By Dave Andrusko
I will be off for the rest of the week and I wanted to make sure I told you about “THANKSGIVING IN MONGOLIA: Adventure and heartbreak at the edge of the earth,” by Ariel Levy which appeared in this week’s New Yorker.
It is Ms. Levy’s deeply sorrowful account of her miscarriage while on assignment in, of all places, Mongolia. Over the decades I have read many stories of wanted babies lost, despite all that the mother could do. And, like anyone with a huge extended family, there have been many miscarriages in the Andrusko/Castle clan. But perhaps because our daughter-in-law recently delivered out second grandchild safely, this essay really hit home
Tragically, Levy blames herself for flying thousands of miles while in her 19th week, although her doctor assures her that had nothing to do with the loss of her baby boy. (The doctor told her she had a placental abruption, a very rare condition and that her miscarriage could have happened any place. Levy lost her baby in her hotel room.)
While there are a few asides that are hardly PG, I would strongly encourage you to read her narrative. While it is very difficult to read, there are whole sections that remind us just how developed, how amazingly beautiful the unborn child actually is and how profoundly we grieve when a child is lost.
What follows is an extensive quote, which begins just after she writes of tremendous pain so frightful it drops her to her knees:
“I felt an unholy storm move through my body, and after that there is a brief lapse in my recollection; either I blacked out from the pain or I have blotted out the memory. And then there was another person on the floor in front of me, moving his arms and legs, alive. I heard myself say out loud, ‘This can’t be good.’ But it looked good. My baby was as pretty as a seashell.
“He was translucent and pink and very, very small, but he was flawless. His lovely lips were opening and closing, opening and closing, swallowing the new world. For a length of time I cannot delineate, I sat there, awestruck, transfixed. Every finger, every toenail, the golden shadow of his eyebrows coming in, the elegance of his shoulders—all of it was miraculous, astonishing. I held him up to my face, his head and shoulders filling my hand, his legs dangling almost to my elbow. I tried to think of something maternal I could do to convey to him that I was, in fact, his mother, and that I had the situation completely under control. I kissed his forehead and his skin felt like a silky frog’s on my mouth.
“I was vaguely aware that there was an enormous volume of blood rushing out of me, and eventually that seemed interesting, too. I looked back and forth between my offspring and the lake of blood consuming the bathroom floor and I wondered what to do about the umbilical cord connecting those two things. It was surprisingly thick and ghostly white, a twisted human rope. I felt sure that it needed to be severed—that’s always the first thing that happens in the movies. I was afraid that if I didn’t cut that cord my baby would somehow suffocate. I didn’t have scissors. I yanked it out of myself with one swift, violent tug.
“In my hand, his skin started to turn a soft shade of purple. I bled my way across the room to my phone and dialled the number for Cox’s doctor. I told the voice that answered that I had given birth in the Blue Sky Hotel and that I had been pregnant for nineteen weeks. The voice said that the baby would not live. ‘He’s alive now,’ I said, looking at the person in my left hand. The voice said that he understood, but that it wouldn’t last, and that he would send an ambulance for us right away. I told him that if there was no chance the baby would make it I might as well take a cab. He said that that was not a good idea.
“Before I put down my phone, I took a picture of my son. I worried that if I didn’t I would never believe he had existed.”
She tells us that she cried all the time in the beginning (“It seemed to me that grief was leaking out of me from every orifice”) and still does, although “just” once a day.
People try to say the right thing—sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. But Levy wants them (and us) to know this loss was of a somebody, not an abstraction or a “potential person.”
She writes, “I had given birth, however briefly, to another human being, and it seemed crucial that people understand this. Often, after I told them, I tried to get them to look at the picture of the baby on my phone.”
By everything she wrote Levy’s healing will be very slow, very gradual. Perhaps this is because she was older when she became pregnant, having not really thought that parenthood was necessarily for her. Although she never says it in so many words, Levy likely believes this was her only chance to bear a child.
Say a prayer for her and all the other mothers who have lost babies to a miscarriage.