … from Paul’s running club … in the middle of lockdown … started a gardening business.

He was picking up work … filling his diary … growing his team … building his portfolio! As you would expect with a new business some of that that was coming through his existing network of contacts … friends … family … and, yes, running club pals!

You see exactly where this is going, don’t you?!

When Paul suggested that we use them to do the work a little bit inside of me died! Well, actually … if truth be told … probably quite a large part of me died!

Yet a glimmer of hope remained … I knew this guy would only perform quality work … and quality comes at a price … so my hope was that the quote for the work would throw the “let’s help a friend grow his business” plan out the window …

… we could merrily take ourselves off to the “Dundee Trusted Trader” website … and find someone cheaper to tackle the wilderness …

… but more crucially find someone unknown to us … and unknown to anyone we did know!!

But … no … the price came in within budget … and was comparable to the “going rate” for garden work like this … YES … of course I got Paul to check that out!! When bits of you are dying on the inside they don’t go down without a fight!

Typical … where are the big price tickets when you need them??!!

Some people don’t like hanging their underwear on the line … others have taken their phone to the toilet during a Zoom meeting unwittingly with audio and camera still connected … others have fallen face first in front of their boss … others have walked around all day with their skirt tucked into their pants …

… this was my version of humiliation about to land on our doorstep … LITERALLY!

And then on the run up … there was banter in the running club Facebook group … that went like this:

There was no offence intended and none taken at the banter … it was just banter … given and taken … between friends …

… but there was truth in it … there was shame being carried … and that was only too real.

Shame is a destroyer … and it can have very deep roots.

A LONG time ago I once heard someone say that you only needed to look in a christian’s backyard (garden) and it would tell you how well they would look after the things that God had given them to steward.

Ouch!

That thought became like an inner voice of shame within me. Regularly as I passed through, or looked at the garden, I could hear the loud whispers of that voice of shame taunting me.

I do not believe that my lack of gardening prowess (or effort) in any way reflects how I look after other things in my life … but the voice of shame takes no prisoners and accuses nonetheless … and sometimes viciously so!

Shame can bring a disconnect and even cut us off from relationships … in both simple and much deeper ways.

There were friends and family who I would dread the thought of dropping in … rarely (if ever) would I invite them … all much to the applause of my inner voice of shame. They would … after all judge my ability to love and care for them based on the state of my garden … especially the good gardeners … they were the worst and would of course judge me more … or so the voice of shame would tell me anyway.

The voice of shame is a liar … but it is a persuasive one.

Well … voice of shame … the garden is RESET … I’m calling time on your toxic whispers and banishing your company. After all, the voice of Truth tells me a different story …

Take me to: Lessons from the Garden – The Back Story

Lessons from the Garden

#0 – The Back Story

This week we pressed RESET on the garden!

It was LONG overdue … but in a season when everything feels to be in RESET mode, it felt timely.

I am always looking to hear what God is whispering to me in the every day ordinary of life … and I know that there is much in this garden RESET journey that I have to hear! So, it seems I may have myself a wee mini series to play with!

The garden came free with the house back when we bought it in 2003! The previous owners confidently told us “the garden looks after itself” … PERFECT! That is our kind of garden!

Over lockdown I learnt a new phrase … “judicious neglect” … had I known that phrase back in 2003 it would have exactly coined what sort of line we would have looked for in the house particulars:

“The house is boundaried by a sizeable walled garden with ample, relaxed, informal planting. The garden showcases rich, vibrant colour in late Spring into early Summer and will thrive best through judicious neglect.”

Over the 17 years that we have lived in the house, we have attended well to the judicious neglect which the garden demanded from us. Woven into that 17 years there have been moments where we have departed from that neglect and dabbled in some planting and maintenance … mainly at the hands of other people – paid and unpaid!!

This week, through the skills of a team of guys, what had become a rambling wilderness of interwoven trees, shrubs, flowers and weeds was transformed into a low maintenance clean slate (well chuckie actually!) of a garden.

Space for the new … with a few remnants of the old!

So where this mini series will take me I have no idea … I do know that there a few things bubbling about within in me about it all … but this, for now, sets the back story!!

And I guess it needs some before … and after … or perhaps more correctly so far! … pictures to bring that back story to life!

Canal -v- Munro

Comparison is the thief of joy.

A year ago, this weekend, I walked 100km (62.137 miles) along the canal paths between Glasgow and Edinburgh … in one go … we set off on the Saturday morning and arrived on the Sunday!

This week I climbed a Munro … Ben Lawers … the 10th highest mountain in Scotland!

There was, however, the small matter of Beinn Ghlas – a second Munro (rather inconveniently!) in the way … so we actually climbed two Munros!! 3,100 feet of climbing to a final height of 4,027 feet … 4 miles up … 4 painful miles back down!

It felt like a tenth of the distance for ten times the effort!

Last year I was sore and tired … this week I think I am broken!! Well … apart from my vocal chords which are not broken and are voicing their objection (quite loudly!) to each movement that I have made over the last two days!!

A year has brought a lot less fitness … a lot more weight … lockdown feet that haven’t been walking for months … so, so many reasons to why my body is objecting strongly to being put through its paces!

Walking with mountain goat daughter and husband it was easy to feel like the ‘fat girl at the back‘!

Last year there was never a point where I thought I wouldn’t get to the end of the 100km … this year when I saw the summit of Ben Lawers there was a part of me that wanted to say ‘I can see the top … that’s close enough … that’ll do!‘ But I knew that I would have been denying myself that sense of achievement … that third Munro bagged … the view that I knew would be spectacular … and most importantly lunch (which was already at the top) and a promised cup of tea!

I’m not sure which of those factors motivated me the most to press on to the top … but had I realised then that I had left the teabags back at the holiday lodge I may just have stayed put and waited for the mountain goat duo to come back down and just meet me where I was! Who knew that hot watery milk actually tastes alright after you’ve worked hard for it!

We can be well aware that comparison with others is often not a helpful, or healthy, thing … but sometimes it is a comparison with ourselves that is the most destructive.

Comparing ourselves to how we used to be … our expectations of what we would like to be … our hopes of what we might want to achieve … can all really steal the joy of the moment that we are actually experiencing … or harder still can stop us even pursuing those experiences.

If I had been choosing the route I would have chosen something much more ‘achievable’ … something flatter that I knew I could achieve comfortably.

But … sometimes … we need to be pushed out of our comfort zones so that we can get to the end of the day and be able to say ‘I’m proud of me!’

Sometimes … it is other people who know that we can stretch ourselves just that little bit higher … push that little bit harder … go that little bit further … sometimes it is in trusting them that our internal voice of self comparison is silenced … and we find that we are able do what we weren’t entirely convinced that we could.

I might have been the fat girl at the back …

… BUT …

I climbed two Munros … in one day … I saw the most spectacular views … I had a splendid day with my mountain goat companions …

… and I have walked from Glasgow to Edinburgh … in one go …

… no comparison required … no joy stolen …

… they are both achievements in their own right …

… and I can be proud of achieving both!

Sometimes we need to tell ourselves the truth … and choose to believe it!

My Father’s Daughter

Today I was sad. Unexpectedly sad.

It’s Father’s Day. Dad died 8 years ago … so there have been other Father’s Days … but this one has caught me by surprise.

Grief is like that … sometimes you can anticipate the difficult days and plan for them … but other days the rug just gets pulled from under your feet and you find yourself free falling without a safety net. Trying to grab something that will break your fall … but finding nothing in your grasp that holds.

‘Special days’ often pass me by … Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Easter Sunday, Father’s Day, New Year’s Eve … days which are marked as ‘special‘ on the pre-printed calendar that hangs on the wall. Days where we feel we ‘should‘ do something.

For some, these are days of great anticipation … eager expectation … with invitations offered to gather together for celebrations to be shared.

For me … living and working in a hotel … these ‘special’ days were ones where we worked whilst they played!

It was all about making their ‘special’ day … special. And we, in return, would collapse in an exhausted, but satisfied, heap … the months of preparation had paid off … the day had gone well … customers were happy … and would hopefully choose us for their next ‘special’ day.

Even years after I had moved away from home, these remained days for other people … there would be no point in phoning home until late into the night … when the celebrations were done and the parties were over … naps on the sofa had been taken … and late night dinners eaten. The conversations would be tired, exhausted and centred around those other people’s special day.

Marking these ‘special’ days, for our own use, wasn’t really a thing. Apart from Christmas … we shut the doors of the hotel every year and did Christmas for us! [We did also pretty much take over the whole hotel for our wedding … but that’s a different story!]

What then, is this strange sadness I feel this year … this Father’s Day? This unfamiliar … uncomfortable … unwelcome feeling.

I am not my father’s daughter … in the card sending, telephone calling, way that I used to be. That’s not new a new feeling … that has become familiar … some years I have even bought myself a Father’s Day present as a “Yes, I miss him terribly, but I can still celebrate him” kind of thing!

The hotel is closed in lockdown … so this year there are no celebrations, for other people, being hosted there.

Our church building is closed in lockdown … there are no gatherings … no understanding, exchanged, glances … no hugs between those who share the pain of loss … no church family meal for me to cook to distract myself with.

Today I can still observe other people’s marking of this ‘special’ day on the calendar … celebrating dads that are alive … remembering dads who aren’t … dads themselves celebrating being dads … families ‘gathering’ in group chats … and somewhere in the mix of all of that space to be mindful of those who had absent or abusive dads.

It is also Father’s Day in my house … and a great dad lives here … but it feels like ‘not my party’ to organise … but there is a pull in me to do that … or a need to do that … to want to step in … to make it mine … to want it to look like what I think it should look like. But it isn’t mine to host and I shouldn’t try.

So, today, I feel like I am free falling … without an identity to grasp, or a distraction to hold, that would help break my fall.

This year, for the first time ever, this is a really painful place … without the familiar tools to ground myself.

This year, perhaps I am like a bird who has had its wings clipped and hasn’t been able to glide the same way through shifting air currents.

Photo: SarahLou Photography

Free fall is unfamiliar … uncomfortable … unexpected … and my eyes keep ‘leaking’ where I don’t want them to. Yet I know it is normal!

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.’ Ecclesiastes 3:1,4

Perhaps also a time to free fall and a time to glide!

The Sound of Silence

Racism.

Bigotry.

I know little of one but, perhaps, too much of the other. I haven’t decided if they are one and the same thing – they sound like they might be … but yet they look very different.

Both are rooted in fear … ignorance … division … oppression … war.

We will deny that we hold racism, or bigotry, as a life value … but look closer, dig down, and we might be surprised by what we find in the secret, hidden and silent places.

Racism is all across our news feeds just now. Opinions are polarised. Voices shout loudly. Anger brews. Violence erupts. On both sides of the divide.

And then there is the sound of silence. And that silence is being called to account.

My story stands in silence … in the space ‘in between’.

Not in the space between Black and White … but in the space between Catholic and Protestant.

Photo © CAIN 

As a family we stood in the in between. We owned a hotel that employed, and served, both Catholic and Protestant alike. In Northern Ireland. In the 70s … in the 80s … during ‘The Troubles’. That was not a normal thing in a divided, segregated community.

My father was a Protestant – and was fiercely proud to call himself that. But, beyond that label, he was a Peacemaker. He was one who stood in between and bridged the gap. He taught us, his daughters, to do the same.

Staff lived with us as family – Catholics and Protestants together – at a time where fear and hatred of each other lived just down the road. There were things we didn’t say. Questions we didn’t ask. Thoughts we didn’t share. Opinions we didn’t voice.

There was a sound of silence … and we spoke it loudly.

People talking without speaking.’
‘But my words, like silent raindrops fell. And echoed in the wells of silence
.’

Silence didn’t rock the boat. Silence didn’t cause hurt and offence. Silence didn’t cause fear and suspicion. Silence didn’t cause anger and hatred.

I learnt that silence was good. Silence was safe. Silent was who I became.

But that spoken silence did not keep us safe. Our actions spoke louder than our words … as they always do! Our actions, as Peacemakers, made us a target.

Being a Peacemaker is not silent … it is not safe. It irritates … hurts … offends. It stirs up fear … suspicion … anger … hatred.

Being a Peacemaker meant that my father got to collect blown up body parts from the electricity pylons that he climbed. Meant there were roads that he could not drive down. Meant that there were roadblocks that he knew he needed to drive through FAST if he wanted to get home alive. Meant he got shot after. [He downed a very large whiskey when he got home that night – faster that I had ever seen one downed before … or since!]

Being Peacemakers meant that we lived with bomb scares as a norm – not just the norm of them being in the towns where we lived … but the reality of having a bomb on our doorstep … primed and ready.

Being Peacemkers meant that there were times where we were followed home to make sure that we got home. Times where the police stopped me as I approached a bridge patrol, greeted me by name and let me know that I was later crossing than I should have been and dad was expecting me home! Times on Sunday evenings when I couldn’t record the Top Ten because of a radio signal blocker around the hotel. And a very bizarre time when I learnt that we’d had the SAS living in our roof space for a while!

These things were not normal … but they were our normal.

So, today, as I hear silence being called to account in the media, and in our conversations, I have some understanding of why many may be silent in the face of bigotry … or racism.

They may, like me, have learnt that silence feels safe.

But perhaps we can all stretch beyond our spoken silences and allow our actions to speak the louder story – as they always do!

Being a Peacemaker is not safe, but it is brave!

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:18

Blog cover photo: Liam Johnston https://www.instagram.com/p/B3AI4r7jxwS/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

In/Complete

Lockdown.

A space where I am being unpicked and repurposed.

Shona – a craftswoman. #ShonaMasonMakes

A woven garment and an unpicked dress. Repurposed. In/Complete.

Shona, a recent conversation about being unpicked and repurposed took me to your Facebook post about your new In/Complete boxy jumper … and as I talked I realised that God was very much catching my thought attention! Here’s where that took me! Nicola 💚

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The bias binding … an old dress that could have easily been thrown out as of no more use – it had served its time – was worn out … BUT …. with a skilful eye to detail … the Craftswoman unpicks and repurposes it to be the perfect finishing detail on a new garment for a new season.

Like a flourish that completes, perfects, enhances and finishes the new.

That new garment itself is woven by the same skilled Craftswoman … time … effort … energy … creativity … taking the yarns from other skilled people … people skilled in their craft … a collaboration of talent … one relying on the other … none of them knowing what the end of the journey for this yarn would be .. but taking time over the formative stage.

The yarn becomes cloth .. the cloth is cut … the beginning of the final form starts to come together …. but, even here, the garment in its finished form is still unseen … unknown … incomplete …

… although it is seen, known and complete in part … it is not yet what it will finally become … even in the Craftswoman’s eye!

The cloth and the binding come together and are joined by the woollen sleeves of a single yarn – a contrast of textures and colour.

The garment is complete … yet In/Complete …

… the Craftswoman’s original intention was for it to have a big sweeping turtle neck … but something shifted and changed within her and her thoughts changed and the garment became Complete in it’s finished form …

… BUT … the Craftswoman is not yet finished!

She will go on to craft a loose cowl … a separate piece that can added or removed as the seasons shift … making the garment more flexible and more adaptable than perhaps was ever her intent … or even in her wildest imagination for what might become of that yarn when she first saw it … held it … began to dream for what it might be.

Then it will be complete … perhaps for a season … perhaps for ever … perhaps in time it will again be unpicked and repurposed … but for now … it is In/Complete.

And so I am reminded of Father … “This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him” …

… and I am struck that the clay had became marred … even in the expert potter’s hand … BUT … he unpicked and repurposed it … as seemed best to him …. and I wonder … what became of that pot … what was its final form in that season … did it become something else in a different season … what was its In/Complete journey?

I also am In/Complete. Being unpicked. Being skilfully repurposed.