This month I'm training with Amy Wright Glenn of the Institute of Birth Breath and Death, along with a wonderful group of other birthworkers interested in enhancing our capacities for holding space for death. It's not an easy topic. However, how many people reading this have been touched by loss? By a miscarriage? Miscarriage is not uncommon. One in four pregnancies ends in loss. The cause for either is often unknown. Despite how common loss is, it is rarely discussed openly and often women will not share their experiences. And in many cases, why should they? People are so uncomfortable with death, with the loss of a child, and from that place of discomfort will say any number of things to "fix" the problem.
We've been grappling with some important ideas and interesting questions. What do we do? What do we say? Our learning is grounded in the "companioning model of care," which asks us as birthworkers to be present and hold space for women and couples experiencing a loss. It's not about taking away someone's pain or "fixing" the situation, but rather being still with the process that is grief, offering companionship and absolute acceptance.
I'm pleased that the course included this excellent radio episode from the wonderful Kameelah Mu'min-Rashad, founder of the Muslim Wellness Foundation, on miscarriage and pregnancy loss in the Muslim community. In one of the interviews with Sabina Khan-Ibarra, who has explored her 2011 loss of her son Ibrahim in writing, she mentions how painful it is to hear that phrase "God tests those He loves most."
For Muslims, this is something that we hold to be true. We believe in a good and great God, and we believe that He gives us hardship. I would never say those words to someone going through a loss, whether Muslim or not, because they're words that try to fix the situation, try to make it better, to put it in perspective, and to make it more manageable (oftentimes I think it's someone's way of making it better for them, because of their discomfort with sitting with another person's sadness, or maybe discomfort with their own trauma). This kind of loss is not "manageable," and I'm not going to make sense of someone else's loss; I can't. I can't.
But I've been thinking about that phrase. Here's what I can offer, in this space. When I have experienced loss--of a different sort, but real--people said the same words to me. I had a hard time understanding how God could test me in the ways that He did. It felt like a hole had been punched in my life, and what welled out of it was just rage and grief, mostly, but lots of other things too. Over time, and with a great deal of support and reflection and dhikr and yoga, I came to realize that it wasn't a hole--it was a space. There was a space inside me that after enough time felt empty and clean, the way a bone is clean. I could fill it with whatever I wanted: bitterness, resentment, hasad, or love, compassion, patience, and gratitude.
When people unexpectedly lose a pregnancy, it is (usually) devastating. Joy and anticipation implode into shock, then congeal into grief. Parents second guess their choices, scan for what they might have done or not done, how it might have been their "fault," they grapple with the choices to be made, they return home to empty nurseries, they hold it together when others say the wrong thing or pass judgment... And eventually, they heal. They may always feel sad, will always miss their baby--a baby who was real and existed and whom they related to in all kinds of ways--and they will find things to put into the space that this experience created in their hearts. It's not for me to say what that should be, but if I could say anything, it's that the intensity of grief doesn't last forever, and it can give way to both terrible and beautiful things.
Resources & Reading:
Ghostbelly, Elizabeth Heineman. This is an incredible and challenging and humbling account of Heineman's stillbirth.
"Adopting a Buddhist Ritual to Mourn Miscarriage," NPR. What I find beautiful about this story is one mother's realization that her suffering is a window into all people's suffering.
"12 Things I Needed to Hear from my Caregiver After my Miscarriage," Elizabeth Petrucelli, The Mighty