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Ghostly Grief: On Miscarriage and Loss

I’ve written briefly here about my experience with my miscarriage this past summer, but I haven’t yet shared the story. Today I’m over at sharing (pretty vulnerably) about my experience that week and about the complications of grieving a relationship you never really had.

I lie back against the paper-coated examination table, alone at my first appointment, eight weeks pregnant. I’m thankful that I’m not violently ill like in my last two pregnancies. I look up at the ultrasound screen with an unhindered joy — soon, I will berate myself for it. You should have known better than to be happy.

Instead of finding a peanut-sized body on the screen, I see nothing. Emptiness. I watch reality flick across my doctor’s face. She gathers herself to say the words I know are coming.

“I’m sorry. I can’t find a baby here. It looks like the embryo just never developed.”

The day is lonely. I call a friend to pick my oldest son up from camp. I barely breathe the words to her: No baby. More tests. My husband, Chris, is working from home, watching my other son, who’s sick. I drive from the doctor’s office to the hospital. Another ultrasound. More emptiness. Another blood test. More bad results.

What do you really lose when you lose a pregnancy? Did I lose a child? Can you lose a child that never really existed? A child that never developed?

*  *  *

A friend recently sent me a note after hearing about my loss: “Miscarriage is the strangest grief, ghostly but intensely embodied.” That word, ghostly, has stayed with me. What is it to lose a child who never became? What is it to host death in your own living body? In the womb that always before gave life? Ghostly grief. Ghostly sorrow.

 

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  • MennoMama

    Thank you for your heartrendingly beautiful reflection. I was particularly struck by your question, ” What is it to host death in your own living body?” It continues to be a question that I grapple with following the stillbirth of our daughter a full-term last year followed by a miscarriage at just shy of 12 weeks for our wee one who stopped developing around 8 weeks. What do you make of death in the place that is meant to hold life?

    Thank you for naming this silent grief and for helping to unmask the shame and silence that seems to go hand in hand with miscarriage. I think I felt much more lonely and unsettled after the death of our child through miscarriage. With a still birth people recognize that as a real loss–after all there is a fully formed, beautiful baby who just looks like she is sleeping. It’s acceptable to have a memorial service to invite people into your grief but we don’t know what to do with a miscarriage. I just felt a lot of shame…like I brought this on myself and it was foolish to desire a baby after our devastating loss and that somehow I had brought this pain on ourselves. I realize of course, that longing for a child is not something that should be shame filled or that either loss was my fault but there is such a jumble of complicated emotions that accompanies the death of a child. And the only way through is to just keep feeling the feelings and living into the pain, giving it a name.

    And it is all the more magnified with “helpful” people point out, “at least you’ve got your son.” (Of course, everything will be better if only you would cheer up.) Yes, I am grateful for our son but his presence does not replace the absence of the other children who should be in our home. There is a hole in our family despite the fact that that they never slept in the crib or wore the tiny diapers we had prepared.

    Thank you again for so beautifully giving a voice to what so many experience but are not given the space to name out loud.

  • Thank you for always telling your story with honesty and grace.
    It’s an honor to receive this story, friend.
    Love to you.