Lost The Baby
Reflections on why the word ‘lost’ feels wrong, including a graphic description of miscarriage.
Crucially, ‘lost’ is wrong because it implies ‘gone without trace’. I do not claim to speak for all mothers, but for me, the indelible mark a child makes on a heart is etched on mine as soon as I know I’m pregnant.
I’ve never given much thought to it before. I recognised it as a cliché, of course, but hand-in-hand with the prerequisite hushed tones and pained expressions, it seemed a decent enough platitude; much more palatable than “Their unborn baby has died,” and preferable even to the straightforward medical term “They’ve had a miscarriage”.
“I’m sorry you lost the baby.” Mediocre sympathy for a commonplace occurrence – we all know the stats, right? It passed for a sensitive-but-safe condolence in my book. Not so now. Now I can’t stop thinking about that figure of speech. 15 days after I began bleeding – spotting at first, followed by a daily increase in quantity, vividness and horror – my baby could never be described as ‘lost’.
Yesterday, I thought it might hold some truth. It seemed that the bleeding was starting to wane and that the painful and messy biological process might be coming to an end, and I was terrified because that would mean that the little life inside me and everything that my body had done to prepare for its growth would really be finished. And I thought I would wonder, was the pregnancy a dream? The sickness? Was that little bump I so fondly labelled ‘Baby # 2’ on Christmas day real, or had I been letting my festive belly hang slack in my over-excitement at being three months pregnant for the second time? Two scans on New Year’s Eve confirmed that there was no life in the sac in my uterus. With nothing to show for the pregnancy, perhaps it would feel lost.
As it happens, in the small hours of this morning, an unbearable and ceaseless contraction ripped me from sleep and brought me to the bath tub in search of comfort. As the water turned a deep red around me, I felt a sick mixture of relief that it wasn’t over yet and terror that something had gone horribly wrong. Just as in labour, I felt a couple of alarming pops somewhere within and had the primal urge to push, and I birthed (not ‘passed’, there was nothing passive about it) the fist sized clot-bound sac and whatever remained in it. Too weakened by the starkness of what had happened to determine for myself what the thing actually was, I left it there in the blood and water for my sister (who I had called in panic) to inspect. As the shock eased its grip, I felt some gladness and gratitude that I had produced something to bury with the weeping cherry tree we bought to mark the too-short life of my second child. And I got to thinking about whether, without this physical remnant, ‘lost’ would be right. Many women, particularly those who miscarry before 12 weeks, reabsorb most of the ‘products of conception’ (more horrible terminology to be found throughout miscarriage literature and treatment) and don’t have an experience like mine or anything material to connect the pregnancy to reality. Maybe ‘lost’ for them isn’t so inaccurate after all.
By this evening, I concluded no, lost would never be right.
For one thing, there’s an aspect issue. A miscarriage isn’t an instantaneous event. Whether you undergo a procedure to remove whatever’s left in your womb or allow your body to do that itself as I am doing, it takes time for the body to undo the changes it made to create a nourishing space for that little life. Massive hormonal adjustments, blood volume increase, softened ligaments, movement of organs are all in addition to the actual growth within the womb. When you break the news that you’ve lost the baby, the likelihood is that you’re losing the baby, or at least the furniture in the little room your body had made for it. It’s a continuous process. Emotionally, I imagine it’s an endless one; I’m yet to find out. Another bugbear is that the connotation of ‘lost’ is of carelessness, which cuts too close to the hateful (and invariably unfounded) guilt carried by mothers whose unborn die. Crucially, ‘lost’ is wrong because it implies ‘gone without trace’. I do not claim to speak for all mothers, but for me, the indelible mark a child makes on a heart is etched on mine as soon as I know I’m pregnant. Those other miscarriage clangers: “There’ll be another!” and “I’m sure next time will be fine” miss the point. This baby that was growing within me has not disappeared to be replaced by another. My second child has died, leaving a gruelling journey to physical and emotional recovery in its wake. I will mourn as I would for any born child. Gone – NOT lost – but never forgotten.