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The worst thing possible happens to her. And they ask her to 'sign here'.

“Please sign for excavation of contents.”

BY KIMBERLY LIPSCHUS

“I hereby agree to the excavation of contents.”

Now, please sign here.

It’s terribly unpleasant typing those words. Although it sounds rather like a building site, its actually clinical term for a curette or D&C. Otherwise known as the scraping away of the womb lining after an incomplete miscarriage. And to have one done, you need to sign the form to agree to have your contents ‘excavated’.

My ‘excavation’ went something like this. Ultra sound. The chatty clinician falls quiet. She prods around and I see my baby on the screen and take a fluttering breath of joy. But she’s been quiet too long. Then she utters these five words, “There’s no heartbeat. I’m sorry”

Rush of blood to my brain. Pounding in my ears. Breathing comes in short bursts. And I’m ushered out into the waiting area where I’m told to go home to wait for it to ‘come away’. And there I find myself, blinking in the sun, shaking like a leaf. So I waited. And waited. One week later the tiny form within still clung on. I saw it in my minds eye, not wanting to let go of me, its mother. Perish the thought. Instead I spent the week overly busy whilst somehow trying to recalibrate a defeated dream and birth date that would never occur. Finally, I just booked in for the D&C, and signed for an excavation of contents.

I am a psychotherapist and counsellor. I focus mainly on fertility in all its guises. From pre pregnancy to birth and beyond I am struck as women and their partners endure dehumanising experience after dehumanising experience, just like this one.

“I am struck as women and their partners endure dehumanising experience just like this one.”

Take the woman waking up in recovery after having eggs harvested during her fourth round of IVF. She looks down to see a single number ‘2’ scrawled in black marker pen, on the back of her hand. She begins to focus on the other beds in the recovery room.

Women like her, all with numbers scrawled on their hands. One has an 8, another next to her, a 6. And hers has a piddly 2. She grasps the enormity – with only two eggs, her chances of conceiving are very poor. What did she feel when she walked out of the hospital that day? She felt like a branded pig.

It’s not just the trying for baby, its birth too. Recently a midwife told me of a woman so terrified during labour, that in the middle of it, she legged it. Straight out of the hospital, down the road, to a neighbouring sports field. Would a woman who feels honoured and supported do that in the middle of her birth? Nope.

Surely, as I signed my form for surgery, an empathetic hand on the shoulder wouldn’t have hurt? Or a midwife willing to (as most do) create a quiet sanctuary for the terrified labouring woman who’d feel safer at home? Perhaps the nurse in recovery could bend and whisper the results in the ear of each patient, so they don’t have to read and compare like a frontline newspaper?  It takes so little time yet maintains such a necessary sense of human-ness.

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Encouragingly, Jenny Gamble and Debra Creedy at Griffith University have been testing decade long intervention, which promotes resilience in mothers’ emotions. Its aims are to support women as they express and work through distressing parts of their childbirth. A step forward but this is one part of the reproductive process. And for some this can be a terribly vulnerable time.

Fraught with the knowledge the anything can happen, empathetic support, with a duty of individual care, is critical to how the woman walks away from her experience. Whatever the experience. I’d even go so far as to say that clinicalisation changes its trajectory of a person’s experience and, for many, that feels like a form of brutality.

Frankly it just adds a lot of unnecessary insult to injury.

Greek myths describe the story of Demeter losing her beloved daughter, Persephone, to the underworld. To mark her grief, she turns the land infertile. Each year she sings her pale daughter forth from deep in the bowels of earth.

Supporting a client in this tender state means being with them and hearing each deeply personal story. When done professionally it puts flesh on the bones of their experience; allows them to find their inner Demeter; sings their story from the banished underworld. But what it does is remarkable.

It literally recalibrates the dismembered parts of each person and brings integration to their experience. Persephone and Demeter become part of the same coin. It’s deeply restorative and genuinely moving to bear witness to.

To recover from my ‘excavation of contents’ I was told to create a ritual. I planted a tree. It’s my Demeter-Persephone. A sapling now, its roots are now burrowed deep in the loamy soil of my garden; its branches reach skyward. Each season the leaves turn from golden hues to brown, then shed.

After spending few months in the crisp of winter, the wizened branches sprout buds and, come spring, tiny green shoots sprout.  The tree doesn’t replace my ‘excavated contents’ of long ago, but it does sing to something deep inside of me. And besides, watching the tree renew with each rainfall, and continue to grow in the way it needs to grow, is rather satisfying.

Kimberley Lipschus (M.Counselling, Grad Cert.Gestalt Therapy, M.Writing) is a registered psychotherapist and counsellor. Her practice, Fertile Mindsprovides advice and support for anyone experiencing challenges whilst trying for a baby, pregnancy and birth, as well as those struggling to adjust to life as a new parent. She tweets here and posts on Facebook here.

Have you or do you know someone who has struggled to get pregnant or lost a baby?

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