Mindfulness

you could imagine your thoughts are like the lily pads floating on the water whole you are like the heron viewing them from above

My mindfulness practice predates my experience of miscarriage but it’s a good wellbeing antidote for feeling numb, shocked and blocked which was how I felt after my first miscarriage.

Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present in the moment. It can mean meditating, but it could also mean mindful movement like yoga or pilates, or even swimming or running. It could also be mindfully doing the dishes, changing the sheets or brushing your teeth. As long as you’re tuning into your experience in a non judgemental way and just noticing what comes up, it could include anything. Baking, gardening or craft maybe. It’s about noticing what your five senses are picking up on. What can you see, hear, smell, touch and taste? How are you feeling – warm or cold? Relaxed or tense? Comfortable or not? What emotions are you feeling? Tired or energetic? What’s the space around you like? Are any thoughts, memories, images or ideas passing through? You don’t need to do anything about any of this – just notice. Anything you do want to act on – notice that too and do it later.

When I’d just miscarried, sitting still with anything was hard for me. I preferred mindful running as I could then feel – feel the wind in my hair, the cold on my cheeks, hear my feet battering the pavement and smell the rain. It was easier to allow my difficult and uncomfortable thoughts to be there. The ones like “what if I never carry a baby to full term?”, “What if I can’t conceive a healthy child?”, “What if it’s my fault for waiting too long to start a family?”. And those uncomfortable feelings too – guilt, shame and fear. The ones I blocked out with keeping busy at work during the day, but needed to be acknowledged and felt before I could move forwards. Somehow running made them easier to hold and holding them set me free.

Some exercises to try –

Sit with a notepad and write down every thought that passes through for 3 minutes. What do you notice about your experience?

Sit down with a piece of your favourite chocolate. How does it look? What shape is it? How does it smell? How does it feel in your fingers? Lastly, how does it taste?

Put on your favourite music. Choose just one aspect to focus on – maybe the rhythm, the melody or the words. How is this experience – what do you notice?

Some of my favourite Mindfulness resources –

Smiling mind app

https://www.smilingmind.com.au

Headspace app

https://www.headspace.com

Defusion

From the top of the hill, it’s easier to let go of thoughts and to see them for what they are – just thoughts that pass

Here’s some ideas I had to defuse from after my first miscarriage

An early miscarriage is less of a big deal as the physical part is over quickly

WRONG – there’s a loss of hopes and dreams, shattered beliefs about pregnancy necessarily ending in live birth, other people’s emotional responses, real or imagined and the world continuing like nothing has happened and a sense of being expected to do the same since nobody knows what’s happened due to the no pregnancy news before 12 week scan convention – just for starters

The expectation of silence – not helpful for me. In my view it is there as much to protect others from not knowing what to say or do to support a woman who has lost a pregnancy as it is to protect women themselves. I also don’t like the implication of shame that goes with silence and in turn of stigma associated with shame. I’ve had my emotions bubble over in social situations many times due to pregnancy loss and because of other people not knowing I’ve had my husband brush it off to them as ‘my hormones’. I’ve even done it myself. Doing so made me feel even more shame and frustration. We often compound our suffering when we try to avoid our feelings and thoughts or to hide them and adhering to that rule compounded my suffering.

So what is defusion?

It is the concept that distress is caused by fusing with an idea that is unhelpful to us, where this prevents us seeing a situation clearly and making a free choice to act differently and more helpfully and kindly to ourselves. So for me, I was fused with the idea that other people’s feelings mattered more than mine, that their need to be protected from possibly feeling awkward for a moment mattered more than allowing myself to be honest that I was sad about my loss.

So if we know defusion would help, how do we do that?

For me, writing thoughts down helps me get some space from them. Hence the blogging enthusiasm – if you’re reading this, maybe it helps you too?

I also love nature and the outdoors. Metaphors can also help give you space from difficult thoughts. One of my favourite strategies is to lie on the grass watching clouds, imagining difficult thoughts floating away on the clouds. Alternatively I also enjoy watching crashing waves when my emotions are strong, imagining that the difficult thoughts are crashing over on the waves, passing over.

It also helps to remember that thoughts and feelings are just that. They are passing experiences which cone and go, if we let them. We can choose to engage or let go of any thoughts that come. It takes practice to let difficult thoughts go, but I’ve found it gets easier – especially if I try a few different strategies on the same thought.

I also find art and craft can help get space from difficult thoughts – maybe writing ideas down and decorating a jar to put them in, or painting a thoughts as a blob of colour, or as a monster or cartoon character.

Exercise can also help. I love to run, and letting the thought be there while sprinting often works for me in that feeling an endorphin hit while running with a difficult thought breaks the emotional load linked to it and therefore leads to defusion.

It can also help to imagine a difficult thought in a cartoon character voice, high pitched and squeaky, or fast, slow, loud or soft. You can try saying it over and over again until it is just meaningless sounds.

sharing my experience with someone else for me though was key to defusing from my idea that other people needed to be protected from my feelings. I was surprised how many women I knew had miscarried – and just hadn’t talked to me about it before I brought it up. I’ve also yet to talk to anyone who has found it awkward – I’m sure there are people who would, but my mind just offered that thought and the evidence has yet to support it.

A link to a highly recommended self-help book about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy that is available as a PDF online with lots more ideas related to defusion and of course many other ACT concepts:

https://epdf.pub/get-out-of-your-mind-and-into-your-life-the-new-acceptance-and-commitment-therap.html

My first pregnancy (aka baby Kauai)

Hopes and dreams

My first pregnancy began a few weeks after my wedding on honeymoon in Kauai. A few miles from the quirky town of Honalea in the land of dramatic green clifftops, beautiful white sandy beaches and tourquoise crashing waves. Our host had left a lucky penny under our bed and when I lost it on the beach one day, I worried it could be a bad omen. I had an early hunch I could be pregnant but with reservations took anti sickness medication for a boat ride. Later, when we flew over live volcanoes in an open doors helicopter I saw signs warning pregnant people to be wary. I drank the local coffee, tried the wine and especially loved the sushi – including the merlin. We took lots of long haul and short haul flights on that trip. I’d wonder if any of these things caused the loss of the pregnancy and I’ll never know for sure. I know the more likely explanation is genes though. My husband works with teratogenic compounds but I didn’t consider that as a possible explanation until recently – in our culture there seems to be a habit of assuming anything fertility or miscarriage related must be the woman’s ‘fault’ (why is that?).

I found out I was pregnant in Honolulu. We gleefully shared the news with an ice cream seller and bought a cute little Hawaiian baby vest. I started fretting about work commitments I wouldn’t be able to see through. I was so naive – I just assumed pregnant = baby and couldn’t believe my luck at conceiving as soon as I came off the pill.

Next stop was new York and I had horrendous morning sickness on the hour long taxi ride to Manhattan. I thought that was a sign all was well. I felt exhausted wandering around central park but happy my pregnancy app confirmed this was also an early pregnancy symptom.

When we got home I took another pregnancy test which was also positive but the line was fainter. I didn’t want to see that as a warning sign.

For the next two weeks I grudgingly kept my news to myself at work, having been convinced by my husband to follow the usual social convention of silence before the 12 week scan. I struggled to cope with jet lag without caffeine but registered the pregnancy and looked forward to my first scan.

Then I started bleeding – brown at first, then black. I was concerned when I checked it out that it could be a sign of ectopic pregnancy so contacted NHS 24 after work and was duly sent to A&E. There I was asked to do a urine test by a nurse. I knew it was bad news when a doctor came to tell me it was negative. Her approach was blunt, as was my emotional response at the time. In a sort of stunned shock, we went to get fish and chips. While there, I got a call from the same doctor to say the blood test showed I was pregnant after all and as such needed to see the early pregnancy unit for follow up. Then I thought that meant there was a glimmer of hope. Now I know the main aim of the EPU is to rule out complications of continuing ectopic pregnancies – which unfortunately for me I have a few risk factors for. The EPU offered blood tests to check if my HCG levels were going up. Sadly, my miscarriage started before the appointment. My husband busied himself taking photos of all the graphs and stats showing how miscarriage risk increases with age (we were both in our mid thirties then) and the chances of it happening again. The nurse confirmed that my experience sounded like a miscarriage (red blood, more than a period, clots) and checked I had plenty pads. My HCG levels dropped over the next week until the unit were satisfied that even if it was ectopic it was over. Physically, that is. Emotionally it was just beginning.

#miscarriage #mental health #ACT

The best help I found for knowing what to expect and how to cope practically:

https://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/miscarriage/1344311-Tips-for-coping-with-the-practicalities-of-miscarriage

Why I’m doing this

Volcanoes erupt and change the landscape forever – just like pregnancy loss

I knew nothing about miscarriage until it happened to me. I also had no idea how many other women I knew had experienced it. Why? Because nobody talks about it. The same is true for mental health. I wasn’t really aware of the concept of mental health either until I was a teenager and mine dipped. Both times, my own experience opened up conversations that otherwise wouldn’t have happened about suffering in silence. In both cases, the suffering is worsened by the silence because there’s a sense of shame implied by it. I’m not ashamed of any of my pregnancies, whether or not they led to a healthy child. Because for however brief a time they have all been my children and always will be in my heart. My experiences of early mental health issues influenced my choice to train as a clinical psychologist because I believe in #be the change you want to see in the world. I want to help break the silence on miscarriage because to do so aligns with my values. I’m fortunate that due to my work I already knew about acceptance and commitment therapy when I miscarried but most women in my shoes wouldn’t. Nobody asked me how I was feeling emotionally when I miscarried other than when I got the news – I was numb then and pragmatic It would have been a different story a week later. But, there was no follow up of ant kind, physical or mental after any of my miscarriages. Indeed, they were only documented in my medical notes at my booking in appointment when I had my children. I was also struck by the rigorous follow up screening for post natal depression (death by questionnaire at regular intervals) after I had my children by contrast. So, not enough follow up when I needed it, too much when I didn’t. Sadly, too often that is my experience of healthcare. So rather than just rant and criticise – both of which I’m skilled at – I wanted to take my pain and turn it into something to heal other people and be a voice for change. Because that is who I want to be, who I am and what I want to do with it. And as I write we are in the middle of covid lockdown, and I know it would be that much harder to miscarry now than it was for me with reduced chances for social connection. I feel that blogging offers a way we can still connect with each other now, and want to play my part.

#zerotohero #mental health #miscarriage #ACT

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