Meditations on the Beginning of Spring

One year ago, I didn’t know I was going to get pregnant that month. I had just turned 35 and was still recovering from my loss the previous autumn. My oldest friend had just welcomed her son, a son that was supposed to have been born a mere three months before my own. But it was spring, a time of new beginnings, and I was trying to embrace that.

I had started acupuncture a few weeks earlier, and my acupuncturist had suggested I meditate on the green and growing things of springtime. He suggested that I focus on the fertile time of year that it was. And I was following my Circle + Bloom meditation program as well. I was meditating a lot. I meditated a lot in the months following my loss.

I didn’t know that I was standing on the cusp of a new period in my life. That a couple weeks later, I would see those two pink lines, and all the excitement and fears they brought up. This year, one year later, I’m sitting in a quiet house, watching my nearly-three-month-old son nap. We went to my friend’s son’s first birthday party this weekend.

I can feel the air warming and the world moving into springtime again, just as I did last year. This year, I won’t be blooming quite so obviously with the spring, but I’m still growing, becoming a mother, slowly but surely. And I get to watch my own little sprout grow as we nurture him.

Despite the years I’ve had in my life, I’m always amazed at the difference a year can make. As we emerge from winter, it’s nice to touch base with the constants in life — the spring, the sun, the flowering trees, the migrating birds — as I consider all that has changed. And I can sit here and appreciate every moment of my journey, joyful and sad, and appreciate that spring has come again.


Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month (and Baby Loss Awareness Week)

NB: In this post, I will be discussing my miscarriage, as well as my current, ongoing pregnancy.

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month in the US, and this week in particular is Baby Loss Awareness Week in the UK, so I thought I’d write a little more about miscarriage. I’m fully aware that I suffered one of the gentlest forms of pregnancy loss. As I’ve written about before, I had a missed miscarriage last year when we were first trying to conceive. While I’ve mostly moved on from it, there will always be a part of me that was left behind with that baby that never came to be born, so I thought I’d talk a little more about the process of “moving on” as I experienced it and offer my advice to anyone going through something similar.

I felt like I had eons to actually process my loss, since I learned about the loss a week before I started any treatment to physically pass the pregnancy. And then, I didn’t actually pass everything and ended up being treated further two weeks later, with a further two-to-three-week recovery time. So, all total, I spent about six weeks from the time I learned of my loss to the final checkup where things were declared “back to normal.”

But of course, they weren’t back to normal. Even though I felt like I had healed enough to have the strength to write publicly about my loss and field questions. Even though I felt like an “old pro” at dealing with loss, I realized about a month after my D&C surgery that I was not “past” my grief by any stretch.

And I guess that’s my main advice: Don’t try to convince yourself that you need to “get over” your feelings. My primary mistake was not letting myself feel my feelings, and instead they started bubbling to the surface at the worst possible time. All of a sudden, I was finding myself fighting tears and even rage at work when I didn’t even realize I was upset. But I guess I was always upset, deep down, and while I mostly fought it down, eventually it would have to come up, like a soda that’s been capped and shaken. Eventually it will blow.

Unless you release the pressure bit by bit. So I started what I called my “grief meditations” where I would sit on my meditation cushion and just cry. Sometimes silently, sometimes not. It was a callback to when I was grieving the death of my father and found myself inexplicably sobbing during my weekly Zen sits. Giving myself the space to fully explore what I was feeling helped to release the tension of my grief and admit to myself that I wasn’t okay and that I might not be okay for a while.

It also taught me that you don’t really “get over” your grief. It is always with you. You just start finding more to life than your grief. It stops feeling like such an overwhelming presence in your life. But that takes time, and I don’t mean a month or two months. If it’s only been less than a year since your loss, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you listen to people who think you should be “over it” or telling yourself that you should be doing better. Even after I got pregnant again, I found that there was room in my heart to simultaneously welcome this new pregnancy while still grieving the old one. The new pregnancy didn’t take away one ounce of grief over the old one; it just gave me more in my life to focus on.

And now I’m also coming up on the one-year anniversary of that awful doctor’s appointment where instead of a cute ultrasound of a potato, we got an eons-long visit with the doctor explaining all our medical options, as well as going over the emotional ramifications. I suppose that’s my second bit of advice: There are doctors out there with the compassion and willingness to spend time on their patients’ emotional health, so if you feel like your needs aren’t being met by your doctor, it might be worth looking for a new one. My experience with my new-at-the-time OB practice really made me realize how amazing a group of doctors they are and made me so confident in my choice. And that has carried through into my current pregnancy.

So now I’m sitting here, almost a year later, and I’ve come up against another mental block: I offered to make a Reddit friend a red crocheted hat and cape for her Jizo statue. But I’ve found myself reluctant to start the project somehow. And I think it might just be residual feelings coming to the surface. So I’ll start the project this week, as soon as I don’t feel sick anymore, because it will be cathartic. But not because it will make the bad feelings go away.

Miscarriage, pregnancy

Why I (Mostly) Didn’t Do Cutesy Announcements for My Pregnancy

NB: This post will contain references to my previous miscarriage.

Now, those of you who are my friends on Facebook know that I did, in fact, make a cute Facebook post with a photo of two regular sized teacups and a mini teacup. It was just the right level of cutesy for us, but not terribly over-the-top as “pregnancy announcements” go. And, other than that, I haven’t really made any fancy pregnancy announcements otherwise. But when I’m on online communities of pregnant ladies, I constantly hear questions from people looking for how to announce their pregnancies. So I thought I’d share my low-key announcements of various milestones, and a little about why I’m not into big, fancy announcements of everything.

As readers of this and my other blog know, I had a miscarriage the first time I got pregnant last year. That has definitely colored my experience with this pregnancy. While I’m absolutely excited and happy to be pregnant, every moment, especially in the beginning, becomes tinged with thoughts about what I should do now just in case I suffer another loss. So not only were we somewhat guarded about announcing to people, we also tried not to make a big deal out of any of our announcements. Even our “cutesy” announcement on Facebook was just a photo that I took myself and a post that we were having a baby. No videos or belly shots or anything.

But ultimately, I think there’s just too much pressure to be creative when announcing a baby (or a gender). You see news stories about announcements and reveals (and announcements and reveals gone horribly wrong) all the time, and it reminds me of how excessive wedding proposals get as well. I didn’t have a fancy wedding proposal and I don’t need to announce my pregnancy in an over-the-top way. Perhaps it’s because I’m an introvert. Or perhaps it’s the remnants of my old minimalist tendencies showing. I’d rather be excited for myself than try to whip up all my friends and family into excitement for me, I guess (even though some of them sometimes seem more excited than I am).

Our “announcements” were mostly text messages and phone calls. We announced to our parents after we had a good ultrasound at 8 weeks, and announced to our siblings via text/Facebook message a few weeks later after a clean NT scan. The Facebook post went up around 14 weeks and that was probably one of the most nerve-wracking two weeks of my life, since I didn’t have another doctor’s appointment for another two weeks and was convinced I would need to announce another loss right after.

And other than that? We’re not announcing the gender. In fact, we’re mostly keeping it to ourselves because I don’t want people to let their choice of baby gifts be colored (literally) by gender. I want to give my kid equal opportunity to wear dinosaurs or tutus. I think it’s basically impossible to be “low-key” when you’re pregnant (heck, I update this blog 2-3 times a week!), but this is about as close as I get to low-key, and I’m okay with that.

Health, pregnancy, Trying to Conceive

Acupuncture Before and During Pregnancy

The month I ended up getting pregnant, I was four month past my miscarriage, and about nine months into trying to conceive a child. I’d already gotten pregnant once, though it didn’t stick, so my doctors weren’t worried, and I knew that it would be at least a few months before I could take any concrete steps towards investigating my fertility, but I was starting to feel powerless. So I wanted to try something. So I started looking to some alternative options. I’ve already talked about my experience trying the Circle + Bloom fertility meditation program, but today I wanted to talk a little bit about the other step I took to try to take a little more control of my fertility journey: acupuncture.

20100928 AlphaCityAcupunks-5

Of course, the scientific jury is out when it comes to the efficacy of things like acupuncture. On one hand, there is some evidence that it does something, but on the other hand, there is also evidence that it might be the placebo effect. So I realize that opinions of this might vary. Personally, I chose to hope that it could at least improve my general health and quality of life, even if it didn’t “make me get pregnant.” And I will state up front that I really don’t think it had much to do with the fact that I happened to get pregnant the first month of treatment. I also went because I was interested in seeing it might have some positive effect on my chronic migraines, which were proving difficult to manage as I avoided NSAIDs while trying to conceive.

So first a little bit about my acupuncturist: He’s trained in a style of acupuncture known as the Five-Elements Tradition of acupuncture, which differs somewhat from the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) style of acupuncture. Basically, the main difference is that instead of putting needles in a whole bunch of points at once and then leaving you to relax for a while, the acupuncturist generally needles one point at a time by placing the needle, pushing it in until it “connects” with the acupuncture point, and then removing the needle. He will occasionally do a couple points where he places a couple or a few needles at a time and leaves them for a bit, but he’s in the room interacting with me the entire time. We actively discuss how I’m feeling and what reaction I had to each point. This turned out to be particularly helpful the first time I went because some of the points he needled on my spine ended up making me feel really dizzy! He also uses moxa, which is a processed form of mugwort. There are different ways to apply moxa, but his technique is to place a small ball of mugwort directly on the skin, set it smoldering (he says he “lights” it, but nothing is actively flaming on my skin!), and then removing it when I say I can feel the heat.

One of my concerns with this style of acupuncture and moxa was that it seemed like it would be more likely to leave a mark on my skin, since the needles go a little deeper, and the moxa is placed directly on my skin. So I wanted to say that I have never had any marks leftover after my appointments. Occasionally, I will have a small amount of pinkness to my skin from the increased bloodflow or warmth, but it has always faded before I even get home (it’s about a 15-20 minute walk). Anyway, other than that, I thought I’d talk a bit about the specific things I’ve found have been helped by the acupuncture.

Migraines/Headaches: I’ve suffered from migraine headaches from about the time I was in college, although I’ve never found a medication that I like to relieve them. I’ve found some level of relief by changing my diet and determining what food triggers I have, but I’ve since realized that another major trigger is the weather. So I know that I will likely continue to have them at least sometimes. Not only have I not found a medication that works for me without unreasonable side effects, but I also knew, going into trying to conceive, that I wouldn’t be able to take most migraine medications if I got pregnant anyway. So one of the main reasons I looked into acupuncture was to see if it helped my headaches and migraines.

I have to say that, yes, it has definitely helped. I have headaches way less frequently, and when I do, they’re less severe. Even my migraines are often just a little aura and nausea and not a full-blown, skull-pounding headache, which is much more manageable. It’s particularly nice because severe headaches and aura can be a sign of worrying pregnancy complications, so keeping my migraines at bay has also kept me from worrying that a headache is something more.

Nausea/Digestive Issues: When I was just shy of five weeks, I was having some nausea, bloating, and other digestive issues. I also had an acupuncture appointment. I left the appointment feeling completely better. Seriously, all my early pregnancy symptoms were just gone. For like 2-3 days. I actually freaked out that it meant I was going to have another loss, until they came back later the next week. But it was amazing to me that sticking a few needles in my body could have that strong an effect. Since then, I’ve gone from having appointments every week, to every other week, and now about once a month, but my acupuncture always feels like a kind of reset of my digestive system. I always feel less bloated after my appointment, and early on in pregnancy, when I was dealing with nausea, after acupuncture was often when my appetite was the strongest. No, it’s not always perfect, and I’ve also puked right after an acupuncture appointment (though it still helped my digestion in other ways and I always felt ultimately better), but it’s been a real help in making me feel more like myself, physically.

Joint/Muscle Pain and Cramping: This is a relatively recent one, but since I’ve found that I definitely need to sleep on my side, I’ve found that I have pain my hips from the pressure of my body on my hip joint while I’m sleeping. But since mentioning it to my acupuncturist, he makes sure to treat the hip joint, and I’ve found that my hips are less achy. Even though they still get sore in the middle of the night, they recover faster and I no longer hobble around half the day while my aching hips work out their kinks.

Additionally, I started getting Charley horses in my calves around 20 weeks, sometimes really painfully. I’ve started eating a banana every day to help, but I still sometimes have some mild cramping. At my last appointment, the acupuncturist placed a needle in my leg and while connecting with the acupuncture point, I felt the sensation go straight through my leg, to my calf, and then release completely, relaxing my calf muscle after the needle was pulled out. Since then, my calves are much less crampy.

Congestion: This one is somewhat related to headaches, since most of my non-migraine headaches are due to congestion, but I thought I’d mention it separately. It’s really, really disconcerting to have needles placed in your face, but the effect is undeniable. Especially in the aftermath of my summer cold, acupuncture along with the neti pot really helped work out some of the deep-seated congestion, plus it helps keep my general, pregnancy-related congestion at bay. Totally worth needles in my face.

Trying to Conceive: I’ve saved this for last because it was really something that I can say with any certainty was helped. But one thing my acupuncturist talked with me a lot about was my miscarriage and my lingering feelings of grief. He specifically asked about where in my body I felt like I was holding emotions around my miscarriage, and I do feel that the relaxation and care that I get from the appointments helped ease my anxiety and helped me release lingering feelings of grief. Plus, the somewhat-medical aspect of the treatment helped me feel like I was doing something to increase my chances of conceiving, despite the fact that I had no reason to believe I had an actual medical problem. Plus, it couldn’t have been a bad thing that it helped me relax during the times when I might obsess about whether or not I was going to conceive. In fact, I was so accepting and not obsessive that I hadn’t even convinced myself I was pregnant the month I ended up conceiving.

I know that acupuncture is one of those controversial things, with some people swearing by them for everything and others considering it complete snake oil. I will say, my experiences have led me to believe that there’s something to it, but I don’t expect it to work miracles, and of course I consult my doctor for acute medical problems. And, like any other body-related service, whether it’s a yoga teacher or an OB/Gyn, it’s important to find someone whose practice and personality work well with you (for example, in addition to helping my migraines, my acupuncturist is a devoted tea-drinker and we frequently end up swapping tea recommendations!). Also, make sure you find someone who has experience working with pregnant women, since there are points that are contraindicated in pregnancy (some of which you might not expect).

NB: This post is intending to share my personal experiences and shouldn’t be considered medical or health advice. Definitely ask your doctor and do your own research before getting any kind of treatment.

[Image Source]

Miscarriage, Second Trimester

On Pregnancy After Loss, Part Two: Post-Quickening

Note: This is a post about coping with previous pregnancy loss, so once again if you don’t want to hear about my anxieties and fears, please enjoy this photo of my cat being adorable:

I thought I’d write again about how I’m handling the emotions of being pregnant again after an early miscarriage, now that I’m feeling my baby move on a regular basis. Last month, I shared my fears and complicated feelings that came up when I first found out I was pregnant. I shared the relief I felt when our first ultrasound went well, and my continued anxiety that something could still happen. I mentioned that I’d heard that things get easier once you can feel the baby move.

“The quickening” is an ages-old term for that point in a pregnancy when you feel the first movements. It happens at different times for different women, and it tends to start as ambiguous flutters in the belly that some mistake for gas. As I’ve gone through the first half of my pregnancy after having a missed miscarriage, I’ve had varying levels of anxiety due to the fact that, the last time I was pregnant, I didn’t know anything was wrong until the doctor told me. This time, everything has gone smoothly, so far, but I still have that nagging feeling in the back of my head. It did help that our anatomy scan last week went well.

Also, for the last few weeks, I’ve been feeling the baby move on a fairly regular basis. And it is comforting. But here’s the thing about the first movements you feel while pregnant: They’re not consistent or regular. So even though I find it comforting when I feel my baby move, the fact that it’s still somewhat early to feel consistent movement means that I get just as worried when I don’t feel the baby move for a while. But it was nice, especially while I was traveling, that I could come back to my hotel room and almost immediately feel movement, even after doing something that had me slightly worried that I’d hurt something, like overexerting myself or getting a bad cold.

So my anxiety is slowly but surely getting better, although this week seems to be a week where baby is hanging out in a part of my body where I can’t feel the movement as much. I need to remind myself that I just felt a giant kick this morning when I get to work and don’t feel the random fluttering, flopping movements that I often feel anytime I sit quietly at my desk. So I’m hoping that, as the weeks go on, eventually I’ll get to a place where I can sit down, feel for movements, and feel confident that I’m feeling the right amount of movement. For now, I’m still trying to remind myself that everything has looked good so far.