Saturday, April 04, 2009

"The light is round like a ring and we move within its movement."

Inside the light

your soul circles
winding down until it dies out,
growing like the ringing of a bell.

And between dying and being born again
there is so little room, nor is the frontier
so harsh.

The light is round like a ring
and we move within its movement.

from Not Everything is Now by Pablo Neruda

How do I write about the hidden realities of pregnancy? How do I write about the "opposite of birth"? How do I write about that unknown space between life and death?

In this blog I focus on the joy of working with pregnant women, attending their amazing Slow Births, and helping them through their postpartum journeys. But there are other journeys that some must travel. I hear their stories. Now, it's time to start telling some of these stories.

Because so many clients stay in touch with me after their first birth, I'm often one of the first people to hear about the second pregnancy: "I'm signing you up right away this time!" I've even had some phone calls from the bathroom! "Guess what?!"

But, since it's estimated that up to 20% (or more?) of all pregnancies may actually result in miscarriage, I also receive a number of phone calls each month from those same women - as they experience early pregnancy loss. They call me from bathrooms, from cars, from bedrooms.

"I started spotting this afternoon. What does it mean?"
"I just felt such a strong sense of dread that I went to the ultrasound knowing that something was wrong."
"I thought I was 14 weeks, but it stopped growing at 8 weeks."
"They say it was an empty sac, an anembryonic pregnancy. They say it was never a baby."
"I wasn't feeling sick any more, and I just knew."
"I think I'm having a Slow Miscarriage."
"I took the misoprostol and NOTHING HAPPENED. Can't believe it."
"Tennis ball sized things (blood clots) were coming out. I collapsed."
"I'm really struggling."
"It all happened the way it was supposed to. It was sad and awful. But it was even more empowering and incredible than those more negative things."
"I don't really know how to move beyond this sadness."
"We will try again, soon, I hope."

Eight clients have traveled this journey of loss in the past month. One woman is going through her second loss since last October, when she lost twins. Some have gone for a D&C instantly. Some have waited for weeks for everything to happen naturally. One travelled to Ontario and miscarried in her mother's home. No one had a miscarriage that was what she expected. Each story is completely different.

Sometimes, a woman and her partner must travel this journey alone, because the pregnancy loss can happen so early that she's not even seen her doctor or midwife. She doesn't know where to go, what to do. The Early Pregnancy Loss Clinic at BC Women's Hospital offers medical care, support and guidance, and Family Physicians and Counselors can help with the changing emotions that follow miscarriage. But, often, my clients call me because they know I've been through this experience personally, and have gained wisdom from the stories gathered from other women. Each woman knows that I will focus on her alone and listen as she tells her story, listen when she gets angry, and listen when words just won't work any more.

We hold our stories up to the light. We tell our stories to each other. We won't forget.

To start, this is my story. I never had a hard time physically with miscarriage. Both times, everything came away quickly, deeply, with me sitting in a red bath at home. Thankfully, I never bled too much nor too long. The physical aspect did not scare me. It felt right, complete, connected. I healed gently.

But, the first time I miscarried, in March 1986, all I could think was - Where did the lost spirit go? What was the spirit's purpose? Would it ever come back again? Was this its only time here as a physical being? I couldn't get the image of the lost spirit out of my head. I needed some meaning. And I was lost.

My husband couldn't help me. He wanted to help, but his loss was different, more theoretical. I needed stories told by women. I asked women for their stories of pregnancy loss, and heard nothing. It was still a time of whispers - "I hear she lost her baby, poor thing." Only my mother told me her stories of loss, why there were five empty years between my brother and me, and why I had a mental snapshot of her being carried out of our bathroom by large men (another pregnancy loss after a car accident when I was two). Only after I'd heard all her stories was I able to integrate my experience and find understanding.

When I miscarried a second time, in March 1988, while I was still breastfeeding my second baby, I was relieved. Yes, relieved. I admit it. I was so thankful that I wouldn't have to give up precious time with my son, precious time with my daughter. Did this lost spirit come and go just to help me decide that I only wanted two children? I really didn't feel any sense of loss. I looked at guilt and chose not to let it in. The miscarriage felt necessary, right, complete, connected.

Those losses eventually merged with the intense joy of being alive, being able to look up at the sun shining through the trees, knowing that everything is connected. We are all connected.

Now, all these years later, in March 2009, eight women called to tell me their stories of loss. Just like all the women who have come before them, they continue to tell me their stories, so we don't forget. We hold each other up to the light with our stories.

Each telling and retelling makes life feel more real, more exquisitely beautiful for its fragility.

The light is round like a ring
and we move within its movement.

- Jacquie Munro, Vancouver Doula, Slow Birth, Slow Planet


Shawna said...

so, so true. thanks for sharing. i feel that's the best thing women can do to heal each other and cherish those lost spirits. i, too, wonder similar things as you did. thanks again, i'm glad to know those women had someone to go to.

Katia Shtefan said...

What a beautiful poem. I think that it was Neruda's profound connection to nature that made him aware of life's ceaseless continuity.

If you really like Neruda, check out Red Poppy at It's a non-profit set up to create a documentary about Neruda, publish his biography, and translate his works into English. To see our blog on Neruda’s literary activism, go to