A reader writes:
I appreciate your reader’s insistence that we delineate between miscarriage and stillborn in the case of Ariel Levy’s article. My wife and I lost two beautiful girls at 22 weeks, born alive, lived for a few hours in their new daddy’s arms before dying. We’ve also suffered a traditional miscarriage, so I can attest the two are a different form of misery. But what happened to my girls (and Ariel’s boy) was not a miscarriage nor a stillbirth. Ariel had a baby, no doubt a beautiful little boy, and she will always be a mother even if that was her only pregnancy. She didn’t say in the article, but I imagine she has a birth certificate evidencing the fact, just like we do.
For what it’s worth, we now have an awesome 8-month-old boy roaming around the house. Sometimes I wonder what would’ve happened if the girls survived – would I have ever met my son? He was an extra frozen embryo, so he likely would’ve been discarded at the embryo stage if the girls lived. We have one more frozen embryo still, and I can’t bring myself to think about discarding it, even though my wife and I don’t care to go through another pregnancy. We pay about $1,000 per year in embryo storage so we don’t have to face the inevitable.
Interesting thread. As mentioned in the Six Feet Under you posted, there is no word for a parent who has lost a child … but parents who lose a child others have met can expect friends and family to gather – at a wake, a funeral, or sitting shiva – to offer sympathy and support. There is no comparable process for those who lose an invisible child to miscarriage or stillbirth.
My husband and I had two miscarriages, one late enough that I was already showing. Just brutal, especially since many of our friends were starting their families at the same time. A very helpful book for anyone facing this tragedy is Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief, by Pauline Boss. My husband and I went on to adopt our beautiful daughter, and 19 months later, I gave birth to our son. Both kids are now grown, have found love with wonderful partners, and are launched in gratifying careers. The ultimate happy ending!
More readers tell their emotional stories:
I had no idea how common miscarriages are until my wife had one at 7 weeks.
Of course I was ignorant of this, but the plain truth is that few people discuss that sort of tragedy in normal conversation. When my wife got pregnant, I immediately told almost everyone I knew. A few people told me I was supposed to wait for three months before a general announcement. That seemed impossible at the time, and besides, I thought, I would need this wide group of friends if anything bad happened.
I got a call from my wife as I was preparing our annual Christmas newsletter, announcing her pregnancy to my extend family. We spent the night in the emergency room. The worst part was the disconnection of the clinicians from one another. My wife told the triage nurse that she was 7 weeks pregnant. When they ran tests for her HCG levels (the hormones that a pregnant woman produces, increasing in production as the pregnancy develops), they showed a level that she would have had at 3 weeks. Unfortunately, the doctor came in and announced this to us with a smiling face, and said “Good news! You’re three weeks pregnant!” My wife is a nurse in reproductive health, and she knew immediately that something was wrong. We spent the rest of the night going through futile tests. My wife got to experience the joys of a transvaginal ultrasound that showed nothing. She cried in pain, and I sat and watched the screen, hoping that my untrained eye was missing the fetus.
For the next several days I choked on tears. Finally, after a weekend, I felt like I had to go into my office and tell every one of the 25 people there, including some guys I hardly knew, that my wife had lost the child. I had a few great conversations with people who had similar experiences. But most of it was awkward, stunned silence, with me faking a smile and a “thanks, we’re doing fine.”
Our therapy was an previously planned trip to New York over New Years’ Eve. At the Peoples’ Improv Theatre, they asked the audience to shout out “the worst Christmas present you got this year,” in order to start their skit. My wife and I immediately shouted “miscarriage!” and they were off and running. Watching a 10-minute improv piece with those talented young comics, so close to our tragedy, kept things light and allowed us a brief moment to laugh.
The laughs stopped soon. We had a high deductible insurance plan that ended on the calendar year. The whole ordeal – appointments falling on both sides of the year – ended up costing us nearly $7,000. My wife ended up checking into the hospital on suicide watch the following summer. The grieving process didn’t fully end until May of this year, when our dreams came true. My wife gave birth to a beautiful, healthy little girl who is the light of our lives.
My wife is lucky in many ways. Some women have major complications and are unable to conceive after. We didn’t have to suffer through a stillbirth, or watch our child die in front of us. The stories that we heard afterward, and the support we received, were instrumental in our healing. I don’t know if that means people need to talk about it more, or what. But thanks for giving your readers the opportunity to learn from each other.
When I was in my early 20s (not very long ago), my mom casually let slip that somewhere in the five-year process it took for my parents to have me (their first child), there was also a painful miscarriage. My mom went on to have a second child, though it took another five-plus years, so I never thought of her issues as anything more than general but prima facie surmountable fertility issues.
When she mentioned the miscarriage, I was so shocked that I never pressed her for more information, and I don’t know how to go about doing it now. Or if I even have any right to bring up an incident so painful that it is never brought up in my family. And we have a large, gregarious extended family, a close-knit ethnic clan that seems to delight in shitting all over waspy proscriptions like “no politics or religion at the dinner table.” We openly discuss and mock people’s drug habits, sexual partners (not in a homophobic way; family members are happy to point out plenty of non-bigoted reasons to dislike others). Name an issue and it has been served up next to the brisket.
But never the miscarriage. Reading your thread brought that moment of discovery back to me, with all the same confusing emotions. You might hear this on a regular basis, but this is one of the few areas of my life that I can say this: I’ve never shared this discovery with anybody. Truthfully, I don’t think I ever digested how I’ve reconsidered my parents as real humans with their own private wells of sadness. Learning something so emotionally shattering so late in life was like walking downstairs one morning in my childhood home to find a new room that had always existed just beyond my peripheral vision, with a shadow pantomime projecting onto the wall a life that had been playing out alongside mine and could be felt by those who knew it was there but would disappear just as quickly with a flick of the light switch.
Yet here I am sharing it with you. This thread, like so many other reader threads, has been clarifying. And to borrow from a much less depressing feature, I’m grateful for the view from other people’s windows in lieu of my own inability to talk about this with my parents. Maybe one day. In the meantime, thank you.