The world is at war with an invisible enemy and the global population is grieving for life as they knew it only matter of weeks ago. Discussion about Covid-19 has overtaken every news bulletin, every social media platform and every conversation. People can think and talk of little else.
We are frightened, scared for those we love who are vulnerable, scared to go out, even to supermarkets to pick up necessities, both because we may not find them and because there could be a chance the virus is lurking unseen on these everyday items. Scared we may lose our jobs, our livelihoods, the capacity to put food on the table, a roof over our heads and for some people the fear of staying home as is the case for many who are victims of family or domestic violence home is an unsafe and potentially life-threatening place.
However, this is not a discussion about the pandemic, its physical, economic or social ramifications, there are plenty of those articles accessible to all.
Rather, I have put pen to paper to acknowledge and validate how hard it is for our community of women who are experiencing miscarriages, seeing fertility treatment halted and contemplating the birth of their rainbow babies into a world that right now feels very unsafe. I also want to provide some practical strategies to assist with ways in which to cope in the coming months.
For the last few weeks I have been reflecting on what Covid-19 means for those who are experiencing loss. Apart from the obvious fear of entering medical facilities or being unable to access medical support, what does it mean for your grief and pain?
We know that the grief that surrounds miscarriage and infertility is largely disenfranchised. In good times when there is nothing threatening people’s inherent safety, we as a society do not do a good job of acknowledging the very real grief associated with perinatal loss. Right now, when there is a global risk that is all consuming, it is even easier for individual pain to be minimised and disenfranchised.
It may feel that if society could not acknowledge this as an issue before Covid-19, the chances of gathering support and understanding from friends, family and colleagues now is even more remote.
But perhaps what is most concerning is that self-validation is under threat too as we experience feelings of guilt and question what right we have to feel so devastated when so many people are losing their lives and livelihoods.
What we are witnessing globally is the reinforcement that as a society when we band together there is power in the collective. As broader society is forced to transition from an individual to a collective mindset, we can derive strength in the knowledge that through our loss community we have been doing this for some time. By supporting each other we offer empathy, solace, understanding and validation of the psychological and physical pain that accompanies the loss of a pregnancy.
We are skilled already when it comes to understanding what it means to lose hopes and dreams for the future. For those of us that have lost a pregnancy or our natural fertility, we have already built on our collective strengths and continue to display resilience in the face of individual disappointment that is mingled with acute sadness and distress. We do this with the support of a group of individuals that although on their own journeys, share an understanding that allows us to forge on when we feel that we cannot face another day.
There are a few bits of practical advice and wisdom that I want to share to assist you as you navigate your way through your own individual losses in the coming months. I hope they give you some comfort and direction.
SEEKING MEDICAL SUPPORT
It is important to know that you still have access to medical support if you require that at the time of your loss. Whilst hospitals are still functioning and treating people who are not COVID-19 positive, there has also been a move to medical support being offered through the Telehealth system. Contact your GP or local medical facility to enquire whether this option is available to you.
If you require acute medical attention please still attend your local hospital. Whilst the landscape may have changed and you may not be able to have a support person present, you will still be offered medical attention. If you require a D&C please know that this is not an elective procedure and all non-elective surgery is still going ahead. In such difficult times frontline medical personnel are stepping up and offering empathic emotional support too, particularly when you are unable to have a support person present.
To those who are due to have rainbow babies, you will still be able to access birthing services. Sadly, you will not be permitted to have visitors and most facilities are limiting numbers to 1 birth support person only. Whilst this is difficult for families who have waited to welcome a rainbow baby into the world and have spent months imagining the joy of introducing the new arrival to your children, parents, family and friends, this is being done to protect both you and your new baby. It might be useful to spend some time now thinking of ways to share the new arrival virtually and to consider that there may be a gift of time lurking somewhere in the darkness that will allow you and your partner/support person to share some quiet and private time getting to know your new baby.
SEEKING PSYCHOLOGICAL AND EMOTIONAL SUPPORT
As we are encouraged to socially isolate and work from home, it is important to know that whilst face to face counselling sessions will have been suspended, most individual therapists and support organisations continue to offer support utilising various on line platforms to deliver services.
Whilst these may be challenging to adjust to, for the most part support services are not stopping, they are just transitioning to an online platform. Many therapists, myself included, continue to offer counselling support through Skype, Face Time, phone and Zoom just to name a few. Please speak to your therapist and negotiate which platform works best in your circumstances. Online support groups are all still operational and Pink Elephants continue to provide peer support counselling delivered by phone. Whilst ‘social isolation’ is the new catchphrase please do not isolate yourself from much needed support services.
If you are not yet engaged with a counsellor or support service and wish to access professional or peer support, please make contact as you would in pre Covid-19 times to arrange an appointment. We know that many people feel well supported by friends or family but that in these times it may feel difficult to talk about your own stressors. I encourage you to communicate your needs to your support networks and carve out a support space, acknowledging that it may feel selfish to do so. Gently remind those you love that your inner world is in pain too like the global pain we are all experiencing. In advocating for yourself to receive support, you may find that people are happy to have a break from talking about Covid-19 and may through experiencing their own difficulties and uncertainties be able to provide you with empathic understanding and connection.
Remember you are never alone. The Pink Elephants Facebook groups are always open and with our service reaching a global network, it won’t be too long before someone responds to your post. Pregnancy, Birth and Baby also have a helpline manned by qualified counsellors – ph: 1800 882 486. If you require crisis support please contact Lifeline 24 hours a day on 13 11 14 *Australia only.
“Whatever you did today is enough. Whatever you felt today is valid. Whatever you thought today isn’t to be judged.” Repeat this each day – Brittany Burgunder
Self-care starts with self-love. Ditch judgment and validate your thoughts and feelings. Whilst this does not replace the importance of external validation and support, it is a step toward using your inner strength to build resilience and support from within. Your experience of grief and loss is not diminished in these unprecedented times. Whilst the world is viewing the current situation with a macro lens, try focussing your attention on the micro emotions that you are experiencing.
Even in these times it is ok to focus on yourself, your reality, your own personal experience and acknowledge that it is difficult and painful. Give yourself the permission to feel every emotion and think every thought that pops into your head. Do not minimise your experience and level judgment on yourself. These feelings are real and you are allowed to experience pain on a micro scale. Below are some suggestions to assist you to do this -:
- Practice mindfulness
- Practice meditation
- Allow the tears to flow and the pain to be personal
- Commune with nature
- Spend the day under the doona
- Do something altruistic that makes you feel good about you
- Take long baths
- Immerse yourself in mindless television
- Read a good book
- Do a puzzle
- Indulge in your favourite foods
- Connect virtually with a friend
- Listen to your favourite music
- Take a walk
- Spend time with your partner/support person
- Hang out with your pets
- Engage in doing something creative
Each day, write down a hope or dream you have for the future. Now more than ever we need to believe that we will all have a future that is bright again. Nature is taking a breather and is rejuvenating before our eyes. Let this reflect on your own lives, take a breather, rejuvenate, bunker down and renew and most of all remember that you are not alone.
Take care beautiful community, we hear you, we see you and we know you. We are here if you need us, just reach out.
Written by Terry Diamond
Perinatal loss and bereavement Social Worker and counsellor