Active Healing for Stillbirth Trauma

I had a stillbirthThis weekend I am getting additional training in esoteric healing, a type of energy work, with Patricia Enstad, MS, LISW, CMT.  I have been using energy work in my therapy sessions for a couple of years.  I am now preparing a talk for the Star Legacy Foundation’s Stillbirth Summit 2014 in June called “Active Healing:  Treating the Mind-Body Trauma of Stillbirth with Energy Psychotherapy.”  Here’s a teaser:  talk therapy is not enough to heal from the physical, emotional, relational, and energetic traumas of a stillbirth.

If you have had a stillbirth, what would you like doctors and others to know about your experience?   Please leave a comment here or send me a private email at  Please share this question with others.  Healing comes from our working together.

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Please Don’t Say These Things to Someone Who Has Had a Miscarriage

I found a great article by Julie Ryan Evans on a site called The Stir.  It’s called 8 Things Not to Say to a Woman Who Has Suffered a Miscarriage This is a powerful reminder all year but particularly at Christmas time.  Women AND men suffer at holiday time when they are struggling with miscarriage, infertility, or pregnancy loss.  Here’s a reminder:  1) You don’t have to fix it; and 2) Empathy and kindness go a long way.

8 Things Not to Say to a Woman Who Has Suffered a Miscarriage

by Julie Ryan Evans (August 22, 2013)

It’s been more than 12 years since I had my first miscarriage. There was another one after that. I’ll never forget going into the doctor’s office with all the hope and excitement in the world, only to have the doctor’s wand circle my stomach looking for a heartbeat and finding none.

It’s still something that makes me ache sometimes. I think of the life that began growing inside my body that never made it into my arms. The pain has dulled over the years as I’ve had two healthy children since, but it has hit me hard at various times since they happened, especially when people say the wrong things. Most people mean well, but sometimes their words sting. Here are eight things no one should say to a woman who has had a miscarriage.

1. “It wasn’t meant to be.”

Then why did I get pregnant in the first place? Why was it meant to be that I endure this pain?

2. “At least it happened really early.”

I don’t care how far along you are in a pregnancy; once you get the positive test result, you start planning, dreaming, and loving that little being growing inside you.

3. “Did you eat lunch meat/smoke/drink/go horseback riding/exercise too much?”

Please. My doctor and I will try and figure out what happened, but in most cases, nothing a woman did causes a miscarriage.

4. “Once you get pregnant again, you’ll feel better.”

Maybe, but it doesn’t mean the loss of this pregnancy won’t be something I mourn.

5. “Next time you should try …”

Anything that implies there was something I could have done or not done to make this happen just induces feelings of guilt.

6. “It was probably for the best.”

Yes, some miscarriages are due to chromosomal abnormalities, but pointing that out isn’t helpful. There’s no “best” in this situation.

7. “At least you know you can get pregnant.”

Yes, but I also know that my body can lose a pregnancy. It’s not that easy to just move onto the next one.

8. Nothing.

Avoiding the subject or not acknowledging that a miscarriage happened can be as painful as hurtful words. A simple, “I’m sorry, let me know if you would like to talk” goes a long way.

Have you had a miscarriage? If so, what hurtful things have people said to you?

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It’s the Holidays…Again (and You’re Still Struggling with Infertility or Pregnancy Loss)

It’s that time of year again when everything is beautiful and everyone is happy.  It’s a time for pretty parties and get-togethers with family and friends.  It’s a time to be thankful for what you have.  Most noticeable is that the holidays are for children.  Lots of children.  They seem to be everywhere.

For those who are experiencing problems with infertility or pregnancy loss, it can be a confusing and difficult time of the year.  For many, the fact that another year has passed without a pregnancy or another child can be very disheartening.  Time and sensation seem altered, like walking around in a bad movie.  Even the simple act of shopping for gifts for others can be a trial.

There are a great many expectations about the holidays as well.  Many families have enjoyable traditions and rituals that can be traced back for generations.  It’s a time for good cheer and good will.  We exchange gifts with loved ones.  ‘Tis the season, put a smile on your face!  Boy, that’s a tall order for someone who is worrying about their fertility.

I get a lot of questions this time of year from my patients who are struggling with infertility or pregnancy loss about the rules of engagement with family and friends.  So often I hear that their presence is expected and even required at family gatherings.  Not only is physical presence mandatory but emotional presence is required as well. It is at holiday time that my patients come to me in tears, not wanting to ruin a good time for others but tired and resentful about having to pretend to be happy.  “We have been pretending to be okay for years,” they tell me, “and we are not.”

Sometimes acting like things are okay does work.  It offers the opportunity to be a part of a treasured group.  Since infertility can be very isolating, it can be helpful sometimes just to show up and be loved.  But often, others who know you well can tell the difference between sincerity and acting.  That can cause friction in some circumstances.  People who are grieving just don’t make very good partygoers.

I’d like to make a suggestion.  Just try this on and see how it feels to you.  Maybe the holidays are a good time to practice being an adult.  Let me explain.  We are required all day to act like adults, whether we feel like it or not.  At our jobs or our other roles, we make decisions, even difficult ones, and take responsibility for them.  We take risks and deal with the consequences of our actions.  We ask for help when we need to and we admit when we are too tired or too distressed to go any further.  Adults make their own decisions about that they would like to do, or not, as the case may be.  They choose who they would like to spend time with and under what conditions.

So why when it comes to setting good boundaries at holiday time do we forget all of our well-honed adult skills?  It’s as if we pack our adult selves away, in exchange for acknowledgment or approval.  We go along to get along.  We worry more about hurting others’ feelings than about our needs or our own distress.  Where does our ability to say “no” go?  “No” is one of the first words a toddler learns.  It helps to differentiate that child as a person who has wants and needs.  Why does “no” get replaced with “Yes (g-r-r-r-r-r)” at holiday time?

What if you are truly out of sorts and out of steam and cannot even consider attending one more social event?  What feelings does this raise for you?  Are you afraid that you will have to pay a price for your absence?  Unfortunately, in some circumstances, there will, in fact, be friction, guilt or some other manipulation that can make a person feel badly.  Is that enough to make you want to do something that you don’t want to do?  Could you suffer through it without feeling even worse?  Will your family or friends love you less because you need to do something different this year?  Answer truthfully.  It is more realistic that someone will be disappointed and miss you, if you or your partner do not attend.  Might you feel bitter or isolated, missing out on even more of your life?

Alternatively, might you get the warmth and caring that you need so badly just by showing up?  Would it feel good to be with loved ones, enjoying relationships that sustain you in good times and in bad?  Maybe it would be nice to put your worries aside, even if it’s only for a few moments.  It might be the right idea for you to be with others, sharing hope and dreams and healing some of the hurts inflicted by infertility.

What I am suggesting is that you have choices about how you would like to engage in the holiday season.  As with most things in life, it is important that you speak from your heart on these matters.  It is very important that you talk openly and honestly with your partner about what you can and cannot do.  Be prepared that you may each feel differently.  That is a very normal experience in the fertility treatment world.  You do not have to agree with one another but you must support your partner’s wishes.  It is what we count on in close relationships, that someone will have our back.  Maybe your spouse needs to explain to his family that you are just not up for things this year.  Maybe both of you need to make a pact with one another that a quiet time away developing your own ritual is in order.  The point is that you can decide what you need and when you need it.

Because this is what adults do.  We do our best to do what is right.  We try to live fair and just lives.  It’s okay to put yourself first sometimes.  Take a breather.  Let this season be a time of growth and peace for you.  You deserve it.

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A Plea for Open Conversation about Miscarriage

I came across this beautiful article at Lipstick and Politics called  “Why Can’t We Talk About Miscarriage?  Katrina Markel’s story about her miscarriage and why she felt that she was encouraged to keep the loss quiet may help others to be open.  I hope so.  Grief and secrecy lead to isolation and shame.  Let’s talk about miscarriage, so many can heal.

Why Can’t We Talk About Miscarriage?

November 11, 2013 at 6:14 am
Katrina Markel

Two days before my 38th birthday a doctor confirmed I was pregnant. I burst into tears, hugged a surprised and stoic nurse and immediately called my husband. There were times in the last few years when I was afraid that pregnancy just wasn’t in the cards for me. We married in our 30’s, delayed trying to conceive a little longer than originally planned and when we were finally ready to have a baby, the process wasn’t quick or easy. Nevertheless, at the “advanced maternal age” of nearly 38 I was pregnant!
I followed the advice of books, pregnancy websites and other women by only telling a handful of friends and family members that I was pregnant. The common line of thinking is that in the first trimester you should “only tell people you are willing to also tell about a miscarriage.”  The problem with this piece of advice is that it also leaves us with the impression that we’re not SUPPOSED to talk about miscarriage. It reinforces the isolation and shame that couples, especially women, feel after losing a pregnancy.

For exactly four weeks I was excited about being pregnant. We experienced the joy of telling our parents that after a long, long wait they would finally be grandparents. I glanced at the clothing in maternity departments and thought, “Oh, this stuff is pretty cute.” I cut way, way back on caffeine, took extra naps, had heartburn at 3am…all the stuff that makes it start to feel like a real pregnancy.  By eight weeks it was all over.

An ultrasound technician with a poor bedside manner dropped the bomb on us, “Okay, there’s the heartbeat! …Oh, I don’t see it now. It’s like it’s going in and out. Oh, this is weird, I’ve never seen this before. This is really weird. Okay – do you see the heartbeat because I don’t?”

Why are you asking me? How the hell do I know what to look for?

The ultrasound tech continued, “Well, there it is again, but it’s like it’s going in and out. Also the heartbeat is really low. It’s 93 beats per minutes.”  She said some other stuff about the size of the fetus and the yolk sack, but at that point my head was swimming. “Do you want me to print a picture of the baby?”  she asked.

“No, I don’t think so,” I said glancing over at my husband who looked just as shell shocked as I felt.  I didn’t see a point to keeping a picture if we were losing the pregnancy.

We met with the doctor who was a little more comforting than the ultrasound tech as he explained that sometimes a fetal heartbeat will be low one week and by the next week the baby bounces back, which gave us a glimmer of hope. In my heart of hearts though, I knew it was over and some quick internet research told me that the odds were not in our favor. That night I sobbed and sobbed. My mom came over and I cried on her shoulder, “I let everybody down. I’m sorry. I’m jealous of all those people who can do this so easily. I hate everyone who gets pregnant by accident at 18. I’m jealous of everyone with their cute baby pictures online. I’m jealous of the women my age having twins. It’s not fair. It’s not fair. When is it going to be MY turn?”

It wasn’t a pretty reaction, it wasn’t mature, it wasn’t even how I feel most of the time, but the impending loss was raw and I was heartbroken.

Part of the problem is that cute baby pictures and ultrasound images on Facebook don’t tell the whole story. Many of those mothers have already suffered a pregnancy loss or will suffer one at some point.  I felt as if I was the only woman in the world who’d lost a pregnancy when, in fact, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. My doctor told me that 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. According to an article in The Telegraph, it may even be more like 33%. The lowest statistic I’ve seen is about 20%, which is still one in every five pregnancies. What is certain is that it’s very, very common. Because we don’t openly talk about miscarriage, women don’t always know how many of their friends, colleagues, acquaintances and cousins have been through the same thing.  I’m glad that I didn’t discuss the pregnancy with everyone under the sun and my husband took care of informing friends because right after it happened, I didn’t want to talk about it. However, if more women were open about it,  perhaps the loss would have been easier to accept. I wouldn’t have felt so alone. As my mom said when she was trying to comfort me, “It’s just part of life.”

Losing the pregnancy was devastating, but it was overshadowed by the death of my father a few days later.  My dad died unexpectedly after a short time in the hospital. The grief from my dad’s death overwhelmed any loss I felt about the miscarriage. Two days after his funeral, a much kinder ultrasound technician confirmed that there was no fetal heartbeat; news that I expected, but was still hard to hear.  It’s likely that the miscarriage was inevitable — a genetic defect.  The doctor reminded us that this was very common and when I was healthy we could try again. I was sad, but already so heartbroken from losing a parent that the pain from the two events just melted together. I knew my dad my whole life, I didn’t know my baby at all. It wasn’t as painful as a stillbirth or an infant loss when mothers have already bonded with the baby. My grief was really for the lost opportunity, the May due date that won’t come, the maternity clothes that I won’t get to buy this winter and the baby shower I won’t have in the spring.  However, losing my dad put things into perspective. I’ll still have a chance to get pregnant again or adopt a child.  I’ll never get my dad back.

There are resources and support groups for women coping with pregnancy and infant loss. For instance, I found discussion threads on sites such as, but it would be better if we could just be more open about these things without suffering in silence, feeling guilty or feeling fear of judgement. A few days after the miscarriage was confirmed, I was back enjoying the photos of adorable children on Facebook and feeling a little more hopeful that I’d eventually get my turn to post similar ones. The most helpful thing for me was realizing how common this is. It’s time we end the taboo and start talking to each other about pregnancy and infant loss.

Besides, if it can happen to Jay-Z and Beyonce and they can talk about it, why can’t I?

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Face2Face Pregnancy Loss Group Meets at Partners in Healing of Minneapolis

Face2Face, the Twin Cities chapter of Faces of Loss, Faces of Hope, will start meeting at Partners in Healing of Minneapolis on December 17th at 6:30 pm. Meetings will be held on the third Tuesday of every month! Please join the kick off meeting at the new location on Tuesday, December 17th at 6:30 PM.

Partners in Healing of Minneapolis
10505 Wayzata Boulevard, #200 (2nd floor)
Minnetonka, MN 55305

**Enter the building on the west side across from Voyager Bank.

Faces of Loss, Faces of Hope and it’s Twin Cities chapter, Face2Face, is a support group for those who have suffered stillbirth, miscarriage, or infant loss.  All are welcome.

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