A lot of you know that I recently went through a miscarriage at 13 weeks. I wanted to share with you some amazing things I have learned on my journey through the three months of being pregnant and going through the miscarriage.
Being a Doula and then getting pregnant makes you realise that it is vastly different supporting birth from the outside, to being in birth. Despite having birthed twice before, it was a good thing to be reminded of, when I found myself unexpectedly pregnant after Christmas. I know a lot about birth, about hospitals and obstetrics, but I very quickly realised that despite all of that, I had lots of preparation to do. It was a more soulful type of preparation though that I needed, one that connected me with my strength and trust in birth and one that took my fears and worries seriously enough, to really look at them. I wanted a natural homebirth, like many other birth workers do, but I realised that I needed to prepare myself to a place where I could have a good birth no matter how my journey would unfold. And that is not an easy task!
In the end, I never made it that far; my baby only stayed for a short time. I did start my preparation slowly by writing in my journal and doing some drawings, and maybe this also helped me on the journey I had to do. I have learned so much and for that I am so grateful for the short time and the birth journey this baby gave me.
I went to the hospital because I was spotting and an ultrasound confirmed that our baby was no longer with us. The news was heart breaking and we were all devastated. I was sent home to let the baby come by itself, which was what I wanted. I don’t know if this is now standard procedure in a miscarriage or if this was a case of ‘we actually don’t have any beds left and this woman seems to be ok with going home’. I don’t know. But for me this was the best thing.
The baby took a bit more than a week to come and it was one of the most challenging weeks of my life. I was dealing with the grief, with worry of what was to happen, with impatience and the unknown of when it would be and how it would be. I kept going into control mode and trying to organise when and how, which obviously wasn’t possible and I am very thankful to my husband who tirelessly grounded me with his patience and with reality and had such confidence in me too. I had to open and surrender to a degree I don’t think I have ever tried before.
I was also incredibly lucky that the community around me came together and I was so supported in every possible way. I had shared my pregnancy joy and now they were sharing my grief. This is a huge part of how I came through this event, and it was awesome to experience. I had women bringing food, giving me foot massages and acupuncture sessions – every day someone was checking in on me either by phone or email or texting. I felt so respected and cared for. Sometimes it was just knowing that women were thinking about me and feeling for me, other times it was great that women came forward with their stories, so I felt like I wasn’t alone and also so I practically was ready for how this would happen.
My baby came in the middle of the night, after three hours of labour, transition and the whole kit and caboodle. I was grateful because one of my worries was how to deal with my other two kids if they were around. We knew we couldn’t be parents while we did this and even though lots of people had offered to take them or be there, it was nice that they didn’t have to go away. Going through labour also meant that I got all the hormones with me and even though my baby was a tiny little, though fully formed, alien looking being, I totally fell in love with her. We held her and examined her, talked to her and cried over her until we were ready to let her go. I got to feel like I had mothered her and cared for her and protected her and sent her off with dignity and this is a very big part of the very empowered feeling I now have afterwards.
So what have I learned? Well, I suppose it is food for thought that I could have an empowered experience through a birth which had such a bad outcome – a little, but still dead baby. So maybe the saying we hear again and again about ‘at least you have a healthy baby, doesn’t necessarily hold water. We all want healthy babies, but the process is, I think, just as important. It is possible to have an empowered birth with a bad outcome, but it is also very possible to have a disempowering experience with a good outcome. We need to change our focus in preparation from mainly obstetrical, to mainly soulful I think. My point being that we need to work on the process, since we can’t control the outcome. We need not to be afraid of touching the difficult feeling around birth, the fears of how it will be, because we can’t control if birth will go there. If we only prepare for lovely, calm, serene, maybe even pain free birth, we will most likely feel very unprepared and maybe even feel quite lost and traumatised in the event of our birth journey taking a different path
When a birth has unwanted intervention and the journey goes a different direction to how you would have liked it, there is going to be disappointment and grief. We all know that in our birth culture today, many women have traumatic experiences and are treated appallingly. But we need to make sure that birth activism doesn’t mean that we only prepare ourselves for being strong through a normal, straight forward birth and make all ‘un’- natural experiences wrong or bad. We also have to watch our language, just as we wish doctors would. We all need to acknowledge that a woman who had a caesarean still birthed her baby, she still had to find the ultimate strength inside herself to surrender to be cut open, to save herself and/or her baby. The fact that it might have been an unnecessary caesarean is not relevant right in that moment. That is a separate issue that should be fought separately to birth preparation. A woman can’t fight for her rights while she is birthing, she can only make good choices of birth place and carer and then stay present in doing what she has to do to get her baby out with the help of those carers she has entrusted to look after her.
So despite the grief and disappointment this woman might feel, we need to remember to honour her journey and her womanly strength. To do this we need to detach from specific outcomes such as natural birth. And here I don’t mean giving up natural birth or the fact that natural birth is generally favourable, but more to be mindful of how we can be in our womanhood, no matter how our journey unfolds and to accept very deeply that birth is unknown and unexpected and sometimes unwanted things happen. It is beyond our control and we can’t prepare ourselves to gain this control. We can do lots of things to maximize the possibility, but regardless of all the’ right’ books, all the ‘right’ types of courses, and all the positive thinking in the world, it is still not going to take the unknown and unexpected and sometimes unwanted out of birth.
Women are made for birthing, but not just our bodies. Our minds and our strength were made to cope with whatever we have to do to birth our babies, to meet the challenges in natural birth and in birth with medical help too. Being surrounded by supportive women is imperative to deal with a difficult experience. That is our job and challenge to create as women for each other.
My experience was empowering because I had time to come to terms with the fact that this is part of birth. It is part of being a woman and making babies, growing babies, raising children. I had time to accept that this is how it was for me this time and I had to do what I had to do. I could feel my womanly strength within that. I had time to connect with my baby and send her off even before she came out and I had amazing women around me who trusted me, felt for me, cried with me and encouraged me to do it my way.
I allowed myself to feel all the feeling involved with the situation and I felt 100%present in what I had to do. I had to be in my uttermost womanly place of strength and power to do this, but keeping in mind that what I was doing was part of birth and of what we women do, meant that I didn’t feel like a victim.
Having the support of so many women around me, whether they were right in it with me or just sending me their love, was amazing. I wish all birthing women could have this. This helped me keep going, when I was about to give up. It helped me stay grounded and true to myself, when I got stressed and wanted to control when and where, and it made me feel part of something bigger, that there was something more here even when I had said goodbye to my baby.
And then it was the feeling of having been able to mother my baby – the feeling of having protected her and connected with her and sent her off with dignity. I hope that our medical establishment learns to honour this very important point, whatever intervention they think is needed for any particular woman. She needs time to mother her baby on the inside as well as on the outside. She needs to feel like she protected her baby and that she was important, because she is the most important person in birth to her baby.
Mothering my baby meant that I feel like I have come full circle. I can leave the experience behind in peace. It doesn’t mean that I don’t cry about her and my loss or not feel cheated, but it means, like a wise woman said to me :), that even though my arms are empty, my heart is even fuller.