Grief and Loss

My Baby Didn’t Go to Heaven

Trigger warning: miscarriage

Yesterday was my due date.

I didn’t have a baby yesterday. That’s not unusual- most babies aren’t born on their due dates. But I’ve known we weren’t going to be bringing a baby home this month ever since the ten week mark, when an ultrasound technician looked at the screen, looked at my chart, dropped her shoulders and molded her face into a practiced “this is not going to be easy for me but I’m a professional” look. I knew, you see, even before she told me.

I knew that baby was gone.

***

Grief isn’t linear, but pregnancy is. When you are pregnant, it can seem like everything revolves around numbers: How many weeks are you? How much weight have you gained? How big/small is the baby measuring? Pregnancy is a bit like a bomb, in that it counts down and when you hit zero (whether that’s on your due date or not), your life as you’ve known it explodes.

When you are not pregnant, but you used to be, you are still bound by this timeline, except that with every tick your clock brings you further and further away from the future you thought you would have.

It didn’t help that four women in my life were due in the same week. With every milestone they reached- finishing the first trimester and telling the world! hitting the halfway point and finding out the sex! last day at work before starting maternity leave!- I was reminded of where I should have been. They made it impossible to forget, even when I did my best to minimize contact. When they complained about being pregnant in the heat of the summer and mused out loud about the challenges of starting over again with a newborn, I made non-committal noises and turned away. By the end I just closed my eyes and hoped none of them would have their babies on my due date.

I was happy for them, of course. I was glad they were going to get to bring their babies home. But I couldn’t engage with their joy.

Friends who had lost babies before warned me that the last month before the due date was especially difficult, but it still caught me off guard. For much of the summer I’d succeeded at being happy, truly happy, able to be present in the moment with my living child instead of grieving the one I had lost.

Then the calendar switched over to September, and a weight settled on my chest.

I found myself stalking our basement, overwhelmed with an urge to get all of the baby stuff out of the house. Our basement is filled with memories of E.’s infancy. We had been holding on to everything for three years, through more IVF cycles and more embryo transfers, just in case it was going to be needed again.

It wasn’t supposed to be “just in case.”

It was supposed to be “in September.”

***

Back in the winter, after it happened, my mother told me a story.

She lost a baby herself, between her first pregnancy (me) and her third (my middle sister).

She had been further along, and more people had known. After she lost the baby, one of my father’s aunts told her not to worry, because my father’s mother would look after the baby for her. My father’s mother had died before my parents were married.

“Shirley will look after your baby,” said my great-aunt. “She always loved the little ones.”

My mother had tears in her eyes when she told me this story. “It sounds silly,” she said, “but it helped. It was the only thing that helped me.”

It can’t help me.

I don’t believe that my baby went to heaven.

I don’t believe that my grandmother, who so loved the little ones, and who died before I was born, will be there to look after my child.

I don’t believe that my maternal grandfather, or Husband’s father, or any of the loved ones that we’ve lost will be waiting there to embrace and love and cuddle our ghost child (who, presumably, will be in some more adorable form than that of a ten-week-old fetus- I’ve never been clear on the mechanics of how this is supposed to work).

I don’t believe that Husband and I will see that baby again.

It was a little spark of life, too quickly snuffed out.

It was unbelievably precious to us, but it’s gone now.

***

I don’t normally feel like I’m missing out on much as an agnostic.

I have no qualms about raising E. in a secular household.

But today, when all I have left of my baby is a couple of early ultrasound photos and a positive pregnancy test, and our basement is filled with tiny clothes I thought a little person would be wearing by now, there’s no getting around it.

I wish I could believe in heaven.

Feature Image Credit: Author’s own

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Angela

Angela

Angela spent her early thirties trying to keep her head above water while raising her son and finishing her doctorate. With the PhD in hand and her son about to head off to school, she now has to figure out what comes next. She lives in a southern part of the Great White North with her husband, her son, and two Antipodean cats.

15 Comments

  1. September 10, 2014 at 1:05 pm —

    Oh Angela, so so so many hugs.

  2. September 10, 2014 at 1:05 pm —

    This is the exact thing I miss most about religion, as well. The guardian angel/”we’ll meet again in heaven” concept. It’s so comforting, and I haven’t found a way to replace that feeling . . . that contentment and peace that skeptics so often deny themselves. I’m so sorry for your loss, Angela. And I wish I had some better words of healing. I hope that the passage of time will help, even if just a little.

    • September 10, 2014 at 3:38 pm —

      Thank you, meganak. This was the first time it really hit me, and I’m not going to lie- I felt pretty lonely.

  3. September 10, 2014 at 2:39 pm —

    Me too. There is no after – but there is no person who is snuffed out either. What we lose is our expectations and hopes for a particular future, which sucks and is not something easy to talk about in this land of religious language surrounding pregnancy and the personhood of fetuses. I thought a lot about this in my own pregnancy losses. Here’s my story: http://1in10blog.wordpress.com/full-stories/sarah-ohio/ I also had a miscarriage at ten weeks about eighteen months ago. On the good news side, there is a pair of babies on my couch right now, about three months old, and doing pretty great. Hugs to you, and know that it does get easier.

    • September 10, 2014 at 3:40 pm —

      Sarah- thank you for sharing your story. My fertility specialist told me that when a miscarriage happens as late in the first trimester as mine did, there is usually something catastrophically wrong with either the brain or the heart. So it helped me a little bit to know that my baby died because it probably couldn’t have lived outside of my body. I’m so glad you have your twins to help make things better.

  4. September 10, 2014 at 6:01 pm —

    Angela – thanks so much for sharing this. The image of tiny clothes in your basement is heartbreaking. I’m sorry you’re feeling so lonely. I haven’t gone through a loss like this, but I understand the sentiment of wishing I believed in god or heaven. It would make things somehow easier to cope with.

    • September 10, 2014 at 8:10 pm —

      That’s it. It is so much harder to have to think our way through a world without a happy ending waiting for us. My three year old is asking a lot of questions about death, and about his relatives who died before he was born, and there is a part of me that wants to tell him something comforting and loving and manifestly not true.

  5. September 10, 2014 at 6:36 pm —

    I want to offer so many hugs to you.
    The scene you described happened to me about 8 years ago. 10 weeks, me being all happy and excited, my Ob Gyn poking around a bit with the ultrasound. At that stage they’re tiny, nothing to worry. She poked some more, she turned around and told me. She also told me that this didn’t have to mean anything for the future. She was thankfully right.
    Like Sarah I embraced the fact that the grief and the suffering were all mine. As you say, when it goes wrong at that stage it’s usually that there’s something very wrong with the embryo. In a sense, there never was a baby, because the being that had been growing in me had never had the ability to become one. That didn’t change my grief. I had lost a future.
    I grew up atheist, I never lost a religion, frankly the thought of an afterlife in which that embryo still exists terrifies me. I found comfort in the thought that this is just cruel biology, as strange as that sounds: There’s no plan, no justice, there just is. But suddenly everybody seems to be pregnant, pushing strollers.
    The bright line is that yes, my Ob Gyn was right: It didn’t mean anything for my future. I got pregnant again 3 months after the miscarriage. At my due date I was already counting towards a new due date. The first child didn’t happen, but she happened and if the first one had been OK then she wouldn’t be here, but there’s no deeper meaning to that either. Just the way biology is.

    • September 10, 2014 at 8:14 pm —

      Giliell- I’m sorry you experienced this as well. My mother has always said something similar. If her lost baby had stuck, then both my sisters wouldn’t be here today. It’s harder for me because that baby represented our best chance to become a family of four, and it’s very likely I will never be pregnant again. This has added another layer to the loss.

      Logically I know it wasn’t a baby, not yet, but I always think of it as one, because that was how we thought of it. And replanning the future was (and continues to be) very very hard.

      • September 11, 2014 at 4:08 am —

        Hey, you’re allowed to be not logical on this.
        The grief, the sadness is real and true.
        I’m sorry that getting pregnant is difficult for you and I understand that this adds a layer I don’t have any experience with. I lived with the dread of “what if there’s something wrong with us and we can’t have kids?” for a few months and even after it was clear that I did not habitually miscarry, the only happy pregnancy moments I had was when I was at my Ob Gyn’s or with my midwives when they were checking on the baby and I could hear and see that they were fine.
        I wish you all the best for the future, whatever shape your family will end up as.
        Remember that you are totally allowed to yell at people who want to tell you that everything happens for a reason and other totally non-helpful words of wisdom.

        • September 11, 2014 at 10:27 am —

          Sorry, Giliell, I didn’t mean to imply my experience is harder than yours. I know everyone’s loss is different. I was thinking more in terms of my mother, who already had a living child (me) at home and knew she could conceive and carry to term relatively easily- she had no reason to think she wouldn’t be able to have another child (which indeed was the case).

          • September 11, 2014 at 5:29 pm

            Oh, don’t wirry, I didn’t take it like that, no need to apologize.
            We all have our individual walks to walk.

      • September 11, 2014 at 1:29 pm —

        “Logically I know it wasn’t a baby, not yet, but I always think of it as one, because that was how we thought of it.”

        ^^ This. This exactly! This explains what I feel.

        • September 11, 2014 at 2:14 pm —

          There was quite a good line in one of the Call the Midwife memoirs (which I read while I was still pregnant) that has always stuck with me. One of the characters asks one of the nurses “When does a fetus become a baby?” and the answer is, “When the mother wants it to”. I’ve thought ever since that pretty much sums it up.

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