“The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of the world, but those who fight and win battles that others do not know anything about.” -Jonathan Harnisch
“At least you can get pregnant.”
“Well, it’s good you weren’t that far along.”
“It just wasn’t meant to be.”
“You can always try again.”
These are just a few of the hurtful statements you may hear after you’ve had a pregnancy loss. And they hurt. Like hell. I know, because I’ve been there. But what can you say or do, besides saying “eff off” or having a panic attack?
After having my second and then my third miscarriage, there were days that I could barely function. It seemed like each time, people kept asking more questions and saying things that hurt worse. I remember wanting to scream at people and say, “Really? My baby wasn’t meant to be born?” or “Trying again won’t bring back this baby that I loved!” I knew logically that most people weren’t trying to hurt me, but it all just felt so insensitive and frustrating at the time.
I reached my limit.
After one particular instance when a coworker stated that “It wasn’t God’s plan,” and I nearly lost it right there at work, I realized something had to change. And that something was going to have to be me. I needed to find ways that helped me process my emotions when people made idiotic comments and move forward or even help them understand the impact of their comments.
Fortunately, I have researched this topic a lot, and I mean A LOT, and I have found some great tools and exercises to help you handle hurtful comments or difficult situations after pregnancy loss. These tools are meant to help you gain back control of your emotional state and support you while you are recovering and trying to figure out how to function again.
When you discover coping mechanisms that are helpful, you will find that you stay more balanced on the emotional roller coaster that has taken over your life. You will be amazed at how much your daily life can change, even when you may be at your lowest and feel there is absolutely nothing that could possibly bring you joy or peace. You will discover that there really is a way to handle triggers and hurtful comments.
For helping you navigate the difficult moments when you feel like you want to punch someone in the face or run away to hide your tears, I wanted to provide a few practical tools that don’t take too much energy.
We will start with the simplest yet most powerful way you can quickly gain control over your reactions and emotions...BREATHING. Yep, breathing really can help with these stressful moments that can catch you off guard and quite literally take your breath away.
Let’s learn a little about what happens during a stressful or emotional situation. I’m a nurse, so I can’t help but provide you with a little physiology behind the scenes. Did you know that when we become stressed we actually tighten our bodies and breathe a little more shallowly? Shallow breathing then lowers oxygen levels in the blood and the brain picks this up as stress. It’s a crazy cycle of being stressed, breathing shallow, tightening the body, causing our brain to become more stressed, and then repeating this over and over.
One of the easiest ways to begin breathing effectively, is simply, just to breathe, but breathing deeply and with your belly. Most people breathe very shallowly and with their shoulders or chest. To really have an impact on your body and body, you will want to learn to take deep breaths by expanding your belly out and keeping your shoulders relaxed. Once you have tried this type of breathing, you will quickly feel the difference, but it does take some thought when you’re first starting out.
So, the next time someone says something hurtful to you, take 4-5 deep breaths and see how your body is able to relax.
The miracle of mindfulness
One of the best resources I found to help me learn to breathe and manage my emotions during triggers, was a book called, The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation, by Thich Nhat Hanh.
I will be honest, I am not great at meditating, but what I loved about this book was that it forced me to remain in the present while deep breathing. This technique can literally calm your body one breath at a time.
Thich Nhat Hanh states that “whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.”
This statement is actually very profound when you realize that you truly have the ability to control your thoughts and emotions. Even on your lowest days, you can find a way to calm your mind by learning how to breathe in a mindful way.
Think about your breath.
Thich Nhat Hanh has a simple way of forcing your mind and body to only concentrate on breathing. If you can, find a relaxing position and begin breathing in and out slowly. As you breathe read the following:
Focus on breathing in and breathing out. Breathing in a long breath, think, ‘I am breathing in a long breath.’ Breathing out a long breath, think, ‘I am breathing out a long breath.’ Breathing in a short breath, think, ‘I am breathing in a short breath.’ Breathing out a short breath, think, ‘I am breathing out a short breath.’
Live in the moment.
I actually had a friend, I will call her Kathy, text me one morning. She was in a panic and said “I don’t think I can get out of bed today. My heart is racing and I am about to freak out. I am shaking and I am scared!”
I immediately called Kathy and without even saying hello, I asked her to start breathing in and out slowly. While she breathed in and out slowly, I said the statements for her. I could hear her breaths steadying. Within about 40 seconds she was in a calmer state and could begin focusing again. Kathy was able to talk to me about what triggered her and we began working through solutions. So, you can see that it doesn’t take very long and you can practice so you’re prepared for any moment. You never know when someone will say or do something that hits the heart hard.
The power of combining your breath with your focused thoughts actually stimulates your brain and nervous system to create a sense of calm. It’s in this state you can begin to gain some control over your emotions.
You can think of mindful breathing like sending a text over and over directly to your nervous system telling it to relax. Your nervous system can’t help but read the text (like when you see the bubble on your phone) and each time it’s received, your body gets calmer and calmer. The more often you repeat this way of breathing, the fewer texts you have to send to your brain for it to get the message.
You can begin practicing mindful breathing when you are calm and able to be more focused. This will allow you to get into your rhythmic breathing more easily when you are overwhelmed with an emotional situation and can’t even think. It will help you get that text message to your brain faster and in a calmer state.
Find Your “Magic Object.”
We talked about how to breathe with intention, but what if you really can’t just pause or take a minute to step away, but you need help immediately? People might start looking at you weirdly if you start breathing deep in the middle of a conversation. I know this from experience!
Well, I found something that worked like “magic” for me. I call it my “magic object.” The key for this to work is to find something that resonates with you and can be taken with you easily. You will want to have it with you at all times.
It can be a rock, a small ball, candy you can chew or suck on, an oil that triggers a memory, or anything that you find soothing. When your anxiety flares, you want to engage as many senses as possible to help move your brain’s focus away from the overwhelming thoughts and onto the object.
Another major bonus with this technique, like deep breathing, is that the more you utilize your magic object, you actually train your brain to associate this with a calm feeling. So over time, it will take less effort to handle a difficult moment.
My magic object is one I would’ve never thought of my own and is actually kind of odd, but it works. I have in my purse a bottle of basil essential oil that I rub onto my hands and can quickly smell when I feel like I’m about to lose it.
This immediately makes me think of my husband’s cooking and takes me to my kitchen. I begin imagining all the different smells and my favorite dishes, and I am able to focus on a particular moment or special dinner we shared as a family. The rubbing motion also brings my energy towards my hands and away from the emotions.
So, for you, try to imagine what object, smells, or items you could use to quickly bring your focus away from the anxiety towards a place of calming energy. Be sure to think of something you can have with you at all times and is meaningful. Having your magic object is like taking a walk and always having your umbrella when it starts to rain. You will feel more confident just knowing you are prepared.
Building up your mental strength takes time, but you can begin by implementing small changes that will help you when you feel like you just walked into a wall and can’t take it anymore.
Set Healthy Boundaries.
When I say boundaries, I mean setting clear intentions of what you are willing to accept, what you are capable of doing, and what you can say “no” to. This is so important when you’re struggling after a loss and can be a profound way to prevent and protect yourself from emotional situations. For instance, not going to an event like a baby shower or family get-together that you know will encourage questions that will be incredibly difficult to answer is a good example of boundary-setting.
If you do go to a triggering event, I have found it super helpful to have a code word or sign with your partner (or whoever you attend with) that signals you need to leave. Or have an agreed-upon time that you will need to leave by. This can help you feel safer and know that you have an escape or set time that you have to put on the “happy face.”
Another boundary might involve asking a friend you know is trying to get pregnant to please text you to let you know when she finds out. That way, you will have time to process news without the pressure of giving a quick response. This can look like “I’m so incredibly happy for you that you’re trying to have a baby, I am too, but right now my heart is broken. This doesn’t take away any joy I have for you, I just need a minute to react however I need to at that moment.”
Speak up and Educate.
If you are at a point where you are feeling stronger, or perhaps just particularly bold at that moment, you may wish to correct or educate the person who said something hurtful.
I will never forget being at a park one day and a mother telling me I was selfish for only having one kid, that God wants more children and I should honor that. Well, you can imagine what I wanted to say to her at that moment. But after taking a few VERY deep breaths and getting my mind in check, I simply stated that wasn’t our path and that God did have four of my babies in heaven with him. I told her we are blessed to have our one and only child, and we are okay with that.
As you can imagine, she was quite taken back, even though I said it kindly. My hope is that in the future, she will think before she makes assumptions or statements when she has no idea what someone has been through.
I often find myself now in the advocacy and education phase, but I know that has taken me time. I still wanted to highlight this as an option, as I know everyone handles these situations differently.
You’re worth it.
In the wake of a miscarriage, I know all of this can seem nearly impossible to do, but I would encourage you to =start with one tool and see if it works for you; if not, try another. Experiment and find what is comfortable, what comes naturally, and keep trying new ideas. You will also find that certain tools work better for specific situations.
Here’s a quick recap of the tools I mentioned:
- Breathe: even just a few deep breaths can help to reset your brain.
- Breathe with purpose.
- Find your magic object.
- Set boundaries.
And please remember you are not alone. One day at a time.
Jackie Figueras MSN-ED, RN, NPD-BC, CPC is a Miscarriage Support Specialist. You can follow her on Instagram at @jackiefigueras or visit her website at www.jackiefigueras.com. Her e-book “What To Expect When You’re No Longer Expecting’ guides you through the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of pregnancy loss.