Mother's Day 2020
On Mother's Day 2020, it is pertinent to reflect on the fact that for many women, Mother's Day is a really difficult - either because they mourn the loss of their mother, or they mourn the loss of a baby, (born or unborn) or both. For many women, Mother's Day can be traumatic. And in the context of the pandemic, this is in some ways even more so.
Infertility & Perinatal Loss
The idea that infertility, perinatal loss and involuntary childlessness is traumatic is gaining traction, increased momentum and recognition in psychological and mental health disciplines over the last few years. This is important for a number of reasons, not least of which is the support that is now being provided to women and couples who require much-needed intervention, both in the acute and longer-term mental health support settings.
Similarly, the growing recognition of this adverse impact of this trauma is slowly infiltrating into the broader community, which has the much-needed consequence of conferring acknowledgement of the suffering by these women, which in turn helps them in their healing journey. Any path to recovery begins with acknowledgement and, conversely, is disproportionate to any lack of recognition and acknowledgement of the suffering by those in a woman's social and familial circles.
Making revolutionary in-roads into recognition, acknowledgement of this trauma, as well as provision of support for women who are undergoing fertility treatment, or who have experienced perinatal loss, is the extraordinary Chiemi Rajamahendran, Founder of Miss Conception Coach, a support service established after Chiemi herself experienced the trauma of perinatal loss. As she shares in conversation,
“It was just one of those light bulb moments. I am sitting in the emergency room thinking, there is a definite crack in our healthcare system.”
Through her own grief and distress, she has been able to create an invaluable community of support for women experiencing this very unique kind of trauma, whilst at the same time raising critical awareness for the impact this has on so many women’s lives.
On this difficult Mother’s Day 2020, I am thrilled to share my conversation with Infertility and Grief Support Warrior, Chiemi Rajamahendran.
In Chiemi’s Words
A Community of Support Out of the Pain of Loss
My name’s Chiemi, and I’m also known as, ‘Miss.Conception Coach’online as well as through our community that we started, about four or five years ago now. It was really a community that started at the grassroots. I had personal experience of having my own secondary infertility journey, as well as being in the field. My education background is in psychiatric nursing and communications. I was in different environments and working with women pre-conception and postpartum. And I was also on a hotline for miscarriages and emergency situations.
It was after I experienced my own loss that I was really profoundly moved to not ever have somebody experience that same thing alone. It was one of those light bulb moments.I am sitting in the emergency room thinking, there is a definite crack in our healthcare system. It is nobody’s fault. It is not the ER’s fault, or the nurse’s fault, but nurses do so much, that they do not have time to care for women that are going through miscarriages. They are often just sent home, to fend for themselves.
The more we started talking about those scenarios, the more people said, “Yes I have experienced that too. And I was sent home.” And people feel that emotional, real-time support is just not there. And so, it was in that moment that I thought, I want to build a platform and a community so that, if someone’s in that actual, real-time space, needing to speak to someone, they can. If they are in their car, and they are just crying; or they have got home and their spouse is there, but they do not really know how to be there emotionally, because they are also in shock in that moment.
So, it is one of those things that I wanted, to just make sure that people could just log-in and connect. We started with Facebook groups, and the website, and Instagram, which became the largest community. But the two Facebook groups we do have are still up and running, and they offer that support. A lot of it is peer support. Someone that is there, and they can say, “Hey, anyone out there? I just want to chat. I just need to share, and I need to vent.” Or just to feel somebody is there. And in this day and age, it is really comforting to have that instant connection with people that just understand, and they have been through something similar. And even if they do not, within 10 minutes you get a whole bunch of people just saying, “Hey, we hear you, we are here. If you need anything tonight, just log in and send us a message, and we can chat.”
And it does not even have to be really anything too deep. Sometimes you just want to say, “I have such a bad day and I am just sitting here feeling really down.” And other people will say, I am here too and let’s just talk about our shows, or our cats, or our dogs,” or anything really.
So that was how the community started. And from that, I decided to do fulltime counseling and one-on-one with people in it, with (the option for) a real-time booking, because obviously, if you do IVF, or you do an IUI, or it is fails, and you are leaving the doctor’s office, you really just want to talk to someone right then and there.
So usually, my clients will book within hours, or a day. So it is not, I’ll see you every two weeks for months. It is, sometimes I speak to the person once, and that is it. And sometimes I speak to them for months, and even after their pregnancies. Or after they have stopped trying, and they just want to talk through things that they are still working on.
I have really great moderators that have been there from day one, and they are all sorts of journeys. Some have stopped, and some have children that now four or five years old, and they moderate the peer support groups, which is wonderful. And they keep an eye and they make sure everyone’s okay, and everyone’s respected, and everyone’s getting along. So it is great that we have that help within the community too, as peer leaders and support leaders.It is wonderful for the newer women that are just at the beginning of their experience. Hearing about all the different scenarios, they might be thinking, “Oh, no one’s going to have a story like me.” And then finding someone actually does. And they say, “Oh, I went through that and I experienced that. And to be on the other end of it is really, really comforting too.” So it is a nice way to share information.And there is something about having it validated by someone that has also been through that.
Self Esteem & Self Doubt in Infertility Treatment
I think in any mental health scenario, there is a stigma attached to that emotion, or whatever emotional aspect of what you are experiencing. With infertility treatment, there is the medical part of it, and the clinical part of it. From the moment that say, you do have a loss, or your IVF treatment does not work, there is a very matter of fact, clinical part. On paper, you are processing the statistics and the ratios and everything. But there are also all of these emotions that you are starting to feel, the self-doubt, and that voice in your head that starts to creep in. There is something about sharing that vulnerability of saying,
“That miscarriage really made me doubt my body. It made me doubt my instincts as a woman, and doubt my support, from people that I thought would be there for me. And they weren’t.”
And I think self-esteem slowly gets chipped away. And you need to give yourself that pep-talk about it not being your fault, that you didn’t do anything. And really remember that it is something that was not in your control. Because we do live in a society that the sometimes, the message is the opposite, that there is the fertility diet and all these herbs and all of these pills, and all sorts of things that you can take to boost your fertility, or boost your chances, and your egg quality. So that whole cultural story starts to play into your head, “Well, maybe I should have taken those vitamins. Maybe that is why I didn’t have a healthy pregnancy.”
So it is really hard to stay in a healthy mindset when you have a whole society that plays into that rhetoric of it being somehow your fault. One thing that we really work on, after the losses, is rebuilding that confidence, and that story of not taking on all of that. It is not ours to take on, all of that responsibility.
Challenging the Narrative & Rebuilding a Sense of Identity
That (re-building) is something that we work on. And a lot of times when people book sessions, the first thing I do I give them a little survey. It is four questions, but one of them is just about that: where do you find your joy normally? And where do you find things that make you feel good? And we talk about how that disconnect to our own bodies starts to happen, especially after infertility. Because it is that feeling you knew, and you trusted, and you thought you could understand something. And then that feeling being just knocked out of you. And having to rebuild that again and not taking that on personally.
And we really work on understanding the difference between, for example, when we get triggered, how that is not even about that person, or us; it is just that narrative. It goes straight back to that narrative of seeing that reflection of a pregnant lady. And it is going straight to your heart and then feeling not good enough again, that maybe I am not worthy. Maybe I am not meant to be a mother.
All of these million things end up spiraling into our mind. We have to work on having that other voice, that just says repeatedly - to combat all of those spiraling thoughts - that it is not about them. It is not aboutsomething that I should not do, or could not do, or did not do. It is just reminding myself that it is not my fault. And that I do deserve to be a mother, and I deserve just to really not add any stress - extra stress - or put in place boundaries and keep them extra tight.
Because I think we take a lot on from other people, that are in our support system. And the relationship dynamics are often a huge part of what we discuss. Mothers, sisters, brothers, spouses, that plays into the whole experience. And friends, and friends that get pregnant, and sisters that are on their fourth child, that are younger than you. There are so many different narratives and story dynamics that all play into who we see ourselves as. And what hat that we wear for each of those different relationships. It is a lot of different juggling.
For my community, and for my platforms, I do not ever really speak about my personal story. Because it is not part of it; it is your stories that I am here for. And that is the important thing. But it isbeing able to relate to being at an RA’s office, and all the tests, and all of those things. I also know that frustration and how draining that is.
And I try to keep my page as trigger-free as possible, just for that reason, to make sure that everybody feels included. Because you cannot really do both. You cannot celebrate pregnancies, yet also keep people feeling they are safe.
The Trauma of Infertility
I think it was last year, or the year before, I started using that term. Trauma. And it really was just a description of scenarios and experiences, and that was the only word that really fit. And I stuck with it. And I would see it pop up so often now, and that is great. Because, I talk a lot about retelling your story and, sometimes, when we do not use the proper terms, people do not feel or empathize with what we’ve actually experienced. If you just say, “Oh, we did IVF and it didn’t work, we might do it again,” versus “I have a physical ailment that only allows for this treatment, and it is an invasive treatment, one that I have to take time off work for, and one that is painful and there is a lot of procedures, and a lot of medication.” It changes if you actually describethe reality, and then that is not even getting to the treatment itself, and then perhaps losses of that treatment, and the repercussions of that experience.
So, being able to use the proper terms, and to explain exactly what you went through helps other people understand what you might be feeling. And it really does help. But it is also a vulnerable place to be, to really open up and share all of that stuff with people that you are close to. So that is one thing we talk about a lot. But there is also that hurt of sometimes opening up and people reacting ignorantly. And they do not know what to say, and then they feel, “Well that is the last time! I am never doing that again.” Because you just don’t want to feel that way again. And that is valid too.
Trauma & the Mental Health Fallout
I have clients that are a few months in, and some who might be years in, and problems might start off with anxiety and just a little bit of symptoms of depression. I wouldn’t say ‘depression’ because that is a clinical term, but symptoms of melancholy and just feeling really low and down. And we always talk about hope, and people think, “Oh, I am losing my hope, I am losing my will, my faith,” or whatever that is that makes you want to carry on and have purpose. That starts to really get chipped away. And so we need to find a new sense of what that hope means.
But, even as years go by, it is the compounded trauma of, say, four or five IVFs or IUI’s that were not successful. Or maybe a couple had some early trimester losses.And that is now compounded trauma in a person’s experience. And deciding, “Can I go on? ShouldI go on? How long should I do this for? How much money should I spend? How much time should I invest emotionally, physically?” There is angst there, in being caught between worlds. So a lot of people find themselves at a crossroad.
And even after, say, somebody does get pregnant, or even while they are pregnant, I have some clients that it is all just catching up to them. And it is a PTSD of just being pregnant! They are pregnant, they have theprize, but they are just numb. They are collapsed, and they are not emotionally attaching or connecting with their body, with the baby. Because they just need time to disconnect. And it is one of those things where you are rushed into it, and now, you are pregnant. And it is a few months in, but you are still just trying to catch up with what happened a year ago!
And then that becomes really hard, because they feel now “I am a bad mom. I am not emotionally bonding. I am not even ready yet to call it a baby. I am not ready to even think about that yet.” So we just work on talking about how it is okay to not ‘be here,’ in whatever scenario you think that you should be emotionally in. And even after the baby is born, even years later, there are lots of things that people are stilltrying to work out.
The reflection of other people’s expectations on you can feel really like a burden. I often hear clients express how their spouse, or their partners are fine, they are excited and they are, yet the other person is just not there. And it is that vast array of emotion that we talk about. Because the spouse has one experience and you have another experience, and because it is a physical experience, it is something that the man does not understand. And they just cannot, because it is just such a different experience. We do couples as well, and a lot of times we talk about how a man wants to help his wife. “How can I help her? She’s always depressed, she’s always sad.” And then he will start to suggest, “Why don’t you do this? Why don’t you do that? Go for a yoga class.” It is always that needing to fix the grief. But the wife is like, “I just need to be sad!”
So it is really a hard space to live in, that in-betweenwhere you feel there is an expectation, even more so when you are pregnant, to be happy now. That everything’s fine. You’re pregnant, it is all fine. But there is that need for room to grieve, and room to set your boundaries, and to say, “Yes, but this is how I feel.” And you do not have to make excuses, or you do not have to explain to anyone why. Because, you are still processing the why. You do not know really why, or for how long. So, just taking your time, and having people that can validate and say it is okay to feel whatever you need to feel, and I am here, period, is really important. That is such a nice thing to hear. That is all we need. Sometimes, all people need is just to hear that. You do not need to have the extra suggestions, or the pep talk.
Perhaps it was Never Meant to Be
That is just so, so, so, so sad, when people say this. They are just projecting their own thoughts and their own belief system, and their own experiences, really. Which is hard. It is hard not to hold or take it personally. But that’s one of the main things that we try to work on too, is reminding yourself that you cannot carry, or educate, or bring awareness to the world.
The recent National Infertility Awareness Week is about shedding awareness and bringing these sorts of topics to the community, and to other people that would not probably be in these sorts of dialogues. When you can start to just be honest about that stuff, it does help a little bit. But there’s always going to be triggers, and we just need to keep reminding ourselves that it’s not about us. It’s not about our pain and our story. It is just a reflection of what they are able to understand, and their awareness, and that is okay. But that takes a lot of work. It is daily work, dealing with other people’s reactions, other people’s feelings, and we can’t carry that.
In terms of mental health, just as we were talking about before, as it is in any sort of support system, whether it is addictions, or depression, or anything, you have to meet people where they are. You can’t say, “I want to cure you, and I want you to be here, and fix you.” That is not a mentality that provides any sort of real support. This is something we have to learn. When I’m working with someone, I ask clients to choose three people in their support system that are true supporters. Because sometimes, we look to people that just cannot support us, and it is a lose/losesituation. We are setting them up, because their emotional capacity is just not there. Whether it be infertility, or emotionally connecting with us, or just vulnerability, it’s just not who they are. So we have to be honest about that, and I suggest giving them other roles.
One client I was working with found her sister was not that person, but she still wants to connect. And your family and friends, you want to have some sort of relationship. So she said, “Oh, I talked to her (sister), and she offered to drive me every Wednesday to my checkups.” So she feels good, because they are connecting in the car, they are chatting. But they are still staying in touch and her sister feels she is actually doing something to help with this whole experience for her. And so, that is a practical way to have people support you. Not everyone’s going to be an emotional, understanding sort of person and really get your emotions. But this is a practical way to be supportive.
For the Extended version of this interview, please visit In Chiemi's Words on Blogger
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