Vitalism Signs

OK, I admit it. When I recently learned that I was going to be a grandmother, I was a little shocked at first, although I’m not sure why.

After all, our daughter is well into her childbearing years, married and had recently settled into a new house with a bedroom she claimed she was trying to paint gray. However, the paint job clearly came out a nursery-perfect, gender-neutral lavender. Sarah has always wanted children, so I already knew as soon as she and her husband were settled in the house, all bets would be off on when they would have a baby.

And I have to admit, there was more than a little fear involved. For me, having our first baby was joyful and easy—but we never could seem to hold onto a second baby and, after a few cycles of excitement and loss, infertility and reconciliation set in. Because of my own experiences of miscarriage, it seemed incautious of our daughter to announce her pregnancy so early. However, that was more about my own fears than hers.

Sarah, on the other hand, was understandably giddy to learn she was about to become a mother. I had to let go of my fear and come along for the ride, because to do otherwise would have dampened her joy just like it dampened mine. Besides, I had a great model in her father, who was positively bursting with joy from the first second he suspected he was having a grandchild. In fact, from the first moment, his feeling was that he already had a grandchild—they’d just have to wait nearly eight more months to meet one another.

So, I had to get with the program. I’ve got this whole Vitalism thing going on, right? I know the body is designed to be healthy and handle reproduction successfully. Our daughter knows that too, and was planning a home birth with a midwife, just as we had when she was born.

I simply had to take a breath (a very deep one), and then let go to trust the wisdom of nature. As Sarah closed in on the halfway mark, I found it easier to trust this baby was going to “stick.” The anticipation of being a grandmother truly began to warm the cockles of my fearful heart, and I could almost feel the sensation of holding my new grandbaby over it, melting my fear.

Then, the spotting began. The midwife was called. The scheduled ultrasound was moved up. The heartbeat had stopped.

And, missing only a beat to cursorily acknowledge the loss of our grandchild’s viability, the medical model turned a baby into a condition. The ultrasound tech wouldn’t (probably couldn’t) say anything to confirm the lack of heartbeat, but clearly communicated with her behavior something was wrong as she set about measuring and documenting and not speaking at all. Then, the radiologist confirmed and recommended an immediate D&C in the emergency room to remove the baby and all the “remnants” to prevent infection, hemorrhage and a host of other dire consequences of miscarriage.

Our daughter, courageous and clear-thinking even in her grief from the barely acknowledged loss, said no. The doctor reminded her of the potential consequences of refusing treatment. Despite her devastation at the loss of her baby, she still believed that her body knew best—there was a reason the baby hadn’t survived—and now her body knew how to handle it. And she and her husband had the courage to follow it through. I can’t begin to express how sorry I am for them and how proud I am of what they did next.

They waited. They gave nature time to take its course, all the while devastated knowing it would take days and end with the delivery of a lost baby. Yet, at the end, they discovered the natural course had also been the pathway to coming to terms with the grief. Once the natural process of miscarriage was complete, they found there’s also a natural process of accepting loss.

Many years ago, the medical model began the practice of whisking away stillborn babies in what proved to be a misguided effort to spare the mothers from the grief (and I suspect they were just as motivated to spare themselves from having to witness that terrible sight). What they realized, years later, was that the mothers who hadn’t been allowed to hold, or even to see, their stillborn babies had never fully recovered from the grief and were often never able to enjoy subsequent pregnancies. Some even chose not to try.

Mothers who’d been allowed as much time as they wanted to hold their still little babies had overcome the grief and gone on to enjoy having other children. I’m told the practice of allowing mothers to hold and grieve their near-term stillborn children has become the “standard of care.”

Why, then, would that model deny mothers who miscarry the same opportunity? There’s virtually no support for a different model or understanding for women whose pregnancies end in miscarriage. Our daughter says she would like to be part of changing that. I hope she will, because she has proved she has the faith and understanding that comes from trusting nature to know best. She had the courage to find the gift nature provided in consolation of her loss. She had the generosity to share that gift with her father and me—and I can never thank her enough.