In mid and late 2020- amidst the ebb and flow of pandemic news and lockdown rule changes, Meghan Markle and Chrissie Teigan went public with their miscarriage stories. What followed was an outpouring of sympathetic responses from women, some of whom were grateful that people with such a public profile had spoken out about the issue in order to break down some of the stigma around miscarriage. But also, many women (and some men) criticised the stars for taking such a public approach to sharing their story.
However, I understand why they did it, and the science says that this can be helpful. Narrative therapy is an approach that encourages individuals to reflect on, and write their stories without judgement, to choose what is told, and to rewrite the ending. Both Chrissy and Megan have modelled this beautifully in the way that they shared their stories with the world, and what they have done probably helped their own recover process, but also shows the hundreds of thousands of women who have a miscarriage every year how this can be done.
We humans use stories to connect with others, share our experiences, and gain clarity over our thoughts and feelings. Stories can help us organise our thoughts, help us find meaning and purpose, and establish our identity, to make sense of our confusing and sometimes lonely world. Sometimes, the stories that we are telling ourselves aren’t helpful in allowing us to thrive and move forward with our lives. It is therefore important to consider the stories we are telling ourselves, and others, when we talk about our pregnancy loss.
I experienced this for myself in October 2020, when our surprise pregnancy for a baby #4 ended in a loss due to foetal abnormalities at 14 weeks. One of the things I was really troubled by was visualising what I was saying goodbye to- My postpartum counsellor released this in our first session, and gave me permission to rewrite or create the story that I needed to. The Doctors referred to the foetus as ‘products of conception’, or a ‘mass of tissue’. I guess they are taught to do this is in some sort of sensitivity training session… But these terms were very hard for me to relate to. To me it wasn’t a mass of tissue, it a baby that I already loved for months, already spoke to every day, and had imagined joining our family.
Over the next few weeks, I unravelled my story, removed the judgement and shame that I had layered in there, chose the parts of my story that I wanted to tell, and rewrote the ending from being a negative experience to an opportunity for gratitude and personal growth. My mental health improved dramatically, and I was able to ‘re-enter’ the world, with a clearer understanding of what had happened to me, and what it meant for my life.
Research supports the notion that narrative therapy can be an effective approach for helping women to process and recover from pregnancy loss. Researchers studying stories of loss suggest that the story telling process can support healing as it helps people to create structure and assign meaning to events that seem random. Therefore, narrating, or talking with others about experiences of loss can be beneficial, especially when experiences are difficult or traumatic.This approach can be implemented through conversations with a counsellor, or by using journaling and reflective writing at home.
After my own loss, I wanted a plan, and a process. There is so much information out there, but nowhere to store it and record what I wanted from it, all in one place- a physical and private document that I could keep, and that would keep everything together. My research background meant that I wanted to use resources that had been proven to be effective. The resource are based on Narrative Therapy and expressive writing interventions, Self Compassion work of Kristin Neff, and body appreciation journalling work from Jessica Alleva. All are backed by research that suggests that using these resources improves mental health.
I’ve created a Pregnancy Loss Workbook- A digital file that can be downloaded, printed, and completed. The workbook was designed to be used at the time of the loss, and to walk through three main stages:
- Practicality: begins with gaining clarity on what you want and need, so that you can direct others to support you- something that can be a challenge in the depths of grief.
- Processing: Moving through some of the context around the loss and start to re-write your story together.
- Progress: Using self-compassion and reconnecting with the body and self in ways that are needed to emerge from this experience whole again.
At the moment, I’ve prioritised having something available and accessible that I think will help women- rather than waiting until I have a perfectly graphically designed product- so the workbook is $5 and available here.
Whether you need this for yourself, or want to share it with a friend, or the women that you work with, I would love for you to use this, and let me know what you think.
Dr Zali Yager is an Associate Professor in the Institute for Health and Sport at Victoria University, and CEO of the Body Confident Collective.
Zali has expertise in research around body image and wellbeing, and is passionate about making people (especially mums) feel better about themselves, and improving mental health and wellbeing.
Email Zali: email@example.com