Be alive: to pain

Maybe because it has just been Mother’s Day, maybe because I know how common this is, and maybe because I believe it is through bringing our pain into the light that we find healing, I have a story I want to share.


Be gracious with me, I don’t talk about this often.

On 4th July 2003, I was 23 years old and 12 weeks pregnant.

The first few weeks were a confusion of emotions. This pregnancy wasn’t planned and there were moments of regret and anxiety. And many questions. How was I going to manage? My husband had a busy and demanding job. And I didn’t know anything about being a Mum. Were all my dreams going to have to be put on hold indefinitely?

I swung from this gnawing fear, to feelings of elation. I was invincible, like superwoman. I was going to be ‘that’ woman, working, with a babe in the sling. I pictured myself unkempt but healthy, making important work. Inexhaustable.

I was consumed by the possibilities, and the certainty that life would be changed for ever.

After nearly two months of riding the hormone driven roller coaster, I began to get excited. Better that than fear. It was going to happen, I got on board. I was going to be a Mother. It was an adventure and I was young and strong. Everything would be well. We told our friends and family, revelling in the new-ness of everything.

When time eventually came for the twelve week scan, everything started as planned, a too full bladder and an excited wait. Lying on the bed with the cold jelly on my belly we held hands and waited to see our baby for the first time.

There was a long pause. A silence, and then, making excuses, the sonographer left the room to get a second opinion.

But she already knew.

There was no heartbeat.

The baby had died some weeks earlier, although my body hadn’t woken up to this reality. It was not aware of the trauma that had taken place. They call it a silent miscarriage.

In many ways, from that moment to the next, nothing had changed. The hormones were still coursing, the nausea still ever-present. But, of course, everything had changed. I knew the truth.

The next day – July 5th, I was back in the same hospital, walking the same corridors, this time an exhausted, weepy mess. I demanded an ultrasound to check that a miracle hadn’t taken place over night.

And then the humiliation of a D and C, to scrape and remove the no-longer life, that my body refused to let go of.

I awoke from the anaesthetic, remembered, and howled with pain and sorrow. For a few days, I allowed myself to mourn.

Afterwards, there was no doctor’s appointment, or advice on how to cope, and I did not seek it out. Friends were kind and family looked after us, but soon I was back doing the only thing I knew how to do: I dusted myself off and tried not to think about it. I set my face to the wind and got on with life.

I was impatient. I wanted to get pregnant again, and soon.

I wanted it over. The weakness, the bleeding, the feeling out of control.

I silenced my miscarriage.

It is valid.

I was brought up in a no-nonsense household with limited capacity for illness, a strong work-ethic and high respect for endurance. It is a reflex for me to be impatient with pain: mine or other peoples’.

(Just ask Matt – sympathy is not in my skill-set.)

I am eager to have any mess – anything that could get out of control, wiped away and cleaned up. I want to anaesthetise myself from the tender feeling. I want to cover it up with bandages, and put clothes over it, to stop the evidence oozing through.

And when it does, unbidden, I want to run away and hide. Ashamed of my lack of self-control.

I don’t want to appear weak.

I don’t like the feeling of being exposed…

…and I feel exposed writing about this. My (at times very unhelpful) internal monologue has been trying to silence me. Telling me I am being self-indulgent by telling this story.

Eleven years (and three healthy children) on, I struggle to admit that this miscarriage was any kind of big deal. I know women and families (heroes) who have suffered so, so much more, and those who are still battling. I feel embarrassed to mention it. To make a ‘thing’ of it.

But excuses are not necessary.

No – more than that – excuses are dangerous and limiting. They separate us from each other. They diminish our experiences and compel us to keep our true selves hidden.

Excusing our pain away, placing it out of sight to make ourselves and others feel comfortable, is stopping us really living.

While we tell ourselves;

my suffering isn’t bad enough to justify acknowledgment, or

everybody else seems to be fine with it, so I shouldn’t make a fuss, or,

I have so many other good things in my life, I cannot possibly complain…

… no one else can every really know us. And we cannot know anyone else. I’ve said it before (here) but it bears repeating: trying to be perfect will only separate us, keep us from each other. Because you cannot touch anybody else’s pain, when you refuse to acknowledge your own.

It is valid. Your pain is worthy of acknowledgment. And acknowledging it, not burying it, or containing it, is the only way healing becomes possible.





And I write this as an encouragement.

Which I realise may sound a little strange.

But, unless we can learn to be honest with our suffering and be present with our anguish, we cannot truly live.

It has been repeated to me that life on earth is ‘a vale of tears’. And this should be depressing to hear. But I find great affirmation in it. It is like one of the-wonderful-Amanda’s oft repeated phrases when I am talking of something I find difficult. She says “that must be hard for you”. And written like this, out of context, it sounds glib and trite, but it isn’t. It is an affirmation to my soul.

The things that you are struggling with exist, the pain that you feel is real.

And in the act of recognition, I feel my strength rise.

I am from the ‘just get on’ school of thought, where grace is thin on the ground. I run out of patience quickly both for myself and for others who wear their pain on the outside more easily.

But the more people, like me, brush it under the carpet, or wish others would hurry up with their grief, or tidy up their wounds, the harder it is for honesty to bloom. The harder it is to be alive. We need to get better at looking at our pain, and stop trying to close the lid with cliches and advise. We need to learn to sit quietly while our friend cries and not need to fill the silences. This is something I am trying to learn.

Because it is only as we experience honesty, and connection with each other, that we can know comfort, and we can gather strength.

And this of course is just the beginning. We do not have to stay where we are. But in order to do anything, to change anything, to feel anything, first you have to know where you are. Know the condition of your heart and soul.

This is the first step – Be alive: to pain. To yours, to the pain around you. If you don’t start here, you can’t go anywhere else.

If we do not acknowledge our pain. If we cannot allow our wounds to bleed and stay looking, engaged in our mess, we cannot really live.



The trauma of this miscarriage I think may well have been an initial trigger – or a contributing event – to me eventually (6 or so years later) begin diagnosed with the anxiety and depression which had been creeping up on me for a long time. It wasn’t the sole cause, but it played a role, and I wish I had found the courage to talk it through at the time. The pain of this miscarriage is not something that weighs heavily on me anymore. Do I feel sad sometimes? Yes. But I have talked about it in recent years, with a therapist, and with other women who have experienced this – and much more.

Journeying together we have found our way to a kind of peace.



My more controlling side wants to add a note to this post, something about wallowing and self-pity, but I am stopping myself. I am editing that moralistic overture out. Shit happens, and when it does we need each other. To acknowledge it. To sit with us through it. Without judgement. The End.

  • Adriel Booker
    Posted at 23:20h, 16 August Reply

    This is beautiful, hard, and hopeful. Thank you Elli.

  • ElliJohnson
    Posted at 21:04h, 17 August Reply

    Thanks Adriel x

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