I haven’t decided what to do with this completed work yet. I know that right now isn’t the right time to publish it, especially since I have a book coming out next fall with a traditional publisher and will have much work to do between now and then. But, since I think this topic might be useful and encouraging to some of my readers, I’m going to share some snippets from it now and then. This excerpt is from a chapter called The Healing Cycle. It deals with healing your mental and spiritual health while grieving the unexpected loss of a child by miscarriage.
Our Sad Sisterhood: Hope and Healing for Christian Women in the Wake of Miscarriage. Part 4 — The Healing Cycle
I hope that everything you’ve read so far has convinced you that you deserve to heal. My prayer is that you see your infinite worth in God’s eyes and have shed the feelings of blame, shame, and anger that led you to pick up this book.
We have discussed the spiritual battle going on around us and our place within it. With that in mind, I hope you will let me convince you that perhaps the best way to honor God and our sacred selves is to make space for healing. The work is hard but worthwhile. So, how do we begin?
I feel a little weird about calling this section the Healing Cycle. To be honest, I’m just sticking with it to keep some consistency across the book’s sections. Healing isn’t really a cycle, in my opinion. It’s more like a Jeremy Bearimy.
Please tell me you’ve seen The Good Place! If you haven’t seen the show (and why haven’t you?) let me explain. In the show, a Jeremy Bearimy is the loop that time travels though. It looks like this:
Ever since watching The Good Place, I have loved using Jeremy Bearimy to describe what healing journeys look like. First of all, healing is non-linear; this means that it doesn’t move in a straight line. Some people think that healing should look like a perpetual motion forward — all steps in the direction of healing and no steps back. This is not actually how healing words. Healing moves forward sometimes, as in the crest of the B in Bearimy. Then sometimes, as the result of a trigger (like a memory, or an event), or maybe even in the absence of a trigger, healing can move backwards. If moving forward was the crest of the B, the backward movement is the bottom part of the B, as it circles its way back to the straight line and begins to form the lower half. Healing is full of forward steps, and backward steps.
Second, healing can be happening in different ways at the same time. If Jeremy Bearimy represents time as it unfolds, we can see that parts of the word actually sit underneath other parts of the word. Essentially, different things are happening at the same time. Healing works in much the same way. You might be making a lot of progress in one area of healing, but making no progress, or even moving backwards, in another area. For example, maybe you have come a long way forgiving God for your miscarriage, because you’re reading this book! But maybe you aren’t making much progress on forgiving yourself because you are still hanging on to some self-shaming beliefs. That’s okay. More importantly, it’s normal.
Perhaps the only way that healing is like a cycle is that it will be continual, and you will make several journeys through the process. As you move backward and forward, you might find yourself making a loop. That’s ok, too. That’s how I’ll justify calling it a cycle.
Now might be a good time to tell you that six years have passed since I started writing this book. It is now 2022. I have had two children — they are four and six now. I started a business, launched my own line of diaper bags and accessories, bought a warehouse and hired employees. Then, together, we survived a pandemic. As I type this, Russia is in the middle of attempting to occupy Ukraine and many of us fear it is the beginning of a Third World War. A lot has changed since I began writing this book, and I’ll admit, I’m a different person than I was when I started it. I am sharing this with you because, for one thing, you might notice a shift in tone and style. After all, I was 31 when I began writing this book. I am now 37. Those six years since I began writing have also distanced me quite a bit from my pain and grief. I am healed — I truly believe that now. How strange, though, that my eyes are welling up as I type that. I guess maybe we are never completely healed. Just further away from the pain. So, you may notice more optimism in my way of speaking about the pain, because now I know the end of the story. I know that my life turned out okay, and that yours will too. I’m not sure I believed that when I began writing this book. I don’t expect you to believe it right now either. However, I hope my optimism for you will give you courage to begin your healing journey, too.
I say that because I think a lot of us are reluctant to begin trying to heal. For me, giving myself permission to feel better meant giving myself permission to move on. That wasn’t true, necessarily, but it’s what I believed. What happens if I heal from this pain and never think about the baby I lost again? I don’t want to forget. These thoughts stopped me from letting myself heal for a very long time. I need you to know that it’s been six years, and I still think about the baby I lost. Less often than before, and usually now without crying. But there are many times in my daily routine where I remember that there are two children here, but there was supposed to be three. I find that it’s often in the happy moments that this happens; when my children are playing nicely together, or when we snuggle on the couch. I still feel that ache in my belly for the baby who disappeared in there.
You’ll never forget your baby, either. You can give yourself permission to heal now, because that baby will always be a part of you. Letting yourself feel better doesn’t mean leaving your lost baby behind. It means bringing your baby along with you, as you take steps forward and begin living again.
So, what are the steps you need to take? In my opinion, your healing is going to require walking down two avenues. The first avenue is taking care of your mental and emotional health, and the second is restoring your faith. Maybe you will walk down these avenues sequentially — reaching the end of the first avenue and then starting down the next one — or maybe you’ll walk them at the same time. Maybe you’ll start healing your faith first and then begin working on your mental health. For me, I had to get my mental health in check before I could even consider grappling with my faith. Since I walked down these paths sequentially and in that order, that’s how I am going to discuss them. Just keep in mind that if you feel comfortable tackling your mental health and faith at the same time you absolutely can. This is your journey. Tailor it to your own needs and capabilities.
It’s not you, it’s trauma
I think one of the first things we need to acknowledge about beginning your healing is that what has happened to you is trauma. Trauma is defined as a complex emotional response to a distressing or terrible experience. A lot of people experience things like shock or denial right after the event that caused the trauma. After the shock and denial wear off people often report having confusing and unpredictable emotions, strained relationships with self, with others, and with God, and difficulty moving on with their lives. As we talked about earlier, for some people the trauma makes them feel stuck in place.
It’s important that we identify the pain of our miscarriage as trauma, even though that word might make some of us feel uncomfortable. I think some of us, particularly women, are prone to thinking that the word trauma is only reserved for people who have gone through really horrendous things like rape or psychical abuse. We think that somehow if we claim that word for ourselves, we are delegitimizing the trauma of people who went through something “worse” than us. We need to correct that thinking right now, for several reasons.
Number one: Every person’s trauma is painful and deeply distressing, no matter what that trauma is. Your pain is just as valid is theirs.
Number two: We don’t take anything away from their trauma by allowing ourselves to name our own trauma.
Number three: Until we accept that our loss was a legitimate trauma, we might not take our healing as seriously as it needs to be.
Accepting that we have trauma as a result of our losses gives us permission to pursue healing ourselves seriously. This isn’t a “fake it ‘til you make it” situation where we white knuckle our way through the pain until it goes away. We have to accept that trauma requires work, and maybe several trips through the Jeremy Bearimy.
I spent several years trying to smile my way through the pain. I told myself and everyone I was doing fine. I had finally become a mom and my hands were super full with the tiny humans I was raising. From the outside looking in, my emotional life was perfect. Sometimes at night I would lay in bed looking at pictures of my children and would feel this pit forming in my stomach. I was so grateful for my children, but for some reason looking at their precious faces in those pictures brought back the memory and the pain of the baby I lost. I would shame myself by saying, “what is wrong with you that you can’t be grateful for these two perfect children? God answered your prayers and now you have the nerve to spit in his face like this. Why can’t you just be happy?”
This self abuse took a toll on my emotional well-being. As the months and years went on I found myself becoming angrier and less patient than I used to be. I snapped at my kids more often. I lashed out at my husband. I held grudges and turned little disagreements into major conflict. I was losing myself, and in my place was an angry and broken shadow person. At the time, I didn’t attribute any of this to my miscarriage. After all, it had been years since it happened. So, I kept telling myself and the world that everything in it was fine. It wasn’t until COVID-19 made it stateside, and all of us were sheltered in place at home with nothing but our loved ones and our pent up emotional garbage, that I realized I was not fine.
One day, after several months of me and my husband, our two children (ages 3 and 5 at the time), and my 26 year old step-son being trapped together in the house, things just fell apart. We adults were fighting almost every day, and my two young children were having behavioral problems as a result. One night I went to my room, did a quick Google search for therapists in my area, and booked an appointment.
Although I went to therapy to deal with the stress that came along with living through a pandemic, I quickly discovered that a lot of my reaction to the pandemic was related to unhealed trauma from my past, including my miscarriage. I learned that I was still carrying deep spiritual turmoil surrounding the loss of my baby. I discovered that the ache I felt sometimes late at night when I looked at pictures of my children came not from missing the baby I lost, but rather from guilt that I had “moved on.” I also learned about other unhealed traumas spanning across my lifetime that I had just repressed and tried to forget. Perhaps most importantly for my spiritual well-being, I discovered just how far my grief had taken me from Christ and His good plan for my life.
My therapist and I made a plan to begin the real work of healing.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.