This post is largely borne out of my own recent experience (which you can read about here), as well as the stories of the clients I’ve had in the years I’ve been working as a women’s health practitioner.
My understanding of miscarriage from both Western and Chinese perspectives has helped me to accept what has happened, and has provided me with ways to recover and heal. It is those that I want to share with you, because let’s be real; miscarriage fucking sucks.
Every woman’s experience of miscarriage is different, and I encourage you to listen to your instincts and needs throughout the process. Do what you need to do to heal, and take the time you need.
You’re exactly where you need to be.
We often believe that healing is a linear process, one in which we gradually get better, until one day, we’re fine. But it’s messier than that, it can be two steps forward, five steps back. You may feel like you’re doing well, and then a whole new set of emotions enters your being, and with that, the possibility of having to find new ways to understand and work through them. Loved ones and colleagues may also assume that you’re doing well, and be taken aback by sudden changes in mood and wellbeing. It isn’t fun but it *is* healthy, and as a friend of mine says, you’re exactly where you need to be.
The wisdom of a lying-in period.
In many cultures around the world, a forty day lying-in period following childbirth is traditionally advised. It’s a time when the woman is taken care of by those around her, so that she can focus on herself and her baby. In many of those cultures, the same is recommended following a miscarriage. You may not be able to suspend your life for this long, but do what you can.
Having my own business meant that I was able to take 2.5 weeks off work, followed by a slow and gradual return. That also meant being upfront with my clients about what was going on, but thankfully they’re an awesome bunch who have been both patient and understanding (thank you ladies). My lovely was also able to take a week of compassionate leave, so it’s worth asking employers for some time off without it eating into your annual leave.
Ask for help.
Now, as a very independent woman myself, who likes to think I’m capable of anything and that I don’t need anyone’s help, I get how hard this can be, but do it. Ask friends and family for their support – they are probably all too ready to help, but perhaps need some guidance in doing so. Think of the 3 C’s: Cooking, cleaning and child-minding.
Stuff your face.
Eat foods which are warming and strengthening in nature. This isn’t the time to be eating cold salads! Think roasted meat and root vegetables, soups which contain bone broths such as chicken stock (super nourishing from the Chinese and Western perspectives), spices like cumin, chilli and coriander, beans like aduki, black and kidney, beetroot, fennel, avocado, eggs, dark leafy greens, porridge, dates and apricots.
Recovering from blood loss.
If you’ve lost a lot of blood (common in miscarriages), you may feel tired, faint, and out of breath. These are all signs of anaemia, so be sure to include iron-rich foods in your diet, such as red meat, sardines, lentils and beans, and dried apricots. The NHS commonly prescribes ferrous sulphate for iron-deficiency anaemia, but this is poorly absorbed by the body and tends to be terribly constipating. Alternative supplementation includes Floradix and Spatone, which have higher absorbency rates and are much kinder on your digestive system. Cooking your food in iron pots will also boost your iron levels. And rest, always rest.
Talk, and talk, and talk, then talk some more.
If you want to talk about your experience and how you’re feeling, then do it. Miscarriage is often an experience which gets swept under carpets, so I would welcome your comments, stories, and suggestions if you have any which you are willing to share with me. Some women who have miscarried will want to talk about it, again and again, but at some point you may feel that other people are ready for you to stop talking about it. Know that the Miscarriage Association has a forum and helpline, as well as details of local support groups. They can also support your partner if they want to talk about their experience (it’s important to acknowledge partners who have been affected by miscarriage too).
Get on the herbs.
Taking a course of Chinese herbs can help to clear out any remaining tissue, as well as helping to nourish your endometrium and build your blood again. And take it from me, these ones actually taste nice! Giusi is a fantastic Chinese Herbalist based in London.
Wearing a Haramaki helps to keep your core warm, and protects your reproductive system from invading cold (something lots of traditional cultures warn against). It’s also important to keep your feet warm as cold can also invade through them, and yes, that means Uggs are ok.
You may also want to consider belly binding, particularly if you had a bit of a bump going on. You can buy a traditional bengkung wrap here, or alternatively, use a faja.
Dealing with pain.
The pain of miscarriage is complex, emotional pain is tied up in physical pain and vice versa. You may find that paracetamol helps, but know that you can request prescribed painkillers. Other options include acupuncture, which is great for managing pain, helping to clear any tissue and reducing blood loss, as well as aiding sleep and soothing emotional turmoil.
I found that a hot water bottle really helped (it was attached to be for the best part of two weeks), and having sex with my lovely was what resolved most of my physical pain. Yes really. Oxytocin, the love hormone, is released when we have physical contact with someone else, whether that’s a handshake, a hug, or sex. It relieves pain, reduces inflammation, reduces stress and makes us feel good. It’s worth saying that you should only have sex when you both feel ready for it. Snuggling up on the couch will work really well too. I’m not so sure about lots of handshakes.
Steam your vagina.
No, I’m not joking. The V-steam, as it is known in top American spas, is another traditional practice which is cleansing and soothing. It’s something to do once you’ve stopped bleeding, and nice herbs to use include rosemary, lavender, marigold and rose petals. The easiest way to do it is to place the herbs in a deep bowl, cover them in boiling water, let them steep (and cool) for ten mins, then place the bowl in your toilet bowl, and sit on the toilet wrapped in a towel or blanket. Mind the steam though and lower yourself gently to make sure it’s not too hot.
Dealing with grief.
Grieving a pregnancy loss is normal, it is something to be supported, not fixed. Seeing practitioners who can acknowledge you in this space can make a big difference, so seek out ones who are experienced and knowledgeable. You may find that a talking therapy suits you, and you can also speak with lay volunteers through the Miscarriage Association.
Having your loss acknowledged in a physical way can be very healing, so you might want to consider Arvigo Therapy, an abdominal massage which focuses on the womb. Practitioners will also teach you how to massage yourself, which can help you to have a positive relationship with your womb, recover from your miscarriage (even years later) and prepare for a future pregnancy. Seeing a homeopath experienced in miscarriage, such as the lovely Claire Zarb, can help with the emotional side of things too (Claire is based in London but is also available for Skype consultations).
I found that the best way to get the emotional stuff moving and out of me was to move; going out dancing is good medicine.
It would be wrong to assume that a woman who knew she was pregnant for three days before miscarrying, experiences any less grief than the woman who miscarried at three months. So let’s not minimise women’s experience of miscarrying by doing so.
Phrases such as,”at least you know you can get pregnant … you just have to accept that this pregnancy wasn’t to be … you’ll forget about it with time … you can try again” are unlikely to help a woman who has miscarried. If you are privileged enough to be told about a couple’s miscarriage, simply acknowledging what happened is enough; “that fucking sucks” may well be the best response I had, followed by “oh bollocks”.
One final piece of advice: Celebrate the day you stop wearing pads.