Category Archives: Vulnerability

Little Revelations

“The human species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories.” 

Mary Catherine Bateson

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“Have you watched that show?”  “The character had a miscarriage and her whole family reacted like it mattered.”

“There was an article in the paper about someone who had a similar type of loss as mine– I’m glad that the topic is getting some attention.”

“Reading that book was powerful— her story was different from mine but I had the same feelings she did.”

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My friend John is a movie buff.  During a conversation a few months ago, he encouraged me to see Roma on the biggest screen possible because the location and style of filming are so stunning.  Although it was playing in a nearby theater, I watched it instead on my laptop, reminding myself as I started that I could slam the screen down at any time.

The part I was worried about getting through was the frank depiction of a stillbirth, first pointed out to me in an email from a past leader of neonatal loss groups.  She had loved the film but also wanted to give people a trigger warning about the content.  I believe that such warnings can be very helpful in minimizing or avoiding trauma through re-exposure and can also just give information that guides us in deciding what we are up for viewing.  I’ve found it useful at times to know something about what’s in a film and to make a decision about whether I want to watch it at all and, if so, when and under what circumstances.

Of course, most of life doesn’t come with warning labels.  We may feel great pain watching a commercial, driving past a hospital or hearing someone being called our baby’s name.  Our movements through the world are going to take us into difficult feelings, despite our best efforts. It makes sense for us to take care of ourselves as well as we can, including protecting ourselves when we have the ability and need to do so.

I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have wanted to see Roma in the early months, maybe years, after my losses.  I remember being cautious about what I saw and how strong my reactions were when I went outside my comfort zone.  I also recall when members of the pregnancy loss group that I led spoke about how affected they were when watching the kid movies Finding Nemo and Up because of their themes of loss.  Even the stories that are designed for children may not feel safe enough.

In considering Roma though, I felt pulled toward both the story and a scene with a version of baby loss that so many people were viewing.  I wanted to know if I would see some reflection of myself or maybe of others I’ve known.  I wanted to see if there would be meaning for me or if I would just need to pull away.

I didn’t end up slamming down my computer screen or fast forwarding through the stillbirth sceneI couldn’t even look away, although I somehow don’t think I saw everything.  It was gut wrenching, heartbreaking, and I can see why some in the loss community wanted to be given a heads up about what was coming or for the scene to be different.  I’m also glad I saw it.

I certainly felt a lot of emotion watching Roma, just as I have when watching other movies or shows involving a pregnancy or infant loss.   But after the repeated holding of my breath and crying throughout the very long scene in question and then sitting through the rest of the movie, I felt strangely calm.  For me, seeing a realistic depiction of loss from the outside made something inside me feel a bit more revealed and settled.

It strikes me that, similar to warning labels, life doesn’t always come with healing labels either.  I’ve had people tell me about TV shows, movies, articles, books and other information floating around in the world that resonated with them emotionally and provided some relief from feeling isolated in their experience. Sometimes stories give us hope, deeper understanding or connection with another.  They may give us some of the solace that we seek.    

This is absolutely not a recommendation for anyone to expose themselves to provocative and upsetting material, only acknowledging that between people and even within the course of an individual life, what is distressing or helpful may vary.  It is also an invitation to consider that since so many images and stories are offered to us on a daily basis, we might want to bring awareness to the types of information on baby loss that’s out there and see if any of it is right for us.

When others take on the subject of perinatal loss, whether in popular culture, clinical material and, in some cases, politics or news, it invites us to glance at our memories.  It can be another way to look at and maybe integrate our loss into our lives a bit more as we see it from yet another place in time or point of view.  Grief is a long road, with lots of opportunities to see part of our inner experience mirrored and distilled.

As a society, it seems that we’re showing more interest in going to these places than we did in the past.  We see miscarriage, stillbirth and other types of neonatal loss shown as an impactful and real life event in our more recent television (This is Us), movies (Return to Zero, Don’t Talk About the Baby), and memoirs that give us first person reports (The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy and Poor Your Soul by Mira Pticin).  On the road more irreverently traveled, occasionally someone tells their story with humor firmly intertwined with the pain as with Monica Murphy Lemoine’s Knocked Up, Knocked Down.

Some books on pregnancy and infant loss have been clinical, and they explain and speak to a relevant part of the journey, often including instructive and meaningful case examples that may speak to us.  Coming from a different angle, articles on the racial disparities of perinatal outcomes have been informing us that African-American women experience miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm birth and infant death at a significantly higher rate than white women in our country.  These pieces sound an alarm about our need to better understand medical and social factors that contribute to these tragedies.  For many people, the articles may resonate with their own medical past and emotional pain.

Some writing on baby loss includes poetry, which may feel appropriate and useful for describing some of the “beyondness” of something bigger and more awful than our daily range of experience.  In a time where we may feel at a loss for words, this type of writing may provide comfort and way to describe and more fully understand our experience of baby loss.

The proliferation of blogs has also included significant contributions as well.  Writers in this medium offer individual versions of miscarriage, stillbirth, loss due to prenatal diagnosis and infant death, often with an unvarnished presentation of the shorter and longer term experience of living after these losses.  In addition to the many individual blogs, Still Standing is a site devoted to writings about child (and perinatal) loss and the overlapping topic of infertility.  The site Modern Loss has a section just for miscarriage and stillbirth.  In our time of the “Me Too” movement and social media, it seems fitting that we have more immediate and overt ways of stating what previously was often kept hidden or minimized.  One way or another, our stories are coming out.

This week I finished reading The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, a novel that is and isn’t about pregnancy loss.  Like certain moments in watching something on a screen or hearing a conversation, it moved something in me related to grief.   It’s set in a rural Alaskan landscape of the 1920s, a world far removed from mine.  The story seemed full of cycles, and reminded me of how many times in our lives, voluntarily and by accident, we turn toward and away from memories and feelings about our loss. Ivey’s description of bereavement in harsh and beautiful circumstances was quite vivid, and I think it will stay with me for a long time.

Still and All

still-and-all


“Taking steps is easy/Standing still is hard”  Regina Spektor, You’ve Got Time

“Just for a moment, let’s be still.”  The Head and the Heart, Let’s Be Still


In the first couple of weeks after I lost my baby, I wrote some poems.  Prior to that time, I hadn’t written poetry since high school and never voluntarily.  It was not and is not “my thing”.

One of my poems was basically a fantasy about how I could have “fought back” against the events at the hospital after getting the news that something was going wrong with my pregnancy.  In my reimagined version, instead of cooperating with the medical monitoring to determine that my baby had no heartbeat, having labor induced and allowing myself to be escorted through the labor and delivery process, I instead overturned the equipment, picked up a rock and then used it to shatter the scene.

Looking back over 14 years later, I can read a lot into that poem.  But the visceral memory and accompanying word that stands out for me today is vulnerable.  I remember lying in the hospital bed feeling emotionally and physically exposed to the elements.  It was this state that preceded and led to those thoughts about fighting back.  I remember sensing that I had no defenses, no power and had no ability to do anything of consequence.

Baby loss puts us in a state of vulnerability.  Not the kind of vulnerability where we may choose to take a risk in the service of personal growth.  More like the ground shaking beneath your feet, house spinning in the tornado, canoe going over the waterfall version of vulnerable.  It’s involuntary and overwhelming.

When we are in such a place, we are beyond protecting ourselves in the usual and customary manner.  The walls are down throughout the castle and the bad thing can find us.  It may be loss, hurt, trauma or all of the above.

After losing a baby, we may (consistently or episodically) have a strong impulse to do something.  We may have a strong desire to undo our loss, however unrealistic that may be.  We might feel a need to take the advanced placement course in grief so we can do it faster and better and get back to the life we were expecting.  We may have an impulse to make a quick decision to begin trying again for another baby.  Or maybe we feel compelled to return to work as soon as possible in order to bury ourselves in something other than the pain and fear that is our grief.

It is perfectly understandable that at such a time, we may feel a need to take action and we may need distractions.

We may also at times need something much quieter to help us heal ourselves.

If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you probably remember the final pose called Savasana or  “the corpse” pose.  After whatever style and duration of practice–complete with conscious breathing, seeing the world from different physical perspectives and stretching with varying intensity– we are instructed to lie down on our backs with eyes closed, limbs loose, palms up and to release any remaining tension in the body.

From a physical point of view, the corpse pose seems to be one of extreme vulnerability.  We choose to temporarily make ourselves immobile and blind while stretched out on the ground among other people.  Our hands are empty and open.  And rather than being vigilant about the whole thing, we are instructed to relax.  It’s a seemingly simple exercise that can go deep.  Some say it is a time to let the mind and body process what has happened in the session.  Some say it is a time to focus on nothing and meditate without the distraction of movement.  I’ve heard more than one teacher call it the hardest pose.

Richard Rosen, in the online version of Yoga Journal (Aug 2007), states that “in corpse pose, we symbolically ‘die’ to our old ways of thinking and doing”.    He also advises us to “Remember the words of the great sage Abhinavagupta:  ‘Abandon nothing.  Take up nothing.  Rest, abide in yourself, just as you are.’”

After my loss, I was not so much into the idea of abiding in myself.  I wanted to resist what had happened.  Failing that, I wanted to do something to rush through the awful looking season of grief in front of me.  I’ve seen this look and impulse now in so many faces–  the one that says “I need to get out of this feeling- NOW.”

Following a drastic injury to our lives, we may experience the need to fight back with all we have.  Not taking action may feel weak, and exacerbate a sense of vulnerability.  If grief is going to be a long journey, we may feel like we should hurry up and get on with it.  But despite the rush to feel something else, there might be reasons to take a moment to slow down or be still.

After having our heart broken we usually aren’t ready to be in the fast lane for anything.  It’s hard to heal when we’re always in motion.  And grief is known to be a generally exhausting time in which we need fewer responsibilities and more support.  We need time to rest and time to consider how to tend to ourselves in our lives without our babies.  We also need to practice bearing our feelings, not just avoid them.  What may seem like a time of extended vulnerability may actually be a time of gathering strength.

So whether we see it as a time to practice getting stronger, a meditation or just taking a knee in respect for the part of us that is gone, we may need to find a way to pause and be with ourselves for a bit.  We may even need to lie down and let the ground hold us as we practice just being.  We may need to have times where we see former parts of ourselves die just a little and witness the passing before considering the next part of life.