I met Bonnie O’Brien Al-Rifai when she took my family’s first Christmas photos. We connected over Carter’s loss and she shared she had just had her first miscarriage. I think we must have sat for hours that day talking – she and her husband, me and mine. They are an awesome couple, and we still talk to this day. Be sure to connect with Bonnie on her Facebook page and her website.
Here’s her story…
- Many women have had more than one loss. Tell us about the loss that impacted you the most.
The loss that has impacted me the most is the one I’m going through right now, my second loss. My first was a shock. A terrible, gut wrenching shock. But my son was so easy to conceive and while a miscarriage was devastating, I thought it was probably just a fluke. After I started talking to people about it I was blown away by the number of moms who had all had miscarriages too. It seemed to me like it just happens and it happened to be my turn. But this second pregnancy, I was certain I was having this baby. When I started spotting my fears were calmed by the online forums that promised that bleeding was normal. All signs pointed to…it’s going to be okay. Until they didn’t. This time my perspective is different. This time I’m filled with the fears of, maybe I’m too old, maybe I have a real issue here, maybe my son will be an only child, maybe I will never feel the feeling of a little baby moving and wiggling inside me and having my husband sing to my belly again or bonding with a child the way we have with our son. The fluke now feels like a real problem and the fear is almost more than I can bare.
- What did others do or say that helped and/or hurt you during or after your loss?
After I posted my story on my blog I had hundreds of people, men and women, send me messages of encouragement and telling me their own struggles. Some said that they knew their words couldn’t do much….but in reality, their words were everything. I had no idea how incredible it could be to have support and comfort coming to me from everywhere in the world. In fact, whereas a lot of people who actually know me sent very brief condolences (which meant the world!) it was the people I’ve never met that really reached out with unbelievable encouragement. It seemed that by reaching out to help me, a lot of women were actually finding help themselves by opening up for the first time about their own stories.One friend of mine also filled me with love by bringing me a meal. She didn’t ask if she could do anything for me…I would surely have said no. But she just did it, and it made me feel so incredibly loved and cared for.
- How does God, religion, or faith play into your loss and how you cope?
This is a harder question for me. I’m spiritual but not religious. I believe in the power of the universe and prayer. I think that everything happens for a reason. I felt comforted by the people praying for me and said my own prayers for them.
- Have you done anything special to remember your loss or to help you move forward after your loss?
While I was beginning to process everything that was happening to me I spent a lot of time crying and getting angry. I started to write my feelings down and turned it into a blog post. I thought I should probably have posted something filled with self help and resources but when I really looked at my situation, I wasn’t there yet. I was in the anger and sadness stage and I didn’t even want resources yet. I just wanted to grieve. I learned that by posting my blog, I helped other women give themselves permission to grieve…even women who had their miscarriages 20 years ago and never let themselves feel what they needed to feel back then. The other thing that really impacted me after posting my blog is that the people close to me suddenly knew how to talk to me. They didn’t say the wrong things anymore because they read what I wrote and knew what I didn’t want to hear…without me having to tell them directly. It was a powerful medium that I didn’t expect when I wrote it.
I also wanted to understand my feelings better and to try to have my family understand my feelings so that they could help me heal the way I needed to. So I thought about what my biggest feelings were and I decided to create conceptual self portraits expressing my pain. The first one I did, shown above, included my husband. He was trying so hard to help me but just kept saying the wrong things or just kept stopping to help me in the middle of all of the life he was still living. His ability to come and go from our situation as he pleased made me feel like I really was alone in this journey and I wanted an image that showed that. I found a place where I could be trapped in a small enclosed space and had him reaching through the walls trying to give me flowers but they couldn’t quite reach me. I’m reaching back to him but with little effort to actually take hold of him. I put the entire image on the edge of a canyon to show that it was impossible for anyone to get to me in my lonely place. The irony of creating this image was that when it was finished, he got it. He was so supportive and the way he handled me after that was completely different than before.
The second image (above) was of me in a deep, dark hole that I couldn’t climb out of… feeling dirty and alone but with a light of hope shining on me as I offered up a bouquet of dying flowers to symbolize giving this dying life inside of me to the universe to take care of.
- If you could go back and not have had the loss you mentioned in number 1, would you? Why or why not?
I guess I wish I could be strong and say I’ve learned and grown so much from this experience so that it was something that I needed to go through. But I’m not there yet, if ever. I’m still in the middle of it all and I wish more than anything that my baby was still growing inside me. So absolutely I would go back in time and not have this loss happen.
- What advice would you give to women that are dealing with the loss of a child?
My advice would be not to ignore your feelings. If you need to suffer, suffer. If you need to be alone, be alone. If you need to cry, cry. you don’t have to do it alone or in silence and you’d be surprised at how much support you can find when you open up even if its not from the people you expected it to come from.
- What are your plans for the future?
Tomorrow I’m going back to the doctor for more blood work and then I feel like I will know more about what the future holds for me. I definitely want more kids so if they don’t find something wrong with me that will keep us from trying again, I’m still willing at this point to give it another shot. When I hear about women who have had 10 or more miscarriages, my heart breaks. I don’t think I could keep trying for that long but since I’m not there yet and hopefully never will be, I can’t say for sure. Some days my outlook is positive and some days it’s not. What I’ve learned from all of this is not to pretend I’m hopeful on the days that I’m not and to just let myself feel what I need to feel.
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