There’s a quote I read a couple of years ago on Instagram that has stayed with me: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” I think of it often...
The person who posted it was struggling with a number of miscarriages at the time. I knew this because she was a close friend. And as a mother, it really resonated with me. The quote rings so true because, in life, there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes than what you see on Instagram. Pregnancy was harder than I expected. Motherhood certainly isn’t a breeze either. It’s without question the best thing that has happened to me, but like anything good in life, it doesn’t come easily. While I’m fortunate not to have ever had a miscarriage, I wasn’t able to stay pregnant for longer than the second trimester. I have however supported girlfriends through miscarriages and I know it’s heartbreaking. So today we’ve interviewed the founder of site The Downtime Agenda – an online hub dedicated to the things we do when we’re not doing things – Julie Haslam about her personal experience of miscarriage and how it inspired her latest venture.
Can you tell us about your career path and what inspired The Downtime Agenda?
My background is in marketing, advertising and events. I worked for Audi for a number of years, and before that in media and advertising companies including Clemenger BBDO, M&C Saatchi and Bauer. I have always worked hard and have enjoyed my work but it has never been the be all and end all for me. Being a mother has been and still is the ultimate goal. I have been clucky since I was about twelve, often joking about my ovaries pulsating with excitement whenever I held a baby. Throughout school and university I was a nanny for a couple of beautiful families and that even further reinforced my desire to be a mother. About three years ago, I was lucky enough to fall pregnant. Unfortunately, we miscarried that first attempt and shortly after, I became progressively ill. It was at that time I was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disease that causes the thyroid to produce too much thyroid hormone. Graves is often triggered by severe emotional stress so I think that the trauma of the miscarriage coupled with an incredibly stressful period at work was what did it for me. My doctor instructed me to take three months off work. It was obviously a difficult time but I realised it was important to stay positive and at the same time, slow things down – not only for my quest to have a family, but for my general wellbeing and ongoing employment. It was at this time I became inspired to start a business that centred around committing time to our wellbeing and over the next couple of years The Downtime Agenda evolved.
How long have you been trying to conceive?
We got pregnant for the first time just over three years ago now. Conception wasn’t a problem, it happened first cycle straight off the back of our honeymoon, so we thought it was all pretty easy. We didn’t think for a second that we could be one of the couples who would miscarry (in fact we had no idea how common it was) but we were wrong and our eight week scan revealed a fetal pole, measuring about six weeks with no heartbeat. I was advised to have a dilation and curettage (D&C). Although the procedure is quite simple from a medical point of view, it is quite emotionally traumatic. Following that I developed Graves’ disease and after six months of trying to treat it with medication, we decided the best option for us in trying for a family would be to have my thyroid removed. Following surgery, we waited another three months for my body to recover before trying again. The second pregnancy again occurred almost immediately, and the eight week scan revealed our pregnancy to be on-track, including a beautiful little heartbeat! A week later we travelled to America for a friend’s wedding, in a great mood thinking our poor run was over. Unfortunately, upon arrival in the US, I started spotting. The night before the wedding my husband and I decided to go to an emergency clinic in Florida for an ultrasound. Sadly it was revealed there was no longer a heartbeat. The day after the wedding, I had my second D&C procedure in America as I was unable to fly home. After each D&C, we have been advised to wait 2-3 cycles for the body to recover. Conception attempt three took us five months to conceive. It was a difficult period but this time allowed me to appreciate what I had and the concept of ‘Downtime’. When we did get pregnant on that occasion, it only lasted a short time before I miscarried naturally. Our fourth pregnancy thankfully occurred shortly after the third but unfortunately at the eight week scan there was no heartbeat. I had another curette but four months later we discovered that some of the placenta had not been removed and was still embedded in the wall of my uterus. I then had to have a hysteroscopy and a slightly more complex D&C to remove it.
Do you remember your first miscarriage – how did you feel?
I have a shocking memory. But I can remember every single detail about that day – where I parked for our appointment, the dress I was wearing, what I had for lunch, the certificates on the Obstetrician’s wall, how excited I was and how sore my breasts were. The moment we were told there was no heartbeat, I actually didn’t believe it. I felt pregnant and had all of the usual pregnancy symptoms. It was suggested we wait a week just in case we were out with our timing. That week was agonising but I was full of hope and positivity. When it was confirmed that I had indeed miscarried I felt completely empty, both physically and emotionally. Up until then we had kept our pregnancy mainly to ourselves, because that’s what you’re supposed to do, just in case things don’t work out. The thing is, that when you go through something as difficult as a miscarriage, you need people to talk to and ideally people who have also been through it but because it’s all a secret those people are hard to find!
Do you think more women need to be open about miscarriage?
I think women need to do what feels right for them. Some want to talk about it and some don’t. And for those of us who do, there are days we want to talk about it and days where we just don’t. It can be a really tough thing to talk about and for me it’s not that I’m ashamed about it, it’s more that I don’t want to sound like a victim. Or to make people who do have children feel uncomfortable or think that I’m not happy for them. I do think women who are experiencing miscarriage need to seek out women who have experienced the same. I know five years ago I wouldn’t have been able to provide the same counsel for a friend who has been through this, as I would now. I stress though that everyone is different. I certainly find it hard and a bit confronting seeing so many of my friends having their first, second and third babies, seeing the never ending stories of mummies on social media, and seeing my husband’s sadness at all of his mates having kids. The simple answer for that might be to just get off social media, but I am at the same time genuinely happy for so many of my friends and like to share in their happiness. There will, however, always be that sense of sadness as well.
How have your initial feelings of miscarriage changed over time?
Miscarriage is much harder than I had imagined and the pain each time has been greater than I have ever experienced. I would have thought that with each miscarriage, things would get easier but it actually just gets more difficult each time. You feel further and further away from having a baby. Sometimes you do wonder whether it’s going to happen but you have to believe it will. And when you believe it will, you have something very special and exciting to look forward to. I get butterflies in my stomach whenever I think of the prospect.
Where are you up to in your journey of trying for a baby?
Unfortunately, since miscarriage number four it has been a frustrating eight months where we just haven’t been able to conceive. For many couples, this is not abnormal, but after the previous three years of disappointment, it’s been hard to take. Although we have always conceived naturally, we are now exploring different fertility treatment options with Dr Lynne Burmeister.
Do you have any advice for women experiencing one or more miscarriages?
Don’t blame yourself When you’re desperate for answers, the last thing you should do is blame yourself or search for things you could have done differently. That sandwich that may have had mayonnaise, that coffee, that flight, that run, that stressful moment at work… just wouldn’t have anything to do with it, there are much bigger things at play here and they’re out of our control. Acknowledge your loss It can feel strange to grieve over someone you have never met but that doesn’t mean you need to pretend it didn’t happen. Find something lovely that can act as a symbol or memory for you, we have planted four pear trees in our backyard that have become that for us. If you want to talk about it, then talk about it but choose the people who can provide you with the support you need. Forgive those who say the wrong thing, that’s going to happen over and over. Find the silver linings For those of us who long to have a baby, nothing will compare but it is worth finding the good in the situation. For me I have learned more about empathy, compassion and gratitude. I have gained a completely new perspective on life and what’s important. I am grateful to have great friends and family, a roof over my head, to live in a safe part of the world, to be able to afford fertility treatment and most importantly to have an incredibly loving and supportive husband to share this with. I hope this doesn’t come across as ignorant or patronising but I know there are many women out there who are also desperate for children and going through this journey on their own. I have so much admiration for those women.
Are there any great books, websites, or other resources you’ve found helpful?
Amanda Waaldyk of Angela Acupuncture and Yoga has a great blog and I enjoy receiving her emails. I have learned to meditate with Jacqui Lewis of The Broad Place and I find that it can help when I am overthinking the things out of my control. I also do Pilates at Happy Melon Studios and before each class they do a couple of minutes of mindfulness meditation that often includes some wise words about gratitude. Learning how to be present and grateful for what I have has been incredibly helpful for me.
What’s your favourite social media platform and why?
I love Instagram because I am a visual person and it’s such a great platform to visit if you’re looking for inspiration. I just think it’s important to limit our time on it and to choose to follow the accounts that really do inspire us rather than those that encourage ego or narcissism.
What is your approach to health and wellbeing?
I essentially just do what I know will make me feel good. I walk my dog Rafa twice a day and do Pilates whenever I feel like it. These days I have some fear about over exerting myself, in case there’s a little bubba in there. That fear is probably unnecessary but you can’t help but want to do all you can. I eat well most of the time. I have cut out gluten, dairy and refined sugar after receiving advice that doing so might help with my fertility (I’ll try anything). I get plenty of sleep, meditate daily and treat myself to the occasional massage.
How do you spend your downtime?
In my downtime, you’ll most likely find me on the sofa in my tracky dacks, in the garden, out walking or at the cinema. I love being around people but I definitely need to be by myself to re-charge properly.
What is your definition of success?
Success to me is having the ability to find moments of happiness in every day life. It’s not about striving to achieve the end goal, it’s about noticing and appreciating the little wins we encounter every day.