Honoring Pregnancy Loss Using Ceremony
Miscarriage can be devastating. The child you got excited about, fantasized about, prepared for, and loved will not arrive as expected. Losing a pregnancy can leave a grief in the heart so deep that it covers the whole world around you, causes you to question your beliefs, and makes you wonder if anything will ever be the same. Your body, heart, and relationship have gone through tremendous difficulty and you may feel lost about how to begin healing from such a terrible loss.
In the initial shock, it is important to find comfort in your support system, tend to your body's healing, and rest. As you move through the initial period of shock and grief, you may find yourself searching for answers about how to find healing and peace. One possibility that women I work with find helpful is to hold a ceremony.
Throughout human history, groups and individuals have relied on ceremony and ritual to mark passages, transitions, loss and new life. Usha Anandi at Wise Womban Way described ceremony as "the intentional opening and closing of a space." Miscarriage and pregnancy loss can be extremely difficult experiences. In the spiral of grief and internal disorganization, you may find yourself lost, depressed, and unsure of how to move forward or makes sense of things. Creating a ceremony to honor the loss you have experienced can help to organize and support you in a chaotic and difficult time.
In my work with women who have experienced pregnancy loss, I find it is possible to move through this passage gracefully if given supportive tools and guidance. Allowing ample space for the honest and full expression of grief makes it possible for low grade depression to release. I have found that women who are first initiated into motherhood through loss often become deep, wise, and familiar with a type of surrender and vulnerability that goes on to serve them beautifully as mothers.
When creating the ceremony, you must center it around who you are and what works for you. It is important that what you create serves the purpose of acknowledging and honoring the experience and releasing what you no longer need to hold on to. In choosing elements for the ceremony, be mindful of cultural appropriation and try to source materials ethically.
The following are suggestions for what to consider in creating a ceremony to honor pregnancy loss:
1. Who will be present?
Who do you want to include and in what role? Some women desire only themselves and their committed partner present. Some women prefer to have the ceremony alone, while others desire to invite their community members. For women who experienced miscarriage outside of a committed relationship, choosing close friends or family to include can be healing. No matter who you desire to include, make sure they understand that they are there to support you and choose your participants mindfully.
2. How will you incorporate cultural roots/heritage?
If you are closely connected to a rich cultural heritage, you may desire to look to these roots to find out how your ancestors or family honor pregnancy loss. Religious or cultural traditions can be beautiful guiding lights for how to proceed in the face of difficult loss. Grandmothers can be a good place to start when asking what traditions may belong to you. If you do not find satisfactory information, it may be that the ceremonies have been lost or gone underground. In this case, start from what you know, what you would like to incorporate, and make your own plan.
3. What do you want the ceremony to be?
Ceremonies can be anything. Again, it is, most simply, "opening and closing a space with intention." Your ceremony could be a type of funeral, blessing, celebration, commemorative action, or a sacred circle. You could gather people, each say words, then say a blessing or prayer together. You could meet with your partner, read a poem, and plant a tree. You could take a ritual shower, put on essential oils, walk barefoot into the backyard, and bury the lost one. It is up to you and what feels right to you. If you are struggling to determine what feels right, read back over the suggestions and pay attention to how each of them feel in your body. Your body may know which options are right for you.
4. How do you desire to address the lost child/pregnancy?
There are different ways of relating to a lost pregnancy. This will depend on your particular belief systems and what feels most supportive to you. Many women find it healing to name and speak to the lost one directly, while others desire to leave the being unnamed and not invite a relationship that feels direct. Ideas for how to engage with the lost one are: express gratitude and love, talk to it, wish it well, wish it peace, ask for guidance about why it came to you, name it, verbally release or send it on its way. You will know if any of these ideas resonate with you or, if you prefer to keep this part neutral, less concrete, and less intimate. It is all in service of your healing, so you decide what is best for you.
6. What do you believe will happen to the lost being?
It can be very helpful in this time to consider your religious, spiritual, and/or scientific beliefs about the life/death cycle and what you believe will happen to the being that is no longer with you. It can be grounding to know whether you believe they will go to heaven, return to the waiting room for incarnating souls, turn back into earth matter, come back to you at a different time, or cease to exist. Grounding yourself in your belief about what has happened can bring peace, meaning, and confidence to your heart.
7. What commemorative action do you want to take?
Many women and those they love find it supportive to have some action or token that mindfully represents the one who was lost. You could consider: planting something in your yard; getting or making a commemorative item like a statue, necklace, or image; framing a poem and putting it on your wall; an image or words on a magnet on your fridge; or a tattoo. It has to feel right to you and you alone can know how best to honor the experience you have been through.
8. What elements would you like to incorporate into the ceremony?
In order to determine this, consider what speaks to your heart and how you best express yourself. Would you like to write your own words, find quotes, or say a poem or prayer? Would you like for others to speak? Do you want to play music? Do you desire to express gratitude to people, god, or spiritual guides for supporting you? Would you like to include a prayer for yourself and/or those who have been touched by this experience? Will you include a moment of silence, the releasing of water or another element back into the air or earth, or use meditation? The elements can be anything as long as they are meaningful to you.
9. How will you open and close the space?
Again, this can take many forms. Perhaps you desire to take a ritual bath and put certain scents and adornments on yourself. You may want to light incense, scent, or use a medicine stick to clear the space (if smudging, please find your medicines mindfully and ethically). You may desire to use flowers, words, prayer or music to open and close the space. The elements that you decide to incorporate are up to you - the purpose is that everyone present, even if it's only you, knows when the ceremony has begun and ended. After the ceremony, may desire to bathe again or offer your body a physical gesture that the ceremony is now over.
10. How will you take care of yourself going forward?
Ceremony can be a beautiful way to offer yourself healing in a difficult time. Only you can know when, if, and how you desire to hold a ceremony to honor your loss. While ceremony can be helpful, you will continue to need support, especially if you plan to move forward with another pregnancy. Complex emotions can arise along the post-miscarriage pregnancy journey and there is no need to do it alone. Find support groups, enlist the help of loved ones, develop supportive self-care practices, and/or find a professional who can hold space and help you to heal and regain confidence and joy once more. You do not need to suffer in silence and it is normal to have a wide array of feelings along this path.
While holding a ceremony can make a difference in your experience and help you to move forward in your process, the loss(es) you have experienced will always be with you in some way. They may have made you tender or strong in unexpected places. Please be gentle with yourself as you continue to heal. If you find you are having difficulty moving forward or simply desire more support, allow yourself to find the support of a group or therapist. I also highly recommend finding an acupuncturist, womb massage practitioner, and/or vaginal steaming practitioner to help your body restore to health. It can be surprising what a little concentrated support can do to help you grieve, find your footing, heal physically and blossom once again.