I have only seen my husband cry once. Not when his father passed away after an eighteen year struggle with Multiple Sclerosis but in the airless SANDS unit at St. Thomas’s where he howled like a baby as he held the body of our six month old fetus.
Swaddled in our two year old daughter’s blanket, our baby boy had died after a sudden placental abruption at twenty-four weeks. We buried him as Millar McDonald, several weeks later in the smallest white wooden coffin imaginable on the saddest day ever. Burying your child is not the order of life.
His little heartbeat had flickered on the monitor for hours after I’d gone to hospital with a heavy bleed. And then nothing. How naïve had I been to assume it would be an overnight stay at most.
Nine years later, I still recall the beeping of a jammed buzzer, drifting in and out of consciousness, being covered in foil blankets, haemorrhaging badly, blood transfusions and being whipped into the operating theatre to give birth to a baby who had already died inside of me.
Pain is usually either physical or emotional and yet, until I had miscarried, I had never understood that it can be both. Surreal doesn’t cover the flashbacks of afterwards: lying in a high dependency unit next to women who were about to give birth, that I had left my engagement ring in the ward, but also thinking how it hardly mattered.
My father dying in a car crash when I was 1 and my sister was barely 36 hours old has, I have realised in my 40s, largely defined the way I deal with everything. My mother impressed on me from a very young age that your entire life can change in an instant. But looking back, even a pragmatic (annoying to some) way of dealing with things didn’t prepare me for the grief that enveloped me 7 months later.
Despite an insistence on talking about Millar – strangers and shop keepers all knew about the baby which didn’t make it – the winter which followed was very blue. I had little appetite or energy for anything.
I was introduced to the fertility expert and acupuncturist Ross J Barr three weeks after my miscarriage but geography meant seeing him wasn’t feasible. It has been thrilling to rediscover him a decade later however, especially to meet him with the calmer life perspective which acupuncture and the wisdom of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) has taught me, more of which shortly.
Fate led me to Kate Freemantle, a wonderful fertility expert, acupuncturist and trained herbalist who over the next few months was able to help me process my grief, to still the chaos in my head and ease the pain I’d buried so deep as to never be found.
What I have come to realise in the intervening nine years however, is that my late miscarriage was only one part of this story. It is what happened after that which has had the most profound influence on the way I am.
I don’t think there are enough superlatives (from me at least) to describe the wondrousness of acupuncture. For those who know little about it, acupuncture, in the words of Ross J Barr, is the manipulation of chi or, if you like, energy. Everyone has an electrical current which passes through their bodies and this current runs through us like a road map or meridians which pass through organs. Acupuncture is the invigoration of that current and it helps to improve the function of organs which might be weak or tired. It’s fine tuning in much the way you might with an instrument. It is wonderful at treating the root of the problem as well as the manifestation.
Its ability to calm, restore, still my body and mind has been invaluable. What I realised as I began to feel stronger, less blue, was that acupuncture did not only have an enormous physical effect on my grief but it promoted a strong sense of balance and peace. I learned how to deal with tricky situations at work and quickly dispel feelings of anger. I learnt how to be calmer and more content. Mostly I learnt to let things go.
As an interest in the roots of TCM deepened, I also learnt to be strong yet supple (as opposed to rigid, or try too hard), to go with the flow, to live with a lightness that I have tried to keep front of mind ever since.
I try to embrace “Wu-wei” every day, even if it’s not always what I feel like doing. It is something both Kate and Ross agree with too. It takes practice but when I do, days just turn out better. Everything just runs more smoothly: conversations are more joyful, exchanges more meaningful, relationships or dealing with problems are so much easier.
In a nutshell, it’s a concept from the Tao Te Ching (a Chinese text from the 600BC) that literally translates as the action of non-action. It is a sort of lightness in that it means going about in a manner which does not involve struggle or excessive effort (although that is not to be confused with laziness).
Try it. Especially as we near the end of another Mercury in Retrograde period. I don’t think it is just me who thinks that the past few weeks have felt like wading through treacle. My guess is that you will find yourself doing the right thing effortlessly and spontaneously. Going with the flow, even if it might not appear obvious at first (especially for the control freaks amongst us) mean things usually turn out for the best. Life with a lighter hand on the tiller (controlled, calm and confident) has been SO much happier and peaceful than before my miscarriage.
18 months later I conceived our second daughter. What have I learnt? That a lot of good can come from a lot of bad. Oh, and that I would do it all over again. I don’t think I would have changed any of it.