Monthly Archives: December 2014

A Partial View from Later

h“It gets better.”

– Slogan from the 2010 It Gets Better Project founded to give hope to LGBTQ youth and quoted in a pregnancy loss group.   The group member stated that the words also summed up her experience of how her life had changed in the year after she had experienced multiple pregnancy losses.


I received a postcard from myself this week.  It was sent from Burning Man, the yearly event in the Nevada desert devoted to art and self-expression, and was part of someone’s art/gift.  The idea was to invite people to write postcards to themselves from the festival so that they could capture their thoughts from the experience and ponder them at a later time.

The man who was leading the project said that he would send my card at a random date, which ended up being a little less than 4 months later.  Given that I had initiated this piece of correspondence and had done so in the fairly recent past, there wasn’t much about the card that surprised me. The only thing that gave me pause was my closing signature- “Love, D”- which seemed both kind of sweet and wholly unnecessary in a letter to one’s self.

Receiving the note, though, especially at the end of the year, led me to think about time and how, through effort and circumstance, we change and experience different versions of ourselves.  It also reminded me of how different my grief has felt through the years, and how I have heard this experience described by others.

As you may be keenly aware of at this point, the loss of someone to whom you are attached is not all felt in one brief episode of your life.  Although the most intense pain is usually experienced early on, the vibrations of the loss will likely be evident in various ways and intensity through the years.  There is a part of our love and loss that is put in our life for keeps.  However, the way we think and feel about it is likely to change quite a bit.

Losing a baby often sets a line of before and after in our personal story.  We change to a “new normal” and then we change again.  How the loss of our baby hits us emotionally and what it means to the arc of our lives may be drastically different 1 month, 1 year or 10+ years later.  Major loss is a crisis that shakes and breaks a certain story we have in our minds of what is supposed to happen.  The version of who we were and where we thought we were going is altered.

When I reflect on my own pregnancies and losses, I can recall very different versions of how I saw the world and my place in it.  There was a time when I looked at my future with the expectation that I would be raising a daughter.  There was another time when I thought I might never be happy again.  I was remarkably wrong on both counts.

Clients have told me of similar experiences in their lives.  One woman spoke to me about how she viewed a pregnancy loss that had happened years before.   Initially, she felt that the loss had hurt her in a way that would never be viewed as anything other than tragic.   Years later, rather than be entirely painful, she noted that the memories of that time had taken on a gentler, rather sweet quality in a richer life history.  In particular, she recalled the internal transition of seeing herself as a mother and expressed appreciation for understanding that she had that part of her inside.  Although the memories of it were still sad, she viewed the pregnancy as an important and tender experience.

The passing of time and introduction of new circumstances tends to soften some of the pain of loss.  It may also lead you to see how your values, priorities or sense of purpose were affected.  You may have decided to focus more or less on having a family or on an entirely different area of your life.  You may have found that you have more empathy for others suffering loss.  My guess is that you have learned more about yourself and pain than you ever cared to, and that some of that information might have turned out to be useful.

This isn’t a fancy way of saying that time heals all wounds. Rather, it’s that we change with time and interact differently with our grief.  The loss is not gone, or made insignificant, but we don’t stay at a fixed point.  We have had a wider set of experiences, including time spent learning to tolerate the loss.  If nothing else, as time goes on you may have more empathy for your former self who went through so much.  You might also feel humble when contemplating the twists and turns of life that your future self will encounter.

For my part, for this moment, I’m going to take a cue from my Burning Man self of last August and try to take a warm and welcoming stance toward my future self.  I wish her well and hope she gets a lot of great postcards.

Wherever you are in your grief journey, I wish you a big breath of peace today.

Happy New Year and all the best in 2015.

 

 

Comparing our Losses

“At least I got to hold my baby.”

“Her loss was later than mine, so it was much worse.”

“I don’t have a partner- no one can understand what I’m going through.”


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It is simply a human tendency to compare ourselves and our struggles to others.

For those of us grieving babies, this impulse can be one of the primary ways by which we attempt to orient ourselves and provide ourselves with comfort while walking around this new, unexplored planet.  We compare how far along we were in the pregnancy or how old our baby was, what we have experienced emotionally and physically, and how we are coping.  I did this the day I lost my baby twelve years ago, and I do this today as I write this.  It is both the most normal thing in the world and a potentially damaging bit of thinking.

Sometimes the comparison may bring us comfort.  I’ve heard women say things like “at least I didn’t have to make any decisions about ending my baby’s life” or “it would have been so much harder if I had been further along” or “at least I got to see my baby.”  It may give us a sense of perspective that our loss is not the very worst experience we can imagine or have heard about.  It may help us tolerate our own pain to acknowledge that someone somewhere is surviving a worse fate.

Unfortunately, comparing ourselves to others can also hurt us. This is because it’s never quite a fair comparison between our rich, complicated lives and circumstances to those of another.  Especially when the reality is we may not really know that much about some one else’s experience. Additionally, these comparisons may create distance between people who may be in a great place to support each other.  While leading multiple pregnancy loss groups for women, I had an up close picture of the different ways we use comparisons between ourselves and others in processing our grief after losing a baby.

In the pregnancy loss groups that I’ve led, some of the women had recurrent early miscarriages and some had later losses (after twenty or more weeks’ gestation).  A few of the women had delivered babies so prematurely that they lived only minutes or hours.  In some ways, it was a powerful link for a woman to feel that another in her group experienced a similar type of loss or losses.  To share the heartbreak of what it had been like to get the best news of one’s life, only to have hopes crushed with the onset of early bleeding, formed a bond.  Similarly, when someone had lost a baby most of the way through a pregnancy, a process often accompanied by physical and emotional trauma, it could bring comfort to them to hear that someone else had survived something similar.

But here’s the thing:  it turned out that these were not the only categories of difference that mattered to the group members.  Some of the women had living children prior to their loss while others did not.  Some had earlier life experiences of a pregnancy ending in abortion or adoption which affected how they perceived this perinatal loss.   A few had lost multiples and most had been carrying one baby.   Some of the women had known infertility issues while others had every reason to expect that they could easily conceive again.  Most of the women had partners, but some did not.  Most women were straight; some gay or bisexual.  Some of the women had severe physical or emotional trauma associated with their losses, while some did not.  Some had losses caused by factors (such as physical limitations or genetic issues) that would make future pregnancies potentially higher risk or more likely to result in a baby with severe medical problems, while some did not.  Some had subsequent pregnancies while in the group and some did not.

All of these differences mattered or had the potential to matter to any given group member at any given time.  It periodically made the group very challenging.  The feelings of envy, guilt and isolation were often expressed as people noticed a difference that they thought made someone else’s experience better or worse, more or less hopeful, or more or less survivable.

The glue holding the group together, though, was a simple bond.  All of these women were grieving a baby (or babies) to whom they were attached.  They all grieved someone for whom they had feelings of love and about whom they had been excited, someone for whom they were willing to try rearranging their lives, someone so small and yet so big that the loss had left them rearranged.  The attachment and loss had carved out a space inside them and they were somehow connected to one another through those spaces.

And that’s what made them people of the same planet.  This was a group of people who could understand each other’s language and customs, even if they were not immediate relatives.  These women shared many of the same feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, confusion, envy and anxiety.  Their self-esteem and identity had taken a beating because they had started out on the road of pregnancy and dropped off the map before reaching the place where they had a living baby.   They inhabited a planet where life without their baby was hard, sometimes seemingly impossible.  They were in a  place where life meant living in a body that was missing someone or something, with hearts that were split open, but where minimal tangible evidence of what was lost remained.  Seeing the shared pain opened up them up to feeling compassion for each other, which often helped them to foster self-compassion.   It gave them something to recognize, feel and tolerate together.

When comparing our losses, just like our lives, we are all comparing apples to oranges. Differences are real but they may not be the most useful thing to focus on.  In this time of your pain and vulnerability, it may help to notice who can bridge the difference and be with you where you are.  The bridge between you and another may be made by a shared life experience that shaped something inside you in a similar way or it may be the empathy and skill that enables another to come find you where you are.  Try to notice who is emotionally available to you.  Let that person (or people) help you by being in this with you.  You are like no one else but you’re not alone.