One of my biggest fears of attending births as a doula was the possibility of loss occurring. Learning that pregnancies ended, or babies were born sleeping was an unavoidable reality I struggled to accept. Knowing how and what ways to offer support for grieving families was intimidating and humbling all at the same time.
I’d been candid with myself about these kinds of trepidations; when I first started considering careers as an adolescent, I knew my personal history with grief and loss was a boundary I had yet tamed. Not wanting to put myself in a position to take on an emotional load I couldn’t handle was an active thought. Deciding to be a doula meant it would become something to anticipate.
In my current experience, I’ve never had a client who hired me experience a loss. I’ve been a part of a lot of rainbow families and even that space felt sacred. Always preparing for the worst for others, it never was something I had expected to experience in my own womb.
Already having a history of mental health disorders, like anxiety and depression, I thought myself prepared just for having the forethought. “I’d be okay”, “this too shall pass”, “it’s normal”, were all thoughts that rummaged through my body, not my mind. In my experience battling my mental health, I had a lot of numbing sensations that created dissociative experiences with my depression; my anxiety left me overstimulated and paralyzed from rapid thoughts and hypotheticals. This was nothing like either of those familiar grounds.
Although the pregnancy had been unplanned, realizing that the test read “Positive” was surreal. Being realistic about my current situation with my partner at the time, a decision was something that I wanted us to agree upon, together, whatever that decision would be. Even so, the loss happened prior to the choice being made, and it left me devastated when I realized what I wanted, a moment too late.
I found myself tangled in complicated emotions. Guilt overwhelmed me; was this a punishment for even considering other ‘options’? Was it all the stress and other unhealthy things I’d riddled my body with? Was it truly not meant to be or was it karmic for my past choices, or even past life?
Who was I to talk to about this? The partner who was unsure and apprehensive at the idea of starting a family with me? The one who shared hardly any emotional support because he truly didn’t know how or have any to share himself?
Or should I talk to my sisters or my mom? Ashamed to admit that I’d “slipped up” and wound up pregnant, now with nothing to truly show for it but crocodile tears?
All while still going to work, maintaining my stonewall face for my fellow clients and as well as my students on the daily. Even in returning to birthwork, I realized my heart had warped a bit. I saw pregnant bellies and newborn infants from a tinted black lens, almost like I was wearing sunglasses. I wore a smile on my lips, but the shaded melancholy didn’t really waiver. I recalled crying through the births of my babies with my clients out of joy, even after the first birth I ever attended; bearing witness to life coming earthside warmed my heart and gave me so much hope. Now I found myself weeping from a sense of longing, wondering if something as beautiful as that could ever happen to me.
I experienced a postpartum period; I bled for days afterwards, feeling cramping in and out of those times. Something about the physical pain felt as though it evoked more emotion out of me, knowing what the source was. I found myself sulking under a shroud, just waiting for it to pass over me. That had been my previous coping methods.
When I finally share what happened with a handful of individuals, I realized many had no words or really knew what to do to offer support. Sometimes, they felt embarrassed or awkward about being unprepared on what to do to help with my healing process. Others would offer the generic things that didn’t make me feel better at all; the things that came up as accidentally dismissive or accidentally judgmental.
Sporadically crying became a new norm and I felt parts of me were a bit obsessive over what happened; I still found myself trying to dissect why I felt so alone and isolated. My relationship didn’t survive the loss, and a lot of things fell through the cracks over the course of that year.
The sadness has since then evolved into other things that sting less. I’m still navigating the process and even this month, with October being Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, the tears have returned and my heart aches out of the biggest maybe/what if of my life. More than anything, it’s humbled and opened me to a new level of empathy.
As a childless doula, a lot of my navigation through offering support has been from observation, recommendation, feedback and experience. However, this is an experience I’ve had to endure completely on my own, in silence. I’ve internalized this in hopes that I can be an advocate and support system for people who likely have had a similar one to mine.
People who know me, know I have a lot of pride. They also know that I’m a writer before I’m anything else. I needed express what I had experienced and stop hiding from myself. Although I see just how small I am in the grand scheme of life, I also can say that that’s even more reason to share. I just hope that in my sharing, someone else can feel a little less alone about their loss and know that it is complicated. It is hard to push through; you can, and you will.
My biggest advice to people who are looking to support loved ones who are dealing with pregnancy and infant loss: hold space. Be present. Sometimes words aren’t even necessary, being held is just enough. If you notice a rut of grief that they can’t seem to get out of, ask them what else you can provide. Even if they don’t know themselves, just do what you can. They won’t forget your kindness when they emerge from the shroud.
About the Author: Angelica Knight, MS
Angelica has been writing since she was a kid, especially free-writing short stories and poetry. Now she hopes to expand her writing to provide insight and information to those interested in reading about the world of birth!