When feelings from the past overwhelm us, how can we handle them and even turn them into a healing experience?

IMG_3253I was at a fertility yoga workshop last week and the teacher asked me to join this workshop in order to share my fertility story. I was happy to do this. What I did not think about or see coming was that I was sitting in the same room where I had been before for an exceptional painful session with my fertility coach. I could feel how pictures and feelings came back, it felt like a big wave of the past was trying to find its way through my body…I remembered, we were on our adoption journey and the birth mom who selected us went into labor. She called us in the morning when her contractions had started and told us, it’s time to meet at the hospital. Andy and I we were so excited we dropped everything and headed to the hospital. We had met our birth mom Jane* and her husband Jim* about 8 weeks before and we built a beautiful relationship over this time. We could absolutely imagine having an open adoption together and staying connected through life. When we arrived at the hospital we found Jane and Jim in tears. I immediately thought they might have had a change of heart, which means they decided to keep the baby and need to tell us this now. We were prepared for that moment…but we weren’t prepared for the moment that was about to come…Jane looked at us and spoke with a broken voice.. she could hardly speak…all I heard was…no heartbeat anymore…there is no heartbeat anymore…it kept echoing in my head…I became numb…I did not feel anything…all I did was starring at her tummy… and I could not believe that this little baby was dead…how..she hadn’t even been born yet…all monitors around us showed the heartbeat of the other babies in labor – only ours was just a still line…We staid the whole day with Jane and Jim in the hospital room…we had gotten so close over the 8 weeks…a little baby girl had connected us it was so hard to part at this point. It felt only natural to stay and talk, holding each other and crying together in order to understand the unbearable that just had happened. We sat together for 8 hours until Jane’s body was ready to deliver the baby. When Andy and I left in the late evening we carried home an empty car seat. It was the most brutal experience in our lives, expecting birth and dealing with death instead…the following night my whole body ached, it felt like I had lost the baby, too.

Being in this room those memories came splashing back. I saw us sitting there back then telling Jenilyn this brutal story and how she had tried to help us to get through this pain. I remember that she had told us afterward go to the Lake and throw stones in the water and giving each stone a name such as unfairness, anger, sadness…We felt ridiculous in the beginning. I thought why should that help, but I trusted her and started slowly and effortless to throw, my husband too. We looked at each other still in total disbelief…but suddenly it kicked in with each throw more power came into it and all of the sudden we could feel an emotional wave coming up. I don’t know how many stones we threw – let’s put it this way. I am glad Michigan Lake is so big and it is not short in stones.

Now sitting in this yoga class with all those feelings in my lab and about to be asked to tell my whole fertility story in front of many women. I felt like there is no way I can talk now, let alone diving into our whole story the 7 years of our fertility journey with all its ups and downs. Could I really do this…I was totally overwhelmed.

What I had learned along our fertility journey was how to handle overwhelming feelings, because any time you leave your door you get confronted with your fertility struggles. You see pregnant women, strollers, families, kids etc. You get asked here and then when you will have kids and pregnancy announcements pop up everywhere, even at occasions you expect it the least. So what I had learned was to face my feelings and listen to them like they are my friends who need me now. So I started in this workshop listening to my inner turmoil of feelings.

I heard my sadness being upset sitting in this room again, the anger that was furious that we were about to lose it. Despair was devastated about the stillbirth experience…I allowed all of them to be. The minute I started to observe my feelings from my Self, like friends who needed to talk about their struggles, I created space and I could feel how my breath eased up and I started to feel lighter. My different parts/feelings felt heard and seen and could relax. I did not try to shut them up or distract myself or run away. I sat with them and gave them the space to say what they needed to say. At the same time I listened to the stories of the other women, who were all going through fertility issues and for none of them it was easy. We all shared the same feelings and we did not need to hear many words to fully understand what the other woman was going through. My own despair though became louder and yelled inside of me. Why, Why Why Do We All Have To Go Through This, This Is So Unfair…? I comforted her and confirmed her feelings and said yes it is true it is unfair that we all have to go through this. I assumed at this point it might be better for my despair part to not stay in the workshop and I asked her, if she liked to leave and go for a walk and get a coffee somewhere beautiful and sit in the sun and feel the warmth of it. I could feel how she relaxed and that she decided to leave. It was my turn now to talk about our fertility journey and I could feel how I spoke from my Self. I felt clear and confident. Sadness here and then tried to jump in but I could calm her.

It had fascinated me again as many times before how I found my strong Self back despite the fact how overwhelmed I had been. If I hadn’t learned along my journey through the IFS module how to treat my feelings I would have totally lost it in there. The feelings were too strong. I would have fought them and tried to kick them away or distracted myself with who knows what. On top I would have been disappointed at myself still feeling this sadness despite the fact that we have Luca now and why I still haven’t put those seven tough years of infertility finally behind me.

Sometimes those experiences tell us how deep our pain really is and only we know how much time this healing process will take. We need to allow and give ourselves the time we need no matter what society thinks or feels. We should never be afraid of looking back and let the past in, if it is knocking at our door. It is part of our life story, it is who we are. New chapters in life are not there to be overwritten by the previous one. Our fertility journey will always be a painful chapter in our life. The pain will ease when we accept and feel those feelings not by putting responsibility on our son to make those 7 years of fertility struggle disappear. It’s not his job he deserves his own chapter in our life book, one that brought us so much love and laughter, another way that life can be. We often tend to think when past feelings show up that we are ungrateful or the new chapter has failed us. That is not the case, it is because memories come and go like waves on the beach. Each chapter builds on one another that is what it takes to create our own one of a kind life book.

Next time when the past knocks at your door, and it can be from any difficult life situation, divorce, sickness, working or relationship issues, a loss just anything that caused pain – open up your door and welcome it. Don’t push it away and think because you had moved on and you think you are supposed to be happy now past feelings are not allowed to show up again. They are part of you and if they come back there is still healing in process, which means, if you listen and feel them they will ease over time. If we don’t do this they will come back big time, in situations you would have never expected them. They will try to get your attention no matter what until they will be heard and seen. If not they become louder and louder over time which can even cause trouble and pain physically and mentally, not to forget the exhaustion we feel. Therefore go with the flow and listen to your feelings that’s how we are made and we cannot change it – but we always try and this way we miss out on a lot of collateral beauty in our lives.

If you feel like your hurt parts are tucked away then do what we did when we threw those stones in Lake Michigan. It brought up all our hurt feelings and it was such a relief giving them this outlet to speak. I also remember when I got the advice the first time to send a part/feeling to a happy place and leave the current scenery, I was very skeptical, but I tried it and it never failed me. So if you are in a situation where it is better for one of your feelings to leave then ask them to go to a happy place. Believe me once you tried it you will see how well it works.

I is all about trusting in your Self, it can handle your feelings, take the space and look at your feelings like at your friends, it is your internal family, it’s who you are. However being angry, sad or devastated is not You that is only a part of you. I spoke about IFS (Internal Family System) before. It is so helpful in any life situation, especially in difficult ones. It is about knowing yourself well and how to correspond with your feelings.

More info about IFS go to: www.selfleadership.org or watch the movie “Inside Out” that is a very good start to get familiar with it in a playful way.

Let me know, if it worked for you. I would love to hear your experiences about handling your feelings.

Have a great week!

Jane and Jim* = names are changed for privacy reasons 

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