Having a Stillbirth is a traumatic event. There’s no other way to describe it. Besides the grief and loss, mourning and dealing with such an event, your body is in a bit of limbo physically. In this article I’ll talk about how Traditional Chinese Medicine would approach helping such a woman.
Stillbirth is simply devastating mentally, emotionally & physically.
You have grown that baby and taken it close to full term or even full term. There are hormones rushing around your body telling you to feed that baby that you can no longer hold. The doctors may give you medications to correct this and dry up your milk, but physically, you are in a post-natal state, without the joys and excitement. What is going on??!?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine the Post-natal state is an important one, they call it The Golden Month. In the case of Stillbirth, this is no different and acknowledging your post-natal phase still applies. You may have lost blood, you’re probably exhausted, emotionally & physically and just ‘waiting it out’ isn’t enough.
In a recent case with a client, I looked at her situation carefully to work out a plan to help her body heal. After her daughter was born Stillborn just weeks prior, she was determined to try again and as soon as possible. Here’s what my advice to her was:
- Don’t rush it. It’s an Eastern tradition to have confinement once a baby is born, to rest, nourish yourself, focus on sleep and stress management. I would still advise this with Stillbirth. Taking a minimum of 3 months to recover physically from such an event is a good idea because it give you time to recover from the birth, and start to rebalance your hormones again. I was very happy to hear her Obstetrician had given her the same advice. Pretty much this time is about looking after YOU. Start slow and start but by bit. You will get there.
- Deal with the emotions as they arise, don’t hold them in – Getting counselling from a qualified and an experienced Pregnancy counsellor is recommended. I refer clients to Sue Hawkins at Your Pregnancy Matters if you’re in Sydney, Australia. Stillbirth is a huge life event. Getting the support you need is the key to dealing with it and being true to yourself. Acupuncture can also be of help here, releasing tension and stagnancy by focusing on the Liver (Anger) , Lungs (Grief) and Kidney (Fear). Unresolved grief or emotions can build up over time and begin to affect other relationships around you and your mental health. Be kind to yourself now and get the support you need. You may not ever get over this, but supporting yourself and taking each day as it comes is a productive first step.
- Nourish your blood – Blood loss during the birth and after birth can affect your iron levels, not to mention your energy levels overall. Chinese Medicine recommends treatments of Acupuncture or Chinese Herbs to build the blood and nourish energy reserves for a more complete recovery from birth. Things like Chicken Bone Broth are a must for all women post-natally, because it’s EXCELLENT at nourish qi and blood. Other nutritional options to Build and nourish the blood can be found here in my Spleen Friendly Foods List.
- Calm your Spirit, Soothe your Heart – This is similar to point #2 above, but the Traditional Chinese Medicine slant is focusing on relaxation and “filling your cup” emotionally. What do you love doing? What makes you happy? Stop and smell the roses. Make time to do these activities and prioritise them. The Heart energy is of high importance when it comes to Fertility and being Fertile, as in TCM it has direct association with the Uterus and Hormone Feedback loops that promote fantastic hormone health. In Western Medicine this would be the impact of Stress on the Hypothalamus – Pituitary, which shuts down fertility and opens up Adrenal reactions. When you run on Adrenaline & Cortisol as a result of stress, your fertility struggles. Fertility comes from feeling safe and happy and relaxed, a throwback to our caveman days where survival & procreation relied on these chemical & hormonal pathways due to reprieve from immediate threat or danger. So what Fills Your Cup? Suggestions could be Meditation, Yoga, Swimming, having a good laugh at a funny movie with an old friend, reading a book, being in the outdoors, going on a holiday.
- Focus on great sleep. It something simple, that we all have access to do. It’s free and of all lifestyle advice probably bring the most benefits of all. It’s like a spring clean for the brain and nervous system every night and if it’s not happening every night, then you’re missing out, big time. Again it comes back to the Brain, Nervous system and hormone feedback. When you’re calm, relaxed and well-rested, your body says: “I’m safe, I’m happy, I’m contented.” Your RECOVERY & your FERTILITY is heightened. Promoting this parasympathetic state is also known as “Feed & Breed” or Rest & Digest”. Sleep also promotes efficient utilisation of your Cortisol, regulates your day/night rhythm and overall health. The benefits of a good night’s sleep should never be undermined.
- Begin to regulate your cycle. Starting all over again can be an emotional rollercoaster when it comes to Stillbirth. That’s why my suggestion is to start dealing with the emotions first. Then, if you feel ready to begin trying to conceive again, regulating your hormone cycle would be the next step in the plan. And you can take as long or a little time as you want to focus on this. As a rule of thumb, TCM suggests 3 months minimum (3 cycles) to reveal your cycle and see what’s going on. But sometimes 3-6 months of cycle regulation is more realistic. If you had an erratic cycle previously, you may now find Pregnancy has “regulated” your hormones. This is common in women after Pregnancy. If there’s still irregular patterns or PMS, an Acupuncturist or Chinese Herbal Medicine Practitioner is a good point of call for some help. We focus on the Liver here, and moving stagnancy to keep things flowing smoothly.
- If IVF, get some Natural Support. Using Acupuncture for IVF couples can help cover all the things that IVF does not: The emotions, The stress, The implantation (with Embryo Transfer Acupuncture) and the Watchful Waiting. It’s clever and the research says it promotes better outcomes.
Working with a team of practitioners to help you deal with your Stillbirth, healing, recovery and even possible preparation for trying again is a smart plan. Using counsellors, Acupuncturists, Nutritionists and Fitness instructors can help you to feel some level of normalcy after such a tragic loss.
Resources: Stillbirth Australia Foundation
Image: Stillborn baby – Hope. Gavin Blue, Heartfelt Photographer