“It’s over,” the doctor said. “We did all we could.”
He didn’t even need to tell me — I felt my water break. I was totally helpless and devastated. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen! I was five months pregnant and everything was supposed to be perfect. We had a crib! We had a list of baby names! We had imagined a million times what our baby was going to be like! How were we unable to protect our baby? How could we ever move on from this? How could our baby possibly be gone?
These were some of my first thoughts, one month ago, when I found out that I was going to have a miscarriage at 21 weeks.
But I will start from the beginning:
My husband and I went to the clinic for a routine ultrasound and were so excited to get a glimpse at our healthy baby again. On the way out of the ultrasound room I mentioned to the technician that I was feeling a certain pain – one that I had been feeling for a while already but had determined from Google searching was normal. She said she wanted to test for one more thing. She started the ultrasound and called another technician over for a second opinion. “You have a kitzur tzavar,” which I thought, in classic olah chadasha fashion, meant that my baby’s neck was too short. She explained that I had a condition called incompetent cervix which, in less insulting terms, is called cervical insufficiency.
After a stay in Assaf Harofeh Hospital, a week of bed rest, two stays in Shaare Zedek Hospital, multiple calls to and from family and friends, progesterone shots, hours of begging God for guidance, an attempted emergency procedure, and a 7-hour labor, I gave birth to my baby… a child who could not survive in this world. It was terrifying, heartbreaking, and lonely.
In the weeks that followed I scoured blogs for guidance, looking to read what other people had to say about the experience of miscarriage. I found very few blogs written from a Jewish perspective, but I found them extremely helpful all the same. It was comforting to know that there were people “out there” who could understand, like I now do, how much it is possible to miss a child you have never met.
During this time we also received beautiful condolence messages from family members and friends, many of which included confessions that they too had gone through miscarriages. Most of those confessions also included a very sad, “yes, no one talks about it until it happens to someone they know. It’s terrible.”
I began to wonder why so few people ever talk about it in our Jewish community. I would have loved to read some articles about how women cope from a Jewish perspective. I would have been comforted to read about how people’s relationships with Hashem had been affected by the miscarriage, how they dealt with the laws of niddah (ritual purity), which seem so impossibly cruel during this time, what it was like to go back to the mikvah for the first time, or how they memorialized their loss in a religiously fulfilling manner.
It makes sense that most people don’t want to talk about miscarriage. About 80% of miscarriages happen before the 12-week mark, when most couples haven’t even told anyone they were expecting. Who would want to bring up or publicize such a painful and personal experience? I fully understand that people don’t want to talk about it – for weeks I debated whether I should publish this article. And I understand that talking about miscarriages doesn’t make for particularly happy conversation. However, I think that oftentimes this has an unwanted side effect – women who miscarry think they are totally alone.
It is a fact that about 15-20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. That means that if it hasn’t happened to you, it has happened to someone you know, although you may not even be aware of it. That’s why it strikes me as pretty crazy that women (myself included) feel so completely alone in their experience. How could you feel alone when you’re part of this huge miscarriage club? Because the miscarriage club is a secret club, one whose members join only in tragedy and against their will.
I am not a proud member of the club. I wish more than anything that instead of writing this I could be blissfully happy in my 6th month of pregnancy, happily awaiting my perfectly adorable baby. But since I am member, I would like to be a vocal one. For some reason, Hashem decided that my pregnancy would end at 21 weeks, well beyond the time when we could hide it from anyone, so maybe it is easier for me to talk about it. Therefore, I would like to share a few of my very many thoughts, which are very specific to my personal experience and journey, in the hope that this will help someone in the future or start a community-wide conversation about miscarriages:
The first thing I realized is that everyone grieves in different ways. I have read enough to know that while one person may want to have all her friends over the day after the miscarriage to be surrounded by a support system, someone else may want to be alone for a week to take the time to heal away from others. There are many ways to cope and it is up to you to decide what will work best for you.
Things that I find helpful are writing in a journal, taking some time off from work to heal and gather my strength, painting, cooking (which I haven’t done in about six months between my nauseating pregnancy and bed rest), talking to family members, meeting with one friend at a time (groups are intimidating), going to family for Shabbat, blocking people on Facebook who post things that are hard for me to see right now, doing fun activities with my husband, letting myself be both sad and happy without feeling guilty about either, and finding meaningful projects that honor my baby. I find it helpful when people ask first before they help or call, allowing me to opt out when I am not in the mood.
The other thought I want to share is less “technical.” Since my year in seminary, I have had this nagging sense that my connection with Hashem has been weakening. For years, I have been muttering the words from tefillah – vtaher libenu l’avdecha be’emet – that Hashem should purify my heart so that I could truly serve Him and feel a connection with Him. I yearned for something to happen that would reignite that spark I felt in my relationship with Him five years ago.
To me, a miscarriage seems like way too high a price to pay for that relationship to be rekindled, and so I know it would be totally natural for me to have a crisis of faith and ask unanswerable questions. True, sometimes I feel angry and cheated by God. And yet, I am unable to ignore the yad Hashem — the hand of God — that was so consistently present throughout this whole ordeal. The fact that we know the cause of the miscarriage is a miracle. The fact that we know exactly what to do in order to significantly increase the chances of a successful pregnancy the next time around is a gift. We have been blessed with a wonderful support system and the opportunity to live in a time and place where there are solutions for so many medical conditions. It is rare in life to be able to so clearly see Hashem performing so many miracles. And so, despite the unanswered questions and the sadness, I find comfort in my newfound closeness with Hashem. It is important to reiterate here, that this is how I, and I alone, feel. If you have come to the total opposite conclusion, you are normal and OK!
It helps to remind myself that time will heal and that, please God, we will go on to have a beautiful family. But this miscarriage will always be a part of our family narrative and this baby will always be our first child.
I do not wish this situation on anyone, but if it happens to you or someone close to you – you are not alone.
If anyone wants to discuss or ask questions, please feel free to contact me: Peninah.firstname.lastname@example.org