The exhibition portrayed an eight year long journey of coming to terms with a child loss caused by a miscarriage. In Autumn 2017 the exhibition was held in Kesgrave Arts Studio in Ipswich and St Mary’s Church in Mendlesham. It provided an insight into an inner world of grief and its slow, gradual healing with art. If you missed the visit, you can now read The Grieving Mother book.
I miscarried eleven years ago. ‘Moving on’ was my life strategy at the time. I kept my pain hidden from the outside world behind a smiling mask. Somehow I thought I’d lose my face if I admitted that I was not all right. I was sad but I didn’t know how to grieve. I didn’t know there was something to grieve.
‘Regardless of the length of time you were pregnant, you carried a real, living being in your womb.’
Shelly Marks & Marie Allen, Miscarriage: Women Sharing from the heart
My healing began with studying therapeutic arts. Paintings brought the suffering to the light for the first time. The images were saying what I had not been able to express in words. They became undeniable evidence that a child once lived in my womb and the child died.
I lived in a belief that I had to deal with my fate, keeping the upleasant feelings under control. I was ashamed of my own pain. Until I came across a book: Miscarriage: Women Sharing From The Heart written by Marie Allen & Shelly Marks. This account of other women’s experiences and their losses touched me deeply, explained that my feelings were natural and that I was not alone. I was a mother mourning her baby.
Art as a constant companion sustained me through the grieving process and helped me to accept the inexplicable death of my child. The artwork developed into communication with myself and the outer world. I didn’t want to be alone anymore. I wanted to share this inner world with my husband, family and friends.
Why this exhibition
When I first found courage to speak of my miscarriage, I was astonished how many women admitted that it had happened to them too. Even my own mother kept it quiet for 30 years.
I experienced my own miscarriage as a shameful, lonely event despite my husband’s support. When my art started revealing the long hidden despair, it came as a relief. The secret was finally out. I didn’t have to carry this heavy burden within myself any more.
When I was drawing/painting/sculpting and encountering hurtful emotions, there was something holding me through this difficult process. It was a promise which I gave to myself and to the universe. I would go through this pain so that I may share my journey with other women in the hope this may help somehow. The same way Marie’s and Shelley’s book helped me.
Healing or self indulgance
I still ask myself whether revisiting ‘old ghosts’ is a self indulgent or healing activity. In today’s matter of fact society we want to see tangible results of therapy and yet all the victories are so subtle. I can only speak for myself:
Before – I felt envious of pregnant women passing by, later even resentful. I avoided all pregnant friends or those with babies. I found it extremely hard to hold a baby. I would go somewhere private and cry afterwards. I could not discuss my sorrow with family or friends. I felt they didn’t care about the baby I lost. I felt insane, weird, ungrateful… and terribly alone. I lived under the impression that I didn’t want to be a mother. I hated the idea of another IVF.
During & After– I learned to accept that I was a mother and that I lost a baby. I gave myself permission to be sad. I stopped measuring my pain by the number of weeks of pregnancy. I was able to talk about my grief with my husband, friends and therapists. I could show them in pictures exactly what I was going through. By creating the baby’s memorial I found a way of grieving in public with friends. I was able to go through another embryo transfer. I lost again and have been grieving but was able to speak about it. When I held my newborn nephew a year later I realised I was feeling pure love. I found that a gift.
Finding connection with others
Sharing the journey with others has been a catalyst in my healing and hopefully in the healing of others. Through the exhibition I connected to other women (and men) who had suffered a loss and we shared our heartfelt stories. Later, I was invited to exhibit in the Mendlesham church, which had been a refuge to me at difficult times. The exhibition accompanied a service for parents who suffered a child loss. It was a special occasion commemorating the children and bringing peace to us, the parents. Mendlesham church kindly continues to hold this service every Autumn.
As a result of the exhibition, I was offered to join a team of counsellors at Perspectives Ipswich. This is a local pregnancy loss charity which supports women and men through IVF, pregnancy difficulties, miscarriage and termination. All counsellors are volunteers and run fully funded counselling sessions. This is where we opened Creative Nest – a safe, friendly space offering therapeutic arts as a means to express and transform those difficult emotions arising from IVF and early child loss.
The Grieving Mother exhibition is now available as The Grieving Mother book and my hope is it can find its way to those who need it.