A MOTHER'S LOVE AFTER MISCARRIAGE
by Desirea Stott-Rodgers
In 2017 I lost my son to miscarriage. In the months that followed I struggled with a sense of isolation in the grief, as I realized that our culture is often prone to silence around miscarriage. And when we do talk about it, conversations can easily become awkward, painful, or unhelpful or even harmful to grieving mothers. As part of my grieving process, and to push against the spirit of silence that surrounds miscarriage, I wrote an open letter to my son on the eve of what was to be his due date.
Dear Little one,
I found out I was carrying you on Good Friday. It is a holy day. I remember thinking that a shadow fell on that day because it speaks of suffering and death. I felt a shadow but I told myself that it is a day that also speaks of the greatest love, a gift of a life freely given. I’ve found the most holy things in this life are a moving, a meshing of the broken and the gift, the shadow and the light.
I loved you from the moment I knew I carried you. You were the secret place in my heart, my secret prayers and meditations during the day. I knew you were a boy, just as I knew your sister was a girl when I carried her. When I would press my hands over my abdomen and meditate on the light that I sent you, I didn’t feel you or see you as I did when I carried your sister. But I told myself that you were your own unique and special person and I didn’t need to see you or feel you for you to be wholly you.
You were due to enter the world today. December 23rd, my Christmas baby. Most parents I know who were due near Christmas hoped their child would have space from the holiday; they hoped for an early or later birth. I secretly hoped you would be born on Christmas day. I wanted you to share the holy day. A reminder of hope in a weary world.
When I was pregnant with your sister, I saw the place and time of her birth. I knew it from early on. I never could see when you would be born. I told myself that I went past my due date with Fairlight so maybe you will be born past yours and into the New Year. Maybe I just couldn’t see that far.
I hit that twelve week mark. The mark that every woman I know looks to and breathes a sigh of relief because statistics give us security and statistics say that after twelve weeks you are almost certain of not losing your little one to miscarriage.
Two days later I began to bleed. It was red blood, not the light colored or brown blood you’re told not to worry too much about. This blood was bright red. I called my midwife and she told me to lay my hands over where you lay and ask my body and you for the outcome that is best. My hands shook as I whispered to my body and you, “not my will but thine be done”. I asked for the best for you because even if it meant losing you, a mother always wants the best for her child. It was then that the cramping started. When I called my midwife back she said I needed to go the ER. I fell into your father’s arms and cried for the first time. I still held an irrational hope that something else was coming, that you wouldn’t be gone, but part of me knew.
They took me alone to have the ultrasound. I asked the nurse if she could tell me right away so that I wouldn’t have to wait for a doctor. But, I didn’t need her to tell me. When I saw your form on the screen, I knew you were no longer there. I don’t remember being wheeled back to the room where your father waited. I just remember once I reached him, crying so hard that no words would come. I remember crying so hard that I started to vomit. I remember trying to will you back to life and offering God mine instead if She would only just let you live. I don’t remember what the doctor said when he came in, I just remember he kept looking me in the eyes and he handed me paperwork with words that didn’t describe you as my child but as something other. As he kept talking I felt myself leave my body, I could see me and I could see the doctor and he kept looking me in the eyes and as I floated there I wondered if he was seeing. If he was seeing me, or death, or simply the loss of tissue, or if he had to harden himself to bringing bad news because I was sure he had carried so much bad news on his shoulders that he must need to detach. But, he still looked me in the eyes.
I was told that you might leave my body that day or it might take two weeks. I desperately wanted to keep you inside of me. I’m your mother, we protect you when you’re that little. And there was still a crazy hope that maybe everyone in the world and the ultrasound was wrong. But I didn’t know how I could go on walking and eating and showering and going to the grocery store if I knew you were dead inside of me.
When your father brought me home form the ER I sat on our couch and stared out the window down to the oak grove. He left to go pick up your sister. I was alone and the world stopped moving. I sat and stared until I felt the sharper pain, the pain that isn’t a cramp it is your cervix opening. I never thought about the fact that women who lose their children through miscarriage have to go through labor and delivery; in my mind it had always been a physically easier thing. But I felt the moment my cervix started to open. I knew your body was leaving mine that day. I went into the bathroom not realizing that what I felt wasn’t the need to use the bathroom but was your birth about to happen. I felt your body as it left mine. I can still feel you leaving me. I feel it at some point every single day. I feel you passing through me. I couldn’t look at you in that moment. I came back to that couch where time was still standing still and grabbed my phone to tell your father that you were born but I couldn’t look at you or gather you up.
The midwife had to see your body to make sure you were all there. I knew that you were, I felt you leaving, but we had to gather and keep you. When your father got home he went in our bathroom and took you from the toilet. I had gone in before he came home to look at you for a second. All life deserves to be looked at. Your father, the man I love and admire most in the world took your form from a toilet. He walked this journey alone, I will never know what that moment was like, he did it for you and for me. I will also never know the strength of heart it takes to lift the tiny form of your son from a toilet. Your father has shown me the deepest love in countless ways but I’ve never known another way that was more broken and dark and shadowed and holy than that day.
And just like a labor and birth you bleed. You bleed for days. I just wanted the bleeding to stop. I somehow thought that if the bleeding could stop then my tears would stop. People say stupid things if they know you’ve lost a baby. But some people say things that make you feel a little less alone, a little less crazy. They say things that let a little more love in to help comfort your broken heart and honor the life you carried inside of you. They say things that you cling to when you have to change another pad because the bleeding won’t stop.
We wrapped you in linen tied with a velvet ribbon and buried you in the oak grove that I’m looking down on now. We planted wildflowers on top of the grave. I kissed where you were buried until the dirt covered my lips and I felt the grit of earth in my teeth. For months I would walk down to your grave to remind you that we love you and to breathe in the air that still gives me life. I still visit your grave but less frequently. If spirits as little as yours exist elsewhere I know that you know you are loved. I don’t feel the need to remind you.
Now your grave is a place of stillness and beauty, a place all its own, a holy place.
There are still split seconds that I look around for my second child. A friend once told me that when a woman is pregnant some of the baby’s cells pass through the placenta and live in the mother’s body for the rest of her life and that the baby has their mother’s cells in them for their lives. My body mapped you out and grew you and knows that you existed. I think my body is still looking for you.
I’m pregnant now with another wonder of a human being. This pregnancy carries the shadow of a previous loss and the anxiety that comes with it. But, when I think of this new little wonder, I think of you too. Without you, I wouldn’t have this new gift. In a way, leaving when you did, you gave me this child. Dark and loss and creation and light and so much joy live together in my days. What is holy binds us.
I will always love you and I will always carry you,
Many parents have experienced miscarriage; the statistics are around 10 - 20%. But it’s one more experience in a litany of experiences that women don’t often speak about because our culture doesn’t know how to handle it or which box to place this kind of loss in. I didn’t speak about it because I felt the shame of my own body betraying the baby I was supposed to keep safe. I didn’t speak about it because the loss felt unbearable at times and I knew that if I spoke I would hear comments like “it was for the best,” “we don’t always know why these things happen but your age might have been a factor,” “you didn’t want a baby born around Christmas anyway,” “you need to get out of the house and move on” “women have lost actual children at least you lost your baby before it was born” “I had a friend who had a miscarriage and she was fine, it didn’t bother her at all” “don’t worry, you’ll have another baby” etc. All of these things and more were said to me. But, once you do start talking about it, you find this secret club of women and men who text, call or email you with their own stories of loss through miscarriage. After listening to these stories I became angry at a culture that can shame or dismiss a woman’s story of loss and her story of survival and strength following that loss. Every parent’s story of miscarriage is different, I simply talk about my own experience and I will continue to talk about it. I am choosing to replace silence with storytelling so that others know they are not alone and there is no shame.
If you have experienced a miscarriage and are grieving please reach out to a trusted friend, relative or local or online support group. If you have a friend who has experienced a miscarriage and is grieving you can support them by knowing that grief has no timeline, by simply listening and letting them know that you might not know exactly what to say but you’ll be there for them when they need. You can check in with them often and bring them nourishing food to replenish and care for their body. Grief of this kind can feel confusing and isolating, a friend’s presence in the midst of it is often a source of strength and light that is needed.
Desirea Stott-Rodgers is a mother and photographer. She is also the Co-Founder of Love146, an international human rights organization working to end child trafficking and exploitation through survivor care and prevention. Love146 is helping grow the movement to end child trafficking while providing effective, thoughtful solutions.