The Semantics of Loss

Today marks one month since our little Noah left us. As I mentioned on my Facebook page, in some ways it feels like it isn’t possible that a month has passed already and in others it seems like, “it has ONLY been a month?! How can that be?!” My life is essentially back to normal (though I also feel changed forever), though I find that at least my every third thought is about the baby, the miscarriage experience, or about how many weeks pregnant I “should” be, etc., etc.

Ever since the day we found out he died, I have been pondering the “language of loss.” It seems inadequate. It bugs me. There are not the right words to express what happened. I do not like the phrase, “I lost the baby” or “she lost the baby.” It bothers me for several reasons—one, it sounds like you just carelessly misplaced the baby. Two, it implies a personal failing of some kind. And, three, it just doesn’t feel accurate or true. My baby died. That is how I feel. Fourth, when I worked at the Ronald McDonald House we learned (and the books I have about grief and working with grieving people reaffirm this) that is is better NOT to use euphemisms when talking to people who have “lost” someone—say, “I’m sorry your baby died” and not “I’m sorry for your loss.” I even prefer, “I’m sorry about your baby” to the lost word. I do feel like I am someone who has “experienced loss” and for me, semantically, that is different than “I lost the baby.” Perhaps it feels different to different people, but my experience is that my baby died and then I let him go. Maybe if we hadn’t known in advance that he died, I would feel more of the “I lost the baby” sense—like my body malfunctioned and evacuated the baby before it should have. Instead of feeling as if my body failed me, I feel like it held a tremendous amount of wisdom, strength, and grace and was able to do what it needed to do—let my baby go because he had already left. I feel like he left us, versus, we lost him. I don’t know why he needed to leave, but I do feel at peace with it—not “angry” with him or betrayed by him (or by my body).

“I had a miscarriage” also feels different—and more accurate—to me than saying, “I lost the baby.” Just to be clear, I am not “offended” or annoyed when someone tells me “I’m sorry for your loss.” I appreciate the caring. Also, sometimes it is simply the only word/word derivative we have. However, it always catches a bit to me and just doesn’t feel accurate/right. I think it is symptom of how our culture views death and how uncomfortable people feel about talking about or confronting the issue. It doesn’t feel socially appropriate to say, “died’—but, that is the reality. As I mentioned, I changed my own phrasing after working at RMHC—for example, I always says, “Mark’s dad died in 1998” and not “Mark’s dad passed away in 1998.” Died is more honest. Maybe it makes people uncomfortable to hear, but it is the reality of what happened.

There are a LOT of losses also associated with my miscarriage though and do feel accurately described as losses. There is the loss of the baby and the promise of our life with him in the future. There is the fact that he was due on my birthday and therefore my birthday will NEVER be the same for the rest of my life. There is the loss of the experience of being pregnant. I feel this one very keenly. Every week, I think about how many weeks pregnant I should be. Today, I would have been 19 weeks. Practically halfway done! ::sob:: It is strange to not be wearing my maternity clothes anymore and so forth. And, there is the loss of innocence. The loss of feeling “safe” during pregnancy and an anticipated loss of excitement and anticipation during the first trimester of any future pregnancy to come. My children have not only experienced the loss of their little brother, but the loss of the promised “big brother” role as well as a degree of loss of innocence too—if/when I get pregnant again, will they be excited or feel “safe” about the pregnancy and baby? I do not want to end my childbearing years on this note of loss or with a sense of fear for them rather than the triumph of a beautiful birth of a new sibling at home. I do not want the last time I gave birth to be a memory of death as well as of birth.

I shared this quote on my Talk Birth Facebook page this morning (it is from the article, “Supporting a Mother Whose Pregnancy Has Ended,” in Midwifery Today Issue 41, Spring 1997):

“Miscarriages are labor, miscarriages are birth. To consider them less dishonors the woman whose womb has held life, however briefly.” –Kathryn Miller Ridiman


5 responses to “The Semantics of Loss

  1. Molly, these are such good insights. I’m thankful for your gift of words, to express so eloquently and understandably your thoughts and feelings. I agree with you about the language of loss, mourn with you over Noah’s death, and love the Ridiman quote.

  2. This is good. So true.

    I sometimes do say that we have lost a daughter, because now, after admitting and saying our daughter died, I like the softer feel of loss. Sometimes it is just easier to bear the load of a loss than a death.

    • I will sometimes use “loss” or “lost” too because it almost the only thing to say/use in some situations/contexts, but it still doesn’t sit right with me–I wish there was a completely different word. Not “died” or “lost,” but something else…

  3. Pingback: Mizuko « Footprints on My Heart

  4. Pingback: Miscarriage “to-do” list & natural miscarriage « Footprints on My Heart

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