Abortion, Infertility, and Finding Pleasure After Loss With Kate Carson
If you are seeking to find peace surrounding an abortion, infertility, or the loss of a baby, then you're going to need to listen to this week’s podcast with Kate Carson.
As a teacher, a scientist, and a chemical engineer, as well as a sex and relationship coach, an activist for abortion rights, and a mom, Kate is a multi-faceted woman with a powerful story.
Through her work, Kate is helping other women to find connection around taboo topics as well as find healing and pleasure again after an abortion or babyloss. Kate also works closely with moms, dads, and couples at the Ending A Wanted Pregnancy support group, a babyloss community.
Kate knows, first hand, how difficult it can be to lose a baby. She’s experienced having to navigate the difference between kindness to her body and cruelness to her body as she came out of her loss. She navigated her relationship with her partner and has also learned the importance of embodying her flight response. She has, now, also earned a much deeper compassion and appreciation for all sorts of hardships and feels she gets to live a richer life on the other side because of what she’s been through.
In today’s episode, Kate will share with you her own story of losing her baby, Laurel, why she, personally, uses the term “abortion” instead of ”termination” when referring to her decision to terminate her pregnancy, and why she’s so passionate about the work that she does. Kate also shares ways to protect yourself and ask for help post-loss, how to make peace with your body post-loss, and how to begin to find pleasure again.
(full transcript below)
In this episode you'll discover
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Kate Carson is a Teacher, scientist, and chemical engineer, she is a story-teller activist for abortion rights, a support-person at (for TFMR), and (for all womb-grief), and holds others through grief transformation through somatic love, sex, and relationship coaching.
In 2012, when she lost her daughter Laurel, choosing to terminate a wanted pregnancy for medical reasons, she began a grief-journey that has shaped her in ways she couldn’t even imagine at that time. Service to grieving people and communities have been central to her own healing. She found an internal landscape of strength, peace, and love beyond anything she could have imagined if grief never cracked her wide open. She hopes to help others find the same.
Work with Kate - https://www.nightbloomcoaching.com
Find out more about the Ending A Wanted Pregnancy support group - https://endingawantedpregnancy.com
Reddit TFMR Support - https://www.reddit.com/r/tfmr_support/
The NAF Hotline - 1-800-772-9100
Hyperemesis Gravidarum - @hgloss
TFMR Doula - Sabrina Fletcher - https://www.thetfmrdoula.com
Time To Talk TFMR Podcast - https://talktfmr.podbean.com
If you or anyone you know is having a hard time, reach out for professional support
Have a topic or question you'd like Amanda to address on a future episode? Submit it on this anonymous form.
If you've been interested in learning more about coaching with Amanda, she's now booking coaching clients for 1-1 support in creating the relationship and orgasmic pleasure of their dreams. If you’ve been thinking about it, maybe we should talk! Link here to book a free call to see if we’re a fit.
EPISODE 220: Kate Carson
[Fun, Empowering Music]
Amanda Testa: Hello, and welcome to the Find Your Feminine Fire podcast. I am your host, Amanda Testa. I am a sex, love, and relationship coach, and in this podcast, my guests and I talk sex, love, and relationships, and everything that lights you up from the inside out. Welcome!
Hello, everyone, and welcome to the podcast today! We are going to be talking around healing after grief, healing after loss, and I am ready excited to be talking with Kate Carson who is just an amazing human. She’s a teacher, a scientist, and a chemical engineer, as well as a sex and relationship coach, and activist for abortion rights, and a mom. She has just so much wisdom to share here, and what we were just discussing before we started recording is really finding connection around taboo topics and really finding healing and pleasure again after abortion or a babyloss or whatever it might be.
Especially with all that's going on in the world, and who knows at the time of this publication -- right now, it's June 22nd, so when this pod comes out, we are not quite sure what's gonna be going on, and sadly, Roe v. Wade might be overturned. And so, we've got a lot to hold, and just giving space for all of that too because it is intense. I feel very passionately about this because part of feeling confident and free in our sexuality is having autonomy over our bodies and choice, and this is heavy.
So we also are going to talk about finding pleasure again after it all because there are ways to find that connection and find pleasure again. So welcome, Kate. I'm so excited that you're here.
Kate Carson: Thank you so much, Amanda. I'm glad to be here.
Amanda Testa: Yes, and I had the pleasure of meeting Kate through a coaching certification, and she is just such a brilliant -- with work, such a brilliant woman and has just such a powerful story. I'd love, if you wouldn’t mind, just sharing a little bit about your story and how the current events are affecting families and how you became to be so passionate about this work.
Kate Carson: Absolutely. So a decade ago, ten years ago last spring, towards the end of May, I had just graduated with my master's. I remember going to my graduation ceremony wearing that big gown, [Laughs] and getting heat stroke right away. Like, before they even started the ceremony, just sitting to the side and getting heat stroke and having to, like, go home and call it a day because I was pregnant. I was pregnant when I graduated with that degree, and I had actually chosen to get the master's instead of a PhD because I was deciding to invest more of my time and energy in my family.
It was only about a week after that that I went to the doctor to have an ultrasound because I had just had a horrible feeling about it the whole time. I was trying to have a birth-center birth (a natural birth), and my midwife kept being like, “Great!” We were getting all excited, and I was like, “I still feel like this is a disaster.” She was like, “Okay, okay. We’re just gonna give you an ultrasound. You're gonna be able to come in confident knowing your baby’s okay.”
So I went to this ultrasound by myself, and it took a long time. It took, like, an hour, and at the end, two doctors came in, and they said, “We are so sorry, but your baby has brain malformations. Her brain didn't form properly. This is quite a serious thing. We can offer you adoption or we can offer you abortion --,” oh, no. “We might be able to offer you an abortion, but we just don't know.” I was 35 weeks pregnant, and then they said, “Of course, otherwise, we’re gonna fast-track you to the high-risk and you're gonna get a neonatal neurologist, and they're gonna give you a C-section. It’s gonna be, like, [INDISCERNIBLE] intervention, but I just remember them saying, “adoption, abortion,” and being like, “Do they have the wrong room? Do they have the wrong room?” I have had three miscarriages trying to get pregnant with this baby, and I was finally pregnant with my second daughter (I had a two-year-old at the time) and just feeling like my world was falling down around me.
Further testing revealed that my baby had Dandy Walker Malformation and agenesis of the corpus callosum.
What that means is she had two separate brain anomalies. Either one of them is sort of a spectrum disorder, and has a wide variety of outcomes, but the two of them together (and each of them presenting kind of severely), the prognosis for my baby was that she would not walk, talk, eat, or swallow. So she would be significantly disabled. When the doctor was telling me this, and he was telling me all the things she wouldn't do, I remember just [Exhales] sort of taking a deep breath, and looking at him, and being like, “What will she do? What does a baby like my baby do? Does she just sleep all day? If she can't do all of these things, does she just sleep?” He winced, and he said, “Babies like your baby are not often comfortable enough to sleep.”
So, there I was, 35 weeks pregnant, and I remember telling my genetic counselor, “This is very sad, but if she can't eat, if she really can't swallow, then we know what we want to do, and no interventions. It’s awful. She’s gonna die of starvation and dehydration.” She was like, “Oh, you can't deny a baby a feeding tube. That's not legally a possibility here.”
So my obstetrician called me, and she had found me a healthcare provider who does provide abortions at this stage in pregnancy out in Colorado, and I am from Boston, so I am surrounded by medical care, medical schools. My husband and I had to get on a plane. We had to fly to Colorado, and we had to show up with $25,000 to get this abortion. It’s a four-day procedure, and I did not know if it was legal, and I did not know if it was safe. I just knew that I was up against intervention for my baby. Her name is Laurel. Intervention for her in her condition, it would have been painful. It would have never made her well, and that just wasn't the life I wanted for her. So I ended up getting an abortion between 35 and 36 weeks of pregnancy which is a very extreme thing to do because I was in very extreme circumstances.
Amanda Testa: Yeah.
Kate Carson: [Exhales] Since then, I’ve found a support group, thank goodness. There’s something about peer-to-peer support, especially for something so unusual and so misunderstood as later abortion. There’s something about people being like, “We understand. We’ve been there. You're welcome here, and you're safe here.” Very quickly, after a few months, I started doing Modding for that support group. And so, I’ve been Mod and Admin of Ending A Wanted Pregnancy for almost a decade. Almost a whole decade I’ve been a brave mother. That means that I’ve held several thousand moms and dads through this exact same situation. Not necessarily -- I mean, mine’s extreme dates-wise, but they're getting a diagnosis or if you're having a maternal mental health crisis and not being able to see your way through the pregnancy -- so if something medical comes up, some crisis arises and the pregnancy is just not tenable anymore, and that’s really why all pregnancies are ended. There’s a pregnancy, and maybe the pregnancy itself is the untenable piece, but there’s this thing that’s just not tenable, and so, that’s really why people end their pregnancies.
Amanda Testa: Yeah.
Kate Carson: So that is actually what brought me into coaching. Holding people on a volunteer basis for so, so long and seeing the problems. This is a babyloss community. That’s how I would describe it as a babyloss community. These are people whose babies died, right? They died in the body, and they died with a choice, right, of the timing or of the death, but they died. And so, holding these, mostly, moms (but some dads and couples) for so long has really shown me that there are huge consequences to that in terms of sex, love, and relationship.
Amanda Testa: Yeah.
Kate Carson: It puts a huge strain on relationships to try to navigate a shared loss because we expect there to be shared grief, and there’s just not. It’s not possible, as far as I’m concerned, to share your grief with anyone. Grief is very lonely, but we have no examples for that, right? You look around, and there are really no examples in media, in books, of couples who lose -- yeah, they're usually when you lose -- one part of the couple is feeling it more than the other, but this is really a shared loss.
Then, sexuality, too. There’s this real phenomenon of disembodiment, right? It’s like a kind of dysphoria, actually. It’s like a kind of dysphoria in the body where all of a sudden you hate your body. I am one of those lucky people who never had an eating disorder. I’ve had a very healthy relationship with myself, with my body, and with food my whole life. That’s pretty rare for a woman, but after my loss, after I lost my baby, I just wanted to unzip my body and float out of it. I hated my body so much because I really was putting all the blame for building a broken baby on my body. There are consequences in your sexuality from that, and in love, it’s hard. Sometimes we self-punish, and we don't let ourselves love ourselves. We don't let ourselves receive love. So it made a lot of sense for me to go into sex, love, and relationship coaching because I saw these big gaping wounds that weren't necessarily being competently addressed in the babyloss world.
Amanda Testa: Yes, well, I just want to take a moment and just hold some space for all that you've been through, and also, just honoring Laurel and your beautiful work that you've done all these years, too, in holding other parents who have been through similar experiences where there’s loss, and, like you say, it’s not tenable in some way, shape, or form, and it’s -- you know, I think, too, honoring the different ways people grieve, and I appreciate how you said, you know, grief is a lonely thing because everyone does process differently, and I think knowing that -- and if you're listening, and this is resonating in any way or -- also, for the listeners, just holding whatever might be coming up in you because the truth of the matter is, is that grief is a huge topic, and it can be so encompassing. Having that feeling of your body betraying you in some way, I know, I talk with a lot of clients that feel that no matter what the situation of, like, my body has broken me or something about it has made me disconnect, and whether it’s through grief or loss or illness or whatever it can be, you know, finding that road back to yourself and to process all that you’ve been through is not an easy road.
And so, that’s one of the reasons, too, why I feel like it’s so important to have these conversations and to be aware of the support that is out there, right?
Kate Carson: Gosh, thank you.
Amanda Testa: Mm-hmm.
Kate Carson: At this moment, when I’m in my baby-loss space, when I’m in the Ending A Wanted Pregnancy support group, one of the hard things about this particular loss is that it’s so politicized. You know, a loss by abortion. I call it abortion. Some people even in the group who’ve gone through this are like, “No, it’s a termination,” and I really respect their choice around their words, but, for me, my story is an abortion story.
Amanda Testa: Yeah.
Kate Carson: But it’s just so hard to feel like what word you choose determines whether or not you’ll be held in your community, determines whether or not people will try to put you in prison, determines, in some cases, whether or not doctors might treat you fairly when they look at your record, right?
It’s really scary to have something so personal be so politicized. So it’s a fraught time. It’s a fraught time for my support group right now and for my clients.
Amanda Testa: I mean, and I can only imagine how much more fraught it is about to become.
Kate Carson: Yeah.
Amanda Testa: That, to me, I have no words.
Kate Carson: Yeah.
Amanda Testa: I just feel this huge clenching in my whole throat and chest and body. It’s like ugh. It’s just so disheartening, and so, when you feel like, yes, it’s a personal choice, but it is very politicized, and I feel like our personal choices should not be politicized no matter what they are, and so, I’m curious. What advice are you giving to the people in your groups now or just anyone with a womb who might be facing choices that they want to be able to make and might not have the liberty to do so?
Kate Carson: RIght. So if you’re post-loss, I really recommend insulating. I really recommend not just receiving whatever the computer and the phone and the radio want to give you. [Laughs] So one of the ways that I did that is to call my brother and to call my best friend from childhood, and to be like, “If there’s abortion-relevant news, I need you to tell me what it is so I feel safe to turn this off.” I will get a call -- I’m sure, ten years later, I won't have to remind them. I will get a call from one of them without having to check myself if/when Roe v. Wade gets overturned. Learning how to ask for help in general is a wonderful thing. Making it specific is very helpful to the person who wants to help you, and this is a beautiful place to help protect yourself because you don't owe anybody full access to your emotions.
So if, however, you are worried that you may need abortion support in the future, just even a medical procedure, right now -- we had a few states already strike it down.
So Texas (I think you can get an abortion up to six weeks, which is insufficient for many, many people), Oklahoma, and then Missouri. There may be more, but just three states in our country shutting down access to abortion care has already overburdened clinics (like the one I went to in Boulder) who now have five-, six-week-long waiting lists, maybe even longer since I last talked to my provider. So I would say, a resource that you should know about is NAF (National Abortion Foundation). They have a hotline that you can call to sort of get an idea of who’s taking patients, what is the waitlist. They will not refer you to anyone sketchy, so, please, if you are looking for out-of-state care, always call NAF first because, unfortunately, the less legal this is, the more sketchy providers there will be. I hate that that is the case, but it is the case. Abortion, when performed legally by experienced practitioners, is much safer actually than carrying a pregnancy farther.
It’s much safer than a supposedly healthy live birth.
Amanda Testa: Yeah.
Kate Carson: So it should be a safe procedure, but the less legal it is, unfortunately, the less safe it’s gonna be.
Amanda Testa: Yeah.
Kate Carson: So I would just say that that’s who I would start with. Unfortunately, people in states that you may feel you're safe in are affected by this too because, now, fewer clinics are serving way more people.
Amanda Testa: Right.
Kate Carson: So you also might just want to be aware of the NAF. Please, please, please, if you're in a state where abortion is illegal, don't ask your doctor. Please don't because, even if they support you philosophically, it puts them in a weird legal bind where they don't want to go to prison either. So please, please protect your own privacy even with your medical providers -- especially with your medical providers. Protect your own privacy with your friends and family. Only talk to people about this who you know are gonna show up for you and people like at the NAF.
Amanda Testa: That’s beautiful advice that I think is important and that I might not be aware of. Not everyone might be aware of that. I’m wondering, too, when it comes to kind of healing post-loss, what are some of the things that can help on that road to healing -- the healing path after abortion, after infertility, after a babyloss?
Kate Carson: Mm, so I remember going through this and having this realization that I did not know how to mend a broken heart. I did not know how to heal my heart, but I knew how to heal a body, and so, this is coming right up against that sensation that I hate in my body, and this was its fault. My body couldn't do it. It had three miscarriages, and then it built a baby all wrong. That is not scientifically accurate, but that was my emotional understanding. So I had to, basically, make peace with the body first, and though I couldn't do it -- it’s not like you flip a switch and you suddenly are nice to your body. I knew some actions I could take that would be kindness to my body.
I have a beautiful friend, Margot, she’s also an Admin at Ending A Wanted Pregnancy. She said, “You know, sometimes eating the ice cream is a kindness to your body, and sometimes it’s a cruelty. Sometimes going for a run is a kindness, and sometimes it’s cruelty. Sometimes having the glass of wine is a kindness, and sometimes it’s a cruelty.” So really feeling in your body for what is kindness and what is cruelty to the body.
I would get up every morning -- I am not a runner. I hate running. [Laughs] I would get up every morning (once I was cleared ‘cause I was postpartum for a while, so after, like, two months), and I would go to a field, and I would just run sprints. I didn't want to go for a long run, but I would run across the field, and I’d get all breathless, and I’d just calm down, and I’d do it again, and then I would do some yoga and cry, [Laughs] and just sob, and then I would do a few more sprints, and then I would go home. It took about a half an hour.
I think I only did, maybe, six sprints. That’s not that much. I didn't go that far, but it was a way -- we work a lot with trauma responses in coaching, and I think this was literally giving embodiment to my flight response. There were so many times in my experience, especially when I was trapped in medical areas like when I got that diagnosis, when those doctors came in and told me my baby was not okay, I had a flight response that I had to suppress. When I got on the airplane to go to Colorado, I really didn't want to be doing that. I wanted to be running away. So much, you're trapped in the seat. There’s literally a seatbelt, feet are in the stirrups, right? Getting your cervix dilated, your feet are in the stirrups, and it hurts, and I just wanted to run away.
And so, this was almost every single day giving the somatic experience of running away. For some people, it might be beating up a punching bag or a pillow, right? Whatever the body wants to do, letting it do it.
That kind of exercise also felt like a sort of healthy way to, like -- if I had the self-punishment inclination, at least I wasn't really harming my body. At least I was just making my lungs hurt ‘cause I was breathing hard. Okay, okay. Then, I would feel better. Would I feel high vibe? No, but the days I did that whole running and stretching and crying routine were sad days, and the days I didn't do it, I was so deep and dark that I thought I’d never get out. So that’s a difference, right? When you can actually be with your sadness, that is a difference.
Amanda Testa: Yeah.
Kate Carson: Another thing I would say is asking for help -- learning exactly how to ask for what you need from your friends, and I gave an example of that earlier with the media, but a lot of people, when you've gone through a loss and they know about it -- not everyone knows about this kind of loss because sometimes it’s a secret, but if they know about it, they will call, and they’ll be like, “Oh, if only there was something I could do. I know there’s not anything I could do or if there’s ever something I can do…” and you just, at that moment, you're like, “Yes! Yes, there is,” and you think of something.
I remember asking a friend, “Would you please call me every Tuesday night at 7:00? I can’t promise I’ll pick up, but would you just do it for a few months?” I told another friend, “Yes, come take me for a walk on Wednesday. I have no idea what I’m gonna be like, but please come take me for a walk in the woods.”
Nature is another one. Nature is a huge resource because you can belong to nobody, but you still belong to nature, and as for the couples, ugh, it’s so hard. It’s so hard, but don't measure your grief by your partner’s grief. My grief was messy. I couldn't hold down a job. I was a wreck, right? I would cry and fall on the floor, you know? I was getting out of bed to take care of my two-year-old, but other than that, I was barely functioning. My husband goes to work. I don't know what he was like at work, but it probably wasn't that different from the way he normally is, and he’d come home, and he’d just sort of be like -- I could tell he was scared. He would look at me and feel afraid, right, ‘cause he didn't even know me anymore.
So when I respect my grief, I’m not measuring it against his (my low-functioning, his high-functioning) -- I’m not being like, “I’m an insufficient person because he can still go to work,” and when he looks at me and is afraid, that’s him measuring my grief, right?
I don't internalize that. I let him have his feelings. He can have fear. He can be afraid. Heck, if I’m honest, I’m probably afraid too, right? Being like, okay, I respect myself so much that I am going to fall on the floor crying, and I respect him so much that I’m not gonna yell at him for not caring about our baby because he’s not.
Amanda Testa: Very powerful, and very self-aware. I think that to even have that --‘cause that’s probably not easy for everyone, right?
Kate Carson: I will tell you; I did a lot of yelling at him for not caring enough about Laurel to grieve before I figured this out [Laughs] so it’s not like I got straight there. [Laughs]
Amanda Testa: Yes, and I also appreciate the really specific things for people to do for you.
Kate Carson: Yeah.
Amanda Testa: Because I think that extra piece there is so -- just allowing yourself to be held, even if you might not want to be held at the time.
You're like, “Call me at 7:00 on Tuesday. I may or may not answer, but if I’m available, that would feel really good,” or, “Help me for a walk. Who knows how I’ll be, but just show up and be with me,” right? I can remember some times of grief where I had friends, and I would just sit on the trailhead and cry for three hours, and my friends were just there, and that’s what you need sometimes, right?
Kate Carson: Totally.
Amanda Testa: Just to be held in whatever your experience is. Not having to change it. Not having it to be any different, and that is a talent for people to be able to do that for your friends, to be able to offer that, right?
Kate Carson: Completely.
Amanda Testa: Just be there, right?
Kate Carson: And it supports the partner too, because my husband was fatigued by having to witness me cry so much and worry, he would never have any happy moments with his wife again. So when I could turn to other people, I was casting a wide net instead of just putting it all on my husband. Okay, I have friends. I have friends from high school. I have friends from college. I have friends from my community. Ask them to show up. They want to show up. Tell them how. For some people, they're not gonna want so much contact. They're gonna want to retreat, and so, asking for space is the thing, right?
Amanda Testa: Mm-hmm. Exactly.
Kate Carson: But yeah, if you're one of those fine people who is able to just be in the presence of a friend who’s crying for three hours, oh, my gosh, what a gift. What a gift it is.
Amanda Testa: Yeah, and I’m wondering, too. You know, being able to hold your own grief -- isolate as you need, really protect your own self in the ways you need to which I really appreciated your tip around not looking at news, having someone share with you news, and just really allowing yourself to be in your experience. You know, so those are kind of some of the starting steps that you went on to be able to kind of be kind to your body again or how to slowly start to heal your body, and I’m wondering what came next after that?
Kate Carson: Well, I do think there’s space for pleasure here, many different kinds of pleasure, and you’ll find that grieving people often, when they start to feel pleasure, they reject it quite violently.
For example, they’ll catch themselves laughing and be like, “Oh, no. I can’t launch because it means I don't love my baby,” right? “If I’m not all grief all the time, I must not love my baby.” That’s very normal. You shouldn't feel bad or wrong if you do that, but just notice, right? Notice that we can laugh even when we grieve. Notice that sometimes it doesn't feel the same as a belly laugh did before, but there’s this special morbid sense of humor that totally got me through the clinic, right? [Laughs] I laugh a lot when I tell these stories. It’s not all self-protection.
Part of it is that I’m allowed to hold it, but then there’s the physical pleasure as well. I’m lucky in this one way, and it’s that my husband and I -- probably because we were pretty bad verbal communicators at the time -- but I could enjoy intimacy with him. I could enjoy physical touch from my husband, and so, we actually made love a lot more than at other times in our lives. That is a minority experience.
Most people actually have huge, long dry spells after this. So both are normal. I would say, like 15% and 85%. Either way, I’m not saying have sex if you don't want to have sex. That is the no. The real no is absolutely important, but to begin to notice where you're shutting down pleasure because you feel like you don’t deserve it. What pleasure can you accept? Go accept it. It might be as simple as sitting in the sun and feeling the sun on your face.
Amanda Testa: I think that is very powerful, and also knowing if you’re someone listening and maybe having a hard time, when you can reach out for professional support.
Kate Carson: Totally.
Amanda Testa: If it feels like you are denying yourself any joy or pleasure. Also, honoring the time it takes, right? The time it takes to move through things can also have the same -- as you mention honoring, we can hold multiple things at once. I can be both grief and pleasure in whatever way feels accessible, and, like you say, even if it’s just being able to enjoy a breath or being able to feel your body experience warmth or whatever it might be, right?
Kate Carson: Yeah, and I will tell you that the turning point for me -- ‘cause there was a single moment that was a turning point for me, and it was, ironically, when I let myself feel all the way sad. It happened in September, and I know -- it must have been September or October ‘cause I just remember this bright red/orange tree against the blue sky. It’s very vivid in my memory. I just dropped my daughter off at preschool which is a house of horrors for Brave Mom. [Laughs] A brand new preschool with all the babies and pregnant bellies everywhere, and I was walking home, and I was fighting in my mind. I was having a debate or a fight. I used to play, almost as though I was on trial, I would play this imaginary loop of me on trial for what I have done which is torture, right? It’s horrible.
I might have been doing that or I might have just been getting really jealous or angry, but there was a lot of strife in my head, and finally, just seeing that tree and seeing the sky and stopping at the top of the hill and being like, “I give up. Okay. Okay. I give up. I’m gonna feel it. I’m gonna let it in,” -- it sounds silly. I really thought I might die. I really thought that my sadness might kill me. I thought I might just drop dead right there or maybe really float out of my body. It feels that scary, and I got this vision of a title wave of grief and sadness, just, like, an ocean of sadness pressing down on me, and I was at the bottom of all of this water. Then, all of a sudden, I was floating to the top. Then, all of a sudden, I was looking around to the horizons, just water in all directions. It was just this knowing -- knowing that my sadness was boundless, that it was as big as the universe, and that I was big enough to hold it.
Amanda Testa: Yes, that just gave my full body chills.
Kate Carson: It’s one of these things, Amanda, where I’m sure when you coach you have had people make realizations like that. I’m sure you know what I mean.
Amanda Testa: Yeah.
Kate Carson: We don't get to stay there. I don't get to stay floating on the sea of my sadness. It’s such a peaceful place. It's deeply, beautifully peaceful. I don't get to be there all the time, but just knowing that it’s there, knowing that I did it once and I could go back, it’s life changing.
Amanda Testa: Exactly. It’s, like, knowing that you can be with that and survive, and I’m wondering after that turning point. What else shifted for you?
Kate Carson: So one of the things that -- [Laughs] what’s funny is I did not have good therapy at this moment. [Laughs] I had a therapist. She was so nice. I don't mean to say she’s not a good therapist, but she was not for this, right? She was just someone you talk to. I have plenty of people to talk to. I write. I’ve got plenty of people to absorb my words, so it was not really helping, but what I noticed was that a lot of the things I came up with when I went through the training, I was like, “Oh, that’s what I figured out, and that’s what I figured out!” They’re all, like, well-established trauma strategies.
So when I looked at this one, this sea of my sadness, one of the things that became very clear was that I had sort of split into a bunch of personalities, and I don't mean -- I was not schizophrenic, but I had become aware of my sub-personalities around this trauma event, and the one that was giving me the most trouble, I call her my guard dog. She’s, like, sort of a bitch. [Laughs] She’s a real nasty girl, and she was so mean to everyone all of the time, and I was really wishing that she weren’t in me for a long time. What this did was show me, oh, this is what she’s protecting. She’s protecting this vulnerability, right?
Asking her to step back like I’m really ready to feel it. That was another piece of this moment with the tree and the water was, like, no, you know what? I’m really ready to feel it. I promise. She wouldn't have let me if I was not ready, but I was. So she stepped back, and I felt it.
So, from then on, I could actually make a relationship with this part of me. So when I find myself being really nasty and mean and angry and vicious, I’m like, “Oh, there she is,” and I love her. I love her because she’s there to protect me, and if I didn't have her, I might just have my vulnerable places on display all the time which would not be healthy and well-integrated.
So that’s one way it changed for me is, like, now, okay, I’m gonna deal with myself a piece at a time, and I’m going to learn to appreciate what my parts are doing for me. This is Internal Family Systems, [Laughs] but it’s just, like, out of necessity, right?
Amanda Testa: Yeah.
Kate Carson: [Laughs] It’s also tantra. It’s like parts-work, right?
Amanda Testa: Exactly. I think it’s so interesting how wise our bodies and beings are. Even just, like you mentioned, you might not have had the therapy, but you figured things out, and then when you learn you're like, “Oh, wait! I was doing this!” But also, just that wisdom of your body from day one. Trusting, like, something’s not right. I need to listen to what my body’s telling me.
Kate Carson: Yeah.
Amanda Testa: Right? And really trusting that and trusting your timing, trusting when your body’s ready to feel and that it can, and when it’s not, that’s okay. We have our own timing. We have our own way, and we can hold it all even though we think we can't. If we could only go as fast as the slowest part of us is ready to go, right?
Kate Carson: Yeah.
Amanda Testa: That is the truth, and I’m wondering, too -- it sounds like, for you, you were in an experience where it did feel okay to have sex with your partner and to feel connected in that way, but for those who might feel like sex feels really heavy or scary, what might you offer for those people?
Kate Carson: Really good question. First of all, one of the reasons it might be scary is because you're afraid of getting pregnant again and you're also afraid of not getting pregnant again, right?
Amanda Testa: Yes.
Kate Carson: So you can't win. [Laughs] If sex is too tied to fertility in your body-mind, it’s just gonna be fraught. So if you desire to be intimate with your partner, but it’s such a hard “no” around that, sometimes I think -- a lot of the people I work with are long-married adults -- I think we forget that it doesn't always have to be a penis in a vagina, right?
Amanda Testa: Yes.
Kate Carson: Some people who go through this also got pregnant other ways, like, by sperm donation or by IUI or by IVF, but sometimes we forget (we who can get pregnant by having sex with our spouse) that there are other kinds of sex that you can still have with your spouse that are not so high-stakes when it comes to pregnancy.
So one of the things I really recommend for people who are ready to feel pleasure in the body is oral sex, is massage, is making out for a long time, cuddling, hugging, spooning, foot massage. Get it way out to the extremities if it’s too scary to be in it at the root of you, right? Then a self-pleasure practice, too, 'cause another source of fear is we are in a postpartum body after this loss, after this particular brand of loss, and the postpartum body is not the same as the pre-pregnancy body. There can be a lot of, I think, fear that you’ll find something different, emotions to process when you do find something different, right? So taking it so slow and just meeting yourself exactly where you are.
Not so much comparison to the way you were before.
There’s this very simple exercise where you would run your fingers on your arm or on any part of your body, and you can change your perspective. You can be in the fingers. I’m, right now, running my fingers over my forearm, and if I’m in my fingers, what I feel is a little roughness towards the wrist and then softness towards the elbow, a little bit of -- I can feel the hairs, and then I can be in my arm. What I feel is the gentle stroke of my fingers. That kind of really intricate -- we deal with this all the time when we’re children. Make yourself a child again. I mean, I know we’re talking sexuality, but just bring it back to the basics as though you have a body for the first time. How are you going to explore?
Amanda Testa: I love that, and just re-exploring your new -- 'cause every day we’re like a new body in some ways, right? It’s like how can I just be curious and explore what I am today, who I am today, what my body is today?
Kate Carson: Yeah.
Amanda Testa: Yeah, that’s beautiful, and I think, too, what’s so important (and I think I heard you mention this) is really finding a community of like-minded individuals to support you, like peers, people who have been through something similar just so that you can get the support you need. And so, I’m wondering if you might share some resources or how, potentially, people can connect with you, to work with you. What’s available?
Kate Carson: Absolutely. So you can work with me. My company is Nightbloom Coaching so you can find me at nightbluecoaching.com (N-I-G-H-T-B-L-O-O-M-C-O-A-C-H-I-N-G dot com). I do one-on-one work. Sometimes I do group work. I’m expanding my offerings, so we’ll see. Occasionally, I run retreats. I am one person. If you would like peer-to-peer support from many people, I help run the group Ending A Wanted Pregnancy. You can get in. It’s a Facebook group so, unfortunately, you have to have Facebook to join it, and you would go to the website endingawantedpregnancy.com, and there is an application form.
If you are not into Facebook, then I think the Reddit TFMR support (T-F-M-R stands for Termination For Medical Reasons support) is an excellent forum. It’s very well-moderated. It’s actually moderated by an abortion provider. So, unlike the one I -- we don't let you ask medical questions in our group, but you can ask medical questions in that space. He’s not your doctor, probably, but it still is great.
For example, there are a bunch of Instagrams. @hgloss (hyperemesis gravidarum loss) is a handle on Instagram. Hyperemesis is when you throw up a lot. It’s pregnancy sickness. We hear so many triumphant stories of women who overcome that, but in some people’s bodies, it is so severe and so scary that they really have to end the pregnancy to be safe and survive.
One of the Brontë sisters, actually died of hyperemesis so it can be a very -- you can have organ failure. It can be a very, very serious diagnosis. So if you have experienced that kind of loss, definitely check out @hgloss on Instagram. There’s the TFMR Doula. She’s based out of Mexico, and her name is Sabrina. Who else have I got?
Amanda Testa: I’ll make sure to add these, too, in the show notes for people.
Kate Carson: Yeah, thank you. Yeah, there’s a UK-based podcast as well, TFMR - Time to Talk TFMR.
Amanda Testa: Beautiful.
Kate Carson: So those are the basic places I would recommend. Also, if you've gone through a loss like mine, you belong in general infant and pregnancy loss groups as well. Unfortunately, just because you belong doesn't always mean you’ll be welcome. Unfortunately. I hate that that’s true, but this is a great time to ask a friend for help. “Would you please find me a support group? Call ahead, and make sure I’ll be welcome there.”
Amanda Testa: Mm, yes. Very good. I’m wondering, too, if there’s maybe a question that you wished I would have asked or anything else that you want to make sure that you share?
Kate Carson: Mine is such a sad story, right? I lost this daughter, and it was scary and frantic. I’m telling you there’s a time where what was once rare is about to be common. People are already traveling all over the country to have abortions. Pretty soon, it’s gonna be even worse, and accessibility is going down. It’s very easy to feel really freaking sad, and that’s appropriate, but I also just want to talk about how there are gifts to this, and I ‘m not trying to shine the turd. I’m not trying to be like, “Ooh, look at the silver linings of my dead baby.”
Amanda Testa: [Laughs]
Kate Carson: [Laughs] But there are gifts, and you never need to be grateful for losing a loved one ever. That never has to be part of what it means to be grieving, but I would encourage everyone just to accept the gifts that come.
Like, you know what, this isn't what I thought I wanted, but I’ve earned it, right? I have earned my ability to sit and listen to hard things. I don't think I was such a good listener before this. I have earned a much deeper compassion and appreciation for all sorts of hardships, right, but I have also earned -- this is the thing that is sort of surprising -- I am happier now than I think I would have been if this hadn’t happened to me. I am also sadder. So I feel like the richness of my emotions just got deeper and more colorful because this happened to me. If it hadn’t happened, I wouldn't have had to go through the shit time that was horrible. I wouldn't have had to walk through it and feel so uncomfortable for so long, but I actually do get to live a richer life on the other side. It doesn't matter. I don't have to be grateful for that. I don't have to be like, well, I’m glad this horrible thing happened.
Amanda Testa: Right.
Kate Carson: But because it did, I’m committed to living it deeply.
Amanda Testa: Yeah.
Kate Carson: My marriage, too, was stressed and strained for a couple of years there. It was very, very hard, and I’m really glad. I’m really glad I came out the other side. Just ‘cause my marriage lasted, and I think it’s great doesn't mean that everyone’s should, but when things are really hard, wherever you are, the only thing I can promise is that you will be somewhere else soon.
Amanda Testa: Yes, that is true. Well, first of all, I just wanted to honor you and all the work that you've put in, too, and all that you've done to be with yourself and to move through and heal and to keep living, right, keep moving forward, and also, in your relationship as well. I’m wondering if there is maybe just one small tip you could share with relationships and moving through grief.
Kate Carson: Yeah.
Amanda Testa: In this type of grief in particular, what supported you in your relationship or maybe what’s one thing people could do?
Kate Carson: Yeah, definitely the casting a wide net. It’s counterintuitive because you’ll read a lot of relationship books that are like, “If you're going to your friends instead of your partner, this is terrible.” It’s not terrible. We are undergoing more than any one person can hold, including ourselves, right?
Amanda Testa: Yes.
Kate Carson: So, really, [Laughs] reconnecting to many, many layers of community, family, and cultural support is the best thing you can do to support your relationship. It’s the other best thing you can do because -- well, because what it does it is gets you the support that you need, and I will tell you, it is a million times better to get the support you need from your second choice, third choice, five-hundredth-choice person than not to get it at all. So, really, really, showing up for your needs and letting yourself have needs is the best thing for your relationship because it takes the pressure off of the partner.
Amanda Testa: Mm, so good. I love how you mention, like, even if it’s your 500th choice you need to get what you need. [Laughs] Yeah, yeah.
Kate Carson: Yeah, and just the more I learn to love myself in it, the more I could look at my husband and really love him too. Until I was okay with me, I couldn't be okay with him, and I don't know what he was doing on his end, but it felt like I was the one who was strategically improving the relationship, and I think that’s probably the case. If the relationship is coming from a healthy place (which ours was) it only takes one person to start in the right direction.
Amanda Testa: Yeah.
Kate Carson: If the relationship is unhealthy, then that may not be true, and definitely trust your instincts, and stick up for yourself, and do what you need to do.
Amanda Testa: Yes. Well, thank you so much, again, Kate, for being here. I will, again, make sure to share how everyone can connect with you and work with you. Thank you for the beautiful work that you are offering the world.
Kate Carson: Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure to see you again. I love to be on your show, and I love to see you and talk to you. Thank you, Amanda.
Amanda Testa: Yes, and for all of you listening, thank you for being here, and please, if there’s someone who you think could benefit from this episode, please share, and be good to yourselves, and we will see you next week.
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Thank you so much for listening to the Find Your Feminine Fire podcast. This is your host, Amanda Testa, and if you have felt a calling while listening to this podcast to take this work to a deeper level, this is your golden invitation.
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