Thursday, December 02, 2004


Eight years ago today my first son was born and died. We knew he’d die. We induced labor at 20 weeks’ gestation when we learned he had hydrocephalus. His name was Louis. His head and trunk rested in the palm of my hand. It was a day of sadness and of feeling numb. Its shadow restrained my joy in future pregnancies and keeps me on guard for the wellness of my two living sons.

When I was pregnant that first time I was cautious through the first trimester, as many women are. The risk of miscarriage, we are told, is one in five. And so we privately steel ourselves for the possibility of that loss. And for 20% of us, we privately grieve its occurrence.

But of course, miscarriage is only one type of pregnancy loss. There is stillbirth. There are babies that are born with a congenital condition and die soon after birth. There are babies that die in delivery. There are “reductions” of multiples. There are abortions. There are babies that grow up to be children and then adults. And, well, in the end, they all die.

And loss is not confined to death. What about deformity and disability? Injury and disease? Babies are vulnerable creatures. Any number of things can come along and turn them from the path of happiness and vigor we imagine for them.

For women facing infertility, the loss occurs before pregnancy. Some women watch batch after batch of embryos fail to implant. Others ultimately have to give up their hope of ever carrying a baby in their body.

Then there are women who would like to have a baby, but are not in a relationship or are in a relationship that is not healthy for a baby. Or they do not have the means or support to conceive and raise a child on their own.

When women wish to be mothers, an aspect – be it overwhelming or faint, permanent or fleeting – of sadness and loss enters our reproductive selves.

I would argue that even in mothers who have never encountered any of these situations (and I suspect such women are rare), there is still a persistent element of loss to their maternal identity. It is the reason we save our children’s first shoes and the reason we check on them once they are asleep. It is the reason our hearts ache the first time they don’t want to hold our hand or sit on our lap. It is the unspoken, often unrecognized knowledge that if not already, then someday they will mean more to us than we do to them. They will leave. And even if we are glad to see them go, a little piece of us will nevertheless be lost.

“There is a sense in which all of motherhood is loss, an on-going continual separation, an unended grieving.”

--Centuries of Solace: Expressions of Maternal Grief in Popular Literature by Wendy Simonds and Barbara Katz Rothman


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