Trips to the bathroom, checking over and over. A cramp in the stomach, is something going wrong? Maybe I shouldn’t run or do yoga? Should I not drink coffee or tea? Laser focus on basal cell temperature, fertile windows, and hormone injections. What happens if I go through this again…can I handle it? Will my heart literally break? I don’t want to feel this way ever again. Does any of this sound familiar? Pregnancy after a loss or many failed attempts at becoming pregnant is a unique and particular path. One that can be tremendously isolating and marked by a straight jacket of fear and anxiety. For so many of us who have walked it, our bodies and minds become a battleground of complexity. Our bodies the environment in which joy sparks as the possibility of new life begins, as well as the container for dispelling that which doesn’t take root or goes wrong. Our minds ever churning with the innumerable possibilities of the future both hopeful and full of fear. Pregnancy after loss is a journey that can be supported by talking with others, especially those who have also experienced it. It is a journey that craves careful witnessing of ones mind and the development of a relationship with ones body that is imbued with kindness and compassion. Ultimately it is a journey in which we face the terrifying reality that we can not control anything in this world. It’s a journey of letting go.
When I began to experience my first miscarriage, I remember time slowing. I felt the pounding of my heart, I stared at what I was seeing in disbelief and shock and felt the cogs of my mind begin to turn. Slowly at first, trying to make sense of what I was visually seeing and physically feeling and then more quickly, like a plane picking up speed down a runway before fully taking off and launching into an overwhelming amount of thoughts and feelings that began coursing through my mind and body. It did not take a moment to miscarry. It was a process. My body undoing what it had begun to do. Over several days of bleeding, crying, and doctor visits, the most immediate evidence of the experience concluded as the hormone levels in my body tapered off. The lasting psychological and emotional reverberations however, are still playing out. While my actual pregnancy was gone, the possibility of it in my mind was not. From the moment I discovered I was pregnant and figured out the due date my thoughts went to planning. Who would this being be? How would we make space for another child in our lives and in our hearts? What kind of sibling would my son be and what would his reaction be to the news? I started to imagine this child’s face and personality and begun to rearrange our house and lives to welcome them into our world. Dismantling the future I had created in my head was much more difficult than the very natural process my body had gone through to shed a pregnancy that was not viable. It is strange to feel two ways about your body in one moment. Absolute anger and rage at my body’s betrayal. It had always done what I wanted it to do for so many years. But in the moment I wanted it to do something so badly, it would not or could not. Yet I also felt deep gratitude that it somehow knew and proceeded to move through a process that so many of us have experienced most likely for a reason.
Becoming pregnant after a miscarriage, premature birth, death of a child, or failed attempts at becoming pregnant is scary – PEROD. Let’s call it like it is and just get it out there. Not that
we don’t feel the same familiar feelings of joy and hope, nausea and exhaustion, but it’s scary because we do. We have been here, felt these things before and then they were gone. So how does one move through all the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that arise when realizing you are pregnant again after you have grieved and processed your loss? I suggest a two pronged approach grounded in the same foundation — mindful awareness of the present moment. When we can become aware of what is happening in real time, several things happen. Reality becomes clearer and more focused. Instead of becoming swept down river by the normal rush of our thoughts, we remain with what is actually happening in this moment, NOW. Instead of looking to the future or remembering the past, mindful awareness of what is happening in the present allows us to settle into whatever is occurring. And when we become aware of what is occurring, we allow ourselves to feel and therefore process in a way that becomes difficult when our mind is thinking ahead too far or remains behind in what has already taken place.
So how does one become present? For myself and when I’m working with others, I use the body and its physical sensations as a starting point, a foundation. Tracking sensations in the body is a practice that takes time and attention and can be done in many ways. Body scans, progressive relaxation, certain movement practices, or simply letting one’s attention drift to your physical experience is a solid way to rest the patterns of the mind and become aware of what is happening in the NOW. For many, working with the mind in the present moment may be more challenging. Meditation and mindfulness practices to become aware of one’s thoughts can be uncomfortable, exhausting, and even scary as we being to sit with and observe our cognitions. There is often a misconception that the goal of meditation is to be without thought. This is not the complete picture. Meditation is about becoming aware of thoughts as if you are drifting above them and witnessing them from a distance. It’s about becoming familiar with your habitual thought patterns and choosing to notice them and then let them go or shift your attention so that we are not ruled by them, but aware of them as they are happening. The more we practice this, the more distance we get from the stories we create and tell ourselves and the more we realize that our thoughts are not our reality, they are not as solid as they once seemed.
Why is becoming aware of what is happening in our minds and bodies important when becoming pregnant after a loss? Because it allows us to practice how to trust ourselves again. To trust our bodies and in a sense, to distrust our minds. When we continually become aware of the sensations in our body, get familiar with our natural rhythms, and notice the signals that our physical form is giving us, we gain confidence in reading that information. When we witness our thoughts through mindfulness and meditation, we know when we are spinning, when we are irrational, or creating stories that aren’t true. We flag our thoughts that are habitual, familiar, and that don’t serve us. This is an invaluable skill, that like toning a muscle, takes practice and time. The following is an example of the complicated dance that can often play out in our minds and bodies. The mind creates the following, “Was that slight pinch the beginning of another miscarriage? Oh no, the cramps are starting. I shouldn’t get my hopes up, it’s just going to happen again.” If we have practiced listening to our body and noticing our thoughts, the following may occur. We slow down, we stop and observe the physical sensations. “No, it doesn’t quite feel like cramping. It feels like gas pain or a stitch in my side. And there are those thoughts again. I’m scared for good reason, but this is NOW and not what happened before. I know those thoughts, they are familiar, but just thoughts. Breathe.” This is an inner dialogue that may happen when one cultivates their relationship with the present moment.
This type of thoughtfulness takes time, practice, patience and the realization that we can’t always catch ourselves when we get caught up in a place of fear and anxiety and that’s OK. We don’t always check in with our bodies and stop to breathe. We can’t always stop the hamster wheel of our thoughts long enough to step off. But sometimes we can. Watching one’s thoughts and observing one’s body is ultimately a practice in letting go. There’s that thought again – we become aware of it – we label it – we shift our attention to the next thought or the space between our thoughts. We let go. We notice our body – there’s that squeezing in my sternum, lock in my jaw – we bring our awareness to it – it shifts. We let go. This ebb and flow of becoming aware of, naturally leads to a change as no single moment remains forever. It’s amazing the relief that can happen when we realize we have no control over what happens, in pregnancy, in birth, in life, or in death. We can rest into the unknown and find comfort in the fact that while we can’t control what happens with a pregnancy or birth, we do have authority over being present to whatever unfolds. Instead of being swept downriver by the past or future, we are moved by the current, yet remain floating on the surface of the present.