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?