Six months have flown by since I last shared a research update. During this time, my movement practice has changed in ways I could never have predicted.
I started the year with an intention to cut back on working hours and move more. Several things were happening at the time. My dog and best friend of over 18 years was nearing his final days and deep down, I knew we didn't have long left with him. I was also feeling the physical brunt of prolonged sitting and screen time at work.
In addition, I was starting to feel dizzy and more tired than usual. Then nausea hit. On February 14th, I tested positive for an unexpected pregnancy. My partner and I received the news with excitement. I was almost 43 years old and with no children, this was an unexpected blessing. Suddenly, all the fatigue and nausea made perfect sense.
Fast forward to March 18th. My beloved dog (also our family dog and dearly loved by us all) was put to sleep in my arms. I had been dreading this moment of loss and was the one to make the call that at 18.5 years, with no mobility in his legs and 8 months of increasingly distressed nights, we had to let him go. It ripped my heart apart. I had promised him I'd be there until the very last moment and I honoured my word.
This dog had become my steady rock after coming home to Dubai from Gaza in 2012. I was somewhat numb from over a decade of humanitarian work and a difficult marriage and divorce. Teaching yoga during this decade had kept me functioning, as had my passion for movement. But in so many other ways - particularly emotionally - I wasn't all there. And so we journeyed together over the next decade while I found a new path, one that included moving us both from Dubai to the UK.
The night I let my friend go, I tested positive for Covid. A week of isolation in a bedroom followed while grief set in. The following week, the bleeding started. My partner and I had traveled to Wales to be by the sea. I grew up near the beach and longed to feel the sand under my toes. Life in mainland UK whilst pretty (the countryside near my home is a haven for some) doesn't have the salty air and crashing waves that soothe my soul.
It started on a white chair in a restaurant. There had been signs the night before but with our first scan the following week, we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. If you have ever had a miscarriage, you'll know how much blood is released from the uterus. You know what is happening and that there isn't a thing you can do except wait until the life that was once growing inside of you passes through you.
How do you explain to a waitress that you're having a miscarriage? I couldn't think of anything else to say except the truth, and that I was sorry about the once-white chair. Ushering my partner out of the restaurant, I suspected life wasn't just ebbing away inside me but that it was also about to change, significantly so. Two losses back to back would take time to recover from and I hadn't a roadmap for either.
If only it had passed in one go. The 12-week scan a few days later revealed not only had the loss not been completed but that the life within me had stopped growing 5 weeks earlier. I had had what is commonly referred to as a missed miscarriage and now, an incomplete one. Two options lay before me to evacuate my uterus - a medical option to open the uterus and facilitate the loss and a surgical one. I chose the former on my 43rd birthday.
Several hours of pain followed. I have always considered myself to have a fairly high pain threshold yet this type of pain was like nothing I had experienced. I'm typically a proud person and don't show my pain but it got so bad we called A&E. Two days later, a scan showed the medical route hadn't succeeded and two days after that, surgery under general anaesthetic - something I'd do whatever I could to avoid - followed.
If you are reading this and you have been there, either personally or through your partner, my heart is with you. With an early miscarriage, people may not know you're pregnant. You're hiding the nausea and fatigue, doing your best to go about work and life, and then suddenly, it's all gone and nobody except those close to you know. But then you find places where it's ok to share and realise that so many women experience such losses, multiple times in some cases. And it can be so much worse.
In my case, the likely cause was fetal abnormalities. My age - 43 - wasn't a great starting point for quality of eggs. I mention this as my first thought like many in this situation was, what did I do wrong? Was it the workouts I did before I realised I was pregnant and slowed down? Was it because I didn't give myself enough rest?
These 2 weeks of loss coincided with a week of holiday I had booked to do my research and celebrate my birthday. Due to work, I was 6 months behind with my thematic analyses. The research was alive in my mind each day but my capacity to face a computer after work to complete the analyses was non-existent. My body longed to move or sleep instead.
Thankfully, my research participants were understanding and so the project continues, albeit at a much slower pace than I had planned.
Three months have passed since I lost my best friend and then the life within me. Both have changed my perspective on life and what matters now. A stint of therapy has helped me navigate these early days with as much reflection as I can manage right now. Increasingly, I find myself turning to my movement practices and research question, what motivates people to move and how does this change over time?
In the past few weeks, I have had to move differently. Slowly and fearfully at first as I recovered from surgery. Then with tears as I began to strengthen and reconnect with my lower body. The emotional stress I've experienced continues to release in practice. I've been thankful for my movement sanctuary and yet I find myself in a different body. One that is weaker and moves with less confidence than I am used to.
My concept of movement has grown to include short bursts of intense practice in the morning - a 12-minute run, 12 minutes on Bob (striking), a cold shower, and a coffee on the patio. Sometimes 25 minutes of weights or 20 minutes of karate. Short sessions before work which has been uplifting as the weather gets warmer in the UK.
The cold shower in particular after movement has reminded me of happy childhood days. Getting out of the pool after a training session or competition, wrapping myself in a towel and feeling safe. That's what I do after the cold shower now. It brings back an embodied state of comfort that is hard to feel without the movement and cold.
This week, I went to a Kettlebells group class - a whole 45 minutes of intense movement - and later in the week, a 90 mins yoga class. This morning, I managed my first longer cardio session of 55 mins. A Les Mills Body Combat online class. Martial arts aside, I've never been a group fitness person. I've always been quite stubborn in training myself and yet there is a change within me and a questioning, can I move differently?
The grief continues but I'm able to hold space for it as my passion for movement returns. There is an excitement returning about all the ways to move in and through life, a joy at feeling the inner beauty of movement come to life within me again. And hope that even after loss, life can and does move on.
Claire Higgins is a Positive Psychology Practitioner & Researcher and Self-Defence Instructor. She holds a Masters degree in Exercise & Sport Psychology and directs Inner Athletics.