“The only person who can really tell you what is happening to you is your own doctor, who peers into you with a light and a speculum, who samples your blood or urine, or who presses a sonogram paddle into your belly. If you are in trouble, bleeding, scared, or more depressed than you think you can handle on your own, you must find help. Read and research all you can, but remember that the one-on-one assistance of a real doctor is the only thing that will give you answers that count. If you don’t like or trust your doctor, then find one you can…”
I saved it because it bothered me so much to read. One-on-one assistance of a real doctor is the ONLY thing that will give you answers that count?! I disagree so much with this and it saddens me to know that women turn to doctors for support that they are unlikely to be able to provide, particularly if women are looking for compassion. My own ER doctor experience was horrendous and involved quotes like: “this is very common, it is just natural selection” and, “this wouldn’t hurt so much if you would just stay still,” as well as leaving bloody handprints streaked across the bed and blood on the floor (specifically after being told how very disturbed I was by all the blood). In contrast, I was treated with beautiful compassion (and actual, genuine, useful help) by every midwife I talked to. In defense of doctors though, I also went to my own family practice doctor for a follow-up visit and she said one of the best things I heard from anyone, doctor or not: “some women find comfort in knowing that love was all their babies ever knew.” And, before I left, she asked if she could give me a hug. That mattered more and lasted longer than any “advice” that she gave me about possible causes, trying, again, etc.
So, this week, related miscarriage articles and stories started catching my eye, such as this one that touches on the various dehumanizing ways many women are treated in medical care environments:
Rush of blood to my brain. Pounding in my ears. Breathing comes in short bursts. And I’m ushered out into the waiting area where I’m told to go home to wait for it to ‘come away’. And there I find myself, blinking in the sun, shaking like a leaf. So I waited. And waited. One week later the tiny form within still clung on. I saw it in my minds eye, not wanting to let go of me, its mother. Perish the thought. Instead I spent the week overly busy whilst somehow trying to recalibrate a defeated dream and birth date that would never occur. Finally, I just booked in for the D&C, and signed for an “excavation of contents.”
I am a psychotherapist and counsellor. I focus mainly on fertility in all its guises. From pre pregnancy to birth and beyond I am struck as women and their partners endure dehumanising experience after dehumanising experience, just like this one…
And, that reminds me of what Ina May said in her Birth Story documentary that the number one rule of maternity care should be Be Nice and she asks us to consider how just those two words could change maternity wards. While not miscarriage-specific, of course The Neighborhood Doula’s status on Facebook tonight jumped out at me:
“We need to treat women tenderly in labor. This may be the first time she has ever been treated that way. She will pass that on to her baby. If mom has a traumatic birth, filled with interventions she may be afraid of her baby. Fear of baby = disempowerment. A new mother should never feel that way. We need to treat dad with tenderness during labor too. If we treat him well, he will treat mom and baby well.”
Wise words from Ina May Gaskin at the 2012 Joyful Birth and Breastfeeding expo, Asheville, NC
Over the weekend, I was touched to see a photo from Stillbirthday on Facebook with a caption that almost made me cry because I think this perspective is SO important:
Supporting Birth Diversity means…
…Honoring that birth can occur, at any point in pregnancy.
The word “birth” is not reserved for full term, neither is it exclusively for live babies.
“Miscarriages are labor, miscarriages are birth. To consider them less dishonors the woman whose womb has held life, however briefly.” –Kathryn Miller Ridiman
I also read several articles about other women’s experiences with miscarriage as a birth event such as this moving exploration of “missing” when your expectation was of carrying:
Instead I was overwhelmed by pain that felt like the worst wrenching of labor, contractions that came so fast I could barely breathe, shaking and numbness in my limbs that finally made me crawl to the phone and call the nurse who told me to get to the ER as fast as we could. I’d never heard stories of the real, raw truth of what it means to miscarry, so I had no idea what to expect.
But just because a death comes early does not mean it is lighter to bear or let go…
And this article that touches on the birth event concept, as well as issues of guilt and blame, as well as the idea of miscarriage as a rite of passage:
That is why there is no doubt in my mind that any woman – and indeed any family – who goes through a miscarriage should see it as a rite of passage. The more that miscarriage is seen as horrific, as something which somehow could have been preventable, and is therefore blamed on the woman’s health, fitness or diet, the more we are denying ourselves as fallible animals. We are making women responsible somehow for these acts of nature. We are instilling guilt and fear, layer upon layer. The result is a woman, and by extension her family, who no longer trusts her body to do what is right. It must be faulty – it miscarried. Her body was not healthy enough, not experienced enough or somehow not adequately formed to be able to carry the pregnancy to full term.
This is not a healthy attitude to have, and can only result in more negative birth outcomes. One of the reasons I do not have a black tinge around my memories of my son’s birth is that, through it all, I trusted in my body. I did what I could, and although I couldn’t understand WHY it had happened, I came to accept that this time was just not meant to be. I am an animal, and I am fallible. This time I fell into the statistics of 1 in 7 pregnancies failing. There’s really no more to it – no guilt, no shame, no fear for future pregnancies; it’s just not appropriate.
Having gone through this whole process I now feel more of a woman. Yes, really. Not only have I experienced the horror myself, but I have had countless other women suddenly willing to share their own story with me. In a sad way I feel as if I have entered a secret club, something taboo and a bit shameful. I’m not really sure why nobody wants to discuss miscarriage, when it affects so many of us. If it were accepted as a rite of passage for any woman, as much as childbirth itself, I feel we’d all have a more positive outlook on all births, whatever the outcome.
I also finished reading a quick book that was offered free on Kindle last week (now back to a regular, reasonable price) and saved these two quotes:
In the days that followed, the bleeding continued. Every time I would see the blood, I couldn’t help but think I was losing my child slowly bit by bit. It wasn’t just ordinary bleeding; it was the end of my baby’s life. It was the end of my dream to become a mom. I was devastated. I felt so lost and alone. Unfortunately, my husband didn’t seem to understand or be able to comfort me. To him, the baby was not even real yet. And since he was actually afraid of becoming a dad, I think in some ways he was relieved that it didn’t work out. In my mind, I had lost a child. Someone important to me had died, and I was grieving. The hard part is that I was grieving alone with no one to share my sorrow. This is often a problem for women who miscarry. You feel so sad and devastated, but many times your friends and family don’t get it. They don’t realize how much love you can feel for a baby you never saw, met or held. You try to turn to those you love for comfort and support, but they have little to offer you during the time when you need someone to lean on the most. It’s not that they don’t want to help or that they don’t care. No one wants to see you sad or hurting. They just don’t understand what you are feeling and the intensity of your emotions. Even the words they say to you can come across as insensitive or hurtful. They often dismiss your grief and trivialize your pain, all the while thinking they are being encouraging and supportive.
The author also touches on the depth of the grief following miscarriage and how very, very real it is (I’ve written before that one of the things I kept saying to my parents when they came to my house following Noah’s miscarriage-birth was, “this was real. I want you to know it was real.” (I honestly think I didn’t think miscarriages were “real” before, in the sense that I categorized them as something other than birth or death.)
According to The Women’s Encyclopedia of Health and Emotional Healing, “the length of the pregnancy is not as significant as how emotionally linked a woman feels to her baby.” The book goes on to say that if you felt your child was real very early in the pregnancy, then you may experience as much grief as someone who has lost a newborn. If the love for your unborn child was already there, you will be heart-broken and devastated. Your loss can affect you in many different ways, some emotional and some physical. You may notice muscle tension, have trouble sleeping, have difficulty concentrating, suffer from frequent headaches, cry a lot or even notice unusual sensations in your body.
And, these quotes made me remember a brief post from The Amethyst Network regarding early losses and the validity of feelings:
I felt very conflicted over this. I HAD grieved before, but if I was grieving over not-an-actual-miscarriage then did it count? If my loss wasn’t actually a loss, then was my grief valid?
I was talking with a friend (who happens to also be involved with TAN) and explained to her how I was feeling confused and upset over this. She taught me something important.
“You grieved” she said. “It doesn’t matter whether the physical experience was a miscarriage or not, because the grief was real, you experienced the emotional process, and that is valid.”
And so I would say to all mothers who have had an early loss, or a loss that they felt in their gut even though there was no proof. Your feelings–no matter what they are–are valid feelings. We each have different experiences, and we each have different feelings. But what you feel is legitimate, regardless of the circumstances.
This last photo (for some reason it refuses to let me caption it?!) is of some “hope” baubles created by members of the Rainbow Group (local loss support group) at our recent MamaFest event (more about this soon, I hope!).