I've been thinking about what my doctors and Thai friends might think about how we (expats) approach miscarriages.
First I was googling to find resources in Thailand for people that had suffered a miscarriage and I stumbled across a conversation on www.thaivisa.com. An expat husband was worried about how his Thai wife would react to their miscarriage in the eyes of Buddhism and some of the conversation struck me cold, whilst other peoples views were more satisfying and understandable to me.
"As far as I can see it.... 99.999% of all things happen because of the law of karma..The childs karma was to have its life cut short. your wife and you suffer mentally...also the result of PAST karma. The important thing is that you.... all three of you....are paying off the past karmic debt. We should be happy to pay off past karmic debt.... even though it is usually in the form of suffering.....much better than forming new debt by creating new karma...by doing wrong and causing suffering to others."
"A buddhist would believe that this is due to the past karma from the past or the current lives. Whatever that negative karma was, it's all done. They would also believe that someone wanted to be born as her baby. If they had made together enough merits in their past lives, they will always be another chance."
"i think from a buddist perspective, the karmic debt isnt paid off until the event has been resolved properly, which means learning whatever lessons are needed to be learned from this situation."
Some of the above seems fairly reasonable to me. The idea that the negative karma is all done now has a strangely consoling ring to it - i.e. it was a horrendous experience but it was for a higher purpose and now that is over you can move on.
But what I cannot accept is the concept that I'm not meant to move on until I've learnt something from the experience. Because all I learnt was that Thai doctors and nurses suck at consoling expats, that they suck at explaining to you logically what is happening, that it friggin hurts, like no other pain I had experienced, to have a miscarriage at home at 11 weeks pregnant, that the NHS website is strangely comforting when you're away from home, that your husband suddenly looks like a 4 year old watching the most horrific car accident, frozen, mute, not knowing what to do or say, that telling your mum and dad back home on FaceTime that they nearly had a grandchild, watching your mum freeze whilst she processes the information, firstly reacting to the fact that her daughter is crying and that she's too far away to put her arms around you, then processing the information that she was nearly a nana, seeing that very brief moment of glee in her eyes, then seeing her crashing down to earth when she realises again that she's thousands of miles away when her daughter needs her most. So, according to Buddhism, what the hell has she got to do with my karma, and what has she done to deserve losing her grandchild?
Buddhism and I aren't going to be friends if this is what they teach, and it started to explain a few questions in my mind. My Thai friends have a "look in their eye" when you tell them about miscarriages, its a mistrusting look and very different to the simply awkward look that expats have. They have all told me that "I am a good person" and that "it will happen because you are a good person", as if exonerating me for something I have done wrong. I see now that they may be secretly judging me, wondering where my bad karma came from and what I did so wrong in the past.
I still couldn't settle, I needed to find something positive, something comforting, something that wasn't judgemental. So I kept googling and I found the most upsetting comment to date "miscarriages natural abortions as a result of evil beings"
"There is a belief in my country that Miscarriages & Natural abortions can happen as a result of evil beings taking revenge from someone. I recently heard a story from a teacher of mine that some couple visited him about a series of Miscarriages because they had a suspicion about it. He is a Famous monk in my country and he does not have any reputation for doing such Exorcism stuff, But as a monk he could not turn two troubled people away so he started reciting dhamma hoping something would come up. As my teacher said then the lady started acting strange and like in those movies she talked like a completely another person. My teacher said that she told them the story's beginning. So long story short; she was pregnant in the earlier part of their marriage and they did not wanted a child back then so they took an abortion and that dead child is now haunting them as a being from Yakkha or Pretha realm."
Well I only have one thing to say to that person and it isn't very polite so lets move on.
To this day I have still not been offered any counselling in Thailand (after 3 miscarriages) and I still cannot find any specific support groups in Bangkok, but my interest, sometimes anger and probably misunderstanding of Buddhist teachings about miscarriage kept me googling and I came across a blog called Momma Buddhist.
There are many posts on her blog about her life, many are full of angst, she has obviously experienced a lot of hurt and pain. She stopped writing this blog on Saturday 5th Nov 2011, after posting that she wanted to end her life, I pray she found some positivity deep inside her to climb out of her darkness because some of her words are truly inspiring to me. She has suffered 9 miscarriages and yet found the strength and positivity to write this:
"I believe that miscarried babies are souls who have reached Nibbana (Nirvana) and simply needed a human life form to get there. We know that in our past lives we have already built incredibly good Karma, because only those with very good Karma can be reborn into human form. I believe that these little souls are actually very old souls who needed one last stepping stone to get where they were going, to get out of the wheel of samsara. They have reached the end of their journeys, after thousands, perhaps millions of years in existence. I am honored to have housed many of these souls. It is a great gift to help another on their path to Nirvana. I don't know what I did in my past lives to grow such good Karma, that I was given so many souls to guide ... maybe I will learn, when I am deeper into my practice."
I get some strength from the idea that our 3 babies were souls that I have guided to a better place. Thoughts like this provide me with some calmness, allow my head and emotions to find some calm waters, instead of the choppy, storm like, upheaval that I sometimes allow my mind to sink into briefly.
"....the way karma works is they say that when we’re born we have kind of a karmic lifespan of how long we can live. But if there’s an untimely—the ripening of a very severe heavy karma in an untimely death then we die before that karmic lifespan has been fulfilled. So you might have a lifespan to live to be 80, but you’re in a car accident at 75, so you still have that little bit of karma there to live in a human life but it didn’t have the opportunity to ripen because in the previous life this heavy karma had ripened and caused death, so they say that in those kind of cases then when that person takes rebirth, often they’re reborn and then there’s a miscarriage, or a stillbirth, or the baby dies when it’s quite young because it just has that little bit of human karma left in that particular life to experience. And so I was really saying to him, please understand that this is a karmic thing on the part of the baby, and it’s not your fault and it’s not your wife’s fault. Because so often in cases of miscarriage or stillbirth or things like that people so much tend to blame themselves thinking “if only” or “if I had done” or “if he or she had done….” And I said all that way of thinking is completely useless because you can’t prove any of it and something like this is nobody’s fault. And that way of thinking—especially in terms of fault—is only going to create an unnecessary heaviness and distance between people in the family, whereas right now you really need to come together and support each other. Because everybody’s grieving the loss of this child." Venerable Thubten Chodron
I started off this post saying that there were two things that made me question Buddhism and miscarriage, the second could be possibly more damning than the first. A dear friend has also recently suffered a miscarriage here in Bangkok. It was at 7 weeks and she was told by her doctor that the baby was not viable. She was given the options for removal and choose to take the "abortion pill" at home. The doctor also prescribed her a pain killer and told her to take it if she felt the need. Being British, and obviously made of tough stuff, she initially choose not to take the pain killer, but as the night wore on and the pill took effect she immediately saw the error of her ways and hastily swallowed some pain killers. I was not in the country at the time and had I known that my dear friend was experiencing this I would have told her to take the painkillers from the start, having had a miscarriage at home I know how much it hurts! But what occurred to us both was the lack of advice from her doctor about this, telling her to "take a pain killer if she felt she needed it" was absolutely no preparation for the pain she endured without it. Time and time again we have both experienced little or no empathy from our doctors here in Thailand, no attempts to explain things properly to us. The information the doctors give us here is no more revealing than google, and the service they provide is no more comforting than a visit to the pharmacy, in fact that is all it is essentially, an expensive pharmacy. Anyway, I have digressed a little from my general theme of buddhism, but here is the a really gut wrenthicng conclusion that my friend and I came to - what if her doctor did not want to discuss the in's and out's of the "abortion pill" and the process my friend was undertaking because technically the "abortion pill" is against Buddhist philosophy? Surely, if that was the case then he must have been constantly fighting with himself dealing with non-viable babies all the time, but has there ever been a study into how the Hippocratic Oath resides with Buddhism? There is a Buddhist Medical Oath called Vejjavatapada, but looking at an english translation on wikipedia it remains silent as to babies (viable or non viable), abortion and miscarriage. Of course there remains the long suffering task of defining the duties of the doctors aligned with mothers or their unborn babies but this is not a place to discuss that.
What I am wishing to point out though is that the myriad of conflicting philosophies, beliefs and judgements may be even more consuming in Thailand. I genuinely believe I am being judged every time I have had a miscarriage in Thailand, so I held my friends hand very firmly when I consoled her over her miscarriage for she does not have bad karma, nor did her doctor do the best by her (for whatever reason).
And that is why I still think this blog may be important, because we do not have the support network of physicians here, as a foreigner you're sentiments and beliefs are not second nature to them and they do not know how to counsel or console us.
But it's ok, the world isn't meant to agree on everything.