”“Why do I feel so much pain?” I muttered to myself as I sat in my car, feeling like I was having an out of body experience.
I’ve always been amazed at how music can transform you to feel emotions and be filled with memories from days past. The pop/synth interlude of “Steal My Sunshine” will always transport me to driving with my windows down in the Kansas fields, and Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” brings me to summer swim days. (Yes, I’m an 80s child, and, yes, I remember all of the words to any song I’ve ever heard.)
I knew music had the power to bend time and space, but I didn’t realize that being in a specific location would do the same trick. Here I was, dropping my husband off to a regular ho-hum doctor’s appointment, overcome with fear. Tears welled up in my eyes as I circled the block trying to find a place to park, utterly confused as to why I was emotional. One by one, I saw women with very round bellies walking in and out of a rotating door, grabbing Ubers or looking for their partners.
When I saw a woman helped out of her wheelchair by her partner with the most despondent gaze, it all came flooding back and it caught my breath. I realized – I was sitting outside of my OBGYN’s office. The same office where we were told that they couldn’t hear a heartbeat. Where normal moments turned into slow motion. Where I was wheeled out in a wheelchair and went home without any hope. Where my baby was replaced with a million questions about what my next steps should be. Would we do a DNC? Would we take medication to have my body abort our child on its own?
Would I ever feel whole again?
During our first pregnancy, we were elated. We told our families super early, and I felt great once we had the pregnancy test to our first appointment at eight weeks. I was tired but not nauseated. Everything felt solid and natural, though, at the time, I wouldn’t have known what “unnatural” or “wrong” felt like with pregnancy.
And then, an ultrasound without a heartbeat. My husband read the room quicker than I was – I’d never had an ultrasound before so I didn’t know that I was supposed to actually hear its heartbeat. His face vacillated from concern to stoicism; he was worried but he knew I didn’t quite understand what was going on and wanted to let me down gently. The doctor who gave the second opinion was not as gentle, and once we got the news, my foggy brain went into a massive time warp.
Fast forward six months and I was right back in the same office, holding my breath. “Surely it couldn’t happen twice,” I told myself as I reassured that everything would be ok and do my best not to elevate my own hopes. This time was different. A strong heartbeat, a little active peanut wiggling around inside of me caused instant relief and a monsoon of tears. I could finally let go and not be strong for a moment. We had a fighting chance.
Many say that grief isn’t linear, but no one told me that the volume of grief wouldn’t be consistent. What no one told me was how fresh things would feel when you insert yourself back into certain situations. I have to psych myself up to see my OBGYN, which might sound odd since I do have a healthy child and I’ve had so many visits both before and after my son was born. No matter how many times I visit them for mundane things, or even sit outside the doors in the car, I’m grieving in big and small ways.
Everyone processes grief differently, and there are three specific tactics that help quell the anxiety wave.
- I breathe. Cheesy as it sounds, closing your eyes and focusing on your breath allows time to stand still for a moment. I’d love to tell you that I’m grateful for the breath and focus, but I’m not always that kind to myself. I just struggle to get into the routine and let my breath carry me a bit further and faster than my anxiety can run.
- I recognize and ride the tides of emotions. Emotions have a beginning, middle, and end. If I can sit in the discomfort, name the feelings, and let my curiosity discover why it arises, the wave will pass.
- I repeat “I am strong, I am safe, I am loved, I am whole.” It sounds so lofty, but the mantra helps me tap into ALL of the insecurities I have each time I step foot into this specific area.
Oh, and maybe one more. Keep talking about it and not allowing myself to push it down or shut it out. Others may not understand, and the complicated feelings it brings up may make others uncomfortable. Healing comes, but not without discomfort and pain – even in the most innocent of times.
Anxiety and grief can be bedfellows, but there are ways to ebb and flow with our triggers. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but we can always try. At least that’s what I told myself so I didn’t hyperventilate while sitting in this one patch of earth that holds so many stinging memories.