Saturday, March 7, 2009

See you in September...

(The answer to the anagram: Be teenier mouse spy)

... our new baby, that is! I am almost 12 weeks pregnant, and the baby's due date is September 24. We are very excited. We are so very thankful.

....and yet of course we are also very anxious during these long weeks. On Friday when we went for my appointment with my midwife, Donna, she was unable to find the heartbeat using the Doppler. I fought hard to control my emotions as the timing of every part of the experience was uncannily similar to when we lost a baby in February 2006. We had to wait two hours until we were able to have an ultrasound, during which we quickly saw and heard the baby's healthy heart beating, watched him or her move around and suck its thumb, and were reassured that the baby is growing just as s/he should. We sobbed our relief, our gratitude, our subsiding fears.

I am full of gratitude and thanksgiving; I know truly what a miracle it is to grow a baby and to nurture a life. I thank God, again and again. And yet my heart still feels heavy, still feels the acute pain of a friend who has recently lost her baby halfway through her pregnancy, of the woman who saw Donna earlier on Friday and shared a due date close to mine, but whose baby had died. My heart is heavy with the pain and grief of so many mothers and fathers who have loved and lost.

In American culture, there is no ritual, no ceremony, little acknowledgment of the death of an unborn baby. Cold medical terms are used to describe the death: it was a "missed abortion;" the pregnancy "was not viable;" a woman might have a "blighted ovum" or a "chemical pregnancy." A death certificate is only issued after the fetus has reached 20 gestational weeks. Even the word "miscarriage" is inadequate, fails to describe the individual loss the way "car crash" or "heart attack" or "cancer" is used. A few years ago, a writer named Peggy Orenstein was being interviewed on NPR. Her story immediately caught my attention; she was speaking about how she finally worked through the grief of her miscarriage, and how she found a channel through which to direct her pain. While traveling in Japan, she learned that women there make an offering to Jizo, an "enlightened being who... watches over miscarried and aborted fetuses."

I thought to myself, finally. Here is a culture that ritualizes, creates a ceremony for, acknowledges the acute pain and loss of a lost baby. I truly hope our American culture changes in such a way that women (and the people who love them) are met head-on with validation, support, acknowledgment, and acceptance of their loss, of the death of their child and of a dream that they held. I think about other ways in which we support each other as strangers in this troubling world. We wear pink ribbons to show our support of people fighting breast cancer. We display yellow ribbons to show our loyalty to our soldiers fighting for our country. We put out black ribbons for prisoners of war, multicolored ribbons for support of people with autism, red ribbons for people fighting AIDS, and on and on. While I do not necessarily think that there should be a ribbon for those who have suffered a miscarriage, I certainly see the parallels - the life changing event; the need for support and encouragement; the unfortunate sisterhood one finds herself in; the reminder that we are not alone.

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