Autoimmune Diseases, Miscarriages, and a Whole Mess of Emotions

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“Much of the beauty of light owes its existence to the dark.  The most powerful moments of our lives happen when we string together the small flickers of light created by courage, compassion and connection and see them shine in the darkness of our struggles.”

–Daring Greatly, Brene Brown

I have been trying to write this post for a long time.  I know it’s because I’ve wanted it to be perfect; to be the most eloquent, beautiful thing I’ve ever written.  Only recently have I realized the irony of that lingering desire: because recognizing the beauty of imperfection is the entire lesson I have been trying to write about.  

So, my words below aren’t perfect.  Maybe they’re not even good.  Maybe they don’t even make sense.  But they are my best effort, what feels like my duty, actually- to string into words the small flickers of light that have burned in my heart over the past fourteen months. 

Last year, on the Friday night before Mother’s Day we were at the movies.  It was the first time we took Allie to the theatre.  We had pizza for dinner.  We got settled in our seats and then I felt funny.  And then what I remember is red, and losing my breath in the bathroom. And then drowning in shame.  Grasping but having nothing to grasp to.  Hoping the doctor would say everything was fine; he didn’t.  Crying to my mom.  

In the days and weeks and months that followed miscarrying, when people greeted me with “How are you?” I most often responded with the standard “Good, how are you?” when inside I felt like my heart was melting away into nothingness.  Every time I said I was good it reminded me how I was not good, and then I felt intensely how not good I was- broken, actually- and then I’d fault myself for not actually being good because enough time had passed and people have gone through worse and shouldn’t I be over this by now?  

This harsh judgement of my own emotions, the shame I felt for failing to take care of the little life that had begun to grow inside of me, the overwhelming negativity of my thoughts became harder and harder to bare.  There was too much darkness; I think the most I’ve ever felt in my life.  I needed light.  I didn’t know it then, but as the brilliant Brene articulates above, the path to light was via courage, compassion and connection.   

Courage

This may sound silly, but I felt like it took courage for me to share, even say, that I had had a miscarriage.  I work in health and wellness and have always felt some sort of expectation from my body to demonstrate optimal health.  My body has run marathons.  It is rarely sick.  It harbors an autoimmune disease with little noticeable effects.  A miscarriage felt like a failure of my body to do what it was made to do.  I blamed myself for not exercising enough, for exercising too much, for not getting enough iron in my diet, for being too stressed out over dumb things at work, for having margaritas when I didn’t know I was pregnant.  It was easier for me to blame what had happened on my own actions than to admit that we aren’t always in control; that sometimes bad things just happen and it’s not through any fault of our own.  It took courage for me to admit that I had a miscarriage and then reach out to others to help me through it.

Connection

I was still afraid others would judge me and my body when I took real action to help me heal. And I was still judging and blaming myself because let me tell ya, letting go of that tendency does not happen overnight.  Something that has helped with that, actually, as part of my own journey to well-being that started a long time ago  – is being blessed to have so many individuals in my life who who add a bounty of love and support to me. These people are a soulful mix of Pilates teachers, Reiki masters, friends, people of faith, health care professionals, Healing Touch practioners, writers, acupuncturists, yoga instructors, family.  I could go on about the unique and profound gifts that each of them offer, but what helped me cope most with miscarrying was healing touch and yoga.  

I am relatively new to yoga; I have been practicing faithfully for probably about two years now.  Yoga was healing for me because my mat was the only place I could be with my body without being incredibly angry at it.  It was the only place I could let tears roll down my face without being so completely overwhelmed by my emotions that I would turn them off.  Somehow my breath, my thoughts, my movement, the quiet- all these things balanced each other out in a way that allowed a gentle healing to flow through me.  A forgiveness.  A recognition that I didn’t do anything wrong, and neither did my body.  

Healing touch and Reiki has been a part of my life for over ten years now.  The first time I went was because during a Pilates class I was teaching one of my clients fell on the reformer and gashed her head open (like I had to call 911 gashed her head open), and I was riddled with guilt for not being there to spot her.  Both of these practices promote healing and letting go, but I honestly can’t tell you the difference between them.  But you know who could?  My lovely friend Barb, a healing touch practitioner.  

I turned to Barb to talk.  To help me hear the things I needed to hear but couldn’t.  To help me surrender to intensely painful emotions, to learn, to accept.  She does this through conversation, through an impossible-to-describe healing touch experience, through kindness and understanding. Barb verbalized this lesson for me: that every person, no matter how small, comes into a life with a pre-determined purpose.  She helped me to see that maybe this miscarriage was in fact His plan the whole time.  Exactly the way it was supposed to be was exactly the way it was: that this baby would be with me for less than the 9 months in my belly, and then lifetime, that I was expecting.  This baby entered my life to help me learn a lesson: that everything bad that happens is not my fault, that I have love to give still, that I am capable and strong and enough just the way that I am.  That even though I feel like I am losing my shit 90% of the time, I am living and loving the best way that I can and that it is enough.  

Compassion

One thing that I love about my job is that my heart constantly has the opportunity to grow in compassion for others.  You wouldn’t believe the conversations I have with people that start from talking about what they ate for dinner last night.  Once they trust me, my patients share parts of themselves that are painful, that they’ve never talked to anyone about before, things that they didn’t realize play into the dynamic, complex, delicate state that is health and well-being.  Experiencing what initially felt like a betrayal by my body gave me a different level of insight into how some of my patients might feel. As I alluded to earlier, I have an autoimmune disease (generally defined as a disease that results from a self-imposed attack on the body) but it honestly doesn’t bother me much nor have I ever had a real emotional response to my diagnosis.   But then I think about my patients with something like T1D, and I imagine going through that.  To one day have a functioning pancreas and the next be told your body has killed off some of it’s own essential cells.  I feel a new level of compassion for my patients.  A new level of compassion for so many who have to deal with any fertility or reproductive struggles.  I can feel in a new way the depth of the words “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a tougher battle.”

I am grateful for the virtues of courage, connection, and compassion and for all the people in my life who help me embrace them.  I am grateful for the chance to experience so many things in this life: the good and the bad.  I am grateful to understand that I am never a finished, perfect person.  I’m grateful for lessons disguised in all different kinds of ways.  I’m grateful for the beauty of imperfection, in all it’s forms.

Thank you for reading my lengthy, wordy, jumbled, perfectly imperfect words.