This is a difficult post to write. And yet, in some ways, it is very easy.
It saddens me always that baby loss is something that happens in solitude. It is so taboo, so difficult to talk about, that families and couples who experience it, feel as though they experience it in isolation, and as a rare phenomenon. This of course, is not the case. One in between three and four pregnancies ends in miscarriage. One in 200 births ends in stillbirth. That’s an awful lot of people carrying the sorrow of lost children.
When I am asked how many children I have, I answer that I have one son. In my heart, I silently add several numbers for the pregnancies that did not make it to term. These, for me, are also my children, not just the son I get to cuddle and kiss every day. I know I am one of the lucky ones, because I do have that son. But there is at times a terrible abyss, between the people who dismiss my secondary infertility because I have a child, and those who dismiss my motherhood because I only have one.
And yet, conversely, this makes me equally passionate about repealing the Eighth Amendment in Ireland. A pregnancy at the wrong time can be as devastating as none. And it is women who carry the burden when fertility goes wrong. It is a hard, tragic and, at times, an all-encompassing burden that can bring you to your knees. I know, I have been there.
So this post is for all those who have experienced the loss of a child, or the loss of a pregnancy, however one terms these events. I speak out, to show that you are not alone. And also, that there is no shame. We do not choose this, it is thrust upon us by biology.
It is also a theme that proves that art is not just of itself, but speaks to life on the most fundamental level. Fanny Hensel suffered several miscarriages after the birth of her only living son, Sebastian. One happened on 3 April 1837, when she wrote forlornly to Felix, “I thought it was going so well…”
Earlier in the year, when she had found out and had allowed herself to hope, she wrote a song, “Warum sind denn die Rosen so blaß?”, a setting of a Heine poem. “Why are the roses so pale?” asks Heine; “why did you leave me?” In the context of Fanny’s history, the question becomes all the more poignant. And tellingly, Fanny changes a word: instead of questioning the “corpselike odour” of the original, she changes the line to “the scent of flowers”. Was this a line that was too close to the bone?
Two poems also sum up the feelings of loss. One is from Emily Dickinson, a poem so hauntingly empathetic that one must wonder what it was that caused her to choose a life of hermitude:
How many Flowers fail in Wood--
Or perish from the Hill--
Without the privilege to know
That they are Beautiful--
How many Cast a nameless Pod
Upon the nearest Breeze--
Unconscious of the Scarlet Freight--
It bear to Other Eyes--
The other poem is by Alice Meynell, and is almost unbearable in its truth:
One wept, whose only child was dead
New-born, ten years ago.
“Weep not, he is in bliss,” they said.
She answered, “Even so,
Ten years ago was born in pain
A child not now forlorn.
But oh, ten years ago, in vain
A mother, a mother was born.”
I may not have carried all my children in my arms. But I have carried them.