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October 16, 2020

This Sanskrit Word Perfectly Captures the Hell that is Baby Loss.


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It’s October. As I write this, the very first day of October, in fact.

To most, it is a month of pumpkin patches, falling leaves, candy, and Halloween. The official kickoff to the holiday season. They will, the holidays I mean, run together now. Adults like me will say, “Wow, I can’t believe it’s Halloween already!” every time for every subsequent holiday. As if somehow, we are all taken aback every year but the repeating holidays.

October means something different if you are among the one in four ranks with me.  It hits heavy today. A celebrity couple (Chrissy Teigan and John Legend) lost their newborn, Jack. You tend to feel things a little heavier when you know this loss. It hurts my heart that another mother, another parent, another couple must face this dark, dusty, lonely path through the dark forest of baby loss hell.

Reading through the comments on these news articles reminds me of what I have experienced, watched other loss moms experience, and what I have written about before: you are not spared the internet ugliness even through this awful, unfair, cruel loss. There are no limits on what the anonymity the internet allows folks to have.

I have read comments using Teigen’s loss to argue for pro-life political stances. A completely, irrevocably irrelevant point. Comments about how no one cares, “Why is this news?!” and comments that allude to the couple’s stardom meaning their fame and fortune will make up for the loss of their son. It will not because nothing can.

What hurts my heart more though is the way their loss is being misnamed. It has happened to me and many other women. Photos of this woman, tears streaking her face, cradling her son are accompanying these news stories, and yet, every outlet is referring to it as a miscarriage. I am not here to argue the improper use of this term or any of the other terms that accompany it, such as “fetal demise” or “products of conception.”

I am here to say that I am so tired of all of it. The uphill battle that grieving my own child has been. Fighting, genuinely, for the space within society and my own community. Fighting to be real. Honest and vulnerable, for perhaps the first time in my life. Settling here in the uncomfortable aloneness that this has become. Knowing that Chrissy Teigen will face this too and her celebrity status will make no difference. Fighting for exactly what I have witnessed with her today, the use of this word, miscarriage. Used as a dismissal of her son, Jack.

We use this word because it is a comfortable and digestible term. One that devalues the experience, the mother, the woman, the parent. It is a word wrought with fallacy. The prefix “mis” literally meaning “ill, mistaken, wrong, or incorrectly.” It implies a failure of some kind. Misspell. Mistrust. Misuse. When we use this word for pregnancy or infant loss, we are devaluing that child and that mother. Those parents. Those grandparents who were awaiting the birth of their baby’s baby. Those siblings who could not wait for their sister, brother.

We readily repeat this perfectly curated response over and over to then point fingers at the crazy lady who had a miscarriage and was never “quite right” afterward. We repeat it to then tell this woman she did not fail because “these things just happen.” The very word itself implies a failure. Mostly, and the part that I am so tired of, we use it to make the truth more palatable for the masses. We use it to perpetuate the lie that good things happen to you if you are simply good. That life will reward you somehow. That everyone gets a happy ending. And to put it mildly, it is bullsh*t.

Miscarriage is not the only word we use to deflect from this truth though. Stillborn is merely a polite way of saying “this baby died.” Angel baby, rainbow baby, star baby, sun and moon babies are all the same polite ways in which we expect this uncomfortable truth to be portrayed.

If you try hard enough, you can probably conjure up a faint memory of hearing a version of this next sentence. A spouse who has lost a spouse is called a widow. A child who has a lost a parent is called an orphan. But there is no word in to describe a parent who has lost a child. There is, however, a word though ancient and not well known.

Vilomah. Sanskrit, used for religious purposes and recognized as an official language in India, vilomah means “against natural order.” (The term widow is also Sanskrit and translates to “empty,” by the way.)

It is a beautiful word, really. But it is not enough. Not for me and not for so many of my sisters in loss who are also on this lifelong journey of life without and life after, too. What is enough is to keep sharing and being honest. My baby died. That is what happened. He was not “miscarried” into the world. He lived and then he died. I will not stop telling this truth for the comfort of anyone else.

October hits heavy for many of us loss parents.

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month with a specific day (October 15th) set aside globally to remember all these babies who were loved and who are missed beyond any words. I hate that I know this month. I hate that it sits heavy on my mind, my heart, and my whole soul. I hate that I know and love so many women who were strangers to me a year or even a few months ago. I hate that I am still fighting for the space to change the norms around loss.

Recently, my husband and I vacationed in the mountains of our South Carolina home. We are really beach lovers, but my recent love affair with hiking brought us here this year. We have trekked miles and miles to see waterfalls and caves alike. I have gorgeous photos of mountains, sunrises, and sunsets. We are together, no small feat for our military life. And I am grateful for all those things. But my heart aches, continuously. Every second of every single day for the rest of my whole life at the incompleteness we will always be.

There are no sunsets or sunrises as beautiful as my sweet boy. No photos of waterfalls that can ever erase this. This is a trip we should not even be able to be on. And that fact alone is heavier and harder than any backpacked hike could ever be.

That’s what vilomah means for me and to me. That’s what October means for me and to me. And if that makes you uncomfortable, then so be it.


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