You may have noticed that I often refer to my lost pregnancies as “babies.”
I didn’t always. I struggled with what they were to me for a long time. I know many people believe that each life, as soon as its conceived, has a purpose and a soul and goes to heaven when it’s done here on earth. But I don’t. I’m not religious, I don’t believe in God, I don’t believe in an afterlife, or in fate, or anything of that nature. And so it was, at first, very difficult for me to reconcile my scientific view of early pregnancy with my emotional experience of losing one. 3 of my 4 losses were so early that I didn’t even have any visible remains after I miscarried. The one that I did pass, and bury, was very tiny. It was still enclosed in its sac, and I didn’t open it to look inside at its features. But I knew that if I did, it wouldn’t look much like a human yet. The Internet tells me it probably looked something like this:
I knew that scientifically, the babies I lost were all just “embryos.” In fact, maybe with the earliest losses, they hadn’t even made it past “blastocyst” stage. Those ones may not have been anything more than just a ball of cells. I don’t really know, because the point at which you miscarry isn’t necessarily an indication as to how far your baby progressed. Often the baby dies long before you show signs of miscarriage. So, aside from the one I saw and buried, I can only guess what stage each embryo was at before it died. But they were very early. All of them.
And so at first, I referred to them only as “miscarriages” and “lost pregnancies.” But I was unsettled by the fact that these words just didn’t capture the profound attachment I had had to them and the immense grief I felt in the aftermath of losing them. These words didn’t do anything to communicate how special and important these lost lives were to me. And yet, I knew they weren’t fully physically developed babies, either. So what was I supposed to call them?
I became an active member of online support groups for pregnancy loss and noticed that many of the women experiencing early losses referred to their miscarriages as “babies” with no apology or embarrassment. The more time I spent in these loss communities, the more normal it became to me. And so, for lack of a better word to describe the things that I loved and wanted and bonded with and grieved over, that hadn’t quite become “real” babies yet, I slowly started allowing myself to refer to them as babies, myself. They would have been babies eventually, had they been healthy, had they survived. They were babies in my mind’s eye: I imagined them as they would have been later in pregnancy and after birth, not as a ball of cells or a strange little tadpole with arm and leg buds. So why not call it what it felt like?
And so now, I too, without apology or embarrassment, refer to my losses as babies. And finally, that feels right.
If you’ve lost a baby during pregnancy, or know someone who has, join me in lighting a candle on Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day, this coming Wednesday, October 15th, to create a “wave of light” across the globe, honoring every baby that was lost by every heartbroken family.