The Harkins, who have a son, Amari, 3, found meaning in October’s designation as October Infant Loss and Miscarriage Awareness Month. Chelan was carrying their second child, Asa Aziz Harkin, on Aug. 28 when she experienced a miscarriage.
The Harkins are co-founders of Trees of the Gorge, a tree planting project with a one million-tree goal. Its first major planting will be a Nov. 9 tree planting and remembrance ceremony, 9 a.m. to noon at the new Great River Memorial Cemetery near Mosier. Meet in Mosier across from Breanna’s Market on Highway 30.
Volunteers will plant dedication trees and names will be read aloud Great River co-founder Suzanne Wright Baumhackl and Harkin will speak.
If you cannot attend, you can make a $15 donation in the name of a loved one, at gofundme.com/f/remembrance-grove-to-honor-miscarriages. Donations also support future plantings at the grove.
Anyone may attend on Nov. 9, and families who experienced miscarriage of loss of a child may purchase a tree for the new Remembrance Grove, a place for healing from grief, at Great River. Great River and the education center are located west of Mosier on Carroll Road.
“I was able to get my training as a hynotherapist and get college credit, getting my certification through Hypnotherapy Motivation Institute,” she said. Harkin marks her 10th year working as hypnotherapist this January.
Chelan said that the couple had previously lived in Portland and did weekly plantings with Friends of Trees, an organization that finds places to plant trees, using grant money and community planters with hundreds showing up to help — no experience necessary.
“They plant millions of trees, and that’s what our goal is for the Gorge, to reproduce that,” Chelan said.
‘Women don’t often feel a place for support’
Chelan’s talk with editor Kirby Neumann-Rea (HRN):
HRN: So Trees of the Gorge is a new and ongoing project, correct?
“After the miscarriage I had this thought: I knew my dad was on the Great River Board, and thought it would be special to have a planting in honor of infant loss and miscarriage, because people who experience this, many experience tremendous amounts of grief and sorrow.” Chelan said that one in four women who get pregnant experience miscarriages.
“And the way miscarriage is treated culturally is it’s often held very close and privately and a lot of women don’t feel a place for support or a way to kind of honor their experience or their child, because there’s often not a burial or a funeral, and I thought this would be a way to do that. This will be the first of many,” she said.
“It’s a great tool I use for myself as needed, a helpful way to move through grief or whatever blocks or emotional struggles I’m dealing with. I really call on that. The main thing that helped me with this process was a dream that night before the miscarriage started. He (her unborn son, Asa) was sitting a few feet from me and he communicated that he had he lived the best possible life in this world, he had the best possible life where he was. I had this dream the night before the miscarriage began.”
HRN: How did it make you feel when you woke up and how does it make you feel when you look back on it?
“I woke up and it was actually a crazy day (Aug. 28). We were in the Azores outside of Portugal, and we had to wake up that morning at 4 a.m. to get packed and go on a 17-hour flight home. We have our two and half-year old son (Amari), which is hard enough, and we were already nervous about the trip home. I woke up at about 3, and a half-hour later, heavy miscarriage symptoms began; but I woke up knowing the baby I was carrying had died, and I also felt a peace unlike anything I’d ever felt in my life. It was a very mystical, incredibly powerful experience. It wasn’t just like having a good dream that will impact you awhile and it dissolves away. This has been lasting, the impression this experience had on me. That’s the main thing that has supported me through the miscarriage and helped me want to channel this experience in constructive ways that are honoring in beauty and in connection.
“We had to go right to the airport. I made that whole flight home miscarrying in the flight, which was so dramatic, and I think it would have been unbearable were it not for that dream experience.”
HRN: Trees of the Gorge is a new and ongoing project, you and Noah and your dad are putting together.
“After the miscarriage, I had this thought; I knew my dad was on great River Board, and thought it would be special to have a planting in honor of infant loss and miscarriage, because people who experience this, many experience tremendous amounts of grief about this and sorrow and the way miscarriage is treated culturally is it’s often held very close and privately and a lot of women don’t feel a place for support or a way to kind of honor their experience or their child, because there’s often not a burial or a funeral, and I thought this would be a way to do that. This will be the first of many.
“It’s a fundraiser, so anyone is welcome to donate. The purpose of the grove is two-fold: Parents who have had miscarriages will be able to buy a tree in honor of their child that passed on, that personal purpose, and it’s also, we’re planting trees, a site to put light on the subject.”
HRN: What are the funds for?
“Specifically for the event on the 9th we’ll purchase as many trees as we got money for. We can add to it each year. We’re also going to buy a bench for the middle of the grove, a place for people who have experienced miscarriage to go and be and have a moment, probably with a plaque about what the grove represents.”
HRN: What will this grove mean?
“It will mean a lot to women who have experienced miscarriage, specifically. It will be a place that honors their experience and honors and validates the power and the pain of the experience, and it will say ‘this is something real that you experienced and there are other people who see that and know that and will support you.’
HRN: “Power and the pain.” I want to get more at this at how it feels the need out there, a way for women and families to process it. You experienced it yourself and you’re saying that socially there is something like a stigma?
“I think I might use the word stigma.”
HRN: What’s your sense of why that is, why is that, that families or women don’t want to talk about it or feel some hesitation of doing so?
“This is kind of connected I think to the whole way of relating to it, but it’s a piece of it; so many when they found out they’re pregnant they wait three months before they reveal it to anyone because there is a concern about what might happen in those first three months. So I think a lot of women who haven’t shared even that they’re pregnant, and then feel hesitant to talk about their loss. Culturally I think there’s a struggle to be open about grief and pain, and I think there is also concern that folks won’t kind of validate the legitimacy of the life, almost. There are different notions of when a human becomes a human, or when that life can be honored as a life, so I think it’s scary or painful to think that, when there is a deep and real feeling of loss of life that is so dear to us, that other people won’t understand that: ‘It’s just a cluster of cells,’ or it might somehow be dismissed. I think that’s where it comes from.
“It is the loss of a loved one, and any loss of a loved one is difficult or can be difficult to talk out but there is a particular resonance to a child who has not been ’born’ and dies, a particular resonance to that grief.
“While I think it’s really common for women to feel tremendous loss, not everyone woman who feels miscarriage does. I think some potentially feel a sense of relief and aren’t as connected to why it’s hard for some women to feel more outward about experience. Miscarriage most commonly is a tremendous feeling of loss, but I think it’s safe to say if someone loses a child that has been born, it’s pretty much across the board the same response across the board. But for those of us who have experienced miscarriage, they’re just not sure how other people are going to take it.”
HRN: I almost hesitate to ask, but is part of this, the hesitance and perceptions and social expectations, is it tied into guilt? Do some women feel guilty?
“I am so glad you bright that up. It’s a big subject. There is so much shame for women around infertility, subtle shame for women who have ‘too many babies’, and so much around what is a complicated experience for women, and there is a feeling of ‘there’s something wrong with my body,’ or ‘if I wasn’t able to carry a baby.’ It’s a fear of that, I think it’s a big part of what creates this. It goes really deep. Is there the guilt of ‘did I cause this?’ or ‘are people going to think I did?’”
HRN: Did you feel some of that?
“The first thing my doctor said to me after (my) miscarriage, is ‘I want to reassure you, there is nothing you could have done to cause this. There’s a piece of this, call it over-assessing, ‘did I do this?’ and that would be such a burden to hold if that were true. I’m grateful my practitioner told me that and there may be some women who don’t get that information and maybe that could be a piece, too.”
HRN: You found out pretty immediately the clinical realities of what happened.
“Yes, almost always with miscarriage it’s genetically caused, and even if you’d done everything perfectly it wouldn’t have stopped it necessarily.”
HRN: This will be first public event at the Great River? Talk about what’s going to happen Nov. 9.
“It’s not a grand opening, but it’s a debut. We’ll gather, Suzanne (Wright Baumhackl) will talk about the land and the space and what their intention is for it, I’ll talk about the event, share a poem and lead the group in a song and then read the names, or ask those who dedicated the tree, many parents who have named their child, ask them to read, and then do tree-planting demo so they know what they’re doing and then we’ll go plant.
“As Trees of the Gorge we’re only doing native planting (Ponderosa pines). There is no need to be present, we’ll read names and send photos for those who are not present.”