Amy Selby on Pregnancy Loss, Writing, Therapy, and Yin Yoga
Amy Selby is a self proclaimed occasional writer and you can find her words on her website and instagram. She’s also a daughter. A wife. A mother. And when her first born, Chandler, passed away at 18 weeks, she turned to writing and yin yoga and therapy, among other things. This is Amy’s story about pregnancy loss.
What was your childhood like? I think the easiest answer to this is, I had a normal childhood? Normal as in, raised by Midwest German / Irish Catholics who don’t confront anything head on. If we acknowledge and then ignore, everything will be fine. That makes it sound bad but it was all I knew so it’s okay. I was never forced into anything, when I wanted to quit a sport or musical instrument it was easy. My mom said it wasn’t worth it if we weren’t going to enjoy it and I respect that. Also, how do you say this … I was an introvert, I still am obviously but, I didn’t know it had a name / label when I was younger. I would often Irish Goodbye my friends because I needed alone time but I didn’t understand that’s what was going on in my brain / body.
“we were lucky to get pregnant quickly. i think this is where some people would say, ‘and then we had 18 blissful weeks…’ but, it wasn’t like that for me.”
Can you share your experience with pregnancy and child loss? It’s hard to know where to begin with our story - it’s also hard to tell it without tangents. Matt and I had talked about when we would have kids and one day we were like, yeah, okay, let’s do this. There wasn’t too much thought put into it, it just happened. We were lucky to get pregnant quickly. I think this is where some people would say, “and then we had 18 blissful weeks …” But, it wasn’t like that for me. I wasn’t this glowing, excited, all-consumed with pregnancy woman. I fell into a pretty weird depression — again, something I didn’t realize at the time. We lived in Okinawa, Japan and I went home to Minnesota when I was about 12 weeks pregnant and wanted to be alone all the time and had a difficult time enjoying things and people. I later told my therapists that my brain knew something wasn’t right and was protecting me — they agreed that this could be true.
Between weeks 16 and 17 I experienced weird discharge and I went to the doctor and she prescribed me stuff for a yeast infection and I used it and it all feels so wrong now. When I was exactly 17 weeks pregnant my water broke in the middle of the night. I woke up in a strange puddle and thought I had wet myself. I remember getting up, changing, and grabbing a towel to sleep on incase it happened again. The next day I started bleeding red, new blood. I left a telephone consult for a nurse and she was stupid. I remember her exclaiming, “YOU’RE BLEEDING?!” It was so dumb. We went to the ER the next day and the doctor sent us home with a packet on threatened miscarriage but didn’t explain it? So we thought everything was fine? I say these as questions because I am still confused by it all. Because the ER doctor didn’t say anything bad could happen we decided it was okay for Matt to leave for work. Like, he left the country for another country that was an 8 hour flight away. Hindsight is always 20 / 20.
I feel like it was the day he left that my pain began. I thought I was having round ligament pain which is normal for how far along I was, now 18 weeks. It wasn’t until 9pm on Monday the 24th that I realized it was labor pain. I called my friend, Rachel, and told her I needed to go to the ER. I also told her I was going to say some choice words on the way there because I was in a heckofalota (is that really a word?) pain. As life goes, the moment we got in the car my pain calmed down. On the way into the hospital I joked to Rachel about how weird it would be to have her in the room while I gave birth. Foreshadowing, anyone?
This time the ER doctor was extremely thorough and when he did an ultrasound he said he didn’t see a lot of fluid but that his machine was terrible and that he would call OB to have them double check. This is when I went into comedianne mode. Everything became funny. A nurse put these platypus looking socks on my feet and I said something about feeling like Cinderella? I then asked him if he knew who Dr. Steve Brule was? He did not. He also didn’t laugh.
After we got off the elevator and went to “The Big Machine” everything becomes a blur. I don’t remember how long we were in that room for … I remember bits and pieces. The doctor saying that my water had broken and that the baby was coming. I remember asking if you could get fluid back. I remember the doctor saying, it’s time to get the husband back. I probably cried? I probably also made some jokes? They told me they couldn’t induce labor because then it would be considered an abortion and as a military hospital they weren’t allowed to perform those.
So, I had an epidural and we waited. While we waited, Matt got on a plane and flew to us. Rachel held my hand and my legs while I got the epidural. She listened to all of the asinine things I said and to this day she helps me recall those hours. She watched me deliver my son. Chandler. He was born at 8:32am on Tuesday, April 25th, 2017. We don’t know exactly when he passed. We have a video recording of his heartbeat that was taken at 6:17 in the morning, so he was still alive then … It’s all a little crazy. He weighed 7.8 ounces and had the tiniest little everything. He was, and is, amazing.
What healing modalities have been the most helpful for you? After we lost Chandler I was in a deep, dark, scary place. The first thing I did was write, and then when I was ready, I talked to people who had lived through something similar. I also read so many books, some were less helpful than others but they kept my mind focused on something else and that was nice.
I carry my grief and trauma in my bones and muscles. I often wake up sore, even after I’ve had an awesome night of sleep. Thankfully, I discovered yin yoga, which focuses on the fascia in your body by staying in a pose for 3-5 minutes. The classes are usually at night and help release a lot of the stress and tension that built up over the course of the day.
I also incorporated regular massages into my routine. I was insanely upset at my body for failing Chandler and doing kind things for it was one of the only things that helped me get to a place where I was okay trying for another baby.
I don’t know if this is technically a modality but, I got a tattoo of a daisy, it’s April’s birth flower — something I didn’t know was a thing, because I am terrible at keeping jewelry on and I wanted something I could carry on my body everyday that would ground me, as well as be a conversation starter about Chandler.
And then, therapy — which sounds conventional but, I stumbled on two of the greatest. One focused on feelings and the other focused on how your brain processes trauma. Google the limbic system for more info on that. It’s crazy interesting and made my brain explode.
“i kept looking for the light at the end of the tunnel but, the tunnel doesn’t end, it breaks down and lets light in as you go.”
Are there any challenges that you have experienced in your healing journey? I think the biggest challenge has been accepting that it is a never-ending journey. I kept looking for the light at the end of the tunnel but, the tunnel doesn’t end, it breaks down and lets light in as you go.
The other most challenging thing was finding a way to comfortably talk about Chandler when people ask how many kids we have or want to have or … whenever kids come up. Other challenges are pretty expected? People not understanding or thinking they’re saying the right thing when really it’s totally wrong.
How can the people in your life best support you during and beyond healing? Talk. Silence was the hardest thing for us. It felt like we had lost people because all of a sudden they stopped talking to us. If you don’t know what to say, ask a question. Ask about the person they lost. Ask how they’re doing today, not overall. Ask dumb things like what they had for dinner or breakfast or if they’re craving anything.
For us, it was best when people did things rather than ask us what we needed. For example, we had meals for two weeks and someone planted a small garden on our back porch in honor of Chandler. Or be specific in ways you’re going to help rather than leaving it open ended and having the family decide what you can do for them.
I also think people tiptoed around us and that made things harder. We still needed to laugh as much as we needed to cry. We weren’t as fragile as people thought we would be.
If the only loss you’ve ever lived through is a pet — it’s okay to say that. It’s not a competition. All loss is difficult. You’ve gone through the roller coaster that is grief and it can be relatable.
If you have kids, try your best to not complain about them in front of the people who lost one. At least for a little while.
Do not ask when / if they’ll try again. Please.
When anniversaries come around, acknowledge them. A happy birthday card with Chandler’s name in it brought so much happiness on a day that could have been real crappy.
You don’t know what you don’t know. If you have a question about what the family is feeling, thinking, needing, wanting — ask.
“you don’t know what you don’t know. if you have a question about what the family is feeling, thinking, needing, wanting — ask.”
How are you feeling these days? “So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.” I think that quote from The Perks of Being a Wallflower sums it up quite well. Chandler is on my mind every second of everyday — and that is both happy and sad. Chandler means “Candle Maker” and we had “Our Guiding Light” engraved on his headstone and Tallulah, our second kiddo, has brought his light to life. She was born at 25 weeks and it was amazing to see the resemblance in their skin and body shape since she was only 7 weeks older than he was when she was born. We leaned on Chandler a lot while she was in the NICU. I truly believe he took great care of her from his place in heaven. We also live for him and try and see the light in everything. It isn’t easy but, everyday that I remember to write, do yoga and take time to be present in my grief helps to ease the pain and sadness.
My yin yoga instructor is located in Okinawa on a military base (Kadena Air Base) — so should you ever find yourself there, I highly recommend her class. She also teaches a yin yoga workshop once a year in Minnesota. She was also featured on OHH and her interview can be found right here.
The books that I still read to this day are, How to Survive the Loss of a Love — which I think is really for when someone breaks up with you but, whatever. And, Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief.
Also, the podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking is incredible.
There are countless Instagram accounts that I follow about pregnancy and infant loss. There’s this huge community out there trying to normalize such tragedy. I don’t know a lot of them personally but I think it’s nice to have them speckled into all of the other accounts I follow — they remind me that we’re not alone. Jessica Zucker PH.D. is the force behind @ihadamiscarriage and is doing amazing things for women and families who have experienced such losses.
This isn’t so much a direct recommendation but, laugh. Find and remember the things that make you laugh and dive deep into them.
And one more thing, find a therapist or an impartial person to speak to about your pain, growth, happiness … whatever ails or heals you. It’s important to talk to someone who isn’t going to validate / negate everything.