Category Archives: childbirth education

Miscarriage Doulas…

On a pregnancy loss message board that I read, a mother posted asking if she was the only one who experience her miscarriage as painful (because no one mentioned it being painful in the stories she had read and she was very shocked by the pain involved). I had a couple of thoughts in response to this question. I also shared my “favorite” miscarriage-birth quote: “Miscarriages are labor, miscarriages are birth. To consider them less dishonors the woman whose womb has held life, however briefly.” (Kathryn Miller Ridiman).

I do think the amount of pain probably depends in part on where you are in the pregnancy. Since a lot of women experience very early miscarriages (less than 7 weeks), I think that is perhaps why you don’t hear them talk about pain. OR, because a lot of women end up having D & C’s and thus do not go through the “natural miscarriage” experience, perhaps that is why pain doesn’t figure heavily into narrative. Or, maybe because there is so much emotional pain involved as well, the physical pain gets overshadowed? That said, my 6-week miscarriage was not physically painful at all (not that it couldn’t be for some women, of course). However, my miscarriage at nearly 15 weeks was indistinguishable from a full-term labor. It was just the same, except with the addition of MASSIVE blood clots following the baby. I value his birth as another birth experience in my life, but at the same time I am SHOCKED that miscarriage is so often overlooked as a birth event that requires tenderness and support (where are the miscarriage doulas and midwives?! While in a way, I feel proud of myself for have an “unassisted” birth-miscarriage, I could have used the care of a knowlegable, caring woman rather than to just be left on my own trying to gauge how much blood loss is normal, etc.)

So, what about “miscarriage doulas” as an idea? I have seriously thought about becoming one. I am trained as a birth doula, but have no interest in actually working as one, but being a m/c doula does interest me a lot. I feel like adding a section to my business website (I’m a childbirth educator) that says, “having a miscarriage? Call me and I’ll come over and rub your back and bring you things to drink…”

I decided two things shortly after my first miscarriage: one, that I was going to write a book specifically about how to deal (i.e. “what to expect when you’re having a miscarriage”), because I felt very betrayed by having this huge wealth of pregnancy, birth, and midwifery books all around me and NONE of them had the information I was looking; And, two, that if anyone was ever to tell me she was in the process of miscarrying I would go to her right away (unfortunately, it seems like people feel like they have to tough it out alone or don’t want to “bother” anyone and so only tell after the fact). Well, if she wanted me to go, obviously, not against her will. And, that would include going to the hospital with her if she needed a m/c doula there, not just for “home miscarriage.”

Thankfully, I had already read a long message board thread about, “what exactly do you see with a miscarriage” long before I ever had a m/c experience of my own, so I knew to expect mine to be like labor and not to be a “heavy period” (OMG, I want to scream when I see miscarriages described like that in books over, and over, and over again! Though, then when I had my second m/c it WAS, in fact, like the mythical heavy period, so then I understood a little better why that was a prevalent descriptor.)

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Pregnancy Trauma

A month after my first miscarriage, I ran into a friend in the doctor’s office. She offered to listen if I needed to talk and shared that she’d “been there” too, but “no where near as traumatic as you.” At the time, I felt a little puzzled by the term—I didn’t feel like what I experienced with Noah could really be called “traumatic.” I did feel like the placenta aftermath was traumatic as was the blood loss and fear of death, but his birth was not traumatic and that is what I was focused on. As time went on, I was interested to note that my interest in reading and writing about birth and my birth activism interest hadn’t changed. But, what had changed was my interest in working with or being around pregnant women. And now, I have this experience of being pregnant again and that feeling of not wanting to talk about it out loud—and feeling nervous, skittish, and like saying “stop!” if other people talk about it out loud (like, “do you actually think I’m going to have a living baby?”). Not wanting to wear maternity clothes, etc. And what I realized is that I am not birth traumatized, but I am pregnancy traumatized and for me there is a difference between the two. My experience of birth with Noah was a positive one (as these things go), it made me feel strong and brave and proud of myself and it reaffirmed my sense of amazement at the capacity and capability of my body. The experience of losing the pregnancy, however, was scarring. One of the most painful experiences of my life (not including burying my baby) was having to put away all the maternity clothes that were unpacked and in my drawers. It was awful. I can still hardly stand to look at the tub where they all are now. And, I certainly haven’t gotten any of them back out and do not know if I will be able to wear some of them ever again (i.e. the shirt I was wearing during the ultrasound where we found out that he’d died).

Another painful experience was cutting my fingernails for the first time after Noah was born—why would this be painful? Because they were super-strong from pregnancy hormones and cutting them off felt like abandoning my last physical sign of pregnancy (also because the reason I had to cut them short was in order to try to feel around the edge of the stuck placenta). I have never been able to cut my fingernails again without remembering how it felt to cut off my strong, pregnant fingernails. The kids for days said things like, “you still have your strong mama fingernails!” Of all things to be “scarred” by, I know, but it was very painful.

There is STILL a bookmark in my Meditations for a Healthy Pregnancy book at the 15 week entry. I can hardly stand to look at the pictures in the pregnancy book or on my charts of the 13-15 week size fetus—but that is where my eyes automatically go. When I look at pregnancy books now, I only go to 15 weeks and stop—for me pregnancy arrested there. That is as far as it goes (mentally). If someone says they’re 14 weeks pregnant, I want to run away from them.

Shortly after he died, I put away all my pregnant belly necklaces that I like so much, because I couldn’t stand looking at them either. In the last week, I have gotten some of them back out and worn them a couple of times, though I feel strange and almost “scared” of them.

My kids, I think, have been pregnancy traumatized too. When we told them about the new baby (they never knew about my second m/c), L said, “I hope this one survives.” And, just now, Z (4) said to me, “I’m glad you’re pregnant, but I really hope this baby does not die.” Little four year olds shouldn’t have to know so much about that possibility 😦

This revelation about the difference between birth trauma and pregnancy trauma made a lot of things more clear to me—how it is that I can still enjoy birth stories and books about birth and that I still love writing about and talking about birth. Because birth itself didn’t hurt me—it affirmed me. But, pregnancy left me empty and sad. I can’t read a pregnancy announcement without thinking about putting away those clothes and cutting those fingernails.

This explains to me why I cringe slightly when I see someone else’s pregnancy announcement—because it seems hopelessly naïve in a way, because I hope so much that they don’t have to learn that for themselves, and because it is a painful reminder of what ended so sadly, and so suddenly, for me.

Books About Miscarriage

I already had quite a few books about miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss on my shelf prior to my own miscarriage (some from my CBE training and some from when I worked at the Ronald McDonald House). I read them all in the days following my own miscarriage and have since ordered and read many more. I wanted to share the list here in case it will help anyone else:

After Miscarriage: Medical Facts and Emotional Support for Pregnancy Loss–this was one of the best books I bought. It was lighter on the emotional side than many of the others. This isn’t necessarily good in and of itself, but it was what I needed to read after reading about 6 books with an emphasis on the emotional side and almost no exploration of the physical side (my observation of most books on this subject). Plus, this book was published in 2008, so it is fairly up-to-date and so I trusted the information in it about miscarriage causes more than I did the info in the 90’s books I have. I also liked that the sole focus is on miscarriage.

Empty Arms: Coping with miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death-one of the things I found interesting in this one was the question, “Are miscarriage and stillbirth really all that different? Is stillbirth more painful because the baby was carried longer?…’What is miscarriage, but an early stillbirth?'” This is how I felt about my own experience—like it was an early stillbirth. Perhaps if there had been no baby to see and touch and relate to, I would separate the two more readily??

Help, Comfort, & Hope after Losing Your Baby in Pregnancy or the First Year—this one is one of the best for sure. It is from 1997, but because it doesn’t address medical issues, it is completely relevant. This is one that I had my shelf since my time at RMHC and I’m glad I had it, it was very helpful and I really recommend it. It covers a lot of ground, because it includes infant loss throughout the first year of life. It has helpful sections for family members, friends, and professionals. Highly recommended!

Mourning Sickness: Stories and poems about miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss—a more creative, exploratory, personal look at the experience. I marked one quote in which the woman says (referring to being at the hospital): “This is no place to have any real feelings or to let myself wonder why this is happening.” That is exactly how I felt at the doctor’s office when we found out Noah died. I felt like they were expecting me to cry or something, but what I felt was, “get me out of here and THEN I’ll let myself feel.” I even said that to the nurse-practitioner we’d seen—“I’ve got to process this later.”

Miscarriage: Women Sharing from the Heart—I got a lot out of this one emotionally. After Miscarriage was my favorite for medical information and this one was one of my favorites for the emotional side as well as for exploring grief and transformation.

Surviving Pregnancy Loss: a Complete Sourcebook for Women and Their Families—on the older side, didn’t get much out of it.

Unspeakable Losses: Healing from Miscarriage, Abortion, and Other Pregnancy Loss—something I marked from this one was “And before my own losses taught me differently, I had always assumed that once they were over, there was nothing more to say about this unseen losses.” Of course, there IS lots more to say. Hence, this blog. Another quote I marked from this book is: “As a culture, we seem to have an intolerance for suffering; we tend to want those who have experienced a loss of any kind to get on with their lives as quickly as possible. Often, by minimizing the impact of significant losses pathologizing those whose reactions are intense, and applauding those who seem relatively unaffected by tragic events, we encourage the inhibition of our grief. In both obvious and subtle ways, we tell those who grieve they are wrong to be so upset, to dwell on their miseries.”

Coping with a Miscarriage: Why it happens and how to deal with its impact on your family—I do not recommend this one. It is on the older side and it persists in referring to miscarriage as “spontaneous abortion” or even just “abortion.” I hate that. It drives me crazy and makes me mad. I know that SA is the technical, medical term for miscarriage, but I refuse to “own” the term. I have a hard enough time with “miscarriage” being enough. SA just feels like a slap in the face as well as just wrong. Like many medical terms for things affecting women, it is insulting in a way—like “incompetent” cervix or “irritable” uterus…

Pregnancy After a Loss: A Guide to Pregnancy after a Miscarriage, Stillbirth or Infant Death—I coincidentally had this one on my to-sell shelf for Amazon. I unlisted it and read it myself—at the time, I wasn’t ready to consider the possibility of trying again, so I probably need to re-read it.

Ended Beginnings: Healing Childbearing Losses—this is one I had on hand from my CBE training. It is good. Again, on the old side, but pretty much exclusively emotional, so it doesn’t really matter—it doesn’t feel “dated.”

Presenting Unexpected Outcomes–another one from my CBE training. Same other as Empty Arms above. It is helpful as an educator, but wasn’t particularly useful as a woman.

Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of Your Baby—another one focusing on emotional recovery.

For my kids, I bought the children’s book Something Happened. My older son (6) was reluctant to have me read it to him, but when I did, he kept nodding and saying things like “yeah.” It was an interesting experience. I’ve only read it to them once.

I also have two more that recently came from Bookins and I haven’t read them yet:

Coming to Term: Uncovering the Truth About Miscarriage—this one is written by a man whose wife had three miscarriages. He is a health writer and investigative journalist.

Miscarriage: Women’s Experiences & Needs—I don’t know anything about this one.

Maybe this seems like a lot or “too much” reading, but I have found it very helpful. Reading is what I do! So, having this experience is no different for me—I read in order to make sense of my own feelings and experiences. I also have found it helpful to paticipate in the Pregnancy and Birth Loss form at mothering.com. Though is is also scary in a way—there is SO MUCH PAIN carried in the world surrounding childbearing loss. It is staggering what so many women and families have gone through. My innocence is definitely lost and reading about other women’s experiences makes me worried about doing this over and over again (or having subsequent even more emotionally painful losses).

Responsibility and Birth Classes

As I have mentioned, I am a childbirth educator. I also have a tendency to be almost pathologically responsible and conscientious as well as very hard on myself in general. Since my miscarriage, I pushed back the start date of two of my scheduled classes and canceled one completely. This was hard for me to do because it is my business and I love the work and I want these women to have good classes, however, I obviously needed to do it then when I was physically recovering. So, today, one of my pushed back classes was supposed to start at 3:00. I felt like I was going to be able to do it. I got all ready and had all my stuff by the door ready to go, but I kept thinking “I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to do this.” Part of it is the same reason I don’t feel like reviewing “The Guide to Natural Childbirth” right now—my heart and soul aren’t really “in” the subject right now. I’m just not quite ready. I thought part of it was related to fear of sorts—the “before” and “after” thing I’ve identified with other things, however, I don’t think that is really it. I posted to Facebook that I was going to class and got a comment on admiring my “toughness.” This gave me pause—am I being “tough” or being “crazy”?? And, why be tough? Just because I CAN do something, doesn’t mean I have to. I knew I could still do the class and do it well–even with some spirit missing—and not like I would be emotionally or physically unable to handle it. I’m doing pretty good and I would have been fine in class, not a pile of sad jelly.

I got off the computer to finish getting ready to go to class and was thinking when I look back at this time in my life, what will I say “why” about? What did I push myself on, when I could have held the space and been gentle? I saw with perfect clarity that this was IT. This was a moment about which future me is shaking her head and saying, “oh, honey. why?!”

So, I called and pushed the start date for our classes back until Dec. 14th. I felt really strange after calling, as if I’d “wimped out.” I called my husband and was almost crying as well as totally trying to explain/justify why I pushed it back. Saying things like, “it hasn’t even been a month.” I almost felt I needed “permission” to give myself more time before getting back to birthwork. I still feel like I need to explain, that is why I’m posting here right now.

Even though I knew that I COULD do it, I also had the revelation that I don’t HAVE to do it and there’s a difference. These classes are MY small business and I am the boss—if I want to give myself a little more time off, it is totally okay. My heart and spirit for this work aren’t restored yet and I can give that a little more time to re-blossom.

I think future me is giving current me a hug right now though. And, she’s smiling.

Lavender & Letting Go

Most of the content in this post was originally posted at Talk Birth.

My life has taken a sad and unexpected turn. I was 14 weeks and 4 days pregnant with my third baby and we found out on Friday, November 6th that the baby had died. Very early Saturday morning, Nov 7, he was born at home. Though it was different in some ways than a full-term birth, my experience of miscarriage was very much a birth–-my water broke, I had normal contractions for about two hours, the baby was born (about 4 inches and well-formed with eyelids, nostrils, a mouth that opened, fingers, toes, etc.), we saw the little, spiraled umbilical cord, and so forth. I was surprised to discover that some of the same feelings of empowerment were also present after a “natural home miscarriage” as with a natural home birth-–I felt strong and brave and like “I did it myself!” as well as amazed at how well my body worked and knew what to do. In the afternoon, my father took the baby home and cleaned him up (when the baby first slipped out he was completely pink and clean, but I lost a great deal of blood and a lot of it ended up on the baby before I changed clothes).  After cleaning him up, we learned the baby was our third boy and we named him Noah (see naming reason/dedication here).

There are a lot of losses that accompany the loss of a baby and one of the ones that is hard for me is that my life is devoted to helping women give birth with confidence, strength, and joy and to embrace pregnancy and birth as wonderful events. It is sad to me to feel somehow “marked” now and to perhaps contribute to other women’s fear/elevated perception of risk—-“if it could happen to her, it could happen to me!” I had a feeling or fear of being a “bad omen” instead of a source of encouragement. :( When I wrote about this on my other blog, I received a number of wonderful comments that encouraged me that my experience would not make others “scared” of me, but would continue to deepen and enrich my ability to support other and to provide good birth education. This fear still lingers a bit however, though the comments helped a lot, and I think that is one reason why I’m creating this new blog.

One thing I did share on my other blog about the birth of my third baby that I’d found tremendously meaningful, is that the  afternoon I found out he’d died, I’d received a package from Taylor’s Scarlet Thread. I had ordered a bonnet and apron from them for a Kirsten costume (Kirsten is an American Girl doll) for myself. They sent along a little lavender sachet as a free gift with my order. When my labor began, for some reason I wanted the sachet and held and smelled it throughout my labor. I also used it to kind of revive myself when I felt like I was fainting several times afterward. I talked to the baby and to myself before I started having regular contractions telling myself and the baby that we need to “let go” of each other and that it was time to let go. During the labor, I chanted to myself, “let go, let go, let go” and smelled my sachet.  Several days later, I was reading a book about miscarriage and it had some aromatherapy suggestions in it. It listed lavender for “letting go”…