TRANSFORMING SUFFERING

Turning a sad story of two miscarriages into a constructive, loving story

Our website openendedtravel mainly shows the beauty of the life we are living. We traveled extensively. We are currently living our life in Ethiopia. We have a gorgeous daughter. The three of us live in harmony. But we all get our share of suffering – and so do we.

Having experienced two miscarriages in the past year has led to a variety of emotions in our family: sadness, anger, disappointment and a certain feeling of emptiness. I have found that the pain I have experienced is one of an ‘existential nature’. It can be so deep, so severe. It seems to come directly from my tiniest toe. I have come to realize that this topic is quite taboo, and for a long time I tuned out. Afraid to share our pain, and weary to receive other people’s pity which I wouldn’t consider helpful. I was surprised to see that online there are tons of similar sad stories. Although there is a certain level of comfort to be found in sharing experiences, I didn’t find many handholds on how to deal with my suffering in a constructive way.

Therefore I decided to write this story. To provide a more positive outlook on dealing with a miscarriage, and sharing my experience on how one can actively transform suffering. Because the beauty is, we truly can. We cannot choose what happens to us, but we can choose how to respond to it. In this margin of choice lies a sense of freedom.

Only since I got introduced to Mindfulness, Yoga, Buddhism, and more specifically to the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a whole new world opened up for me: that suffering is ok, that we all suffer, that if we learn to deal with our suffering skillfully we will suffer less, and that it is even possible to transform it.

So how did I go about it? Here I list key elements that were helpful to me under these circumstances, in the order that seems most logic. Please note that by no means this is a ‘check-list’ or a ‘so-many-steps to happiness’. These components are simply helping me to transform my own suffering.

Be aware

All of my transformations start with this, the awareness of what is going on inside me: what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling. Being aware of the pain. Being aware of thoughts such us: ‘why me?’, ‘why is this necessary?’, ‘the baby should be growing’.

Allowing it to be

Once I’m aware of what is going on, next I can try to allow it to be there. It is ok to have these thoughts. It is ok to feel sad. Not giving it too much energy, or being swept away by it, nor pushing it aside, and pretending all is well. Also, not adding another layer to this, with a thought such as: ‘I shouldn’t feel like this’.

Honestly, I found this quite difficult, the pain was so severe at times, that it felt like I would explode if I would fully allow it. So I started drinking coffee, simply to numb the pain a bit. Short-term this was helpful, but in the long-run I still had to deal with the pain. I guess what I’m saying is: allowing our pain to be, to the extent that we can handle it.

Suffering comes from resistance

This might be a hard one to digest, but I realized that my suffering is self-inflicted. Surely, it is a sad story. But from the perspective of nature, nothing went wrong. A baby tried growing in my belly, it wasn’t capable to survive, so nature decided to break it off. From this perspective, nothing happened. These are my thoughts, my expectations and my wishes which are causing my pain: I didn’t want this to happen. By continuously fighting reality, suffering arises.

The upside in this, is the fact that if I’m causing my suffering, I can also end it. Easier said than done, I totally know. But this realization is giving me a huge sense of relief. (A great book on this topic comes from Katy Byron, ‘Loving what is’).

Understanding deeply

When I’m aware, when I’m able to allow, I can start understanding myself. What is my story that makes me suffer? Where is my resistance to reality coming from? Well: the fact that we have a wish to expand our family. The fact that I’m attached to an image of myself in the future. The fact that I don’t want to undergo another medical intervention. Seeing this, understanding that this train of thought is causing my suffering, can help me to take care of it and transform it.

No mud no lotus

In the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh the example is given that only from compost, the most beautiful flower can grow. If we regard my suffering as being the compost, and I garden it skillfully, it can be transformed into a flower. So by seeing my suffering, and understanding it, in my experience it can naturally dissolve over time. It seems to melt. It becomes softer. It takes time for the flower to grow, but adding some water and regular care, it can even blossom.

The positive side I can see in this experience, is that I can relate to the suffering of the world more easily. I also feel a stronger connection with my husband, my daughter and my close friends and family. And although it might sound out of place, I’m actually grateful for the opportunity to experience life to the fullest, including the suffering it has to offer.

So I guess, yes- we can bloom when we’re in a dark place. (In the powerful book ‘Option B’ Sheryl Sandberg writes about the potential of personal growth when facing hardship).

Take care of myself

Growing a flower from compost takes energy. I couldn’t do any mental transformation without taking good care of myself. The basics, really: enough sleep, healthy food, sports, meditation, and hugs.

Trust instead of hope

Some people find comfort in believing there is hope. For me, at this stage, it doesn’t work. On the contrary, if I keep hoping to have another child, and it doesn’t work out eventually, I’ll need to deal with a new level of suffering later on. For me, hope is potentially setting me up for disaster. Rather, I try to have trust: trusting that whatever happens will be ok. Trusting that my body is doing the best it can. Trusting that whichever way it will turn out, my family will be in its most optimal set-up.

Count my blessings

Clichés are there for a reason: they are often true. I have found this advice ‘count your blessings’ always slightly annoying, because I felt I was already doing this. But being honest with myself, I realized I wasn’t doing this sufficiently. Taking the time to actively feel gratitude for what is there already, instead of focusing on what isn’t there, has made a huge difference for me. Being blessed with a strong connection to my loving husband, falling in love regularly with my beautiful daughter, being able to access the most amazing health care in the Netherlands, and also the small things: a bird in the garden, the smell of coffee, someone laughing in the street…

As Thich Nhat Hanh says it: ‘We have more than enough conditions to be happy.’

We won’t get everything we wish for

I think my generation was raised with the idea that ‘the sky is the limit’. Nothing is impossible. We can achieve everything. As a result I thought for a very, very long time I could have the exact career I had in mind, and that also in my personal life everything would go as I had planned for. Although it is so obvious this isn’t true, it took me a while, through trial and error, to see that this assumption is false. Experiencing these miscarriages is only re-enforcing this insight: we won’t get everything we want. A simple fact, which actually gives me a huge sense of relief. Because if this is true, I cannot possibly fail.

Don’t go back into the ‘rabbit hole’

Having written all this, knowing that reality is trickier than the way paper makes it sound, the last thing I try is: staying alert. The moment my mind gets some slack, it has the tendency to go back down the ‘rabbit hole’, where it’s nice and comfy among self-pity and unhappy thoughts. ‘Un-Slumping’ myself is not easily done (see: Dr. Seuss, Oh the places you’ll go!). In fact, it takes more energy to get my way back out there, than it takes to stay alert and not go down the rabbit hole in the first place. So staying alert is the glue that holds it all together.

 

And do I manage all this, all the time? Not quite. It’s work in progress – ups and downs, smiles and frowns.

(K)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s