Sharing our Stories
One of the privileges of being the Founder here at PLICA is the connection I make with some extraordinary women who have been through perinatal loss and/or involuntary childlessness.
Although their stories are deeply upsetting they are also immensely inspiring and heart-warming.
Nicole Narracott's story is one of those remarkable stories. Working on Nicole's story was both uplifting and also at times I felt as though I was receiving a blow to the stomach, such was the effect it had on me. How is it that Nicole's plight – our plight – is still so shrouded in silence? How is it that the enormity of this grief and these losses - for Nicole and for us - can be so under-recognised by the wider community?
Only in telling our stories and re-telling them and yelling them if need be will this shameful situation ever change.
Please be warned that Nicole’s moving story contains triggers and content that may be disturbing for some readers.
Born in a sleepy market town in South East England, Nicole then moved to Switzerland with her parents once she finished school. After a year she moved back to go to university in Essex (UK). There she met her soulmate and they set up home together. Her father died of a brain tumour when she was 25, a loss which she found very difficult, following quite a difficult relationship with him.
Nicole assumed the next steps would be marriage and a family. At the age of 29 the relationship ended. Nicole then spent the next 9 years single, finding her childlessness more and more difficult she embarked on Solo-IVF which led to her first miscarriage. She lost a further 6 babies with her new partner and they are now adopting.
Nicole trained as a counsellor and psychotherapist and hopes to set up her own practice when the time is right, she keeps her hand in by offering support via a Bereavement Charity, Cruse in the evenings. She currently works as a Change Manager and has recently published her first book, 'The Seven Birthstones: A mother's heartache and loss' in the hope that no one need feel as lonely as she did during her journey through childlessness and infertility.
Nicole loves U2’s version of Unchained Melody and Christina Perri’s A Thousand Years, which is her song for her babies. She loves walking, swimming, the theatre, reading and socialising.
In Her Own Words
Writing the Book
I wrote my book because I had felt so hugely alone, throughout my years of socially infertility, finding myself single again at 29 and desperate to have a family. Then when I started solo-IVF, I didn't know anyone else who had even done IVF, let alone as a single person using donor-sperm. My friends were kind but did not understand my childless grief. I would read books and try to connect but generally people write about difficult journeys once the journey is over, and they are in a good place.
Then, when I had my miscarriages, again I felt unheard, unseen, misunderstood and alone. People were sad for me, but they didn't behave as if I'd actually lost someone and yet that is how it felt for me. Again I tried to find stories I could relate to, but most people either suffered miscarriages once they already had a child or went on to have a successful pregnancy. The pain of losing a baby is the same, but I also lost my motherhood, or my chance of ever becoming a mum, so my childless grief was compounding the grief of my lost baby.
I wrote the book that I wish I had found. Mid-journey. I didn't want it to be the happy ever after story, which I really struggled to relate to. My happy ending felt so out of reach. I just wanted to feel less alone, and my hope is that people reading my book will feel that too. That they are not alone in their struggle and their grief.
I found writing my book was hugely helpful for me in terms of processing my story and also I discovered that I really enjoy writing. I've since started a blog and really enjoy the whole process of writing.
I started the blog as a continuation of my book, to share my story and in that way hopefully support other going through similar issues. I also want to raise awareness. I believe I was let down by the medical profession at various stages along my journey and also that the disenfranchised griefs of miscarriage and childlessness are so often dismissed or invalidated by society, adding to the sense of isolation when going through it.
The Rollercoaster of IVF
My first round of IVF I did alone. I think I was unlucky in terms of the way the clinic treated me. I felt like a rabbit in headlights. I was faced with a lot of information, I had to make decisions before we started about what would happen to 'waste' products such as embryos which weren't used, or which were not of the right quality.
For me, every appointment led to bad news, I felt steamrollered into making decisions I did not feel informed enough to make. I felt overwhelmed. Everything had to be decided quickly. My first round I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Endometriosis and yet the clinic seemed happy to go ahead. I sought another opinion and had surgery and then more waiting to recover before I could start the round again.
When I started the round I was told I had cysts, but we continued. I was told this wasn't great news, but we could continue. I went back to my empty house, with no one to talk this through with. This had to work! I tried to stay positive. Then, my ovaries were very slow to respond and I was told we may need to cancel the whole round.
Again I went home to my empty house and cried. Next scan they confirmed I had liquid in my fallopian tube which would halve my chance of success, but my options were carry on or stop. I had paid so much money for this and taken many of the drugs already, with no option to defer implantation or freeze any eggs before transfer, my only option was to continue. I felt so incredibly alone and terrified this wouldn't happen, it had to. I was then told that although one of my ovaries responded at the 11th hour the other had been too damaged by endometriosis and wasn't responding at all.
The day of harvesting finally arrived. Unfortunately this clinic did not use general anaesthetic and they got my dose wrong. I was in agony, but felt trapped unable to express the pain I was in. I felt as if there was someone leaning on my right side with a huge amount of pressure. I'm not sure if I screamed or not, I felt like I did, but I was very drugged up.
I had a temperature from the procedure the following three days. I was left to rest in a room with other women who had been through the procedure. I overheard the lady next to me be told she had 8 eggs retrieved, I was told I had three. I was also told to not travel home alone; I had no choice.
I couldn't wait to leave but felt like I'd been hit by a bus. I felt ashamed, sad and in so much pain. I was then ill for the three days and just cried. Three days later, the embryologist called to let me know one embryo was ready to be transplanted. One egg. After all that. More tears. This felt so unfair. I had given so much of myself to this. I had saved for so long to make this happen. I had waited so long because I had not been willing to give up on finding a soulmate first.
I remember feeling so connected to the little Embryo when it was implanted. I felt the embryo implant. I felt twinges from about 3 days after the medical implantation. I felt different. I felt alive and so happy. I talked to my little embryo all the time. I felt so positive and happy, this was my little family. I still felt quite shell shocked about the process to get there.
How Loss Feels
It feels devastating. Like losing a part of me. My first miscarriage I initially took quite well, I felt that this was a warmup and that my body would know what it was doing next time. Then the next time, two perfect embryos didn't take, and the consultant said I was unlikely to ever carry my own child. That’s when the full magnitude of what I had lost hit me. I hadn't just lost a first pregnancy, a trial-run, I lost my only child.
Then I got pregnant naturally, I assumed this had to work, this baby was made the traditional way, that had to mean something.....but we lost that baby. Then the next. I then had another miscarriage, and another, and another......I lost 7 babies in all (one set of twins).
Each pregnancy I felt so alive, so complete, I was terrified of losing that baby but also, and in hindsight I'm not sure how, but I felt sure that every one of them was going to be ok, was going to be my family. I felt pregnant very early in the pregnancies, I felt connected to my babies and was loving being a mum. The grief I felt when I lost them was huge. I felt I lost a part of me. I felt that all joy had been zapped from the world. I know that miscarriages are often viewed as an unfortunate medical anomaly, but having been through them, I felt like I had lost a living, breathing baby. My heart broke completely, so much that I wasn't sure any of it remained. A piece of my heart and soul snatched away. You don't get the missing pieces back; you just learn to live without them.
I also found that I lost sight of who I was. I felt ashamed to have failed so epically as a mum, as a woman. I felt like a failure. I felt so much anger and frustration at the life I felt I should be living. I also felt ashamed of the ugly feelings I had, jealousy, anger at others having their families so easily, and even those where it wasn't plain sailing, they still ended their journey with a baby.
Accepting the death of so many babies is tough. Accepting also that my infertility was untreatable was very difficult.
Do you think people understand what this loss and grief feel like?
No, absolutely not. It’s not talked about at all and dismissed quite quickly. I was told so often "at least it was early", as if somehow I wanted my baby less? At what point did their babies become real? At what point during a pregnancy would they have been fine to lose their baby? At what point did they start feeling they were pregnant with a real baby?
If time were a factor then a miscarriage of a baby waited for, for 15 years would also matter more than one waited for 6 months? Who makes those rules, where is that scale? That is not how grief works. If there was love, there is a loss and the only way we can deal with loss is to grieve it.
Do you think the wider community understands what involuntary childlessness and perinatal loss feels like?
I think that perinatal loss is still viewed as a loss, albeit not as big a loss as it should be. However childlessness is quite a new concept I think, even for those who are childless. I know that I didn't fully recognise my pain during the years I was single, as childless grief.
My friends knew I wanted children, but I don't think at any point did they know the pain of childlessness. It’s not just wanting something you can't get, like the latest Smartphone update. It’s an entire life, a history, a legacy, a basic hormonal and biological need. It’s embedded in our society and our biology, survival of the species.
Infertility and childlessness have filtered into every single part of my life and my identity. It has robbed me of my sense of continuing my heritage. It has over the years robbed me of seeing my parents be grandparents. Of my mum having a connection with my children, like the one I had with my grandma. Of feeling part of normal society. I have felt separated from friends by an invisible screen, living a whole different life.
I think there is still a social expectation, there is still a stigma around being an unmarried and childless woman. Words like barren and spinster are still so shrouded in judgement and shame and yet for many women these states are not by choice. I think a lot more awareness is needed to normalise these and its one of the reasons I want to share my story.
Yes, I feel invisible very often. Most of all when I was single, not by choice. I found myself single again at the age of 29. I tried everything to find another soulmate. I tried so hard. I also had lost my soulmate which was not treated as a loss. This is another disenfranchised grief. He was gone from my life, my future was unexpectedly and irrevocably changed, just as it would have been if he had died, but because it was a choice on his behalf I was just expected to move on without grieving the loss. Also, the fact we were not married, I had people say to me "it’s not as if you were married", as if that somehow makes the love more real? We were soulmates, we were committed to one another, we had bought a home together. As it turned out, we just didn't want the same future.
Those around me were married or engaged and starting their families. Everything suddenly became about families, which initially I was ok with as I felt I would surely follow soon. Meet ups were child friendly, then we started only giving gifts for the children for birthdays and Christmas. Again initially this was fine, but as the years went on, I felt it was a bit much to be spending for friends’ children and not even get a thank you card in return. Slowly I started opting out of buying gifts or getting smaller and smaller gifts. It’s not for the reason you'd expect, it’s not the fact I was spending money and not getting anything myself, what hurt the most was the effort which it took me to go and look in children's shops for a gift. I would dread the day I had to go get something, even cards. I would put it off and procrastinate as the stabbing pain in my heart intensified. Then to see the joy of children looking at their presents, a look I felt I never would see in my own children's faces. I could go buy my children beautiful toys and cute clothing. My heart broke.
Being childless and socially infertile (single), I felt like a spare part. I was hurting from seeing everyone around me carrying on with their lives and mine felt on-hold. I had always been led to believe that life is all about making choices and putting in effort and yet I found myself in a position I had not chosen and everything I was doing to change this was not working. I felt powerless. I sometimes felt hopeless. I felt forgotten by life. I felt invisible. A song I related to was Skylar Grey – Invisible
I did feel misunderstood - it was part of feeling invisible. People saw my smiley face and didn't look any further. They were busy, planning weddings, being pregnant, looking after a young family. I think even now, people assume that when we adopt, then I'll be fine, my infertility 'cured', but although I know it will ease some of my heartache, the last 20 years of my life cannot just be wiped out. They have been a struggle; they were hard work and I never imagined I'd spend so much of it alone.
Journey toward adoption
I think there is a lot of loss linked to adoption, obviously not only my own but that of my children. Things taken for granted like choosing a name for a child, mine will have been named by someone else. My children will have a past I took no part in. They will always have a connection to that past, be that positive or negative. That past is more than likely to impact them, their attachments, potentially their behaviour and their development. They will be my only children, but I won't be their only mum.
The preparation for adoption now is linked to learning about attachment disorders and parenting traumatised children. There is recognition also that adoption is a trauma in itself, children are moved from their birth family to foster care, often several foster homes and then move in with us, complete unknowns, our home will have a new layout, new smells, new noises, new routines. When I remember first sleeping over at friends as a child and being fine during the day and then, when it got to bedtime I started feeling so unsure and homesick. But I could call my mum to pick me up. These children can't, they have to stay in this unknown home.
I cannot wait to be a mum. To finally hold a child of my own. I know that it may be difficult, but I think it will be worth it, in fact I know it will. I will love it. I feel like I will finally become who I am meant to be.
A new phase of motherhood
Unreal. The wait has been so long, with so many setbacks, I can't quite believe this time is any different. Being approved for adoption felt like I had passed a course, it was very academic, I still can't quite believe I will have a child living here with me, to love, to be my family.
I have dreamt of motherhood my entire life. I have also felt like a mum in waiting my entire life. I worry there is such a huge level of expectation linked to this, but I know I will relish it. Every second of it. Even the really tough times.
Childlessness and the Pandemic
I have lived quite isolated the whole time. Even when our lockdown rules were eased over the summer, I pretty much stuck to the rules. I didn't want to catch it and didn't want to be responsible for spreading it either. I actually quite enjoy working from home but because I'm not meeting anyone outside of work either, it has been lonely. I have struggled to separate from work and recently started commuting (from my home to my home), just to create a physical break from work to home, since closing the laptop wasn't sufficiently making that mental break.
I think there are positives and negatives for the involuntarily childless, no meet ups with the children which can be painful, but if you are single and working from home this also means very little social contact at all, which is really tough. It also makes dating difficult and distraction hard to come by. I know that IVF has also been cancelled which will be exceedingly tough.
Three things people with children need to understand
1) That your lives often appear perfect. Yes you may have health worries, financial concerns, family issues but you have a family. The childless also have health worries, also have financial concerns, sometimes more so when there is only one breadwinner and we can also have family issues, but we don't have our own families to provide moments of joy and love to support these normal life stresses.
2) That there is no 'at least'. "At least we don't have sleepless nights; at least we don't have to worry about our kids, school uniforms, development, education".....These are things we want to experience. Part of normal life and we feel its absence keenly.
3) It hurts. Both are huge losses. No less than the death of a loved one. Yes we smile and feel joy. Yes we want to be included and part of your lives but know that it hurts and like every other loss it needs to be grieved. Support us. Accept our grief.
Things you should never say to a childless woman who has experienced perinatal loss
1) Any sentence starting with 'At least' (it was early; you can get pregnant; you didn't have to give birth....etc)
2) Similar to the above rule. Do not try to argue we are somehow lucky - can go on holiday when we want, can get drunk, can have lie-ins. Yes these are good, but if all you want is a child, this just invalidates our pain. You were willing to sacrifice all of these things so you could have a child.
3) Shall we just do presents for kids?
4) Do you want to take mine? (when they've been misbehaving).
Coping and finding peace
Counselling helped hugely with the loss of my babies. Being heard and my grief being allowed.
Gardening has been huge. It’s a very mindful activity and has allowed me to just do, rather than be thinking about anything, a bit of respite from the constant ache and berating myself.
My cat and dog have both at different times been little saviours. My cat after years of living alone, brought me back to life and my little dog, after we lost our 7th baby, I needed somewhere for the love to go, she helped me breathe again.
Finding others who knew how it felt, helping me not feel so alone. Feeling seen and understood.
Things to know for the newly initiated
There are no rules for grief. Don't let anyone lay expectations on you. Do what works for you. If you need to say no to things, if you need to take time away from social media, from TV, from anything else which may be triggering, do it.
Try not to judge your feelings. Especially the ugly ones. Jealousy and anger are so normal. I think they are less about resenting others for what they have but for the fact it’s reminding you what you don't have.
Find people who get it. Whether that be a support group, counselling, or finding a community on social media, it helps to not feel so alone.
It will take the time it will take. You need to re-create a relationship with life in your new circumstances. It’s annoying to hear but true, time does help. It won't make the pain disappear, but you will find ways to protect your heart, you will find ways to carry the pain, you will learn how to feel joy again. You will live again, but first it will be messy and horrid and lonely and you'll have days when you can't face the world, or days when you do face the world and collapse in tears the minute you get home. It will feel like you will never feel better. It will feel like you don't have the strength for another day, but you do, and you will. And suddenly you'll realise that it’s actually been a couple of days since you last felt you couldn't face the day, and then a week. You will be ok.
I wish I could avoid anyone ever feeling like I have, but I don't think that is possible, but I hope that reading what I have said might provide a little spark of hope.
Connect with Nicole
On the Blog
Please visit Nicole's blog to find out more.