Strength and Hope after Miscarriage and Stillbirth: One Woman's Journey

Strength and Hope after Miscarriage and Stillbirth

By: Tracy Prisman

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Only in the movies?

I used to watch a certain soap opera. A whole week could go by and nothing really happened, so I didn’t watch it regularly, but I always discussed it with my Grandmother. One day I happened to watch and one of the characters lost her baby towards the end of her pregnancy. At the time, I was four months pregnant and my Gran immediately called me and said that she was sorry and that she hoped I knew that these things only happen in the movies and certainly not in today’s times. I had to agree. Little did I know that only a few months later, at the beginning of my ninth month of pregnancy, I would lose my baby. After nine months of “perfect”, problem free pregnancy, there was one day where I couldn’t feel the baby kick. Thinking that I was being overly paranoid, my husband and I decided to check things out anyway, but not in our wildest dreams did we think that our baby was no longer alive.

It was such a shock to us, but somehow that day, we stayed relatively calm, reserving our strength for the hard road ahead. Looking back on that day I feel that G-D had sent down a special dose of strength to us both to help us cope. I decided I had to temporarily bury my pain and anguish until after the birth. If I let myself break down I just wouldn’t have the strength to go through the birth itself, and I knew I couldn’t allow that to happen. The baby was finally born 52 hours after I was induced! My husband decided to see the baby, while I decided that there was no way I could see him. Today, we are both happy with our decisions and feel that they were right for us.

The girl in the soap opera went into a complete depression and was eventually admitted to hospital. I remember watching at the time and thinking that would be a pretty normal reaction after suffering such trauma, but when it actually happened to me, I decided that there was no way I could let myself react like that. I made a decision to NOT let depression take over. I decided to fight with what little strength I had left and to make sure, that despite the pain, the disappointment and the feeling of despair, I was going to choose a positive attitude. I was going to get through this ordeal in the most optimistic way possible. I find it a constant battle to train my mind to overcome such profound pain and sadness. There are times when I have to let myself cry, so I have a good cry…but I don’t want to be in a permanent state of grief. There are times when no amount of optimism and resolve can help, but there are also times when I derive strength from my beliefs and thoughts. I hope my beliefs will help YOU to find YOUR STRENGTH.

My perspective

There’s no right or wrong way…

It is strange, but at the time I found out that we had lost our baby, I felt like we were the only ones in the world that this terrible thing had happened to. However, friends and neighbors started relating their own experiences with prenatal or neonatal death and I was surprised that so many others had been through similar experiences. At the hospital they also told me that unfortunately they had seen this many times. When speaking to women who had been through this I was rather amazed at their different reactions to their loss. Each woman had difficulties, which hadn’t even entered my mind. Sometimes you hear things and think that you should be feeling or thinking that too. Maybe they’re reacting normally and I’m not? But I realized that indeed each woman did cope differently, for each woman there were certain hardships that didn’t exist for others and each woman could cope with situations that the other women could not handle.

My theory is that there is no right or wrong way to deal with loss and you are entitled to do and feel exactly what you want. There is also no right or wrong decision when it comes to therapy or support groups. Only you know what you need. Just stay open minded to all the options.

Why me?

The question, “why me?” comes back all the time. They say that if you gathered a group of people around several sacks with each sack containing a different problem, that we would choose to take the exact sack of problems that we are currently dealing with. It is hard to imagine that we could ever consciously choose to go through this, and yet deep down I do believe that this is true. It is also hard to look around and see others having kids all the time. I constantly have to remind myself that life is such that everyone has their own problems and no one’s life is perfect. Perfection is an illusion that we all see from the outside. To me, my problem seems like the worst thing ever, but others also have problems, which seem as big and hard to them as mine does to me, and maybe even worse.

The loss of a dream rather than a reality…

I lost my grandfather at the same time that I lost the baby; we were in the same hospital at the same time. I can’t help but compare the two losses. One is someone I knew my whole life, who was part of my daily life and the other was someone I didn’t know at all, but who was part of ME day and night for nine months. When you lose a grandfather you are upset because someone familiar will be missing and life will change without that person. It’s a strange concept, but when you lose an unborn baby, nothing is going to change at all. Life will continue just as it had been. What you are losing is “the dream”, the excitement and anticipation of having that baby. What you are also losing is control, control of your plans. It all seems so real and close and suddenly it is gone. I keep telling myself that the dream of having a baby has just been postponed for a year or two and what’s a couple of years in the scheme of life? It is difficult because I want a baby right now; I was expecting it right now. I live with the hope and certainty, beyond doubt though, that I will have a baby, a few babies, and a beautiful family. Maybe not right now, but hopefully soon.
Reaching out for support is not a weakness but a strength…

I used to think that I always had to be strong, and handle things on my own. Not to ask for help from others for that would be a weakness. But this experience taught me that it takes strength to admit that you need help and support from others and the weakness is turning away from help.

So many people reached out to us and felt for us, not only friends and family but even acquaintances. People really wanted to help and it was almost like they needed to feel that they were helping. Some people dropped off food, some people sent flowers or chocolates before Shabbat. It made us feel like we were not alone in our pain and that people were genuinely hurting with us. This was a very comforting feeling. I once heard that there are beggars in the world in order to provide us with the opportunity to learn to give to others. When I was reluctant and felt awkward to take from others, my mom said that I would be doing an injustice to all those who wanted to give…and she was right!

It was a difficult time for my family. As mentioned above, my grandfather had just passed away and everyone was dealing with that pain. However my family did indeed find the time and strength to try to help us and comfort us. Although I didn’t want to burden them with my pain, I embraced their support, love and care. I so appreciated it that they even had the ability to give so much when they were suffering.
Our friends and family abroad were also very supportive. We recognized how hard it was for them being far away at a time like this. We felt their need to be there for us and help in any way they could and we grabbed onto their kind words and care. Several weeks later we saw my parents in law who live in Canada. They spoiled us rotten and did absolutely anything we wanted. They took us away for a few days, which allowed us to get our minds off things. It was an important time and although it was several weeks after the ordeal they helped soothe our healing wound.

One thing that helped me tremendously was speaking to women who had also lost a baby. I was very lucky to be in the hospital with a girl, around my age, who had just been through the same thing. It was also her first baby and right away we connected and comforted each other. We are constantly intouch – whenever one of us has a bad day we immediately call the other and we don’t even have to say much because we just know and understand…

I spoke to many others and heard how they dealt with their pain. The fact that they all had children now also gave me strength and I always hung up the phone feeling like I was not alone, I will get through this just like they did and there will be a happy ending! These women were my own personal support group although I’ve heard of many wonderful support groups, which have helped others a lot. There are indeed many support systems to turn to out there- family, friends, support groups, psychologists, books, Internet etc. I think that it is vitally important to choose the support systems that you are comfortable with and what appeals to you. This is not a time to turn your back on the help that is out there. This is a time for you to reach out and take what you need and to allow others to provide the help and support you require.

Fear for the future…

I can’t help but worry about the future, what if this happens again or even a few times more? How could I ever deal with it again? The thought of even being pregnant again after all this trauma is hard to imagine. How will I get through nine months of constant worry and panic? I have decided that the chances of this happening again are far less than the chances that it will all work out, so why focus on the less likely situation? I want to enjoy my next pregnancy as much as I enjoyed my last one, so I am going to train my mind to chase away all the negative thoughts. I will try and transform this horrible experience into something positive for the future. I will never take my pregnancies for granted, nor my children. I believe that I will appreciate everything so much more. There are so many miracles around us that we take for granted…just having a healthy baby is a miracle that I will never, ever take for granted again.

Everything passes. Nothing stays the same…

There are days when I feel so bad! I have no strength or patience to deal with anything. I despair and feel that there is no hope and that everything is just bad. And then suddenly, the next day, everything seems okay and not really that bad. Of course I am still sad inside, but I feel strong enough to deal with things and I even manage to appreciate and see the good that I have been blessed with. So, whenever I have a terrible day, I simply tell myself that as bad and as hopeless as I feel now (although it seems impossible in the moment) I will probably feel much better tomorrow.

Daunting dates…

I find the dates difficult to deal with. My due date really scared me. I wanted to do something fun on that day just to distract myself from what I was supposed to be doing. It so happened that family came and stayed with us for three days, so that was a good distraction. Some people think that it is disrespectful to the baby to plan something “fun” or “pleasant” on their due date and they feel guilty. I disagree with this view. I feel that anything that will help you to feel better or function better is a good thing. As for being disrespectful to the baby, moving on with life is not disrespectful to the memory of your baby. The fact is that there is no baby; only a void, so if there is even the slightest thing that can fill the emptiness and bring relief just for a short time, do it!

A different world…

When we were in the hospital we were visited several times by the social worker. One of her first suggestions was to take a trip if we could and just leave everything and everyone behind. At the time I thought this was a rather ridiculous suggestion. The last thing I could think of was packing up and taking a fun trip. First of all I had no strength and secondly all I could think of was sitting in a hotel and crying. However, six weeks after the loss I realized how right this suggestion was and I felt that a vacation, a get away, was exactly what we needed. We left for a three week vacation on a cruise.
It is so helpful to be in completely different surroundings, to enter a different world. At home we felt stuck, not able to move forward. Taking a break and leaving everything behind was what ultimately helped us to move on. The trip gave us something exciting to focus on and good memories to reflect upon afterwards. I really tried to do all those things that I couldn’t have done if I had a baby and in that way I was able to trick myself and say, “oh look how I would have lost out on all these great experiences if I’d had a baby now”. It’s obvious that I would have given up any trip or any other experience to hold my baby in my arms, but that option was taken away from me. All I can do is to make the most of a really, really bad situation…and I am determined to do just that!

Healthy mind, healthy body…

I decided to do a few things to feel better physically and mentally. These are some of the things that made me feel better about myself:

I put a huge crystal bowl of water in the center of our apartment with a candle in it. Every evening I light the candle and add a few drops of relaxing lavender oil. This has given our home a calming atmosphere. I also indulged in new soaps and creams – small indulgences can really make you feel good.

I have never been a gym person, but after the pregnancy I had to admit that I had put on some weight because of the pregnancy. I feel good about working on getting my body back to a healthy state, even though I look at some of the other women who have just given birth and wonder if they know how lucky they are. Anyway, it feels good to do something for me and something for my body.

I have bought myself a book that inspires and uplifts me. It is about the matriarchs and what they can teach us. I’ve gained so much from it and would encourage everyone to get hold of a book about anything that you find comforting, positive and optimistic. Reading is also a great distraction and a good escape.

We moved all our furniture around. Just like traveling, a change is as good as a holiday! A new look came to symbolize a fresh start and a hopeful future.

Taking care of number 1…

I decided shortly after my ordeal to only do things that made me feel good. Taking care of your real needs is the most important thing now so that you can heal and move forward. Sometimes I find myself in situations where I am not enjoying myself at all and given my decision to keep my sadness somewhat contained, I don’t want to be placed in situations that trigger negative emotions. I am a person who usually tries to please others, but I have decided that for the first time in my life, I need to do what is best for me. I have decided not to go to brittot (circumcisions) for a while and I hope that people will understand and support me. I can’t put on a brave face for others while my heart breaks inside and I don’t want to be depressed at other people’s celebrations. It is my right and my choice to stay away for a little while. Do what is good for you!

Busy body…

I think the key is to be busy. I have just started a new job. I was dreading it initially and wondered how I could be starting “this” new job when I was supposed to be starting a “different” new job, as a mother. It seems, though, that time does heal and it wasn’t hard to start. I have also decided not to let my job take over my life and to stay focused on still doing all things I like. My days need to be filled with things that keep me in a good mood, allow me to feel satisfied and content at the end of each day.

A Jewish explanation

Even as a religious person my first reaction was to wonder how and why G-D would put us through such an ordeal. My husband would say to me “This is the real test of faith! It is easy to believe and accept G-Ds will when things are going well but now you have to trust in G-Ds judgment even when you don’t understand, and disagree”. My husband’s strong beliefs and trust in G-D strengthened me tremendously. Together we found comfort, understanding and strength in religious perspectives and explanations. There is an article that we read which literally got us through our whole ordeal. It answered many of the questions that we had and made us feel that there was actual meaning and purpose to what we had been through.

Rabbi Moshe Wolfson in his article “A Mission Fulfilled” writes:
(published in the Jewish Observer, USA, 1995);

According to the teachings of our sages, in heaven there is the “sanctuary of souls” from which all the souls come. All souls, our sages tell us, must leave the sanctuary and descend to this world so that the final redemption can come.

Each soul has its own unique mission to fulfill in this world and is allotted the lifespan necessary to fulfill that mission.

Some souls belong to a very exalted class. They are of such a sublime nature; so holy, sparkling, brilliant, that they simply cannot bear to exist in this world for even a short time. They too, however, must leave the “sanctuary of souls”. These special souls cannot bear to separate themselves from their sublime existence and sully themselves by living on this earthly world, so they are spared the discomfort and are returned to their “Father in Heaven”, having fulfilled their mission by leaving the “sanctuary of souls”. In so doing, they are bringing the world one step closer to the Final Redemption.

And so G-D chooses a particular couple who will draw such a soul down to this world. It departs its source near the Throne of Glory and is immediately placed in an environment that is heavenly –in nature. A woman who is with child carries within herself not only a child, but an entire Gan(Garden of) Eden as well. A flame from the hidden light of creation shines from one end of the world to the other. A heavenly angel learns the Torah with the child. All this occurs with every Jewish child.

And what of the mother, who has endured, hoped and in the end was so terribly disappointed? She has merited to have as her guest a pure, holy soul, accompanied by a heavenly light, a heavenly angel and a heavenly Torah. Some of the holiness that had entered her will not leave her for the rest of her life.

She has brought the Messiah’s arrival closer by offering a sacrifice for this purpose. She is not left with a mother’s usual compensation. All that she has endured, rather, has been for the sake of G-D and his people. Was it all worth it? In painful moments, when disappointment sets in and normal human feelings dominate ones mood, the answer may be negative. When holiness breaks through, however, when the intellect of the soul speaks and the joy of the Jewish soul burst forth then there is an answer of an entirely different nature. This answer is accompanied by the song of triumph, the joy of the victor, the deep-rooted satisfaction of one who has earned something of immeasurable value.

One should realize that the term “miscarriage” is not found in a believing Jew’s dictionary. The term implies that one’s efforts have ended in failure, that all has been in vain. This is incorrect, for when a Jewish woman conceives, it is never in vain.

This article made us view our ordeal in a more positive light. Those months of carrying a baby had not gone to waste at all, rather, we had done something truly big, not for ourselves, but for the entire Jewish nation. We had not chosen it, but we indeed, had been chosen. The article says, “and so G-D chooses a particular couple who will draw such a soul down to this world.” Sometimes I look at my husband and myself and wonder how we still smile after such a trauma and I truly think that G-d knew we were strong enough and indeed we have both grown in many ways from this painful experience. Sometimes I even feel proud to have been chosen. What a great source of pride to know that I had the privilege to hold within me, for nine months, true holiness – a sparkling soul that was too sublime to enter this world. What’s more, part of that holiness will stay within me forever.

Another text that helped us enormously was a book called “Mirrors of Our Lives” by Rebbezin Holly Pavlov (Feldheim Publishers, 2000). The author writes:

The unique holiness of an unborn baby…………..

When the child is in the mother’s womb, he is able to learn all the Torah. This ability exists because he is not limited by his body. His soul is separate and free from the limitations of physicality; it is able to absorb the Torah from beginning to end. The minute the child comes into the physical reality and is born, he forgets all his Torah. The soul is now trapped by the body, so to speak. The baby can no longer retain all of the Torah that he learned in his mother’s womb because he is no longer an infinite being; he is now a limited, physical being. As a physical being he is no longer capable of absorbing so much “light” and by necessity the Torah is forgotten. In its place, the baby is given the power of speech, the ability to connect the spiritual and physical. (pg 67).

When the child is in the womb accessing all of the Torah from beginning to end, he is in a place of silence. There is no speech there, rather a holistic connection with G-D. The Torah that the child learns in the womb is not the same Torah that we hear in the Yeshivot. The Torah learned in the Yeshivot involves talking obviously whereas the Torah that the child learns in the womb is pure, raw Torah that can’t be spoken. When the child emerges into this world and the angel taps him on this mouth, thus giving him speech, he looses that holistic connection to Torah (Pg 68).

After reading this it gave me a sense of peace because I felt that our baby had been privileged to live the most holy, pure existence. That was never taken away from him, as is usually the case when a baby lives. Instead of having to give up that special holiness he could hang onto it forever. And after all I was the one who enabled this existence. Although I so wish that my baby would not have died I still recognize that this situation, which was brought upon me is a pure act of unselfishness. I can always look back on my life and know that once in my life for 9 months I gave of myself to someone else without receiving what I wanted in return.

The potential for growth, through pain

One source of unhappiness experienced by our ancestors was their initial inability to have children. Their words and actions in response to this unhappiness are terse in the Torah but they have deep ramifications which can be internalized by modern readers and can enable us to handle our personal difficulties… when bad things happened to our ancestors they probed deeply into their situations attempting to understand Hashems message to them and then sought solutions (pg 81).

Human beings have a limited vision of the world and because of this, there is no way we will ever understand G-D. We don’t understand why G-D sends us a specific form of pain. What we do know for certain is that our suffering contains within it potential growth, and we can build something out of our pain and distress. We can’t understand G-D’s plan, but we can understand that our lives are in the hands of Heaven and that what happens to us is part of our destiny, a destiny carefully and lovingly mapped out for us by G-D Himself. So although we don’t have control over our destiny, we do have control over our perception of our suffering and we can make the decision to build from it (pg 86).

I feel that in the beginning it was very hard for us to even think of growing. We just wanted to survive this ordeal. But deep down we both believe that every experience in life, good or bad has come to teach us a lesson. I remember asking a Rabbi if this was a punishment. He said that it definitely was not a punishment however; something must change after an experience like this. We have started to do some soul-searching to see what areas we can improve on, as a couple and as individuals. It is important to me to look back at this time and know that something good came out of it, something changed, for the better.

Praying for a happy ending…

Several weeks after I had finished writing this booklet, I found out that I was pregnant. I just couldn’t believe that it happened so quickly. We felt that this was actually a miracle but I also believe that my pregnancy is linked to a very specific experience. A few weeks after I had given birth, I went to the mikvah (ritual bath for women). As I entered the water I began to sob. This was not the way it was meant to be. I had often thought of returning to the mikvah after the long nine month break that I’d had; after giving birth to a beautiful baby. Instead, here I was with no baby! I couldn’t stop crying. I looked up and I saw the mikvah lady start to cry with me; she felt my pain. I started to wonder if the mikvah would fill up with my tears and begin to overflow. I prayed to G-D in a way that I never have before; I begged him to take away this pain and help me survive this ordeal. I begged and pleaded. I felt like I was falling apart. As I walked away from the mikvah, still crying, I recalled that I had once learned that “the gates of tears are never closed” (Gemara Brechot 32b). I had cried and sobbed in the holiest place and deep inside I knew that G-D would surely hear my prayers; surely he could not turn away from a crying woman in the holy waters of the mikvah.

And he did hear my prayers. I fell pregnant shortly after!

A happy ending!

Today, one year later I seal this chapter of my life as I hold my son Yishai Natan in my arms.

His second name Natan is after my grandfather and His first name Yishai has two special meanings:

* A gift from G-D
* There is a G-D

For we have learned, through the chain of events that we have been through, that we are never alone and that there is a G-d behind the sad and happy times that we live through. Therefore, we should never despair for there is always hope. Rather we should be grateful for what we have and trust and believe that we can get through the bad times and always look forward to the good time that will follow.

May we all be granted the privilege and gift of becoming mothers in the future, for this is indeed a privilege and a gift that is not to be taken for granted. And may we take the pain of this experience and transform it into love, gratitude and appreciation for the children we will be blessed with in the future.

May you have strength.

I have chosen to end this booklet with a beautiful poem I once read, in the hope that this will give us the strength to deal with this challenge and all future challenges that come our way:

One night a man had a dream. He dreamt that he was walking along a beach with G-D. Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. In each scene he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand; one belonged to him and the other to G-D. When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints on the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life. This really bothered him and he questioned G-D about it. “G-D, you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way, but I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there was only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why, when I needed you most you would leave me.” G-D replied, “My precious, precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

(Margaret Fishback Powers, 1964)

18(chai) suggestions to feeling better:

* Make sure to have a weekly “date” with your husband, you need to heal together. Although your reactions may be different it’s important to communicate and work through this together.
* Speak to women who have been through the same experience:

* Shelly Allon (U.S. Philadelphia East Cost): 215-6351984
* D’vora Grossbaum: 02-6518439
* Merav Levi(only Hebrew): 064-255961
* Tracy Prisman: 055-751995

* Contact a support group:

* Through the Internet
* Aleph: 02-5632779, 02-9931649
* Advertisements in newspapers

* See a psychologist /social worker who has experience with prenatal & neonatal loss
* Use alternative healing techniques
* I read the following articles and books which were very helpful:

* “Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Neonatal Death” by Shulamit(Shelly) Rifkin Allon, Jeffrey Allon and D’vora Grossbaum
* “Mirrors Of Our Lives” by Rebbezin Holly Pavlov (Feldheim Publishers, 2000)
* “A Mission Fulfilled,” by Rabbi Moshe Wolfson (Published in the Jewish Observer, USA, 1995)
“דברי חיזוק למפלת”- בית רפואה מעייני ישועה *

* Do something special for yourself such as buying yourself something new – shoes, clothes, jewelry etc. or have a haircut/change your hairstyle OR
* Use health products that make one feel better – like lavender, which is known for relaxation, or bath salts, creams etc.
* Choose a good book to read
* Go out to the movies or a show with your husband
* Change around your furniture at home OR
* Make your home atmosphere more comforting by lighting decorative candles or buying flowers
* Go on a trip with your husband if possible
* Get a Blessing from a Rabbi
* Pray for others who are sick or are also going through a hard time
* Take on a new mitzvah – lighting Shabbat candles or giving charity
* Let yourself cry when you need to, we get strength and comfort from our tears while at the same time releasing inner pain
* And let yourself smile when you can, because there will be a happy ending and your pain will be replaced by the future happiness, which is just around the corner.

This booklet is dedicated to the baby I so loved, but never met.

To the baby:

* Who brought out a strength in me I never knew I had
* Who taught me the essence of true belief, faith and trust in G-D
* Who exposed me to the love and support of friends and family that I never knew existed
* Who gave me the opportunity to grow
* Who taught me to appreciate life and realize that life is too short to be wasted
* Who taught me the vital concept that I may not have control over the situation, but I do have control over my attitude!

To the baby who made me the person I am today; I could not have done it without you. Thank you!

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