For the past couple of months, we’ve begun our support group gathering with the prompt, “Rose, Bud, Thorn.” Angel moms and dads share their “rose”– what has been beautiful and pleasing since we last met, their “bud” – what is new and emerging, their “thorn” – what has been painful or challenging.
It’s different from asking how the past month was for them. That usually leads to them thinking of whatever challenges they experienced in the past week, then the person who shares after them tends to follow that same theme. “Rose, Bud, Thorn” allows participants to dig deeper. It’s also a practice of emotional flexibility – the ability to create space for everything (the beautiful, unpleasant, fearful, hopeful…emotions).
Limiting Our Emotional Range:
From meeting parents in the infant/pregnancy loss community and based on my own experience, limiting our emotional range comes as a result of choosing to be in one or more of these categories: frozen, fearful, or forgetful.
Frozen: Frozen in the past and continuing to replay the experience of hurt, without actively seeking ways to heal. Unwilling to embrace the present. Holding anger or resentment towards oneself and others.
Fearful: Has processed some painful emotions, but is afraid of embracing the future, including becoming pregnant again or exploring new experiences.
Forgetful: Tries to quickly “move on” with the loss being ignored and mostly unprocessed. Buries self in work or other activities, or focuses on having another child to avoid facing painful emotions.
Creating space for everything is being present to all of our emotions as they come up. This isn’t easy, which is why most of us avoid our emotions. We’re afraid that once we open ourselves up to our pain, it might consume us completely! I remember shortly after my pregnancy loss, I would feel anger bubble up inside of me. I somehow thought that if I expressed my anger, it would be too much for my body to hold – like Storm from the X-Men losing control of her powers:
I created a safe space by closing my bedroom door, turning on loud music, beating pillows, stomping my feet, and ending the release of that heavy emotion by crying on the floor. Finding an outlet for my anger meant that I didn’t snap at my husband or a stranger in the New York City Subway. It also meant that I treated myself and my anger with compassion.
We also hold our emotions back because we’re afraid to let others see our messy, broken, and ugly parts. In our last support group gathering, Colin Smith, co-founder of The Baby Resource Center, spoke about the “vomit truth.” It’s ugly and painful and so we hold it inside. But it’s also toxic for our system. And once it forces itself outside of us, we begin to feel better.
Being Present to Your Emotions // Creating a Safe Space:
Being present to your emotions and creating a safe space for their outpouring is healing. Your “safe space” can be your partner, a close friend, a support group, your journal, the whisper of a prayer, the warmth of your bed where memories make you cry and laugh, and where you hope for the future...
The danger of not being present to your emotions is cutting yourself off from the joy that wants to enter your life or leaving painful experiences unprocessed so that being triggered by them means hurting all over again. It’s playing small or not playing at all because of the fear of being hurt. It’s allowing the past to control you versus transforming it into lessons and blessings. It’s feeling guilty when you love your sweet rainbow child because you think it takes away love from your angel baby. It’s being detached from a new pregnancy because you fear the pain of losing again.
We have the capacity to be cautious, yet hopeful; to mourn our loss, yet love again. I am still learning to do all of these things.
These are what I’m currently holding space for:
I wish my daughter were here with me
Sometimes I feel as though life has betrayed me
Sometimes I feel as though my daughter has abandoned me
My daughter’s transition has been my most powerful spiritual experience
I do not regret my loss because my life has been transformed in unimaginable ways because of it
Sometimes it still hurts
My husband and I have been closer and more in-tuned with each other after our loss than the eight years prior
I now know just how much I am loved
I’m afraid of “failing” again
These are rich and colorful and complicated. Such is the beauty of life. And I believe that when our pain and regret have been heard and seen sufficiently, they become the nourishing manure that creates more beauty.
Would you like to further your healing by learning to create space for everything? Grab and pen and a journal and respond to these prompts:
What gives you joy?
Where does it still hurt?
Where do you need support?
What are you hopeful for?
Who do you show up for?
What do you want to say to your angel baby?
What do you want to say to someone who’s hurt you?
How have you grown?
Where do you go from here?
> Re-read each of your responses. Breathe with them. Allow them to settle into your being.
> Even if there is something you want to change, can you allow yourself to be okay with what currently is?
> If that seems too hard a stretch, can you allow yourself to be willing to be okay with what currently is?
> And if not, why? Is there someone you need to forgive? Is there something you need to get out of your system? Can you create a safe space to do so?
Pondering these questions moves you out of being frozen, fearful or forgetful, and into the practice of acknowledging your full experience. You learn to expand with each contraction.