catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 7 :: 2011.04.08 — 2011.04.21


Surprised by grief

I was teaching a class called “Women Counseling Women,” and the topic for the evening was grief — in particular the grief a woman might experience following the loss of a child through abortion or miscarriage. I explained that women not only grieve the loss of the infant they may have held in their arms, but they also grieve the baby who would have one day sprouted her first tooth, who would say “Mama,” who would walk around the coffee table to great applause.  This mother lost a first day of kindergarten and a high school graduation and even a wedding. I talked about how, too often, our culture does not recognize that the woman who lost her tiny child has also lost a person.  This child’s life is not celebrated nor grieved, nor is the mother who lost this child allowed to grieve or have her grief alleviated. Talk of this lost baby embarrasses those around her, and the mother soon learns to keep her pain to herself.

I suggested that there were many things we could do to encourage and minister to these women, things like introduce her loss into conversation, creating a safe space for her to talk about her baby.  The church could hold a memorial service, something that would seem natural had the child lived to breathe air. They could plant a tree in the child’s memory or make a donation, and suddenly the pain of my own miscarriage twenty years earlier overwhelmed me. I stood there in the middle of sixty-some young women, as tears filled my eyes and choking pain filled my throat.

I stopped talking for a moment, one that seemed to last forever as my students watched me gather myself.  And the words spilled out: I told them I had started spotting and, thinking a quick visit to the doctor would make everything fine, I sent my husband off to school and called my sister to accompany me. The doctor said it was all over; the pregnancy was situated too low in the uterus to have developed normally, and I needed a D and C to clear it all out. I heard the words in numb silence, and said thank you, I would call my husband before I was admitted to the hospital.  I was strong, no tears, until I heard Jim’s voice and told him our baby was gone. I had lost her, and suddenly I could not stop crying.

Oh, eventually I did, and then soldiered on through the D and C, my room on the OB floor where I could hear the moans of mothers giving birth and the mewling cries of newborns.  And then I went home and back to church.  And no one said a word.  Even those who knew I had been pregnant.  Suddenly, there in my class, I was surprised by my smothered grief, awakened after twenty years and no less sharp.

I turned my back to the class and swallowed the lump, stuffing it all back down where it belonged, or at least where I thought it needed to be, and finished my class.  There was one difference though: I would never be embarrassed by another woman’s loss or grief.  I knew that grief and would always give her a place to talk.  I would just listen and maybe hold her a while.  I knew she didn’t need a lot of words, maybe just, “I’m so sorry. I cannot imagine how much you hurt right now.” And I would just be quiet because, especially in the beginning, there are no words that will make it easier.

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