Perhaps you’re considering a retreat to get your mind off of your stresses and concerns. If you’re thinking that there’s rarely programming targeted at NotMoms, you can imagine my surprise when an invitation to a, pregnancy loss retreat “fell out of the sky” several years ago. Developed as a ritual — definitely not a funeral — it was an occasion that offered the promise of closure.
Ten women —strangers until that day— spent an entire Saturday sharing their stories. Most were like me, childless by chance, or happenstance. We each had different reasons why adoption, or surrgogacy, or whatever, wasn’t tried. One woman was actually the mother of 2, but she couldn’t get past an abortion in the ’80s. Another woman had delivered a stillborn baby, the result of her only pregnancy.
From the start it was clear that we were each among the walking wounded. We looked just fine on the outside. On the inside? Better not to look. The depth of sharing that weekend was rare indeed. Not one of us was accustomed to talking about the only subject guaranteed to spark unwelcome tears. What we knew how to do was self-preserving: Keep quiet about your truths, and your sadness. Put your big-girl panties on and get lost in the world’s busyness.
That may be why the retreat’s most powerful session for me featured solitary walks through an outdoor labyrinth. As each woman began to walk, a gong rang one time as she spoke the name of her unborn child. (Not one woman had to think hard about it: every one of us knew exactly what we would have named our child.) And, although labyrinths look easy, after a few twists and turns, the only easy thing is understanding how the path serves as a form of meditation.
At the center of the maze, each NotMom put a farewell gift to that unborn child on the grass. (I left stuffed Mickey Mouse and Pooh dolls I’d bought in DisneyLand in 1982 and carefully tucked away in a trunk for the baby “destined” to come within a few years.) Then, we each walked out of the labyrinth empty-handed.
As amazing as that day was, I’ve been unable to convince the facilitator to repeat it. She received healing from the experience, too, but she doesn’t look forward to repeated performances. Of course, there was nothing we did that day that was unique at all, and yet the 10 of us agreed that we went home lighter, brighter, and ready to start the rest of our lives without the old, heavy baggage.
At the time, I thought the power of the day was communion with other NotMoms. Now, I believe peace came from the ritual itself. At last, a public honoring of something that was so important to me, and yet basically hidden from public sight.