This coming week, I’m going to be guest-hosting a twitter chat. It is the weekly #BabyLossHour, a regular space created by Jess (@TheLegacyOfLeo ) for those affected or invested in all things Baby Loss to meet, chat and discuss. I have been doing lots of thinking, reflecting and researching in preparation for this. Below are a few of my thoughts.
As a psychotherapist, my work predominantly consists of words – using words to communicate emotions, feelings, thoughts and stories. Recently, I have been reading Gabor Maté’s (2012)fascinating book ‘When the Body Says No – the cost of hidden stress’, and it has really got me thinking about my work. So often, psychotherapists, psychologists – anyone working within the emotional realms of human functioning, question why it is that medical doctors, midwives, nurses, health visitors etc do not pay more attention to the emotional/psychological toll on the body, and how this may be impacting someone’s physical presentation. And yet, there I was, happily paying all this attention to the ‘emotional wellbeing’ of my clients and not noticing their physical wellbeing! I was doing exactly that which so many of my colleagues despair about in the medical world – perpetuating the split between mind and body! My work may not ‘look’ different, but the internal shift I have made, means I hope to notice, and be more aware of the absolute symbiotic relationship between mind and body. They co-exist and influence and nourish each other. In fact, it could be argued, they are just a different face of the same being.
When considering pregnancy and babyloss – whether that be miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth, neonatal death – to name a few, the physical impact can be vast and multi-layered. Pregnancy is physical! There is nausea, aches, bleeding, flutters, kicks! After pregnancy, women experience many continuing physical expressions – this can be bleeding, stitches (in the perineum, vagina or abdomen), tender breasts, leaking breasts, uterine cramps, back pain… and the list goes on! It can be a shock for women whose baby has died, that she too will experience some or all these same physical manifestations. After loss, it can feel cruel and an added suffering to the already deep acute ache of grief.
Grief itself is incredibly physical. We feel it coursing through every cell of our bodies, and we can feel unimaginably exhausted. This exhaustion is exacerbated when it is a baby who has died, as the natural order of parents dying before children has been irreversibly disrupted! The wonderful psychotherapist Julia Samuel (2018, p.171), writes “There is almost nothing more traumatic than the death of a child. It tears up the rule book of life: we never expect to have to bury our own children; they should be the ones to bury us.” Trying to process the unfathomable is exhausting – our minds run over and over events as we try to make sense of something which just doesn’t make sense! “If we are to navigate (grief), we need to find a way to understand and live with the central paradox: that we must find a way of living with a reality that we don’t want to be true” (Samuel 2018, p.xvii).
Many women report feeling empty and cold. The warm, heaviness of a newborn missing from their arms and abdomen. This too can feel painful, and has been described as ‘aching arms’. Trying to describe the yearning to hold their baby in purely emotional words does not capture the full experience of emptiness.
In the twitter chat, I hope that we can begin to look at some of these areas, and maybe hear too what has helped women in navigating their grief when their baby dies.
Maté, G. (2012) When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress, Vintage Canada: Toronto.
Samuel, J. (2018) Grief Works.