Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Expressive Arts: Using Your Hands to Heal Your Heart

As we embark on the New Year, this article, written by By Rachel Faldet, M.A.W. may provide some insight to you.

One Valentine's Day afternoon when I was in my mid-30s, I sat cross-legged on an oriental rug in our living room.  On my lap was a baby quilt of calico blues and greens, madras plaid purples and reds.  During January, I had sewn together squares, triangles, and borders by playful whim.  Finished with tying the flannel backing to the cotton front with strands of embroidery thread, I was examining my work.  The edges weren't bound, but the gift was nearly done.  The quilt – big enough for a toddler to snuggle in while listening to a good-night story – was for my sister's winter newborn.                                                                                                                          
    Earlier that week I learned that my pregnancy was over, and the doctor suggested that I wait for my body to miscarry naturally.  I had deeply wanted my child  -- and still did.                                                                                                                                
    When I think of that bittersweet holiday in the early 1990s, much of it is a blur, but for the image of my bereaved self threading a darning needle, pushing it through three layers of cloth and batting, cutting and tying thread in knots, and starting the process again.  Reeling from an ultrasound that showed no heartbeat at twelve weeks gestation, I turned to my hands.
    Consider your hands.  Look at them.  Move them.
    Working with your hands can help you navigate emotional turmoil.  Your hands can help you reach a place that University of Chicago psychologist and author Mihaly Csikszentmihaly calls “flow.” Through extensive research, he explored the question of how people can help themselves feel happy when their lives are full of problems and struggle.  He advocates the idea that when people are in emotional pain, they need to do something to actively take them out of sadness for a while.  In Flow:  The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihaly says, “One of the most frequently mentioned dimensions of the flow experience is that, while it lasts, one is able to forget all the unpleasant aspects of life” (58).
    In the months and years after my second miscarriage, I confronted my sorrow with sewing supplies and with paper and ink.  Quilts for winter warmth at our house, and baby quilts for gifts occupied my hands and mind.  I shaped words into prose, sorting through my experience for myself and eventually creating a book containing the voices of many bereaved parents.  Over time, expressive arts helped heal my wounded heart.
    Expressive arts -- such as gardening, painting, following a cross-stitch pattern, sewing, woodcarving, soldering stained glass into jewel-like objects, knitting, writing, singing, playing an instrument, beading, or forming vessels from wet clay – can have soothing and therapeutic power.   When using handwork to help you cope after losing a child, what you create with your hands doesn't have to be perfect, or even good.  It doesn't matter if the end result is beautiful or if it is rustic.  What matters most is the doing itself. It's a way to put some control on an uncontrollable situation.  It's a way to offer tribute to the child.  If you end up with something usable and lovely – like a necklace of iridescent beads interspersed with Bali silver or a painting of brilliant orange-red poppies – that's a bonus.
    Rilla Esbjornson, a founder/leader of a Share group in Montana, can testify to the importance of using your hands in coping with grief.  On a Christmas morning her son, Joshua Michael, was born by emergency C-section and died two hours later.  The baby's lungs were not developed.
    In the bleak winter months after Joshua's birth and death, Esbjornson “spent hours watching soap operas and crocheting an intricate fisherman's afghan, cocooning myself within a grief work that was utterly overwhelming.”   After finishing three-fourths of the afghan, she realized that she had miscounted the stitches.  She “ripped out row upon row of stitches, the undone fiber entangled with my grief.  I crocheted the afghan twice before I got it right.”
    As a teacher who works with college writers, my world revolves around using writing as an expressive art.   In Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, beloved author Anne Lamott says to inexperienced and experienced writers, “Tell the truth as you understand it” (226).  I'm drawn to this notion because that's what you do when you work with your hands – as writers or crafters or fine artists – even if you don't consider yourself creative by nature. You try to shape your experiences and ideas into forms that speak to yourself and/or to others.  You try to make sense of your     experiences – the good and the sorrowful.
    The act of writing offers you records of your thoughts:  informal, unshaped thoughts that you would never show another person or formal, shaped thoughts to offer to readers.  After each of my miscarriages, I wrote informally, often slouched at my desk in the dark hours of night, retelling the story privately to myself using pencil and paper.  After my second miscarriage – which spiraled me into serious depression – I wrote a much-revised, polished piece.  It seemed public, I felt a sense of accomplishment, and I craved to read shared stories.  What had others experienced?  How did my feelings connect with theirs?

That essay became the inspiration to put together – with the help of my friend Karen Fitton -- the anthology Our Stories of Miscarriage. Writing about our own experiences after our pregnancy losses was healing for us, and we believed that others who had miscarried had used writing in their grief work, too. We gathered essays, journal excerpts, and poems from bereaved parents across the country. This chorus of voices acknowledges the emotional pain of miscarriage; the pain that lingers after the physical pain is gone.
Some of the contributors to Our Stories of Miscarriage talk about using their hands to help their hearts.  In journal excerpts titled “Lily in the Garden,” Deborah L. Cooper talks about being a gardener and bereaved mother. In early September, while digging in the garden she daydreams about “my little red-haired girl.  Only seems right to give her the name of a flower -- Iris, Rose, or Lily” (24).   Several weeks later, she miscarried.
 In Cooper's October 17 journal, a month after her miscarriage, she says, “Lots of labor has gone into my garden these past thirty days.  When a woman's body gears up for having a child, there are incredible stores of energy building within.  The flower beds have become my decompression chamber to bleed off that energy, along with my grief and pain.  All the fortitude, the stamina, and the effort associated with childbearing have been forced out through my fingertips into the soil of my garden.  If ever there were fertile hands, green thumbs.  No one knows she's out there…Lily in the garden” (25).
Cooper, through her writing, chronicles and figures out the truth of her experiences.  She crafts her words so they can connect well with others – even if her readers would never consider gardening as a way to deal with emotional pain.
In Listen to Me:  Writing Life into Meaning, Lynn Lauber offers insights about the healing capabilities of writing.  She says, “A death is still a death…but writing about it can provide a certain catharsis, a way of putting it in its place.  By allowing emotional release, writing can help us to handle the anguish of bereavement and loss” (50).  Lauber, who gave up her newborn for adoption when she was a teenager, says “Writing about pain doesn't banish it, but it can sooth it, 'rinse' it…Deep writing can pull you away from your troubles and concentrate your energies in a creative flow” (51).  It's hard not to notice that on page two of the introduction, Lauber says that she never saw her infant daughter because the “policy of the unwed mothers' home” didn't allow that. Her concept of  “rinsing” surely is based on personal experience.
Lauber's ideas about writing as healing certainly apply to other expressive arts.  Substitute “drawing” or “knitting” for “writing.” The notion works.
The people whose ideas I've woven into this essay speak from personal experience.  Like them, I'm not advocating that writing one essay or planting a cluster of tulip bulbs or crocheting one crooked afghan or sewing a quilt will make the pain in the heart of a bereaved parent magically disappear forever.  You never forget the children of your heart.  But I am advocating that by using your hands in creative -- perhaps even in unfamiliar -- mediums, you have an opportunity to help a heart that is spilling over with sorrow.  Seek that place of “flow” where you experience a respite from sadness, as part of your grief journey.
Sometimes the desire to try handwork will come from you – the one suffering.  Sometimes, though, caregivers need to guide individuals to consider using wet clay, Austrian crystals and Bali silver, batik fabrics of sea-green teals and ruby-reds, oil paints and pastels, glass pieces reminiscent of rose windows in European cathedrals, paper for words and cutting, ribbons and mother-of-pearl buttons to fasten to art quilts, basswood for carving figures, and soft periwinkle yarn from Australia to knit into warmth.
Sometimes solo work is best; sometimes group work with its social aspects is best.  Maybe you'll delve into a project immediately after you know the child died, trying to find some respite from consuming grief.  Maybe months or even years later you will feel compelled to push some lingering sorrow through your fingertips.  Or maybe the expressive arts are not for you.  Only you can know.
The Valentine's Day quilt I created before and after I learned that my baby had died in utero is faded from sunlight and washing.  My sister's daughter Kate, its owner, is fourteen this winter. Using my hands, instead of stilling them, was the right choice for me when my world collapsed:  sewing and writing helped me cope with my intense longing for the child of my heart.
 That's not to say that I didn't cry frequently.  I did.  A tangle of overwhelming feelings of loss and grief were often my companions.   Sometimes I felt like I couldn't put on my coat and boots to walk out of my house in the snowy, bitterly cold mornings.   And waiting to miscarry naturally had turned into an emergency room midnight nightmare.  But that much-used quilt of calicos and plaids – the work of my hands and my sorrow -- is a celebration of Kate's life and a tribute to the cousin she never had.
Consider your hands.  Use them.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Duggar Family Loss

Thought we would share a supportive article written by Deborah L. Davis from the Psychology Today blog addressing the grief of the Duggar family. Deborah L. Davis, Ph.D. is a developmental psychologist who writes books that support parents through crisis, such as the death of a baby, premature birth, and making life-and-death medical decisions. She has also written about medical ethics, perinatal bereavement care, and parenting in the NICU for medical texts and national organizations, informing and supporting health care practitioners who work with these families. Click here to read.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Coping with the Holidays While Grieving

Christmas has always been a time for family. But when you feel like a part of your family is missing, it can be a particularly difficult time of year. Although it has been thirteen years now, I vividly remember our first Christmas after Bret died. He was born with angel wings in August 1995, but his original due date was November 30. Therefore, we had planned on having a new baby with whom to celebrate Christmas with that year. That Christmas, I worried that my emptiness would swallow me.
In the past, I relished our tradition of opening up a nice bottle of wine, cranking up the Christmas carols on the stereo, and helping our son put as many lights and ornaments on the tree as we could without toppling it over. That Christmas, we continued our tradition for our son's sake, but my heart just wasn't in it. Everything took on new meaning that year. Remembering that it was baby Jesus' birthday just reminded me of the baby I lost. The angel we always put on top of the tree gained new significance—I prayed an angel like that one would be watching over my baby. Shortly after Bret died, we were touched to find a teddy angel ornament that was dressed in blue. That Christmas, it was the last ornament we put on the tree, and many tears flowed that night as we ached for our baby boy to be with us. I dreaded Christmas day, not wanting to revisit my pain.
But like most other anxious experiences, the time leading up to the event was worse than the day itself. On Christmas morning, I began to find solace in the symbolism of the season, and I found a lot of comfort in our little blue teddy angel. I felt as though Bret was there with us. Losing Bret made me cherish my son and husband even more. It turned out to be one of the most meaningful Christmas seasons I had ever experienced.   
The most important tip for handling the holidays after a major loss is to be gentle with yourself, and do what feels the most comfortable. Here are some other suggestions:
  • Acknowledge that Christmas is coming. As much as you may want to avoid it, you can't.
  • Try not to “float” into Christmas. Be deliberate in choosing what you would like to do.
  • Avoid thinking about what you “should” do. You need to do what is right for you instead of feeling obligated. Decide to do what you can manage and let your friends and family know. There are no “right” or “wrong” ways to celebrate the holidays.
  • Make Christmas a “season” rather than a day. Trying to do too much on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day will put too much pressure on you.
  • Don't take on too much. Decide on your priorities, including baking, decorating, sending greeting cards, or having a large family dinner. Are these things that really need to be done? If so, perhaps others can assist you.
  • Set times for the things you really want to do. If you don't schedule it, it probably won't happen.
  • If you plan to shop, create a list ahead of time so it is ready for when you feel up to it. Or you may consider catalogue shopping.
  • Realize that Christmas won't be the same. Honor your feelings and don't pretend you are happy if you are not. The holidays may increase your feelings of sadness. It's okay. Share your feelings with your supportive family and friends.
  • Try altering your Christmas traditions, and create new ones, if that feels comfortable. Or you can just change the schedule of your traditions. For example, if you are accustomed having a large dinner on Christmas Day, perhaps have it on another day instead.
  • Honor your baby. For example, you may hang a special tree ornament, or burn a special candle in his/her memory. Another suggestion is hanging a stocking in which family members can put notes expressing their thoughts and feelings. You may also donate a gift to charity in memory of your baby, or the money that you would have spent purchasing gifts for your little one. Remembering is healing.
  • Attend a special candlelight ceremony or church service. (A list of services is included in on our website at
  • Take care of yourself. Create a balance by making time for socializing and time alone. Get plenty of rest, because the holidays can be very draining. Exercise, eat well and take care of yourself spiritually.
  • Remember that time and love from a relaxed you is the best gift for your family and friends.
  • Having fun will not dishonor your baby. After all you have been through you deserve some happiness. Allow yourself and your family to take pleasure in the holidays. Wouldn't your baby want that?
And as hard as it may be, keep in mind that you will come to enjoy Christmas again in the future. May the meaning of Christmas be deeper, its friendships stronger, and its hopes brighter as it comes to you this year.
*Reprinted with permission from the blog Angel Whispers of Hope

Friday, October 7, 2011

Sharing Awareness

By Rose Carlson

I always love reading and hearing about what others do in memory of their babies. While I am fortunate to have a job that allows me the opportunity to spread awareness of pregnancy and infant loss issues on a daily basis, I have also had the opportunity on many occasions to see what an impact Share and my own experiences have on people in my personal life as well. I teach workshops and speak to different groups in our community about Share and what we do. I write materials that go into our bereaved parent packets. I teach workshops at the twice-yearly Sharing and Caring training for caregivers and new Share group leaders. However, simply because I have had losses myself, I have been able to be a support to friends and family many times over the years.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Catch 22

By Maggie Stockmann

How many kids do you have? Is she your oldest?

Such a simple question with such complicated answers. All that goes into deciding how to answer – Will I see this person again? Are we in public? Am I strong enough to tell the truth? Am I strong enough to give the quick happy answer? Compromise?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Still Thankful for Longing

By  Marilyn Guggenheim

I take great comfort from this passage in Edwidge Danticat’s memoir Brother, I’m Dying:

When my daughter was born, her face blood-tinted, her eyelids swollen with tiny light pink patches that Colleen the midwife called angel kisses, her body coiled around itself as if to echo the tightness of her tiny fists, I instantly saw it as one of many separations to come. She was leaving my body and going into the world, where she would spend the rest of her life moving away from me.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Grieving While Parenting

By Rachel Cone

Surrounded by laughter and squeals of delight in the playground with my son Samuel, a nearby parent asks the seemingly simple question, “Oh, is he your only child?” My mind starts racing through all the different ways I can answer that question, but I quickly remind myself that I don't know this parent whose question is clearly intended to start a friendly conversation. “Yes,” I answer softly.

Friday, June 24, 2011


By Rose Carlson

I will love the light for it shows me the way,
yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.
~Eskimo Proverb

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mother's Day

By Jodi Martinez

I remember the first Mother's Day as a bereaved mom of Daniel, born still, and Jojo, miscarried five months later. I had been anticipating what would be a very difficult day for me. My husband being an airline pilot was away and I was home alone. I decided that I would spend the weekend with my mom so it wouldn't be so lonely. The Friday before, I packed a bag and headed to my mom's house. On my way, I realized I had forgotten something so I headed back home.  When I arrived I found a bouquet of flowers and a box of chocolates at my front door. I opened the card and it read, "Happy Mother's Day! Love, Daniel and Daddy." I felt overwhelmed with emotion and tears ran down my face. I felt such a presence of the little souls we had lost. I was completely honored and grateful that my husband acknowledged me on Mother's Day.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Come to the Window & Look

By Diane Ackerman

During periods of crisis, grief or uncertainty, we all need to find enriching ways to transcend. Worry can narrow our focus, but reconnecting with nature and our senses opens it up again. The world we take for granted wobbles with mysteries and sensory delights: How astounding that we share the Earth with aromatic lilies and iguanas and Portobello mushrooms! When we pause to sense them, we become wonder-struck and experience a richly satisfying frame of mind that- for lack of a better word-we call joy. Wonder is a bulky emotion. When you let it fill your heart and mind, there isn't room for anxiety, distress or anything else.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Moving Forward

By Hannah Stone

As a three time survivor of pregnancy loss, I know all too well that the words "moving forward" do not equal "letting go."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Forgive Them, For They Know Not What They Say (Or Do)

By Brian Henry

When we lost our daughter Caroline, we gained a world of perspective we never wanted.

Most people lead a life blissfully ignorant of pregnancy loss. Many of our friends and family had no idea what it was like to suffer this type of loss, so it stood to reason that they also had no idea how to react when it entered their lives.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What About the Children?

By Maureen Day

I have only a few memories of my sister, Patti; really just glimpses that I recall… jumping rope in the kitchen and getting in trouble, laughing on the couch, seeing her sick lying on my mom and dad’s bed. Then, she was gone. I was only 4 years old when she died at the age of eight, unexpectedly from Reye Syndrome - sudden brain damage occurring from the use of aspirin to treat chicken pox. I didn’t understand any of this, of course, at the time. I only knew she was gone and so were her pictures and that every time I said her name,

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Enjoying the Small Things

By Rose Carlson

I regularly read a blog called Enjoying the Small Things. It is written by a gal who lives in southern Florida with her husband and two young daughters, one of who has special needs. This blog writer has a really great way with words as well as a sunny outlook on life, and she often writes posts about the “small things” she stops to take notice of in her daily life. I’ve been reading her blog for nearly a year, and many times, she has inspired me to do the same…to stop and notice the seemingly insignificant details and events of life, take note of them, and most of all, remember and write about them. And that’s what this

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Daniel, Jo Jo, Joseph & Zachary

By Jodi Martinez

The death of my first child, Daniel Joseph, had to be the most horrific experience of my life. In 2007, my life was wonderful. I had just gotten married; I had a great job, and was expecting my first child. Then at the end of August I found myself in the middle of my worst nightmare. One minute changed my life forever. I found out that my son had Hydrops and the doctors told me that he had a 1% chance of living. Sadly, on September 18, 2007, he was stillborn at 29 weeks.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Gavin & Parker

By Kayla Schisler

Losing a child is undoubtedly the toughest thing a parent has to go through. There is no word to explain the pain you go through while grieving for your child/children. Your life is forever changed. I lost my twin boys, Gavin and Parker, on April 4th 2009 at 22 weeks. They lived about thirty minutes, but were too young to survive. It was devastating. I always felt like I was put on this earth to be a mother. At the age of twenty, I never thought I would have to endure that much pain and grief.

Friday, January 7, 2011


I spent the past few weeks writing an article on changes your baby brought to your life for the current issue of our Sharing newsletter. I talked to many different women whose losses were anywhere from a few weeks ago to many years ago. Some had early losses, some experienced stillbirths, and a few had babies who lived a short time before dying. In talking to all of these moms, I noticed certain “themes.” One area that many mentioned was their spiritual life and both the positive and negative changes brought on by the baby’s death. They talked about changes to their interpersonal relationships, changes in career paths, changes in the way they parent, and changes in their outlook on life. And while no bereaved parent wants to hear anyone say “this is all for the best” after the death of their baby, and it’s most definitely NOT for the best, many of the stories and thoughts shared with me were of positive changes.

As I was writing the article, I couldn’t help but think of my own experiences and the many changes in my own life due to the loss of my four tiny babies many years ago. I thought about the way I once imagined my life compared to the way my life is now.

Like many women, I had everything confidently planned out…I’d go to college, earn a degree in journalism, work for a newspaper or magazine, get married, and after a few years of being married, we would have a baby. Actually, my plan was to have 2 kids, 2 years apart. Of course, I was going to have a boy and a girl. I even had their names picked out, long before I had someone in my life I wanted to marry. I just always knew that I would be a mom, and that my life would work out the way I wanted it to if I worked hard and did what I was ‘supposed’ to do. I had no doubts about that, and never even considered the alternative--that I might not have the picture-perfect life I envisioned.

Unfortunately, as we all know, life doesn’t always work out the way we plan it, no matter how hard we work and no matter how closely we follow the rules and do what we are “supposed” to do. Mine certainly didn’t, and I know that all of yours didn’t follow the path you expected either.

I became pregnant before I intended, and just when I was getting used to the idea of having a baby, the baby was gone. Several years later, I became pregnant again, and that pregnancy also ended without a living baby in my arms. I was shocked and heartbroken. Having a baby is supposed to be the most natural thing a woman can do. I wondered what was wrong with me, while everyone I knew told me it was no big deal, that I was young and of course I’d have more babies--things that many of you have probably heard as well.

I ended up having 2 more miscarriages, which rocked me to the core. I remember writing in my journal one day that my life was officially over, underlining over many times. While I don’t remember specifically thinking my life would never be the same again, I can look back after all these years and definitely see a “before me” and an “after me.”

Some of the changes I underwent were sudden and jarring. For instance, a month or so after my 4th loss, it suddenly hit me one day that in my grief, I was not being the kind of mom that my then two year old son deserved and needed. On the day that I realized that, I vowed to change, and I did. I am glad that I had this revelation because it got me through many challenging days. Whenever I wanted to curl up in a ball in bed, I thought of my small son who needed me and how I needed to relish every moment with him.

All of my children, all 8 of them, have changed me in ways I could never have imagined.

Some changes in me developed gradually over time. I now have four living children who I can’t imagine my life without. I have been told many times over the years that I am overprotective, and I often wonder if I would be if not for my own losses as well as the losses of those I have met over the years. Another change I experienced is that I do not take anyone for granted. Ever. I truly know the meaning of “life is too short.” I try to always do whatever I can to make sure that my children and others I love and care about know that I love and care about them.

Even though it’s been many years since my losses, 25 years since the first and almost 18 years since the last, I will never forget the babies who didn’t make it. They all died early in the pregnancy…at 11 weeks, 6 weeks, 12 weeks and 10 weeks, yet those tiny souls have had a huge impact on my life. Even though I have no pictures or footprints or any other memento, they have been a force in my life that is sometimes mind boggling to think about and always difficult to put into words. Those tiny souls, who many people thought at the time didn’t matter because I really didn’t “know” them, caused twists and turns in the path of my life I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams. Those tiny souls eventually led me to a rewarding job that I love and can’t imagine my life without. And those tiny little souls led me to some very special, amazing people that I can’t imagine my life without.

Almost 18 years ago when I was in the depths of despair, I would never have anticipated that I would say this, but if I had my life to live over, I wouldn’t change a thing. The gifts that all of my children have brought me, and the person they have all made me…well, they all make me feel blessed beyond measure.

What ways have you changed since the death of your baby?