I knew that miscarriages were very common. I knew that even as many as 20-percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. I knew many friends who had had miscarriages, some of whom had had them multiple times. So when I went in for my eight-week check-up, expecting to hear a heartbeat and hearing instead, nothing, I ran the statistics in my mind. I remember telling myself, “This happens to many women. It’s fine.” Even my OB’s empathy felt surprising at the time—she was usually so blunt and matter-of-fact. After my appointment, I got into a cab and scheduled my D&C (dilation and curettage, the procedure that clears the uterine lining after a miscarriage).
Everyone knows cabs are the best place to cry in NYC, and as I told my mom what had happened on the phone, I finally started to. Just because a thing is common doesn’t mean it’s not also terrible and heartbreaking. My friends were wonderful—one sent me flowers with a note that read, “This sucks.” The co-workers I told at the time were incredibly sympathetic. But there are lots of ways that women can heal following a pregnancy loss, and I hadn’t really considered any of them. I didn’t think to seek out any treatments to heal my body or my mind. I just figured time would heal all wounds, my body would do its thing, and I would move on.
Just because a thing is common doesn’t mean it’s not also terrible and heartbreaking.
It was my mom who suggested that I get an acupuncture treatment. And because she is my mom, because she knows me better than anyone, she booked the treatment for me knowing I wouldn’t go myself. “While there are some general considerations in Chinese medicine for any woman who has had a miscarriage, it’s a very individually tailored medicine,” says LAc Alexandra Knox, who administered my treatments. Simplistically, Knox explains, it works like this: Acupuncture is a powerful re-regulator of the nervous system, releasing endogenous opioid peptides, which are your “feel good” hormones. And when your nervous system is relaxed, your blood flows more easily—more blood flow means things in the body can be repaired more easily, including stemming blood loss after a D&C. She also performed something called moxibustion, which involves burning the moxa herb on particular points in the body—in my case, over my belly button. The technique, Knox says, “is almost always used post-partum, and a miscarriage is a kind of post-partum event.” She describes its function as a kind of “reset button,” in this instance, for getting the uterus back in order. Whether it did that I can't be sure, but in the moment it felt warm and weird and specific to my particular loss.
There is a false logic we employ when we tell ourselves that if something happens to a lot of people, it can’t be that bad. And those acupuncture treatments were helpful and nourishing in ways I couldn’t have anticipated; they gave me the intimate space to acknowledge what had happened, rather than just move on to the next meeting or the next play date with my 2-and-a-half-year-old. That was powerful. “Acupuncture was the only thing that felt like it was actually helping in a lot of ways,” says NY1 News anchor Jamie Stelter. “The truth was, after my miscarriages, I would either be too sad, too confused, or too angry to get a good sleep. And this was a chance to get some actual sleep and feel like I was doing something for myself. Something that didn’t force me to be social in any way. Because I really didn’t want to be around people, I didn’t want to talk to people.” Stelter, who now has two healthy babies, went to NYC’s Yinova Center, which specializes in fertility and reproductive health. “I would send anyone to Kymberly," Stelter says. “She would say, ‘Oh, you had a miscarriage at nine weeks, your body needs xyz.’ She knew exactly where I was in my cycle.”
"I really didn’t want to be around people, I didn’t want to talk to people."
Or maybe it’s about getting some distance—emotionally, as well as physically. When Quartz writer Jenni Avins found herself reporting on a group healing retreat at Antara in Taos, New Mexico, she said she “just kept returning to this moment in my mind of finding out I was pregnant, the magic of that moment, and feeling so deeply sad at losing that.” Avins says the retreat, “helped recontextualize the experience and find a little bit of peace in the process.” It gave her some tools and, importantly, space away from her home in Los Angeles to start to move through it. Rather than finding that space in stolen moments—say, screaming in her car with the windows up—Antara gave her three days to “feel whatever I felt” and to acknowledge that “just because it’s common, doesn’t mean it’s not traumatic.” It was a sentiment that felt familiar. “I don’t think it’s anyone’s intention when they tell you ‘It’s so common’ that they think you should power through,” says Avins, “but part of what’s internalized is to just power through.”
Of course, there are other tools besides acupuncture and wellness retreats. For Julia Bueno, a psychotherapist and author of The Brink of Being: Talking About Miscarriage, it was running. Bueno had three miscarriages and lost twin girls at 22 weeks. She has two healthy children now and says it wasn’t until after the birth of her son, something she never believed would happen, that she took up running. “I was so at odds with my body,” she says. “I spent ten years feeling like it had let me down, and running let me reconnect with my body as a powerful, good thing that I could be happy with,” she says. “I could re-story my pregnancy losses not about my body failing and, instead, just, shit happens to women.”
"It’s about turning to yourself and saying, ‘I’m angry, I’m grieving, and that was really shit.’"
Indeed it does. Bueno, whose practice specializes in dealing with pregnancy loss, notes that, of course, everyone’s experience of processing is different. “For you, it might be acupuncture, for the next it might be pruning roses, for the next it might be baking 100 cakes, for me it’s running,” she says. But, Bueno notes, “the golden thread throughout is acknowledgment, however we seek it out: through others, through acupuncture, through self-care.” It’s not, she says, about booking a massage for a moment of relaxation. “It’s about turning to yourself and saying, ‘I’m angry, I’m grieving, and that was really shit.’”
It struck me that there’s no better way to sum up the experience of miscarriage. It’s just really shit—there are layers and degrees to that shittiness for every woman who has experienced it. Some will need to seek out additional talk therapy and medication to deal with grieving that may never go away. What I wish I’d known before is that there are so many ways of healing and seeking acknowledgment for that shit. Whichever one helps is the right one.
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