As birth professionals, we are often cautioned against sharing our personal stories. We must remember that it is her birth and her story, not ours. In doula and childbirth educator trainings, trainees are taught to keep their own stories to themselves and to present evidence-based information so that women can make their own informed choices. As a breastfeeding counselor too, I must remind myself to keep my own personal experiences out of the helping relationship. My formal education is in clinical social work and in that field as well we are indoctrinated to guard against inappropriate self-disclosure in a client-helper setting. In each environment, we are taught how to be good listeners without clouding the exchange with our own “baggage.” The messages are powerful—keep your own stories out of it. Recently, I have been wondering how this caution might impact our real-life connections with women?
This week I’ve been reminded several times about the power of sharing stories in a variety of contexts. I’ve also been thinking about miscarriage and miscarriage stories and how they need to be told.
I read a touching and heart-wrenching unexpected birth story of a baby at 19 weeks while the author was traveling in Mongolia:
But the truth is, the ten or twenty minutes I was somebody’s mother were black magic. There is no adventure I would trade them for; there is no place I would rather have seen. Sometimes, when I think about it, I still feel a dark hurt from some primal part of myself, and if I’m alone in my apartment when this happens I will hear myself making sounds that I never made before I went to Mongolia. I realize that I have turned back into a wounded witch, wailing in the forest, undone.
A couple of weeks ago, one of my friends entered the miscarriage “club” that I so wish would gain no further members and wrote her vulnerable, visceral, story with raw intensity about the blood and grief of miscarriage:
Blood. As women we have a complex relationship with blood. The sight of our red-stained underwear can elate us, relieve us, annoy us, embarrass us, disappoint us, or devastate us depending on our life stage and intentions. The arrival of our period can bring the sweetest relief when we dread becoming pregnant. Conversely, it can lower the cruelest blow when our efforts to conceive have not been successful and we deeply long for a child. And somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, is the unfortunate experience of finding yourself ill-prepared for Aunt Flow in a public location…thank goodness for kind friends (or total strangers) who provide emergency tampons in such situations.
I have been thinking about blood a lot because I just had a terrifying, violent, and heartbreaking experience with my own blood. That sounds so hokey to say, that I “had an experience with my blood.” But I did. It was me and my blood. Doing battle. So much blood. There was no one else.
My baby died.
Three words. It only took me three words to tell you, friend, acquaintance, or stranger, what happened to me. I wonder how many more words it will take to tell myself — the MAMA, the bearer of lost life — what happened.
Miscarriage stories often bring up the question of “when to tell” about pregnancies, with mothers lamenting that they told “too soon,” OR wishing that they had told, so they wouldn’t have to bear the loss with such aloneness. I retain enough scars from pregnancy loss, despite my successful pregnancy-after-loss experience too, that my initial reaction to anyone’s new pregnancy announcement is always fear, not joy. I worry every time I see a Facebook announcement that I will then see a sad follow-up a couple of weeks later—my main thought being, “what if she has to look back on this and be so sad?” However, that does not mean I think she shouldn’t tell, I just hold such hope in my heart for her that she doesn’t end up entering the club too.
I love this article about why it is okay to tell:
I’m angry that we live in a world where talking about miscarriage and first trimester pregnancy is still taboo. Where a woman must go to great lengths to hide her fatigue, nausea, sudden diet changes and pain, both emotional and physical, just to be polite.
Staying quiet for 12 weeks while you grow a human being inside of you is nothing short of completely insane.
Thanks in large part to social media, people have no problem opening up about personal details to those they might not have shared with in the past. The curtain of privacy has been pulled back, yet this one life-changing event remains shrouded until you reach a certain threshold.
I respect any woman’s decision to keep her pregnancy or miscarriage a secret, but I don’t think we should feel ashamed if we decide to share the news with whomever we choose, whenever we choose.
Take a look around you. Chances are, if you’re sitting in a room with five women of childbearing age, one of them has had (or will have) a miscarriage. And if you’re one of them, don’t be afraid to open up. You just might find comfort in the arms of a nurse, in the knowing nod of a trusted friend, or in kind words of an Internet stranger — the war stories of unlikely heroes.
I was also deeply touched by this heartbreaking and very honest exploration of a mother’s experience in spending time with the body of her baby Thor who was stillborn:
This was when I understood: Thor was our baby. He did not belong to the hospital. He did not belong to the funeral home. He was ours.
So began my life with Thor. Thor pulled me to him like a magnet. I craved him. I never thought he was real, if by real you mean alive or in some way sentient after death. I just wanted to be with him. Not with him in spirit. With him in body.
I’d carried his body inside me for nine months; I’d felt it kicking for the last five or six of them. That body had forced its way out of me early in the morning of Nov. 12, 2008, and along the way it had turned from a living body to a dead body, but it was still Thor. Why should the body that was Thor transmogrify from a beloved member of the family, from a familiar part of my own body, into a repellent object just because it had died? This was my child.
And, this very honest, detailed, thorough miscarriage story:
I have a folder on my computer called “1st Pregnancy” and it is full of things that still make me sad. Pictures of my growing belly, a video of us telling our family the news that we were pregnant, this story, and the pictures we took from the miscarriage that happened one year ago today. I am a student of traditional midwifery, so my take on the experience, and the details I share may be different than most miscarriage stories. It is really long, really honest, and really raw, but I wanted to share it in its entirety, both to honor my experience, to share it with others that are going through similar stories themselves, and for those that support women (friends or clients) that are experiencing a pregnancy loss. This story was written in the days after the miscarriage, and I am thankful that I took the time and energy to put it all down. I hope that this story can serve as a resource for women going through pregnancy and baby losses, and that we at Indie Birth can provide support for these experiences as well.
via A Miscarriage Story.
These stories reminded me of my own past post:
“…When you miscarry, the body has already broken its ties with the baby, but I’d already put this child into my family in my imagination. That was what was hard to break…”
While it might be hard to see everything, I chose the bridge to symbolize my feeling of having crossed the bridge to the “other side”—meaning first the fact that after Noah and my second miscarriage, I felt separated from women who had not experienced loss by a bridge and as if I’d crossed over into new territory and left my old, happy, naive pregnant self behind (along with the other non-loss mamas. A little more about this bridge here). AND, that I also felt like with Alaina’s birth that I crossed a bridge into the unknown and to the end of the pregnancy-after-loss journey. Her birth represented the “other side” of PAL. So, at the end of the bridge I drew a question mark in the sand, representing all the questions I had to get past and over in order to get to my new baby.
We also need to remember how many women have stories they are holding close to their hearts and that our casual inquiries or thoughtless remarks about family size may leave further scars. This essay is about miscarriage at ten weeks and is a reminder why biting your tongue before casually remarking on someone else’s family size or fertility is a good idea:
During a recent girls’ night at a friend’s house, I sat cross-legged on the living room floor sipping coffee and catching up with four other women. One friend had just finished sharing the antics of her toddler who gave himself a haircut during quiet time when another friend announced the pending arrival of her third child—”a complete accident” as she described it. Then she turned her attention to me and assured me in front of the other women in the room, “It’s okay if you hate me. I understand.” I was stunned and mortified. I knew this was not her intent, but her statement minimized my loss in such a way that I felt small and petty for struggling with infertility.
So, is there anything to say, or to do for those who are grieving? For people I know, I mail little gifts—usually jewelry—so that they know that their loss is real to me too and that they are not alone. I recently found this little handout on “how to help” (not miscarriage-specific, but for anyone going through a hard time):
Here’s the big thing I’ve learned: no two people need help in the same way. I’ve gotten to the point where I have very little pride and I’ll just take what goodness comes my way. But for other people, well intentioned but actually unhelpful help is just one more thing they have to deal with.
This is especially true when people express sympathy and then say, “Let me know if you need anything.”
I was also touched by this article by a bereaved mother about what she wishes people would say after the death of her daughter:
…Nothing at all when I start crying. I do it every day. It’s my normal and if you give me a minute or two, I’ll probably be able to put on my social mask again.
Some kind words to accompany those pictures of a new family member that you’re sharing with me. To bereaved parents, seeing a newborn can be a cruel shove back to the time when our world was safe, when our late child was an infant, like the one in the pictures you’re showing me, destined for a future full of love and full of light. An infant that blossomed into a gorgeous girl. A girl that left this world about 70 years too early…
My own family is coming up on the anniversary of my grandmother’s death. I’m teaching three classes again this session and it is a lot to manage at once. I felt pretty stressed in advance about my Fort Leonard Wood class, Working with Families, because last time I was teaching it one year ago was during my grandma’s sudden and brutal illness and it was unbelievably hard to be teaching about families while my own family was experiencing so much stress and sadness (and then also planning a trip to CA and helping with a memorial service, etc. while trying to grade papers and finish class.) Three weeks ago, on the first night of class, I found myself acknowledging the upcoming anniversary to my class and sharing a story about my mom texting me while singing to my grandma at her bedside, which prompted a brief tears-in-front of class episode which caught both my students and me by surprise. I feel like there is “work” to do here in my own family during this anniversary month and yet the hustle and bustle of kids and responsibilities is making it hard to settle down and sit with it. 😦