“The human capacity to care for others isn’t something trivial or something to be taken for granted. Rather, it is something we should cherish. Compassion is a marvel of human nature, a precious inner resource, and the foundation of our well-being and the harmony of our societies. If we seek happiness for ourselves, we should practice compassion: and if we seek happiness for others, we should also practice compassion.”

The above was on a Facebook page and I thought it was an appropriate beginning to this post.  In the quote, I think that an element that is essential (and completely missing) involves compassion for the self.  If we do not, first and foremost, treat ourselves with empathy, kindness, love and compassion, how can we ever expect to give it to others?  At some point, we will reach the end of our giving “well”, so to speak, because we have forgotten to keep it full.  Or, as in my case, it may lead to almost irrevocable damage to relationships with hurt feelings that seemingly have no cause and most certainly are not the fault of the other person.  I’ve written a little about how I’m doing some “self” work and trying to really dig deep down.  I’m doing this for a whole slew of reasons, not the least of which has been the growing sense of unease with some recurring negativity that I seem completely unable to just “let go” of.

When I saw that quote, I immediately thought of anger.  Then, I thought of empathy.  These three words:  compassion, anger, empathy, are words that have been swirling in my head for the past year or so.  The compassion and the empathy have always been there, but the combination with anger is new.  In digging through my layers, these words and their accompanying feelings are lurking…they struggle to get up to the light, but I consistently push them back down under the skin of my “onion“.  I pushed them down so far and so often that I couldn’t even remember the source of them.  Until now.

When I suffered a miscarriage almost two years ago (has it really been that long?), I was devastated.  The strange part, though, is that the majority of my emotions surrounding the entire experience, from start to finish, involved someone else.  Looking back now, I think perhaps it was a safety mechanism my heart and brain put in place to protect me from the pain.  At the time, I thought I was feeling the emotions, working through them and just “moved on” really fast.  I didn’t, though, and instead have noticed a persistent underlying feeling ever since.

What does this have to do with the above quote or the mentioned emotions?  Everything!

Compassion is defined as:  sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it

Empathy is defined as:  the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner

Anger is defined as:  a strong feeling of displeasure and usually of antagonism

I have often been told I have a strong empathy “button”, something that has (mostly) served me well.  I look at it as a gift, one that not only serves me well in my life’s work but also probably the driving force behind feeling *called* to pursue said work.  I also recognize that compassion, as defined above, is essential to the activism portion of this work.  My empathy for women/families leads to compassion which leads to activism.  What is wrong with that?  Nothing, except when I forget to have empathy (I know that, literally, I can not empathize with myself, but you know what I mean) and compassion for myself, which is exactly what I did when I had my miscarriage.  That’s where the anger comes in.
To fully understand, I have to take myself back to the beginning….before anything involving me directly even occurred.
In November of 2009, my dear friend’s in-utero baby died unexpectedly.  It was a terrible, dark and sad time for her and her family.  It was also the first time, in my adult life, that someone close to me experienced this.  I empathized with her, as I do, while she moved through the finding out, the waiting, the birth and all the other struggles, sadness and triumphs that went along during that time.  I cried for her, I cried with her, I worried about her, I thought about her…practically every day, for a long time.  I watched her move slowly away from eaten-alive-with-grief to surviving to, at times, genuine happiness.  I marveled at the strength and courage it took to keep going, not forgetting..never forgetting, but instead remembering, honoring and growing.
Soon, it was March and I found myself surprised by a positive pregnancy test.  My thoughts went wild…with and for her.  Not me, not my baby, but her and how it was really her “turn” to be the pregnant one, how hurt she would be, how unfair it was to her.  I felt guilty, I felt like I was taking something away from her.  I calculated the due month and realized it would be early November.  I toiled over when to say something to her (sooner or later?), how to say it and so on.  I even called her mom to get her opinion on how I should handle the situation with the least amount of pain to her.  {I want to interject here that I don’t think it was wrong to think of her and I like that I care enough about my friend to be concerned about her well-being.  The issue is/was that this was the *dominant* feeling…like I was removed and it was about her.}  After deliberating, I decided that sooner was better than later and that it was best to call her a few days before I was going to see her next.  I knew that if I saw her, I wouldn’t be able to hide it or lie, and it seemed like giving her some time to process it before we faced each other was a good idea.  So, I called her and told her that I was pregnant.  I can’t remember now if I told her then that I felt so guilty for being pregnant, but I’m pretty sure I did say that I felt like I had taken her “turn”.  She was gracious, never letting on how I believed she really felt.  I did hear a slight shift in her voice, almost unnoticeable…except to someone who knew her normal voice inflections.
When we saw each other a few days later, we had a nice chat followed by a hug that left me feeling a little better about the situation.  Maybe it would be okay and we would be okay and everything was going to work out okay.  And then one day: one minute, I was doing a yoga stretch, holding my hand over my already-growing-larger womb and the next, a feeling of something giving and a warm trickle signaled me that it wasn’t going to be okay.  I quietly rushed to the bathroom, my heart thumping loudly and my throat closing with the impending tears.  I pulled down my pants to reveal the bright red blood that I already knew was there.  That was it, I knew it.  My thoughts went wild again, as they had done when I saw the two lines on the pregnancy test.  And again, what they went wild with was concern for her.  How could I do this to her?  Now, not only had I taken her “turn”, but also her…what?…her tragedy?  I didn’t (and still don’t, really) have the right words for what it was I thought I had taken, but the feeling was there just the same.  It was like some bizarre and awful competition…not really, but that’s how I felt like she might feel, maybe like, “Sheesh!  Can’t I have this to myself?”  Yes, I know it’s dumb.  I could not stop the persistent feeling of hurting her though and how awfully upset she must be.
I know I was sad, somewhere, for me and for my baby, but not like I probably needed and wanted to be.  It didn’t feel justified.  I didn’t have the right to be upset about an idea of a baby, an idea I had only just gotten used to, when she had it so much worse.  She felt her baby move, felt him alive and growing inside her.  She gave birth to him, a baby, a real baby, where I had a tiny start of something.  I only had the few weeks of knowing, where she had months.  I just couldn’t allow myself to be as openly devastated as I felt.  I stuffed it down.  I didn’t deserve to be upset about such a tiny loss when there were people out there (people I knew well!) who had suffered so much worse than me.  On and on this inner dialogue went, until I was empty, hollow, a hole that I covered and smoothed over with easier-to-feel emotions.  I wrote this to her a few days later:
“It’s strange to me how I sat and cried a ton for you but can’t seem to muster as much for myself.  Some of that is because of the horrendous headache I had and now a head cold….it hurts (physically) too much to cry right now.  I almost feel like I’ve already grieved, except it wasn’t my baby and my body and my pregnancy…and then I feel stupid for thinking like that (but it’s not like I’m trying to!) because of course I wasn’t the one going through all that at that time so how could I possibly know anything or grieve anything??”
And so it went.  For a long time, I thought and told myself that I was just that “strong”, that I had been able to “get over it” quickly and that I must have processed some of the emotions previously.  I told myself that analytically there was probably something wrong, that it was for the best and all that other crap I would NEVER say to any mama experiencing loss.  My then-fiancè and I decided to plan our wedding, keeping my mind occupied, and life went on…
At some point, I got angry.  I don’t remember the exact time frame, but it’s definitely been there for a while.  What am I angry about?  Plenty!  I am angry that I allowed myself to feel guilty for circumstances I had very little or no control over and angry that I minimized my own pain.  Pain can’t be quantified, especially when experienced by two different people.  If both experiences had been my own, then maybe that would apply, but they weren’t.  My pain was no more or no less than hers, only different, because we are different people.  And HELLO!, there will *always* be someone who has it worse, just as there will *always* be someone who has it better.  I am angry that I didn’t heed the advice I would have given a doula client in my position and I’m angry that I didn’t ask for the support I needed.  I am angry that my “window” passed and even though I was hurting I kept saying, “I’m doing fine”, “I’m okay”, “It was so quick” and whatever other phrase minimized the pain, the guilt, the absolute sorrow I was feeling.  I’m angry that it’s taken me this long to figure out what my true feelings were and why they were there.  I’m angry that my friend’s baby died and my baby-start died.  I’m angry that so many baby-starts/babies die and we’re not talking about it!  I’m angry that so many mamas are in this stupid, sucky club.  It sucks!  It hurts!  It never goes away.
So, here I am.  Two years later, I’m finally recognizing and accepting that it doesn’t matter I was only “a little” pregnant, that I had only just begun to dream about what this baby would bring to our lives.  The only things that matter are that I was pregnant, I knew a baby was there and I felt that leave.  My heart remembers, aches for an unknown being.  My brain sometimes searches for a fifth child that doesn’t exist.  I wonder what might have been…