The Pains and Powers of baby loss
The Pains and Powers of baby loss
the pains and powers of baby loss
When I was asked to write something for the fertility clinic in Cape Town about losing our baby Jade I felt an instant yes, and also an insecurity and vulnerability rising up. The journey of healing through stillbirth, as I like to call the journey, is not an easy one, and there are so many layers, so where do I start? The instant yes came from deep inside because I feel that it is important that we break the silence on this sensitive topic. Also because I feel that there is much more to it than only seeing it from a point of loss.
In the beginning of June our son Jade died during birth. Very unexpected and very quick. As if he sneaked out, just before he was about to come to earth. On our good days, my partner and I sometimes joke that he saw the current state of the world and decided to come back at a later stage. Sometimes it helps us to bring in some humour, sometimes I also can’t.
In these last few months I have heard many stories from women and men who have experienced baby or pregnancy loss. In all different categories, from miscarriage (early birth), pregnancy termination, abortion, still birth, to TFMR (termination for medical reasons). It was as if Jade’s energy opened up the conversation and the emotions that came with these stories. He has been a big healer, for us, our families and the people around us. And although I am all for deep healing, it was a huge price to pay.
It has really struck me how many women have had to go through this without being recognized for the big initiation they have gone through. I know from experience that anything we avoid looking at, or we avoid processing, becomes our shadow and gets stored in our bodies. That is why I started working as a yoga teacher and body worker, and why I even specialized in sexuality and became a trauma informed coach and teacher. Yet still, there are so many things that we carry that we are not aware of.
After birthing Jade, the biggest pain that struck me was that I failed at being a woman, because I was not capable of birthing my baby alive. Intellectually I know that this is not true, but it is a deep belief that I have carried with me in my body. I also know that it is an intergenerational or ancestral pain, and a collective one. I don’t have the statistics but I am pretty sure that almost every woman feels like a failure at being a woman at some level.
Perhaps in how she looks, how she feels about her body, in the field of fertility, birth or her sexuality. I really started to get the idea that I am not enough, that I have done something wrong and for that I have failed.
My granny had a stillbirth. She told me in the months before she died that she was so sad that she never got to see her son. They took him away the moment she birthed him. That was all I knew, and somehow in my last month of pregnancy her sharing came back to me. It showed up as a fear that I pushed far away, I just could not face it or feel it. I was highly pregnant, and couldn’t even think of something like that happening. It also showed up as panic in the night, and night sweats.
Sadly her story became partly mine. Luckily I got to hold Jade. He was with us for about two hours after he was born. I felt his warm body on mine, and he looked so peaceful. In my post birth bliss I felt nothing but love and pride. I stroked him and kissed him as much as I could. It has been incredible important for me to have had this time with him. It doesn’t make it easier though. Quite often the image of holding him and feeling him comes back to me, and fills with a whole scale of emotions. I sometimes don’t even know what I feel, and it helped what my acupuncturist lately said to me: ‘you are experiencing a depth of emotions that most human beings will never experience in their lives’. I guess I do.
It is important for me to mention that this has been my experience. I know that it is different for everyone… That it is different for the person going through this birthing experience and for their partner at her side. I know that my partner and I have different experiences and it has incredibly important to acknowledge each other for this. It’s not always easy though, because I want my partner to feel the same feels and to grieve in the same way. He has his own way of dealing with it and I need to accept that.
I now know that my granny’s son was named Tom and was born at around 8 months. That my grandfather had seen him, and my grandmother not. That they came home with empty hands and a closed mouth. They never spoke about it. Tom was never acknowledged as part of their family, I have never heard my mom speak about her brother. I also know now that in those days baby’s that were not baptized were not allowed to be buried on the holy ground. I don’t have a clue what happened to his beautiful body.
We did have a choice. Not a lot of choice, which with retrospect I am grateful for, because how on earth do you make those choices in a split second after birthing your dead baby. Jade was cremated and we got his ashes.
From the moment that we knew that he died in my womb so much beauty and sorrow has come along. The two sides of the same coin is a metaphor that really helped me. The deeper the pain, the stronger the beauty. I didn’t have a clue what this healing journey would entail, but I knew it was one that was going to reach deep fears and that it would be a catalyst for an enormous growth. That I was going to come out of it stronger than ever before. I also knew that I was not there yet. That the only way out was and is through. I also knew that I am not able to do it alone and that I needed professional help and support.
In my teenage years I have lost quite a few people that were very close to me, but I didn’t know how to grieve. Especially two losses have had a major impact on me. I struggled with a huge fear of death, that nobody knew of. I had lots of emotions, all welling up inside me, while I was pushing them away. I just did not know where to go to, or whom to share it with. I remember waking up every morning, firstly checking if I was still alive. I guess I got so close to death that it triggered a feeling of the fragility of life.
In the hours after we heard of Jade’s passing my partner and I both felt that fragility again… That just in one day, life can turn upside down, inside out. This time I had been even closer to death. I remember those first few hours as being one of the most profound in my life. The connection and love between my partner and I was stronger and deeper than ever before, and there was a mutual gratitude for all that Jade has brought us. If I look back, it was probably the shock that helped us in these first few hours, and also weeks – but it has been a very important moment for me in my journey, because the strength and the pride I felt in that moment was something to come back to when I felt I was drowning in sadness or fear.
We decided to stick to the 42 sacred days after the birth that we had planned. The idea of these 6 weeks is for the new family to create an intimate and safe space, to first get used to each other, the new dynamic and to nourish the new mother with all the care she needs. It’s being referred to as continuing being in a womb-like space, before interacting with the outer world again. This time came obviously with a different set of challenges now, but I have really appreciated and needed this time. Just us, lots of touch, nourishing food and a few people we deeply trust.
After that we decided to reach out for help. For us, we know that talking alone doesn’t do the trick and in my understanding of trauma you need more of a body oriented approach to process things. It is not only the mind that stores stuff, the body does too, perhaps even more. I feel so grateful that in our journey we have come across some of the most beautiful and skilled people that have been helping us in our process, with therapy, coaching, rituals and ceremonies.
Birth is a transformative experience, regardless of the outcome. I am especially grateful for the people who have acknowledged my transformation from maidenhood to motherhood. Those who help to create space for all the shifts happening in my physical, emotional, mental, energetic and spiritual body. It’s not only me who’s shifting, my partner too. We are both going through a big shift. It is different though. I have carried Jade for 9,5 months, I have a stronger physical relationship to him and I also miss him more. I can really miss him physically. My partner doesn’t experience that so much, he is mostly grieving an idea, a promise, an image of having a family and being a father.
Grateful for the people who acknowledge Jade. Because although he is not here with us physically, he is energetically. His presence is very strong. Lately someone asked me what has been my biggest support over these last months, and my answer was that I have a bigger picture. That I know that maybe he is not here with me in the physical realm, he is here in spirit. That his soul was not ready to be here on earth, or that his soul has done it’s duty. It helps me to believe that he has done what he came here to do. There are many lenses through which I can see this experience, and I have the choice to choose which one I look through. We might have lost our baby, but we gained the most epic spirit guide.
Our friends and family who have been there for us, even if they did not know how to be around us, or what to say. It has been so helpful to be honest and open and talk if we wanted too, or be silent if we wished. Who have helped us with the mundane tasks in life, because those seem to be the most difficult ones to get done. I have really experienced how the fog of grieve shuts my brain off. That I feel more clumsy, forgetful and extremely tired. Daily tasks are not as easy as they used to be.
Grateful for the community that we didn’t even know we had, all of the people out there who cried with us. Held us in our hearts and prayers. I like to believe that together we have healed and are healing a big trauma in society.
One concept I came across really resonated with me – every birth, even if it is a miscarriage or abortion, is a birth. A birth of a baby, the birth of a mother and the birth of a father. I think one of the biggest misconceptions in our society is to think that it is not. It does not always matter how long the mother has carried the baby. A woman can experience all of the things that birth can bring. All the pain, and all the recovery. All the hormonal and emotional changes. On top of that there is this huge grief of losing someone you deeply love.
Personally, for me it feels like I am going through two big initiations at the same time, becoming a mother and grieving my dead child. I am starting to realize that birthing death might be one of the biggest initiations of womanhood. For me it comes with healing this deep wound of feeling like a failure, because how can I be a successful woman if I can’t birth life. I am in the process of forgiving myself. Forgiving myself for birthing death and replacing it with the belief that it is one of the most powerful things a woman can do. It comes and goes. I am not there yet. In am still in between.
I am learning how to navigate this big unknown.
I am learning how to be with the knowledge that life is so fragile.
I am learning that there are many phases in this process.
I don’t know in which phase I am, and how many there is to come.
What I do know is that I need to take it easy on me, to take care of myself and my nervous system in every possible way.
This time is about Me, about Receiving. I am in winter, and I know spring is coming. There is light at the end of the tunnel, although I don’t always see or believe that. In those moments it helps me to hear or read things that inspire, nourish or reassure me. Like these words of Charlie Mackesy for example: “This storm will pass. And one day you’ll see how long the storm raged, and know how well you did”. Or this line of Glennon Doyle: “We can do hard things”.
I am learning that this is one big messy process. That the only way out is to move through. One day at a time. Being the gentlest of gentle with myself as I can possibly be. To not expect anything really. But to rather be in the midst of the moment.
From my heart to yours,