Guilt vs Shame


I have tried so hard to avoid writing this post.

A post I never wanted to write.

For a number of reasons.

But it seems that the more I push it away, the more the words swirl in my mind - demanding my attention. Demanding to be released.


I feel that this post needs a disclaimer right at the beginning.

Before I dive deep into this post’s tricky content, I need to make it clear - this post is about sharing my experience and my emotions (and my responses) through my journey. I don’t share these things to make anyone feel bad about what they did or didn’t do, but rather to offer another perspective (my perspective) which I hope will guide both grievers and those trying to offer support through grief.

I also want to make it very clear that I am in no way perfect. I get it wrong so many times and I completely understand how difficult it can be, when you’re not the one going through something, to know how best to show up for your friend. Even though I have been through many difficult situations in my life, I am still learning how I can best support others going through theirs.

I hope that this post will afford us all a chance to reflect on our own actions, both in situations when we are needing support, as well as when given an opportunity to offer support to others.


If you’ve ever listened to someone who has experienced pregnancy or infant loss, you will know that a common theme that weaves through each story is one of guilt. In some way or another, our minds are quick to try and find an explanation or reason behind our loss. Someone or something to blame. Was it that time I overdid it at the gym? Was it that time I ate a whole heap of licorice before I realised that licorice isn’t great during pregnancy? Was it when I reached up super high to peg a child’s piece of art to the display wire? So many thoughts, so many accusations, and definitely so much guilt surrounding our perceived part to play in our bodies failing our babies.

Guilt. It is a hard part of anyone’s journey, but one that you can’t avoid - even if you only feel it for a split second. You know deep down it wasn’t your fault, everyone tells you it wasn’t your fault, but you just can’t fight that urge to blame yourself. But for me, guilt was not the worst part of my 3rd miscarriage journey.

Of course, the worst part was most definitely hearing those words…again. “There is no heartbeat”. Experiencing that sensation of the ground opening up beneath you as you lay on that ultrasound bed and your heart shattering into a trillion tiny little pieces. The disbelief. The feeling that everything was moving slow motion and all sound was muted apart from the deafening drum of your own heartbeat, perhaps so much louder because you knew your baby’s heart no longer made the same sound. The realisation of all your hopes and dreams for life with your precious baby so abruptly blown away like leaves in a winter storm.

But, for me, the close runner-up for the worst part of my journey was the intense isolation and, to be honest, the shame I felt that I was not expecting.

So, what’s the difference?

guilt // a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.

shame // disgrace; the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonourable.

I felt like the guilt I could handle. To some extent. I had handled it before. I had processed all of those questions and self-blaming accusations before and I had worked through the feeling of “what else could I have done?” I knew that I had done everything the doctors had told me, taken every medication prescribed, I had rested, I had prayed. I knew that there was obviously some crucial factor the doctors were missing as it was now the third time my body had miscarried. I was completely devastated and heartbroken, but I knew that it wasn’t my fault.

But, what I didn’t understand was the absence of my friends this time around. We were in Wales, at Christmas time, when we found out we were miscarrying Squishy. Initially, I had many messages of love, heartbreak, comfort and support from others. When we returned to China just a couple of weeks later, I had thought I would see some close friends quite quickly. I continued to get some messages from a handful of people, but still no visitors. I saw posts on social media of people catching up after the Christmas holidays, excited to share what they had done and where they had been - some people needing to go right by my house to get to the restaurant for dinner, but still no visitors.

2 weeks passed and not one single friend had come to see me - or even asked if they could come. 2 weeks passed and I had not been given a comforting hug from even one friend.

I was left wondering why this time was different to the last?

Was my broken-record life of loss and suffering getting too much for my friends?

Did I really actually even have a genuine friendship with these people? Or were they more just ‘sunshine and coffee dates’ kind of friends - there for the good times only.

Was there something I had done - had I not been a good enough friend to them - that meant I deserved to be left alone during such a dark time?

Or did they just not actually care about me at all?

Was my third miscarriage somehow so shameful that they didn’t want to even enter in to the drama this time?

With the torment of these thoughts swirling through my mind, coupled with the dramatic changes in hormones running through my body, as well as my body still physically trying to complete the miscarriage process and dealing with my revisiting and intense grief emotionally, I developed a form of Post Partum Depression. I had no baby in my arms yet even then, it is still possible to suffer from PPD.

My thoughts found a new home in a dark cavern of worthlessness. An abyss where all that echoed was how much better off everyone would be if I wasn’t here. My friends could be free to carry on their lives, catching up over dinner and drinks and chatting about their exciting Christmas adventures without having to even give me a single thought. My family wouldn’t have to experience the joy of adding another grandchild/niece or nephew/cousin to the family tree, only to have that child never arrive…again. And most of all, my husband would be free to find someone who could give him the living child he desperately wants - and most definitely deserves.

The shame that I felt, during those 2 weeks especially, dug its claws in so deeply that I was seriously contemplating a life where I didn’t exist. It wasn’t even about me, even though I was tempted by the thought of not having to endure this pain, this darkness and this overwhelming grief anymore. It was so everyone else could be free of the burden of knowing me.

It was a frightening place to be in. I knew that I needed to find a way to clamber out of this expanding chasm before it was too late. But I was frozen by the expectations in my head that it was all everyone else’s responsibility.



Who even invented them? They're useless. And cause so much unnecessary damage.

In my place of grief and heartbreak, I was expecting others to know what to do, simply because they had done so the last time. Only after the fact can I see how this is unfair. Just as I wouldn’t want someone to assume that I would handle my grief in the same way the third time, I can’t assume that my friends would know how to respond to my grief the second or third time either.

In some amazingly predestined timing, my Mum was visiting in China for work commitments and I decided to unload all of my disappointments about my friends to her. She could understand my hurt, but asked me why I hadn’t asked them specifically to come. This took me a little bit by surprise. Like, why should that be my responsibility? I’m the one grieving! I’m the one suffering! But the more I thought about it. The more I knew she was right.

I was putting all of the responsibility for my own healing on the shoulders of others. What I needed to do, instead, was to be brave and invite people in to my pain {cue dramatic horror music}. To show up for myself by recognising when I need others to be allowed to show up for me - even if that means I need to send a message and not just assume that they will know what I need. I had to break free of the ‘victim mentality’ and actually take necessary steps towards my own healing.

For someone whose default during pain is to withdraw, this was such a hard thing to do.

But that's just another thing that my journey has taught me. Knowing how I react to situations like this, I should remember that others may also do the same. Therefore, don't be afraid to enter in to people's pain with them. Don't be afraid to send a message - at least then, they have the opportunity of accepting or declining your support. Sometimes, when withdrawing is a coping mechanism, people don't ask for help when they truly, desperately need it. "Let me know if you need anything" is a common statement during hard times. But for me, actions always speak louder than words. And turning up on the doorstep and then saying this, would have meant so much more than typing these words through a phone or computer - because, in my case, I probably won't let you know, even if I can think of a thousand ways you could help - and at that time particularly, I actually didn’t even have a clue what I needed anyway.

So I did it. I chose a few select friends to reach out to. The ones who I felt the closest to and who I felt I would be able to share the full rawness of this journey with. One friend I invited to come and visit, which she did, and I had the chance to share how I was feeling with her. She shared her assumption that I would want time to process or to have time to spend just with my husband and her fear of being a reminder of what we’ve lost as she has a young child, while also acknowledging my pain and hurt in the situation. After our talk, I felt a little of the weight lifting; I felt a little stream of light start to appear at the entrance of that dark cavern.

A few other friends were then messaged, and some responded with ‘explanations’ for their behaviour more than acceptance of what I was sharing. Of course, this hurt - but I chose to approach them with a heart of forgiveness - understanding that neither position is an ‘easy’ one to be in, and remembering the times that I have gotten it so wrong (and continue to do). See, there’s this thing that sometimes ‘gets in the way’ of people truly being able to show up for you. And that’s their own life. Everyone is walking some kind of journey that can be challenging for them at times. It is unrealistic (and unfair) to expect that everyone will be able to be exactly what you need in your time of need. So, find the people who can handle your “stuff”. Even if it’s just one or two people.

These were the other friends who responded with recognition of how their choice of action had contributed to my feeling of isolation and shame. We were able to talk openly about our assumptions from both sides, identifying the importance of not relying on assumptions of what we think they need as a way of showing up for our friends, but also not allowing assumptions to create rifts in our friendships in place of honest and brave communication.

These are the friends I feel safest with and know I can trust my vulnerabilities with. These are the friends that I feel most able to share the deepest parts of this journey with. We need to learn how to recognise these people and bring them close to us, treasure them and allow them the same safe space if and when they need it.


I think the lessons learned in this experience speak to both sides involved. As the person who was hurting, I have learned more strategies to ensure I don’t find myself back in that shadowy chamber. I have learned that sometimes, even when it feels like the hardest thing to do, I need to be the one to set off a flare, reach my hand up and actually indicate that I need help. I can’t assume that others will magically be able to predict what I need, or want, during that time. Sometimes, we need to help our rescuers find us.

And as someone who has a friend going through a valley of grief, the lesson would be to remember that they might not be in a place where they will be able to let you know how you can support them, because they quite possibly don’t even know what that would look like. But to also remember that the best way to show up for someone in need, is to simply show up. Simply be there.

You don’t need to have any answers. Most likely, your friend is not wanting them from you anyway.

You don’t even need to have words - because in times like these, there are often no words that are enough.

I would say “think about how you would want others to treat you in the same situation”, but I don’t think this advice is actually helpful. Everyone responds to grief and pain in different ways. Not everyone will want or need the same support. But showing that you care, that you are not ashamed of them and their journey, that you are not afraid of their grief and pain (even if it is a little daunting, which is completely understandable), will speak volumes to your friend and will quite possibly be the strongest lifeline they have to cling to in order to be able to pull themselves out of the clutches of the darkness.

A final word for those feeling disappointed because of unrealistic expectations you are possibly placing on others around you, remember that you might not know what is going on for another person at the time you feel they could (or should) be doing more for you. It may simply be that they just don’t have anything to give you at that time. We’re all made differently, and that’s okay. Some people view their struggles or journey as a way to grow themselves and choose more to look inward during those times. And that’s so admirable. For me, yes - of course I want to be able to grow myself from my journey too, but I also view my struggles as platforms from which to support others experiencing similar situations. I have to accept that, just because it is something I might do for others, it doesn’t mean that others are in the place to do the same for me.

How have you felt best supported by others during your grief journey?

How have you taken ownership of your own healing?

How have you been a safe person for your friends to be vulnerable and share their deepest pain?

My 'word' for 2018 - and why I've already failed.

{EDITED TO NOTE: I wrote this first section on February 1st, and haven't been in the right frame of mind to any days noted below are from quite a few months ago!}


I've never been big on new year's resolutions. Why should we limit ourselves to picking one day to make changes or improvements in our lives?

This year, I've seen a lot of similar talk on social media, with people instead choosing a word that will challenge them throughout the year. A word that will motivate them in a far deeper way than choosing to lose weight or quit smoking (of course, very valid goals if that's your choice). A word that will help to shape the person they are on an emotional, mental and spiritual level.

I thought long and hard about what my word would be. I wanted to 'inspire' others, I wanted to 'bloom' where I was planted, I wanted to 'conquer' all the mountains put in front of me. But none of those words were enough.

Then, as I was forced to come to terms with saying goodbye to yet another much loved and much wanted baby, I decided on joy.



Why? Because it was the word that least resembled what I felt at that time. It was so far from my reality, but was what I so badly wanted to feel.

I was determined that I would figure out how to feel joy again. I would chase it, I would grab it and I would share with everyone else how to do the same. But there was one huge stumbling block in my game plan.


See, I hadn't dealt with my grief yet. I hadn't given myself time and space to go through the ebbs and flows that a journey through grief requires. And I wasn't yet in a place where I could block out the external triggers, or accept them in a way that they wouldn't compromise my joy.

I still haven't, and I still aren't.

When you are struggling with infertility or you have experienced pregnancy + infant loss (or both), it is always a sensitive time when others are announcing their healthy pregnancies or the arrival of their living, breathing newborns.

As much as I want to be able to say "I'm so happy for you!" (and sometimes I do feel it a bit), it is a double-edged sword because in the same breath, I am saying "I am still so heartbroken for us".

Every announcement is a reminder of what my body should be able to do - but continues to fail at.

Every announcement is a reminder that my husband has to endure yet another friend being able to hold their child in their arms, while he is still waiting.

Every announcement is a reminder of the 3 precious babies I have not met but have carried and still love with all of my being.

And that is why I have already failed at my 'word for 2018' thing.

And, honestly? It's not because I'm not happy for my friends. Of course they should be excited - it is such a precious gift to be able to have a healthy child. And when it is a friend who I know has been through infertility, or pregnancy/infant loss, then I am more able to feel excited for them too - and it gives me a little more hope, even with those heartbreaking reminders.

I have been beating myself up so much lately about my response to these announcements. I didn't expect that they would have been coming so thick and fast since choosing my word. Sure, I wanted a chance to practice joy, but I'd also like a chance to regroup after each time! I'm not even joking when I say that for a week I heard about a new pregnancy or birth every single day. And once - there was a pregnancy announcement and birth announcement in the same day! 9 announcements in 8 days. The most recent one was on Monday and my heart had just had enough. I completely broke down. It is so hard not to fall into that default response of "it's not fair!" I had already been scheduled for the D&C on Wednesday and all I could hear was my mind screaming "Why is this happening? Why can't that be us?"

I felt guilty (there it is again) that I couldn't just be happy for my friends. That I couldn't just 'suck it up' and stop thinking about me for a second.

But after some messaging with a friend and some time reflecting in prayer, I realised that I was expecting too much of myself. That my reality, right now, is that I am not in that place yet. I am still journeying through my grief and it is okay to feel these emotions.

My friend said "There's no rule against mixed emotions in these things. You can't make yourself feel a certain way without being untruthful to where you are at in the grieving process. Perhaps we should concentrate on acknowledging where we are and accepting that it will take time."

Wise one, she is.

We put so much pressure on ourselves, all the time, to act or be like we 'think' we should. Instead of allowing ourselves to just 'be'.

I know that I will feel joy again. And that I will even get to a place where I can be genuinely and deeply happy for others. But right now, I'm accepting where I'm at and allowing myself to feel however I need to feel.

Does that mean I don't want you to tell me your amazing news? Of course not! I have so appreciated the people who have actually reached out to message me privately before announcing on social media/publicly, to allow me time to process the news. I know that can't have been an easy thing to do, and I want you to know that your thoughtfulness and compassion did not go unnoticed. 

Does that mean that I may not respond straight away? Yes, I'm sorry but I may need time to process and it doesn't mean that I'm not happy for you.

Does it mean that I may skip your baby shower? Possibly. I went to a baby shower after losing Anahera and I struggled through it because I really wanted my friend to know how happy I was for her (and how much I was trying to be okay with everything) - but, was HARD! I think it would depend on how I was at that time whether I would accept or politely decline.

And to my friends who aren't announcing pregnancies or giving birth, I may still struggle with joy and being happy in every day life. I am different, I have changed and there's no denying that. I look back at photos of me from a year ago and I don't even recognise the girl staring back. I know it can be hard to be around me sometimes, but friend - it's hard being me sometimes too, when I don't feel like myself anymore.



It's now nearing the end of November and I am beginning to feel a glimpse of success in this "finding joy" challenge for 2018. Took me long enough, right?

I decided that I would take a year off from full-time work to focus on my healing and spend more time blogging, but even still, I have been busy with cover teaching and other responsibilities. I only feel able to take a proper breath now that I am home in New Zealand to begin the journey with fertility specialists. I have many draft blogs sitting in the left-hand column, I need to make getting them finished and published a priority.

Back in February, when I started this post, I felt that I had failed for my ‘word for the year’ challenge. Truth is, I hadn’t. The truth is, I was doing the best I could with the events that were currently transpiring. The truth is, I didn’t give myself enough credit and I definitely didn’t give myself enough time and space to deal with yet another loss.

So, where am I am now?

I have processed a lot of emotions over the year. I have had moments of strength and acceptance and then again moments where grief, sorrow and disbelief crushed me even harder than before. If I thought I was emotionally sensitive before, it’s safe to say that that sensitivity is now off the charts! My ability to empathise with others has deepened immensely - to the point that anything even remotely emotional (even when observing complete strangers) will set me off with a lump in my throat and fighting back tears for that brief moment. It’s such a journey. Such a serpentine path - complex and unpredictable. We are still trying to conceive. Something that has still been a struggle and so are now taking some action and searching for some answers and/or solutions.

Now, I am finding it easier to have moments of true joy. I am able to survive more days with less triggers and am not constantly living a mindset of having been somehow gypped. I am finally gaining some healing in my attitude to my body - we are slowly reconciling and I am beginning to forgive my body for its failings. I am in a place now where I feel able to share some of my inner battles over the past 9-10 months since my 3rd miscarriage. And as much as I wish I could just keep the lessons to myself, I feel compelled to share those draft posts here.

I hope you’ll join me as I finally allow my thoughts to flow and that my personal discoveries will somehow resonate with you.

Grief, the shape-shifter

Have you ever experienced loss before? In any way {and there are many}?

Then you will have no doubt met Grief.

I don't know about you, but my journey with grief has been a turbulent roller coaster, zig-zagging and diving in different directions - often with no warning as to new twists and turns that would appear.

The first time I met grief due to pregnancy loss was in 2006. I forcibly pushed it into the tiniest little box and wrapped it with so many layers of inadequate (and harmful) substitutes. I was in a place in my life, with a person in my life, where expression of grief was not an option. In fact, I don't even think my ex-husband acknowledged grieving over an early pregnancy loss as a 'real thing'. So, grief and I never got acquainted, and years later I feel like that was not honouring my little babe (or myself for that matter) and not acknowledging how much the loss truly altered me as a person.

Fast forward to just over a year ago, I became pregnant with Anahera. And in a month's time, it will be the anniversary of when Anahera was surgically removed from my body, after they couldn't find a heartbeat.

After nearly a year with this particular grief, after the loss of Anahera, I thought I had it all figured out. I thought, I know grief's ins and outs now, I can almost pre-empt triggers and upsets and I have strategies in place to help me navigate those extra little surprises along the way.

But, grief, it seems, had me fooled.

Only because grief didn't tell me that every time we met, it would look different.

I wasn't prepared for this new feeling that came after my 3rd pregnancy loss over Christmas 2017. Everything felt so different this time. When previously I had so many words and an overwhelming desire to express all that was happening inside my heart and my head, this time - I felt so empty that I had no well of words to dive into.  I had no way to truly express what I was experiencing, and so I fell silent and withdrew from the world.

I wanted so desperately to connect with my people, to feel like they cared and like they felt this pain with me, but some absences spoke volumes to my broken heart and my emptiness and frustrations with life ended up pushing me further and further away from the support I needed. I ended up feeling like I was just a burden and that I needed to hide my pain away because surely nobody else wanted to see this rerun of Rachel's encounters with grief.

Healthy? Definitely not! (This is another blog post in itself watch for my reflections on this later).

So. What now?

Now that I've met with this new form of grief? One that I don't recognise and haven't already mastered?

I start from the beginning again.

This is a different loss. Squishy was a different baby. So therefore, the grief will be different too. I take account of what things worked last time, I try them now to see if they are still effective, and if not - I adapt. I seek new resources and new outlets for my pain, search for new support groups and new perspectives on healing, I pray and I figure out how to walk through this manifestation of grief.

One emotion that has been present both times (and now retrospectively, 3 times) is guilt.

Guilt that I don't have the 'right' to be so upset about this. Others lose their babies later in pregnancy or after their birth, or others have 4, 5, 6 or even more losses - my loss is insignificant compared to theirs. Guilt that, again, my body betrayed my heart and failed another much wanted and much loved baby. Guilt that I can't give my husband a living child, when he has to watch so many others around him exude that radiant joy that often comes with welcoming a healthy newborn, knowing that he wants this just as much as I do. And guilt that I haven't been a good enough friend and therefore somehow deserve this feeling of isolation now.

Guilt DEFINITELY needs to be something I work through as part of my dealings with grief.

I have spent a lot of time reflecting over the different times in my life when grief and loss have been a part of the story. As with everyone, there have been many, many times throughout my 34 years. Loss is a part of life. Unfortunately.

I think back to when I was 8 and my beloved Gran passed away. I remember feeling that I had been robbed of all the memories that should've come with more precious moments shared with her. That I had been given the least amount of time with her, and for some reason - that meant that it was worse for me than my sisters (both older than me). Now, I am in no way saying that is true. My eldest sister could have argued the opposite because she had the most time with Gran, she had more opportunities to bond with her and so therefore had more reason to be devastated than I did.

But see, this is where it all goes wrong. When comparison kicks in and feeds that guilt. The guilt then makes our relationship with grief construed and disingenuous.

Grief is grief. Loss is loss. Hard is hard.

The truth is, all 3 of us girls lost our Gran that day. And all 3 of us had different relationships with her. And all 3 of us had the 'right' to grieve and truly feel her loss - whatever that loss meant for us.

To me, this experience relates so closely to the guilt that comes with acknowledging our pain when we lose a baby - at any stage of pregnancy or life. I may have 'only' been in the first trimester when I lost each of my babies, but each time - I was still 100% pregnant. I loved each baby as soon as I saw those positive results on the tests. I had already imagined how life would change when they came, and yes - I had definitely already created the most perfect (and beautifully styled, I might add) nurseries in my mind. I didn't have as much time with each baby as other loss mamas have, but that doesn't minimise their worth. It doesn't mean their life was less significant. It doesn't mean their loss was less devastating.

For me, even though I've been through many hardships, losing my 3 little ones is by far the hardest thing I have had to endure. And that is real. For me. Whatever the hardest thing you've had to endure is, that is real for you. Your response to that experience is valid. End of.

I have spoken to many amazing loss mamas through my platform with The Anahera Project. Some have been through different types of loss. And many of those who have had to endure the unbelievable pain of having to give birth to their baby, knowing they will not be able to take them home (one that I do not claim to know because I have never experienced that), can still acknowledge the significance of losing a baby in early pregnancy and the range of emotions that emerge from never feeling their baby kick, not knowing their baby's gender, possibly never knowing why they died, the feelings of guilt and that similar sense of loss of a future with their baby.

Grief is grief. Loss is loss. Hard is hard.

To work through our relationship with grief, we need to successfully tackle this feeling of guilt. It is not helpful. In ANY way. And usually, these feelings of guilt are just lies!

To help combat some of these lies, a person needs their tribe. Their 'people'. Not isolation. Not silence. Not judgment (silent or spoken) on whether they should still be grieving or comparison to another person's story.

In her book "A Deeper Shade of Blue", (as shared on Postpartum Progress by Katherine Stone) Dr. Ruta Nonacs states that the "process of grieving requires time, patience and the support of others".

{But more on this in my next post.}


For now, I am taking time to focus on my well being - physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I am trying to fiercely resist any notion of guilt that I am wrong for doing so.

I will not push grief into that tiny little box like I did so many years ago. The ramifications of that have been so detrimental, in ways that I never expected.

I will live this grief fearlessly. I will get to know it, intimately, in this new form - or whatever form it chooses to take in the future. I will learn how to weave its pain and its beauty in to the fabric of my life. The tapestry is already so full of colours, some bright and fluorescent, some dark and stormy.

Eventually the threads will come together to reveal a rich and intricate picture of my life. I want to have really lived every single tiny detail of it.

And that, I am sure, is going to take immense courage.

{Image from the amazing Morgan Harper Nichols}


In what ways have you met, and learned to live with, your grief?

What have you found helpful when walking through grief in your life?