Trigger warning: This article discusses pregnancy loss and spousal abuse.
I stopped practicing yoga following the birth of my son, born sleeping at 33 weeks. That’s another way of saying stillborn. Yoga connected me too much to the pain I was feeling. The pain of loss was fueled by the fact that I had previously miscarried at 16 weeks, and then again at 20 weeks. I had been pregnant every six months, only to subsequently lose each baby at a late stage. But with my due date pending, I thought I was heading for a home run this time. This was why it was such a shock. The counselor I spoke to (only briefly) based her advice on text books, rather than empathy, while my partner told me to “get over it” (his way of coping). So, because I didn’t know how to deal with grief, and I lacked the support that I needed, I shut myself down and adopted a defense mechanism. I had effectively disconnected from my feelings.
I stopped practicing yoga following the birth of my son, born sleeping at 33 weeks. That’s another way of saying stillborn.
The closing off began when I was shown my stillborn baby. I couldn’t hold him because I knew that if I did, I would never let him go. No mother wants to leave their baby. It would have broken me. Instead, I stroked his face, told him I loved him and said that I was sorry. I didn’t cry—at least not on the outside.
But there was one person I needed to hold it together for, and that was my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter. How she managed to be born successfully was already baffling the doctors. Her name, Béatrice, meaning "bringer of joy," now held a profound meaning. I told her the baby was not coming home because the angels needed him more. She responded with: “So baby isn't saying hello anymore, he’s saying good-bye?” From thereon, she carried her toy wand, waving it at my tummy and wishing for another baby while I suppressed my feelings of sadness and anger.
I tried to find a way of coping. Yoga was forcing me to face my reality, and I wasn’t ready for that. Instead, I fought against my emotions. I became a full-time science writer, threw myself into running, and clung tightly to the word "strong," repeating it over and over like it was my personal mantra. In retrospect, it would have been good for me to look deeper into the word's meaning, because being strong is also about letting go.
By this time, some of the most internationally renowned doctors had been studying my medical history as they couldn't figure out why I was having such late miscarriages. I was an unusual case. Nobody had any answers. And yet, I couldn't shake the feeling that I wanted to try again. I wasn’t going through all that pain to not have anything positive come from it. I wanted my happy ending.
And indeed I got pregnant a few months later. By this time, I was too scared to practice yoga. I was fearful of everything, but I was focused on projecting all my energy toward my developing baby. I only attempted to meditate during this time, which resulted in an emotional breakdown. I realized that I hadn't really cried until now. I had tried to stop my feelings from coming out, but meditation had attempted to undo that. So I closed off again.
But I did get my happy ending; I had a boy and I named him Ben.
Having Ben made me feel alive again. However, this was short-lived because my relationship with the father was rapidly deteriorating. A verbally abusive man, his behavior had become increasingly volatile and unpredictable over the years. The abuse had shattered my confidence and turned me into a shell. Before I said anything, I would go over it in my head several times, just in case something might upset him. The turning point was when the abuse turned physical.
I subsequently left our house in Belgium with the children and stayed with my mother by the sea in the UK. It was here that I started my yoga practice again; I felt free and was finding a sense of peace in my calm environment. It was a temporary fix, though, because I was forced to return to Belgium or face kidnapping charges.
Upon my return, I was immediately made to share joint custody of the children (a father’s automatic right by Belgian law). I had nowhere to live with them (the father had kept the house, the furniture, and all my possessions). I was told I needed receipts to prove I owned anything, including my own jewelry. The father took satisfaction in having control back and continued to abuse me on every form of social media he could, even sending hurtful messages via my daughter.
I experienced rage, a feeling I have never felt before. The situation had me on the brink. Everything that I had suppressed from before all came out like a tornado, and I had a complete breakdown at work. My friends and coworkers were amazing, albeit shocked that I had held it together for so long given the situation with my ex (I didn’t share my pregnancy history), and all while holding down a high-pressure job with daily deadlines.
Everything that I had suppressed from before all came out like a tornado, and I had a complete breakdown at work.
That release was so helpful that I even thought I might be ready to go back to yoga. However, when I did practice, I was confronted again with feelings of anger, aggression, and sadness. I didn’t want that, so I stopped. However, my next wake-up call came when my hair started falling out. I told myself it was because of the baby (I lost some hair after my first child). My hairdresser thought differently. To her, it indicated a lot of stress, and she was concerned; I realized I had to start opening up, or potentially face further hair loss. So I joined a creative writing course. Although I was trained as a journalist, this type of writing required me to write, not from my head (like I was used to), but from my heart. This meant I had to get in touch with my emotions and release them.
The experience was truly cathartic—especially releasing the emotions that I'd accumulated from being in an abusive relationship for many years. Subsequently after the course, I suffered headaches from the raw thoughts and feelings that came tumbling out.
Now, three years later, I understand what yoga was trying to teach me about connecting to myself all along. And from writing my story (after studying mindful meditation and observing my feelings) I learned that, even though I thought I had laid my grief to rest, I had merely masked over it with my last pregnancy. I still think about that baby every day. I revisit that scene in the hospital because that’s where my baby exists for me. But I haven’t come to terms with the loss, and this is why I need to dive deep into my grief, retrieve it, bring it back to the surface, and deal with it. This is a process I intend to continue through writing, with yoga and mindful meditation alongside as my support.
I've had to rebuild my life (not to mention myself) from the ground up, and although some issues remain unresolved (the father of my children still creates a negative force in my life), I am now better equipped to deal with whatever life throws at me, because my mind is stronger than it has ever been.
I've had to rebuild my life (not to mention myself) from the ground up.
This is the reason I have just started WriteIntoYoga retreats (with former prison officer Julia Green). I want something good to arise from my pain, and to help others who may be struggling with theirs. This is about encouraging writing in its purest form, because we all have stories beneath the surface. The retreats aim to encourage people to think outside their normal thought patterns and emotions through the combination of writing, yoga, and mindful meditation.
Even as recently as a few weeks ago I wouldn’t have dreamt of sharing my own personal story. But I believe I have to be open about my experiences so that others may have the courage to open up about theirs—even if it’s just to themselves.