At eleven weeks pregnant, I had a miscarriage. I began bleeding on Good Friday and on Easter Monday I lost our baby. This was fitting, as our son Jacob had named the baby Jesus. Though I’d felt the sense of an ending over the previous four days, the actual event — I was standing in the cold rain, buying an ivory ostrich egg — was pitilessly clear in its finality and meaning. Our little baby could not stay with us in this life.
In the following weeks I pursued grief in every dark corner, on every flower petal, in any suggestive melody. I needed to feel all the dimensions of losing this much-wanted child. We told our children, friends, my parents. I cried in public and in private. I lit candles, picked flowers, said prayers, wore black. I moved slowly through the day, hoping to avoid accidents due to clumsiness, and also to slow things down mentally and spiritually. In the evening, I sat in the dark in our once-and-not-future nursing chair, listening to a sleeping Rose who made no sound. Each night in the bath, I spoke a few words out loud to the baby. Before long, my most urgent messages were expressed, and so I stopped.
With a small number of trustworthy people I shared certain details. From mothers and from fathers, I sought and heard stories of miscarriages and other losses, including bouts of infertility, failed adoptions, hysterectomies, and deaths. Daughters told how the miscarriages had haunted their own mothers. I made a modern rosary, an aural prayer shawl: a playlist of songs titled Goodbye Friday.
Soon I looked for symbols more permanent than flowers. We cracked the ostrich egg and made omelets and scrambled eggs. Now it sits in our dining room, in a golden bowl, a symbol of the lost egg. A friend gave me a decorated eggshell containing four glow-in-the-dark stars, one for each of our three children on earth and one for our Star Baby. At night I bid the glowing stars a peaceful sleep and in the morning I “charged” them in the sunshine on our windowsill.
In chasing grief, I did not mean to disappear or wallow. I meant to find its dance partner, healing. I have made the mistake in the past of burying grief. I don’t want to walk with a limp for the rest of my life. In my travels with sorrow I pictured a series of nesting boxes. In the smallest, innermost box, I placed the core loss: I will never meet this already-beloved child. In the next box, I placed corollary losses: I won’t be pregnant, give birth, or breastfeed again. I won’t have another daughter or see another personality unfold in that glorious period from birth to age seven. It was painful to witness the loss through the eyes of others. “Now I’ll never be a big sister,” said Rose. I saw my husband move gently around me, waiting patiently, and ardently, for me to recover my usual strength.
In addition to its primary pain, losing our baby triggered memories of previous losses, chiefly the death of my older sister in a car accident in 1977. In addition to the cruel and final reduction of our family from five persons to four, my parents unwittingly excluded my six-year-old self from the full mourning I was capable of, and needed. “Hilary won’t be taking me swimming any more,” I told my parents. I had often wondered how my parents recovered from the loss of a child; I wonder still, only with a new drawer of feelings thrown permanently open.
Other sorrows rose up: loneliness on many occasions, and intermittent fears for my physical security. I remembered the words I wrote in a sympathy card years ago to a mother whose baby was stillborn rang in my ears. Were they right?
The miscarriage has made me ponder why, for some sensitive souls, the veil concealing hidden things and mysteries is thin. One person close to us had an unpleasantly strong premonition that something was terribly wrong. His dread was painful to watch, but must have been more painful to feel. Our children are named with the first initial J, but the baby names book I bought was missing the letter J entirely. Coupled with Jacob’s too-apt name for the baby who died on Good Friday, all this would make a symbolic feast for a writer of fiction, but what place does it have in my world of letters, numbers, clocks, and facts?
I know what happens to organic things, but I don’t know where the soul starts, ends, dwells, or travels. But now I know this. When, after a break of a few days, I again spoke out loud to our baby from my evening bath, to my surprise I no longer felt its presence; it seemed to have left our home. Rather than being alarmed that our little chats were over, I felt reassured.
Slowly I recover. As I see it, the art of recovery is to incorporate loss. I know that losses leave scars, but I hope to recover without deforming scar tissue that will warp my future self. I’m lucky that my body rapidly recalibrated to a not-pregnant state. It was uncanny, though not unwelcome, to feel my physical self tidily restore the status quo ante.
I have three beautiful children and a loving husband. At the age of 45, I cannot reasonably expect to have another baby. Yet it torments me that my time is up. Still flooded with baby lust, I wish we’d started earlier and had more and more babies — even twins again, absurdly — but when I examine the precise times and places these babies might have come to us, I see there was no room. Still I rail irrationally against time. My husband wrote a song for me. This is the last verse:
Where has that little child gone?
The one that you wanted and waited upon
You only wanted the thing that you wanted
And the child only wanted more time
Goodbye Friday Songs listen on Spotify
My Baby’s Gone (Poundcake)
Reason to Cry (Lucinda Williams)
It’s Quiet Uptown (Lin-Manuel Miranda)
Tears in Heaven (Eric Clapton)
For a Dancer (Jackson Browne)
Proserpina (Martha Wainwright)
Make You Feel My Love (Bob Dylan)
Fire and Rain (James Taylor)
Perhaps We Can Sleep (Linda Thompson)
Free Fallin’ (Tom Petty)
Over the Hill (Kate and Anna McGarrigle)
Reflecting Light (Sam Phillips)
May 17, 2016