Learning To Cope With The Triggers
You go onto baby loss sites and will often see the words ‘Trigger Warning’ ahead of a post; usually surrounding new pregnancy announcements or details of new loss. This is all very helpful and sensitive but real life doesn’t come with a trigger warning and quite often I wish it would! The smallest of things can trigger the biggest of meltdowns and it often comes from the most unlikeliest of sources.
There have been a number of recent triggers for me; some completely expected and understandable, others completely weird and had me pondering WTF where did that come from?
Two recent recent triggers came courtesy of a couple of NHS blunders…. Two fully expected meltdowns came thanks to the really thoughtless planning on behalf of the NHS (whom I love and adore but they got this one a bit off the mark). I went for my first NHS counselling session a couple of months ago (for anyone interested I really didn’t like it and decided it was not for me, not at this time anyhow). The counsellor I was seeing had an office that was right in the maternity ward. I had to walk through the room where I had all of my hospital appointments, sit amongst the pregnant women waiting for their scans, see the reception staff who checked me in for my scans, use the bathroom I gave my urine samples and then just as I was about to go into my session, I saw the sonographer who confirmed that Billy had died. No real surprises there then that all of that triggered an almighty meltdown. No shit Sherlock. It might have been a good idea to schedule my appointment away from the maternity ward, no? The second came due to a botched appointment where the administrative staff had failed to tell me the correct hospital to attend, which saw me end right back in the maternity ward where I had Billy and miss my actual appointment. Nice work.
Both of these instances thrust me into a downer for a couple of days, just being back in that world where I had been so excitedly planning our future, seeing my son kicking away on the scans, sucking his little thumb…. well it certainly wasn’t a nice experience going back there. Especially when I hadn’t been prepared for it.
Incidents such as the above are obviously going to trigger unwelcome emotions. Just having to return to that part of the hospital triggered so many feelings; the time me and Billy had together, how excited I was for his arrival and blissfully ignorant to how my journey into motherhood was actually going to pan out. I looked at all of the expectant mothers, sat in the same situation I had been in months earlier and I just thought ‘you don’t have a clue how this could turn out for you.’ A stark reminder of how the innocence of pregnancy has gone forever now.
Other obvious triggers can include the site of a newborn being lovingly pushed around the park by doting parents, the “that should be us” feelings taking over…. then there’s the cute little toddler running about that looks like I think Billy may have done. Not to mention walking through the baby section of a department store, self torture anyone?! Anything baby related is likely to set a bereaved mother off into a spin for a while I expect, needless to say you don’t need a trigger warning there, it’s probably a given for some time.
However, it is the unexpected triggers that really throw me. The seemingly normal day-to-day occurrences that just hit you like a ton of bricks that you weren’t expecting. I went to get my eye brows done recently, I was starting to look like the Gallaghers’ long lost sister you see. I will never go back to the salon I used to go to whilst I was pregnant as I just cannot face having to explain that Billy died to them. Cue the awkwardness, the not knowing what to say to me and as well as the eyebrow threading being painful, the stilted conversation will be just as painful. No thanks. So I found a local salon, no one knows me, knew I was ever pregnant and the job will be done quickly and as painlessly as eyebrow threading can ever really be. Well that was the plan anyway.
I had to get on a bed and lie down, normal, you do it every night. But this time it was in a clinical setting, on a bed like the hospital beds I had to have my scans on. The last scan I ever had told me that my son no longer had a heartbeat. I instantly felt my heart beating through my chest and my mouth go dry. I wouldn’t say I had a full on panic attack but I was thrown back into that moment right there. On top of this, the beautician was yabbering onto me about her sisters baby all the way through the treatment. Like it wasn’t painful enough!
So I went home feeling pretty rubbish and very triggered, albeit it with fabulous eyebrows that no longer resembled two hairy caterpillars. But it was a really strange experience, one that it had never occurred to me would stir up the all too familiar feelings of “why the F is this my life?”
Driving along the route past the community midwifes office always stirs up emotions for me, again though to be expected a little. But going to places such as the Trafford Centre (a huge shopping mall in Manchester for those not in the know) where we used to go so much whilst I was pregnant really stirs up emotions for me. There are so many families there but it isn’t even that, it is the fact that we used to go after my scans to get baby things and go for dinner. It was part of my pregnancy routine and now it is a stark reminder of what we have lost every time I set foot in there. Why do you keep going then I hear you cry! Well I think it helps to try and desensitise the triggers a little and overcome them, and your girl loves to shop!
I am genuinely amazed at what can trigger a reaction. Even silly days which I genuinely couldn’t have cared less about before stir up unwelcome sadness for me now. Halloween for instance, a commercial American day where you have to answer the door and give kids sweets or money (or in our case, turn all the lights off and hide and pretend you aren’t in) or risk getting your house egged - what an annoying day of the year that is! But this time all I could think about was the pumpkin baby grow I had bought for Billy – I don’t know why I had even done that but I had.
I even got sad the other day in Starbucks because of the sight of a gold chocolate coin! I just imagined me taking Billy to meet up with my new mum pals and giving Billy a chocolate coin to suck on to keep him quiet (I’ve now been thoroughly snubbed from this gang of the new mums to be I had connected with; dead baby mum really lowers the mood of mother and baby coffee dates). It was then that I realised just how much I’ve missed out on and how much Billy will always miss out on and that chocolate coin was the reason.
The problem is that you don’t know what is going to trigger a reaction until it is too late. There are unexpected triggers that throw you off-course and then the flip side is that something you expect to stir up emotions, you handle and get through. I did a lot better than I expected on Mother’s Day for instance.
I think in time the triggers become less. I have resided myself to the fact that getting through the first 12 months is going to be tough, meeting all of ‘the firsts’ never easy but after that, I hope things will start to hit me less. The waves of grief do become less, I can already feel this and for that I am so grateful. I have learned how to ride out those grief waves like some expert surfer now. I accept a bad day for what it is now, just that a bad day – not a bad week or bad month. Those shock waves of grief slowly becoming less and less and the days becoming lighter. It does get a little easier in time, you do laugh again and you will still enjoy your life. The longing for your baby will never disappear but you are still in there and capable of enjoying yourself and having fun. I remember thinking that was utterly impossible in those early days, life was never going to have any lighter moments what was the point now? But I am so glad I was wrong. I smile, laugh and have fun all the time. For Billy. I know he wants to see his mama enjoying herself. It can feel very hopeless in those early days, almost everything can be a trigger but as we start to approach the first anniversary of Billy’s death, I can certainly see how the lighter moments are becoming more frequent. If you are reading this new to your loss, please know that there are lighter moments coming soon, you will laugh again, you will smile and the future will not seem quite so bleak in time.