Miscarriage is both life and death.
It is powerful, tragic and deeply disturbing on both a physical, emotional and spiritual level. It is also a subject which is too frequently outside of the public domain and any range of emotions can surface after such a loss from grief, isolation and shame to guilt or depression.
How does yoga serve as our indispensable toolbox in times such as this? Can these times of loss connect us yet further to our practice?
I have had the misfortune, and am certainly not alone, in facing death in a unique, painful and disturbing way. It is widely known that pregnancy in the early stages frequently ends in miscarriage. Women are expected to keep pregnancy secret until 12 weeks (with the exception of the smallest number of those closest). Every woman who has followed the Duchess of Cambridge’s (formerly Kate Middleton) story must feel for her being ‘outed’ before the ‘safe date’ of 12 weeks.
This time last year I was in hospital having just lost my second fetus at seven weeks. Seven weeks is sufficient time for the body to have completely changed and to take several months to “come back to normal.” After a little bleeding, I shortly developed cramps and bled very heavily. I was too paralyzed with fear and dread to utter the first words of the news to my husband and then travel to the hospital.
I wish I hadn’t. I was deeply bitter about my experience at the hospital, where the doctor doubted my interpretation of events. I may “not” be experiencing a miscarriage. I felt so violated that a medical professional could trust my instinct and experience so little to know what had happened, considering the previous year I had gone through almost the same thing. I came very close to making a formal complaint. But in the end, I decided that it wouldn’t help the doctor or me.
My recovery was really slow. I bled every day for two months. It was a very slow healing, and despite treating myself very well indeed, my recovery didn’t meet the expectations I placed upon myself. It was all very slow and I felt, on the yoga mat, that I dealt with the pain on a daily basis by being “in” my body and allowing emotions and sensations to flow—including numerous tears. I reached the point where I had no more time for tears and just wanted to draw a line.
You can’t rush your own evolution.
In the process of satya (truthfulness), reality—however undesirable—cannot be tweaked to suit our whims. I wanted to move on, but neither my body or mind were ready.
I felt my deepest fears and depression surface in the first few days after the 2nd miscarriage experience. The very simple thought: “life is utterly meaningless” was associated with a being that would never even enter the world. It was so powerful to me at that time that it took over every uplifting transcendent thought and moment of meaning that had surfaced in my yoga practice up until that point.
I took the advice of a yoga colleague and asked a reiki practitioner to practice on me. This was one of the most timely things that I ever could have chosen. The reiki practitioner was kind, gave me the time and stillness I needed and was certain that although I had lost the pregnancy that things would eventually turn around completely. I felt lightness and hope in my body after the reiki session and I felt deeply connected.
There is no question that now there is a deep ugly shroud of fear around my third pregnancy.
I would deeply like, for the sake of the new life, to allow this to be a unique, joyful experience. Sadly, there are so many residues and flashbacks. I have now left the second month and am well into my third, but the fear is a little demon which surfaces at every intestinal pain or visit to the bathroom. The deepest fear to face is that ultimately, first trimester miscarriage is largely unexplained. It cannot be induced by too much yoga, a few headstands, stress, or a few beers. There is nothing to be done.
Being “careful” won’t help—although it is obviously wise to eat well, stay out of major accidents and not get wasted. There are theories that certain chemicals will sort things out, but these ideas, historically, do more harm than good. Progesterone is out in my book. The medical profession has no idea about miscarriage and is clutching at loose straws. We don’t have control.
There is nothing you can do, except wrestle with the fear and find acceptance. This is a tough yoga lesson—perhaps one of the very biggest: aparigraha. Ultimately, acceptance lines the path to enlightenment. But accepting a life leaving from within your own womb to experience death so directly stirs the opposite range of fragile human response. I would logically assume that 2nd trimester miscarriage and stillbirth can only compound these experiences.
What can we do after we suffer such delicate loss?
Essentially, we must understand that whether we live for one day in utero or 100 years, there is no difference. The practice of yoga, however, does make a difference, as we carve through our ego and find pockets of acceptance in our practice.
On a practical level, a woman is faced with a really tough hand in choosing who to tell and when to tell when first pregnant. I feel that it would help women help themselves if there was more openness in sharing the pains of both pregnancy and miscarriage. It is torturous to be exhausted and feeling terrible and then have to cover it up at the same time.
My philosophy this third time around has been to tell many more people as time progresses to create a bigger support network should anything happen and to remove the veil of secrecy and “guilt.” We must open up about the reality of these experiences for the sake of compassion.
At the heart of my belief in yoga philosophy is the intellectual understanding that ultimately there is no separation; there is no me, no loss, no suffering.
To get close to even considering this during a moment of tragedy is an elevated state. I often felt glad to feel that intensely at all. In yoga, we may practice non-separation—this is the practice. We are not just the sum of experiences. Soham is the mantra—the identification of oneself with the universe or ultimate reality beyond life and death.
The bigger question in all our experiences, particularly those involving the death of a loved one, however tiny, is how we approach our own death. “Yoga is a preparation for death”; something Richard Freeman mentioned in his teacher intensive this Summer, along with the point that if this was clear, then it would be harder to market yoga classes (in his typical style of mixing humor with poignancy)!
I am reading a book called Graceful Exits—How Great Beings Die, which tells the stories of enlightened masters on their deathbeds. For them, death and fear are no longer synonymous. Life and death are no longer divided—the master is neutral to their own demise. For those masters, there will be no further birth, only freedom and complete liberation from suffering.
This is the practice of non-separation.
Jo Arganaraz travelled around the globe in her 20’s and 30’s as an English teacher. Now travelling the inner path, she has taught ashtanga, vinyasa flow and yin yoga in Dubai since 2010 where she lives with her Argentinian filmmaker husband. Jo balances a yoga lifestyle with an eclectic interest in all aspects of culture, including modern art, film, poetry, music, gastronomy, craft, design and philosophy. She has a long term ambition to complete a Phd in Yoga and Cultural Studies when the time is right.
Asst Ed: K.Macku
Ed: Kate Bartolotta
Photo: Tiny Foot