This week is baby loss awareness week.
I started writing this post thinking I was going to write a post specifically about miscarriage.
But when I started writing it, I felt that it needed to be about baby loss in general.
Because you cannot measure grief by what it looks on paper.
Your grief can be as real if your baby died when you just found out you were pregnant, or if your baby dies when he was several months old.
Grief cannot be defined by numbers, and we cannot measure how sad, how hurt we are, or by comparing ourselves to others.
By judging that some losses are more “worthy” of grief than others.
It doesn’t work like that.
Yet, god knows I’ve been guilty of doing this myself when it comes to my own grief.
So I want to share my stories, and those of others, and I hope it helps.
I have two different histories of baby loss.
The first was when I was eight and my little brother, Julien, was stillborn.
This was in the late 70s, and in those days people thought that brushing things under the carpet was the right thing to do, that to pretend it just hadn’t happened meant that, somehow, it would disappear from your brain.
None of us where allowed to grieve or process our feelings properly.
There was no funeral, and my brother’s little body was disposed of in clinical waste.
There was no memory box, no pictures, no footprints.
I never got to see my brother (neither did my mum).
My mum hid in the toilets to cry.
We didn’t share our sadness.
So I was left with all those unprocessed feelings, so unprocessed in fact that my mind’s choose to forget them to protect me. I have this big blank in my memory which I cannot retrieve. I can’t remember my mum being pregnant, or anything after the birth. Which is odd because, of course, I have plenty of memories of times before that. There is a part of my childhood I simply cannot reclaim because we weren’t allowed to grieve at the time.
When I studied how children grieve as part of my antenatal education diploma, this led me to revisiting this in depth and I had some lovely healing conversations with my mother about it.
In fact this year I closed the circle by giving my mum a closing the bones session-she was very scared about what it would bring, in case it brought all the bad feelings flooding back I think, but it was gentle and beautiful and, honouring, nurturing and healing for both of us.
My second loss, was when I miscarried my own baby (I went on to have 3 further miscarriages and 2 live children but I am only relating the story of my first loss in this blog).
I started to try and conceive when I was about 33. After over a year of trying and no pregnancy, we were fast tracked for fertility tests, due to my age and irregular cycles. Everything was normal but my cycles were very long and they wanted to give me drugs to induce ovulation. I wasn’t keen, so I investigated other options instead, and after 3 months of acupuncture, I fell pregnant for the first time.
I can still feel the raw, amazing joy I felt when the test turned pregnant. I can still picture myself, alone in the bathroom. I looked at myself in the mirror, and I burst into tears of joy. I kept my little secret all day and then surprised my husband with the wrapped positive test in the evening.
For 3 months I walked around in a constant state of bliss. Yes I was tired and nauseous at times, but mostly, I was so high on pregnancy hormones, and I felt that nothing could touch me.
At 12 weeks we went for our first scan. We were very excited.
Then the sonographer told us there was no heartbeat.
She tried scanning me again. I was in denial, still hopeful that somehow, there had been a mistake, and that my baby would still be alive.
But my baby had died.
What ensued was disbelief, numbness and shock, followed by the deepest grief I had ever experienced.
I cried like I had never cried before in my life. Big heavy howling sobs. My arms literally ached for my baby.
It wasn’t helped by the lack of understanding of my own feelings, by the lack of acknowledgement our culture provides to women who miscarry, by the lack of support, or by the inappropriate, well meaning comments given by friends and relatives who didn’t know how to support a mother’s grief.
“It wasn’t a real baby” (to me it was)
“There was probably something wrong with it” (maybe, but this was implying I was wrong to grieve)
“You can have another one” (I wanted this one)
“At least you can get pregnant” (more grief dismissal)
All these comments contributed to feeling that my grief wasn’t valid.
Thankfully someone put me in touch with the miscarriage association. I rang lovely local volunteer lady Janet Sackman. She was the first person to put soothing, acknowledging words on my grief. I ended up attending miscarriage association meetings for a while. I helped me a lot with processing my feelings.
But nothing was done to help heal my body, my spirit, my soul, in a holistic way.
I also carried this grief and this fear with me-nobody helped me with that. I never experienced that feeling of bliss in any of my subsequent pregnancies, because I was so scared that I was going to lose my baby again, that I didn’t dare let myself be happy again.
In 2013 I was trained into doing a postnatal massage from Ecuador called Closing the bones. Together with Maddie Mc Mahon, I have been offering and teaching it for about 4 years (read about that here).
Having offered the massage to hundred of women, we started noticing some common threads in what this ritual does, and one of these thread is how helpful it is for loss.
Amongst the women who had received this massage, many, including the ones who had live births as well as loss, told me that the ritual felt especially significant for loss.
This is what some of those women said:
” I came along to the Closing the Bones Training about a year after my baby had died. Towards the end of the ceremony, as I was being rocked deep shudders started going through my body and as the rebozo was pulled tight around my pelvis I felt a huge emotion that even now I am not sure what to call it. It felt as though the protective bubble I had formed around myself moved away and with that my baby – as if I was releasing him. Sobs racked my body all the grief, the anger, the exhaustion all the disbelief of what had happened came pouring out. I hadn’t realised how much I was holding on to. I felt the women form a circle around me and felt what it was like to have a safe space held for me, allowing me to just be there in my wild tumult of emotion. I heard someone singing the most beautiful song and someone stroking my hair, hands touching me sending love and support“. Rosie (you can read more about Rosie story and the beautiful poem she wrote here ).
“I have had 3 different losses. All the years up to having children when I felt sad I realised I had empty arm syndrome. It was a deep sadness that as I was so young was not felt I had the luxury of acknowledging. (Wwhen I felt pregnant) I never fully bonded – just in case. I always felt doomed. After two more children in quick succession I learnt closing the bones and was lucky enough to be the subject for the full closing ceremony at the end. I could see golden light all around and I felt deeply relaxed and to have so many women touch me was a unique honour. When I got home I felt a far deeper connection to my children than I had before. A lingering barrier I was unaware of had been lifted. Since then I have felt a far deeper acknowledgement of my loss. And far less pretending all was ok. It feels far more authentic. ” Allison
“Having the closing the bones massage helped me to accept my babies loss and start to move forward and also forgive my body and let go of all the negative feelings.” Claire
This is also what some of the women who had losses, have either experienced or heard about closing the bones, but didn’t experience closing the bones at the time/or since their loss told us:
“I think it could have helped me as it took a long time to fall pregnant again and I felt like I had to be pregnant again in order to process losing our second daughter. Maybe a closing the bones ceremony would have helped with saying goodbye to that pregnancy and feeling less stressed falling pregnant again. If that makes sense?” Hannah
“Instinctively I feel this is a worthwhile ritual/ ceremony to honour the mother and acknowledge her pregnancy and loss”. Molly
“I had a miscarriage at 9 weeks. I think closing the bones would have helped me in so many ways, but mostly emotionally, being able to share it with another woman who understands or at least who can empathise and perhaps sympathise. Who could normalise it (I knew it was common, but it would still have been nice to be told again, several times!). A healing time with another woman. That’s what I would have liked”. Saveria
” I didn’t know about closing the bones until recently and had not really considered it with regards to my loss, but your post made me reflect and actually had (has!) me in tears thinking about how, at the time, a “ceremony” would have helped me so very much. I would have found a closing the bones ceremony beautiful in that situation, a celebration of my child, me as her mother, and a way of celebrating her life, however short it was. I would have found it healing and it would have allowed me the focus I so desperately needed to just be alone with her, and my thoughts, and my pain! ” Jo
“I think it would have helped me after numerous miscarriages as a way of creating ‘closure’ but still keeping that love within me, honoured as a part of my body. I think of it whenever I wrap someone else, and today when I wrapped myself…” Katrina
If I could go back in time and have women close my bones after my miscarriages, I know what it would mean to me. It would mean that I would be held by a group of loving, supportive women, and that they would witness and acknowledge my grief as valid, without judgment. THat I could let all my emotions out, within a safe space, whilst being held. This would have felt very significant for me at the time, the physical aspect of it, and I expect would have helped me heal faster, and better, than I did at the time. It would have been complimentary to the more “mental” side of the miscarriage association meetings.
This is also why I feel so strongly passionate about supporting women through loss.
In her recent book, Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown states :
” The collective pain (and sometimes joy) we experience when gathering in any way to celebrate the end of a life is perhaps one of the most powerful experiences of inextricable connection. Death, loss, and grief are the great equalizers.”
This feels like what this ritual is all about when honouring the loss of a baby.