Self-Care after a Miscarriage

All of the views expressed here are my own. I have used “alternative” care most of my life and find it helpful in combination with western medical care, particularly in caring for my overall wellbeing.


1 Month Today

Today marks the 1 month point since I lost the baby. We would have been starting our 4th month of pregnancy today, and instead we are mourning and reflecting on 1 month since our loss.

Self-care is particularly important when my strength and resilience are stretched thin by a circumstance like this, outside of my control. I stay on the look out for ways to manage the stress and anxiety that flare up for me from time to time. But in a time like right now, when my emotions are high, and can come up unexpectedly, I find it even more important to make a concerted effort to maintain balance and practice thoughtful self-care.

A traumatic, stressful, sad life event is the perfect storm for making stress and anxiety hit a fever pitch, and I’m determined to get through this in a healthy reasonable way.

Here are a few of the things I’ve been doing to take care of myself since the miscarriage:

Scale Back.
One of the first and strongest feelings after returning home to Michigan after the miscarriage was that the feeling that family and home are the most important things to tend to in my life right now. This meant cutting back on outward commitments to save my energy for work, family and my personal care and interests. Sometimes getting out and getting active is a good thing, but right now it feels like all of the extracurricular commitments would just cause me to avoid my feelings, avoid thinking about things, avoid quiet moments to process our loss and grow past it. I decided that sticking to the things that matter most: my family life and health will help me heal more quickly and more fully so that when we are ready to try again I am balanced and ready.

Sure, I have had moments of guilt for dropping out of some commitments to groups I’m involved with. I tried my best to be respectful of their needs and communicated what was going on as promptly as I could. I just know that if I don’t take care of myself now, the grief will only come up later in disruptive ways. Right now, beyond my job, my main responsibilities and my all of my energy are dedicated to healing our family, tending my bond with my husband, and  caring for my physical and emotional health. These are my only and main concerns, and that is okay.

Get sleep.
Letting myself get over tired is a big no no when I’m under emotional stress. When I’m over tired everything feels harder and I get more reactive and it’s harder to stay positive. My negative thinking can get out of hand quickly, even in the best of times, and when you heap being over tired to the equation it’s a recipe for disaster.

Sleep is healing. I often work things out in my dream life. It’s really important to keep up a healthy sleep routine when emotionally tested. Not too much, not too little. I’m trying to stick with a solid 8 hour routine to keep myself on track. In the late hours if I’m not in bed and ready to sleep, the sad and longing thoughts of loss creep in, the arguments and emotional, irrational behavior pick up quickly. If you are anything like me, do everyone a favor and give yourself an early bed time and a regular wake up call. When that alarm goes off, get up and get going with your day.

Talk About It
If you need to talk about what has happened, go ahead and talk about it. Don’t wait for others to ask, or expect others to bring it up. Not to say you should share when you don’t feel comfortable, or all of the time, but I’ve found that most people are nervous to bring it up for fear of reminding me or upsetting me… so it’s up to me to bring it up if I’m feeling the need to share a thought or feeling about what has happened. It can be a dark place in the days after losing a baby, don’t spend your energy being upset with people for not asking, or being angry with them for something they don’t know.

Find the people you feel safe talking with about your feelings. It doesn’t have to be everyone, but find a few people you can share your thoughts with and go ahead and talk. Telling your story, recounting memories, sadness, and concerns can be a release. Hearing about the sadness other people I love are experiencing has also helped me feel that I’m not alone in my grief (not that I want anyone to be sad, but it is validating to know I’m not the only one grieving the loss of the potential life of our little one).

Assume that people mean well. Many people don’t understand, can’t understand what it means to lose a child early in pregnancy. Many will say things that can be a bit upsetting… assume that they mean well and move on to find people who will support you in the ways you need. I found that speaking out publicly about our loss allowed me to find other people who have been through pregnancy loss. Sharing with them and discussing the deep feelings of grief and fear has been really helpful. Knowing that they understand that this was a child we lost, and not just a blip on the radar is comforting.

For me, sharing in writing has been as cathartic as sharing in person (and is available whenever I need it). You can read my story, and some of my musings about the miscarriage herehere, and here.

Physical care.
I saw my OB Gyn in the first weeks after the miscarriage to make sure I was medically ok. That was the first step and the minimum of what I could do to care for myself physically. I’ve written in the past about developing a meditation practice, and my forays into acupuncture (you can read about those here and here).  Acupuncture, chiropractic care, and massage have been really helpful ways to support my wellbeing.

In the week or two right after the miscarriage I suffered from severe lower back pain and headaches. I’ve read that these are common symptoms after a miscarriage due to dropping hormone levels and the body readjusting and the uterus shrinking back down. The physical memories of the pregnancy and the pain of the miscarriage were overwhelming and often led to emotional pain. While some of this just had to be endured, I decided to take initiative and fix what I could.

The chiropractic office I go to, Optimal Wellness Family Chiropractic, has been a great source of support and care during my years in Royal Oak. I discovered Dr. Michaela through a Groupon for a massage at her clinic and have been going back since (Brian, my husband, now goes there as well). This office happens to focus on pregnancy and pediatrics, so I felt this was a good place to go for post-miscarriage care. Sure, it was a small splurge to get Brian and myself each a massage, but it was worth it to provide my body with the physical relief and relaxation after such a traumatic event. The chiropractic adjustments, caring concern, and listening ear that Dr. Michaela provided in those first few days alleviated not only some of my physical pain and discomfort, but also helped me feel cared for and safe in my grief.

Exercise and healthy diet. 
We are taking this new-found pre-babies time to work on my physical health. I gained some lb’s over the winter and  during the pregnancy I couldn’t make any drastic changes in exercise routine and diet. Now that I have the time (whether we want it or not) I’m committed to taking care of my body as much as possible. I’ve been following the Buzzfeed Clean Eating Challenge as a way to manage my diet and “reset” my eating behaviors that led to the weight gain (you can read more about that here). Brian and I have also been following a 30 day ab challenge to work on toning up, and we are taking advantage of sunshine for long walks with our pup.

These things not only make me feel happy because they are things I like to do, but the exercise and healthy eating make me physically feel great and boost my overall mood. Sure, there have been times I’ve wanted to eat my feelings during the last month, but I’ve decided to not engage in self-destructive behaviors that will only make things worse. I can’t take the chance right now of pushing myself even deeper into grief, and a potential depressive episode. Right now, I’m going to do everything I can to lift myself up.

Check yourself (before you wreck yourself)
Don’t risk traveling down the road of spiraling negative thinking. It takes a lot of work and practice to learn to recognize negative thought patterns. Knowing what to look out for and how to turn your thinking around is a great place to start learning how to check yourself. I’ll admit… I slip up all of the time. Just last night I was deep in a cycle of spiraling negative thoughts, I was near the edge emotionally and it was not good. I let my deep feelings of sadness spin into negative feelings about my life, relationships, and everything in-between. I was deep in it before I realized I was in a spiral, and by then harm had been done. With the tools of self-reflective thinking, support from my husband, time, and a little sleep, I was able to pull myself back up a bit to make it through today.

It’s a constant process of catching myself on my way to, or in a place of anger, bitterness, or self-pity, and then purposefully and thoughtfully drawing my mind away from those destructive thoughts. Here are some resources that talk about how to recognize negative thinking, negative self-talk and how to “talk back”:

Things aren’t great. Bad things have happened. I choose to keep going, I choose to focus on making our lives better and fighting for the chance to try again, even if I’m scared shitless about what could happen if the unthinkable happens again. I’m going to be a fighter. That’s my choice.

Buy yourself flowers
Or whatever small acts that make you feel joy.


Acupuncture and Meditation

I’ve finally done it. I am official practicing meditation for one 45-60 minute session a week. It’s not much, but it’s a start.

It started with the longest, driest winter ever. This is not good weather for someone with psoriasis and a system prone to inflammation. With zero moisture in the air (I may be exaggerating, that is not a scientific assessment), the small patches on my elbow and behind my ears were getting more and more out of hand. I’ll spare you the flakey, burning, painful details. To summarize, it ain’t pretty and it doesn’t feel good either.

A while back I had given the local acupuncture clinic a try, with much encouragement from my mother, but never made a regular commitment to going. I like it at the Community Acupuncture Clinic in Ferndale. There is a calm and warm ambiance, like a relaxing yoga studio. Sharing the room with the other people receiving treatment makes it less scary than it would be alone in a more clinical room. I like the idea of other people being present, all in a resting state with calm breathing (sometimes punctuated by snores). As my inflammation got worse, and my skin became less and less tolerable this winter, I decided it was time to really give acupuncture a real committed try.

I can’t speak on the results yet, but I’ll share once I’m further along in my journey. What I have found is that my weekly acupuncture session is the perfect time and place to practice mindfulness meditation.

Once the needles are in and I’m reclining in my lazy boy (the acupuncture room is all lazy boy recliners in a big circle around the room), I settle in to stillness. Partially out of not wanting to disturb the needles poking out of me, but also because after a long day of work, the best and hardest thing in the world to do is be still and calm.

As time goes on I hope to start practicing at home too, and more often. But a start is a start and I’m feeling good already.

Learning to Breathe

At the very beginning, when I had just started this blog I mentioned that I wanted to learn to keep a mindfulness meditation practice.

Here, years later, I haven’t quite gotten around to that yet. But I’m getting closer.

My mind goes a million miles a minute, and often my mouth goes faster. I type quickly, I text quickly and my thoughts jump ahead of me. Especially when I am in stress or conflict.

I very often find that in moments of intensity (whether intense concentration or intense emotion), I am holding my breath. When I am nervous, when I am angry or worried, when I am deep in thought; what all of these moments share is the discovery that I’ve pressed my tongue tight up against the back of my teeth and that my head is a bit dizzy from lack of breath.

There have been many breathless moments this year. With work and home life moving full speed ahead, and the familial stress-test of wedding planning, this is no surprise. At the intersection of expectations, hopes, family histories and futures, things can get a little crazy.

My mom and I have had a particularly challenging road this year. I know lots of brides and mother-of-the-brides have their bumps, but I am really close to my mom and I hate it when we aren’t able to find our groove together.

A few weeks ago she started telling me about a woman she met at a seminar at the Eselan Institute in Big Sur, CA. She always tells me about people she meets who have a connection to Michigan (Probably because like most coast-dwellers with no family connection to the middle states, we are always a little surprised that everyone else seems to have roots here). This time she had a met a psychologist who also practices meditation and who happens to live right in my area. Excitedly, my mom encouraged me to call her. I didn’t immediately, with a full-time job, life to manage and a wedding to plan I felt too short on time to take on another obligation. Eventually, just days before the Dr. Donna was scheduled to leave town for a while, my mom reminded me one last time to give her a call.

Image via Ready Set Sarah

It seems to me that when there are significant shifts in my life, moments where I can feel my emotional energy shifting, everything slows down and gets more vivid. The light is brighter, the contrasts of shadows and light are striking and the beauty and complexity of everyday things strike me as important details to be remembered and studied.

When I pulled up to Dr. Donna’s house the next Monday I was happy to be off work a little early, but also a bit nervous that I was meeting someone new. Pulling around the winding driveway to Dr. Donna’s house I took in my breath, this time with excitement as I absorbed the moment. The light broke through in rays and bounced of the white puffs of pollen floating gracefully down from the stately trees. I could see past the mid-century modern home and through the tall triangle of the windows, that it sat on the edge of a quiet lake.

I was early, but Dr. Donna was ready to for me and welcomed me through the tall heavy doors and into the spacious living room. We started with some friendly discussion of my mother, and a bit of background about Dr. Donna and her professional and personal background that led her to practicing and teaching mindfulness meditation. I listened hungrily and grew eager at the chance that this might actually be the beginning of my practice. Self-conscious at moments that she might think me a total mess, I cautiously shared my desire to find some release from my hyper-vigilance over life.

In those moments listening to her talk, sipping ice water from a mason jar and watching the pollen float past the window in this idyllic scene, it was so much clearer to me how desperately I’ve longed for a release from my anxiety and stress. How desperately I’ve missed being present in my life.

With just a few weeks left in our wedding year, I can feel the moments slipping past and I want to hold on to each one. I’ve let life and comparisons and internal dialogues distract me from enjoying the happy moments and memories this year. I don’t want to miss any more.

The urgency of these desires heightened the emotionality of the moment and my resolve that I was exactly where I was meant to be that day. As Dr. Donna took me through the parts that make up a mediation practice, breaking down the breath, sitting and the meanings and options in mediation practice, I could feel my body unravel and relax.

Dr. Donna taught me that when I meditate I should simply notice my thoughts when they arrived or when I caught myself thinking, and that in that moment of recognizing the thought for what it is, I am already returning to the focus on breathing and sitting. Most surprising in this was that I found it really difficult to breathe steadily and naturally. I realized how shallow my breathing is, and how uncomfortable I was with deep and slow breathing.

As we practiced, I could feel my breaths get deeper, longer and slower, and in time with my breathing, my emotions responded with calmness, and joy. At the same time as I was relaxing I felt an energy that seemed to stem from my heart. I haven’t felt that natural verve for life since winter settled down over us and the days got short.

The one thought I had that made me smile and well-up before I labeled it thinking and returned to my breath- This is my mother’s gift. This is my mother’s way of being with me this year. This is her way of being the my mother-of-the-bride that I couldn’t ask for because I didn’t know that it was exactly what I needed. And just like that I could feel that even from across the country and from difficult places in our lives, my mother is still my closest friend.

Sure, we have had our bouts since that day, but it was in this moment that I realized that she was supporting me in her own ways, and I love her for it.

I’ve also used a few of the techniques Dr. Donna taught me that day, mostly to notice my reactions and try and bring my breathing back to a slow and steady rhythm when I find myself winding up. It hasn’t always worked so far, but I’m sure I’ll get there.



Mindfulness Challenge

Today was one of those days This has been one of those WEEKS where it just felt like the world kept piling on. The difficult encounters, challenging assignments, things to do and the incredible heat that pressed down on me all week was beginning to bubble out of my ears and spew from my mouth as hurtful, negative babble. As it often does.

Image by hamner_fotos via Flickr

I came home from work exhausted. Partially from keeping long hours, and partially from walking home though the heat (which a friend described as “living inside someone else’s  mouth”). I grabbed my mail on the way in, happy to find my monthly Elle and Vogue, and headed upstairs to the semi-relief of my window unit ac.

After pacing back and forth for a while trying to decide which of the seemingly important tasks I should tackle first (packing, unfinished work, emails, packing), I finally cleared the half packed boxes and strewn clothes from my bed and crashed with my magazines.

Now, I may have been ripe for the intrigue, but I found myself fascinated by two articles.

The first (Hey- Wanna live forever? by Joseph Hooper, ELLE August 2011) described the discovery of, and current research on the enzyme telomerase. Shout out to UC Berkeley where the researchers who identified the role of the telomerase enzyme hale (and my home turf).

The job of telomerase (from what I understand), is to protect the chromosomes in our cells from damage. Particularly our reproductive cells. It was not the possibilities of harnessing the enzyme for a magic anti-aging elixir that grabbed me, but the statement that “A fast growing body of studies tells us that shorter-than-average telomeres are associated with a far greater risk of dying from heart disease or cancer”. The article also seems to suggest that, like with many other aspects of health, there are lifestyle factors that effect your telomeres length. This reminded me of what I’ve learned about the effect of high levels of stress on health and wellness, i.e. bad for you.

The second article (Soul Provider, by Rachel Rosenbilt, ELLE) was about a young New Yorker named Gabrielle Bernstein who is gaining a following for her “post modern spiritual” coaching. While I was drawn to some of the messages expressed in the article, and a few quotes from miss Gabrielle, I wasn’t sold on her as my personal role model.

Image by AlicePopkorn via Flickr

What I  did really like about the article, is that it reminded me of what I’ve been planning to do since I left California for grad school 2 years ago, to learn and adopt the practice of mindfulness meditation.

OK, so at this point it may be obvious to you how these two articles are connected. The ELLE editors likely devised it this way intentionally when planning the issue. But, for me they couldn’t have come at a better time.

My mother said (probably many times in my life) that when the world wants you to see something it will keep introducing it to you until it gets your attention. Well, I guess I’m ready to start paying attention.

I am a serious worry wort. I don’t just mean about realistic stuff (I didn’t get the nickname Worst-Case-Scenario-Sarah  for no reason). I’ve been concerned for some time about the effect that my continuous hyper-concern, exhaustion, and self-imposed pressure is having on my health and longevity. I even started trying to take action at one point to battle my anxiety (which sometime bubbles into venomous internal rages at people who stress me out). After one all day retreat at Spirit Rock in Marin County, CA, I fully intended to take what I had learned about mindfulness meditation and mold myself into a centered, organized, unbreakable powerhouse of zen… and two years later I’m ready to take this challenge on.

I’ve thought about trying to ease meditation into my life… but as a worry-prone planner, I think it’s best I try this in an organized way.

So, what’s the plan?

I am going to find three guided meditation videos on YouTube. One for morning, one to do during my workday, and one for in the evening. I figure by planning guided mediation breaks into my day this might actually catch on.

Video 1, Morning Yoga Meditation with Elena Brower – YogaEarth

Video 2, Mid-Day : 10 Minute Guided Body Scan (uploaded by MeditationCoach)

 Video 3, Evening: Guided Meditation – Breathing Meditation (uploaded by OnlineMeditation)

I’m going to start this tomorrow morning and will do my best to keep it up for a month. I’ll check back later with updates. Best of luck to me (and any future reader I might acquire who decide to try this too)!