Last week I met with Samantha Zipporah, a woman who identifies herself as a “full spectrum doula”. This is a relatively new term and something I’d never heard of. It’s a doula who attends and provides services for ALL postpartum needs, no matter the outcome of the pregnancy. The theory is that whether you gave live birth, still birth, had an abortion, had a miscarriage, whatever way your body transitioned from pregnant to not pregnant, you are postpartum. You have had a partum, and it is now post. Ergo, postpartum. To a woman who has felt like my pregnancies are seen by the the larger culture as nothing, a non-event, a failure to eventuate; like I should just hop up and put it behind me because there isn’t anything anyone can do about it and it’s over now so why dwell on grief; like I am less than a woman because my body hasn’t accomplished what other women’s bodies have accomplished – to this woman right here it was kind of a fucking revelation.
Kind of a fucking revolution.
I’ve been struggling to find what I needed after this last loss. Miscarriage is such an enigma; it falls in this weird no-man’s-land (literally?) between life and death that the Western medical system just has no idea what to do with. Western medicine gets infertility, or at least maintains a system around it. There are procedures and best practices, and sometimes even insurance billing – although that is a little like unicorns as far as I’m concerned cause I ain’t never seen it. And it gets pregnancy and childbirth, at least to the extent that there are systems and subsystems – hell, whole hospitals – dedicated to dealing with that event. But miscarriage is an ill-fitting abomination, an un-event, a deviation that makes all those big, churning, well-funded and well-staffed system machines start spluttering and spitting cogs. So miscarriage is made invisible. Undone. It is something that didn’t happen, not something that did. Which leaves us with our hands and arms empty, standing in rooms that were once filled with congratulations and warm welcome but now echo with a cold, clinical silence.
I googled all the stuff you’re supposed to google, and I found some stuff. Mostly web pages with book recommendations, which is by far the loneliest, most distancing form of referral out there. There were a few therapist and support group links, but nothing that really spoke to me. Plus the fact that almost without exception all those “resources” are found through sites for women who are pregnant or have just had babies – the miscarriage info is just sort of a half-assed loser cul-de-sac on the site map, something grim and macabre, and the virtual path you have to take to get there is riddled and rotten with ads for maternity clothes, baby-bump forums, scroll-worked cursive-script pronouncements about the wonder of birth and the miracle of life. Seriously, it is enough to make you board up your windows and start with the cat-collecting. It definitely doesn’t encourage your feeble cry for help.
Somehow I ended up on a site called Cascadia Birth Services. I think it was one of the resources on the Brief Encounters website, and I was pissed at first because it felt like yet one more instance of “If you’d like to get help recovering from your miscarriage, please walk through this agonizing tunnel of shit that makes you want to shoot yourself in the face”. But there was a blurb about miscarriage doula services, and I was intrigued. I contacted the woman and she said she was out of town, but gave me a couple of other names to try.
I met with Samantha last Sunday and we talked about what I needed. I wasn’t totally sure. I’d recently posted a list on Facebook of things I want after a miscarriage, but I was pretty sure they weren’t going to be provided by a healthcare professional. For reference, they were as follows:
“Things I want after a miscarriage:
*lots of wine
*intense snuggles, head-pets, etc
*possibly a massage?
*to hang out with people who have experienced this bullshit
*preferably while drinking wine
*some kind of ritual, as yet undiscovered, not necessarily spiritual but wouldn’t reject it, that seeks to draw out sickness and restore strength, restore the sense that I am still a woman and still valid and not a useless throw-away piece of shit (which is, incidentally, exactly what you feel like so please don’t remind me that it’s not true because that’s not helpful although I appreciate the sentiment), mark and commemorate the loss of an actual almost human being and then release it
*a weird (and probably impossible) balance of treatment from loved ones that doesn’t make me feel like a scary pariah Miss Havisham pity case but also doesn’t make me feel like I have to pretend to be ok just to make others more comfortable around me
*to have a break from hearing about other peoples’ healthy full term pregnancies
*to sleep and sleep and wake up and have it all back the way it was
*something that will make my hormones stop freaking the fuck out so that I can stop crying and looking like a tomato with rubella
*maybe a mani-pedi
*definitely more wine
*things with ketchup
Unbeknownst to me, before I had even posted this exhaustive list there was a crack team of women in my life pulling some straight-up black-ops shit behind the scenes, coordinating across state lines to put together this humongous basket of wine, towels, smelly stuff, a foofy blanket, and $200 worth of Spafinder gift cards that was stealthily left on my doorstep late one night. They blew quite a few items off the list, and filled me with wonder and humility and love and fucking insane gratitude such that I bawled all over my baffled husband’s t-shirt for a full 5 minutes before I could even bring the thing inside. Still kinda reeling from that shit, ladies.
But there were a few things on the list that I just thought weren’t going to come to me, because miscarriage is incomprehensible and so there is no such thing as comprehensive care. After 5 miscarriages – 3 officially logged by medical professionals and 2 gone before I could even get in the door – I’ve just been trained to believe that longing and isolation are the expected norm. It’s What We Do. We buck up. We soldier on.
We deserve so much more. We are due so much more. I know that now.
Samantha and I talked for almost two hours, huddled up on my couch on a hot afternoon. Mostly we talked about how utterly the medical system fails women whose pregnancies do not result in full-term births and healthy babies. She asked me how I thought that system should serve women, and I’m a social justice activist and a community mental health organizer so I had tons of political shit to say. But she knew and I knew that my rage and passion for change was, while legitimately describing a massively fucked-up deficit, really an explosive cover for my own hunger and sorrow. When I finally simmered it down to the truth, I wanted this: To feel like my babies and my pregnancies mattered, to feel as valid a woman as any other, and to have my body treated with the fierce love and infinite honor that I have been unable to show it.
She thought I needed the Closing of the Bones. It’s a traditional Mexican ceremony performed at 40 days postpartum, regardless of the post of the partum. It’s about honoring and letting go and taking care of the bodies that do all the work of life and death in one tight circle. It’s about healing.
Most cultures make a space for this sort of passage. Because it’s kind of a big fucking deal. Dominant Western culture doesn’t, and I don’t know why. Maybe because we only understand value in capitalist terms – women’s bodies are only valuable as commodities and they are only commodities if they are sexually available or carrying offspring. Women’s bodies that fall in between don’t count.
I received this ceremony today. I thought I could get to the words for it tonight and I wanted to, because my heart and my body are so full of relief and healing and solace that I wanted to make sure I got it on the page. But it’s getting late and this body has been treated with such fierce love, such infinite honor, such tenderness and understanding and shared grief and celebration and strength that for the first time in non-pregnancy I want to honor it for the power it contains, instead of punishing it for the deaths it has witnessed. I want you to hear this. But tonight I am wrapping myself in love like a rebosa and putting myself to bed.
Goodnight, all you miraculous women. Miraculous, every one.