Warriors In Our Midst - Chiemi Rajamahendran

Posted By SK Reid & Chiemi Rajamahendran  
22:00 PM

Mother's Day 2020

On Mother's Day 2020, it is pertinent to reflect on the fact that for many women, Mother's Day is really difficult either because they mourn the loss of their mother, or they mourn the loss of a baby, (born or unborn) or both. For many women, Mother's Day can be traumatic.

Infertility and Baby Loss

Going through fertility treatments is tough. Really tough. It is expensive. Draining. Exhausting. The impact it has on the couple, especially the woman, is often not well understood by the broader community in general who are not exposed to the ordeal.

Like the stigma of fertility treatments, perinatal loss and involuntary childlessness are similarly shrouded in a veil of silence and taboo. The impact of grief and bereavement on a woman’s psyche is often extreme and remains largely unrecognized. Speaking personally, I found the whole thing traumatic. For me, there was no other way to describe it. Yet when I called it this, when I named my demons and both described and referred to my experience as traumatic to those in my circle – especially those I expected would be there for me – I was treated with silence and was often looked at as though there was something wrong with me for even entertaining the notion of describing my experience as trauma. This lack of acknowledgement and thinly veiled, outright dismissal of both my experience and choice of description only served to amplify the psychological distress I was experiencing.

Later, as I got deeper into the research for my (forthcoming) third book that goes into this subject matter in greater depth, I found that there is a growing body of research investigating the links between what is described as the trauma of perinatal loss and involuntary childlessness, and adverse mental health outcomes, thus confirming what I (and many others) intuitively know to be true.

The idea that infertility, perinatal loss and involuntary childlessness are traumatic is gaining traction, increased momentum and recognition in psychological and mental health disciplines over the last few years. This is important for a number of reasons, not least of which is the support that is now being provided to women and couples who require much-needed intervention, both in the acute and longer-term mental health support settings.

Similarly, the growing recognition of this adverse impact of this trauma is slowly infiltrating into the broader community, which has the much-needed consequence of conferring acknowledgement of the suffering by these women, which in turn helps them in their healing journey. Any path to recovery begins with acknowledgement and, conversely, is disproportionate to any lack of recognition and acknowledgement of the suffering by those in a woman's social and familial circles.

Making revolutionary in-roads into recognition, acknowledgement and provision of support for women who are undergoing fertility treatment, or who have experienced perinatal loss and involuntary childlessness is the extraordinary Chiemi Rajamahendran, Founder of Miss Conception Coach, a support service established after Chiemi herself experienced the trauma of perinatal loss. As she shares in our conversation,

“It was just one of those light bulb moments. I am sitting in the emergency room thinking, there is a definite crack in our healthcare system.”

Through her own grief and distress, she has been able to create an invaluable community of support for women experiencing this very unique kind of trauma, whilst at the same time raising critical awareness for the impact this has on so many women’s lives.

On this difficult Mother’s Day 2020, I am thrilled to share my conversation with Infertility and Grief Support Warrior, Chiemi Rajamahendran.

In Chiemi’s Words

A Community of Support from the Pain of Loss

My name’s Chiemi, and I’m also known as, ‘Miss.Conception Coach’ online as well as through our community that we started, about four or five years ago now. It was really a community that started at the grassroots. I had personal experience of having my own secondary infertility journey, as well as being in the field. My educational background is in psychiatric nursing and communications. I was in different environments and working with women pre-conception and postpartum. And I was also on a hotline for miscarriages and emergency situations.

It was after I experienced my own loss that I was really profoundly moved to not ever have somebody experience that same thing alone. It was one of those light bulb moments.I am sitting in the emergency room thinking, there is a definite crack in our healthcare system. It is nobody’s fault. It is not the ER’s fault or the nurse’s fault, but nurses do so much, that they do not have time to care for women that are going through miscarriages. They are often just sent home, to fend for themselves.

The more we started talking about those scenarios, the more people said, “Yes I have experienced that too. And I was sent home.” And people feel that emotional, real-time support is just not there. And so, it was in that moment that I thought, I want to build a platform and a community so that, if someone’s in that actual, real-time space, needing to speak to someone, they can. If they are in their car, and they are just crying; or they have got home and their spouse is there, but they do not really know how to be there emotionally, because they are also in shock in that moment.

So, it is one of those things that I wanted, to just make sure that people could just log in and connect. We started with Facebook groups, the website, and Instagram, which became the largest community. But the two Facebook groups we do have are still up and running, and they offer that support. A lot of it is peer support. Someone that is there, and they can say, “Hey, anyone out there? I just want to chat. I just need to share, and I need to vent.” Or just to feel somebody is there. And in this day and age, it is really comforting to have that instant connection with people that just understand, and who have been through something similar. And even if they do not, within 10 minutes you get a whole bunch of people just saying, “Hey, we hear you, we are here. If you need anything tonight, just log in and send us a message, and we can chat.”

And it does not even have to be really anything too deep. Sometimes you just want to say, “I have such a bad day and I am just sitting here feeling really down.” And other people will say, I am here too and let’s just talk about our shows, or our cats, or our dogs,” or anything really.

So that was how the community started. And from that, I decided to do full-time counseling and one-on-one with people in it, with (the option for) a real-time booking, because obviously, if you do IVF, or you do an IUI, or it fails, and you are leaving the doctor’s office, you really just want to talk to someone right then and there. So usually, my clients will book within hours, or a day. So it is not, I’ll see you every two weeks for months. It is, sometimes I speak to the person once, and that is it. And sometimes I speak to them for months, and even after their pregnancies. Or after they have stopped trying, and they just want to talk through things that they are still working on.

I have really great moderators that have been there from day one, and they are on all sorts of journeys. Some have stopped, and some have children that are now four or five years old, and they moderate the peer support groups, which is wonderful. And they keep an eye and they make sure everyone’s okay, and everyone’s respected, and everyone’s getting along. So it is great that we have that help within the community too, as peer leaders and support leaders. It is wonderful for the newer women that are just at the beginning of their experience. Hearing about all the different scenarios, they might be thinking, “Oh, no one’s going to have a story like me.” And then finding someone actually does. And they say, “Oh, I went through that and I experienced that. And to be on the other end of it is really, really comforting too.” So it is a nice way to share information.And there is something about having it validated by someone that has also been through that.

Self Esteem & Self Doubt in Infertility Treatment

I think in any mental health scenario, there is a stigma attached to that emotion or whatever emotional aspect of what you are experiencing. With infertility treatment, there is the medical part of it and the clinical part of it. From the moment that say, you do have a loss, or your IVF treatment does not work, there is a very matter of fact, clinical part. On paper, you are processing the statistics and the ratios and everything. But there are also all of these emotions that you are starting to feel, the self-doubt, and that voice in your head that starts to creep in. There is something about sharing that vulnerability of saying,

“That miscarriage really made me doubt my body. It made me doubt my instincts as a woman, and doubt my support, from people that I thought would be there for me. And they weren’t.”

And I think self-esteem slowly gets chipped away. And you need to give yourself that pep-talk about it not being your fault, that you didn’t do anything. And really remember that it is something that was not in your control. Because we do live in a society that the sometimes, the message is the opposite, that there is the fertility diet and all these herbs and all of these pills, and all sorts of things that you can take to boost your fertility or boost your chances, and your egg quality. So that whole cultural story starts to play into your head, “Well, maybe I should have taken those vitamins. Maybe that is why I didn’t have a healthy pregnancy.”

So it is really hard to stay in a healthy mindset when you have a whole society that plays into that rhetoric of it being somehow your fault. One thing that we really work on, after the losses, is rebuilding that confidence, and that story of not taking on all of that. It is not ours to take on, all of that responsibility.

Challenging the Narrative & Rebuilding a Sense of Identity

That (re-building) is something that we work on. And a lot of times when people book sessions, the first thing I do I give them a little survey. It is four questions, but one of them is just about that: where do you find your joy normally? And where do you find things that make you feel good? And we talk about how that disconnect to our own bodies starts to happen, especially after infertility. Because it is that feeling you knew, and you trusted, and you thought you could understand something. And then that feeling is just knocked out of you. And having to rebuild that again and not taking that on personally.

And we really work on understanding the difference between, for example, when we get triggered, how that is not even about that person, or us; it is just that narrative. It goes straight back to that narrative of seeing that reflection of a pregnant lady. And it is going straight to your heart and then feeling not good enough again, that maybe I am not worthy. Maybe I am not meant to be a mother.

All of these million things end up spiralling into our minds. We have to work on having that other voice, that just says repeatedly - to combat all of those spiraling thoughts - that it is not about them. It is not about something that I should not do, or could not do, or did not do. It is just reminding myself that it is not my fault. And that I do deserve to be a mother, and I deserve just to really not add any stress - extra stress - or put in place boundaries and keep them extra tight.

Because I think we take a lot on from other people, that are in our support system. And the relationship dynamics are often a huge part of what we discuss. Mothers, sisters, brothers, and spouses, that play into the whole experience. And friends, and friends that get pregnant, and sisters that are on their fourth child, that are younger than you. There are so many different narratives and story dynamics that all play into who we see ourselves as. And what we wear for each of those different relationships. It is a lot of different juggling.

For my community, and for my platforms, I do not ever really speak about my personal story. Because it is not part of it; it is your stories that I am here for. And that is the important thing. But it is being able to relate to being at an RA’s office, and all the tests, and all of those things. I also know that frustration and how draining that is.

And I try to keep my page as trigger-free as possible, just for that reason, to make sure that everybody feels included. Because you cannot really do both. You cannot celebrate pregnancies, yet also keep people feeling they are safe.

 The Trauma of Infertility

I think it was last year, or the year before, I started using that term. Trauma. And it really was just a description of scenarios and experiences, and that was the only word that really fits. And I stuck with it. And I would see it pop up so often now, and that is great. Because, I talk a lot about retelling your story and, sometimes, when we do not use the proper terms, people do not feel or empathize with what we’ve actually experienced. If you just say, “Oh, we did IVF and it didn’t work, we might do it again,” versus “I have a physical ailment that only allows for this treatment, and it is an invasive treatment, one that I have to take time off work for, and one that is painful and there is a lot of procedures and a lot of medication.” It changes if you actually describe the reality, and then that is not even getting to the treatment itself, and then perhaps losses of that treatment, and the repercussions of that experience.

So, being able to use the proper terms, and explain exactly what you went through helps other people understand what you might be feeling. And it really does help. But it is also a vulnerable place to be, to really open up and share all of that stuff with people that you are close to. So that is one thing we talk about a lot. But there is also that hurt of sometimes opening up and people reacting ignorantly. And they do not know what to say, and then they feel, “Well that is the last time! I am never doing that again.” Because you just don’t want to feel that way again. And that is valid too.

Trauma and the Mental Health Fallout

I have clients that are a few months in, and some who might be years in, and problems might start off with anxiety and just a little bit of symptoms of depression. I wouldn’t say ‘depression’ because that is a clinical term, but symptoms of melancholy and just feeling really low and down. And we always talk about hope, and people think, “Oh, I am losing my hope, I am losing my will, my faith,” or whatever that is that makes you want to carry on and have a purpose. That starts to really get chipped away. And so we need to find a new sense of what that hope means.

But, even as years go by, it is the compounded trauma of, say, four or five IFVs or IUI’s that were not successful. Or maybe a couple had some early trimester losses. And that is now compounded trauma in a person’s experience. And deciding, “Can I go on? should I go on? How long should I do this for? How much money should I spend? How much time should I invest emotionally, physically?” There is angst there, in being caught between worlds. So a lot of people find themselves at a crossroads.

And even after, say, somebody does get pregnant, or even while they are pregnant, I have some clients that it is all just catching up to them. And it is a PTSD of just being pregnant! They are pregnant, they have the prize, but they are just numb. They are collapsed, and they are not emotionally attaching or connecting with their body, with the baby. Because they just need time to disconnect. And it is one of those things where you are rushed into it, and now, you are pregnant. And it is a few months in, but you are still just trying to catch up with what happened a year ago! And then that becomes really hard because they feel now “I am a bad mom. I am not emotionally bonding. I am not even ready yet to call it a baby. I am not ready to even think about that yet.” So we just work on talking about how it is okay to not ‘be here,’ in whatever scenario you think that you should be emotionally in. And even after the baby is born, even years later, there are lots of things that people are still trying to work out.

The Courage of Being in the Middle

The ‘middle’ is something that always resonates back to me because it is always that person that is still trying. Whether it is at the beginning of their journey, or they have decided to stop. Or whether they are pregnant, it doesn’t matter what. It is that middle part, that middle time when you feel like you are in-between. You want to carry on, but you are not sure in what direction. And it is that part, that I find the most courageous. And it is often the stories of people on the other side, where they are holding their miracle baby, and they are so happy now. And that is the spotlight. They are the ones that get talked about in the media. And they are the stories that people like to share. But, what about sharing when we were at our rock bottom, and we did not feel we could go on, and yet we did? And that moment is where I think, is so courageous. And I try to post about that, because I know that is where, I would say, most of our community sits.

Sure, there are inspirational stories, and there are all sorts of people that are on the other side of that. But having that moment before, feeling like someone cannot even get out of bed but they do? That is courageous. It is that pep-talk, it is that moment where you are like, “I don’t want to,” but the narrative that you can keep telling yourself is, “Okay, I am just, I am going to get up, I am going to go start walking. I am just going to have some water. I am going to go outside for a minute.” It is these little mini-steps of courage that actually get us to the next step.

So I like to celebrate those. And I often tell my clients to just keep celebrating those baby steps, because that is how we can boost ourselves up, every day. Especially with everything that is going on. Celebrate just the small steps of survival. That should never be underrated. Those moments. And it is funny, because people always say, “Oh, I do not feel strong. I do not feel courageous, I would never use that term to describe myself.” And they do not ever see themselves as that. But I like to make sure that I always let my clients know, that I do see them like that. I find that extremely courageous.

It is self-esteem too. But it is also that we forget that there is an element of trauma that takes away from our ability to clearly see stuff. I did post a while back where I used the phrase, “It’s not you, it’s trauma.” It is the trauma of infertility because we personalize everything. As females, it is the hormones that make us feel crazy, and not ourselves. It is our whole body, the connection to that, and we take everything personally, everything that happens in our body, or how we feel, we are that. We are that a black cloud, or we are that feeling of weakness. But really, it is that ability to give yourself that permission to say, “That is not me. I am going through hormones and I am going through medication that is making me feel like that. I am going through a huge drop in hormones, after my loss.” Or there is postpartum depression, there is just all of these things, that kind of cloud our ability to see things really clearly.

Extended Interview

For the extended version of this interview, please visit Chiemi's Words


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