Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Therapy is supposed to be my safe space.

abstract watercolor illustration of a single bright orange leaf on the ground
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I began seeing a therapist a week after Nelle died.  I saw Alexia through becoming pregnant again, and then losing Iris.  I remember so clearly telling her in a session that something didn't feel right during my pregnancy.  She told me to tell myself "stop it" as a way to stave off negative thoughts.  To use positive self-talk and say "I can get through anything."  

A few days later, I was emailing her, asking her if I could come in sooner than my regular appointment, because we had lost Iris.  At the end of that session, she hugged me so tightly and said, "I'm so sorry, hun.  This isn't what I wanted for you."

I stayed with Alexia throughout my pregnancy with Autumn.  It wasn't until I was nearing the end of that pregnancy that I felt that she was no longer helping me.  While supportive and challenging — in a good way — through grief and trauma, she seemed to think that by bringing a healthy baby home that I was going to "be ok."  Shortly after Autumn was born, I stopped seeing her.

My next round of therapy wasn't until more than a year later.  Ger and I had started seeing a marriage therapist (Suzanne), and I thought that an individual therapist would also help, as I was trying to cope with the crippling anxiety that Ger was facing and the strain that it was putting on us.  I was only a few months into seeing this new individual therapist (Liz) when it was Nelle's birthday.  During the course of talking about visiting the tree in honor of her birthday, Liz said, "I think Nelle would want you to move on."

No.  Just no.  That is someone who doesn't understand grief.  Who thinks that grief is something that can be "fixed."  I immediately stopped seeing her.  I told Suzanne what had happened, and she grimaced and confirmed that I never should have had to hear those words.  I didn't bother to look for an individual therapist again, feeling that I was in a good place.

Then earlier this year, I went through a traumatic event - a mental health issue with someone I knew.  It shook me so badly that I was having nightmares.  At the urging of Suzanne, I started individual therapy again, with Elaine, - telling her that I was coming in as a response to a specific event.  But of course, all of my history came up.  I often talked about pregnancy loss, friends I knew that I had experienced loss, the SHARE support group that I go to, and the panels that I speak on about loss.  It was clear that she did not have a lot of specific exposure to pregnancy loss, based on some of her reactions, but she guided me through talking about it with questions.

During my last appointment, she told me that she is pregnant.  First child, and she was 18 weeks along.  She knew that she needed to tell me, since she would start showing, and also acknowledged that from our prior conversations that she knew being around pregnant people is hard for me.  I tried to be conversational, asking how it was going.  

She told me that she had been very anxious.  That her blood pressure was high in the doctor's office because of nerves.  That she felt like she wasn't showing much and was worried about the baby's size, and I educated her on fundal height measurements that would take place in upcoming pregnancies.  That she hadn't felt any movement, and I said that she could have anterior placenta, which makes it harder to feel movement, which she had never heard of.  That she had chosen not to have any of the early genetic screening done.  All of those details — it was suddenly a "conversation."  Not a therapy session.

She told me that hadn't told anyone outside of family, because she wanted to get past her 20-week ultrasound first.  I told her that, first of all, there is no "safe time" in pregnancy, and second of all, that she would want people in her life to support her if something did happen - that she wouldn't have to go through it alone.  She was unaware that in a typical, healthy pregnancy, that she wouldn't have another ultrasound after 20 weeks.  We also talked about the non-stress tests I had, but that those wouldn't happen either unless there was a specific reason to be concerned.

All of this conversation, it was me giving her information.  Appeasing her anxiety.  She told me at the end of the session that she had learned so much about pregnancy from me during our time together and thanked me for sharing and helping her to understand many things that she never had even thought of (like the question "how many children do you have?")  I wanted to say "Glad I could help.  So why am I paying YOU for this session?"

I told a friend about this session who is a licensed therapist herself, and she was pretty much horrified that the conversation had unfolded in that way.  That it crossed a professional line and put me in a very weird place.  Therapy is supposed to be my safe space, where I can be vulnerable, and instead, I felt like I was propping her up.  I had to be the strong person in that room, that day.  It is not supposed to be about her - it is supposed to be about me and my world.

In describing this incident to other people I said, "Suppose I were an alcoholic, and she came into the session drinking a beer."  A therapist would never do that, and I should never have been forced to stare at my own trauma, in my safe space, in such a way, especially when this therapist knew full well that pregnant women are a trigger for me — it had been the subject of many prior discussions.  

When I had politely asked, "So how is your pregnancy going?" she could have easily directed it back with, "Fine - now let's talk about you."  Instead, we spent the vast majority of the session talking about her, and only in the last five minutes did she ask if I had anything else to talk about.  And I actually did - I had something I wanted to discuss, but then we ran out of time.

At my request, Elaine emailed me yesterday after her 20-week ultrasound.  Because now that I know she's pregnant, I needed to know for my own peace of mind that her baby is ok.  But the results of her ultrasound were that the baby boy has a cyst on his brain, which could be nothing, but also is a soft marker for trisomy 18 so now she has been referred to a high-risk specialist.

I had already determined that I needed to break up with Elaine.  My safe space was gone, and I could foresee future appointments where she would again talk about her pregnancy.  Even absent that, I would see her pregnancy and, regardless of circumstances, seeing pregnant women is hard for me.  Add to that knowing that she now had a high-risk pregnancy?  I couldn't.

I emailed her back and told her that I wish her the very best for her baby boy, and that I needed to cancel all future appointments; that it would be too hard.  Added the words "I hope you understand" though given all of my previous conversations with her, that should have been more than understandable.

So I am therapist-less again, and likely going to stay that way for while.  Though in the back of my mind, starting therapy when I need therapy is hard and might be better to build up a history with someone, but starting over with therapy is exhausting.  And why is it so hard to find a good therapist?

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