One person’s experience of recurrent miscarriage: Part 2

I had a positive test. A high threshold one, too, not any kind of pre-period, early indicator one. That meant the hormone was definitely there. Was I happy? Well, the catheter-into-uterus exam was ten days away so at least I could cancel or postpone *that*. Was I excited? No. Optimistic? Definitely no. I was horrified.

I didn’t want to go through another miscarriage while working my notice and I definitely didn’t want to go through one after starting the new job in a month’s time. And in my mind, a successful pregnancy was far down the list of possibilities. I was more thinking ‘when’ a miscarriage would happen, rather than ‘if’. Would it be a relatively easy and straightforward 5 or 6 week one? Would it be heavier around 7-9 weeks? Could it be ectopic? Or maybe it was a cyst. Would the freaky psychosis thing happen again? Would I lose my mind completely and end up in some kind of asylum? Maybe my ovary would rupture.

These were all more present in my mind than the possibility of a straightforward, complication-free pregnancy like you see on TV, where the couple celebrate and stare lovingly at each other as the woman grows hugely rotund—sorry, ‘with child’. And what about that giant fuck-off house we’d just agreed to buy? We’d budgeted extensively and factored in the possibility of having a child, even though it felt like a long shot at the time, but were we still happy with proceeding?

I didn’t do anything for the first few hours, still numb and dreading all the various outcomes I’d already decided were inevitable. Then, I realized I needed to at least figure out if there was anything I could do. I phoned the doctor, phoned the recurrent miscarriage clinic, and phoned the EPU, and the midwife team—begging them not to book me for any appointments or send me any baby literature yet. I said, with a laugh, that they could save their funds as it would likely end up in the bin anyway, but could they advise what I should do.

“It says you should go on Progrsterone.”

I’d forgotten the progesterone, but a nurse found it in my file notes. The Recurrent Miscarriage Clinic had said if I got pregnant again then I’d need to immediately go on progesterone. Back in early 2021, it felt like a shot in the dark, but now that I was pregnant again, it became my last hope.

It wasn’t easy to find. That’s a saga for another day, but as my cramps got worse and I went from pharmacy to pharmacy until my phone literally died, I became convinced that even if I did get my hand on this last-ditch attempt to stop my uterus from throwing the literal baby out with the bathwater, it would be too late. I told one pharmacist as much when they held the box of pills behind the counter and said they couldn’t give them to me because of an administrative error on the system. I went home empty handed after an afternoon of racing around town, but a local pharmacy ordered it to be delivered to me the next day.

I did not leave my bed. 

The cramps weren’t great, and I’d checked for bleeding enough times to make me a certifiable nutcase, but I stayed in bed as much as possible. When the progesterone arrived, I took it immediately, and took the regular doses the entire weekend while I continued to stay abed. The cramps gradually subsided. Cramps themselves are not an unusual pregnancy symptom, so they could have been normal. But to me, they signaled a bleed, so I wasn’t taking any chances. One of the pharmacists even said, on looking at the medication I was after, ‘you should be resting rather than rushing around town’. 

I took that magical-if-annoying vagina pill twice a day, day after day. Because of COVID, early scans were not being offered. But I needed an early scan, because the progesterone could mask a miscarriage by preventing the bleed. In other words, I could end up carrying a failed pregnancy and not know until going for a scan. It was in my notes that I *had* to have one. Still, the EPU said due to the backlog and COVID they were not doing any scans, doctors notes or no. I booked a private scan in town. It was for two weeks after my positive test (remember, the positive test was not an early predictor one, and with a high threshold, so I would safely be 6 weeks by that point).

I had a client meeting the same day and went to the scan shortly after. Anxious would be an understatement. I’d never had a scan where they were looking to find the beginnings of a baby, and my history had me prepared for the worst outcome. It wouldn’t be there, or it would be too small, or it wouldn’t be in the right place. Despite the immense fatigue settling into my bones from the hormones, I couldn’t sleep the night before the scan. I was a walking zombie.

I went to the clinic and braced myself for the real possibility of going home that night, stopping the progesterone, and hoping my body would do its job like it had done several times already without intervention. I only had the doctor give me enough pills for two weeks despite me needing to be on it until I was 16 weeks along. 16 weeks felt like a lifetime away. it would take a miracle to stay pregnant for 16 weeks when I’d never made it past 8.

My bursting bladder quickly faded from my mind as I hopped on the table and the nurse began pressing around my abdomen. The facilities are designed for a crowd, so in addition to her normal screen there was a huge tv screen on the wall in front of me, where myself and up to five guests would have been invited to celebrate and share in the usual joyous moments. I tried my best not to look at it, but couldn’t help myself. My heart dropped as what looked like a large, empty void kept appearing in different angles.

“Here it is.”

Her voice sounded entirely normal, since I was the only one choking on the tension in that room. I couldn’t believe my eyes when something did appear – a weird-shaped blob. I asked her to confirm twice but yes, that was indeed the beginnings of a baby, in the right place and looking normal. Well, one hurdle down and at least no ectopic.

But then she said what I didn’t want to hear: 5 weeks of development. I protested. Was she sure? I had my positive test, a high-threshold one at that, two weeks earlier. Two weeks after the expected date of period means 6 weeks (ignoring that my cycle length would have me at 7). I should be 6 weeks, not 5. She said it was normal, and to come back in two weeks for a rescan to see if it had progressed. I didn’t expect to be leaving that place and entering limbo. Of all the possibilities I’d come up with, that wasn’t one of them. I’d be progressing or not.

But 5 weeks could be normal, as she said, or it could be that things had stopped developing at week 5, and the progesterone stopped my uterus from dumping its contents like yesterday’s garbage. Given my history, you can imagine which of those two outcomes I fixated on. I asked to not be sent scan images. Easier to pretend it never happened, like the ones that came before.

To this day, I don’t know how I made it two weeks to the next scan, living both like I was pregnant and yet very likely not pregnant. The progesterone required me to be laid down for 30-60 mins after taking it every twelve hours (give or take an hour or two where needed), so I missed a lot of evening activities I’d been invited to because I had to take dose one at 7am/6am or thereabouts before work so the evening dose fell right in the middle of things. It didn’t matter – I was more tired than I’d ever been in my life. I often fell asleep during the evening dose, passed out on the sofa.

My heart rate was through the roof. I didn’t know how to break it to my Fitbit that I hadn’t actually done 12 hours of intense cardio each day that I’d actually spent on my arse. Moving from one room of the flat to the other caused spots in my vision and dizziness, and for two weeks my heart rate didn’t go under 90 bpm while I was conscious (my resting is 58…). Any normal daily activity left me breathless and with a heart rate of 130+. Brush my teeth? How dare I. Eat food? Good luck breathing between mouthfuls. Change my clothes? Only if I wanted to collapse afterward. Go for a walk or up or down the 3 flights of stairs to leave the flat? Out of the question.

The day of the second scan came and I was well and truly prepared to see that same sized blob. I told the sonographer what had happened last time and she kindly asked, “So you’re ready for the possibility it’s bad news?” I laughed and said yes, definitely. I can’t imagine what it must be like for them, having the occasional person waltz in with their five guests naively expecting sunshine and rainbows only to have the rug ripped out from under them. I wasn’t going to be difficult or emotional. I was too tired to even laugh everything off like I did at all my previous appointments. After 2.5 years, and the last few weeks of limbo, I was too tired to care. I was resigned and ready to get it over with.

I was so exhausted, I think if the woman had told me a unicorn was in there I wouldn’t have blinked. I climbed onto the table and remembered the date, 22 February 2022. 22/2/22. A funny coincidence. 2022 was meant to be my year. New job, new house, more time for writing, maybe get an agent and even a book deal.

“I see baby.”

Bless this woman. I looked at the screen and was literally so dumbfounded I asked her, almost a whisper but more likely a fatigue-addled haze, three times to confirm, despite me seeing exactly what she was seeing. The blob was obviously still a blob, but bigger and with a flickering heartbeat. She said it looked fine and was showing a solid 7 weeks development, plus a couple of days.

I still didn’t believe it – not her nor my own eyes. It took a little while to sink in and shift gears from preparing for another heavy bleed to actually accepting that things were, for now, ok.

I would stay on the progesterone. I accepted the scan images that time. I went home and reluctantly called the midwife unit to formally log the pregnancy and get appointments for the NHS 13 week scan and first midwife session. The usual baby literature arrived, though I set it aside and avoided reading it. I remembered most of it from March 2020 anyways. 13 weeks felt like a lifetime away, so I caved and booked another private scan for 10 weeks. I was already barely clinging to sanity, so waiting 6 weeks before finding out if it had survived the subsequent critical weeks was not something I could have managed.

The weeks passed and I felt a little more comfortable using the word ‘pregnant’. Previously, even in private conversation, it was termed ‘my current situation’ or ‘the things happening in my body.’ It felt like if I said the word ‘pregnant’ too loudly, I’d jinx it and something bad would happen. Now, I said it in hushed whispers, testing what seemed like fate itself. Miscarriage odds were low after a confirmed heartbeat, but not gone. The odds of having three in a row were low, and I’d beaten those odds. Nothing was certain. New pregnancy, new roulette.

10 weeks came and the blob had more shape, with a blobby head and blobby body that moved and twitched. The heartbeat was still there, and I tried to count and see if it fell in the healthy ranges or ranges where odds of failure were higher. The world hadn’t ended. I waited for the 13 week scan, which was the first one where the sense of impending doom was eclipsed by a cautious optimism.

That cautious optimism continued through another 16 week scan, and my 20 week scan is in less than two days. So far, all shows normal development. It was a long road, but we’re getting there.

I kept most of this journey private because it’s something one doesn’t talk about. I don’t think that’s fair to the people experiencing it or their friends and loved ones who doubtlessly speculate as to when children are on the way. No one wants to be a dick, and if they knew someone was bleeding their guts out during a party or dinner, either from another disappointing period or another difficult miscarriage, they wouldn’t think twice about making that casual ‘so when are you having babies’ comment.

I think it’s worse when people think they’re alone, or in a small minority, when it’s in fact hugely common and most of the time entirely random, the result of chromosomal abnormalities that the body is trained to spot and slam the brakes on. Not everyone will want to share, and that’s ok, but it shouldn’t be expected or a societal norm to keep it secret.

Like Britney, if you find yourself pregnant and want to share, you should be able to.

Unlike Britney, you shouldn’t feel ashamed or awkward if it doesn’t work out.

It’s part of life, and it’s a difficult journey to make without the community support of friends and family (many of whom have their own stories).

After all this, and kudos if you’ve stuck around either from genuine interest or morbid curiosity, you might have noticed an absence. I deliberately kept my spouse out of the above details. That is because I accept this is a deeply personal and private matter that I am deciding to share widely, so I have focused on my perspective. It is not my place to share his and I did not ask or expect him to participate in this post. But I will say that support for male or non-birth partners in this equation is sorely lacking, and that they suffer their own unique circle of hell and helplessness, with all the same ups and downs that birth parents do even if their bodies are not technically going through the same swings.

I hope this someday changes, for their sakes and the sakes of the families they have or may someday, biological or not, children or not.

Everything may change in two days. My baby-shaped blob might not have developed all its organs, or the heart may be missing chambers. I will teeter on the brink of starting over right up until a delivery date, if I get to it.

The difference this time is I will not be silent or alone. Whatever comes in the weeks or months, I will endure as I have the last ❤ years.

One person’s experience of recurrent miscarriage: Part 1

CW: this entire post is about fertility issues and recurrent miscarriage. If these are sensitive topics for you, the details may be distressing.

My heart is heavy for Britney Spears, who announced a miscarriage over the weekend. I can’t pretend to relate to her circumstances, but it feels like a good opportunity to share my story. Something she said particularly resonated with me: “Perhaps we should have waited until we were further along, but we were excited to share the good news.”

I think people should share when they feel comfortable, and the concept of hiding miscarriage behind closed doors should end, for the mental health of the parents and for those who might go on to experience it themselves someday.

Miscarriage, especially in the first trimester, is common, but that doesn’t make it easier to deal with when you’d waited for that positive test. Knowledge is power. So with that, I will share: I had multiple early (first trimester) miscarriages. It is worrying and confusing, as well as physically and mentally stressful. I’m sharing so those who might have experienced it or go on to experience it feel less isolated and know there is someone willing to talk or listen.

After trying for a while, we were thrilled to have a very clear positive test in March 2020. Yes, *that* March 2020 – a week or so before the world ground to a halt. We were aware of the ‘keep it secret until 12 weeks’ norm but a few folk had known we were trying so I did share with two relatives and that one work friend where nothing is withheld, even the weirdest and most bizarre of bodily functions. I gave the usual caveat: ‘we only just got a positive test! It’s early so keep it quiet!’ But early miscarriages happen to *others*, not me. Past me, that sweet summer child! I had no idea this would start a 2.5-year saga.

***A sidebar: my cycle woes***

I have irregular cycles (anywhere from 30 to 50 days, often veering from one extreme to the next) so knowing when to test was tricky, but I’d been experiencing symptoms for about two weeks. I might have tested sooner had I known it was normal to *not* have morning sickness, as that was the symptom I’d waited for: that stereotypical moment you see on tv where the woman wakes up and runs to the toilet. That moment never came, and it never would. Across all my pregnancies, I only had a few instances of mild queasiness, often in the middle of the night or before bed. Genetics and racial background can play a part in which symptoms you experience, but often it varies from one pregnancy to the next.

Given my irregular cycles, it was impossible to accurately date any of my pregnancies. I might technically be 8-9 weeks when in reality it could be 6-7. The variable part of the cycle is most often the pre-ovulation part, ie the pre-conception part, but pregnancies are first dated from the start of your cycle, ie including the part where you’re not even pregnant yet. So if my pregnancy was dated at 9 weeks, it could developmentally be 7 weeks, or 6, or 9 after all! It doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but at 4-6 weeks, the risk of miscarriage can be a third or higher, whereas at 7 weeks that reduces to 10%, and beyond that it decreases drastically each week. In other words, and as came to learn, those early weeks are vital milestones. All of my pregnant cycles, barring my current one, probably failed around the 6-8 week area, even though those actual cycles ranged from 6-10 weeks. 

Anyway, back to the story:

Miscarriage 1

My first miscarriage was in that first week of complete and total lockdown, dealing with the EPU (Early Pregnancy Unit) over the phone and not being able to go in because no one was going anywhere. It was a shock – feeling the wildly heightened sense of smell, mild cramps, heartburn, and extremely sore breasts only to then go to the loo and find blood. Lots of blood. My frantic first phone call to the EPU was played down as possible implantation bleeding, but (and I suppose I should be grateful it was this clearcut) I was able to definitively say it was too much. There were clots and clumps. The material of that early pregnancy was evacuating my uterus like someone had pulled the fire alarm.

In my mind, I knew it was common. It was early. It wasn’t a big deal. But it was a big deal. I was upset. I called the midwife unit and cancelled the scans they’d booked me for. I threw away the baby pamphlets and materials they’d posted me. I bled fairly heavily for two days (my heavy periods made it not that unusual or traumatic to deal with) then that was it. All gone! As if it never happened. But it *had* happened.

Oh well, try again! These things happen, after all, and it just so happened to be me. We were shaken but not overly concerned. Research proves you are statistically *more* likely to have a complication-free pregnancy and live birth after a miscarriage. My body did a trial run and now it’s geared up for the main event. Everything would be fine.

But it wasn’t. A few months later, I was pregnant again. Huzzah! I went in with tempered enthusiasm, given I’d already had one failed attempt, but I couldn’t help feeling optimistic. As I said, research shows you’re more likely to have everything go well the second time around. I started getting symptoms, I told the same close relatives, and started trying to figure out how far along I really was so I could start counting down the weeks until I was in the clear. 

Miscarriage 2

About a week and a half later, my symptoms faded. Normal, says the internet! Symptoms come and go, says mumsnet! Don’t worry, says the doctor! But, deep in my bones, I *was* worried. Loss of symptoms can be normal, yes, but they can also mean a pregnancy is ending. The first miscarriage, I had intense pregnancy symptoms up until the literal hour I started bleeding, but new pregnancy, new roulette of how things play out.

It was still lockdown-ish and the EPU wouldn’t see anyone for scans or treatment unless it was an emergency, so I had to wait. A few days after the symptoms faded, I started bleeding. ‘Whelp, here we go again,’ I thought. At least it wasn’t a shock this time. At least I was prepared and braced for it. At least I was ready for the possibility – more than when early miscarriage had been a distant thing that happened to others. I cancelled more midwife appointments and scans. I binned another set of baby literature.

This one wasn’t as smooth.

I had a lot of pain, and it was one-sided. Anyone who knows about women’s bodies knows that reproductive-organ pain that is one-sided is usually a bad thing. I couldn’t sleep, I felt so sick. I phoned the EPU and they walked me through more things to look out for. Because of COVID, they couldn’t bring anyone to hospital unless it was a clear emergency (ie going into shock or similar). Great. Again, anyone who knows about women’s bodies knows that ‘clear emergencies’ are about as easy to spot as a needle in a haystack. Reproductive complications go unnoticed all the time, with disastrous consequences, because of that tricky combo of women being accustomed to putting up with pain and doctors being unsympathetic or ignorant of women’s issues.

So, at 2am, I played the ‘is it normal pain or ectopic pregnancy pain’ game for a few hours, constantly waiting to see if things would cross the ‘emergency’ line. I called in sick from work the next day. Since I’d just come back from some time off and worried it might look bad to call in sick the first day back, I shared why: I was miscarrying. While I worked through the first one (it mostly happened over a weekend), this one kept me up an entire night, leaving me sleep-deprived and physically exhausted. Now, senior management at work knew. Better than them thinking I’d been irresponsible on my time off and gotten sick somehow. I bled for about a week, then that was it. All gone! As if it never happened. 

But it *had* happened. 

A potential further miscarriage

In late 2019, about six months after we started trying, I’d had a particularly horrific period after a long cycle, where I’d had to lay down and not move for hours. I remember even debating whether to call the hospital in case something had gone horribly wrong. In 2020, after two miscarriages, I was seeing a pattern. I could have had three losses already, but I couldn’t prove that 2019 episode was a miscarriage as I’d never taken a pregnancy test (because of the irregular cycles, I’d been waiting on that mythical morning sickness as a sign to test).

Well, statistically we were STILL more likely to have a smooth, complication-free pregnancy with the next one, but things started getting alarming. One miscarriage = normal. Two in a row = probably fine. Three = not good. A small number of people suffered ‘recurrent miscarriage’. If the 2019 episode was a miscarriage, I could already be in that group. But don’t think about that, I told myself. 

Miscarriage 3 (or 4)

So, bring on round 3. It was now a year and a half since we’d started trying, so we didn’t want to wait. I was getting blood tests to check hormone levels etc. I thought physically I was ok, since they were early. A miscarriage at 7 weeks might be a bit distressing, but I figured it’d be less physically traumatic than, say, a miscarriage at 10 weeks, or 13 weeks, or 16 weeks. I was good to go.

I ended up pregnant the very next cycle. This time, I was a ball of nerves. I checked for spotting multiple times an hour. I overanalyzed every symptom and whether it was coming or going. I didn’t call the midwife unit because I didn’t want more scans and appointments that would need to be cancelled. That pregnancy was the earliest one to end, at probably 5-6 weeks. In theory, that should make it the easiest physically. 

It was not.

I’m used to heavy, painful periods. This one, despite being the earliest, was the heaviest I’d ever bled in my life. It started around 8pm and I couldn’t sleep the night, so I sequestered myself in the small bedroom, having a quiet meltdown. I was bleeding more than I thought possible, but the lack of immense pain from the last miscarriage (still fresh in my mind) kept me from phoning anywhere. But, most alarmingly, I started experiencing symptoms of psychosis.

I won’t go into detail, but it was a full-on disconnect, out of body experience. Mentally, I was conscious and frenzied, but I was not in control of my body. It was frightening enough that in my current pregnancy I alerted my midwife to the fact it had happened, since pregnancy-related psychosis both during pregnancy and after birth are complications I might be more predisposed to now that I have experienced it once. I’d read about women that ended up in asylums after birth, having complete personality changes and debilitating mental health problems. Whatever I could do to avoid such an outcome, I would do it.

I bled heavily for twelve hours then had faint spotting for ten days. It was the most bizarre ‘period’ I’d ever had. That 12-hour stint overnight was one of the most unsettling experiences of my life. But worse, I was now firmly in the ‘recurrent miscarriage’ camp. Those in that small, select group could be *more* likely to have more miscarriages. The odds had flipped. I was referred to the Recurrent Miscarriage Clinic and, on 23 December 2020, had my appointment. Can’t beat some heavy conversations, two rounds of blood tests and a troublesome vein right before Christmas!

Diagnosis of unexplained recurrent miscarriage

I got results in February 2021. I didn’t have blood clotting issues or other potential problems, so they put it down to unexplained. They said if I became pregnant again then they’d place me on progesterone. Apparently, progesterone can help women maintain pregnancies, but only where they’ve had unexplained recurrent early pregnancy loss. None of my hormone profiles showed issues in that department, but the range of ’normal’ the doctors use is quite wide. That, coupled with my irregular cycles, could easily make it difficult to pin down whether my body was producing the right levels of hormones at the right points in my cycles.

As you can imagine, the above wasn’t particularly reassuring. ‘We don’t know what the issue is, so we’ll try this thing that works sometimes’. Well, not much choice then.
After the October 2020 psychosis-riddled miscarriage, I needed a break. Perhaps having the two miscarriages back to back threw my body for such a loop that it was struggling to recover. So November and December were break periods, while the new year brought new determination to try again.

No ‘where’s the baby’ jokes, please

By this point, we’d had enough ‘haha when are you guys having kids’ jokes from well-intentioned friends that we shared with a few that we were INDEED trying and things weren’t going so smoothly. It was also at the point where I personally couldnt keep it to myself any longer. If you’re taking daily pills, focusing on diet, and shoving a temperature probe up your vagina each night to pinpoint exact ovulation, fertility becomes an ever-present issue in your mind.

Please, if you take away one thing from this unacceptably-long essay, let it be to not make these baby jokes to couples. You have no idea what stage they are in their family-planning journey. One half could be desperate to start while the other wants to wait, or they could both be happy to be child-free for a while longer, or they could, like us, have been trying for almost two years with nothing but a string of miscarriages to show for it. It could be a topic of contention or suffering for those involved. If you genuinely want to start a conversation, and you feel close enough to the couple to do so, I recommend something more engaging, like ‘You have been together for a while now. Are you thinking about kids’ or something similar. That is a conversation starter, not a quickfire joke. It opens the door for someone to share or not share where they are in that journey. Five years ago, I’d have said ‘We’re young and I’m enjoying my child-free years’, whereas a year ago I’d have said ‘We’re actually struggling and it’s been quite difficult’. When you’re trying, every period is a disappointment.

At one point, a total stranger asked me how far along I was. It was a full year after my previous miscarriage and I’d gotten another disappointing period instead of a positive test, so I was particularly bloated. I laughed at her and said I was just fat. It was a dampener on what was otherwise a needed break from the stresses of work and fertility woes.

Possible infertility or decreasing fertility

We reached the two-year mark in mid 2021. At that point, the NHS will let you see a fertility clinic. But we weren’t technically infertile. We’d conceived many times. But in autumn 2021 we’d gone a full year with no conceptions, so the doctors were ready to investigate. November 2021 we had an appointment with the Infertility Clinic. I had the pleasure of a surprise internal ultrasound. That’s when they shove a stick up your vagina and wrangle it about to get a clear image of the reproductive organs. They found two big bunches of grapes – final confirmation of my polycystic ovaries (irregular cycles, painful periods and misleading ovulation predictor kits are pretty good indicators of polycystic ovaries).

They didn’t find much as to the reason why we weren’t conceiving, so that was put down to ‘unexplained’, just like the miscarriages. Unfortunately, it’s common for infertility to be unexplained. Probably something to do with the lack of widespread studies on all the weird and wonderful things that happen with those organs and how variable they can be. Anyway, they decided they’d schedule me for a rather invasive test to see whether my tubes were blocked, and in a year’s time we’d be put through IVF. They wanted to give things another year because odds with IVF vs odds with natural conception at our age and with our history were more or less the same, so IVF would be better once we were a year older without success.

That was depressing news. I didn’t want IVF. I’d have done it if necessary, but it is a long slog and we had no idea whether the recurrent miscarriage would wreck that as well. Major respect to those who undergo the process. I also really didn’t want the test for tube blockages, mainly because a Pap smear is torturous enough already so the idea of a tube getting shoved through my cervix and into my uterus while I’m expected to act like it’s no big deal seems like the seventh circle of hell.

Polycystic Ovaries

I resolved to see if there was something I could do about the one new piece of information I had: polycystic ovaries. I did two weeks of nonstop research, figuring out what I could do to improve my chances of conception through lifestyle changes. I already ate healthily but I also ate sugar and grease: foods that contribute to inflammation and exacerbate polycystic ovary syndrome. So I cut out all sugar (including natural alternatives like agave/honey/etc), all white carbs (pasta, white rice, non-wholemeal bread, etc), drastically reduced my gluten intake, and, the surprisingly difficult one, all seed and vegetable oils (which are in everything).

When I mean cut out, I mean completely. I looked at every ingredient label. If rapeseed oil, palm oil, sugar, any kind of syrup, things like that were on the list, I did not eat it. If you thought my journey to date was depressing, imagine cutting out chocolate and ice cream and pizza to boot. I lived off pasta made of lentils, chickpeas, or buckwheat, ate organic oatcakes, tried spelt bread, and snacked on things like red bell peppers or carrots. I made lots of soups. I had no nice snacks.

Christmas 2021 came and went, where I stuck to my diet probably 95% of the time despite telling myself I wouldn’t be too much of a stickler about it over the holidays. I got a new job offer and submitted my notice. We casually saw a cool-looking house for sale and thought we might as well see it. After all, we weren’t going to be spending a fortune on a baby anytime soon (if ever).

2022: A New Hope

I joked that, as 222 was my favorite number, 2022 would be my year. I’d start a new job in March, I planned to finish my next book and maybe get a literary agent, and we put in an offer on that house and had it accepted. Things were looking up, baby or no.

I got my COVID booster in early January, right at the tail end of my period. This was deliberate for each of my vaccines as I didn’t want any side effects (I had high fever with both) to jeopardize a conception, delay ovulation, or pose any kind of complication to what already felt like a complication-riddled fertility situation. For those who might be concerned about COVID vaccines and fertility, I conceived *that same cycle*.

At the end of January 2022, two days after we agreed to buy a big crazy house and one month before I was due to start my new job, I got my first positive pregnancy test in fifteen months. 

2021 Querying and Project SkyWIP

It’s been a long time! There’s not much to update but that I’d taken a break from querying after sending some out in September/October of 2020. It didn’t look like a good climate so, after not making much headway, I decided to wait. I don’t normally focus on timing so much, but I had the benefit of my previous query experience for this one.

So I started a couple of weeks ago, at the start of February, dripping out some queries while I work on my new project! In order to help get some distance from the book so I can be in a better place craft-wise to eventually pen its related stories, I’ve been pursuing a project that reflects a lot of childhood loves but reimagined for an adult audience.

I’m unimaginatively calling it SkyWIP, and it’s my personal tribute to everything that got me through some difficult years as a teenager. I initially started working on the concept in December and started writing in mid-January. Currently, I’m 25k words in and it *MAY* be worth querying by the end! Either way, it’s been a refreshing manuscript to work on, and freeing in a way that the first book can’t be given the latter’s heavily-developed universe, characters, and timeline that spans several books.

So we’ll see what 2021 has to offer! So far, it’s started strong in the query trenches with a few bites, so I’m glad I hit pause when things were looking shaky last year.

Finally #amquerying

After some cut passes, and a few more cut passes, and some painstaking decisions, I wrangled my 179k manuscript down to 149k.

It definitely feels stronger, reads smoother, somehow maintains solid pacing, and has some pretty amazing beta feedback from fresh and old eyes.

With that, I’ve yeeted out my first set of queries. Not 100% sure if timing is good right now in agent land, but after two years of studying craft, rewriting, editing, revising, restructuring, enhancing themes and reversals, and bringing out my character perspectives more firmly on the page, I couldn’t really wait much longer.

It feels ready. I’m excited.

Full rewrite = COMPLETE

So, at the end of July, I was able to announce reaching a major milestone. The full POV and structural rewrite I’d started in early 2019 was FINISHED. The omniscient POV is gone and the manuscript is now told almost entirely from the perspectives of my two protagonists: Dyanna and Venerio.

I struggled so much with it and it was a real learning curve to write in third limited. Thankfully, it seems to have worked. Unfortunately, because of the very prominent mental health themes, switching to third limited ballooned my word count. Lots of mental and emotional roller coasters as my characters navigate depression, PTSD, identity and symptoms of psychosis. Who’d have thought that would massively increase my word count?? ^^;

So, now I’m blitzing through a word cut pass and getting some feedback from a round of betas on the newly-rewritten full (so far, so good!). The total came to nearly 180k words, so I’m going through squeezing out whatever I can to get under 150k. After that, I will be querying. I’ve gone through about 35% of the manuscript and shaved 11k words so far, so hopefully I can get another 20k off as I work my way through. I’ve had to cut a chapter I love, but at least I’ll have a lovely, polished deleted scene to offer someday when the time comes!

Over the coming weeks, I get to start putting a query list together…. I don’t know whether to be excited or terrified.

Challenging times

So, for anyone who still exists and reads this, yes: this is my first post in a very long time. I work full time, I’ve been eyeballs-deep in revisions for 18 months, and I can’t update this as often as I’d like (I don’t know what useful or interesting stuff I can put here that others haven’t done better already).

Back in January, I’d set June 2020 as my query deadline for SoMES. The deadline that would see it in agent inboxes after the massive overhauls I’ve been working on for what seemed like forever. I had a plan: first approach the agents who’d requested the full or partial back in 2018, then query new agents and maybe a few requeries of top agents.

The first chink in my determination armor was finding out, after I casually asked on twitter, that my top #1 agent choice wouldn’t accept requeries even for overhauled work. It’s fine, but I’d had this agent in my head during all my revisions. That agent was the first person I wanted to send a new query to (this agent didn’t have a partial or full, but had invited my query over two years ago through DVPit).

Oh well, I thought. I’ll just try others when the time comes. Disappointing, but entirely fair and reasonable. I’d shot myself in the foot by querying too early. I’d waited too long and was too scared/anxious to seek out writing communities, meaning I made every mistake a new writer could make. I didn’t even know such a vast community existed when I wrote my first three drafts of SoMES in 2016-2017, only succumbing in April 2018 when I found out about DVPit and decided to finally make a twitter account. For context, I lived in Scotland and figured any local groups would all be crime and thriller writers (the UK has a bizarre obsession with crime, thrillers, and political drama, and fantasy agents are few and hard to come by, so I didn’t expect to find much help from local writing groups where people would be writing in a completely different genre). I’ve learned a lot since then and all thanks to you all.

Revisions continued this year, even with the chaos of Covid causing our world to shut down. Right at the start of lockdown, when the fear and caution was at its peak, I had a miscarriage which I was thankfully guided through on the phone by the lovely, local NHS Early-Pregnancy Unit. All the while, I was putting in crazy hours while working from home (only two friend-colleagues knew I was haemorrhaging my insides out at the time). Colleagues were off sick, some were now juggling childcare for young children, and I felt I was picking up a lot of the pieces. I *still* continued with my revisions best I could. I was making such great progress and a call for betas between March-May attracted 18 readers for partials or fulls of the revised manuscript. EIGHTEEN READERS. Betas are hard to get, so I considered myself extremely fortunate that so many were interested.

Work increased.

Personal stresses compounded.

Those who know me know I’m very good at handling crises because of my background. Those who know me know I became and adult at 7-8. Those who know me know how capable I am at keeping my cool when everything falls apart. All that in mind, a few weeks ago, I had a complete nervous breakdown. I spent several days mentally and emotionally incapable of doing anything.

Throughout the entire period, I tried to continue revisions and tried to keep working (my productivity so low that I had to compensate by working early morning to late evening). For revisions, I was in the last 20% of my MS – SO close. If only I could reach the end, it would all be worth it and I could query and have it out of my hands and RELAX. I’d sit with my laptop open on my lap for hours, doing nothing at all but hope that I could get some words down.

Then, a movement began that has been long overdue. I’m not going into too much depth on Black Lives Matter in this post because I’m writing this purely so I can download my struggles from the last several months. I’ve spent two weeks actively sharing and trying my best to support those in my area back home and more widely. My private, non-writing facebook and public, writing-geared twitter account have been an endless stream of footage, information, and resources. I flagged it at work, I discussed it with family members, and I conversed about it with friends. I stood up in writing groups against those who wanted to keep things ‘non-political’ and those who dared to push back on informative posts that explained how biases and prejudices, even at an unconscious level, trickle into our writing. I argued with those who would not involve or educate themselves because they thought it ‘didn’t impact them’. I’m not saying all this to centre myself, or to justify my exhaustion (I can’t begin to imagine how it must feel for my Black friends, colleagues, and fellow writers), but to explain why *this* post is going to be my much-needed outlet for some non-BLM content at this time, since my only other social media is geared towards sharing information. I don’t want anyone here who maybe isn’t seeing my twitter (and probably no one would know my private facebook) to think this cause isn’t important. It is, and if you’re not sure where to begin, there are a lot of great threads on twitter with links and information.

In short, I’d been struggling to finish these damned revisions. My mental energy was spent.

Then, things began to kick off in the publishing world. The lead of Red Sofa Literary showed her true colors at the peak of the protests, causing most of her agents and many writers to leave the agency (good for them!). Corvisiero also decided to finally show, publicly, quite how shit they were by firing all their agents in one go (this agency has been at the front and centre of writer whisper networks as SHADY AF since before I even became an active writing community member in early 2018). That, I saw, was a much-needed reckoning long overdue, so all good.

Things picked up pace – we learned through #publishingpaidme the indefensible disparities between what support is offered white writers versus Black and other POC writers (from debuts to award-winners). That was depressing but also much-needed insight. More is coming out every day about the practices in acquisition meetings, where a writer’s appearance and marketability are discussed just as much if not moreso than the work itself. Then, the icing on the cake, Red Sofa’s director decided to come at a small number of agents and former employees for calling out her bad behavior. Lawyers are now involved because people wanted to flag to writers (who are in the most vulnerable position) that some agents are bad.

At the same time, another well-known shady agent has begun contacting both agented and unagented writers. This agent also has a history of getting daddy’s financial support to threaten legal action and silence writers and agents who speak up about his terrible treatment of clients (I have named him outright in the past on twitter, but I like his new nickname of Fart Fartlieb – if you want more details, he is an agent at the three-pronged-weapon-of-Poseidon agency).

Traditional publishing, the very avenue I’d been preparing myself for and envisioning during all my time spent on revisions, simply felt too unfair and hostile.

I’d spent years writing and editing with the goal of SoMES, a book and series very dear to me, getting an agent, then being on sub and selling to a publishing house, and then eventually being published and marketed. I began to ask myself what the point was.

Agents are increasingly allowed to operate in shadows then bully those who voice concerns about their beliefs, behaviors, and practices.

Editors and publishing houses are allowed to critique a writer’s appearance and background when considering the work.

Minority writers are chronically and systematically undervalued, underpaid, and undermarketed. They are rejected for an agent ‘not connecting’ with the material. They are rejected for nonsensical reasons. I have an entire post’s worth of garbage commentary I’ve received from those in the industry relating to my own work from people just like that: people who couldn’t connect. People who wanted my story of someone coming to terms with major aftereffects of trauma to be transformed into a standard tough/strong-woman fighter book. People who told me, back in 2017 and just before #metoo kicked off, that the concept and characters had no future in fantasy and that I should scrap it and consider writing children’s books (yes, I actually have this in writing from someone).

So, in short, all this led to me finally setting SoMES aside.

I closed my open SoMES file on Monday and haven’t opened it again. I haven’t thought about it when I woke up nor in my final minutes before falling asleep. I haven’t taken notes or visualised my remaining scenes that need rewriting. I haven’t been puzzling out the final bits and pieces I need to change in that last 15%. I haven’t been reading or rereading or editing what has already been revised. I haven’t added to my to do list of final adjustments for my last 2 polishing passes.

I have done nothing.

I don’t know when I will pick it back up, but I think it will be when I have faith in both publishing and myself again. I wanted June 2020 to be when I was free of this manuscript and, in a way, I guess it was.


In case you haven’t noticed, I can be shockingly bad at keeping a blog updated. I had a personal one years ago that I updated twice a week, but that was more about my life than writing. For this one, I’ve geared it towards writing, but then when I think of something writing-related to blog about, I decide I’d rather just use that time ACTUALLY writing and progressing my projects.

That being said, I’m working on being better. My last post was that I was doing Camp Nano, and so I might as well say that was a success. I achieved my goals and got a lot of *quality* revisions done! Then things kicked into gear with my trip to SD Comic Con (where I attended lots of industry panels, which were amazing), falling unwell after getting back, lots of changes at work, trying to juggle some beta commitments (and dropping a few balls there), then my two-week excavation in Croatia, then some weddings and social commitments that mean here we are on the cusp of November.

I’m planning some specific goals for November as people jump into NaNoWriMo, and may be able to open WoS up for a couple of alpha readers if anyone is keen on sneak peaks at SoMES’ sequel. I hope everyone is doing well, and happy Diwali for those celebrating (my visit to India coincided with the holiday and it is now something I remember each year).

Camp Nano Accountability. Week 1.

I set a goal of two hours a day, no more than 3 hours in one day (or sitting, really). So far, I’m at 17 hours so am surprisingly smashing my Nano goals.

As someone who always puts absurdly-high thresholds on themselves for success, it is a strange feeling. Is this what setting achievable goals feels like? Am I just an extremely awful person to myself most of the time by constantly setting myself up for failure with lofty expectations I could never hope to achieve? Who knows.

I always heard to shoot for the moon so you can land amongst the stars, but I guess constantly missing the moon can take its toll on someone’s mental health and wellbeing, so maybe the time has come to shoot for the stars for a little while.

Anyways, I’ve been using this Camp Nano to build some good writing habits. One issue I always faced was being able to use my lunch at work, because working between a home MacBook and a work Windows used to see me sending umpteen versions of my MS back and forth via email to myself, to the point I couldn’t remember which was the most up-to-date or whether I’d finished copying all the edits I wanted from the last work version.

This time, I’ve tried to keep it simple. I am doing edits for camp, so I’ve taken one scene or chapter that I want to work on, emailed it to myself, then opened it in a fresh word doc on the work computer. Over lunch, I turn on tracked changes and tinker around. When I’m ready to go home, I email that file back to myself and copy what I liked into the master on my home computer.

This had unintended consequences.

Knowing I wanted to focus on X scene in a given day made it a lot easier to focus. I spent my walk to work imagining how that scene might be enhanced in the context of my revision pass goals, and this has brought great results. Edits are slow. I’ve been working on one chapter this entire week (that means those 17 hours have been spent on a handful of scenes), but they’re GOOD edits.

I’m not sure I’ll complete this entire pass over Nano, given I’ve spent so much time on one chapter, but I’ll definitely meet my camp goal. And that’s enough for me.

Camp Nano

I’m still alive.

After a very long break, I’ve begun revising again. I’m about 1/3rd of the way through a revision pass, the first of potentially six targeted passes. Each one has to be slow, given I lose my edge and quality of work the more I try to do at once, and I also have to juggle a lot of non-work stuff and a full-time job in financial services. So I’ll probably finish sometime in the next decade or so. Hopefully.

Then I can stand back and see if I’ve improved or destroyed what I started with.

I’ll be editing the beta readers page to open back up for 2-3 fresh pairs of eyes, so get in touch if you might be interested. In the meantime, I’ve set myself a 60-hour goal for July’s Camp Nano to put towards these passes. Hopefully I’ll finish the first pass completely, and maybe be able to start the second. I want to average 1-2 hours a day, and no more than 3 in a day, to keep my focus and avoid getting sloppy.

If anyone else is doing Camp, let me know what you’re working on.

Hiatus and Feedback

In case you haven’t noticed (and I wasn’t expecting you to), I have taken a bit of a hiatus.

I’m not doing anything on social media and haven’t been working on my manuscripts. I hope this will pass, but I had a conversation today with an author that made me think on the writing process enough to share some thoughts.

The process really is different for everyone.

I know what you’re thinking. ‘Of course it’s different. Obviously. Writers follow many different paths at every stage.’

Yes. It’s something we hear over and over again. But sometimes it’s more subtle than that. Sometimes those different processes come up in ways we don’t notice, especially when it comes to giving or receiving advice and feedback.

I’ll be honest, I sometimes struggle with feedback. It can take a week or two for something to click. And sometimes, more recently in particular, I dig in my heels and don’t want to make certain changes. That has always been part of my process. But I have also jumped on feedback, rushing to make changes because I knew how well the result would be.

Now don’t take this as resistance to feedback or change overall. I have been majorly revising for 2.5 years. I don’t have a social life anymore and I haven’t enjoyed a lot of old hobbies in years.

You’ll never meet the characters I already cut, or read the lines I loved but scrapped, or the chapters and scenes that I held onto for a while but eventually caved and rewrote. You’ll never know some of the embarrassingly-bad structural issues and pacing problems I faced for a few drafts. On the flip side, you won’t hear the well-intentioned advice that I ignored, even though, if I shared it, the book is now in a place where it would be clear why I did ignore it (where it wouldn’t have been clear at the time, because it was still too rough on-page). You won’t see the changes I made and then UNmade because they didn’t work.

So don’t take my comments as being work-shy or not committed, because I didn’t come all this way by sitting on my butt (figuratively– technically, I did because I don’t have a standing desk).

But sometimes there are things you don’t want to change. Things that could alter the core of what you are doing, or sacrifice parts of characters which you want the reader to see. This industry is subjective, but some things are more so than others.

Battling with feedback feels like it could be parenting. You’re wondering if you’re doing a good job. You read lots of books, you speak to your fellow parenting friends, you look online. You try to judge how best to teach, discipline, and show emotion and support while tailoring your approach to the personality, character, and needs of your offspring which are not necessarily the same as other people’s offspring. Some need stricter schedules and more firm boundaries, others flourish with a less hands-on approach. Using the wrong method can have unintended consequences. You’ll get advice everywhere, and sometimes people will push their advice with good intentions because they know it worked for their spawn.

But, like with writing, some stuff is more subjective than others. For example, there are different ways to teach a toddler based on their personality. But you definitely don’t want to feed them cleaning solution because it will 100% kill them. The former is variable, but the latter is fixed. One you can adjust, the other you can’t.

So how do you distinguish between the feedback to implement and the feedback that is safe to ignore? Or the process to use if you’re unsure? We hear about killing darlings all the time, but not about determining which ones to save. If you kill them all, do you still have a book? Which hill do you die on? When is it something that improves your story and when do you stand your ground?

If I find any answers, I’ll be sure to share.