A friend of mine recently suffered a devastating miscarriage. She has been trying to have a baby for a while now, and this was the latest disappointment. She was told by someone, who I am sure meant well, that she should accept G-d’s decision with joy. Accept G-d’s decision – that only comes with time, if ever. With joy? Maybe I am just not on this person’s spiritual level, but I fail to understand how one can be joyful at the loss of life / potential life.
Unfortunately, I have suffered the pain of miscarriage. I know what it’s like to lose a pregnancy. The pain is tremendous. Nothing anyone can say can make it better. People say all the right kind of platitudes – it wasn’t meant to be, the baby would have been born sick, the body knows when there is a problem, you will have other children, be happy with the kids that you have etc. These are all true. But none of them allow for feelings and emotions.
It was exactly 9 years ago and I was 12 weeks pregnant, and I knew something was majorly wrong. Just like I had known almost immediately when I was pregnant, I sensed there was a problem. We went to the doctor who sent us for an emergency ultrasound. The doctor had to break it to us that the baby had died. She was so sweet and gentle, but spoke purposefully. We needed to understand the facts and start to accept them. My body didn’t want to give up the baby by itself – and the doctor told us we’d have to have a procedure to “take the baby out”. Basically, a D&C. I couldn’t have it done straightaway – socialized medicine doesn’t work that quickly. I had to wait 2 days with a dead baby inside me. Two days berating myself – what did I do wrong, was I not happy to be pregnant again, how could I have let this happen etc. Two days of hating how my body had let me down.
I had the surgery. Was awake throughout. I cried copiously. The doctor, not my own – again, socialized medicine – told me that I shouldn’t cry, that I would have another baby – “you people always do”. Nice bedside manner…..NOT!
I came home and cried. I cried for days. The moment I had learned I was pregnant a place in my heart was reserved for that baby. It’s inescapable. I started to dream about this child. Maybe this one will be the daughter that I craved? I already had 3 sons at this point. Losing this baby – I felt like I was too greedy, that maybe I should have been satisfied with the 3 boys I had. It was a major slap in the face. I felt guilty.
Mere days after the surgery, as we were planning the upsherin for our 3 year old, I was sat down by someone close to me, and she explained that sometimes neshamot, souls, need to be perfected just a teeny bit before they go up to shamayim, heaven. That miscarriage was G-d’s way of completing this perfection and I should feel honoured that I was chosen to be the vessel for this. I distinctly remember thinking “she really believes this crap” and wondering how she would have felt if she would have ever had a miscarriage. She had never had one. Even if what she said was true – and I have no idea, never researched the topic because it’s been too painful – the timing of the comment was off. But I know she meant well.
When a woman has just lost a baby – full term, 5 months in or even 5 weeks in, she doesn’t want to hear any platitudes. She is angry and hurting. She feels guilty even though there is nothing she could have done different. She is mad at G-d – why did He do this to me? Why didn’t He let me have this baby? There is not one woman I know, religious or no, that has sat there and said “thank you G-d for taking my baby, thank you for allowing me to perfect this neshama. I feel joy that you singled me out to lose my baby”.
I know we are supposed to serve Hashem with joy, to accept His will with an open heart. While we can understand that logically, accepting it emotionally is a totally different ballgame. We need to grieve a loss. We need to grieve in order that we can move on. Telling us to accept it with joy minimizes that feeling of loss and bereavement. We need to sit and think and cogitate in order to come to terms with losing the baby.
What did I learn from this miscarriage? I learned that I was human. That even though I had given birth to 3 babies in the span of less than 3 years previously, that it didn’t mean that I could have as many babies as I wanted. That my fecundity was not something to be taken for granted. I hadn’t much thought about it before. This was a huge wake up call for me, but I didn’t accept it with joy. I accepted it with tremendous sadness. I do sometimes think about how old that baby would have been if she was allowed to grow to term. What she would have looked like, if she would have been a mommy’s girl or a daddy’s girl. What my boys would have been like with a sister. But I try to nip those thoughts in the bud as they aren’t helpful.
A year later I miscarried again. Even though I had been through it before, it was still tremendously devastating. Again I had started to think of this child in real terms. Even though I knew I was at added risk of miscarriage due to the previous episode. It is so hard to not get those hopes up. The comment that my friend had made to be about the baby’s soul percolated inside my head. And it gave me no comfort. It gave me no joy.
My point is this – telling someone to accept bad news with happiness or joy is just plain wrong. A woman who has miscarried is hurting and sad. They don’t need to hear platitudes of any kind. Sit with them, hug them, wipe their tears. Be there with them as best you can. But if you have nothing constructive to say – say nothing. No words hurt worse than the wrong ones.