404 Women And Grief | Stephen Garrett

The Rainbow of Death – A Chat with my friend Allison

Allison tell me something about the guy and your relationship

“I always knew he wasn’t the man I wanted to have a long-term relationship with.” She said.  “Yet for some weird reason there was something about unprotected sex with him that I let be acceptable.  I wasn’t on the pill, so I would always nudge him to remember a condom.  He didn’t.  Next thing I knew, really to no one’s surprise, my period was late.”

So what went through your mind when you realized your period was late?

“I started to ask myself the big questions: If I am pregnant, what am I going to do?  Could I have a child right now?  Do I want a child right now?  Could I carry a child to term then put it up for adoption?  What about having an abortion?” Allison went on with the story.

“Three weeks into lateness I bought a home pregnancy test.   Positive.

Three days later I went to the doctor to be tested just to be extra sure.  Positive.

I was definitely pregnant,” she said soberly and carried on.

“When I told the baby’s father, his instant reaction was he didn’t want it.  And he was adamant. It was in that moment that I knew no matter what decision I made about the baby I was alone on this journey.  Despite the mental fear, I started to get excited.  Internally, bodily, and emotionally I realized I wanted the baby.”

So what did you do next I asked as I was genuinely curious.

Allison continued, “Though I was terrified I decided to tell my parents.  I knew they loved being grandparents to my nephew, but my situation was so different than my married brother’s.  I had no idea how they would react.  I remember it was a Wednesday night.  I got them both on the phone at the same time and asked, ‘So, how would you like to be grandparents again?’  Thankfully all I felt radiating through the phone was pure love, joy, excitement and a willingness to support me however they could.  I was so relieved!”

So what happened to change your mind was my next question.

“A week or so later I noticed things inside me started to shift.  The reality of keeping the baby set in – the financial, emotional, and spiritual implications of raising a child alone brought me back down to earth pretty quickly.  But how could I have an abortion?  Could I consciously choose to terminate a pregnancy?   What would people say and think if they found out?   I’m not 18 anymore, I’m a grown up so I should be able to do this.   How would I live with myself if I terminated my pregnancy?  What the hell am I supposed to do?  All these questions raced through my head I felt scared, confused and really didn’t know what to do.”

She sat quietly as if remembering the exact moment and then carried on.

“I went back to my doctor and asked her about my options.  We talked about abortion and parenting and she asked me some really good questions about how I envisioned my life and my child’s life.  I sought counsel from an energy healer who I have been with for the last six years.  I also got first-hand accounts from a friend who has been through a pregnancy termination.

After gathering all this information I found myself laying awake many nights for hours, tossing and turning, staring up at the ceiling, meditating and praying, dreaming and trusting the right decision would come through at the perfect moment.  Finally one night, eight weeks into the pregnancy, the inner battle subsided and I came to terms with my decision, the decision I always knew I was going to make.  In that moment of clarity I emailed the clinic to request an appointment for the abortion – two days later the confirmation arrived.”  A few tears trickled down her face as she sat still in the memory of her decision.

Once you made the decision what was it like for you?

“I was scared, not just about what it would be like after the pregnancy was terminated, but that people would find out I was pregnant.  What would they say? What would they think of me?  What would I tell them after the pregnancy was terminated?  I didn’t want people to know I was pregnant then have to turn around and tell them there was no more baby. I struggled with who to tell and how much of the truth I wanted to share.  I was awash with understanding the intimate nature of my decision to terminate the pregnancy, and wanting to be open about what was going on.  It was hard.  In the end, I decided to tell only my immediate family and a few of my closest friends.” Allison related with a big sigh.

Tell me about the day of the abortion.

“Well, I woke up early, showered and put on my most comforting clothes – the bottoms of a set of scrubs that belonged to my Pépère, my grandfather, as they reminded me he was always with me, a man-sized t-shirt of the softest cotton that felt like a big protective hug, and my Zumba hoodie because it just felt good.  My friend picked me up and we drove to the clinic.”

Allison’s voice cracked a little as she continued, “I was greeted by the medical staff with respect and felt as comfortable as I could be in an uncomfortable situation.  I looked around the waiting room at the other women – some with girl friends and some with their boyfriends – my heart went out to the women and couples who were agonizing over their decision knowing there was no chance for a do-over.  My girl friend and I talked about everyday things, as we normally would any other time, sometimes laughing too loudly, sometimes getting lost in our own thoughts, sometimes locking eyes with a deep knowing, understanding and compassion. I joked with the ultrasound technician about the cruelty of making a pregnant woman fast for so long. I shared with the counselor how my grieving had already begun

“My turn arrived.  I was taken to a second waiting room, instructed to change, and given some Ativan to help me relax.  The TV was on the infomercial channel.  I sat staring, breathing, riding the waves of emotion that were coursing through my heart.  I talked to the unborn child inside me – Little Man as I had affectionately named him.  I prayed for strength and courage to make it through with ease and grace.”

She sat still for a moment remembering the events as if it just happened yesterday.

“A second nurse arrived and took me to the procedure room.   She was petite with long blonde hair.  I remember her loving, compassionate, tender energy.  As she put the intravenous needle in my arm we made small talk about how long she’d been a nurse and why she chose to continue to work in the clinic. I wish I remembered her answer.

“The doctor came in; more drugs into my IV; start the machines; mask on my face; breath deeply; big twinge; bigger and deeper breaths; then it was done.

Empty.  Baby was gone.  Instantly I started to cry.

They said I did great and wondered if I was in any pain.  None physically I said and in less than five minutes I was sitting in a recovery room, a heating pad on my abdomen, sipping Canada Dry, and eating cookies. “

Allison took a deep breath and carried on.  “My friend came in.  We cried together.

The recovery nurse gave me my package of post-care instructions and a prescription for antibiotics, and we were on our way home.  On the way out I stopped – I was taken aback as I glanced around the waiting room – there wasn’t an empty seat to be found.  I was shocked at how widespread the decision to have an abortion really was. “

Allison spoke about her recovery.

“The physical healing process was smooth and effortless.  I feel lucky.  I walked a little bit everyday, even if it was only from one end of my apartment to the other.  I ate healthy food to maintain my energy.   I rested a lot.  Though I still felt like I was living in a foggy dream, my life slowly got back to normal – the minutes, days, weeks, and months have passed by.  The absence of the baby in my belly makes it all feel like some kind of dream,“ she reflected.

“My greatest struggle has been to remember the whole event and honor the grief that has, at times, been paralyzing.   I mourn the loss of my dream of starting my own family that I always thought would make me somehow feel more complete.  The grief shifted from being solely about the baby and the abortion, to the loss of all the aspects of being a mom; breastfeeding, decorating a nursery, sleepless nights, and all those newborn sounds and smells, to the loss of the dream, “

Allison noticeably upset continued, “The emptiness in my uterus and the ache in my heart has been unbearable at times.   There are still periods of extreme heartache, supreme anger, rage at the baby’s father, emptiness that seems to have no end, guilt for killing my baby, and frustration that I still find myself dipping back into this pit of darkness. “

Before I could ask she spoke, “Thankfully, to the depth I felt darkness and despair, I have developed a greater capacity to feel love and joy, what a gift!  I also have a deeper understanding of myself, and my values.  There is a lot more love flowing through my heart for myself and others that I never knew existed before.   The love and joy continues to pour through me in my relationships with friends, family, coworkers, and with complete strangers walking down the street.”  Allison beamed,  “I laugh harder, I love more deeply, I have more gratitude for the simple things.  I feel more peaceful and I live with greater clarity.”

In wrapping up her story she shared, “While this experience has been the most difficult of my life, the wins have been profound.  I have realized there are many people who love me and who will support me.  I have learned that it’s up to me to ask for support – it’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength that I choose to be authentic and vulnerable, and let the depth of all of my emotions be felt and seen by myself and others.  I would never have planned this whole journey, yet in my heart I am grateful for the lessons that have changed my life forever.”

Much Love

Stephen Garrett

Miscarriage, Abortion, and Infertility – The Private Deaths We Usually Do Not Speak About

I have been thinking about death of loved ones, unborn loves and was moved to explore this unique loss that women experience viscerally and most often privately.  I realized almost immediately how uniquely personal the relationship is between a women and her yet to be born child.  I then began to understand how intimate the death of the unborn child must be.  As I looked further into this gender specific loss I sensed a need to make this type of ‘private’ death more understood and honored by all of us.

I identified three distinct deaths of a yet to be born loved one; abortion; miscarriage; and infertility.  The first two are a death of an unborn, yet physical body.  The third is the loss of the dream, the urge, the bodily desire of birthing a child. Here are some statistics I discovered as I was doing research for this piece.

In Canada in 2004 there were 337,072 births along with the births were 96,815 abortions and 55,280 miscarriages.  These numbers surprised me.  I had no idea about this mostly private world of women and their in the body deaths. Two hundred and sixty four abortions each day in Canada, one hundred and fifty one miscarriages seemed significant to me.

I am not making a judgment here.  I am recognizing that no matter what the cause of unborn deaths is, they are in fact a death and a loss to the woman and those close to her.  It is another type of death wrapped in silence and taboo. 

The unborn baby was birthed in the body of the woman and also died inside her, a very private affair.  This invisible, unseen birth and death brings with it a different type of grief and bereavement particularly for the mothers.  An example – the woman is dealing with not only the effects of conception but also the grief of the loss of her unborn child.

A second unique issue is the lack of a body and a funeral.  In the case of a death of a loved one we have lots of structure and process to mark the life and the death of the one who died.  Most often with a miscarriage there is not a noticeable body nor is there a formal funeral or ceremony.  As a result people are uncertain how to respond and what to say.  Often they choose to stay silent and the woman who has suffered the loss of her child is bound to grieve alone or perhaps only with her partner.

In the case of a miscarriage the grief is complicated for many reasons unique to this type of loss.  Here are some of losses common to miscarriage:

The loss of the opportunity to be a mother

The loss of trust in her body

The loss of a full and joyous pregnancy

The loss of the unborn child

 

There are very real feeling that arise – shame, guilt, and embarrassment some of unique ones.  These feelings and emotions are complicated by the fact that the woman’s body is going through significant hormonal changes on top of the emotional impact of the loss.

The woman may feel she has let her partner down.  She may be feeling the pain of not knowing the sex of the child, or seeing its body.  The mother may be confused about why she feels so much grief about a child she has never seen.

Coupled with these issues is the lack of answers and the inability to understand why.  The medical system is often unable to provide answers to the miscarriage.  When they do speak to the woman it can often be in medically insensitive language that can sound like; the pregnancy terminated; or the tissue was passed.  Often times they may refer to the miscarriage as a minor medical occurrence.

Women can feel pressured by others and often times by themselves, to try again quickly, often not taking the time to allow the grief from their miscarriage to pass. This can have consequences such as partnership stress and/or post-natal depression. Women are often looking for answers to ‘why’ and, although there are reasons, they do not usually find out what they are.  Miscarriage grief is not so much about finding the answer they yearn for, as learning how to live without one.

There are also no pictures and few memories that we can hold dear as we remember the unborn loved one. Unlike other deaths the woman’s relationship with her child was ‘internal’ and short.  Others may not understand the depth of love that the mother had for her child and minimize the loss.

Then there is the long list of ‘what if’s’ many women go through.  What if I had more rest and not worked so hard?  What if I had eaten more nutritional food?  What if I were in better physical shape before I got pregnant?

In the case of abortion, though there is a degree of choice involved, women may still suffer grief.  Similar to miscarriage it is difficult to talk about especially given it was a considered choice.  Women may be afraid to talk about it, may feel great shame about their abortion, and may not even realize how it is affecting them. Many women are afraid to talk about their abortion to their doctor or counselor. Some women state that they are “okay” or that “it was the best decision they could have made for that time in their life.”  All this outward behavior may be masking a deeper sense of grief.

Women struggling with abortion related grief might experience some or all of these symptoms:

1)    A general sense of depression and anxiety

2)    A numbing of emotions and feelings

3)    A non-specific feeling of loss

4)    Anger and resentment

5)    Sudden and unexplained periods of crying

6)    A change in relationship with partner

7)    A lack of desire for, or an inability to sleep

8)    Addictive tendencies for food, alcohol or drugs

 

Be aware of these signals, pay attention to them and ask for support if you are experiencing several of these symptoms.  Getting help and support from a therapist or hospice worker would be a great step to take if you recognize some of these signs.

In the case of infertility it is challenging for others to ‘really’ understand the grief a woman may be going through.  Pro-creation is a basic and primal function common in human beings. It is normal to have strong feelings about sex, pregnancy and birth. Many women have an innate mothering instinct that sometimes can be beyond reason and control. Even the thought of having a child is like a birth of sorts.  It is a natural part of living and no shame or embarrassment should be attached to how we feel after the loss of a baby at whatever stage it occurs.

For women who are infertile and have tried fertility processes and are still unable to conceive the grief can be deep and consuming.  Many of the signs and symptoms of grief explained above apply here too.  Others, friends and family, may have difficulty relating to the loss and the depth of her grief.  Some women have always desperately wanted to experience pregnancy and childbirth.  For them the grieving process may be intense and prolonged.

Even if the woman chooses adoption the issue of infertility and its associated grief do not go away.  The door is never fully closed on the grief or loss inherent in infertility.  When her adoptive child reaches childbearing age, the issue may come up again.  When grandchildren are born, she may look at the child and wonder, “Whom does this child look like? Certainly not me!”

No matter which of these three private and ‘invisible’ deaths a woman experiences her grief is real and needs to be expressed, received, and honored.  So go ahead and talk about it.   You can be proud of your pregnancies, no matter how “successful” they were.  A hurt heart is a sign of your capacity to love deeply!

One thing that can really help women through this ‘private grief’ is to know other women who have been through the same thing.  There is no reason for you to be alone in your grief.

Much Love

Stephen Garrett