Josh and I were divided about when to tell our friends and family about the baby. He wanted to wait until the socially accepted 12-week mark, when the likelihood of miscarriage is reduced. I struggle with anxiety, so I more than understood that precaution. When to tell is a personal decision each family must decide for themselves.
At the same time, the joy of seeing a positive pregnancy test after doctors told me it couldn’t happen was impossible to contain. I asked Josh if we could at least tell my mom. But if we were going to tell her, then we should tell my brother, too. And we couldn’t tell my mom without also telling his mom. And his brother. And my best friend whose kids are the closest thing I have to a niece and nephew.
It got easier to tell as we sailed past week six, seven, eight: the most common times for miscarriage to occur. All was going well at the time of our 11-week appointment, or so we thought. We had no idea that our daughter stopped growing weeks before, her heartbeat undetectable.
Would this have been easier on us if fewer people knew about it? We’re still divided in our answers.
Hope was real
The truth is that anything can happen at any point in pregnancy. I know women who lost their babies in the “safe” second trimester, and one who gave birth to a stillborn child. Even after birth, no one is fully declared “safe.” Bringing new life into the world is fraught with all kinds of uncertainties and unknowns.
For many families, the 12-week rule is about guarding their hearts, and that’s completely understandable (we may stick to that for our next pregnancy, Lord willing). But there is another issue at play: the fact that we live in a culture that does not consider the unborn to be fully human. Babies before an arbitrary point of viability (which is largely dependent on what medical technology is capable of) don’t “count.”
Nothing has strengthened my pro-life convictions like carrying, and then losing, a child. These days, few things trigger hot, raging tears like hearing first-trimester babies referred to as mere “clumps of cells.”
A blood test told us our baby was a girl, which somehow twisted the sharp knife of loss even further in my heart. Before that, Baby S was still something of a vague idea. Well, less vague for me than for Josh: he wasn’t the one who couldn’t stand the smell of raw vegetables, or had bras that already felt too tight. But it didn’t fully sink in that we had made a tiny human until the doctor told us that information. We had a daughter, and we named her Hope Elizabeth.
You can’t gender a tumor, a cyst, or parasite. No other mass that women carry within their bodies has unique DNA separate from their own. I realized that the “clump of cells” argument isn’t just wrong on a scientific level; it’s incredibly dehumanizing to mothers like me.
Changing a society that is so anti-child and anti-family is nothing that anyone can do on their own. But humanizing the unborn, even just by naming them after they’ve passed, helps plant the seed in people’s minds that these are real humans with inherent dignity.
“Validate me, please”
This identity of “mother” still feels strange, considering I never got to hold my daughter or hear her first cry. But would I be any less of a mother if she had lived outside my womb for a few minutes, an hour, or a few days? That answer seems far more obvious: of course not. The difference between my 11-week-old fetus and a newborn is stage of development. All of us started as “clumps of cells.” We still are; we’re just bigger now.
There’s a part of me that wants to shout on a soapbox in the middle of the street, “I still carried a child, don’t you understand?!” I want people to know that about me. I want to be validated.
I hate yearning for approval when identities that are real and solid shouldn’t require outside acknowledgment. I know I don’t need anyone else’s affirmation: “Yes, you are a mom. Yes, you have a daughter. Yes, you are real.”
But grief doesn’t always make logical sense. If I can’t hear the word “Mama” from my own child, there is a part of me that craves hearing it from others. Makes me want to share the news from the moment the second line appears on the white stick. Please validate me. Please see me. Please acknowledge me.
I look forward to a day when grief no longer feels so raw and desperate. When I won’t fall apart so easily from hearing abortion arguments I vehemently disagree with. I’ve experienced loss before, and I know it won’t always feel like this.
Still, I wish that the sanctity of the unborn was not so up for debate that we mourn them differently from any other child loss. Motherhood cut short is still motherhood.