Last weekend, I went on a baby loss retreat. I’d decided to go for a number of reasons (which you can read more about here). Now I’m sharing how it went, what I found useful and whether I’d recommend it to other women who’ve been through miscarriage or baby loss.
I arrived at the retreat early on the Saturday morning and was given a quick tour of the venue, which was basic but comfortable. Nervously awaiting the arrival of my fellow retreatees (what else to call us?) I unpacked and took some deep breaths, trying to calm my racing heart.
When all 8 of us were there (3 couples and two women on our own), we began to chat informally in the kitchen, sharing aspects of our stories, as well as the fact we were all feeling quite nervous. Knowing I wasn’t the only one feeling this way was a boost and made me feel more positive about what was to come.
The morning session began in the main therapy room and consisted of the two therapists talking through how the retreat would be structured, followed by an icebreaker exercise, then writing down what our goals were for the weekend and discussing them at length with the group. As the retreat leaders were both psychotherapists they were able to ask relevant questions and to guide us while we were talking, which really helped to bring us out of our shells and to start thinking about our main issues around our grief.
For the afternoon session, we were split into two groups of four. This session was, for me, the most difficult part of the retreat. Each of us were given a full psychotherapy session as individuals, but within the group setting. Knowing there were three people, as well as the therapist, listening to me was difficult and some of the ‘processes’ the therapist asked me to complete made me feel quite uncomfortable. But as much as I could, I took part.
Despite it being challenging, the dynamic within the group was really supportive. There were a lot of tears shed that afternoon, as we all dug down to our core issues and the parts of our grief that we were finding the hardest to cope with.
After the 4-hour afternoon session we stopped for dinner, and the atmosphere was completely different to what it had been that morning. Barely anyone spoke. I think we were all drained from the emotions of the day. Immediately afterwards, I went to my room for the rest of the evening, I had no social energy left and needed to recharge.
When I was in my room, I started to question whether me and my husband should have gone to the retreat as a couple. I was really missing him, and I’d seen how the men in the group were beginning to open up, so I was worried that I was cheating him out of his own healing process. But I went back over my reasoning in my mind – I am more shy and quiet than he is, and I’d have relied on him if he was there. I needed to do this by myself and for myself. Reminding myself of this – and knowing that my husband was understanding of it – made me feel reassured that I had made the right decision.
I fell asleep late and woke up early – not helped by an (unsurprising) tension headache – so I got up and decided to go for a walk to the nearby sand dunes. Both the therapist the night before, as well as another therapist earlier in the year, had suggested I had a lot of ‘stuck’ emotions and that a primal scream may help to release some of them. Being very conscious of noise, both hearing it and making it, made this an uncomfortable proposition for me, but I decided the sand dunes might be just the place. I took a lovely walk as the sun was rising and managed – albeit into my coat – my very first primal scream.
The second day started with a chance to discuss the previous day’s sessions and think about what we had felt in the hours since. It was a good way to get us back into sharing mode and back in touch with our feelings, ready for this day’s direct focus on our lost babies.
We then wrote letters to ourselves, kind words giving advice and praise. To say things that we might not consider in our day-to-day lives, but that we needed to hear. Our letters were then read back to us by another member of the group, a technique that made the words hit home more than if we’d read them to ourselves. This was a difficult exercise for me, but an important one. I realised it is easy to say the right things to myself, but believing them will be an ongoing challenge.
We then began to decorate stones in memory of our lost babies, ready for the afternoon honouring session. This session was, again, a very tough one. We each had twenty minutes when we could light candles, read out poems or letters we had written, and at the end, a song was played that we’d chosen in remembrance of our babies. A lot came to the surface for me in this session and I got to share the whole story of my three miscarriages, which was a valuable gift.
We finished by writing a short note to each person we’d shared the weekend with, to encourage or make an observation, which we took home with us. I thought that was a beautiful way to mark the weekend and to remember how supportive we had been of each other.
And then it was done. Feedback forms filled, I was glad to reunite with my husband (cue more crying) and to get back to the sanctuary of my own home.
Initially, I struggled to believe the feelings I have about my three early miscarriages are valid or justified – mainly because the other attendees were all grieving later miscarriages, stillbirths, or the loss of a baby soon after birth. I tried not to compare my grief to others’, but at times I felt like a fraud – how can I really be grieving as much as the other people here? But the therapists reassured me that the level of grief I feel is valid and isn’t less than anyone else’s. This was a powerful realisation and will hopefully help me to reduce my instinct to minimise my grief experience.
There were some particular benefits from the weekend:
- I felt able to share anything and everything with less of a filter than I’d have in the real world.
- As I was on my own, I had to take responsibility for expressing my own feelings and fears. This was important for me, as I often avoid social situations where this happens.
- Some particular areas where I need to focus my attention were highlighted – for instance, the sense of guilt I have about my miscarriages, and the negative feelings I have towards my body.
- I felt genuinely connected with other people throughout the weekend. We were all very different, but there were elements of each of our stories where there was crossover and we bonded over those similarities.
- I pushed myself socially much more than I would in normal life. If I feel uncomfortable, usually I will make my excuses and leave. But in this environment I challenged myself to participate. And although I couldn’t do this all the time, I left the retreat feeling proud of myself for pushing beyond my comfort zone.
Going on a retreat is not an easy experience – it was way more challenging than I expected it to be. I would take into consideration how comfortable you are with social situations, as this was the part I struggled with most. But if this isn’t a concern, I think retreats like this can definitely be a positive step in dealing with grief. They can connect you with your innermost thoughts, beliefs and emotions and challenge the ones that are causing damage.
So if you’re struggling to deal with your grief over miscarriage or baby loss, this could potentially be a positive step in your recovery. I know it has been for me.