Art is not just for artists. Using art materials as a form of expression and processing our feelings can be a powerful tool in emotion exploration. This is especially important in grief. In pregnancy loss grief where opportunities to express and engage with our loss are minimal, exploring our emotions through art can be a helpful tool.
Unfortunately there is no way to avoid trauma in miscarriage and pregnancy loss. It is a big deal, no matter what society leads you to believe. And that trauma is imprinted on your heart and mind – actually physically imprinted on your mind. Memories are physical realities and the more traumatic an event, the stronger the pathways in our brains. When we don’t face the trauma of our loss, it doesn’t ‘just go away.’ It remains in our brains and causes issues in other areas – whether that be through anger or withdrawal from life. The good news, however, is that our brains can be retrained. We can lay new pathways and new neurons are being created all the time. Before it was thought that the brain could not regenerate neurons but we now know that is not true. What that means is that a traumatic situation in our minds can be processed and seen from another perspective. Art can be powerful in helping us see things from other perspectives and ‘re-wiring’ our minds.
For example, one of the things I found very traumatic before I had a second surgery for another ectopic pregnancy (where the baby grows in the ovary or fallopian tube and cannot survive and must be removed), is that I was alone and fearful before I was put under the anesthetic. There were medical staff around but I had no one else with me. I believe in God and I was calling out to Him but I didn’t feel like He was with me at that time. I felt very shaken by that memory and the trauma of it caused me to withdraw at times in anger from God in the weeks after the surgery. One of the art activities I did a couple of weeks after the surgery was draw myself in the hospital bed alone, feeling small and fearful and then as I cried and acknowledged the trauma I had been through, I asked God, ‘Please, show me where you were!’. As I closed my eyes and quieted my soul, I felt a sense of peace in my heart and I felt like He showed me a mental impression of angels around my bed and that He was watching over me. I felt in my spirit that He never left but was rather looking over me and protecting me the whole time. It totally changed my mental perspective on that day. Around my bed I drew angel like figures and a representation of God. From that time on that memory was transformed from one of trauma and pain to one of comfort and gratitude and peace.
Another art activity I did was paint my heavenly children into a photo of our living family. Because the second surgery meant the loss of a second fallopian tube and the end of having a family naturally, I wanted to acknowledge and represent my whole family together:
Another time I painted sunflowers as symbols of hope after a loss:
But you don’t need to be skilled at drawing or painting for art to be a healing tool. Here are some ways that even the worst stickman-drawing person can use art to help process their loss:
1. Remember it is about the process not the product.
It doesn’t need to take long either. 10 minutes may be enough. It’s not about creating something beautiful, it’s about having an outlet for your emotions and finding ways to identify them and transform them.
2. Create a ritual for quietening your soul
Quiet yourself and if appropriate ask God to help you. You may like to take some deep breaths and imagine yourself in a beautiful place. Find your way to self-calm before you begin.
3. Don’t judge the drawing, just engage with the experience.
Perhaps put on some classical or calming music to create a peaceful atmosphere. Remember this isn’t about creating beautiful art, so hold back your inner critic and just enjoy the process of engaging with different art materials – their textures and colours.
Art idea 1: Choose a color that represents how you are feeling right now.
If you are not sure, just choose a color you are drawn to. Start to make different marks on the paper and be aware of the emotions that are rising up within you. Are they negative or positive emotions? If they are negative spend some time exploring those emotions with your mark making. Are you pressing hard or gently into the paper? What emotions are rising up? You may then like to choose another color which represents more positive emotions and draw and make marks with that colour around and over your negative marks. Think about the positive things that have come out of your loss – maybe a kind gesture from a friend or a new level of compassion with others who have lost babies. It doesn’t matter how small it is, try and think of something.
Art idea 2: draw yourself on the paper during a time that was difficult and painful.
Where are you in this memory? How do you feel? Draw or write, use different colours or marks to express how you are feeling or a particular event. Stick people are fine! You may then like to ask God where He was during that time or instead think about the things in your life at that time that weren’t shaky or traumatic that got overwhelmed by the pain of that time. For example, in the example I used above being alone in the hospital bed, the truth is, I was also surrounded by caring and understanding medical staff. I was unable to see them and their help at that time, however. Do you have a friend or family member who could represent comfort to you who you could imagine in that scene? Remember recovering from trauma is about replacing our negative memories or rewriting them, so imagining someone who could comfort you at that time could help.
Art idea 3: draw seeds in the ground and write on them the things you are saying goodbye to.
Then draw plants coming out of the seeds and flowers on top. You may like to leave the flowers as they are or you may like to write on the flowers messages of hope or things you want to embrace in the next season.
Drawing, painting and any other type of creativity are great ways to look after yourself after pregnancy loss. To help with you some other ideas too, I have designed a beautiful self-care guide with 10 ways to help yourself heal after miscarriage, stillbirth and pregnancy loss. Click here or on the image below to get your copy:
1) Grief Unseen: Healing Pregnancy Loss through the arts by Laura Seftel
2) The Anguish of Loss: Visual Experiences of Grief and Sorrow by Julie Fritsch
2) Pinterest board with art on it
Other articles you may find helpful:
- What you need to know about the trauma of miscarriage and pregnancy loss
- 10 ways to commemorate pregnancy loss