Motherhood Lost

Healing Words
New books dissected over email.
Jan. 22 2003 5:36 PM

Motherhood Lost

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Dear Emily,

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I'd wanted to end this conversation on a hopeful note and your last entry had me simultaneously crying, smiling, and wolfing down a grotesquely large can of spaghetti—rubber-flavor, I suspect. Another not Sarah Jessica Parker pregnancy moment …

Dahlia Lithwick Dahlia Lithwick
Dahlia Lithwick is a senior editor at Slate; Emily Bazelon does the same at Legal Affairs. Both are extremely pregnant.

One of the wisest things said to me about pregnancy loss also came from a rabbi; a dear family friend who phoned from Canada as soon as my father told him what had happened. He talked to me for a very long time about how this loss would change the way Aaron and I viewed fertility and pregnancy and children forever. He talked about a newfound reverence we would feel, and that has proved true. There isn't much of the levity and fearlessness left—the goofiness that marked our first pregnancy. But it's been replaced by something very sweet and—as you put it—full. I don't feel entitled to this baby, but I do feel blessed by it.

Like you, I couldn't have managed without some very generous friends and family members who then got me through the hellish first weeks of this new pregnancy—when I needlessly put myself on bed rest and worried myself into hysterics, until we had to rent a home Doppler to listen for fetal heartbeats so I could sleep nights. That was another lesson: There is no reason to keep a pregnancy secret from those people who will be your best supports if something does go wrong. Telling no one for the statutory 12 weeks ensures only that you suffer alone, as you observed on Monday. I've learned that telling the right people at four days makes even the worrying and the barfing easier.

When we started this dialogue, I mentioned that the hardest thing for me to hear after my miscarriage was either: "It's better this way, you didn't want a handicapped baby," or "When does the doctor say you can try again?" Both these comments tried to erase the existence of that first deep love; like trying to set a widower up on a foxy new blind date at his wife's funeral. I wanted to tell you what was said to me that most helped, perhaps in the hopes of crafting some new way to talk about miscarriage, or maybe just to give the folks at Hallmark an idea for a new line of greeting cards.

In the days after my loss, my wonderful cousin called from Paris, just to tell me that she had dreamt that night of our baby; and that she was now certain that there had been some purpose to its short life. And my agent—from whom I just don't expect sentimentality—told me shortly after, that this was one lucky little baby to have chosen us for parents, even for just a few weeks. I don't know why such comments healed us as much as they did. Maybe because, as you said yesterday, it spoke to the possibility of something eternal, of baby souls, or some purpose beyond what felt at the time to be simply pain without bottom.

In the past three days I've received lots of e-mails from people—many of them only distant acquaintances—who have endured brutalizing infertility, or miscarriage, or infant losses. Some of them were in the building on days when I'd lock myself in the bathroom at work to cry. They are reminding me, as you have done, that the only thing more brutal than experiencing these secret hopes and deaths is experiencing them in solitude or in shame.

I thank you so much, Emily, for your kind wishes. You know, better than I do thanks to Eli, that with the birth of a healthy baby comes a lifetime of yet more fear and worry—about electrical sockets and defective car seats and (heaven help us) those Sigma Chi keg sucks of 2020. Someone wrote to me in a letter yesterday that I have now slept my last peaceful night. Still, I wish you some small amount of peace, and great buckets of unvarnished joy in the coming weeks and years. And I thank you for carving out, in this tiny corner of cyberspace, a place to share sad secrets.

Yours,
Dahlia

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