by Maggie O’Neill
Fifty babies die through Miscarriage each day
Fifty babies a day are lost through miscarriage in Ireland, yet it is still a taboo subject, an awkward and uncomfortable topic for people to talk about openly. Life is lived so much in the fast lane now that grieving the loss of a baby through miscarriage is often seen as an indulgence. How, or why would a woman grieve when there may be no physical baby to mourn or bury? This way of thinking isolates women who suffer early miscarriage, it even isolates them from women who miscarry later in their pregnancy and who have had the opportunity to bury their baby. Miscarriage is a sad fact of life. Some women are able to accept this as a life experience and are able to move on with their lives. For other women this is just not possible.
My work with The Miscarriage Association of Ireland
Following the loss of my tiny son Jack through late miscarriage I joined The Miscarriage Association of Ireland. I spent twelve years working with the Association, for ten of these years I was chairperson. In my work there I met hundreds of women and their partners who were grieving deeply the loss of their baby and for many they were grieving for several babies because of recurrent miscarriage. Within this group of women I noticed differences. For most coming to the group support meetings and receiving the support, comfort and acknowledgement around their loss helped them to move on with their lives. For others, nothing or no one could reach or begin to understand the depth of their pain.
Why do some women become so stuck in their grief?
So many women I have met who would have lost their babies many, many years ago have part of their lives still stuck in that place. This becomes a hidden grief, a quiet lonely desperate grief. These women learn to function in life quite well on the surface. They carry a deep connection with their baby that is no longer voiced for fear of ridicule. This becomes a private and hidden relationship between mother and baby. So they learn to live with an inner void and inner searching yet not knowing how to begin to heal this emptiness. I know this because I was such a woman.
My personal story
I was 18 weeks pregnant on my third child Jack when I was told that my baby had died in my womb. My world fell apart. I always felt that part of me died with him, not enough to stop me functioning in the world but enough for me to have to learn to live with a huge void or emptiness inside me. I was constantly being told ‘Time is a great healer’ ‘Just give yourself enough time and you’ll be fine’. When this time turned from days to months to years and I realized that these feelings had not changed to any great extent, that the ache in my heart caused me to feel I had to pretend to be fine, so I stopped sharing my feelings with others because I felt that nothing or no-one was ever going to be able to help me or understand just how physically and emotionally empty I was inside. Over the next few years I realized that I had given part of myself to my baby when he died as if to try at some level to try to protect him as his mother. This I kept to myself because it sounded so off the wall. I had no words to put meaning onto what had happened to me. I didn’t attend my baby’s funeral, I felt unable to function at the time so I thought I would take the ‘easy’ option and let the hospital take care of it for us, but the absence of ritual left me feeling more ashamed and guilty that I had let my baby down yet again.
During my training as a psychotherapist things began to fall into place for me. The pre and peri- natal training began to help me understand so much. Jack was never meant to be raised into manhood by my husband and I. He was part of my spiritual journey; his life span was lived within my womb short as it may have been. My personal therapy gave me the chance to heal many parts of this grief. I was encouraged and helped by my therapist to attend to unfinished business I still had with Jack. I spent many weeks gathering what was needed to have a ritual for my baby. My therapist became such an important part of this very precious and very spiritual occasion with me. It’s now 14years since Jack died and my life path has now brought me on the spiritual path of Shamanism and to the concept of soul loss, I now have meaning to why I have felt I had a hole in my soul.
Understanding the grief
When a woman has planned a pregnancy from the moment she discovers she is pregnant there is a primal need within her to protect her unborn baby. If the pregnancy becomes threatened and then lost to miscarriage so many feelings and emotions are aroused in the woman. It feels so unnatural for your baby to die inside your body, you feel it should be the safest place for your baby to grow and develop. I remember my own feelings at hearing this news; they went from shock, to repulsion at the thought of a dead baby inside me, to a deep love for this tiny baby who I didn’t want to ever let go of. A woman can feel huge guilt following her miscarriage leaving her feeling she has let both her baby and her partner down in some way. She will begin to grieve the physical loss of the baby and then also have to cope with the hormonal turmoil that the abrupt ending of her pregnancy will cause. This is often where couples struggle when trying to grieve separately for their baby while also trying to comfort each other. So many women have spoken to me about how they find it so difficult to resume their sex lives because they feel unable to explain to their partners that this has been the last place that their baby was and in some ways this feels like a sacred space now not to be disturbed. How can you explain this without hurt being caused?
Couples grieve for a lost future
Couples grieve the future now lost to them and their baby; they mourn the dream of becoming parents and of being a family. They grieve the plans and dreams that had already gathered in their hearts for this baby. For couples experiencing recurrent miscarriage, this is a constant reminder that they may be facing into a future with no children. Then they may grieve the fact that their genes will not pass down to the next generation, leaving them grieving for lost future generations. This is a very lonely grief; there are no memories of times together with the baby, no family photos, no songs etc, nothing to link their lives together. There is nothing that can be shared at family occasions to reminisce over where we can lean on our memories for comfort and make some meaning of our loss. Miscarriage robs you of that.
It is at a much deeper level where a woman’s grief often splits off and then becomes hers and hers alone. Many people suffer Soul Loss as a result of trauma in their life.
“The basic premise is that whenever we experience trauma a part of our vital essence separates from us in order to survive the experience by escaping the impact of the pain. What constitutes trauma varies from one individual to another.
Soul Loss can be caused by whatever a person experiences as traumatic, even if another person would not experience it as such.
At times of trauma in our lives our soul or part of our soul leaves our body, and for some it doesn’t return.’’ (Ingerman, 1991)
So many women following miscarriage have talked to me about feeling that ‘part of them is missing’. They constantly have this inner searching with little or no idea exactly what it is they are searching for. They experience it as an inner emptiness that nothing or no one can fill. We don’t cope well in life with this emptiness so we try in vain to fill this space, we often do this with our addictions, for me personally it was overeating, for others they try to have another baby very quickly, but nothing absolutely nothing will fill this ‘hole in your soul’.
Through my training as a therapist and now as a Shamanic practitioner I feel I have been brought along a very privileged path of being able to help women to find healing following miscarriage. There are three types of healing that women need following miscarriage; Physical healing. Thankfully most women recover relatively quickly on a physical level after their miscarriage. Emotional healing. This requires time, love, patience and understanding from partners, family and friends to help with the grieving process. This is where the work of The Miscarriage Association can play an important part in helping women and their partners move on with their lives after miscarriage. Spiritual healing. Many women search for years before finding spiritual healing for herself and her baby. Sadly some have never reached that place of healing and continue to live feeling incomplete.
It is that missing piece that pulls me to working deeper with women who suffer soul loss following miscarriage. It’s not enough to confine the work with the woman alone. In order to work with the ‘missing piece of self’, it is necessary to work with the mother and also the essence of her baby. Instead of her being constantly told that she needs to ‘let go’ she needs encouragement to reconnect with her baby, to retrieve that missing part of herself, and integrate it back into her life where it belongs. Its then and only then that she can begin her path to healing. To help women on this road to healing, myself and my colleague, Nora Kirrane, have begun to facilitate Workshops for women on ‘Soul Loss following miscarriage’. We intend to have a healing workshop in each season of the year, to replicate with the cycle of life, death and rebirth.
Maggie O’Neill, IAHIP is a Psychotherapist and Shamanic Practitioner
Ingerman, S. (1991) Soul Retrieval – Mending the Fragmented Self London: HarperOne