I have been in pelvic floor physical therapy for the past nine months, helping my body to heal from the trauma of trying to build our family since 2002. My therapist has focused a lot of her time and attention on my C-section scars, connective tissue, and all that has been impacted by our efforts, including my organs and muscles.
Throughout this therapeutic process, I can’t help but think about and reflect on the emotional scars six pregnancies, three of which ended in first trimester losses, two living children, and one baby who died soon after she was born, in ten years leaves behind. Not to mention the years of trying to conceive and sustain pregnancies, including four ART cycles (two IVF, one IVF converted to IUI and one FET).
What I have found most interesting about my physical therapy is that many assumptions I’d made about my scars were untrue. I thought that touching my scars, stretching the area around them, or anything else along those lines would cause more damage. What I didn’t realize until now is that, much like the grief we feel after baby loss or years of struggling with infertility, our scars must be worked through, slowly and intentionally, for them to heal.
After three C-sections and another abdominal surgery between October 2003 and September 2009, the skin and connective tissue around my scars had become numb. I thought that was normal and accepted it as something that just happens after delivering babies surgically. Likewise, when I think about our early pregnancy losses, failed ART cycles, and the birth (followed soon after by the death) of our second child, our first daughter Molly, I often feel emotionally numb. It’s not that I don’t care about our babies who left this world too soon, but allowing myself to go there, to really immerse myself in my grief, sometimes can be too much for me to handle in day-to-day life.
This disconnect, both physical and emotional, is not healthy for our bodies or our minds. I have learned that healing begins with waking up our scars and connective tissue through physical therapy (both with a licensed therapist and through doing exercises on our own). We also have to awaken our psyche through reading, writing, talking and/or sharing about our experiences with infertility and loss. Journaling, blogging, participating in support groups and/or meeting with cognitive therapists are all ways to work through our emotional scars as we grieve and heal.
How we work with our scars and through our grief varies from person to person, case by case, loss by loss. What works for you, may not work for me. It takes time and effort to discover the exercises and outlets that will be most effective for each individual.
As with so many things in life, it takes patience and an open mind to recover from trauma and loss. Pelvic floor therapy has not been anything like I expected it would be. A typical therapy session can be relaxing, when my therapist uses visceral manipulation to work on my internal organs, which continue to be strained and irritated by my scar tissue. However it can also be extremely painful, when my physical therapist works on my scars and connective tissue trying to help release the tension and restrictions they have developed over these past ten years.
To work through some of my emotional scars, I have participated in a perinatal bereavement support group at our local hospital for seven years and recently became one of the facilitators. Over the years I also met with licensed clinical professional counselors. Through this grief work, I am surprised at times by what I have learned about myself and my loved ones. The process is both difficult and beautiful. The experience is healing and eye-opening.
That said, no matter what we do, there will always be scars that remain from our journeys through infertility and loss. We never get over the loss of our babies or the dream of having one or more children that didn’t come to fruition. But we can try to learn to live without those that left this world too soon, and to embrace our lives as they are, instead of how we imagined they could be. We can take care of our minds and bodies to make the most of the gifts we have been given and try to focus on the beautiful things that remain, while always remembering what has passed before us.
“The tide recedes but leaves behind bright seashells on the sand,
The sun goes down, but gentle warmth still lingers on the land,
The music stops, and yet it echoes on in sweet refrains…
For every joy that passes, something beautiful remains.” ~ Hardin Marshall
Bio: Kathy Benson is Exhale’s Contributing Editor. Kathy is a mom, writer and group fitness instructor with three children (two here and one in Heaven) finding joy in the journey after dealing with secondary infertility and loss for over five years. She blogs at Bereaved and Blessed and you can follow her on Twitter @BereavedBlessed