The waves of cramps came, then an urge to push. What emerged from my body mere weeks into my pregnancy did not resemble a child. Yet I wailed over the form because it was my child, or at least as much as I would ever know of her. I felt primal, instinctual, animal-like. My womb was empty and hollow. Like my later birth, I experienced a crash of hormones and postpartum depression and anxiety.
It was the closest I’d come to a vaginal delivery at the time. By definition, it was a birth: the emergence of one individual from another. Yet I didn’t call it that.
Every pregnancy loss is a form of birth. But not every mother feels entitled or desires to call their experience a birth.
I asked some Facebook readers who had experienced multiple losses at different gestations how they felt about their losses and the designation of ‘birth.’ Some felt their later losses were more like birth experiences and wanted to refer to those losses as a such. Others felt that when their child was removed from their body in a medical procedure, the violence of that process did not deserve the sanctity of the “birth” title. Others hated that the act of separation from their child was done to them, often under anesthesia, and felt in no way what they experienced was a birth (an issue some C-section moms also feel.) A few others felt since they couldn’t identify the body of their child during their loss, the word “birth” felt inaccurate and perhaps misleading.
On the other end of the spectrum, some moms who have had multiple births felt like the beginning, the end, and the separation of their child from their womb all signified giving birth — no matter if they were 4 weeks along or 40.
Is it fair then to claim all pregnancy loss is a form of birth? By embracing this title as a woman who experienced early loss, am I then diminishing the act of the woman who was induced in L&D for 30 hours, pushed out the body of her much loved child, and arranged for burial or cremation?
I don’t think so. According to the definition, every loss is a birth in its own right. But like births of live babies, births during loss can take on a variety of forms. Each experience is unique, there is no need to compare. Was my experience of pushing out the remains of 6.5 weeks of pregnancy the same as my best friend’s experience of her 38-week stillbirth? No. Not at all. But it doesn’t have to be. Both our bodies did the physical and emotional work to complete the separation — one individual from another. I don’t have to look at my friend’s birth in order to say, “I gave birth to my baby.”
Whether you define your loss as a birth or not is a choice only you can make. But, semantics aside, one thing remains absolutely certain. The process by which our children leave our wombs imprints as much on our hearts as it does on our bodies.
How we give birth matters, even in the context of a traumatic loss. Did we feel supported, loved, understood and safe as we brought forth our children? Did we have help navigating the pain and our questions, or were we left to our own devices? Were we in control and make our own choices, or did someone else make our choices made for us? Could we honor our children and did others honor our children in the process? Were we told what to expect, and given the tools and information to not only birth our children but take care of our postpartum bodies? In any birth, whether resulting in a live child or a loss, the answers to these questions matter.
Birth is a transforming process for our bodies and spirits. Just as a loss is. And perhaps if we, our medical community and our families began treating all losses as births, we would have better medical care during the process. We’d have more informed choices. Doulas, nurses or other support people would attend to us during our births. They would inform us how to properly care for our postpartum bodies. Our medical providers would better screen us for postpartum complications.
Our community would treat us with all the tenderness, respect and awe which is due to a woman who just gave birth. Because we did.
“The way a woman gives birth can affect the whole of the rest of her life.”
Beverley Beech and Belinda Phipps
What about you? Do you think of your loss as a birth? Did you feel supported, loved, nurtured, and cared for as a birthing or postpartum mother? Do you feel that including all the losses as a birth somehow diminishes the experience of later losses? Do you feel calling an early loss a birth elevates the needs a miscarrying mother may have?
Add your thoughts to the discussion here, or comment below.