Today’s post offers my own personal reflections for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
How do you write about death? How do you write about death in a culture that fears it, displaces it, sweeps it under the rug? How do you write about death with the slightest coherence, when there aren’t any words you can utter, any words you can invent to put it in context?
How do you write about death when the death you write is the death of your very own child?
I’ve tried to write this post a thousand times, and in a thousand ways, and each time I’d get caught up in the words, convinced that some sort of poetry would be the way in.
But there is no poetry in miscarriage. There is no poetry in death. Its shock, surprise and torment cannot be made beautiful. It is ache. It is absence. It is loss beyond words.
I can remember it like it was yesterday, earlier this morning, five minutes ago. I remember as clear as the day.
And it was awful. It is awful. God, it’s just awful. But let’s back up a step first. When we’d first found out, we stared at each other in disbelief.
When we found out that we would be parents, we were over-the-moon-excited-and-delirious. Parents. We would be parents. You can imagine what that was like. Perhaps you’ve been there too. Perhaps you’ve been there to the place of utter ecstasy and joy and disbelief.
Staring in the face of your partner, eyes wide open, jaws to the floor when you realise a baby is on its way. A baby is on its way, and it’s ours. This changes everything. And it does. At least it did for us. Dreaming, imagining, planning. Name books and appointments one-after-the-other. Trying to keep the secret. Unable to contain it all.
Home for Christmas, we surprised her parents with a card. Congratulations Granny & Gramps! A copy of the ultrasound. There it was. Proof. Proof of life. Proof that a baby was on the way. Like I said, it changed everything.
Everything about our life together, its direction. It changed our conversations, how we thought about and acted towards money. Our focus had shifted towards someone we did not yet know. Someone we would never know, except by their impact on our lives.
It was early January when we went in to the midwives’ to hear the heartbeat. It was early January when we went in to hear what we already knew to be true. A baby was on its way. This baby was ours, and together we would be a family.
We went in to hear a heartbeat. We left with heartache and an appointment for an ultrasound.
Stomachs in knots. Hoping against hope. Holding hands. Unwilling to let go. Barely breathing. The technician mechanically maneuvered the wand as we stared at the screen, looking for hope. We asked questions the technician refused to answer. Instead, these words:
“The doctor will be with you shortly to explain.”
An eternity of anxiety crammed into mere minutes as we sat together in that cold, dimly lit room, rain pouring outside, awaiting those crushing words that hung breathlessly in the air when the doctor walked in.
“The fetus is no longer viable.”
Sharp and to the point. No cushion. No soft landing (as if there could be).
A flood of questions well up with tears as the cloud of emptiness looms. Up until that moment, we had lived in the realm of maybe. Maybe they missed something. Maybe it’ll all work out.
There is always maybe until there isn’t. There is always maybe until hope is replaced with the ringing finality of medical reality.
It’s over. Finished. It’s over, but it’s not – it’s just begun. Pain. Grief. Anger. Fear. All just the beginning.
Well-meaning platitudes from well-meaning friends.
This happens a lot. To a lot of people. Did you know that 30% of pregnancies end in miscarriage?
Because it would be considered helpful to respond to any other death with words like these:
I’m sorry your grandmother, brother, mother, cousin or best friend died, but did you know that 100% of all life ends in death? Move on, already. It was a statistical inevitability.
In the face of searing loss, numbers mean shit. All that matters, all that you can see, feel, hear, taste or smell is the pain. And it’s raw. And it’s real. And in the absence of life, it needs to be embraced.
Reflecting on it these years later, it’s still raw. Every now and again I’ll hear someone referring to a “miscarriage of justice.” In days past, that turn of phrase just slid right past me. No longer. It’s a reminder. And it’s a reality check. A miscarriage of justice. And suddenly, a guttural, visceral reaction finds itself growing inside me.
Even as I write this, I know that I don’t know the half of this story. I don’t know the physical reality, except as an accompanier. But I do have my own experience, even if it is nothing like hers.
Looking for comfort, looking for solace, or at least some helpful reading in the days that followed, all I could find for the birth partner was the injunction to “be strong for them.” Which is helpful and not. Which completely truncates the devastating emotional state you, yourself might find yourself in. Which completely denies that you, as the birth partner, that I as a husband, might be experiencing loss too.
Such advice was almost as bad as breathing the noxious air of spiritual truism and bumper-sticker theology.
Another angel in heaven. God must have needed this one more than you.
I know what words come to my mind when I hear these words. They’re not entirely pleasant.
Not only are these bullshit statements unhelpful, but they’re untrue. They’re the false comforts and accusations of Job’s friends. They’re the words that reduce the pained reality of existence. They’re the words that try to sweep things under the rug. The ones that tell you to suck it up. The ones that quote meaningless statistics. They’re the words that push heaven even further away from the hell you find yourself in right now.
What this world does not need is another self-help messiah. What I did not need was distraction. What I needed was someone to walk with through the pain. To shut up. To listen. To listen even to my pain-filled silence. What was needed, what is so often needed, is the gift of dwelling in the midst of that raw, real existential crisis in the silence between friends.