Dealing with the loss of a baby

A pain so great

Maybe if we don’t talk about it, we can pretend it didn’t happen.

It’s common to use this tactic when there’s nothing we can say to make a painful situation better, but it’s not helpful. It doesn’t mean the pain will go away.

October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. It’s time for us to break the silence, acknowledge, and turn toward a pain so great we’d rather pretend it didn’t happen; the unimaginable pain of miscarriage, stillbirth, and loss of an infant child.

Infant loss still happens, and far too often. It’s so common that the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada estimates 15% to 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth. Some estimate infant loss to be one-in-four, from conception to the end of an infant’s first year.

Parents and families are often isolated in their grief. Well-meaning people never mention it or the baby’s name, leaving parents to believe their baby is forgotten. We’re drawn to offer empty platitudes, intended to soothe or give an answer, just to have something to say. This only increases the pain and isolation of grief.

I was surprised, many years ago, when a dear, long-time friend told me she’d suffered the stillbirth of her first child, a perfect full-term baby girl. I had no idea despite our close friendship. She’d been taught not to talk about it because it made people uncomfortable.

The wee girl my friend lost would be in her teens at the time she shared this with me. She’d carried this pain alone for far too many years. Every birth/death day was silently remembered, wondering what she’d be doing now and what she’d look like. Her baby—her child—lost but never forgotten.

I wish I’d known then what I know now about grief and loss. I don’t remember what I said but I remember listening as my friend shared the joy and anticipation of having their first child, the nursery was prepared and plans made, only to return home devastated. She was expected to accept it just wasn’t meant to be and forget it, yet this only magnified the pain.

As a society, we can do better to support people experiencing such horrendous loss. As we increase our understanding of the magnitude of the personal tragedy, we can better meet the needs of bereaved parents.

Shattered hopes and dreams, the pain of pregnancy-loss or death of a child is true and it lasts. Pretending it never happened doesn’t take the pain away and only serves to further isolate people in their time of great need.

It’s too common to stay away, believing they just need time alone, when it’s often our own discomfort of not knowing what to say or do to help them that keeps us away. There are no magic things we can say, but loving presence can be a gift.

To help, it’s imperative we reach out and recognize the trauma parents have experienced. This is the perfect time to remember grief specialist, Clair Jantzen’s sage advice to “just show up and shut up.” Be present and listen. They may want to talk, or not, but find out what would be helpful and then do that.

Cooking a meal, showing up to provide company and learning to be a compassionate presence helps parents know they are loved and not alone. Acknowledging the existence of the infant by mentioning their names helps parents know the babe is not forgotten.

A world-wide wave of light is planned for Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. as a way to remember these wee ones. People, in different time zones, will be lighting candles of remembrance, thus creating a wave of light around the world.

There are walks and ceremonies being planned in different cities (http://www.october15.ca/).

As a society, we can do better to support others during their time of great need. I know we can do this.

Kimberly, I will never forget.

The perils of being a perfectionist

Paralyzed by perfection

I was part of a growing number of people with high-functioning anxiety for a long time, and didn’t even know it.

For many years, I admired others I viewed as perfectionists. They seemed to do everything so well. While having high-standards is a good thing, it isn’t the same as being a perfectionist.

I wore perfectionism as both a badge of honour and suit of armour. If everything looked perfect and I paid great attention to detail and worked harder, I felt safe. If I did things perfectly there was nothing for anyone to criticize and I felt I had value.

I was like a duck, appearing to float smoothly along the surface, but underneath I was paddling like crazy just to stay afloat. It all looked good on the outside but inside it felt crappy, and it felt like anything but perfect.

Perfectionism worked for quite a long time, until it didn’t. It led me to an epic burnout when my mind and body said “stop!”

I didn’t recognize or understand my own tendency toward striving for perfection for many years.

I thought my new co-worker was crazy when she handed me a paper listing the qualities of a perfectionist during my first week of orientation at the university. I didn’t get it. I surely didn’t feel like I had a right to claim the moniker, until I read it.

Others saw my perfectionism and it was encouraged and rewarded by many. My work was always done with painstaking attention to detail. My family was proud of my fabulous GPA, my house was perfectly clean and in order and every task was done with great attention to detail.

I work with many people who are suffering because of their drive for perfection. Researchers report the tendency of perfectionism is rising in society today, especially among young people.

Perfectionism doesn’t always look or feel like perfection. It has some surprising faces.

Hallmarks of perfectionism may appear like:

• Never feeling like you’re enough

• Inability to slow down

• Over-thinking (analysis paralysis)

• Procrastination

• Feeling paralyzed to take action

• Fear of making decisions

• Being hyper-critical of self and/or others

• Sensitivity to criticism

• Feeling anxious and/or depressed

• People-pleasing, having poor boundaries or inability to say no

• Being more focussed on what’s wrong instead of what’s going well

I avoided things I couldn’t do perfectly. Important things got put on the back-burner, which was a cause for inner shame.

I had analysis-paralysis when faced with big decisions, and got so caught up with insignificant details that other, more important things got missed. I held challenging emotions close to my chest, not wanting others to see my vulnerability.

Anxiety and perfectionism were bad bedmates and they robbed me of sleep. I was exhausted yet driven and couldn’t stop.

Perfectionism isn’t one-size-fits-all, as there are different types of perfectionism. You can take an online test to determine the source of your perfectionism but receiving the help of a wise professional is invaluable.

For me, perfectionist traits were a buffer for feelings of vulnerability, and made it hard to bounce back from challenge. I was terrified to make mistakes, and if I did, I ruminated on them to the point of distraction.

Mindfulness and gaining awareness into my own tendencies was, and continues to be, essential.

Becoming aware of my negative self-talk was shocking. I’d never speak to another person the way I spoke to myself. Learning to challenge my all-or-nothing mentality was powerful, as was finding out the world wouldn’t end if everything wasn’t perfect.

Learning to drop the very critical lens I had of myself, and hold my quirks and foibles with self-compassion and a good amount of humour, has allowed me to relax and chill. Vulnerability has now become one of my greatest strengths. Brene Brown was right about The Gifts of Imperfection.

While I still have to remain aware and alert to my tendency toward perfectionism, it doesn’t limit and destroy my happiness like it once did.

Understanding perfectionism, gaining insight into myself, and learning a new way of being was instrumental in recovering from burnout and a life of striving for what was unattainable.

I still like to do things well, but giving up striving for what’s not real has allowed me to relax, enjoy life more, and feel happier and more resilient. I sleep much better at night.

Sometimes good enough is enough.

A better attitude helps you and those around you

Attitude is everything

Be aware, your attitude is showing.

Our attitude creates the feeling nature people respond to. Attitude emits a presence and is like an atmosphere that surrounds us. It colours the things we do and affects happiness and success.

Have you ever been in a room full of people when one person walks in and the energy of the whole room changes, either for the positive or the negative? I sure have.

Our presence is felt by people, and is either an attractive or a repulsive force.

Most of us have people we love to be around, and those we choose to avoid. When we think about it, it’s their attitude and presence we’re responding to. No one enjoys hanging out with a Negative Nellie, Sacrificing Simon, or a Manuel the Martyr.

When it comes to human relationships, it’s not so much about what we know or say, it’s about how we make people feel.

We may not even be consciously aware of why we’re attracted to or repelled by another. It might just be that somethin’-somethin’ in our spidey senses that tells us to move closer or to back away. These senses are worth listening to.

Someone may be absolutely brilliant, full of facts and knowledge, but if they’ve got a negative way-of-being, their brilliance may never be revealed because people back away.

I know people who try to do all the right things to make themselves attractive and remain confused when people back away and their success is limited. It’s not so much about what we do, but ‘how we be’ that matters the most.

Every human interaction is painted with the color of our attitude. It’s the way we interact with the world.

Attitudes become a way of being. We can either fill-people up, or be a drain with our prevailing nature. The choice is ours and a negative attitude can always be changed.

Recently, I became aware I needed an attitude adjustment.

I’d fallen into that old mental trap of looking at the opportunities in my life as obligations instead of remembering I’m always at a point of choice. It’s a subtle, but expensive shift from, “I get to…” to “I have to…” and that easily turns everything into just another chore.

I can feel in my body when I’ve made the switch because living life from an attitude of “I have to” versus “I get to” makes a huge difference to my experience of life and the way I show up.

The stories we tell ourselves about what we do determine our experience of life.

I’ve learned the truth behind author and spiritual teacher, Wayne Dyer’s comment, “when we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.”

One of my key strategies to adjust my attitude is to remember back to when I really wanted what I already have. In this, I remember the value and the reason things are in my life. I reflect on the meaning behind what I’m doing, instead of the task at hand.

As I pause and remember the “why” or the real reason behind what I do, I bring a better attitude. Difficult tasks become easy and joyful, because I’m no longer subtly resisting and resenting what I’m doing. My day is easier, and so is everyone else’s around me.

Life presents challenges and is often painful. Bad stuff happens. We often can’t control these things. But we can control our attitude, and reduce our own suffering.

Our being, or attitude, is what enhances or takes away from all that we do. It’s our attitude that people feel and we, ourselves, reap the blessing or the burden of how we choose to show up.

It’s not so much what’s happened to us in life that matters the most, it’s what we do with it and how we show up.


Don’t believe everything you think

Mysteries of the mind

Sleep challenges are rampant these days and anxiety disorders are on the rise.

For many, it’s no wonder, because of the horror stories they pay homage to in their minds.

The body doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined, and many of our imaginings are horrendous.

As we spend time reviewing the problems and challenges of the day, our body responds as though the events are happening in real time. Bedtime stories are supposed to be the things sweet dreams are made of. Yet, for many, the mental dialogue is a horror story rather than a fairy tale.

We’re often our own Brothers Grimm. No wonder people are anxious and can’t sleep.

The last horror movie I watched was Silence of the Lambs way back in the early 1990s. I was jumpy for days after watching it and it affected my sleep for some time. Just the mention of Chianti or fava beans reminds me of the terror I felt while watching this movie.

This was the last such movie I watched because of its effect on me. Call me chicken if you like, but why would I expose myself to something that causes me to suffer? Since then, I avoid watching frightening movies, and take care when choosing TV programs. It’ called programming for a reason.

I also take care with the movie of my mind.

The importance of taking care of our mental hygiene is obvious when it comes to the TV programs and movies we watch, but may not be so apparent when it comes to the repeated thoughts we entertain in our mind.

People tell me they feel victimized by their minds and can’t seem to control the thoughts that pop into their minds. We don’t have to be victim to our minds. What we practise grows stronger. With awareness, we can rewire our brains and change the prevailing trend of our thoughts.

As I practised anxious thoughts years ago, I suffered. My mind felt out of control, and my body was constantly hit with jolts of adrenaline. It became a constant loop, and I could never rest.

My anxious thoughts frightened me, which only added more stress chemicals to the mix. I felt helpless, but I was the only one who could change things. Mindfulness practices were so helpful.

I used to take my thoughts so seriously, believing everything that rolled through my mind. I’d judge and criticize myself for having anxious or unkind thoughts. I’d experience guilt or shame just because of a thought. The thoughts, the guilt and shame, all activated the fight-or-flight response. I suffered. So did the people around me.

Relief came as I understood I am not my thoughts, and learned not to believe everything I think.

As I’ve learned to stand back from my thoughts and simply observe them, I realize how random and absurd they can be. I’ve learned to question my thoughts and recognize that many times I don’t even believe some of the stuff floating through my mind.

Who knows how it got there? I sure don’t.

I recognize while many thoughts float through my consciousness, I have control over which ones I choose to follow and feed.

For the most part, I let the crappy thoughts just float on by. I don’t give them any air time or feed them with emotion. Sometimes, I choose to just laugh at them. I crack myself up.

I’ve created a habit of ensuring that my last thoughts before sleep are happy ones.

I write in my gratitude journal before going to sleep. In reviewing the great things from the day, I bathe my mind and body in neuro-chemicals and hormones that support of health.

We don’t have to be victim to our thoughts, we can practise new ways of thinking. In doing so, we develop a tendency to pay greater attention to what supports our health, happiness and sleep.

Your mind will always believe what you tell it. Feed it good things, and your health will benefit.

More New Thought articles

About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

Corinne, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in Health Science, is a staff minister with the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, and a hospice volunteer. She is an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan, and is currently teaching smartUBC, a unique Mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. She is an invited speaker and presenter.

From diverse experience and knowledge, personally and professionally, Corinne has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people to gain a new perspective, awaken, and to recognize that we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts or to life; we are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 41 years, and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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