On a sunny October morning several years ago, I walked into a small yoga studio, filled with apprehension. The last time I had been at that studio, I was 39 weeks pregnant, and I had been there for a popular prenatal yoga class filled with expectant moms at various stages of our pregnancies. The class was taught by the owner of the studio, who was also a birthing doula, and it got us moving, laughing, and talking a lot about childbirth. Between the yoga class and our hospital’s childbirth class, I felt as prepared as I could for our baby daughter’s arrival.
But things had not gone as expected, and just a few days before my due date, my husband and I went to the hospital to check on the baby, whose movements were quieter than normal. Her heartbeat couldn’t be detected, and as I watched as the nurse moved her stethoscope and doppler over my large stomach, I noticed a little furrow on her brow. She shifted my position and after trying everything she could think of, she called the sonographer. Despite my worry, the gravity of the situation had not yet fully hit me, and I imagined that the more sensitive sonogram machine would work where the doppler hadn’t. The sonographer gave me another thorough exam, and finally I noticed the tears in her eyes. “Did you find anything?” I asked her hopefully. “No,” she whispered. “I am so sorry.”
I delivered our daughter, stillborn, via an elective Cesarean section 12 excruciating hours later, cared for by my husband and family, a magnificent nurse, and a gentle medical assistant who helped my husband wipe tears from my eyes throughout the surgery. While we never had definitive answers as to what happened, most likely, our baby suffered an accident with the umbilical cord. While I waited for the surgery, I wondered if the pre-natal yoga class, and all of our other preparations, had been a waste. When it finally came time to begin the C-section, however, I received the first small sign that my preparations had not been for naught. On the operating table, I was told to keep very still during the administration of an epidural, and I sat, unflinching, as the needle entered my back. “Wow,” said the anesthesiologist as he administered the shot. “That was impressive.” “Thanks,” I said, aware of the painful irony of the moment. “It was the yoga.”
Yet, even in the midst of my deeply physical and consuming grief, I felt the need to keep moving, as if stopping might mean I might never start again. I got up from my hospital bed to walk down the corridor as soon as the nurses allowed it, and I continued those walks at the hospital and in front of our apartment building once we went home. The months following our loss were painfully quiet as I focused on my physical recovery and navigated the punishing postpartum experiences of having my milk come in while a potent cocktail of hormones mixed with grief and depression. Throughout it all, though, I always kept moving, willing myself back from the brink of the abyss I was facing.
Now, four months later, I was back at the yoga studio. I had been thinking about returning and I thought that a gentle Saturday morning class might be just what I needed as I embarked on the painstaking journey of healing my body, spirit, and heart. My C-section scar was tender, but it was healing. I knew it was time.
As I got settled in the back corner of the room, a spot I had chosen in case I needed to slip out, the other students came in. There were men and women of all ages who were regulars in the Saturday morning class. I watched as they bantered and made jokes. I said nothing to the other students, but felt comforted by the warmth of the group.
The teacher, Robin, came over to greet me. I had taken this class once before, a few years prior, when she herself had been pregnant. She remembered me. Standing by the windows of the room, I told her briefly that I was recovering from a pregnancy loss, and she thanked me for coming to the class and told me how glad she was that I was there. She shared briefly that she had also experienced pregnancy loss and that I should let her know if I needed anything during the class. Touched by her kindness and candor, I thanked her and moved to my mat.
As the class began, Robin said we would be focusing on our breath. “Ok,” I thought. “I just have to breathe.” We wrang tension and toxins from our limbs, and Robin made me smile with her Halloween-themed poses, such as “black cat” arch and “zombie arms” chair pose. It was too difficult for me to do the poses that required some core strength, but Robin provided modifications that were more gentle for my benefit.
And then without warning, during a pose similar to something we had done in the prenatal class, I had a flashback. It was a whole-body experience, an intensely physical memory as I remembered the sensations of doing that pose while pregnant. I was stunned and overwhelmed as tears started streaming down my face. I held the position, not quite sobbing, but completely overcome by the power of the recollection. Robin checked on me and asked if I was ok; I nodded and continued. I could have left the room, but I felt as though I needed to stay and keep working through whatever was happening. I did not know it at the time, but I recognize this now as part of my own post-traumatic stress response as I struggled to come to terms with our loss and with the trauma of having our full-term baby die inside me before her birth.
After I regained some semblance of composure, I continued with the poses. And then, deep within me, I felt a shift. The sense that something was awakening — reawakening — became stronger. I felt, for the first time since our loss, my own strength. I began to tune in to the ways that my body had been so consumed by grief, by the gaping hole in my womb and my heart, and by the ache of my empty arms. I was so focused on all that my body was not doing — nursing, holding the baby, rocking the baby, caring for the baby — I had not noticed all that my body was doing: surviving, healing, and enduring. It was a revelation. I realized as well that my body was grieving; my body, which had faithfully provided such a good home for our baby, felt the grief as keenly as my broken heart did. It was not to blame; rather, it needed my love and care.
Later in the class, I again was transported back to the prenatal class. Now, though, the sensation was not so jarring. I leaned in and embraced the memory as a connection to our baby and my pregnant self. I felt as if I were waking from a dream in which I sometimes wondered if my pregnancy had even been real. But here was my body reminding me of how it had felt to carry our baby within me and of the ways in which I cared for her during the short time we had together. It was a transformative moment that ushered in a new phase in my own journey of healing. As we reached the end of the class and lay down on the mats for a final savasana resting post, I knew I would be back the following week.
Robin came to me after the class, concerned and caring. I told her a little bit more about our loss, how late in the pregnancy it had been, and how helpful her class had been. I thanked her and in those moments, a beautiful friendship was born. I continued attending her class every Saturday morning and eventually my husband started coming with me. I felt my strength increase, particularly around the area of my scars. It became easier to do poses that required core strength, and I also got to know the “regulars” who came to the class week after week. Although they did not know what had led me there, their kindness and laughter were as much a part of the healing as the yoga and Robin’s friendship were.
During this time, I also continued my journey of healing and recovery through my own reading and research, journaling, spending time with family, friends, and colleagues (all of whom were so loving and generous in their support), meeting up with other women who had experienced miscarriage and stillbirth, and seeing a counselor who specialized in pregnancy loss. Each step I took helped me continue to process our loss and provide an opportunity to look back at how far I had come.
The following October, a year after I had first taken Robin’s class, she brought out a Halloween noisemaker whose sounds she incorporated throughout the class. There was a cat screech for black cat arch and a Zombie growl for chair pose. I moved through the class carefully because, by then, I was pregnant again. When I emailed Robin after class to share the news, she responded with joy and triumph — she had noticed that I wasn’t twisting and had wondered if I was expecting.
We talked about how I might continue yoga; I did not wish to return to the big prenatal class during this pregnancy, even though I had enjoyed it so much. Robin offered to teach a few private classes for my husband and me during the pregnancy and we took her up on it. The private classes were an inspired solution, and when a friend who was living overseas came to visit us during her own pregnancy, we did a prenatal class together with Robin.
Our healthy baby girl was born via another C-section just two years after our loss in the same operating room, miraculously attended by the same gifted nurse who had guided us through our loss. After our daughter was born, Robin brought us a pink stuffed dog that her children had helped pick out. We named the dog Savasana, or Shavi for short. Our daughter was introduced to yoga at an early age at home and at her preschool. Sometimes she would pop into a downward-facing dog pose in the kitchen or living room without warning, or stick her arms in the air for tree pose.
Unfortunately, the yoga studio where these classes were held, aptly named Journey, eventually closed, but the community forged in those classes still remains strong. Robin’s Saturday morning class still meets in a tiny studio, having continued online during the COVID-19 era. My daughter greets the group happily on the screen whenever I am able to join or when we run into Robin. And I have connected with other moms from the pre-natal yoga class who have also since experienced pregnancy loss and are looking for support in their own journey of grief and healing.
I often think back to that gentle yoga class and the remarkable experience I had within the space of a single hour. During difficult times or moments of doubt, I remember the strength it took to make my way back to the studio and the ways in which the class initiated my own journey of healing. It is a wellspring I can draw from at any moment, a part of me as indelible as the sweet memory of our precious baby girl.
Pregnancy Loss: Recommended Resources
One of the things that helped me most through our loss was to learn more about the different kinds of resources available related to pregnancy loss. Here are just a few, and there may be others in your community or through local health care providers and organizations.
If you are dealing with your own loss, it’s important to look for resources that speak to you. Remember to honor what you need and what you find helpful — which may be different from what others suggest or might have tried for themselves. For example, I felt comfortable in one-on-one conversations with other women who had experienced loss, but didn’t want to join a support group. I did talk with other women who joined support groups, however, and found them helpful.
Online Support Groups and Communities
There are multiple online communities where women can read about others’ experience with pregnancy loss, share their own losses, and connect with other women who have experienced loss. Some of the well-known groups and platforms include the following:
- BabyCenter community
- March of Dimes
- Compassionate Friends: Private Grief Facebook Groups
- Sisters in Loss
Note: There may be in-person support groups in your region.
Multiple organizations are dedicated to researching and supporting women through pregnancy loss. These informative websites include a treasure trove of information, resources, and personal stories.
- March of Dimes
- Stillbirth Resources (NICHD)
- Loss and Grief in Pregnancy and Postpartum (Postpartum Support International)
- Pregnancy Loss Resources (VCU)
- Understanding Your Pregnancy Loss: A Guide (Pregnancy Loss Support)
- Grieving in Communities of Color (Return to Zero)
- 19 Helpful Books to Read After a Miscarriage
- Share: Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support
- Tommy’s Pregnancy Charity (U.K.)
- The Color of a Medal: Noelle Pikus Pace (TEDX Talk)
Miscarriage and stillbirth are more common than generally know, and the rates of stillbirth in the U.S. are higher than many developed countries. Deep racial and ethnic disparities lie in the outcomes around maternal health and pregnancy in this country. You can learn more from the following:
About the Author
Lydia Breiseth is the Director of Colorín Colorado, the nation’s leading website serving educators and families of English language learners. Colorín Colorado is a sister project of BrainLine.org, both of which are based at PBS station WETA in Washington, DC. She lives with her family in Arlington, VA.