Rachel, at 22, had not expected to become pregnant so soon after her marriage.
Although not planned, she soon got used to the idea and started excitedly looking forward to having a baby. She told family and a few close friends. She started shopping for baby clothes in her lunch hour at work.
Then one day, something terrible happened. Rachel miscarried.
The reaction in her circle was uniform. ‘You’re young, there will be other opportunities. You’ll get over it.’ Rachel’s GP gave her a week off to recover, but by the time she returned to work, although physically present, Rachel was psychologically absent.
Her manager, with all good intentions, asked to have a quiet word with her at the back of the office. ‘My wife had a miscarriage’ he said ‘so I know how you feel’.
‘Thank you’, said Rachel. ‘You have no idea how I feel’, she thought.
The weeks that followed were difficult.
Rachel felt tearful most of the time. She couldn’t sleep and couldn’t stop thinking about the baby she had lost. She wanted to talk about how she felt. At first friends and family were sympathetic but, after a while, seemed to have less patience with hearing what was, essentially, the same story, over and over again.
Rachel learned to keep quiet and people thought she was ok.
But Rachel’s work was suffering. Her concentration had gone and she started making mistakes. Her manager was now less than sympathetic.
‘What’s going on Rachel? You’ll have to pull yourself together’ he said ‘I can’t afford to carry passengers.’
Now Rachel had something else to worry about. Her previously safe world seemed to be crumbling around her. Her relationship was suffering too as her husband lost patience with her seeming inability to ‘get over it and move on’.
Rachel never did ‘get over it.’
Grief is grief. We should not underestimate the strength and significance of the bond between a mother and her unborn child, no matter how early it is in her pregnancy.
The grief does not get smaller. Rather, with time, the hope is that our lives expand around it and the grieving becomes part of our journey and part of our personal narrative.
‘I know how you feel’ is not the best starting point. Neither is ‘pull yourself together.’
‘Tell me how you feel’ is better, but that’s no good either, unless people are prepared to listen empathically, without judgement and without interrupting with their own experiences.
It would have been more helpful for Rachel to have had access to a professional who knew how to support grief, trauma and emotional distress. What Rachel really needed was validation for her experience, an explanation of what was going on for her and guidance on what she could do to help support herself as she worked through her sense of loss.
We now know that, the more we become emotional, the less we have access to our rational brain. It’s called emotional hijacking. Concentration and focus are destroyed by high emotion. Managing anxiety is a skill. At times of crisis, just knowing this is empowering. We know what to do to help ourselves.
The more we worry, the less we enjoy good quality sleep at night. By the morning, our motivational energy has been eaten up by too much REM (dreaming sleep). Now there is a second problem and the tiredness adds to the stress.
Creating SAFE SPACES
If Rachel had known about the ‘recipe’ for emotional well-being, she would have been aware that her needs for personal security, attention and control were lost with the loss of her baby; that the emotional distress she felt was authentic and that, while she waited to regain her sense of equilibrium, there were things she could do to help herself.
The STOP system™ would have given her a practical way to ‘take a step back’ from her distress and self soothe with gentle mindfulness techniques.
SAFE SPACES™ integrates ‘the emotional needs ‘recipe’ together with a ‘system’ for emotional management creating a powerful wraparound model for wellbeing and resilience.
And, when it comes to mental health, knowledge truly is power.
For all the Rachel’s, here it is:
Family, friends and fun