Thursday, 29 January 2015

Jessica: I had a miscarriage. Talk to me

Jessica Zucker is a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles who specializes in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health. Find her online and on Twitter @DrZucker. This article is republished with kind permission from Jessica and was originally published in the Washington Post.


Trauma stains the heart like pomegranate juice on a white linen couch, erupting perspectives and shifting ideas of order. No matter what you attempt to do, it’s there.

I can feel in my body every detail from that day two years ago despite the passage of time. And now, as my 13-month-old daughter comes barreling toward my breasts for comfort and nourishment, I occasionally feel an emotional tug somewhere deep inside. I’ve come to identity this feeling as a pinch of my soul’s memory, of the girl that wasn’t and the beauty of pain in the mash up of life. Trauma left me living on the outskirts for a while. But as my girl playfully cuddles into my body, I feel a sense of return.

At 16 weeks pregnant I had a life-threatening miscarriage, what I now think of as an unassisted homebirth to a daughter I will never know. As if it wasn’t hard enough to lose this pregnancy, I was dumbfounded by the reactions of those around me, or more accurately, the inactions.

A handful of people who comforted the bruised places in my heart and bore the pain alongside me helped restore me. But, for the most part, people seemed to vanish. Where did they go? I wondered to myself in the immediate aftermath of this mind-bending loss. With few exceptions, it seemed that people around me—old friends and new friends alike—feared contamination. I couldn’t figure out if my impressions were based in part on my postpartum haywire hormones heightening my sensitivity, or if my friends were in fact reaching out to me less than usual. Relationships mutated, as if time might diminish my miscarriage germs and things would magically return to normal.

My hunch was validated when a dear friend shared what another friend of ours told her following my miscarriage. She explained that it stimulated too many fears in her. She wasn’t sure what to say or how to act, so she said nothing. When I could muster comic relief, I would joke that it seemed like people thought if I sneezed on them or even simply spoke to them, they too might have a second trimester miscarriage. I felt like the circumstances of my life were seen as a toxic threat. I was temporarily quarantined.

After I contracted malaria in Nigeria over a decade ago, my infectious disease, which rendered me frayed and emaciated, seemed to be a conversation piece rather than a reason to pull back. Maybe people viewed my survival as an interesting war story because it didn’t include death.

As a society we struggle, or worse, we fail, when it comes to rituals that honor mourning out-of-order losses.

Sentiments of potential contagion were illuminated further by a patient of mine who humbly wondered, “Did this happen to you because this happened to me?” I heard my patient asking if her openness about her very humanity (namely her pregnancy losses) somehow spurred this in me, implying that we can lodge trauma into someone by merely talking. Tucked further into the nexus of her query is a kernel of shame. Perhaps she felt her hardships and the sharing of her intimate stories infected me, implanting a vector that directly manifested my loss. I was bowled over. This inquiry induced a loss for words. We held eye contact as I ambled around in my mind for the potential roots of her question—where this stemmed from in accordance with her childhood history, the possible cultural influences, as well as what it might represent about our nascent therapeutic relationship. As humans, our ever-present vulnerability is made less potent if we imagine we had a hand in the creation of negative outcomes.

If only we had this much control.

Sometimes we view loss as a competition, as if one kind of grief is more worthy of our tears. But suffering is suffering. When we recognize this, competition becomes superfluous.

There are no inoculations that guard against miscarriage if we engage in the messiness of creating life. We don’t infect each other by speaking our truths or sifting through our grief out loud. Communing clearly is not the problem. Out-of-order loss is. Vaccines don’t exist for such things, nor can they.

But we pretend our silence will vaccinate us and we use that belief to justify our reluctance to extend compassion.

“People just don’t know what to say!”

I implore us to talk about the very things that make us uncomfortable—to examine our fears, superstitions, and our premonitions—if only as an exercise in understanding what it feels like to engage rather than clam up when faced with out-of-order death.

Perhaps the very antidote to drowning in the heartbreak of reproductive trauma is talking about it candidly and exorcising shame. Maybe if we move closer to discussions of grief, we can actually alter this stale cultural ethos, so that the ache of loss might ease through the compassion emanating from community. Maybe a societal shift such as this will in fact catch on and infiltrate like an emotional revolution, infecting us with benevolence.

If conversation about the vicissitudes of miscarriage became contagious, then the shame and isolation that often accompany this type of loss could perhaps be contained.

There are countless viruses we can contract over the course of our lives. To be sure, miscarriage isn’t one of them.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

BlopMamma: Little Star

This is the second of two posts that BlopMamma has kindly given permission for us to re-blog. We thought these would make an interesting addition to Loss Through the Looking Glass as they look at loss from the eyes of a NICU nurse. BlopMamma blogs about her life as a NICU nurse and mummy on her own blog 23 week socks.


This week I went to the funeral of a baby for the first time; one of the patients that I’d cared for on the last day of their short life.

I’d been to three funerals before; two as an adult which were my Grandad’s and the Northern One’s Grandma and one when I was at primary school. A boy in the year above me died and I took it very hard even though I didn’t really know him. I didn’t really understand that children could die. My mum and the school thought that maybe going to the funeral would help give me some closure so one of my mum’s friends who’s son was also going took me.

I remember her wrapping her arms around me in the church while I sobbed into her shoulder, unable to look at the white coffin that contained a boy only a few months older than me.

I still can’t hear ‘The Circle of Life’ without thinking about that day.

I needed to go to this funeral for the same reason, some sense of closure.

I was the nurse who was with him and his parents at the end.

I stood and witnessed his baptism.

I removed his breathing tube.

I listened to his broken mummy sing ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ to him as he quietly went to sleep for the last time.

I want to say goodbye.

One of the things I’m unsure about is what to wear. I don’t want to wear head to toe black, it just doesn’t seem quite right. In the end I settle on a dark floral dress and a black cardigan and tights; I know no one is really paying attention to what I’m wearing but I want to get it right.

The sun shines as I drive to the crematorium. I get delayed in traffic due to roadworks in one of the villages surrounding the town where I live.

The speaker on my phone is broken, something to do with the Northern One and a bottle of diet coke so that satnav app doesn’t talk to me and give me directions. Instead I have to keep glancing at the screen to make sure I’m still going the right way.

All normal, everyday things.

Except today is not a normal day.

Today is the day I witness the single most heartbreaking thing I’ve seen.

Dad walking up the centre aisle, carrying a tiny white coffin and mum walking beside him, her face flushed and swollen from the many tears she must have shed already.

They stand straight, looking ahead even though they must be bowed and crushed with the weight of their grief.

Their tears.

Their loss.

People burst into loud sobs as dad, carrying his small, precious, impossibly heavy burden walks to the front and puts the coffin down.

It’s so small.

No one should ever have to bury their child.

The service is beautiful with the celebrant reading mum and dad’s words about their little boy and his life. Once or twice her voice breaks and she has to pause to steady herself. She must have officiated dozens of funerals over many years but clearly she doesn’t see it just another working day.

‘Twinkle Twinkle’ is the last song played.’

I grit my teeth to try and maintain some self control.

Tears stream down my face as I remember the choked, halting voice of mum desperate for her little boy not to go.

To stay with her just a few more minutes.

A few seconds longer.

For the rest of her life.

The service ends before the crematorium curtains close around the tiny coffin.

That last goodbye is just for mum and dad.

Their final chance to say goodbye to the tiny boy who will leave such a huge, gaping hole in their lives and their hearts that no one will ever be able to fill.

A hole that fits his shape exactly.

We wait outside for them, each clutching a balloon ready to release in memory of their little boy. The rain rattles on the surface of the balloons, running down their swollen sides like tears.

We let them go and the wind whips them into the sky.

I watch until I can no longer see my balloon.

The rain soaks me through, leaving dark patches on my coat and my hair streaming with water.

It seems appropriate.

As I walk back to my car I spot a robin hopping about in the undergrowth at the side of the path. He doesn’t seem bothered by the rain and looks at me, with his head on one side before bouncing back into a bush.

I feel drained even though I haven’t done anything but sit and try to hold myself together.

I want to call the Northern One but I remember that my phone speaker is broken.

It pours with rain most of the way home but suddenly the rain stops and the sun comes out, shining brightly. The skies turn blue and the sun causes the rain drops on the grass and the trees of the verge to sparkle. The world looks fresh and new but it isn’t.

It’s still the same world filled with joy and sadness, where some children defy expectations and other lose their fight, where some parents take their children home and others have to bury them.

I look for a rainbow but I don’t see one.

When I get home Squidge is asleep. I go up to his room to stroke his hair and hear his sleepy little noises.

To reassure myself that he’s safe.

Squidge wakes up from his nap and starts shouting for me. I go into his room and he gives me a huge gummy grin, just showing his two teeth. I pick him up and hold him tightly, trying not to cry. He doesn’t understand and starts wriggling, wanting to go downstairs.

I sit him in his high chair, checking that there’s no bits of porridge I missed cleaning up at breakfast and give him his lunch. His waves his little arms about and kicks his legs at the sheer excitement of being given food, even though it happens three times a day seven days a week. He smears the orange veggie mush around his face, attempts to feed himself but ends up chewing the bowl and goes to town on a breadstick and half a satsuma.

All normal, everyday things.

Life goes on.

My life goes on as will the life of the parents.

It will go on because it has to.

Even though their grief seems insurmountable and the pain of their loss unbearable.

Their lives will be devoted to preserving the memory of their son.

To making sure that the world knows that he lived.

That he touched lives and changed them.

That he will live on in hearts other than their own.

Every time I sing to my own little boy.


You can read BlopMamma's first post here:

Twinkle Twinkle

Friday, 16 January 2015

BlopMamma: Twinkle Twinkle

This is the first of two posts that BlopMamma has kindly given permission for us to re-blog. We thought these would make an interesting addition to Loss Through the Looking Glass as they look at loss from the eyes of a NICU nurse. BlopMamma blogs about her life as a NICU nurse and mummy on her own blog 23 week socks.


Twinkle twinkle little star is one of Squidge’s favourite songs to have sung to him when he’s tired and trying to fall asleep.

I haven’t been able to sing it to him this week.

Every time I hear one of his toys play the tune or I hear the Northern One sing it to him all I can think of is the broken, desperate mummy singing to her dying son.

I hear her voice so full of love and grief that she can barely form the words of the song.

I hear the pain.

The loss

The plans for his life that will never now be realised.

She’s in a place where no one can help her or reach her.

It’s just her and her little boy.

She gasps and sobs that little tune over and over as she cradles her baby in her arms; desperate for him to understand that she is letting him go because he has reached the end of his fight and not because she wants to.

That she doesn’t love him any less for allowing him to give up his fragile hold on life.

She would do anything rather than let him go.

He has fought so hard but now he is tired, so very tired and his little body has reached it’s limit. We’ve tried everything that we can and given him the best chance possible but it’s just not enough.

We sat in the quiet room; me, the surgeon, the consultant, mum and dad and we tell them that there’s nothing more we can do to save their son.

Mum breaks down into inconsolable sobs.

Dad sits with dry eyes; he’s beyond tears.

The surgeon looks defeated, the consultant looks broken. I know he has children of his own.

I sit beside them after the doctors have left the room, having said that they’re sorry so many times. They understand the complete and utter futility of those words but they don’t have any others to offer.

There aren’t any.

There are no words to describe your feelings at the loss of a child.

I sit with mum and dad while they try and decide what to do next. They know what they need to do, they just don’t know how to do it.

I try to give them the information they need and the options available as gently as possible. I want them to know that we will help them with anything that they want to do for their little boy. I don’t want them to feel as though they’re being rushed or that  we’re trying to push them to make decisions. I tell them that they can take all the time they need.

I say that I understand that there can never been enough time.

Mum looks at me; her face red and swollen with crying and asks me how you say goodbye to your child.

There is no anger or blame in her voice, no sarcasm. She knows I don’t have the answer and yet she is willing me to say something, anything that will help her to decide what to do.

I quietly tell her that I just don’t know and she collapses onto my shoulder. I hold her close and stroke her hair in the same way that I would with Squidge if he was tired or had hurt himself.

As though I am her mum and she is my child.

In that moment I feel very old.

My tears escape and run down my cheeks although my voice is steady.

At nursing school they told us not to cry because the grief belonged to the families and not to us.

But we do grieve; we grieve for the loss of patients that we have grown to know and to care for, their families with whom we have shared the most difficult time of their lives, for their plans and their dreams that can no longer be.

A few hours later, after their son has been baptised the parents decide that they are ready.

No, they’re not ready but they’re as ready as they’ll ever be.

Dad has cuddled his little boy and now he’s snuggled in his mummy’s arms. He rests one of his hands on the side of his face and honestly looks comfortable and peaceful.

He still looks like a little boy.

A very sick, very tired little boy but still a little boy.

He is still connected to the ventilator and the morphine infusion but nothing else; we’ve stopped everything else so that there’s as little connected to him as possible. The morphine keeps him free of pain and the ventilator keeps him breathing and his heart beating until mum and dad have done everything that they need to do.

I kneel on the floor at mum’s side, the doctor sits on the floor in front of her and helps her to gently remove the sticky pads holding the breathing tube in place. I hold the tube so that it doesn’t slip.

I adjust my position and mum almost screams, thinking that I might remove the tube before she’s sung to her little boy.

The last thing she can do for him in his far too short life.

She starts singing and I slide the tube out of his airway and out of his mouth.

I have never removed a breathing tube before.

I try not to think about it, this isn’t about me.

She sings the words over and over; her voice thick and cracking but she doesn’t stop.

Tears run down her face and onto her jumper.

I cry too.

I need to be strong for these parents and their baby but I’m not made of stone.

My tears speak to them of my sadness at their loss far more than any words every could.

The little boy passes quickly and quietly, he only indication that he is gone is the silence of his heart when the doctor listens with her stethoscope to confirm that he is at peace.

Another tiny star shining brightly in the sky.

Twinkle twinkle little star.

Do you know how loved you are?


You can read BlopMamma's second post here:

Little Star

Monday, 12 January 2015

Abii: My Missing Piece (For Harry)

Time goes on but doesn't alter,
I try my hardest not to falter,
My missing piece you'll always be,
A massive hole inside of me.

Life continues passing by,
I try so hard to stop the cry,
To brush away the falling tears,
To hide away from all my fears.

But the pain will never go,
I've suffered such a mortal blow,
You should have been baby boy,
That filled my life with so much joy.

Instead you left me far too early,
And my world was numb and blurry,
Blinded by the constant pain,
Can't see past unswerving rain.

It broke my heart to lose you so,
Before you had the chance to grow,
So many memories left unmade,
Too many adventures left unplayed.

Until that day we meet once more,
As you hold open heavens door,
My missing piece you'll always be,
Until the day you set me free.