Saturday Features

Story of a M-other’s grief

  • A healthy delivery is a matter of celebration everywhere, but a miscarriage is supposed to be ignored and never spoken about again
- Sadikshya Dulal
I do not know when exactly one becomes a mother. When the pregnancy test shows a plus sign? After the birth of her child? Upon nurturing the child? The more I think about it, the less comfortable I become in defining a precise moment when one becomes a mother.

Dec 9, 2017-

 

Mother [muhth-er] Noun

 

(i) A person who loves unconditionally;

(ii) The maker and keeper of precious memories

 

See also: expecting mother; miscarrying mother; dream; worry; regret; loss

 

A child who loses a parent is called an orphan, but when parents lose their child there isn’t a word to describe them. May be rightly so, as there cannot be a word to describe such a loss and the pain that comes with it.

A healthy delivery is a matter of celebration everywhere, but a miscarriage is supposed to be ignored and never spoken about again. Should you ever speak about it, if at all, you’re obliged to do so in a whisper with another woman who has or is going through something similar. We really only see and hear the success stories behind pregnancies but if we go by the statistical facts, one in every three pregnancy ends in a miscarriage. But knowing this does not make me feel any better. As a miscarrying mother, I feel I am the only person in this world who couldn’t deliver a baby. I never thought I would have a miscarriage story to share. But now, I do.

I am sharing this in the hope that I can, in some small way, contribute to a new culture, where we talk and support each other through times as trying as these. Or maybe sharing my story is just my way of finally coming to terms with what has happened.

A few years ago, I was diagnosed with a stage-four endometriosis—the cause of 80 percent of ‘unexpected infertility’ for couples trying to conceive. With the severity of the disease I was suffering from, I was told a natural conception was just not going to be possible for me. In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) was the only suggested remedy but I did not want to will my body to do something, I had learnt, it naturally would not. I was a week late for my period when I took my first pregnancy test. When you’re struggling with fertility issues, that mushy, made-for-TV “we’re pregnant!” moment is never a reality—not until you undergo several other tests to confirm you’re really pregnant. In disbelief of what I saw on the test sticks (I tried twice) in the dim light of our bathroom, I rushed to our bedroom to wake my husband with the sticks still in my hand. His drowsy eyes first squinted then opened wide at the unbelievable sight of our first positive pregnancy test. The following weeks were filled with several other tests—blood, ultrasound, etc—all confirming our pregnancy!

Within days of the pregnancy test, I had started having early pregnancy symptoms: Sore breasts, fatigue, strong cravings for certain food and stronger aversion to others. I had a misconception that morning sickness happened in the morning; soon enough I realised I was wrong–it stays with you throughout the day and the night and the next morning and the next night and so on. I would sit down to search for remedies on the internet but would end up finding numerous threats instead: How seemingly innocuous foods like papaya and fenugreek could suddenly become uterus-contracting poison for pregnant mothers.

Pregnancy during the first trimester leads to some big changes. It is ironic that whilst your body is going through the most massive change, unlike any other, you are supposed to keep this news a secret until after the first trimester: An unspoken rule within the to-be-parents community, so as to avoid having to air a possible tragedy of a miscarriage in the first trimester. In hindsight, I am glad that I breached the implicit convention of this community and shared the news with close family and friends. This enabled me to share my journey with them too.

One evening in a restaurant the server asked me, “What can I get for you?” I responded, “I am not supposed to tell anyone I’m pregnant but I am so pregnant. So, could you ask the chef to make a special consideration by making me a type of chicken curry that I’ve been craving but is not on the menu?” Chicken: Something I hadn’t had in a long while since ‘going vegetarian’.

The other morning in the ferry on my way to work, my joy knew no bounds when the ferry attendant congratulated me. I was not telling anyone explicitly about my pregnancy but the world was noticing somehow; why wouldn’t they as I was sitting in the seat reserved for pregnant women. That still remains one of the best memories of the early days of my pregnancy.

I followed pregnancy guides that describe the size of the foetus, comparing it to different fruits and

vegetables. As the pregnancy progressed, I visualised my little one growing from the size of a sesame seed to an orange seed; from the size of grape to bearing a resemblance to a tadpole. Even today, when I pass through the fruits and vegetable aisle in the grocery store, I can’t stop thinking about it.

After what felt like months but was really only a week-and-a-half, came the lowest point for our pregnancy, when the sonographer told us the foetal heartbeat was measuring very low. The pregnancy was marked by complications from the very beginning and Google had been our go-to doctor for advice but this sobering news had us on Google ‘24/7’. In some instances my husband sounded like a newly graduated gynaecologist himself; at other times, like any other anxious pregnant mother who asked endless questions on pregnancy discussion forums. On my part, I confined myself to praying—prescriptively, twice; covertly, countless times a day. I recited the Hanuman Chalisa every night before going to bed just to miraculously speed up our little heartbeat.

Then came the day of our final scan—the sonographer recited lucidly what we had been dreading to hear: The embryo hadn’t grown at all over the course of two weeks. On the way home, I pondered over many things: That single glass of beer I had a week before finding out—am I not to be blamed for that? I was told not to lift heavy weight; were the two kilos of mangoes I carried home too heavy? The mozzarella we laid on the pizza, might that have been unpasteurized? I got the feeling of being in an earthquake. First came the prolonged tremor that of grief, followed by a myriad of aftershocks those of regret, guilt, fear and pain. Once home, I could see the pain in my husband’s tears and it only made it that much harder. This was the first tragedy we had faced in the two years of being together.

If you miscarry any later than six weeks, you are much more likely to experience an intense labour-like pain, minus the child, of course. After enduring several hours of severe cramping, the cramps progressed into agonising contractions, which is when we rushed to the emergency room at the nearest women’s hospital. The ordeal was over just as dusk made way for dawn.

In the days that followed my ordeal, I spoke to a few mothers and listened to their own stories of miscarriages. There was one thing that was common in every act of storytelling: All of us seemed relieved to be talking about it; some were talking about it for the first time. I was especially heartbroken hearing about a friend who continued working at the office while she was miscarrying. As she hadn’t announced her pregnancy in the first place, she obviously couldn’t reveal going through a miscarriage later on. She couldn’t claim any more sick leaves, as she was new to the workplace and feared losing her job. I truly respect people’s privacy and I sincerely believe talking either about a pregnancy or miscarriage is a personal choice. But, if a miscarrying mother chooses to share her experience, here’s what I wish others would say and do.

Treat her miscarriage the same way you would any other bereavement. Acknowledge it directly and compassionately. Offer practical help with housework—cooking, cleaning, grocery, baby-sitting where there are other babies to look after. Every experience is different and in many cases she might not want to discuss what happened, which is fine but reach out to her anyway. Refrain from giving advice like: “Whatever happens, happens for good!” “Hey, at least you know you can conceive, right?” Trust me, this is the most painful thing you can say to a woman grieving over her lost child, asking her, too prematurely, to forget the loss of a child who she just felt inside her, one she had already planned her life around; one she really wanted.

Rationally put, mourning what might have been is not the same as mourning what actually is: A foetus with a heartbeat, they say, is not a child. The relativity of when one becomes a child, making the other a mother, takes me back to one of my university lectures. In one of my anthropology classes, I remember reading about a community in Madagascar where the father could not be called a father right at the birth of the child but only after having fed the child for a good few years (confirming to the rule, ‘fathers feed, fathers form’). The mother, on the other hand, was given the designation right from the beginning of the pregnancy. I do not know when exactly one becomes a mother. At conception? When the pregnancy test shows a plus sign? After the birth of her child? Upon nurturing the child? The more I think about it, the less comfortable I become in defining a precise moment when one becomes a mother. For me I feel it happened when, staring at the flickers across the ultrasound monitor during my sixth week, I witnessed a tiny heart beating inside my womb.

I know I was not going to be the first person giving birth and certainly wouldn’t have been the last in this universe but this was all I ever had, my first and my last: My own budding universe, my first child!

As difficult as it is to define the becoming of a mother, it’s nearly impossible to describe the unbecoming of one. I think I know now why there is no word to describe a parent who has lost their child: A parent never loses one.

Published: 09-12-2017 09:49

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