A Year and a Day

A year ago today, on May 22nd, 2019 I was rushed into hospital for a life-saving operation. Earlier that month I thought I miscarried. However, it turned out I was still pregnant – with an ectopic pregnancy. This means that the foetus nested in my fallopian tube instead of my womb. Ectopic pregnancy is dangerous – one of the leading causes for maternal death in the first three months. 

I had moved to France a few months before. The French health care system is very different to the Dutch and the British systems that I’m used to. I understand that French women have a gynaecologist for all things concerning reproductive health, pretty much from the moment they start menstruating. In that light, my partner thought that GPs weren’t equipped anymore to deal with pregnancy-related issues. Since I had no dedicated gynaecologist yet, this ectopic pregnancy remained undiagnosed until it was very nearly too late.

During my morning Pilates I got severe stabbing pains in my lower abdomen. The pain passed, and after breakfast I got behind my desk to work. Later however, I started to feel woozy and ended up fainting several times.

If… If… If…If…

…my partner hadn’t been home…

…he had accepted my misplaced reassurance that with a bit of rest I would be fine tomorrow… 

…he hadn’t been adamant to call the ambulance after I fainted the second time…

…there had been any further delays to, or in the hospital…

… I would no longer be here…

According to the doctors it had been a window of two hours. Any longer, and I would have faded away and crossed over. 

These last few weeks have been such an intense time for all of us. At times I felt paralysed with fear, burst into tears, or bolted out of the house. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one experiencing effects of ongoing Covid-19 lock down, but my body also remembered and relived last year’s existential crisis and standing at the gates of death…

The healing journey was intense and multi-layered, often literally ‘fighting’ my way back to wholeness. It wasn’t linear, it wasn’t neat. Life took so much more courage than before. Was I up for it? Oh Gods, why didn’t I just die? 

I consciously worked with this experience, going through deserts of despair, oceans of grief, volcanos of rage… with open eyes, as much as possible. Writing poetry, journaling, painting, ceremony, and being out in nature were some ingredients that helped me integrate this experience. Dance was the one that connected them all. I remember my first 3-minute movement to Rodrigo & Gabriela’s Tamacun, dancing both the gratitude of still being alive and shaking out the shock of it all – and being totally exhausted after. 

Exactly nine months after the operation I went into the studio to do a danced soul retrieval ceremony. Soul retrieval is a (shamanic) practice to retrieve dissociated parts of ourselves. Inviting the four elements earth, fire, water and air as allies in a strong medicine wheel, I danced the original events of pregnancy, apparent miscarriage and nearly losing my life. I then expressed through dancing the many stories I told myself about these events, the feelings I experienced in the moment and in the long aftermath of healing. Finally, I reconnected with a soul piece that had left during the process, and harvested the wisdom gifts that I received through the experience. I really felt healing and integration happen during that ceremony – in a way being reborn into life. 

The next day I returned to the studio and condensed this 40-minute healing dance ceremony into an improvised performance, which my colleague and friend Erica Charalambous recorded on video. Instead of choreographing every step and sequence, I used various building blocks that I identified during my process of recovery as a movement score. Another friend, Stef Vink, later composed and played an incredibly responsive musical landscape to go with the final edit. Their compassionate witnessing and accompanying me on this last leg of the journey added an additional layer to the healing. So did the editing, as another way of crafting and integrating the story. 

The 15-minute online performance East Wind: the story of my ectopic pregnancy is ready on Vimeo. It is a testimony to the tremendous capacity of dance to mend what was broken, retrieve what was lost, to integrate and heal.

I hope it soothes and inspires anyone who is on a journey of reclaiming their health and wellbeing. Whatever you are experiencing, you are not alone. Dance provides such a deep avenue for expressing the whole range of emotions we experience, and a resource to find courage and resilience to move with and through whatever life offers us. May you dance! 

I give thanks for all the support I received during this challenging time, from people, various practices, mother earth, and spirit. And thank you for reading this. In connection from heart to heart.

Please note that the video may cause strong emotional responses, especially if you have gone through a similar experience. If you think this applies, you can best watch it together with a trusted person, or make sure there is someone you can call afterward.