I want a word for a bereaved parent that describes the darkness when you first learn that the tiny life growing inside you no longer pulsates. For me, the words “no cardiac activity” felt suffocating – as though the ultrasound room was suddenly devoid of oxygen.
I’ve also heard the moment described as sinking into a void. The world going silent. Ears ringing. A shattering, trembling sensation. Or sharp, like shards of glass, piercing your heart.
Perhaps there’s no word because there’s no true way to describe the feeling. Words aren’t powerful enough. And yet, the lack of vocabulary means that our culture doesn’t acknowledge the gravity and power of this loss. This widespread loss that so many of us experience.
Tell me, how do you describe that first moment of recognizing your loss? And do you wish you had the words, or do you prefer the (appropriate) emptiness in our lexicon?
Related: Grieving in Words
Here are a few more words that I want to be added to our language:
I want a word for the numbness that takes over when you go from carrying two souls to just (barely) your one. The feeling that you have left the earth, but your physical body is still here. And the physical body still has to shower, put away groceries and eat food (while thinking “what’s the point of good nutrition right now”). Slowly, the numb body attempts to bring back some feeling – perhaps through vigorous exercise, as through pumping blood through the heart will bring it back to life.
Or maybe a few extra glasses of wine will return some of the intoxicating wonders of being a living, breathing being. Whatever works, you know?
But what is the word that describes lifelessness after losing a part of myself that I created and nourished? If we find that word, maybe then we can find a way to describe the process of finding life again.
I want a word for the hollow fullness of my body. It’s like an aching phantom limb – I need a word for the invisible belly that I’m missing. The one I imagine in the shower, aware of exactly how many weeks I should be measuring and what shape I could be taking up.
I want a word to describe the emptiness of my heartbeats, which no longer provide a metronome of comfort to my tiny companion — a word for the profound nothingness of it all.
I want a word to describe the pause – the pause where you shake yourself back into the present moment out of a daydream or memory. The pause that requires a deep breath or long blink to hold back tears & dissolve that lump in your throat. It’s an impossibly long moment that you force haste upon – pulling away from the hazy, glowy image of the future that could have been, or come back from a vivid memory of blood and operating room lights.
It’s a pause that you take before going on to answer a mundane question about next week’s staff meeting or make small talk about the unusually cold weather. That space of time needs a word. “Recovery pause,” perhaps?
Recovery from what, though? The deep ache doesn’t recover.
Related: Small Talk
I want a phrase that says, nicely but truthfully: your pregnancy complaints and the sight of your baby make me sick. Sick because I torment & hate myself for not being able to express how happy I am for you and how much I do truly care about you. My mind and my emotions are screwing with me.
I’m dizzy from trying not to cry while oohing and ahhing over your ultrasound photos and funny new food aversions. I’ve quarantined myself from you, worried that my anger, frustration, grief, and jealousy are contagious and I can’t possibly bear the thought of infecting you.
I want to say: I’m so happy for you. I care about you. You are important to me, and our friendship is important to me. I can’t talk to you. I can’t look at you. I can’t be around you right now. But I do care.
I want a word that describes all the guilt. For me, an especially tough kind of guilt comes when my mind wanders to the child who might have been & the shape my family was supposed to take. And when I feel myself continuing to breathe normally (instead of the shallow inhale that precedes tears) the guilt slices through my lungs like a thin razor over a papercut. Ugh.
I want a word for the remorse & guilt and its endless, frustrating presence.
And, I want a title for people like me. My DNA has changed, and I’m now a different person, having created & carried a new human. I carry those my cells in me as proof of my identity. I know, I know, the emptiness of our language seems appropriate with the emptiness of our arms and hearts. And I know that no title will be enough.
But “Orphan” and “Widow” and “Widower” carry the weight of someone who has experienced significant loss, and I want to live in a society that acknowledges the profound grief of miscarriage and child loss. And that starts with the words.
What word – existing or made-up – would you want to use to describe your own unsaid, unacknowledged experiences?
Photo credit: Emmy Kastner
About the author: Sakhi Vyas works in public radio, and lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan with her husband, John. After a pregnancy loss in late 2018, she’s taken to writing and art in pursuit of healing and peace.