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Claire Holt
My Journey Feb 10, 2020
20 Minutes

My Journey: Claire Holt on surviving miscarriage and postnatal blues…

Our philosophy is that when it comes to fertility, conception, pregnancy and early years every person goes on their own unique journey. We are simply here to support that. Raising awareness and providing tools and the latest science/experts for you to pick and choose from. Particularly crucial when it comes to navigating our modern world and challenges. We love hearing about inspiring people’s journeys. There is usually a lot to learn and relate to. Today’s ‘My Journey’ is with Claire Holt. Someone that has suffered with what as many as one in three women will experience in their reproductive lifetime: miscarriage. She has also been open discussing another common issues women face post birth: the blues. It is incredibly brave to share this type of thing. However, she wants you to know, if you’ve been through this: you’re not alone. Here is her story…  

For the full podcast conversation with Claire – click here. Or, for some of the key highlights from her – read on!

A little bit about me? 

My name is Claire Holt, I am 31yrs old and am from Australia. I moved to the US to pursue a career in acting. (You may recognise her from The Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars and others). Now I am mother to a beautiful little boy called James. 

On starting a family: the balance between career and time for a baby: 

It can be hard to know when the ‘right time is’. In terms of my career, it was tricky as the view in acting tends to be that you have to ‘strike while the iron is hot’. That you have to keep hustling. Otherwise it will be over.

That being said. I have always wanted to have a family. I’m one of 4, my dad is one of 10 and I have 45 first cousins! (yes, she does know all their names!). We had this little tribe and I loved being part of a big family so I knew it is what I wanted.

Of course, you do have a lot to think about in terms of being mentally and financially ready. Anyone can have a child, but it’s hard work to be a parent. To be a good parent is really hard work and takes sacrifice. I wanted to be ready for it. 

Ultimately when was I ready? I just felt like I had a really wonderful partner and I wanted to build a family with him. That was when it felt right. 

Getting my hormones re-balanced: 

Prior to having James, I was on birth control for most of my adult life. One of the surprising things to me was how difficult it was to regulate my body and hormones when I came off it.

I was 16 when I started taking it, it was a normal thing to do. Everyone was doing it. No one really talked about the adjustment coming off it. This simply wasn’t on my radar.

I had a good experience with it at the time (although didn’t get my period very often). But, not only did my body take months to readjust in terms of my cycle, I also had quite a rough withdrawal (proper sweats!).

However, once I did get my period back (after 6 months) we conceived quite quickly. The pill is obviously effective at it’s job and it is an individual choice whether to take it or not. But for me, post James, I decided to switch to alternative methods. It’s a personal choice. I just think people should be made more aware of the fact that it can take your body some time to readjust after.

Getting checked put my mind at ease: 

After coming off birth control and whilst waiting for my period to return I decided to get my hormones checked. Obviously after months with no sign of a period I was concerned. This helped me feel informed and put my mind at ease. It reassured me that there wasn’t anything significantly out of balance that could cause issues. That was definitely helpful and helped me to relax. 

My miscarriage: 

I conceived the 2nd cycle after my period came back. Obviously pretty quick and lucky. We went in for quite an early scan around 6wks and saw a heartbeat which was great. I was feeling pretty good, definitely pregnant (a little tired and sick) but no warning signs or bleeding that would make me think anything sinister was going on. 

The first warning came at around 8 weeks. By this time, I had moved from my gynaecologist to an obstetrician. At that ultrasound, we discovered that the baby had not grown much. It was measuring 6wks 6 days and had a low heartbeat. It was a tough experience.

‘Don’t put this up on Facebook’: 

To be honest, I didn’t feel that there was a lot of sympathy or explanation as to how this would go. The doctor just said ‘don’t put this on facebook’ and come back in two weeks. Which wasn’t particularly nice. 

In fairness, I think he was trying to be a little lighthearted. I can understand from his perspective that it was early in the pregnancy, that he sees this day in day out. Of course it is also not uncommon. So, I get that for him it didn’t carry that much weight. But for me, who had never been through this before, and who was so excited it was absolutely gut wrenching.

We were left very confused. It was a Friday afternoon and we went into the weekend not being able to talk to anyone. After the ultrasound, we did some blood tests and on Monday I got a call that my progesterone was low and I needed a supplement for that. However I realised by that point that my doctor wasnt the one for me. 

The heartbeat was still there…

I went back to my gynaecologist (who doesn’t actually deliver babies). She did another ultrasound and the baby’s heartbeat was there. So I felt reassured and we thought we would just see how we got on. 

A not so happy birthday: 

When I was technically ten weeks, we went back in for the genetic testing. It was my husband’s birthday. I hadn’t had any bleeding or had any negative symptoms so I was feeling good and said ‘let’s go and see the baby on your birthday‘.

At that appointment there was no heartbeat. It was this just earth shattering, soul crushing devastation. Something that I have never felt in my entire life. Still to this day can recall it so vividly. I can’t really describe what it is like to someone who has not experienced it.

Am I destined never to have a baby?

I’m not sure if it was worse partly because I didn’t have a baby at this point as this was my first pregnancy. It made me wonder if I was ever going to be able to have ever one. It was just heartbreaking.

Healing and grieving… 

I was offered a couple of choices as to what happened next. I decided to have a D&C. So, the next day I went into surgery. My gynaecologist was amazing. She was so kind and did a great job. Physically: I felt quite normal pretty quickly after, I was in very little pain. It took a few weeks for my hormones to regulate and I got my period around 5 weeks later. Then was the process of healing and grieving.

My husband was so incredible, he lost a baby as well. But he was so concerned about me and my wellbeing and he was incredibly supportive and I can imagine it is difficult as a partner to understand what that person is going through at that moment. It really brought us much closer together. 

Why I decided to share my experience so publicly: 

I had this overwhelming desire to share it with people. At the same time, I was afraid to do so. I was nervous that there would be pushback or negativity. Or People saying I was doing it ‘for attention’.

All I wanted was for people to tell me that feeling this way was ‘normal’: 

For me, when I had my miscarriage the first thing I did was go to the internet. I looked at blogs, message boards and websites from people who had been through it before. I just wanted people to tell me that what I was feeling was normal and those feelings of depression would pass.

It took a while for me to get over that depression. I was also dealing with the hormonal changes as well as the massive loss we were processing. 

I felt like it was my fault: I was desperate for someone else to tell me they felt the same way: 

I didn’t want to feel alone and I felt SO guilty. Genuinely, I felt like it was my fault that it happened. I was desperate for someone else to tell me they felt the same way. When I found this community online of people that were open and shared those same feelings I felt so much less alone. So, after that, I really felt compelled to do the same thing.

I just wanted even one person not to feel alone:  

For me, it would be enough for even one person to know that there are other people who understand. I was so overwhelmed and surprised by the response I got. Not just in terms of the amount of love I got from my community, both inside and out. But, so many people shared their story. From their own miscarriage to husbands, sisters, brothers or partners. So many different people sharing their experience.

I found immense healing from this collective vulnerability: 

This really helped me move past what I was going through. It made me feel understood and that the feelings I was experiencing were ‘normal’. 

I never realised what a tremendous toll miscarriage can have on a person: 

Even my before my miscarriage, I was guilty of being a little flippant. My mum had two miscarriages and I saw it from a pragmatic standpoint. I didnt think about how it can take such a tremendous toll on a person mentally. To me, it felt as significant as the loss of someone who was alive and well. 

(N.B: There has been a study published recently looking at the psychological impact on a person of miscarriage. Guess what? It is very, very real with as many as 30% of women suffering PTSD as a result. So, if you’re reading this. We understand. Ask for help if you need it. Click here for more.)

The feeling that it’s ‘your fault’: 

There are archaic gender roles. Women are ’supposed to be the child bearers’. It’s this feeling that your body is ’supposed’ to do this. Of course, rationally when you look at this, it doesn’t make sense. But, underlying, I believed that was what I would/should do and that I was failing at it.

When you feel like you’ve failed at the very thing that your body was made to do that is a huge and crushing failure. I’m sure its a similar feeling that some people who suffer with infertility can feel too. Particularly when there are no obvious answers. It was crushing to me. 

On not being able to get out of bed: 

The five weeks before I got my period back, I could barely get out of bed. I felt truly depressed and simply wasn’t up to talking and socialising. In hindsight, allowing myself to feel this was actually really what I needed. For me personally, I think putting on a brave face and covering it up would probably not have given me the opportunity to grieve properly. 

It is a long process. I believe time heals over all wounds, albeit it you never forget. Time offers you perspective and removes you from the emotional height of that situation. Definitely taking time to feel it and go through it was important.

Getting to the bottom of ‘why’: 

I was lucky as I could test the tissue. We found it was a chromosomal abnormality, so I could get some closure. I can imagine it is completely crushing to go through a fertility or miscarriage journey and not understand what is going wrong and why. So, I felt fortunate for this at least. 

Other things that helped me heal: 

Obviously finding a community was hugely important for me and finding people who I could share my experience with. Therapy has always been important to me and I really relied on it during this time. Being able to be open and discuss and not bury what I was feeling was crucial for me. 

On trying again: 

After it happened, I knew how devastated my husband was. So I initially said lets just go for it again; straight away. In all honesty though, I wasn’t really ready for that. Luckily I realised quite quickly and we ended up taking some time to feel ready. 

Giving myself a break: 

Before we decided we were ready to try again, I did all those things that you’re not supposed to do when you’re pregnant. Going out with my friends, drinking wine, exercising really hard/doing loads of HITT. I started to get back to feeling myself physically. I needed it. 

After around 5 months, I felt I was ready to potentially try again. However I knew I didn’t want to try actively because I needed to be relaxed. Even if it meant it would take a little longer. Luckily I had just been working in China for a month. I was exhausted and SO ready for a vacation so we went to Italy and we conceived then! 

Falling pregnant again… 

We were very, very fortunate that both times it was quite quick and we didnt have to plan/work out timings and experience ‘the two week wait’ (click here for the quick guide to dealing with that!). I am really lucky in that sense. July 2018 I fell pregnant with James. 

It’s so annoying when people say ‘just relax’, but, for me that did work. However, finding out the cause of the miscarriage definitely helped me to be more relaxed than I may have been otherwise. So, I feel fortunate for that. 

Understanding the reason ‘why’ was very helpful (to an extent) for me: 

I was given the option to let the baby pass naturally or to have a D&C and testing the tissue. It’s very lucky to have the option to try and understand what went wrong. For me, I needed it, I was desperate for a reason. When the tissue was tested they found that it was a chromosomal irregularity and the chances of it happening again were low. That gave me a lot of comfort and was a great thing for me. 

I still had a very hard time with anxiety in my pregnancy: 

Honestly, I was terrified during my next pregnancy. Really for the entire time. It started right from the beginning. For example, I took a pregnancy test every day just to see the line getting darker. Every time I got my blood pressure checked it was through the roof. 

Ultrasounds were particularly difficult… 

I was quite traumatised by getting the ultrasound and not seeing the flicker of the heartbeat. So, every time I went for one I was extremely nervous and anxious. It was terrifying to think it was going to happen again. 

How I tried to cope: time, grace and kindness to myself: 

I tried to coach myself through the process. Whilst trying to allow myself time and grace. I did a lot of meditation and positive mantras but really in all honesty the experience of the miscarriage really deeply impacted my pregnancy with James. It made it really tough for me. I was always waiting for bad news. Every time the phone rang I was braced for bad news. Even at the 20 week anatomy scan I was convinced there was going to be a birth defect.

Each milestone we hit: I became worried for the next: 

Through the entire process each milestone we would hit I would be worried for the next. Unfortunately towards the end of my pregnancy I heard a story about a stillbirth. So, then of course I became convinced that would happen to me. I felt there is no way I would deliver a healthy child because that just wasn’t on the cards for me. 

The only thing that helped…. 

Was being open with my friends, family, my husband my therapist about my feelings. Talking through my feelings and recognising they were thoughts and not my reality. This amazing chiropractor I see in LA said something that really resonated with me. He said that ‘sometimes you won’t believe everything is ok until that baby is in your arms. Guess what: that’s ok’.

Acceptance: 

I tried to ‘allow’ myself to feel anxious and not to fight it. I began to realise that this was part of my process and started to accept that it just wouldn’t go away until after he was born. Although of course even after I had my baby I still couldn’t believe it. Then of course I had a whole new set of things to be anxious about! 

Talking about it, sharing it, expressing it: 

I have always been an inherently anxious person. It became magnified through my pregnancy. Some people have amazing blissful pregnancies. But more often people are anxious and frightened. The only thing I would suggest is talking about it, sharing it and expressing how you feel. Feeling like you’re not alone and that you have people to talk to really makes a difference.

No judgement: 

I have learnt from my many years of therapy: you can’t judge yourself. Everyone has struggles and mental roadblocks. You just have to acknowledge what they are and give yourself a break. Understand and be kind to yourself that you’ve had a bad experience and it is ok and normal not to feel ok. 

Postpartum depression: 

I really struggled for the first three months. I had tremendous anxiety and really did not cope well with the hormone drop and lack of sleep. I was very worried. Now that I have had the experience I think maybe I could tell myself that it will pass and it won’t last forever, but, it was tough at the time. 

Being open: 

I am very open about the fact that I had a very tough time postpartum. I know everyone has a different experience but I didn’t have a good time initially. You’re so desperate to have this baby and to be a great mother but you’re then hit with this huge doubt that you can’t do that and you’re going to get it wrong. For me being once again it is important to be open that some people feel this way. To be open hat if you don’t bond with your baby straight away then that’s ok. It happens and it will come. 

Feeling like I couldn’t cope:

There is so much pressure to feel like you know what you’re doing it and you have it together. I also really struggled with breastfeeding. I placed a huge pressure on myself that it was something I really had to do. That it was the most important thing in the world to do for my son and it didn’t matter at what expense it was to my physical and mental health. He struggled with latching, allergies and it was so hard for us. That pressure I put on myself to do it and the anxiety for his health plus the lack of sleep was a massive explosion. I felt I couldn’t cope. 

The pressure to do it all ‘perfectly’: it’s time we challenge this:

I really want to challenge these pressures that women put on themesleve to do it perfectly and do it ‘right’. Guess what my son is formula fed and he’s perfect. People had said this to me but, I ignored it. When someone said that it was ok to give formula, I thought ‘well thats good for you, but its not my journey and I’m going to keep forcing myself’.

Ultimately, It just didn’t work for us. I spent a lot of time sacrificing myself to make this work but actually it was just hurting us.

You have to do what’s right for you

You have to do what works for you. I realised that you cannot be a good mother if you’re too focused on doing what is ‘perfect’ according to other people. You have to do what is right for you. From my experience, as soon as I started to let go of those preconceived notions and pressures I automatically started to be a better version of myself and for my son. 

The thing that helped pull me out… 

Talking: I saw my therapist every week. At first that was just on FaceTime as I couldn’t get out. It was SO helpful. A lot of the time I would tell her how I was feeling and she would either say it was ‘very normal’ or she would say, ‘actually Claire that’s not really that normal. Lets talk about why you’re feeling like this and challenge those thoughts’. It really, really helped me so if you have access please dont be ashamed. If you don’t have access to a therapist find someone you can talk to. It can be another mother or a community. Find a safe outlet for you. Struggling is not something to be ashamed of. Sharing it can lighten it. 

Sleep helps! 

Hindsight is a beautiful thing! That being said, now I will Know and accept that it is really freaking hard for the first three months! It is not forever though.

For me, it really started to get easier when he dropped one of the night feeds. I also started learning things that worked for me and helped me cope. It‘s not always easy to do, but, I also learnt that sleeping while the baby sleeps is powerful. Sleep makes everything better and easier to handle. 

Let people help you… 

After a while, I took people’s offers up to help. My mum would say to me go and take some time and get a manicure, which of course you feel very guilty about doing. However, taking 45 mins to be by yourself, breathe and listen to a podcast can make you feel really recharged. So now I know these are really important things to do. 

What I’ve learnt: Be kind to yourself, find support, letting go of expectations and letting people help you. 

On ‘mom guilt’:

I really struggle with ‘Mom Guilt’. I’m constantly trying to work on this. I am always trying to analyse why I feel this way.

I have this one thing in particular that causes me trouble: this thing in me that feels that I should be the only person to look after my child. Despite the fact that for generations children were raised in communities and families. It wasn’t all just on one person. That idea and pressure that one person has to do it all is tough. I don’t think it is a reality.

Balancing a career and shifting identity: 

I love my career and what I do. I also loved who I was before I had my son. I was independent, loved to travel and loved my job. So it is a big transition when there is a little person who comes in who is more important than any of those things. I did struggle a bit with the shifting identity I had when I had James and where my place would be. It is still something that I struggle with. So far I haven’t really found an opportunity in acting that I am comfortable that works for our lifestyle. I have done other work related things – I have had to be away from James for up to a week at a time and that was very difficult and I felt tremendous guilty

It’s ok to be me: 

I do believe my son will be proud of me for working hard, trying to fulfill my dreams. As a child, I never looked at a person who was working to think they were selfish. So, I keep telling myself that it is ok to still be me. As long as I find a balance that works for our family. I now have rules around certain projects to preserve our family, so there are changes i’ve made. But, I am committed to going back to work and doing the things I love. Doing the things that are right for me. I think it makes me a better person and parent. 

We are all probably ‘works in progress’ and that’s ok! 

I don’t have all the answers and dont have it all figured out, but I think we are all probably still a work in progress. 

On my changing relationship with my husband: 

Having a baby is a massive change. When you bring a child into your relationship you go through an immense transition period. You have to figure out your new normal. We have had moments where we have had to work at keeping our relationship strong. Especially immediately after he was born. Initially I had a baby who needed me all the time. I was always feeding or worrying about him. Of course my husband felt the same way, but all of a sudden we didn’t have the same connection. 

‘A catastrophic event for your marriage’:

I had this amazing prenatal counselling session before. We wanted to be super prepared! The therapist said that the early days of having a baby can be a catastrophic event for your marriage. It can really shake things up. She said people go in thinking it would push you closer together. However, a lot of times it pushes you further from each other because you’re learning a whole new reality. 

We laughed and thought: ‘that won’t happen to us’ 

But…of course it was hugely challenging at times! We had to figure each other out. However, because of what she had told us: I realised it was normal.

It’s not easy though. There were times where I was so tired and just wanted to go to bed, but, I knew how important it was to go to dinner with my husband and to connect. To remember who we were before James. I’m really proud of how we dealt with ultimately. For me communication is paramount and communication in a respectful way. If you can communicate you can get ahead of things. We’re working on it and we’re trying. We’re not perfect though!

One practical suggestion that really helped us: 

One of the suggestions the therapist made was to take ten mins at night. No phones, no distraction. Lie in bed and face each other and just talk about your day and your feelings. Take ten mins each and you have to do it. If you don‘t have ten mins, then do five. It’s really important to take the time and listen to each other. It was suggested at our session and it’s something we definitely used. It was very helpful. 

Quick fire questions: 

The one piece of advice you’d give to someone starting their journey: 

Dont have expectations and dont have a plan. Expectations can lead to disappointment. Easier said than done, but try and be as relaxed and non judgemental as you can about the process. Try not to put pressure on the situation for it to be a different way to how it is. Understand that there will be peaks and troughs and bumps in the road. Acceptance helps! 

One product or thing you couldn’t live without: 

This is just postpartum. Magnetic onesies – I cant deal with the buttons! These connect themselves. They are genius! Especially in the middle of the night when you’re changing them and they’re doing crocodile rolls! 

The thing that surprised you the most about having James: 

Its a bit cliche. But, this is very true. I am constantly surprised by how much you can love this little person. For me, it didnt come immediately but the way it has grown and what I would do for him has exploded. Of course I love my husband, but, the vast extent of the love you can have for your I didn‘t expect or understand before I had him. It’s is such a freaking beautiful thing and makes everything worth it! 

For more from Claire check her out on instagram here. 

To hear this story straight from her – check out our podcast here. 

If you are impacted by recurrent miscarriage you may want to take a look at the interview we did with one of the leading doctors in the space Dr Hassan Shehata. Click here for more. 

For tips dealing with anxiety check out some tools and techniques from one of our resident mental health advisors Emmy Brunner. Click here. 

Finally. If you have experienced miscarriage and you’re having a tough time: you are not alone. Recent pioneering research has looked at the very real toll it can take on a person’s mental health. Click here. Do not be afraid to reach out and ask for help if you are struggling. It is to be expected. You are not alone.

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