Promise and Emptiness: Pregnancy Loss
Updated: Sep 13, 2022
A note to readers. This is my/our particular journey of Second Child Infertility – my musings and reflections. My journey is not yours, but I hope that we can connect in some way, through loss or compassion, together. There are some resources that may be helpful at the end of this piece. May you find the words and spaces you need in whatever struggle you face.
One more note – this piece was written in pain and the raw reality of a miscarriage. Today I am not in that place and am able, alongside the pain, to find the beauty and strength in me and around me. So, no need to worry or reach out – I have good support. This piece is to enable conversations, to be witnessed and to end the silence on pregnancy loss. As Pesach, begins I remind myself that narrowness can lead to openness and slavery to liberation.
In addition to the resources, you will also find notes and quotations at the bottom of this piece.
Chag Sameach x
Please only reproduce the work on this blog with proper attribution or the permission of the author.
When G!d began to create heaven and earth – the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from G?d sweeping over the water – G!d said, “Let there be light”, and there was light.
Genesis/Bereshit 1:1-3 *
Promise and emptiness.
Unformed Void. Potential.
Fear of the Unknown – excitement of what could be birthed.
I can only talk in bursts, in broken sentences. Where to begin. Perhaps in the scan room late last year. 3 months pregnant. I lie back and imagine the images that will be printed – photos to share. Tiny fingers. Joy. Creation. I think back on that long waited for pregnancy test – lines appearing before Rosh Hashanah – a new year, a new life. I have a list of people to tell. As much as I’ve tried to not overly plan, knowing how precarious pregnancy is, I cannot help but think ahead. We’ve come this far. Years of trying for a second child, months of preparing for and beginning a cycle of IVF. We’ve had two scans already at 6 and 7 weeks – a flicker was seen in the dark images of my womb – ‘a heartbeat. Can you see it? Yes, yes I can’. The room goes quiet, weeks later. ‘I’m sorry. There’s no heartbeat.’ Everything stops. I wail.
The sukkah comes down. The fragility of it all realised.
Perhaps we continue at the scan just two weeks ago. A second IVF cycle. One embryo – ‘absolutely lovely’ the embryologist says, ‘top grade’. One chance. ‘You should be 7 weeks and a day – let’s see what’s happening.’ Waiting. Dark blobs on the screen. Promise and Emptiness. Quiet. ‘I’m sorry, we’re not seeing what we expect. It may be ok by next week.’ Waiting. Another scan. ‘I’m so sorry.’ We’re referred to a hospital. ‘What would you have been?’ ‘8 weeks and 2 days….Happy. Excited. Blessed. Whole.’
Sorrow All-consuming pain
Lights, heartbeats that fade away. Unformed Void.
Waters and blood of chaos.
Finding myself in a system I knew nothing about. The physical and medical side of miscarriage – the confusion. No one ever talks about what happens after you get the news. A list of options – we can let the body miscarriage naturally (mine won’t let go) or medical management (tablets to bring on the miscarriage in hospital or at home, for some) or surgery. I choose surgical and medical management respectively for my babies. No good option. No easy way out. Each time my body refusing to let go. It was so ready. I was so ready. It holds on as much as it can, even after surgery, even after all the tablets – weeks go on until we know it has passed each time. It? She? Him? Me? Who?
We never talk about the pain. The blood. The changing body. The fullness and then the emptiness. The tears and the silence. The moments of gratitude. A woman’s journey. My journey.
The second time around I am reminded, in every moment, of the trauma of my first Simchat Torah miscarriage. Lying in surgery – ‘I should be dancing with the Torah, I say to my nurse’. The second time around, all of the trauma from the first time around comes alive. The first hospital was…awful. No support, no compassion except for two exceptional nurses. A broken system with me in the centre, ignored. The day after surgery I write a 4-page complaint letter. I was in pain and you weren’t there. The second time around, a new hospital, with caring, loving nurses who tended my wounds and witnessed it all even with all the complications and further surgery, I am seen and held.
I’m told, this time around, the pregnancy remains will be cremated. I sign a form. Last time no one told me what happened. A nameless and lonely end.
I start a project – a vegetable garden in between hospital visits. What will grow? Which seeds will make it? What promise does the soil hold? What lives and what dies? What blossoms for years to come and what will never be?
We plant a magnolia tree. A place to remember, to ritualise, to connect, to dream, to witness, to accompany. Somewhere to place stones.
The sac was ready, the body was prepared. The offer was not accepted. Nature is chaotic. The womb lies empty. The pain almost unbearable – like a fog – thickening out the beauty and love surrounding me. The fog is broken by a strong squeeze from our son Gabriel – his smile – a text of love from a friend – flowers – the incessant strokes and purrs from my cat, Bella – refusing to relinquish her love or companionship.
A solo journey. The pain for me to face. ‘No one said life would be fair.’
‘I would rather die than live.’
Then God said to Jonah, ‘Are you so deeply grieved about the plant?’
‘Yes’, he replied, ‘so deeply that I want to die’.
Are you right to be angry? Yes God, yes.
How to talk about this loss – so personal but so transformative. ‘Are you feeling better?’ How to answer that.
The cat brings in an injured mouse. I come downstairs to more blood. Usually, I would run a mile. Today, I think, I know what it is to be injured. I try to tempt the mouse out. ‘I can only help you if you come out from your hiding place’. Yet, I cannot emerge. I am hiding. Why would I ever come out? I want to hide from the pain but I know it will get me eventually and it will become all the more destructive. I must face the pain. We find the mouse, hours after, under the sofa, dead and alone.
Survival. I fall into hours of Star Trek: Deep Space 9. Comforted by the familiar courage and strength of Captain Sisko and his team. Loss – violence – humanity - hope. Ukraine. Raging. Blood. Children. Pain.
‘Let there be light’. There must be light. There will be light. Shards of light filter through. The seedlings appear. The blossom emerges. I speak out. It’s easier this way. I don’t want to hide. I don’t want any part of me to die again. Life is too short. I want to turn into life. I want to live a life of fullness and gratitude, finding holiness in everything, through the darkness. From narrowness to openness. From slavery to liberation, this Pesach. Drinking the salt water whilst tasting Spring. I don’t want a life of scarcity. I want to feel. I want to live.
Thanks and Resources
I am indebted and inspired by coach, facilitator and community builder, Debbie Danon and her courageous and necessary work. You can find her blog and her particular entry on miscarriage here which opened up doors for me and has many helpful resources for pregnancy loss - https://www.debbiedanon.com/blog/no-more-normal-baby-loss
The charity Tommys (www.tommys.org) has lots of helpful resources too.
I am also grateful for Rabbi Miriam Berger’s leadership and friendship. In her Kol Nidre sermon (5778) she charted a path of vulnerability and talking to pain in the context of infertility. You can follow the Wellspring Project (www.wellspringuk.org) which is crafting a space where healing and witness is available to us all.
And lastly, a painful and necessary addition to the Seder table - https://hasidah.org/the-fifth-child-infertilityawareness/
* Translation from Sefaria with the exception of the spelling of the word, G!d/G?d. I was introduced to this spelling through one of my treasured chavruta partners, Alison Branitsky, who added in her interpretation with the spelling G?d. I use these spellings, especially in this context, as they help me express, through the limits of the English language, some of the depth, struggle and texture we have in the Jewish tradition with G?d. Whilst the word ‘God’ conjures up a particular image, the word G!d or G?d allows space, conversation and a diversity of experience and belief and mirrors the tradition of not writing the full divine name.