Guest Hoyden: Remembering The Lost

Today’s Guest Hoyden is regular commentor Ariane, who blogs eclectically at Ariane’s Little World.

Apparently October is the month for remembering those bubs that we lose before they get to grow up, or before they draw breath, or even before they’re big enough for us to hold that one time. I don’t do Facebook chain statuses, they annoy me, even if it’s a sentiment I can relate to.

Instead, I’m just going to say again what I’ve said lots of times before – we need to construct the rituals and the social rules for talking about and publicly recognising miscarriage, still birth and infant death. I had two miscarriages, both quite early. The second was very early indeed. It’s fair to say I grieved more for myself than the “baby”, in my mind that embryo had not moved very far along the journey to personhood. However, I did still grieve, there was loss, and it was hard to talk to people about it at the time, because no-one has a framework, or a set of stock responses. They just look awkward and uncomfortable and it doesn’t help.

Now I can talk about it with less emotion, and I try to take every opportunity to do so. I’ve come across a lot of people (especially men, for some reason) who are very relieved to find someone who will talk about it. Someone who they can share the pain, or sometimes the guilt over feeling not so much pain, or whatever was their experience. There’s no rules about how you have to feel, but we need some rules about how to discuss it. Number one would be to listen to what the person is telling you, and don’t guess how they are feeling. You’ll never know whether this is deeply devastating or sad, but ok. Let them tell you. Other than, I don’t know – feel free to offer suggestions in the comments.

My experience is only with miscarriage. Still birth and infant death are, in general, much harder. Those little ones have travelled much further down the road to personhood (and in the case of infant death, have legally achieved it) and it hurts more to lose them.

So I’m taking the time to remember the people that nobody got to really meet. To honour the tears that were shed for them, and to encourage everyone to help end the silence. It’s getting better, but it could be better still.


Categories: ethics & philosophy, parenting, relationships


12 replies

  1. I haven’t lost a pregnancy, so, I hope I do not say anything insensitive!
    One thing that I have heard some people grieving miscarriages say is that the oddly strong norm about not announcing pregnancies until it is “safe” (usually, commencement of second trimester, which is of course no guarantee that the pregnancy will end in a living baby) has hurt them, or would have hurt them if they’d paid attention to it by encouraging them to feel that losses before that point are ‘supposed’ to be private.
    I don’t want to contribute to a coercive culture of compulsory early pregnancy announcements and celebration either, but if you care, and want to care publicly it’s awful to be silenced by people who think there’s too high a chance they will have to know you are grieving.

  2. I really agree with you Mary. I deliberately told people about my pregnancies early for exactly this reason. Pretty much anyone I’m going to go out of my way to tell I’m pregnant (because it’s a strangely difficult thing to do – after all, it doesn’t just “come up” easily) I would want to know that I’d had a miscarriage. It’s a strange convention.

  3. Rosemary for remembrance.
    I haven’t had a miscarriage, but we did grieve our way through infertility. From that, I learned from myself, and from other people on the infertility usenet groups I frequented, that the best first response was, “I’m so sorry.” Neither full-on, nor dismissive in tone, leaving space for the person to either move the conversation on, or to take up the opportunity to speak.

  4. My impression of the hide-it-till-13/14-weeks convention is that it’s partly because of the high incidence of first-trimester miscarriage, and partly because 12 weeks is the time first-trimester screening is offered. For a fair few people, the friends and relatives they’d inform about pregnancy and/or miscarriage aren’t necessarily the same friends and relatives they’d rely on for support while making a decision about abortion.
    Does the October remembrance tradition include mourning for pregnancies lost to abortion?

    • Does the October remembrance tradition include mourning for pregnancies lost to abortion?

      I wondered about that too. I know someone who quietly grieves once a year for a pregnancy that was terminated decades ago due to financial constraints on raising the existing children, but which would otherwise have been most welcome. She’s only ever mentioned it to me once.

  5. Lauredhel: purely anecdotal data, but I get the impression that the existence of the ultrasound has actually moved the “tell people about it” custom a little forward, that before that talking about pregnancy or a miscarriage was either not done at all (inferred from your body) or well into second trimester. I could be wrong.
    Part of all this is also discriminatory workplaces: if you announce a first trimester loss, it may be taken informally to mean that you’ll shortly be pregnant again and thus on maternity leave in (say) a year, and thus you experience a full year or more of pre-leave discrimination. Many women are silent about pregnancy longer than they’d choose to avoid having their professional circles hear about it.
    In addition to grief, another thing that some people feel silenced about is traumatic experiences related to pregnancy loss: pregnancy loss requiring a surgical abortion, treatment for gestational trophoblastic disease and so on. First trimester stuff = don’t talk about it, I’m not family.

  6. Does the October remembrance tradition include mourning for pregnancies lost to abortion?

    I think, given that I’ve seen this mostly in places like Facebook, that’s probably not a question that’s been openly addressed. It’s a good question though. I’d say from a “social acceptability” point of view, those abortions carried out for as a result of the 12/13 week scan might be included, while those for other personal reasons might not.
    My personal opinion is that such an observance would be valuable, both to recognise that it’s not some trivial, “easy way out”and also to consider why we have such a high rate of unplanned pregnancies in the first place, and perhaps to start to address that. There will always be unplanned pregnancies, and we need to support all those people in every way possible, but if we can avoid a significant number of them through better social policy – better access to information and contraception – that will help to reduce the number of people who go through that trauma.
    My fear for such an observance is that it would just turn into another opportunity to vilify those who have had abortions, and that’s something we don’t need.

    For a fair few people, the friends and relatives they’d inform about pregnancy and/or miscarriage aren’t necessarily the same friends and relatives they’d rely on for support while making a decision about abortion.

    Yes, I think you’re right there. The way I managed this was that I didn’t tell many people when that scan was, dealt with the consequences of it with the people I chose, and only told people the outcome when all the decisions were made. We made those decisions* entirely between ourselves as a couple, though. It might be more difficult if you wanted to consult with some subset of others.
    *We had a scan result indicating a high risk of Downs Syndrome, so we decided to have a CVS and were told initially that the child had a chromosomal abnormality. Two weeks later that was revealed as an artifact of the test. They’d even got the gender wrong. Such is life.

  7. Thanks for the post, Ariane!
    Reading over this post and the responses, I can’t help but think of how important these stories are, stories that have so little space in which to be told. The complicated negotiations around pregnancy, abortion, tests, miscarriages… all of these things wind up being such leaps into the dark for so many women (and partners, families etc) because they’re spoken of so little (and thus people tend to be very dependent on medical practitioners, which, as we’ve discussed before here, is not always fabulous).
    It’s a particularly horrible way of making-private, because it denies support to so many people (and I think this is, more or less, something that happens with death in general). I was just thinking, Ariane, about the ‘not telling til the scans are done’ thing, and how little the negotiations around those really difficult decisions and situations (both termination and miscarriage), are shared. And how much of a difference it could make to someone negotiating these same questions to know multiple stories, to know multiple possibilities, in really strongly practical ways. I know this is classic ‘herstory’ talk, but it just feels particularly striking to me at the moment, that women are denied access (too strong?) to certain parts of other women’s stories, and that that tends to make us unnecessarily vulnerable.

  8. I think that’s a really good point. When we were dealing with the situation as it arose, I had no desire whatsoever to talk to other people, but if I’d already heard more stories it would have helped. These here interwebs are obviously an awesome tool – the first thing I did was to find the stories out there. There wasn’t all that many though – more studies than stories.
    I was extremely lucky – I had a very good medical team, access to the internet and the ability to use it, a partner who felt much the same way as me, and I live in a country where the medication to support the child I might have had wouldn’t have sent us bankrupt.
    Even so, there is benefit in having heard these stories and considered the alternatives before being faced with it for real. Priorities may change dramatically in the real situation, but at least you’re more likely to have more information at your disposal.

  9. this is a very important topic – but I find it depressing that whenever it is mentioned it is limited to infants. I don’t know if this is a simple semantic oversigh, or if the death of my three year old is not considered part of this issue; but nonetheless it does apply to him. No one knew how to respond 18months ago, and no one knows how to respond now. It seems even infant death is more normalised than that of a small child- I am, for example, often asked if it was SIDS.
    In all cases, it is exceedingly difficult to communicate with people regarding my infant daughter when they are unaware that yes, actually, I do know what it’s like to have an older child, or a boy (because of course that penis makes such a difference).
    And then the frequent expectation that my daughter will die, and the detachment therefrom… 😦

  10. For me, at least, it isn’t just semantics. I think the loss of a small child is a qualitatively different thing, because they did become little people. Those who loved them did get to know them. Perhaps that’s why it’s even more taboo. And I have no doubt that we fail utterly to provide support and care for those who lose kids.
    In particular, pre-schoolers are sort of in between. Their personalities are still developing, but they most certainly have them.
    Which is not to say that your pain, and your little boy, shouldn’t be remembered, and that society couldn’t use a better framework to know how to handle the situation. The awkwardness you describe – I can’t think of anything helpful to say, which just highlights your point.
    The Cystic Fibrosis community has a day of remembrance for all those, of any age, lost to CF. For me personally, this tends to trigger a general thought of all little ones lost as children rather than as infants. If I ran the world, there’d be a day to pause and remember the children too, and to discuss how better to help those who’ve lost them.
    Thank you for telling your story, and I’m so sorry you have it to tell. Reminds me (and all of us) just how many ways we fail as a society, for no good reason at all. All we need is the will to talk about it, and to listen to what those who have gone through it tell us. Why is that so hard?

  11. @ Paige – I am so sorry for your loss of your son. As a [western] society we do need some way of remembering those lost to us, apart from those lost through war which we seem to be pretty good at.

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