Second Trimester Blues

Hamlet was wrong. Bump or no bump? THAT is the question.

Everyone tells you: “Wait until you get to the second trimester, the symptoms disappear, you’ll feel so good – make the most of it!” What they don’t realise is that when you’ve had a missed miscarriage you don’t want the symptoms to disappear. Far from it. In fact, if you had them every day you’d be relieved. Because it would be a sign that things were still okay.

Today I am officially sixteen weeks’ pregnant, and whilst I am finally having to agree my stomach is more rounded, it’s not the classic ‘baby bump’ I’d been led to believe I would have by now. It’s soft and wobbly, for one thing (much like my belly was before, if I’m honest), and it changes in shape and size from one day to the next (making me think, when it’s bigger, that it’s just water retention and/or bloating).

I’m desperately looking for signs that all is progressing as it should, despite the fact I know the odds are stacked in my favour. All was fine at the 12.5 week ultrasound scan. At 14 weeks I saw the baby move at a follow up appointment. And yet, because I’m haunted by what happened last time, I can’t bring myself to believe it’s all okay in there. I don’t know if I will believe it until the day I hold my baby in my arms.

Since week 13 I’ve been going to pre-natal yoga classes. And whilst I’m loving them, being surrounded by other pregnant women with big bumps can be a little anxiety-inducing. I feel jealous of the obviousness of their pregnancies, despite them sharing woes of back pain and sleepless nights. I long to be at the stage they are at, even though I know that wishing this time away is foolish. But this is what miscarriage does to you, sadly. It makes you scared to believe.

My next scan is in two weeks – the day we head home for the Christmas break. Maybe if all is still okay then I’ll be able to relax a little more and enjoy the holiday season. I really hope so!

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Gratitude, Acceptance and Umbrellas

It’s been a while since I last updated my blog. This is, in part, because I’m currently focusing on addressing some of the issues in my life that are blocking my path to fulfilment and success. At the moment I’m reading two neuropsychology books, one on Hardwiring Happiness by Dr Rick Hanson (whose TED talk on the issue can be viewed here), and the other on conditions arising from neuropsychological damage, The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, by the brilliant (and, sadly, now also suffering from terminal cancer) Oliver Sachs. Alongside the Chopra Centre guided meditations that I am trying to do on a regular basis (which I think I mentioned in a previous post), these books have been helping me to understand some key facets* of the human condition that need cultivating in order to experience true fulfilment. These are:

Part One: Gratitude

It sounds obvious, but how many of us really take the time each day to count our blessings? I think I’ve touched on this before, but now more than ever I am realising how important it is to consciously feel gratitude in order to overcome negative emotions like anxiety, jealousy and fear. It is only by recognising the value of what we have – primarily the people in our lives who bring us joy and make us feel secure and loved – that we can create a sense of calm and acceptance. Which brings me onto…

Part Two: Acceptance

This morning I walked past the elderly homeless man who sleeps in a doorway along my route to work. For a time, during January, he disappeared, and I hoped he had found somewhere warm to spend the rest of the winter. But no such luck. Recently he has been back, huddled with his worldly belongings on the grey concrete step. I have wanted to do something for him ever since I first saw him, but was unsure whether he would welcome being approached and offered charity. Today I had my chance, as I had slipped into my bag a slice of the delicious tarte au sucre that was left over from the dinner party I hosted on Sunday night. As I passed him I had the urge to offer it to him. He declined. And you know what? I stifled the selfish compulsion to feel rebuffed, and in that moment realised that acceptance is an important part of coming to terms with life. We can’t change other people; we can only change our own thoughts, deeds and actions. I’m glad I offered him something, even if he didn’t want it, because generosity is part of being human – it connects us to one another, and it makes us feel less alone.

Part Three: Umbrellas

Also on my walk to work today, the air was damp with the drizzle I’m coming to learn is characteristic of life here in Brussels. But rather than putting up my umbrella the second I felt a droplet of water on my forehead, I deliberately waited until the rain was sufficiently heavy to warrant me being protected from it. And in that moment it occurred to me the umbrella could be used as an analogy for life:

Life is about learning when you need an umbrella to protect yourself – and when you are strong enough to walk in the rain.

The path I’m currently treading makes me feel ever more keenly that it isn’t possible to protect ourselves from the negative things in life – they are an intrinsic part of it. What matters is working on our ability to face them head on; to be humble, selfless and brave.

*Interestingly, one meaning for the word ‘facet’ in the dictionary is ‘one of the small, polished plane surfaces of a cut gem’ – it struck me this was also a good analogy for life, which has so very many different aspects, hence the image I have chosen to accompany this post.

Justin-Maller-Facets-90

I never knew facets could be so beautiful.

Compare This

Last week I read about a one-woman play that was both written and performed by a girl in her early twenties*. Instead of thinking ‘wow, that’s an impressive amount of talent at such a young age’ I’m ashamed to admit my first default reaction was ‘urgh, some people have all the luck.’ And that’s not an isolated incident. Friends’ promotions, publications, engagements and luxury holidays (to name but a few life events) have often left me cold – not because I’m so hard-hearted I can’t be happy for them, but because I can’t help but compare myself to them, and always end up feeling inadequate.

Comparison is the enemy of success. When you spend all your time comparing yourself to others you get paralysed by the fear of failure. I’ve only just found the courage to openly admit to myself I’ve been doing this for years, and begin to acknowledge that it’s not only unhealthy but also downright silly. If we obsess enough over others’ successes we may well be able to emulate them, but the pursuit of that goal can destroy all the good things in our own lives. Is it really worth that?

When we reach the pearly gates at the end of our lives wouldn’t it be better to stand up and say with pride we took our own path in life, rather than following others’? Each one of us was made unique, with different strengths and weaknesses. Why try to fit a square peg in a round hole? I can only be me. And what I’m finally coming to realise is that being me is just fine. No, not fine. Being me is great 🙂

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*In light of the above I’m going to see this play tonight. It’s time to buck the comparison trend and support a fellow female writer 🙂

Sisters

“What a beautiful day for a wedding!” Aunt Marjorie says as she scurries into the lounge, a tiny human tornado comprised almost entirely of cobalt blue feathers and taffeta. “Where’s your sister?” she says absent-mindedly, scanning the menagerie of balloons, cards and flowers that scatter the living room like fallen soldiers. The scan finally complete, she rests her eyes on me and gasps. “Lucinda! Why aren’t you ready? The car will be here in fifteen minutes!”

Before I can proffer an answer Mum comes down the stairs; my guardian angel. Though the sisters share physical similarities they are fortunately where the similarities stop. Where Marjorie is more highly strung than a ball of string, Mum takes a more relaxed approach to life, though I suppose with a husband as laid back as Dad she hasn’t had much choice about that. “Marjorie,” Mum says, “the girls aren’t too far off being ready. Why don’t you sit down and I’ll make a nice cup of tea?”

Making the most of this temporary distraction I slink out of the room and begin to climb the staircase, wincing at the squeals of laughter coming out of my sister’s bedroom. Alice, you see, is everything I’m not. Tall, blonde, disquietingly beautiful and clever – an A grade student whose ambition is matched only by her sickeningly loving nature. Don’t get me wrong, I love my sister with all my heart. I just don’t always like her very much. I mean, when the genes got handed out couldn’t the Big Man have given me something? A runner’s up prize of good hair, for example, or nice nails? Instead I got frizzy brown hair, stunted growth and freckles. It’s hard not to feel jealous. Except…

But it’s not my looks that have been the problem. I’ve never had a shortage of boyfriends. They like the elfin look, you see, and I’ve mastered it well. I’ve learned over the years how to make the most of what I do have – a big bust (deep V-neck jumpers go down a treat), long eyelashes (voluminous mascara) and doe eyes (smoky eye makeup sends the boys wild). No, my looks have never been the problem. What’s wrong with me is my personality, or at least that’s what I’ve been told all of my life. Why are you so ungrateful, Lucinda? Why so rude? Why can’t you be clever like your sister? Why can’t you be kind like your sister?

Growing up in the shadow of perfection isn’t easy, but I coped with it as best I could. Sure, I ran wild, but why not live up to the expectations? They were going to think the worst of me whether I went that way or not. But even they don’t know the worst thing that I did. No one can ever know that.

I walk into my sister’s bedroom, still kept as a shrine to her teenage self with her ballerina jewellery box on the dresser and boy band posters on the wall. When I moved out our parents turned my room into a guest room without even asking. Alice sits in the middle of the bed, flanked by her three bridesmaids who are fussing with her hair, her makeup and her jewellery in turn. She turns as I come closer and flashes a megawatt smile. I smile back, hoping she won’t notice that it doesn’t reach my eyes.

An hour later the cars pull up outside the church and we climb out – my sister and her bridesmaids in the Rolls Royce, me, Mum and Marjorie in the taxi behind. The bridesmaids make last minute rearrangements to Alice’s dress as we make our way into the church. As soon as I cross the threshold a wave of nausea washes over me and I hold on to the doorway to steady myself. Mum looks over at me, and in the second that passes whilst locked in her gaze I realise that she knows.

We walk down the aisle to the front pew and take our place with the rest of the family. I’m suddenly conscious of how tight my red dress is, how inappropriate for a wedding. Why did I wear it? Couldn’t I just have let Alice have the limelight for this one day? But I know why I wore it, and as I tug at the hemline and he turns around I feel I might faint.

Taking his cue the congregation turns to get its first sight of the vision in white lace that is my sister. She wafts in as if on a cloud, her arm loosely draped through Dad’s, tendrils of her hair falling lightly over her softly rouged cheeks. She beams at her groom as she processes towards him and takes her place beside him. But as they turn towards one another to proclaim their everlasting love, he shoots an almost imperceptible look into the crowd that says what I already know.

It should have been me.

The misery maker

On the surface you have everything; the looks, the brains, the charismatic smile that says you’re someone worth knowing, worth pursuing. You have money to fund the kind of lifestyle that most people only dream of. You stride around in suits fitted on Savile Row with shoes so shiny your face reflects back up at you as you walk: The face of success.

Other men want to be you. And then there are the women – so many women. A different one each day of the week, picked up and cast off like items of clothing depending on your mood. This week alone has seen you dine with Sylvia, attend a gallery opening with Lucinda, have animalistic sex with Stacey, beat Mirelle so hard she won’t be able to sit down for a week.

Tonight, for your own enjoyment, you will tell Annaleese that she is fat and she disgusts you. She will go home, cry, drink a bottle of whisky and swallow a handful of pills to ensure she never has to hear you say those words again.

You revel in the misery of these women, in your ability to make them feel so worthless. But what you fail to realise in this deluded state of hatred and bitterness is that there’s only one person in this situation who is worthless.

And that person is you.

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I wasn’t sure what image to choose to accompany this post, so settled for this pic of a porn star martini, taken in a gorgeous restaurant in Brighton last spring. That particular evening was fantastic, but I guess what this image represents where the story is concerned is the loneliness that goes hand in hand with the behaviour described.