Not lost forever: On miscarriage, grief, and hope

In the movie Gladiator (2000), the victorious but homesick general Maximus carries with him tiny, crude statues of his beloved wife and son. They are a reminder of home, but he also prays to them and for them, tenderly cradling the figures in his hand as he endures the pain of separation.

The figures become even more precious to him when he discovers that his wife and son are dead — tortured and murdered as political revenge.

Some Romans believed that the spirits of the dead were literally embodied in the figures, making them so much more than keepsakes. After he dies, his friend buries the statuettes in the sand of the Colosseum. We see brief, otherworldly scenes of Maximus returning home, of the three of them rushing together again.

I thought of those little figures as I read ‘The Japanese Art of Grieving a Miscarriage’ in the New York Times. The author, Angela Elson, says:

According to Buddhist belief, a baby who is never born can’t go to heaven, having never had the opportunity to accumulate good karma. But Jizo, a sort of patron saint of foetal demise, can smuggle these half-baked souls to paradise in his pockets. He also delivers the toys and snacks we saw being left at his feet on Mount Koya. Jizo is the UPS guy of the afterlife.

Elson bought a Japanese Jizo figurine for herself when she had a miscarriage. She says:

A miscarriage at 10 weeks produces no body, so there would be no funeral. “What do we even do?” I asked the doctor. She wrote me a prescription for Percocet: “Go home and sleep.”

We went home. I didn’t sleep. I spent a week throwing myself around the house … I was itchy with sadness. I picked at my cuticles and tore out my hair. I had all this sorrow and no one to give it to, and Brady couldn’t take it off me because his hands were already full of his own mourning. We knew miscarriage was common. But why wasn’t there anything people did when it happened?

So they bought a Jizo. She carried him around for awhile, kissed him, spent time crocheting a hat and jacket for the figurine. “It was nice for us to have something to do, a project to finish in lieu of the baby I failed to complete,” she says.

Oh, Lord, how I understand.

When I lost our own very young baby a few years ago around this season, it was so terribly hard to have nothing to do. No birth, no ceremony, no body to wash, anoint, and clothe, no grave to dig. We could pray and cry and rest, but it was so hard. We want to have our hands on something. We want to know for sure that the world acknowledges: Yes, the child was here. Yes, the child was real.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my dear friend Kate had felted a beautiful little dog for me. Just a few weeks before the miscarriage, our puppy Shane got overexcited by the snow falling, and he went and ran in the road, and he was crushed by a speeding car that didn’t even slow down. My husband and son retrieved the dying dog and brought him to the vet, where they gently put him down, then burned his body and sealed the ashes in a carved box.

The felted dog that Kate made is perfect, a brilliant, lively bit of work. But before she could send it to me in remembrance, my baby died, too – and she knew how terrible it would be to acknowledge the loss of a pet, but not the loss of a child. And so Kate’s daughter made a felt baby for me, sweetly embroidered and cuddled in a little hand-sewn pouch. They sent them both along, the puppy and the baby, with sympathies and assurances of prayers.

It was so good to have. So good. Even when looking at it made me cry, it was so much better than the pain of looking for my lost baby and finding nothing.

After a year or so, I thought we might use my little felt baby as a Baby Jesus in our nativity scene. I took it out, but then hastily put the little one back again. It was still too raw; and besides, this baby wasn’t Jesus. This baby was someone else, with a name and a human soul, a mother and a father and siblings. Hell, for six weeks, the baby was even sort of the owner of a foolish puppy named Shane.

My little felt baby wasn’t just any generic baby figure, but a specific baby, my baby. So back into the pouch the little one went. Back to the work of simply quietly existing, eyes closed, so that I wasn’t empty-handed. This baby does this job very well.

I forget it is there, most times. I keep it on the windowsill in the kitchen, where it gathers dust along with other little keepsakes, statues, and trinkets people have given me. But I went to check in on it one day, and couldn’t find it, and the panic almost knocked me off my feet. (I had moved it to the other side of the windowsill last time I cleaned. Oops!)

Does it really matter what happens to my felt baby? Not really. Certainly not spiritually, eternally speaking. We are not ancient Romans, superstitiously locating dead spirits in wooden figurines; and we are not Buddhists, clinging to a heartbreakingly vague hope of our children sneaking into blissed-out extinction.

As Catholics, we know that all the bodies of the dead will be resurrected and transformed when Jesus comes back. We have reason to hope that even those little, innocent ones who never had eyes to see the light of day or the waters of baptism will be welcomed into heaven as well, not smuggled in the pockets of a low-ranking god, but recognized and called by name back home by their Father who made them.

Still, we are human. It is not wrong to look for physical reminders of abstract truths. Doctors and nurses, be gentle with women who have lost a child, even one too small to bury. Husbands, be patient, even if you don’t understand the depth of grief. Priests, take the time to acknowledge what happened, and do not be cavalier when answering spiritual questions or inquiries. Friends of a grieving mother, make it clear that you know the child she lost was a real child, irreplaceable, unlike any other.

Even as Catholics, we are one and the same with the fictional Maximus, because it gives us strength and hope to be able to touch and hold something connected to our dead. God made us with five senses, with hearts that reach out and seek comfort from earthly things, because these senses and these hearts can help remind us of what is true: That our lost children aren’t truly lost. They were really here, and they haven’t vanished forever. God willing, we will see them again.

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Rebecca Jemison makes polymer clay baby loss memorials for free or donation. You can contact her at facebook.com/beccajemisoncreates.

This article was originally published in The Catholic Weekly in January of 2017
 
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Handmade veil giveaway in honor of the Elizabeth Ministry Rosebud Program

Thinking of veiling for Lent? A generous reader has offered to donate a completely gorgeous hand-made veil for free, just because she likes doing it.

Here is a photo of one veil that you could win (blocked out on foam so you can see the amazing detail):

Isn’t that lovely? So delicate and graceful. Here’s a view of the full veil:

OR, she says she is willing to make one to your specs, in a custom color, size, and even design!

If you win and you’d like a custom-made veil, I’ll put you in touch with the donor, and you can work out details. She says it will take less than a week to get one ready to ship, as long as the color thread you choose is readily available where she lives.

Usually, when I offer a donated prize, the sponsor has a business to highlight. In this case, the donor would like to remain anonymous, and would like to draw your attention to the Rosebud Program of Elizabeth Ministry.

Elizabeth Ministry International offers a wide variety of programs and support, including through parishes and online, “designed to offer hope and healing on issues related to childbearing, sexuality, and relationships.”

The Rosebud Program “helps a church identify, pray for, and support those who are pregnant, celebrating birth or adoption, grieving miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, infant or child death, or wanting to become pregnant or adopt.”

The donor would like to encourage those whose parishes don’t yet have a chapter to consider starting one, especially if there are members who can provide support for families experiencing miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant or child loss. A worthy cause, indeed. No one should suffer through these things alone. Sometimes people want to help, but don’t know how; and sometimes people need help, but don’t know how to ask.

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To enter to win the veil, please use the Rafflecopter form, which you will find at the bottom of this post. Or maybe you’ll find a dumb-looking link that says “a Rafflecopter giveaway,” and you’ll just want to click on that.

There are several ways to enter the contest, but you must use the Rafflecopter form to be entered. 

Note to subscribers: One of the options is “subscribe to this blog.” Unfortunately, when I changed hosts, I lost all my email subscribers! I’m so sorry. If you subscribed anytime before last week, you will need to re-subscribe (and you’ll also get an entry into the contest, if you choose that option in the Rafflecopter form!). If you want to re-subscribe without being entered into the contest, simply re-subscribe via the blog and don’t use the Rafflecopter form.

Good luck! And thanks again to our generous and talented donor. The contest ends Saturday the 25th at midnight, and I’ll announce the winner as soon as possible after that.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Not lost forever: Miscarriage, grief, and hope

felt-baby

We have reason to hope that even those little, innocent ones who never had eyes to see the light of day or the waters of baptism will be welcomed into heaven as well, not smuggled in the pockets of a low-ranking god, but recognised and called by name back home by their Father who made them.

Still, we are human. It is not wrong to look for physical reminders of abstract truths.

Read the rest of my latest for the Catholic Weekly.

New Women’s Wellness and Fertility Center in NH includes NaPro surgeon (and they’re hiring!)

I keep forgetting to tell you! There’s a new women’s wellness and fertility center opening in Manchester, NH, right inside Catholic Medical Center. They offer standard OB/GYN services  and well woman exams, and their new doctor, Dr. Sarah Bascle, is a surgeon who is trained in NaProTechnology.

As you may know, NaPro is not only ethically sound for Catholics, but it often has a high rate of success treating women suffering infertility, repeat miscarriages, endometriosis, PCOS, and other fertility issues, bringing healing where standard medical procedures fail. NaPro isn’t magic, but it’s real medicine, not woo, and it can be life-changing.

The Women’s Wellness & Fertility Center of New England opens in winter of 2017, and they are now pre-registering patients. Check out their webiste here, or call 603.314.7595.

They are also still hiring for a few positions, including an experienced Certified Nurse Midwife. Here’s some more info about that.

Best of luck to them! Many couples will travel for hundreds of miles to work with a NaPRO-trained doctor, so I’m thrilled to finally have one in New Hampshire.

 

I have a job for you, baby.

Not the little guy who just kicked me for the first time, that I could feel, just yesterday (yay!). I mean the other one, the one I lost. I wrote about how hard it was not to have a body to bury. You want to be able to take care of your children with your own hands, but I couldn’t do that, and it hurt.

Now, as the months have gone by and the pain of loss has receded, I still find myself bewildered about what to do with the baby’s soul.

When I found out I was pregnant last time, I prayed for the baby’s protection constantly, and turned him over to God. So I have a strong hope that, whenever it was that he left us, he was already baptized through our desire and intention to do so, and he went straight into the arms of his loving Papa in heaven. This is a good thing! I am not worried.  I love him, but God loves him more.

But, what to do when I pray for my all children, one by one? I was never sure when I got to this child. It didn’t feel right to pray for him. Even though I know no prayer is wasted, it seemed like asking for something that was already given.

And I know that many parents pray to their lost unborn babies, and that seemed reasonable, but felt odd, too. Probably this shows that I have a poor understanding of the saints in heaven, but praying to him felt like turning him into a spiritual being, which made him foreign, elevated beyond the family, not really our kid; and at the same time, it felt like too much to ask of such a little guy. I’m not going to tell my five-year-old when Daddy is having a hard time at work or Mama is worried about school; so why would I spill the beans to a seven-week-old fetus, even if he is enjoying the Beatific Vision? I know, I’m over thinking it, but it just felt weird!

But yesterday, it came to me: Baby, you pray for the new baby. You two hold hands and be good to each other. Take care of each other while Mama is taking care of the rest of them. Aha! Everybody needs a job. We are at our best when we know what we are here for.

A long Holy Saturday

Last night, I was cold and couldn’t sleep, so I snuggled up against my husband, who is always warm. When I’m pregnant, I like to press my belly against him so that we can all be warm all together, me and him and the baby.  “Here you go, little guy.  This is your daddy.  You will like him.”  Then, last night, I remembered that there is no baby.

There is no wild anguish here. I’m just tired, and bewildered.  I was so busy for those seven weeks, I sometimes forgot I was even pregnant, even though we wanted, tried for a baby. I hadn’t gotten around to even looking up what the little one was up to, week to week.  But I worked deliberately to make him real, when I remembered he was real:  I asked God to bless him.  I thanked God for him. I talked to him, and gave him a little happy pat when I remembered he was there.

Here is the thing that really hurts. I never saw the baby. I don’t know where he went.  I lost track of his body as I bled, and now he is gone.  Those are the worst nightmares:  the wave comes, the darkness falls, the crowd sweeps by, and your child is gone.  Where did he go?  Why didn’t I hold on tighter?  My husband would have gone and dug up the frozen ground to bury the body, but there is nothing to bury.  He has been washed away, and I don’t even know when.  Maybe he died weeks ago, when he was too little to be seen.  Maybe I was happily patting someone who was already gone.

It wouldn’t change anything if I could have buried him. But I wish I could have done it.

I’m trying to hear the voice of the angel — the one who stands waiting outside the tomb to explain the situation, so that when you go to take care of the body and find it gone, you will know that there haven’t been wild animals or grave robbers or some trickery or indignity.  You haven’t lost the body; the body has life.  He is not here, but he is not gone.  Don’t worry!  This is a good thing.  You cannot have his body, but you have not lost him.

I’m in a long Holy Saturday.  A bewildering time.  God promised joy, He promised resurrection, but in the mean time, what are we supposed to do?  It is hard when the ones we love hide from us.  They don’t need our care.

I want the baby to have eternal life.  And I want him back.