Awhile back I mentioned on my Instagram page that I had participated in a Family Constellations workshop and that it had effected me in a profound way. Somehow, it shifted something within me about my miscarriages, the loss of Luna and how they’ve shaped on my motherhood. I haven’t written further about it, because what happened felt, well, sacred to me. I also needed more time to process what had happened and what effect its had on me.
Family Constellations is a model of therapy created by Bert Hellinger in 1978. This work is always done in a holding circle, or group. The idea is that all people in your life are a part of your individual constellation. Family is wider than just those who you are biologically related to, anyone who has entered your life is a part of the ‘family group’. Attempting to write someone out of the timeline, deny their place in your life creates a disconnection for oneself and the feelings and emotions that arise from these broken relationships.
Holding the place for each person that has ever entered and touch your life, no matter how brief or painful that contact may have been, is something I just don’t feel we make room for in our society today. I know from my experience with miscarriage, these losses are not necessarily recognised as the deep losses they quite often are. Which can cause the person experiencing the loss to dismiss their own feelings of grief. We have a tendency to only measure what we can see. However many children you see a mother with must mean she is a mother of 1, 2, 3…or if none are seen, she is not a mother at all. This attitude has made me ask myself questions about what being a mother truly means – when does it begin and end.
In Family Constellation work you can either be a place holder or an issue holder. I went into the workshop not expecting to be an issue holder. Not because I didn’t think I had any issues to hold with the group, I just thought there wouldn’t be time for me and that others would want to do it. However, when the time came and the facilitator, Poppy, asked if anyone felt that they would like to bring something to the group, I felt my arm raising almost independently of itself. I stared at my own arm from the corner of my eye thinking ‘WHAT are YOU doing?’! What followed was me explaining all of my losses. To my surprise, I started listing all of my miscarriages along side my parents and Luna. I had thought my parents and Luna would make an appearance, but not my miscarriages. After some gentle questions from Poppy, for clarification, we just waited. There was quite a lot of shuffling in the room, people getting up and leaving to use the toilet. I think my disclosure of so much loss unsettled everyone quite a bit. Once everyone settled back into their seats, she asked me to name each baby in it’s order of conception, including Benjamin. We then agreed to just work with the dead babies, to leave Benjamin out for the meantime, and my parents. Then she asked me to pick members from the group to be the place holder for each baby. For example, ‘you are baby number one’, ‘…baby number two’, ‘…baby number four’, ‘…Luna, baby number five’ and ‘…baby number six’. Benjamin is baby number three and it’s important that he is held as my third child, not my first. This has sat with me as something deeply moving and profound. Actually, naming each baby and having a person represent each was…the only thing I can think to say is, ‘spiritual’. Each person, each baby was then placed by me on the floor in the centre of our circle. When I was finished, I was invited to sit back down in my seat beside Poppy and look at them on the ground in front of me. I couldn’t. Not at first. I hid my face behind my hands, I turned away from them, my throat closed and I choked on my tears. These were all my dead babies, here in front of me. The devastating loss was plain to see. It was almost too much to bear, which of course it is. That’s why I’ve never given them their full recognition as my babies. It has been easier with Luna, I actually had a labour and delivered her. We gave her a funeral. And my sixth baby has had more recognition and process, because I chose to miscarry naturally and then I did something with his/her remains. There have been rituals carried out in both of these losses, the others haven’t had anything, until this moment.
I was gently encouraged to look at my babies, and after the initial wave of grief passed, I found I was able to look at them and soften towards them. I spent the next 45 mins addressing babies number one, two and four. I talked to them, told them I loved them, told them I was sorry they had died. I lay down next to them, I brushed their hair off their foreheads and every so often Poppy would ask the people representing my babies what they were feeling. And they would tell me whatever it was that came into their minds and bodies. For each of my babies Poppy had me repeat, as many times as I felt I needed to: ‘You are my baby. I gave you life, and then you died.’ I would repeat this again and again, until I felt a shift in the energy within myself and my baby, then I moved on to the next one. This process, this ritual of recognising each baby and their place within my heart and their order of conception meant that each became more real to me. Poppy also told me that I could remember the feeling of laying beside each one, what it felt like in my body to be present with them and I could do this again whenever I wanted or needed to. When we decided that we had done enough work for one session, Poppy asked me to sit back in the chair and to look again at all my babies laying on the floor. This time all I felt was an overwhelming sense of love and pride. These were all of my babies, I am a mother of six children. I gave all of them life, five have died, but all are mine and have made me the woman and mother that I am here today.
This work is still making it’s mark on me. Like a slow drip, drip, drip of water on stone, it is gradually shifting and changing my view of what my motherhood looks and feels like. It immediately shifted my perspective on how many children I have. I feel I could confidently say, next time I’m asked ‘how many children do you have?’, that I am a mother of six. It made me realise how very important rituals are to humans. How it helps to close the circle, give purpose and meaning to otherwise seemingly meaningless events. We have lost this in our modern world, it would do us much good as a human race if we reclaimed rituals. We need to recognise the impact of creating life and then having that life die, under whatever circumstances. The huge importance of everybody having their rightful place held within the family, whether they are dead or alive, estranged or welcomed, was something I hadn’t given any thought to. Now, I can see how recognising Benjamin as my third child is not only right for the two that came before, but also right for Benjamin. Somewhere inside of him there will be a knowledge that others came before him. It may not be conscious, but I know that the imprint of his brothers or sisters, their very DNA, is within him and his body will carry this knowledge.
I realise that much of what I’ve written will sound a bit ‘out there’. It’s partly why it’s taken me so long to write about my experience. All I can say though is that I feel some immense amount of healing has taken place as a result of participating in this form of group therapy. Through it’s use of ritual, both the physical and verbal parts, there has been a shift of perspective. A shifting of my grief by recognising the love I have for all of my babies and for what they have given me – my unconventional motherhood.