The art of cocooning

Post by Jo Casey for the Kind Kindred series.

undyed silk cocoons from FiberArtSupply on Etsy

5 and a bit years ago I had my second miscarriage. It hit me harder than the first. The first I had been able to put down to being a fluke. The statistics are stark – 1 in 5 known pregnancies end in miscarriage so part of me figured, sad as I was about it, that I had gotten mine out of the way. It doesn’t work that way.

The second miscarriage blew a hole in my logic. This time I miscarried later into my pregnancy. I needed an Evacuation of Retained Products of Conception (ERPC) which is one of those dreadful medical terms designed to take all of the human ramifications of what it actually is and make it as sanitized as possible.

I hadn’t lost ‘the products of conception.’ I’d loved my baby.

A colleague of mine, who sat directly opposite me in work, announced her pregnancy the same week as I announced mine. I hated myself for how unfair it felt that hers lasted and mine didn’t.

In times of extreme pain, the body often knows what it needs to do. My mind seemed to fall in line: What I needed was an extreme form of self-kindness – anything else was rejected by my body and spirit.

After I came out of the hospital, weak and crampy, my husband made me pie, chips and peas – my ultimate comfort food (the kind I rarely allow myself to eat). He put me on the couch with the softest blanket and provided me with the box set of Sopranos DVDs.

I stayed like that for days. Sometimes crying, mostly just drifting through the hours.

When I finally felt like getting up, I puttered.
I didn’t leave the house, I didn’t feel inclined to.
When I visited the doctor for my follow up check the next week he signed me off work for a further 2 weeks.
Then another 2.
Then another.

During that time I sewed, baked, knitted, and I walked.

It was a sunny spring and I walked for hours along streets both unknown and familiar, local and far, not really taking in my surroundings but concentrating on the movement of my feet.

My family started to grow concerned. It wasn’t healthy that I was spending so much time alone. My husband was at work all day and I didn’t want to talk to friends. There was nothing to talk about. I had the urge to be quiet.

I read all I could get my hands on about miscarriage. I wanted to know why it had happened (to try and prevent it from happening again), but everything I read pointed to most miscarriages being a mystery.

Then I read this article about the Japanese Buddhist approach to lost children – water babies – those not fully of this world. They believe that life flows over time into us and until the age of 3, children and babies are not believed to be fully of the earth. Babies lost before this age are believed to be not fully connected here – like spirits. I found a comfort in this. I read about shrines left all over gardens and parks in Japan to these ‘water babies’ as they’re called. My baby was a potential – had the potential to become whole and real but had left before he or her could be. I didn’t want to dismiss that. I wanted my own shrine – my own monument to what could have been. Who they could have been. I wanted something that said I love you in all of your potential.

I decided to build a garden. Outside my house was a square of concrete flagstones. I dug out the flags. I bought bags and bags of heavy gravel, lugging them from the car. My parents and husband weren’t impressed – I’d had surgery only a few weeks previously. I was still getting over the pregnancy hormones and was still bleeding. But I didn’t care. I felt strong. Lugging and digging made me feel alive and vital. It reminded me that my body was alive and capable.

I bought plants that would thrive in the difficult conditions of our concrete square – cerise geraniums and sky blue lobelia. I bought grasses that russed when I dragged my hand through them and impossibly sweet smelling violets.

On my solitary walks along the streets of my neighbourhood I looked at other people’s gardens, springing into life in the warm April sunshine.

During this time I had a chance conversation with a woman I barely knew. And in the way that it’s sometimes easier to talk to strangers I told her that I was off work, felt OK about things but just wanted to spend time at home, not seeing anyone.

“You’re cocooning” she said, “You’ll emerge when you’re ready.”

And sure enough, not long afterwards, I did.

Going back to work wasn’t easy. My miscarriage had started there, it was where I’d rushed from to go the hospital and my pregnant colleague was still there, blooming and radiant. Facing her, trying to be cheerful and not wanting to taint her pregnancy with my sadness was tough beyond words.

But I did it.

I did it because I think that spending time in that cocoon gave me time to heal – emotionally and physically. I was able to process in the only way I knew how – quietly and reflectively.

I think there’s a lot to be said for taking some time out. Stopping. Going quiet. Going inwards and allowing things to settle. That way we’re able to come out feeling stronger, more connected to ourselves and what’s important.

Cocooning is a temporary retreat from the world and a chance to mentally convalesce. You needn’t regret, deny or guilt-trip about it – sometimes you just need to go with it. Like the stranger said to me, you’ll emerge when you’re ready.

As a coach I now work with plenty of women who experience the urge to cocoon but feel guilty about it. They push through, feeling exhausted and empty because it’s so difficult to step off the activity train in a society that positively fetishizes business.

As I train and coach people how to work happier, I’m still amazed at how many people deny themselves one of the very necessities to coping with the challenges life and work throws at them. Work (heck, life!) is rarely challenge free – especially if it’s work that we care about. So in order to handle and even thrive through change and challenge it’s vital that we rest, recuperate and recharge ourselves. Cocooning can be a wonderful way of doing this.

When my clients are resistant to the idea, I get them to answer the following questions (you might try giving it a go yourself).

• What are your fears around taking some time out to cocoon? What resistance comes up for you?
• How real are these fears? E.g.: if they’re telling you it would make you a selfish person, how ‘true’ does this feel?
• What would giving yourself permission to take some nurturing time out give you?
• How could you cocoon – even in small ways?

Jo Casey is a trainer, coach and the creator of The Work Happy Podcast. She works with aspiring and emerging coaches to help them find more joy, confidence and impact in their work.

She’s written for MindBodyGreen, Tiny Buddha, Brazen Life, Dumb Little Man and Finer Minds.

You can find her at and sign up for signature programme The Map Of You where you’ll discover the meeting point between your unique strengths, passions and talents, and how you really make a difference in the world.

You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+

Related Posts

If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy these