Losing myself in sitcoms and movies helped me find the space to manage my grief and anxiety and begin to heal.
I am not a TV watcher.
In fact, I’m actually usually vehemently anti-TV, a fact that my disgruntled middle-schooler can attest to.
I don’t find it relaxing, I can’t seem to sit through a show without getting twitchy about the hundreds of other productive things I could be doing, and if I do watch it, I always seem to find myself left with an inexplicable headache. So, in general, I have proclaimed myself against TV.
Then I had a miscarriage.
Followed by another one.
Two back-to-back pregnancy losses felt like the grown-up version of falling on the playground and not being able to lift your head. The sharp, startling pain of having the wind knocked out of you and not understanding what’s happening.
Quite honestly, my miscarriages were my first real introduction to grief and I had no idea how to navigate it. And much to my surprise, for the first time in my life, I turned to TV as a way to help me through the grief and pain of my losses.
In a strange sort of way, TV became an unlikely source of therapy for me during that hard time in my life.
My first miscarriage — after 4 successful pregnancies — felt like it caught me completely off guard.
For some reason, despite knowing how common pregnancy loss is, and knowing several women who went through it, I never truly thought about it happening to me.
So when it did, it completely bowled me over.
It devastated me in a way that, even 4 years later, I still haven’t completely recovered from. Whether looking at the hormonal, physical, or emotional effects — or more likely some combination of all three — that loss deeply changed me.
When we felt ready to try again, just over a year after the loss happened, I was immediately terrified of losing that pregnancy again. It was a crippling, deep fear that felt paralyzing.
Because of my first loss, we had an ultrasound scheduled pretty early on, and getting to that point was agonizing. It was all I could think about, and I felt like I couldn’t properly care for my other children or be present for my life in any way, shape, or form.
My mind was constantly plagued with fear and anxiety — and then, when we finally got to the ultrasound room, the screen betrayed what I had feared all along: a heart beating much too slow.
My midwife explained to me that although my baby’s heart was beating, a fetal heartbeat that slow meant miscarriage was very likely.
I’ll never forget the pain of watching the struggling flickers of my baby’s heartbeat on the screen.
That day, I went home to wait for my baby to die.
The wait was agonizing. Because there was a heartbeat, it became a torturous waiting game. Although we all knew statistically that I would probably miscarry, there was still that flame of hope that the baby would survive. We had to give the pregnancy a chance and wait a few more weeks before we knew for sure.
It’s hard to explain what that wait felt like. It was excruciating, and I felt the full gamut of every possible emotion you could think of at such intense levels that it felt like I was going to shatter.
I wanted nothing more during that time than to escape my own mind — and my body — and so, I turned to TV.
During that time of waiting, I turned to TV precisely for all the reasons I had once avoided it: It was a way to waste time, an avenue to escape my own mind, a pathway into a contrived (if completely false) world where laugh tracks could be counted on to keep me going.
For me, the mindless distraction and lightness of the world of TV that I stumbled into felt like a balm to my broken soul.
The brief respite that my shows gave me allowed me to function, however stilted, in the other areas of my life. And when, finally, we returned to the doctor’s office to find out that the pregnancy ended in a loss, I turned, once again, to TV to help me find a shred of lightness to cling onto.
Surprisingly, I found out that I’m not alone in having used TV to cope with a miscarriage.
After four miscarriages, including two IVF pregnancies, and the birth of a special needs son with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, Courtney Hayes of Arizona used TV as a key tool in battling her anxiety after traumatic pregnancies, especially when she found herself pregnant with a second child.
“Lots of Netflix and distractions,” she says of how she coped with her fears during that pregnancy. “The quiet moments are when it can be consuming.”
I would go on to find out exactly what Hayes meant when, a year after my second miscarriage, I was pregnant again — and the fear and anxiety I felt was overwhelming.
I felt like I was going to explode out of my own skin with worry, and on top of it all, I had crippling morning sickness that was so severe even brushing my teeth or taking a shower made me puke.
All I wanted to do was lay in bed, but laying down brought the demons of fear and anxiety to a head.
And so, the balm of TV once again entered my life.
Whenever my husband was home to take over kid duty, I retreated to my room and binge-watched every show you could think. I gorged myself on “feel-good” shows like “Fuller House” and “Friends” and classic movies I had never seen, like “Jerry McGuire” and “When Harry Met Sally.”
I avoided any show that hinted of babies or pregnancy, and when “Call the Midwife” showed up as a new season, I almost cried.
But overall, those hours holed up in my room, anchoring myself on the one thing I had the energy to do — watch a show — felt like they got me through.
Now, I’m not an expert on miscarriage or navigating grief. I’m not trained in the best way to get through the obvious anxiety or maybe even slight PTSD that, looking back, I was probably experiencing.
But what I do know is that sometimes, as moms, we do what we can to survive with the mental health resources we have at our disposal.
Amy Shuman, MSW, LICSW, DCSW, a counselor at Western New England University, explains that there are many different things that someone may find comforting in times of grief and loss, from aromatherapy to calming music to weighted blankets.
In my case, turning to TV to help me cope with my emotions was actually a form of comfort. “A lot of people find certain shows comforting,” she says. “It can be like their weighted blanket.”
While there’s no wrong or right way to move through the stages of grief and loss, Shuman reminds us that it’s key to be aware that if the “coping” mechanism is prohibiting you from living your life or incapacitating you in any way, or it goes on for an extended period of time, it’s no longer a healthy way of dealing with your emotions.
“Once it starts getting in the way of your ability to function, then it may be something you should see a professional about,” she says.
And while I encourage any of you reading this to please, please talk to your doctor about all your emotions while going through and after a pregnancy loss, and any subsequent pregnancies after, I just wanted to share my story to say that you’re not alone if you find yourself simply searching for a way to numb your emotions for a little while to make it through.
Because the good news at the end of all this struggle is that I did make it through.
I used TV a lot as a way to cope and distract myself from all my fears and worries and the physical hardships of the first trimester of my pregnancy after the miscarriages — but when I made it through those initial 13 weeks, it felt like the fog began to lift.
I struggled with anxiety throughout the whole pregnancy. I worried constantly about losing my baby. But after the first trimester, I didn’t need the mindless distraction of TV like I once had.
And after I “made it through,” so to speak, and delivered my rainbow baby, I’m now walking a different road in the journey of pregnancy loss. (Because I firmly believe, there is no end — just a road we all walk differently.)
Now I can look back at my experience and give myself grace.
In a world that seems to want to encourage women, and mothers especially, to focus on mindfulness in the present as a way to live life to the fullest, I was surprised to find that, for me, escaping my own mind through a few harmless TV shows was actually an unexpected source of healing.
I wasn’t doing something “wrong” by wanting to escape some of my hard feelings, and I certainly wasn’t trying to “forget” the love I had for each of my pregnancies, I simply needed some sort of respite from the darkness that constantly plagued my mind.
The experience showed me that when it comes to pregnancy loss — and pregnancy after loss — we will all cope, heal, and grieve differently.
There simply is no “right” or “wrong” way to get through it.
I think the key is knowing when we need a temporary coping mechanism to get through, and when we need to seek professional help.
And as for me? Well, I don’t need the soft glow of the screen to distract me anymore. I’m right back to being the mean, screen-free mom that my kids have come to know and love. (Ha.)
But I will forever be grateful that at a time when I needed it most, I had an unexpected resource that allowed me space and time to find a way to heal.
Chaunie Brusie is a labor and delivery nurse turned writer and a newly minted mom of 5. She writes about everything from finance to health to how to survive those early days of parenting when all you can do is think about all the sleep you aren’t getting. Follow her here.