Accepting the challenges that life throws at you with dignity and grace is a challenge in and of itself. These trials come in countless forms but, perhaps, one of the more agonising expressions comes in the shape of miscarriage. Many women feel traumatised by this experience and a great deal suffer in silence. Indeed, miscarriage is often shrouded in secrecy.
Having read Abigail Rasminsky’s recent essay, “I’m Pregnant. So why can’t I tell you?” and having analysed the visceral response the essay has provoked in so many readers – particularly to the notion that women don’t talk about miscarriage because they feel a sense of shame about what has occurred – I tend to agree with the general feeling that shame is not the reason why miscarriage is taboo.
To my mind, miscarriage is a taboo subject because death is a taboo subject.
Having miscarried myself very recently, I can, hand on heart, say that I have processed and accepted the situation. I’m not an emotional wreck, I won’t be grieving evermore on what could have been and there will be no memories haunting me. This acceptance, however, is not merely stoic and it is certainly not something that I developed from one day to the next. It comes from a decade of practising yoga and meditation and from decades of ruminating ceaselessly on the nature of life itself.
That’s not to say that I did not experience an anxiety that amounted to agony when I started bleeding. That’s not to say that I didn’t feel like my heart was being strangled when I was told that the size of my haematoma was not normal. That’s not to say that I didn’t experience an overwhelming sense of vulnerability and futility when I was told that there was no longer a heartbeat.
I allowed myself to experience the intensity of my emotions in the present moment as they arose but I did not indulge in them.
Over the years, one of the many things that has changed fundamentally is the way in which I perceive death.
After having researched extensively what Hindu, Buddhist and Christian philosophy had to say on the subject of death, I decided to look up the meaning of the word death in the Oxford English Dictionary. This is what it came up with:
- Ceasing to be; and
- The end of life.
I literally laughed out loud. It couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s such a rigid and literal definition that in no way takes into account the poetic, metaphorical or symbolic implications of death or, indeed, of life. To me, life is a metaphor which varies depending on what life-lessons we need to learn. Life is pregnant with meaning beyond what we can see on the surface and, consequently, our own individual experiences are but a single thread in the intricate, infinite tapestry of creation. Therefore, looking at my miscarriage literally and egocentrically was totally out of the question.
In my view, death is not a one off experience in one particular lifetime. Life, itself, is a perpetual dance of birth and death, rebirth and death. The Hindu trinity: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva – Creator, Preserver and Destroyer – succinctly encapsulates this concept. The gods do not exist in isolation from each other and their roles are not mutually exclusive: the forces of creation, preservation and destruction go hand in hand. Their synergy demonstrates a very clear understanding that in destruction lies creation and vice versa.
Death comes in myriad guises: the death of a country – like the former Yugoslavia; the death of exile – like the Dalai Lama who had to flee from Tibet; the death of an era; the death of an attitude; the death of a mindset; the death of the physical body. Death is all-pervasive. Watch the news, read the papers, listen to the radio – the media is obsessed with reporting about death and destruction: the latest plague, the worst famine and the most violent war. Death is the rule, not the exception.
So why do we feel that death is something that is so remote from us? Why is it a tragedy when a death occurs in our family, yet we can easily accept it if it is happening to others who are many miles away? Why do we live in denial of its existence? Why do we live in terror of it?
Yugoslavia did not cease to be. It became Montenegro and Serbia. The Dalai Lama has traveled the world and treated it as his home. You may drop a belief but pick up another one. Although the original form may dissipate, it is always transmuted into something else. The same is true of the body. Interestingly, the Tibetan word for body “Lu” means something you leave behind, like baggage. The process of death is like dropping off your baggage at the check-in and catching the next flight out of the physical realm to the astral or causal realm. However, this is not what we are taught in the West. We are taught to fear death because it means total annihilation and loss; that death is the end. Even talking about it is considered morbid. So how can we expect people to open up and talk about miscarriage – the death of a child – when that child has been loved and cherished probably long before it was conceived? You can’t. Not with this limited vision of death.
In fact, if we look to science for help on this matter we find that every subatomic interaction consists of the destruction of the original particles and the creation of new subatomic particles. Any physicist can attest that “the subatomic world is a continuous dance of creation and annihilation, of mass changing into energy and of energy changing into mass.”[i] This is the Law of Conservation of Energy which affirms that energy cannot be made or destroyed, it can only be transformed from one form to another. In simple terms, consider the tree which is cut down to make a chair; consider the old, rickety chair that is used for firewood; consider the wood that becomes ashes; consider the ashes that become compost which eventually gives rise to another tree. In a very basic form, this is the essence of birth, death and rebirth. If we can understand this in scientific terms, why can’t we translate this understanding to our daily lives?
One of the reasons we suffer so much anguish when facing death is that we cannot face the truth of impermanence. To help others understand this, I have to turn to literature – to poetry. In the words of William Blake:
“He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity’s sun rise”;
and in the words of John Keats:
“She dwells with Beauty-Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine”.
Transience and impermanence are at the very core of our existence. The sooner we accept that this is so, the sooner we can “[Live] in Eternity’s sun rise.” Yet we clutch and cling to people, to situations, to things and to ideas as if our life depends on it. Paradoxically, the quality of our lives depends on not clinging and on not clutching. Attachment brings the very pain that we are seeking to avoid. Death, then, is a way of teaching us to let go, because everything is impermanent. We’re born with nothing and we die with nothing. Anything we gain on the way is just on loan. Each time the losses and deceptions of life teach us about impermanence, they bring us closer to the truth. Miscarriage is no exception.
That child was not mine. He is a child of the Cosmic Consciousness that holds the whole of existence together. This time, he had a small part to play on the stage of creation and it was his time to exit. If, as Shakespeare posits, we are all actors in the great play of life, let us respect each other’s entrances and exits. Let us understand that life involves an entrance and an exit for each and every one of us and that there is no knowing when this will be. Let us respect and accept this undeniable, inescapable fact.
I hope that this understanding can help to bring peace to those who are grieving. If these words resonate with even one person, then the writing of this piece has indeed been a worthwhile endeavour.
[i] Sogyal Rinpoche – The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.