When my husband and I decided to try for our first baby, I was blissfully unaware of the affect the process would have on me emotionally. We had taken guardianship of my then 4-year-old niece and enjoyed over a year of quality time as a family of three. We melded naturally into our new lives- mother, father & daughter. When she was set to start Kindergarten, it seemed like the perfect time to grow our family. We wanted her to have a little brother or sister, and we didn’t want them to be too far apart in age. More importantly, my daughter was very active, nurturing and social at that age, which made our family planning a very special event for her. She couldn’t wait to have a little brother or sister to share her home and childhood with.
Having read up on conception, pregnancy and early motherhood, I expected we would be waiting quite a while before getting a positive test. However, we were shocked to happy tears when we conceived in our very first month trying. Being overjoyed with excitement, we immediately announced our pregnancy to family and close friends. Our daughter even began clearing out space in her room to make room for her baby sister (she was certain it wouldn’t be a brudder). Our doctor confirmed the pregnancy in week 7, and we continued planning our future with this new addition.
We measured our bedroom and figured out exactly where the baby’s stuff would go. My husband, daughter and I talked names and discussed what our family life was going to be like with a new baby. Our baby girl was to be a sassy dancing princess, just like her big sister. We would have amazing mommy-daughter dates, have tea parties, play dress up, but still teach her how to be confident and tough. Oh, but having a baby boy would be so amazing as well. He would play baseball, join us on our family adventures, love superheroes & videogames like his daddy, and be a little gentleman- loving and considerate. We were on cloud nine with anticipation for our new child, completely unaware of how common miscarriage is.
My sister-in-law got pregnant just over a week before I did. We talked nearly every day discussing baby stuff and planning the future of our little ones (who were certain to be best friends and possibly even share a birthday). When my husband sat me down one night to tell me of his sister’s miscarriage, my heart sunk. We had a plan, and this wasn’t it. In hindsight, I am embarrassed at my reaction and thoughts when I found out the news. I honestly thought she must have done something wrong or that she must have had infertility issues of some kind. I was so ignorant about miscarriage and unaware of how common it was. But most importantly, I was unprepared for the next experience I would be sharing with my sister-in-law.
I can’t remember clearly, but somewhere around 10 or 11 weeks, I began having cramps. My first instinct was to assume it was indigestion or some other morning sickness related discomfort, but my sister insisted that I go to the doctor. It never occurred to me that my pregnancy might be in jeopardy and even brought my daughter to the appointment. When the doctor told me that there was no heartbeat, I didn’t understand. What had I done wrong? I sat in a stunned silence, not grasping the reality of the situation. Then my little 5-year-old said, “So doctor, you mean the baby didn’t work?” He then went on to explain that chromosome abnormalities are quite common and are the leading cause of miscarriage. This made perfect sense to my daughter who assured me that everything was fine and I could just try again. Her optimism was reassuring in the moment, but didn’t resonate with me.
After telling my husband and getting my daughter to sleep that night, I finally allowed myself to feel what I had denied myself all day- the deepest grief I had ever felt. I cried until I couldn’t breathe, passed out from exhaustion and called in sick the next day. I felt broken and worthless. As we told family and friends of the loss, I began to feel more and more alone. No one understood what I felt, or at least, that is how it seemed at the time. No one could say the right thing to cheer me up. “It was early.” “It wasn’t even a baby yet.” ‘I was so young.” “I had so much time.” No one understood that I hadn’t had a failed gestation, I lost a child. Not a child that I ever had the fortune of holding in my arms. But I knew her. I had already pictured her little face, planned our future, and given her a piece of my heart.
I had lost grandparents, cousins and friends, but this was a new kind of grief. I was not only mourning the child whose life I had seen before me in my daydreams, but I felt to blame. It was my fault that I was not able to carry this baby to term. Something was wrong with me. Despite everything I learned about miscarriage in the wake of this event, I was not comforted by the numbers. It didn’t matter to my broken heart that most women have or will have a miscarriage or even that I knew those who had. No one was mourning my child as I was. I turned to food and alcohol to numb my grief, never letting on how badly it affected me. We began trying for a baby again and I soon found myself pregnant. My husband and I were very excited but also hesitant to get our hopes up. It took us much longer to announce our pregnancy and accept that this child was real. Then after seeing my son’s sonogram, learning the gender and finally feeling him move, I knew this was different.
The worst part about experiencing a miscarriage is that no one talks about it. Why wouldn’t we feel alone and isolated in our grief when it appears so rare? I continued the silence myself, unwilling and unable to discuss it with anyone. Grief and often even embarrassment are the reasons no one talks about it, but by not talking about it, we are reinforcing the illusion that miscarriage is uncommon and an indication of inadequacy. Since the topic of miscarriage so uncouth, we are left with a community that doesn’t know what to say. Sometimes, we say what we think the grieving woman wants to hear, but end up wounding her deeper. Afraid of saying the wrong thing, we more commonly say nothing.
Even though I have experienced a miscarriage, I have no idea what to say to a friend who has. When my sister-in-law got pregnant again and lost her baby late in pregnancy, I was dumbfounded. I had no idea what to say to her although her loss affected me so deeply. In the end, we cried and she comforted me… SHE comforted ME. It still makes no sense to me, but we all grieve differently. I knew that I wanted to help other women through similar situations to what we underwent, but I couldn’t even find the words to help my own sister. Our friends and family are often not equipped to help us deal with our grief, even if they want to help. Counseling and therapy can be beneficial, but many of us aren’t able to or willing to get this level of help. What if there was another way? What if there were a resource that allowed you to understand what you are feeling and allowed you to move through your grief?
When I set out to make Amateur Super Mom a one-stop resource to all mothers, I knew that having a grief coach was nonnegotiable. I did not have anyone to turn to to help me understand my grief and move forward. I chose to dull my pain with unhealthy coping mechanisms, deny what I really felt and took a long time to heal from my experience. I don’t want other women to suffer in silence as I did. I was introduced to Dr. Tara May and knew that she was the right person for my team. Her compassion, expertise, and unique approach make her a perfect fit for our online community.
Let’s hear more from Dr. May about her amazing online grief healing program.
What is the Mending Hearts Program?
The MH Program offers a collection of productive tools, exercises and gentle guidance and education so parents can reduce their suffering while maintaining a loving connection to their child after loss. It is designed as a self-paced program that parents can access any time and consists of 12 modules, each on a different aspect of living after loss. What I found was that a lot of parents really struggle with going out to a support group or there may be none where they live. That’s a lot of parents who are not getting the support that could really make a huge difference in their life.
I created this program as a result of my own difficulty finding productive resources to help me after my baby died. It is for parents who are facing a future without their baby, and it is designed to enable parents to create a path through this process with less suffering. After my loss, there was nowhere to turn to get specific information about what this grief process might look like. I did a lot of things that actually made my grief and suffering worse without realizing it. I couldn’t find proactive tools and exercises that would help me feel like I was doing something useful to honor my baby and deal with the crazy thoughts and feelings that came up for me.
The grief process after pregnancy and infant loss really throws the parents into an identity crisis of sorts. There is no word for a childless mother or for a parent whose child died. What I noticed was that I didn’t fit with those who had living children and I didn’t fit with those who had never been pregnant. It would have helped tremendous to have someone give me their personal experience along with professional expertise. Neither the support group or my individual therapist could offer me this. I also found, like many parents, that the support group can ultimately feel more traumatizing than supportive. If it is not guided toward healthy grieving, it can actually keep parents stuck in their grief and suffering.
I don’t want any parents to suffer more than they already are, we’ve all been through enough.
Who can access the Mending Hearts program?
Any adult can access the MH program as long as they have access to the internet. It is housed on my website and the modules consist of video recordings, audio recordings, written material and downloadable worksheets.
Why is helping women through miscarriage and child loss so important to you?
To tell you that, I will need to get a bit personal….
I help people live a life that matters even after the most horrific experiences…where they feel so shattered, they can hardly breathe. And through our work, I watch them blossom and live a life with meaning, confidence and inner strength. It’s pretty amazing.
In my personal life, I focus on creating and embracing opportunities that stretch me right out of my comfort zone and into living, in fact I recently did a ropes course where I was strapped in a harness 200 feet in the air walking above the trees…. But it wasn’t always this way. When my husband and I experienced the death of our first baby 20 weeks into our pregnancy, the devastation we felt was suffocating, and I wondered if I’d ever get through another day without falling apart. No one I knew was prepared for this or know how to deal with me. I wasn’t prepared for this. You see, I was that person who helped others, not the one who asked for help. I heard lots of insensitive things from others and what I learned was confusing…. no one expected me to actually heal and no one expected me to still be talking about my daughter a year later. So, I remained stuck though I would bet those around me thought I was “better” but actually, I was far from it…
A few years later, we learned my oldest son would need brain surgery. It took 9 months of 2nd and 3rd opinions before the surgery took place. I was so anxious that he would die, I wasn’t really present. All the grief from my daughter smashed through my careful constructed self and all I thought about was whether he would die, I saw it everywhere and it was awful. As it turned out, the surgery nearly killed him and I was left with the realization that I wasted the past 9 months worrying about this, and it didn’t’ help prepare me at all, and that I would never have that time back with my son. Fortunately, he did survive and is doing great!
So, I came away with two very important lessons, I would not waste time and energy on the things that I can’t control, because it doesn’t help….and I would live and love fully and do whatever it took to work through my grief and be present, even in hard times…. And I have and it’s been the greatest decision of my life…. which is why I now help others do that too. I don’t want anyone wasting precious time or suffering more than they have to. Life is too short.
How does coaching differ from counseling or therapy?
That’s a great question! So, let’s start with the basics…both are therapeutic, but coaching is more present and future oriented, assumes the person is whole and perfect as they are, and typically focuses on strengths and accountability. It’s a great option for supporting people through grief because grief is a natural outcome to losing someone you love. Another thing to keep in mind is that pretty much anyone can call themselves a coach, the profession is less regulated so you want to be sure that if you are working with someone, that they have qualifications that you are comfortable with.
Traditionally, psychotherapy or counseling seeks to understand how your past impacts your present, assumes that, from a psychological standpoint, that something needs to be re-aligned, re-learned or managed. If you are using insurance, your provider must give you a mental health diagnosis in order to pay for treatment. Some therapists, like myself, incorporate contemporary coaching techniques along with psychological interventions in order to maximize helping people become the best version of themselves. Though my extensive education and training allow me to diagnosis and treat people for a variety of mental health issues, I hold a contemporary view of treating the whole person, not just the “diagnosis.”
I often see parents after they had a traumatic experience giving birth. Getting care from an experienced trauma therapist is essential. Parents facing the death of their baby are trying to manage grief and trauma. Trauma can result in getting stuck in their grief, with really devastating symptoms including excessive fear, scary images that keep coming to mind, excessive irritability or having a hard time connecting with others.
My advice is to do your research…there are a lot of people out there offering services for grief and trauma who have no professional training, and base their programs or groups solely on their personal experience. While I’m sure that some of those folks can be really useful, there is no regulation, no one overseeing what they are doing, and one cannot know whether what they are doing has some research backing…and at worst, they may be keeping people in their suffering or re-traumatizing them. People are really vulnerable after such traumatic experiences, so I feel particularity protective when it comes to getting good care.
What resources and services do you offer in addition to the Mending Hearts program?
Because I’m so passionate about parents getting reliable information and tools, I’ve creates a number of resources for parents grieving the loss of their baby. The newest offering I have, which I’m super excited about, serves bereaved parents and those who are supporting them: friends, family members, and even other professionals. Basically, I’ve created two free programs:
For Bereaved Parents:
This 4-week program for parents who want to resources to help them understand the grief process and give them tools to manage the hard times. It is for anyone who has experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth, end of their pregnancy for any reason, or the death of their baby. Though it is geared towards baby loss, those who are grieving the death of their child will also benefit from this as well. The content and resources are based on the MH online program and really provides so much in helping parents understand their own grief process and how to manage it. So many colleagues think I’m crazy to offer this for free but it just feels so important given how many parents are out there who need help.
For Those Supporting Bereaved Parents:
The second program is geared towards those who are interacting and/or supporting one or both parents. This program offers guidance, valuable information, and strategies to make understanding and supporting someone after loss easier and with less burn out. The reason I created this is because I get so many calls and emails from parents who feel unsupported or from support people who need some guidance on helpful things to say and do. This program definitely serves that need.
The great thing about these programs is that once registered, each of the 4 modules will be sent directly to your email box each week. Visit the Mending Hearts Program website to register.
There is also a free online Facebook group called the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Circle that I created and oversee. It is a very supportive community and there are (mostly) mothers from all over the world. It’s a great, gentle environment where parents can reach out for peer support, talk about their baby in a safe place, and feel seen and validated.
For those looking for inspirational articles, blog posts, inspiration, please visit my Facebook page. Its where I post any upcoming workshops or events that I’m offering and professionals are invited to post relevant workshops, resources, and groups here as well. Additional resources that are available include a YouTube channel where I post educational videos about the grief process, tips for healing, and inspiration.
In addition to the resources I mentioned, I provide specialized (in person) individual treatment for trauma and grief recovery in my Vancouver, WA office. Clients often come to me because they are feeling stuck, unhappy, fearful, or are having a really hard time after birth trauma, post-partum issues, infertility, childhood trauma or life circumstances. For those who are not local, I provide options for online individual coaching or counseling, depending on individual factors.
I would like to thank Dr. May for her time in answering my questions and lending us her expertise.