The Grit to Work through Grief: How Martial Arts Gave Me the Tools to Work Through Pregnancy Loss
A Guest Post by Rachel Honeyman
Imagine 200 pounds of weight holding you down on the ground, compressing your ribs, preventing your lungs from expanding. You panic. You can’t move. You can’t breathe. You feel like you’re going to suffocate.
And then, you remember that, while your torso is immobilized, you have four limbs that can help you escape the darkness closing in on you. You grasp the other person’s shoulder, placing your forearm under their chin. You get your other arm against their hips and move your feet as far away from them as you can. Then, in an explosive motion, you press your arm up against your opponent’s chin as you drive your feet into the ground, allowing you to bridge your hips up and away from that unwelcome weight.
You breathe a sigh of relief as you create enough space to allow for the possibility of that sigh. You’ve successfully emerged from an impossible situation, quite literally coming up for air.
But your relief only lasts for a mere instant before your opponent is back on top of you. The game starts again.
Over and over, you feel that weight closing in on you, you find an escape, and that weight pushes you back down. You lean on different techniques each time, inching your way toward a more complete sense of relief. Until, finally, eventually, after dozens of misses, you find it. You create enough space, not just to get a few breaths of air, but to stand up and get away from your opponent. You’ve prevailed.
What I’ve just described might sound like a scene out of a horror movie to people unfamiliar with martial arts training, but it’s a drill I’ve practiced countless times in my practice of BJJ for the Street (I’m belted under Israel Cruz, a black belt under Burton Richardson). Only recently has it really clicked how much drills like these help us build the grit we need to get through the hardest obstacles in our lives.
I’ve been leaning on those lessons more than ever over the past year. Nine months ago, I lost a pregnancy—so early that, had I remained pregnant, I’d probably be packing a hospital bag, decorating a nursery, and interviewing nannies right about now. I’d be filling my home with tiny outfits and my freezer with healthy meals. But that pregnancy never came to fruition.
The past nine months have felt a lot like that heavy weight attempting to crush me while I try desperately to inch, gasping for air, toward relief. At every turn, I face reminders of this child that never came to be. The room in our home we’d planned to turn into a nursery. Meeting a friend’s child who has the name I’d always dreamed of naming a son. Driving past my doctor’s office, where I was nearly every day leading up to my pregnancy.
This was no “normal” pregnancy. It was the culmination of three rounds of IVF, of countless blood draws and painful injections, of months of having insane levels of hormones coursing through my body. And, of months away from my training, the thing that might have kept me feeling sane through all of this.
Throughout those months of physical and emotional torture, I kept reminding myself of that drill. When the weight is holding you down and you feel like you can’t breathe, you have to just keep working your way toward the goal: escape. With IVF, the goal through all the hardship is clear: pregnancy. But after one round failed, and another round failed, it became harder to hold on to hope.
This third round felt like our last shot, and there were many moments along the way when I felt like giving up. Just like in that drill—for every time I’ve successfully extracted myself from that weight, there are probably three other times when I just haven’t been able to find the space I needed. My panic has overtaken me, causing me to burn out and need to stop. I almost reached that point of failure multiple times during this last round of IVF. But I kept going.
This third round of IVF was different—in so many ways. It was a longer medication protocol, which meant more time with mind- and body-altering hormones flooding my system, and more time away from the mats.
One of the side effects of this new medication protocol was excruciating muscle and joint pain throughout my body, so training would have been a challenge even if it hadn’t been expressly forbidden by my doctor. Still, each layer of difficulty with this round of IVF was more weight pressing down on me as I struggled to find space. Until, finally, I got that little inch of space I needed to breathe a sigh of relief. Unlike my first two rounds of IVF, this round resulted in a pregnancy—something my husband and I were both starting to doubt would ever happen.
But just like that drill has taught me, getting a little bit of space doesn’t mean the weight won’t come crashing back down. That pregnancy was extremely short-lived; a couple of weeks at most—in a “normal” pregnancy without every step closely monitored through IVF, I likely wouldn’t have known I was even pregnant at that point.
When I heard the news that I’d lost this pregnancy, I immediately felt all the hopes and dreams I’d had for this microscopic bundle of cells—my child—leave me. Learning that hundreds of injections, unbearable side effects from hormones, thousands of dollars, and immeasurable disappointment had led to this loss was a weight I thought I couldn’t possibly fight against.
Nine months later I still feel that weight trying to hold me down. My fight for oxygen these past months is measured in moments—moments that don’t seem to add up to an escape route. And yet, I don’t give up or stop fighting because, if my six years of martial arts training have taught me anything, it’s that you keep moving or you will get crushed. It’s inevitable.
And so, inch by inch, I look for my escape. My grief is my heavyweight opponent, and I just need to keep working to make enough space to get away.
I find a new therapist—that’s my frame against my opponent’s chest and hips. I make my bed every day to make it a little harder to get back into it—that’s me pulling my chin down to my chest to relieve the pressure on my neck. I put a little more effort into making myself look nice most days—that’s my setup for bridging away from my opponent. I start teaching women’s self-defense classes—that’s the little bit of space I need to be able to breathe and work. I stay consistent with my training, despite the challenges—that’s my explosive bridge and shrimp away from my opponent.
I haven’t yet found my path to standing up and getting away entirely, but I’ll get there. My training has taught me that, if I keep putting in the effort, that opportunity will come. And when it does, I will take it.
About the Author
Rachel Honeyman is a 2-stripe blue belt in BJJ for the Street under Israel Cruz who is a black belt under Burton Richardson. She’s been practicing martial arts for 6 years—a combination of BJJ, FMA, and JKD.
Professionally, she’s a writer and editor, but in her spare time, she teaches women’s self-defense classes as often as she can. She’s a fierce advocate of female empowerment, breaking stigmas around mental health, and Oxford commas.
Check out her instagram @rachebei