Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The healers

A few days ago, I received an email advertisement from my prenatal massage therapist advertising massage services on Mother’s Day.


Some things make me livid, some things just make me so very sad, and some make me wrestle with philosophical questions. There are still others, like this one, that make me feel all three.

Throughout my pregnancy with Lucia, I attended prenatal yoga, and a few sessions of prenatal massage—all through the same studio. I sought healing energy and love from every corner of my world. I wore long flowing dresses and walked in the grass barefooted. I stopped drinking caffeine, ate a mostly vegetarian diet. I meditated, wrote poetry…I tried to connect with Lucy in so many ways, because all day I chased Beatrice. Some days, I would sort of forget I was pregnant. The massage and the yoga were these times of the week that were solely ours—Lucia and Mama. I felt very earthy and lovely. It is when I reveled in being Mother Earth Goddess, and rounded and beautiful. I was able to grow beautiful baby girls, and it made me feel like magic.

As I rode my bicycle to yoga or massage, I would think how incredibly happy I was, on a deep fundamental level. Every cell of my body was contented. I talked with the massage therapist as she worked about birthing naturally, about yoga moves to release stress, and what acupuncture could do for labor. It felt vital to Lucia’s health and well-being that I love my shape and my rounding belly. The massage therapist’s touch was part of that acceptance; much like the movement and meditation of yoga was a part too. These were the memories with Lucia that I drink in these days. I just want to tap into and absorb all that healing, lovely energy. I miss that feeling of my daughter. I miss the cellular happiness. I miss Lucy and I alone together drinking each other in. I miss imagining her with me on summer afternoons making sun tea, and laying in the grass. I would say to her, “When you were in Mami’s belly, we would ride our bicycle to yoga, and stretch like this.” And I would reach my hands over my head, “And you would always kick when I was in this position. That is your favorite pose, Lucy-girl.” And I would touch her button nose, or kiss the very bottoms of her feet, as she shrieked and giggled.


After Lucy died, I sent an email out to everyone in all the realms of our life. We didn’t want to run into anyone anywhere who didn’t know. Funny, it was the worst thing I could imagine at the time, having to tell someone in the supermarket that my daughter died. Now, it just seems like an everyday occurrence, and I feel like an old hat at being able to articulate the words, “My daughter was stillborn.” We received many emails of condolences. As you know, the ones that were most surprising to me were the ones that weren’t there. In particular, I was surprised to not receive condolences from my prenatal yoga instructor and my prenatal massage therapist.

I considered both of those women part of my holistic maternity care team. In terms of my mental health, I saw them as vital as my midwife in many ways. I adored the care and attention they gave to me and Lucy. When she died, I thought they too would be sad. I actually imagined them to be first with a word of soothing and healing grace. Maybe I imagined them as the only ones able to manage this complicated terrain. Certainly, they dealt with death in their practices before, right? Or maybe not, and so I ask this question:

How do you soothe women and nurture new life if you cannot handle death?

I am not the first women in the world to have a stillbirth, or to lose a child. After many weeks, and my sending the yoga instructor two more emails about continuing practice, as well as contacting another instructor in the studio, I received an email from the yoga instructor with a long explanation and many excuses about why she didn’t say she was sorry earlier. That is always charming, no? “I wanted to give you space to grieve.” (Yeah, because emails with a simple “I’m sorry” are always so disruptive.) And she tried to give me ten free sessions to make up for being inconsiderate, I guess. About a week after she sent an email, I was still debating whether I would return to her studio. Something about her email made me uncomfortable. I needed a safe place, and I still wasn’t sure her studio could provide it. Then, I ran into her at Target. She was shaking when she saw me. She absolutely looked terrified, out of her element, unable to deal. She gave me a quick hug, and then, her son wandered a bit out of reach. She shrugged her shoulders, and chased her son off in another direction, as I stood there. There certainly could be a thousand reasons for what she was going through that day, but I don’t have time to imagine any of them. I haven’t returned to her studio. She is a good instructor, but as time creeps along, I have come to realize that I want my teachers to be compassionate and most importantly, I want them to be brave.

And then there is this email, entitled “Mother’s Day.” It is the first email I received from the massage therapist since Lucy died. An advertisement for Mother’s Day massages? Are you fucking kidding me? At least, if you are going to ignore the fact that my daughter died all together, take me off your fucking spam list for prenatal massages. Plan on me not coming back to your studio.

And so, I think it begs the question of how you deal with the beginning of life, if you cannot deal with the end of it. How do you soothe people when you ignore a huge part of this human experience—death, grief, mourning, and chaos? Can you be a healer, if you don’t know how to sincerely say “I’m so so sorry?


  1. I have to say, this story makes me a wee bit ill.

    I think the problem with *some* "healers" is that they get it into their heads that their mojo (yoga, massage, religion, whatever) can heal anything. They are so high on positivity, and even negative energy can be diffused and turned on itself. They become blind to the notion that there is stuff out there that their bag of tricks cannot begin to handle -- at least in the way they're brandishing it. I think they're cowards, afraid to see their own limitations and face their own fears, and realize that sometimes you need to question your beliefs and see how you can push them to truly help others.

    Sadly, I believe these women aren't really "healers" -- I know wonderful, meaningful, sympathetic yoga and massage experts exist who deal with grief -- but simply "lifestyle experts." And their glossy catalogs don't begin to approach what happened to you.

    I took yoga for 8 years, quit when I moved here, and haven't taken it up since. For some reason just the opening lines of "relax, let everything go" make me want to jump up and punch something.

  2. i am constantly amazed at the people who we would assume could show compassion and just totally miss the mark "offering you free yoga? gimme a break!" just remember, anyone can be an asshat. but then again i also think of the people who i would never expect to step up, who really don't have to, that are compassionate and kind. i think of the wonderful people in trader joe's who ask me each time i walk in how you are? how am i? and don't expect me to say, fine. they are taking 10 minutes out of their day to listen to my answer. and really listen. respond appropriately and give me a squeeze.

  3. I got the very same email from said massage therapist, it made me angry all over again for you!

  4. Wow. Just, wow. I like what Tash said too; "the power of positive thinking" doesn't keep healthy babies from dying for no reason, and doesn't give so-called healers the ability to be present with that level of suffering. And I like Kellyann's reminder that those untrained in the art of healing can be more human--brave, compassionate, present--than those with spiritual pretensions.

    And those beautiful, tender, heartbreaking images of sun tea and a lovely girl who won't be tickled, they will stay with me.

  5. oh, crap.
    they are certainly not healers. and you are right, they are not worth a dime if they can't deal with the end of a life.
    I am sorry, this sucks.

  6. I honestly think this post is a must-read to share with all healers - good, bad, wanna be good ones. Your message is so clear and the question is so pointed, and important - how can you nurture life if you cannot deal with death.

    Angie, share this post! Make people "stumble" or "digg" it or whatever it is you do to make as many people as possible read it. I will too.


  7. There are no excuses for the ignorant behavior of many, including those who are "healers" and have decided to consciously take on this role in other's lives.

    I teach prenatal yoga now (yup, read that one right), and one has to be absolutely ready for what comes. It is about being clear why one is teaching and about teaching from an authentic place. Jeez, just acknowledgment of what happened to you, your family, and Lucia would have made all the difference. You don't have to be all that enlightened to figure that out!

    I hope you find another teacher, it sounds like you are on the same search I am.

    Thank you for sharing the beautiful positive memories you have of Lucia and your strong conscious connection with her.

  8. sounds like they are leeches, living off the positive energy of others that are at good places in their lives, and unable to recycle some of that into basic human compassion.

    It has taken me time to find professionals to help me out physically. It's really tough to find somewhere I feel safe.

  9. My mantra these days is "if they were capable, they'd be doing it". I also waiver between that and "most people suck". Sigh. Wishing for gentler days ahead (for both of us).

  10. I'm probably one of the lucky ones as my yoga teacher showed up to Hope's funeral and my pre-natal massage therapist has also sent some really nice emails. She was actually about 7 weeks behind me with her first pregnancy. Her son was born with a very rare and very dangerous respiratory condition that kept him in the NICU for the first three months of his life. He will have a very slow recovery. So she turned out to be more understanding than most - but then who knows how it might have been had everything gone peachy?
    Angie I am so sorry. I can only imagine how much this email upset you. I think I probably would have kicked the lap top!
    And like someone else said, I'm going to be thinking of you and Lucy sitting in the grass drinking tea for a very long time. That image will really stay with me I think.

  11. angie, i've had some very similar experiences. my childbirth educator never responded to the emailed we too sent out to everyone. my yoga teacher responded but it what she said was somewhat hurtful, and so i let her know that. when i didn't hear from the childbirth teacher i wrote her and said something very similar- if you can't deal with the death of a baby then you're in the wrong line of work. and really i do believe that there are far too many 'healers' in the pregnancy/birth world who have no clue what to do or say if a baby doesn't make it. and indeed i would not call them true healers.

    i wish lucy was with you to lie on the grass and giggle.

    sending you love,

  12. I am so sorry these people turned out to be such disappointments. It makes me want to punch something.

  13. Dear Angie, I am so sorry for you. I believe some healers think they can heal everyone, but as you know many of them cannot, and they have no idea the concept of death. Both with how to help or understand. The horrible way she has treated you, is so unbelievable, how could she be so insensative to your loss.
    I really, deep in my heart feel for you, and if there is anyway I can help with your grief, I am here for you. I have set up a memorial blog if you would like, I'd be only to pleased to put a photo and message for you, just follow by your heart. If you would like to have a look my memorial blog page the url is: and my own personal blog is http://sweetasparadise/, where you can read about me, as well as the loss of my son Nicholas.
    Kay xxxx


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