Acupuncture and the Sequelae of (My) Miscarriage

by Mary Beth Huwe

For a recording of me reading this post to you, click here.

Few acts, I think, are more healing than the overcoming of stigma. Many are the ways we label something as “bad” or “shameful” or “taboo” –explicitly with hate and loudness, or quietly with pinched-down mouths and subtle shunning.

Speaking out about stigmatized experiences and normalizing them is liberating for the human mind. It galvanizes our capacity for connection; it creates the platform for evolution. Witnessing the dropping of stigma is a great joy, and a testament to our own powers of consciousness and self-determination.

As an acupuncturist, I witness it in the individual. As a writer, I witness it in society. As a woman, I have the opportunity to witness it in myself.

One of the silences I have noticed being routinely rejected in recent years is the one surrounding miscarriage. What was once held closed and quiet is now being talked about more openly. There are articles about miscarriage here and there, and more and more people make social media announcements about it.

Miscarriage in my work

Clinically, I have worked with many patients whose fertility concerns brought them to my table, and I’ve felt an affinity toward them – both because I have a uterus (with the oft accompanying imagination) and because I’ve experienced some of the same things my patients have.

Although I have a condition known colloquially as Fertile Myrtle, I have also experienced endometriosis, polycystic ovaries, and uterine fibroids. All of which, it seems relevant to add, responded beautifully to acupuncture and Chinese herbs.

The result of all this was a Yes, I understand whose meaning was deeper than “I understand the clinical implications of your symptoms and how to treat them.”

Personally, I know lots of fabulous women. And I know that more of them have had miscarriages than I’m aware of… and I know of lots of miscarriages. So I considered myself pretty fertility and miscarriage savvy, until last summer when I had my own miscarriage after 11 weeks of pregnancy. Then I got schooled.

Miscarriage at my house

The miscarriage itself was – and this might sound weird, but hang with me – one of the single most healing experiences of my life.

Many miscarriages are protracted affairs that are essentially long, heavy menstrual periods. Others are discrete mini-labors; the uterus opens and releases the bulk of its contents as a whole. Mine was of the latter sort, and it happened at home with no intervention.

For me, this was healing because my daughter’s delivery five years ago was an intervention-heavy affair. Being able to allow my body to go about its miscarrying business was empowering. I felt calm and in charge; I felt like I had hoped I would feel while in labor with my first child.

Even though miscarrying wasn’t what I wanted, it was happening how I wanted. In my work, I understand this as a key distinction between a traumatizing event and a healing one.

Even though miscarrying wasn’t what I wanted, it was happening how I wanted.

This is a key distinction between a traumatizing event and a healing one. 

The Wild Ride

But a few days after my miscarriage, I began to experience what I’m calling sequelae of miscarriage. I’m not the first think of that term, apparently, but most sources I found referred only to the “psychological sequelae” of miscarriage.

As an acupuncturist, I don’t understand psychological and physiological symptoms as mutually exclusive. I had been pregnant for 11 weeks, and suddenly was not pregnant anymore. Though I had seen and felt direct evidence of no longer being pregnant, my body had some catching up to do with the new reality. I felt lurches of “pregnant”/”not pregnant” that were as physical as they were emotional.

Depending on when the miscarriage occurs, it takes a couple or several weeks for pregnancy hormones to return to their normal (undetectable) levels. In one sense, that’s a long time to feel pregnant when you’re not. In another sense, that’s a short time to return to “normal,” depending on how long the pregnancy lasted.

The return to “not pregnant” from “pregnant” is not a gentle ride, and in miscarriage this is complicated by loss, bewilderment, and a short time span.

These days, it’s not a ride that can occur in complete privacy with so many women working outside the home. Even if a woman has a great job with great benefits (that’s a big if), it’s likely she’ll be back at work before she’s feeling completely “normal” again.

It was during this window of time – from pregnant to not pregnant – that I most appreciated acupuncture. More than in my pregnancy morning sickness, more than during the actual miscarriage, and more than I am now that I’m pregnant again.

Nothing else smoothed out those jangling, grief-ridden, physical and emotional lurches like acupuncture. Acupuncture, ancient as it is, possesses a modern applicability that is almost breathtaking in its efficacy.

Acupuncture, ancient as it is, possesses a modern applicability

that is almost breathtaking in its efficacy. 

I have seen this time and again in my practice, and have felt it acutely in my own treatment as a patient. And still, after all these years’ experience, I was blown away by how effectively acupuncture helped me navigate the complexities of life post-miscarriage.

These writings are an exploration of what it means to be human – to be sick, to be well, and to heal – viewed through the lens of acupuncture and, occasionally, herbal medicine. 

None of this is medical advice. And my words aren’t meant to be the final word on… well, anything. Rather, I hope they are a beginning of a conversation you have with someone in your life. Thanks for reading! ~MBH