baby loss

Grief + Loss Anniversaries Part I

As the three year anniversary of Oliver's due date approaches, I've been reflecting on the unpredictability of grief and the significance of anniversaries.

It doesn't matter what kind of loss -- the death of a loved one (person, pet, business, dream, etc.), a trauma or accident or a medical diagnosis -- there will be anniversaries, markers, triggers and memories (sometimes even physical "body" memories) that will come, and some will ask to be honored or acknowledged.

 

Grief and loss are a part of every life. These are a natural part of being human.

However, our culture does not acknowledge the profound impact of these events, and definitely does not provide the space for these types of losses to be openly discussed or shared.

In fact, we are often urged, subtly or overtly, to deal with the loss privately and swiftly, and get back to life as though nothing has changed.

Tenfold when we're experiencing emotions around an anniversary of something that happened maybe years ago; others may not understand, probably won't know what do or say or how to help support you.

 

This is a two-part support guide for navigating hard anniversaries and important loss dates in your life.
 

Part I
 

Self Kindness

Foremost, be EXtra gentle and kind with yourself around Anniversary time.

Maybe you feel nothing. That's ok.
Maybe you forget (see Forgetting and Remembering in Part II). That's ok.
Maybe you cry and rage (see Grief Emotions in Part II). That's ok.

If you know a particular marker is a hard time for you, go slow, be gentle, take care. Some years are harder than others, some losses are harder than others, so many things are out of your control.

What you do have agency over is how you treat yourself through it all.

Let go of any unkind story about being wimpy or it shouldn't bother you after all this time or you have to be strong. Wash that off your hands and watch it flow down the drain.

Life carries on, for sure, and when you're able, treat yourself with the tenderness you would grant a friend.

 

The Ambush

Grief can jump out from behind the bushes at any time. You know this. I call it The Ambush. Your wedding song comes on in the grocery store, you smell fresh vanilla bean, someone serves rhubarb pie at a pool party, and suddenly you are teleported to another world, another lifetime. You might want to flee, you might freeze, you might be overcome with emotion. 

I was ambushed this winter while walking the dog through the neighborhood after dark and seeing a man through the window reading to his young son. I cried the whole way home and then some.

You'll probably be more sensitive to Ambushes around anniversary times. You might tell yourself your reaction is unwarranted given the event that triggered it. Phooey on that. In addition to your memories and emotions about your loss, your body and your senses remember the light, the season, the scents of that time of year. As you spiral past these dates again and again, parts of your brain are lighting up, emotions are stirred and set in motion. Allow this to flow as best you can and give yourself what you need in the moment.

 

Significant Anniversaries 

Not all anniversaries will feel significant. I remember most of the dates related to the pregnancy down to appointment dates, yet the only two dates I plan around are the day he died and the day he was supposed to be born. You get to decide what dates feel important to you and you don't have to justify why.

It's also possible that what is important to you or touches you as the years go by will change. You might also be Ambushed by a date that you didn't think was a big deal, but triggers a memory that is tender. Give yourself so much love when this happens.

 

Early Anniversaries

Especially if you are in your first year or two of anniversaries (or if you have a lot of Ambushes), it might be interesting to know that often the anticipation of the anniversary is a lot harder than the day itself. I found this to be true and upon doing some reading and research, found out that it's common. The lead up, the dread, the reliving of those "last" whatevers can be consuming, stressful and exhausting. When The Day comes, maybe all our emotion is spent, who knows -- often it is just not as brutally hard as we thought it would be, or at least not as hard as the days leading up to it. That's not a promise, just a possibility.

Speaking of years one and two... many people find year two harder than year one. I think mostly this speaks to the unpredictability of grief and reminds us to let go of expecting it to go any particular way. Maybe anniversary #14 is the hardest of all. We just take it as it comes.

 

What else is going on?

How we approach and process an anniversary has a lot to do with what else is going on in our lives. Have you had time to care for yourself lately? Do you have other heavy things happening right now? Even how you slept the night before the date can affect how stable or fluid you feel. Everything affects everything. Again, unpredictable = yes; expectations = no.

 

Part II of the anniversary guide includes ideas on ritual and ceremony, how to use anniversaries for reflection, a reminder about what emotions are valid in grief and why to share your anniversaries with others. 

Read Part II here.

 

 

why i started doing fitness classes

A couple of years ago I decided to add a fitness class to the schedule of the yoga studio. Because It's All Yoga is known for the highest caliber of yoga teaching around, people were curious, to say the least, about why I would add a gym-type cardio class to the line up.

Sometimes life surprises us, right?

Losing a mid-term baby affected every layer of my being. It took time to physically heal, I had lost faith in life and I was a good way down the tunnel of depression. 

Given my vocation and familiar practices, one might think I would get on my yoga mat. Not so. Asana practice was a landmine for a long time — too slow, too much “feeling,” too many associations. So I had to find something else.

Additionally, my therapist prescribed endorphins as antidepressants, which meant making myself do aerobic workouts for at least 30 minutes, 4-5 times a week. 

In desperation, off I went to the gym. Group fitness classes, no less. It was not love at first sight, and it didn’t work immediately. But after about four months, it became one of my most important self-care practices.

And something else started to happen — the chemical rush was good for my brain, but feeling strong in my body (well, not at first) was also a key piece. It reminded me of the importance of basic cardiovascular fitness.

Lastly, these classes and this type of exercise forced me to look at my scripts around “exercise:”

  • “I’m not fit in that way.”
  • “I could never do that kind of class.”
  • “I’m not that type of person.”
  • “I’m not strong enough.”

And looking at our scripts is always a good thing.

Because here’s an important fact — we need both cardiovascular work and rest.

We all have our preferred end of the spectrum. I like stretching and lying about. Type A’ers like Crossfit and power flow in 90 degree heat.

But we all need movement and a variety of ranges of motion, as well as stillness and rest. 

Heart rate variability, nervous system restoration, regulating hormones, healthy circulation, effective digestion and much more happen when you have both — not just one or the other.

So where can you get this range?

  • Well, yoga asana can be aerobic. Sun Salutations (commonly referred to as Vinyasa or flow) are active and dynamic. Be aware and purposeful through the transitions, go at a pace that is realistic for you and rest when your alignment starts to crumble.
  • Go for a brisk walk, a jog or a bike ride...then go home and put your legs up the wall.
  • If you belong to a fitness gym, try a group class! Yes, it might smell weird, the music will be loud, you might look or feel silly...just go with it.
  • You can pretend jump rope, do squats, push ups or lunge dips at home -- anything that appropriately challenges you and gets the heart rate up for at least 10 minutes at a time. Then sit or lie down and do a few stretches. Don't make it complicated.

Always great to rally a friend to do it with you -- more fun and accountability. 

Challenge the things you tell yourself -- I'm too this, I'm not enough this, I can't, I always. Yoga practice is in part about purification, refinement and self-knowledge. Use discomfort zone experiments as a way to deepen on all levels.

Let me know how it goes!

out of hiding

This is not a message I planned on writing. From the very beginning of this story, through the twists and turns, I intended to not draw attention to it. And yet, as time passes, I find myself compelled to share as a practice of receiving, as a hand reaching to others who feel alone or shamed in their suffering, and as a way to honor the life and loss that is so profound right now.

I have spent the last six months hiding.

Last fall I found out that I was pregnant. I was sick much of the time, which kept me away from teaching. I felt cautious knowing the risks at my age, and I wanted some privacy as I adjusted to my new and very unexpected circumstances.

The weeks turned to months, and I made it past the magic three-month mark. At one of the few classes I taught in the latter part of the year, I shared my news. No more hiding my changing body, my absence, my new role. I was excitedly rearranging my plans (inner and outer) for my life.

In the following month, I received the results of a blood test that showed that the baby had an extra chromosome. Like Noah’s Ark, we come with two of each – he had three of one. It was a terminal diagnosis.

Despite the accuracy of the blood test, my doctor emphatically urged that I wait three more weeks until I could have an amniocentesis, which would give a definitive result. This was an unbearable time of fear and dread… and more hiding.

In the middle of January I got the call. Joan Didian starts her book, The Year of Magical Thinking with the line, “Life changes in an instant.” Mine changed dramatically three times in a very short amount of time. The baby did in fact have the extra chromosome. Only one in 6000 babies with this condition make it to term, only to live a few days.

For my physical and emotional health, I decided to end the pregnancy.

It’s difficult to put words to all of this. I have been in a washing machine of depression, despair, grief and rage. This is a physical healing as well as emotional, psychic and spiritual.  It has dismantled my life in many ways. I suppose that is when we get to decide how we put things back together.

By making the brain organize words around this incomprehensible story, I can start to integrate it into the fabric of my life. It slowly begins to find its resting place.

While I do not have the big insight or list of lessons learned, this does bring up conversations I want to be a part of:

I am struck by how much silence there is around events in the human life cycle, particularly related to death. Maybe even more so around women’s health. Infertility, miscarriage and pregnancy challenges are private matters, certainly, but in keeping these experiences hidden, it’s easy to slip into shame, isolation and guilt. For me, it also dishonors the life that was and the loss I feel.

No one is exempt from loss and pain, so why pretend it doesn’t happen? (Many reasons worth investigating.)

Let’s open a dialogue about how to be with someone who is in grief. I believe we are asked to increase our capacity for discomfort and vulnerability so we can be with someone who is in deep pain. Without wanting to fix it, without making it about us.

As my therapist confirmed, most people want to talk about their loss. It’s probably the most real and constant thing in their lives. It may be awkward or uncomfortable to call attention to someone’s suffering, but to not acknowledge it is like pretending you don’t see the sign they are holding that says, “I’m hurting.”

This doesn’t always require elaborate words – a touch of the hand, a simple “I’ve been thinking of you” can be enough.

At the same time, a well-meaning “I’m glad you’re better now” or “it will get better with time” can come across as, “Please get back to ‘normal’ so we don’t have to talk about it.” Even when a person is past the acute stages of grief and having moments of enjoying life again, the loss is always right underneath the surface. You can't "remind me" of my loss -- there isn't a moment when I have forgotten.

Some things can’t be fixed. This is a foreign idea in our culture. When recovering from loss or trauma, there’s no way to shortcut or lessen the blow (at least not healthy ways). We can’t figure it out or make a plan, which the mind is so anxious to do.

There's also no "right way" to grieve. My experience may be very different than another woman's.

We eventually heal, but grief is slow to scab and always leaves a scar. It’s also cyclical and can be triggered by the smallest of things. It’s essential to not rush inner healing – our own or another’s. How difficult it can be to remember this. The practices of kindness, compassion and forgiveness become as necessary as breath.

 

There’s an intimacy that comes with sharing our humanness, and in that intimacy, many things can come up. I share my story with sensitivity and respect for what it can trigger in others. As part of this practice, make room for whatever emotions, memories or judgments that may have come up for you.

 

This practice asks us to come out of the places we hide. If you want to share stories you’ve held inside, I welcome them. My intention as a teacher has always been to have a space where things that have been hidden can be shared openly, from the physical to the esoteric.

And this is when I am reminded what Yoga is. It’s not poses, it’s not having an OM tattoo, not being able to speak the lingo. Or at least it’s not only those things. Sometimes it’s the honesty of anger or elation, sometimes it’s hiding and today, it’s being undisguised, letting myself be seen.

There isn’t anything that isn’t Yoga. It’s all Yoga, right?