Thursday, 4 April 2013

What the body remembers

When I was doing my post-doc and began working with trauma patients, I came across a book that I found particularly compelling, in a professional sense. It was about the important relationship between psychotherapy and neurobiology, and its basic premise was that even when there are things that your brain or your psyche can't compute - because maybe they're simply too devastating - your body holds on to those memories. The author argued for a therapeutic process which gave voice to the body, suggesting that this reconnection could aid in healing.

It's true; the body holds onto a lot of stuff that the brain, because of its protective capacities, simply can't deal with. I've always been a firm believer in the mind/body connection, but I got to experience it firsthand, in an embodied way, when I was forced to grieve the loss of my son, and subsequently all the secondary losses that came with that.

When I began to frequent babyloss blogs, I would hear parents speak of this phenomenon again and again: your consciousness might forget the weight of a particular date, as your brain allowed it to become just another number on your calendar. Then maybe, seemingly out of the blue, you'd get sick or just not be particularly good at coping any more, when you'd otherwise felt you were making 'progress'. That's your body remembering.


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I meant for April to be the continuation of the mindset I managed to embrace in the latter half of March; hopeful, irreverent, happy. I survived another birthday (and another two week wait) without too major a meltdown. H and I made progress on the medical front, and found a really great doctor. We are making plans for exciting summer travels. Here in blogland, I wrote a series of silly, carefree posts that reflected the mood I held for many days in a row. I planned to write a post about spring, such as it is finally here; to enumerate all the ways I feel blessed, all the things I have to look forward to. They are, after all, many.

But then.

Then I ended up here. For the past two days, I've felt indeterminately melancholic. My brain is fuzzy and can't seem to concentrate. I'm irritable with H and work and life in general. I lack my usual energy, but I also feel restless a lot of the time. In light of all the loveliness of the past weeks and my comparatively positive mood, I struggled to think of why this might be.

And then I remembered: this month marks three years since the beginning of our journey to parenthood. (How has it been been three whole years already? How has it been only three years?)

In April of 2010, after we decided to take the plunge - less than a year into being together; but we both knew what we wanted and weren't getting any younger - I had been to see my oncologist in Canada to discuss how my disease and treatment history might effect this journey, and was told not to expect too much too quickly. We were initially cautious. Three weeks later, while we were visiting H's parents in Germany, we learned that we had conceived S; in our first month, before we were even really actively trying. (And little did we know just how active, and just how trying, the whole thing could become, back in those halcyon days). We were scared and elated and filled with wonder. This season is so evocative for me. For seventeen and a half weeks in the spring and summer of 2010, S was here with us, and it was like magic.

Until it wasn't. And I was broken. I was shocked by the depth of my own grief. I gained new understanding of that trite, rom-com notion of the broken heart. Mine was shattered in a million pieces, and every day for many months on end I could feel it, actually feel the shards piercing me. I often had a searing pain and a weight on my chest that made it hard to breath. And while the shards eventually melted, my heart developed new scar tissue to protect itself, and the pain slowly dissipated to something much gentler, the sense that there was no way to possibly ever understand - on a cognitive level - how we had got from there to here remained. How had this become my life?

I don't often spend time thinking those thoughts these days. I'm better than I was. I'm healing. I laugh a lot. I enjoy the little things again. But as I look down the long stretch of time and failure and loss that has carried us away from that magical time, a feeling that anything was still possible, my body and my brain seem to have momentarily reconnected: I'm missing those days in the spring of 2010.


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I miss the innocent and hopeful me I was in the 'before'.

I miss my belief in a 'logical' course of events: you pee on a stick. You see two lines. You cry and rejoice. You have a baby that outlives you by many decades. You walk away, happily ever after, into the sunset.

I miss the (stupid, vain) certainty I had of H and I as a dynamic, confident, always ebullient pair who were blessed, who always had good things coming to us. 

I miss the carefree way I used to be able to interact with friends and family and the world at large, before I crawled inside this protective, fearful carapace which so often walls me off from those around me. From their normality, their joys, their forward moving lives.

I miss the unwavering support and understanding that I used to think they'd be able to provide, before I realised, looking backward, that we were on a completely different path from virtually all of those people, and that this path was diverging into an ever widening gap of experience which they would be hard pressed to even grasp, never mind support.

I miss the version of myself that would have been able to see my two subsequent pregnancies - even for the brief time they were with us - as babies I might look forward to meeting, instead of the dread and diminished self-worth that accompanied those interrupted journeys.

Most of all, I miss my boy. I miss feeling him in my burgeoning belly. I miss the chance of knowing the person he would have become. He'd be two years old now, a chubby toddler. If he took after either of his bookish, nerdy parents, he'd already be showing an abiding interest in the written word. Maybe he'd have his father's flair for the dramatic. Maybe he'd be rambunctious and naughty, having inherited my curious, restless spirit and intellectual ADD. Our lives would be different now in ways I am still not able to fathom.

It doesn't often happen. Three years on, some supposedly significant dates - a loss, a due date, the date I got a positive pregnancy test - may come and go without my even realising it. These random down days may not come forever, I don't know. (Though my mother says that she still has these vaguely depressed anniversary days more than ten years after my grandmother died). And though I feel S is present in some way in our lives, I don't often indulge in the 'what ifs', partly because they're just too painful. My brain is protective.

I tell myself that it does no good missing any of these things, because they're gone and won't return. (With the exception of S, who is a different matter entirely). Things are what they are, and no amount of lamenting will bring them back. It was a realization I finally had months before starting this blog, and most days this knowledge allows me a kind of freedom, so that I am able to embrace the now. I am finding contentment in things again, in my life, with all its uncertainties. And although I am no longer (and probably never will be again) any of those things listed above, there are new, and better things that have replaced them; I am more compassionate, more patient, and I'd like to think more gracious with others. I feel acutely aware of all I have to be thankful for. I begin to believe in myself, to trust myself again. I don't want it to appear that I'm sliding backward, or that I'm ungrateful for all the wonderful things I have. I'm happy.

But there are days like today when I guess my body insists I stop, let down my carapace, and grieve. Be gentle with yourself, my body whispers to my brain, in an inversion of the logic we have learned from neurobiology, with the brain sending out missives that allow the body to function.Today, my body is calling the shots, and it has very clear ideas of what should take precedence.

Remember. Love. Grieve. Hope. Heal.

The thing about these embodied memories, as that book also pointed out, is that they aren't only a repository of your traumas; they are also a testament to your strength, to the way in which the mind and body can collaborate in positive ways to strengthen people.

Spring is here, it's come one way or another. Each day follows the last. We are moving forward.  I've learned that even while it retains this memory, my body keeps going, keeps fighting to be a part of the world, to make sure I'm really in it, that I'm happy.

So for now at least, my brain will listen, because that is also part of the trust I am regaining in myself and my body. I know it won't forget, but it won't quit either.

Putting myself back together. Again.

40 comments:

  1. You are an amazing writer. You are so descriptive of your pain that I felt your sadness myself. I am so very sorry for your losses and I wish I had a nugget of wisdom that could help ease your pain. All I can say is that I am sending you lots of positive vibes.

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    1. Thank you for your kind and supportive words. This is what has been great about blogging for me; not only do I feel surrounded and lifted by those positive vibes, but I can also share my stories. If that can help even a few people to understand how this is, or to feel less alone, then I am grateful.

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  2. I am so sorry for your loss. Hugs

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    1. Thank you so much for your support. Those simple words mean more than you could imagine.

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  3. I am so glad you are listening to your body. With love and hugs.

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    1. It wasn't always something I was good at (with dire consequences): I've had to learn how to incorporate all this experience, and though it's sometimes hard, it's made me more thoughtful and aware of my strenght. Love and hugs back to you.

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  4. No words, my friend. Beautiful post. I'm sorry you're feeling this, but it sounds like you understand it well and know how and when to allow yourself to feel it. So many good vibes coming from my corner. Retrieve them when you need/want them.

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    1. Thank you, they are very much felt and appreciated. I remind myself that in some way it's valuable, because the alternative (not feeling) would be worse. It's never a constant state anyway...This too shall pass, right?

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  5. I am sorry for your losses and all you have had to endure. It's so incredibly unfair.

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    1. As hackneyed as it sounds, one of the biggest lessons this whole ALI thing teaches us is how 'not fair' the whole world actually is. I mean, you know it intellectually, obviously but...None of this is fair for any of us, but I'm glad and honored to at least have such warm, fierce, compassionate company in all my fellow bloggers. Your words mean so much in that regard, thank you.

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  6. Thinking of you.Sending you love and support. Feel what you need... then, slowly, let it go, if for a while. Your little one (s), even when they materially existed for a relatively short period of time will always be part of you and H.

    I find the neurobiology / body remembering ideas very interesting. And it is funny/scary/real: Sheryl, who unfortunately also lost a baby described going through the same a few weeks ago.

    And I heard from a friend who has been studying transpersonal psychology / psychomagic /constellations that sometimes if there is a difficulty conceiving there could be a history of trauma behind. I refuse to believe it because I have always very deeply wanted to be a mom, since I was young, and I am not afraid of anything. But, it is true that my birth was traumatic. My mom had pre eclampsia, was in coma for a few hours, and I had to be taken out in forceps. I hope it is not my body remembering that is preventing it from happening to us. I really have tried all the hippie dippie stuff, visualisations, calling our baby, being open to what has to come. I don't know what else to do.

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    1. Thank you, as always, Amanda for your love and support. They are so felt. I especially love this: 'Your little one (s), even when they materially existed for a relatively short period of time will always be part of you and H'. I often think how hard it must be for those who are on the IF rollercoaster without having experienced loss to hear stories like mine, because the last thing you want to contemplate is that when you do eventually get pregnant (I have so much hope that you will my dear!), there are new sources of risk and worry. So your abiding here with me means a great deal.

      Also, as much as I understand your worries (because who amongst us hasn't spent undue time worrying about what we have done/experienced in our past and how that might impact our chances now), I hope I can put your mind at ease a bit. Although I'm not a neurologist (and have no background whatever in that science!), I can say that unlike the work from previous decades - which saw trauma as a kind of block to 'normal' functioning as you describe - more recent work has changed direction on this. One of the things I liked about the book I highlighted is that it sees body memory as an opportunity to heal, to allow the psyche to feel completely; and in so doing, in giving a voice to all those embodied feelings, traumatic and otherwise, to empower people, to have them (and I hate this hokey therapy-speak, but) OWN their feelings and experiences. I agree with those clinicians and authors in thinking this can only have beneficial effects, and even let you release some of that trauma. I'm sorry you had a traumatic birth and that your poor mother was so effected (the things we do for our children, huh?), but I hope you won't worry too much.

      I've tried all those hippy dippy visualization things too (I kinda like that stuff anyway)...Honestly, if someone told me eating grass would help I'd probably do it at this point. It's crazy making, isn't it? I hope that your baby is on its way very soon.

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  7. I miss the me I was before...That really stood out to me.
    Thank you for this xxx

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    1. Thanks for your encouragement Nomi. It sounds so dramatic, but there really is a 'before' and 'after', isn't there? Not all of that is awful; I like some parts of the after me a whole lot, but I can't help but sometimes miss the innocence and belief in cosmic good I had before. Thinking of you and your sweet Lyra, and returning the love.

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  8. What a beautifully written piece that really does justice to what it is like to have "one of those days".

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    1. Thank you for your kind words Brianna. I know you've suffered your fair share of days like this, and much as I hate that, I'm glad for the company. Remembering Bella, Oscar and Tittle with you.

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  9. I found this post to be so fascinating. I've always been interested in the link between mind and body and how that connection seems to deepen during times of grief or hardship.

    I've also found that moving forward and healing means having to leave some things behind. And that sometimes to accomplish one goal you have to sacrifice another.

    Thank you for sharing... I really appreciated your words.

    xx

    P.S. My email address is carryinganangel@gmail.com :)

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    1. Thank you Catherine. I think we're fortunate if that connection can deepen, because the alternative (in some really acute cases) is that it shuts down entirely. So I think of myself as lucky in a way that I can grieve this completely, which makes me think its possible to go on healing (though I'm not sure I'll ever be totally 'healed', or if I want to, since that would feel like leaving behind my son). That's so true about leaving some things behind. It *can* be healing and liberating to let go of some things, even if it's an awfully hard slog when you're in the midst of it.

      Love to you and Gabriel. Will send email shortly.

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  10. This is such an incredibly moving piece. I think it takes a lot of strength to allow yourself to feel all of the emotions that come to the surface. Thinking of you and wishing you brighter days ahead.

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and wishes. I've said it before and I'll say it again: it feels so good to know I'm not alone in any of this.

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  11. This is really beautifully written. You've managed to capture a very specific feeling, a feeling I'm sorry you've had to endure. I only hope I can be as in tune with my body and brain as you are when I have these kind of down days in the future. Thinking many good thoughts for you and H and sending empathy and positive vibes.

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    1. Thank you so much for your support, strength and humor as I continue to figure all this out my friend. Your positive vibes are so much felt and so much appreciated. It feels like it's taken a lot of emotional and physical work to get to a place where I can be this in tune. All I can say is, I hope you won't have to face many such days, and I continue to hold so much hope for you and C.

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  12. My body's ability to remember the dates related to my miscarriage shocked me when I first encountered them. I recently passed what would have been my due date and hate the most gut wrenching couple of weeks in what was otherwise completely out of the blue and you've captured that body memory so well here.

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    1. I think being unprepared for that shock - which is totally physcial at times, but also deeply, psychically painful - is one of the hardest parts. No one talks about this stuff and it therefore leaves us to experience it feeling totally unawares, and often totally alone. My due date was a horrific day for me at first. I wrote about it here: http://my-invincible-spring.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/we-are-all-made-of-stars.html

      It gets better though. I am so sorry for your loss, you are not alone. Thank you for stopping by my blog Sheryl. I'm looking forward to exploring yours more as well.

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  13. Oh my goodness, what a beautiful post. This made me shed flowing tears. Hugs.

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    1. Thank you so much for your kindness Alicia. Your support means so much. I have to confess, on more than one occasion your blog posts have elicited tears of an altogether happier variety. Your J is so beautiful, and I'm so thrilled for you guys; I can't stop looking and smiling :)

      And that you also for the blog roundup mention! You're too sweet.

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  14. Wow! What strong and powerful words. I can relate to so much of it and I'm so sorry that any of us ever experiences infertility...especially with a loss like that. I'm so happy that you are in the process of healing, I hope you find the happiness that you deserve.

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    1. Thank you so much Jessah. Although I'm not 'glad' that any of this struck a chord with you, it means a lot that people with differing experiences can share the common elements. It sucks that we're all here, but I'm so gratful for the support and companionship along the way. I am sending many wishes your way for happiness and continued healing.

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  15. You've been through a lot in three years. Even having two early miscarriages myself, I don't pretend to know the pain of losing a baby later in pregnancy. I can imagine it though. And just being where you are today, writing this beautiful post, shows your strength and desire to lead a joyful life, even during the darkest times. Sending sunny Spring thoughts your way!

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    1. I think in most ways it's true what is said: a loss is a loss. For most of us, our attachements to our babies begin before we even see those double lines, in all the daydreams and hopes and expectations we hold for our futures - that is all what gets lost when you lose a pregnancy, at seven weeks or seventeen or thirty seven. I sometimes wonder how I'd have felt about my two earlier losses if I hadn't had the experience with my son first; I feel I never got a chance to know or think of them as babies, though I would have liked to, even for a few short weeks. I am so sorry that you know any of this my friend. It sucks and it hurts unimaginably. I'm working on the joy, and most days it does indeed find me now. I wish the same for you.

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  16. I am cautiously peeping out from behind the blanket of my miscarriage grief and am seeing everything that you have described. The terror, the worry, the determination to push forward with the feeling of having been robbed of innocence.

    I am beginning to understand just how strong the mind/body connection is, and you've given me something else to be aware of and to think about. Thank you xo

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    1. Thank you so much for stopping by Lauren. I am so sorry for your loss. As I said above, you haven't only lost a tiny little life, you've also lost the life you planned to live as it grew, and that is heartbreaking. I hope you give yourself time to feel and heal from that, but I also hope your journey onwards will be a smooth one, and that you'll be welcoming new life again soon. Feel the terror when you need to, and push forward when you have energyg for that. Sending many good vibes your way.

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  17. What a gift you bring to us all by writing. A gift I am sure you never wanted, thank you for sharing your weaknesses and also your strength. There is hope for us all.XXX

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    1. Thanks for being there Sally. Your support means so much.

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  18. I strongly believe in the body-mind connection. You have captured it beautifully, it's very powerful and can take you completely by surprise. There are certain times that does that to me as well. To be aware of it and allowing it to be present, be gentle with oneself and work through it one way or another is, I think, a step towards healing. Thinking of you.

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    1. Yes, it can creep up so unexpectedly and so being prepared to just go thorugh it takes a lot of fortitude. It does feeling healing though. Sending thoughts back your way my friend.

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  19. There is absolutely a "before" and an "after". This is such a beautiful post. Thank you. Sending you hugs...

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    1. Thank you for your kind words and support. It took me ages to figure out that this was all 'normal' (if any of what we experience is normal), and it's still so comforting to have others around who know what I mean.

      You know, after all this time, and despite the days where I miss all those things, I wouldn't want to go back to the 'before'. What came with the after was so precious.

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  20. I came over from Melissa's blog. Beautiful post.

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    1. Thank you so much for visiting, and for your kindness. I am so glad I came to know your blog; you write beautifully and I can relate to so much of what you're experiencing

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