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Stillbirth: Jessie’s Story

Stillbirth – Jessie’s Story

My breasts are full of milk. My body is making an ironic and belated attempt to nourish the fetus it ejected. I went to bed at 3am so I wouldn’t again wake up at 4:30AM. I am tired of teshuva (repentance), tired of grief. Unfortunately, I am not tired enough, and I am up at 6. My hand immediately moves to my belly, which feels soft and empty. The little lump that used to greet me every morning is gone. Oh, yeah.

 

Sarah, almost 9, took it harder this time. She came in crying.

 “I don’t know, mommy, but this time I’m really sad about it. I really wanted a brother.”

She looked up at me.

“What are we doing wrong!? Why can’t you have a baby!?”

I asked her later what she meant. Did she mean medically or theologically? She shook her head and shrugged.

“I was just—I don’t know, it was just what I said.” She looked apologetic.

“It was just what you were feeling,” I said.

“Yeah,” she said.

 “You didn’t do anything wrong,” I said. “You don’t have to keep the Torah until you are bat-mitzva (12 years old), and God doesn’t hold children responsible. Everything you’re doing is practice now, so you can’t be doing anything wrong.” At that point I realized I didn’t know what she was asking. I was answering my own questions, not hers.

 

Later, I realized that Chana, 3, was still under the impression that I had a baby in my belly.

“Chana?” I said. “The baby in my belly came out.”

She looked at me. “But it’s not Pesach (Passover),” she said.

I had told her that the baby was coming out at Pesach. Optimistic at the time, but I figured I’d deal with it if it didn’t. And here we are.

 “I know. It came out now,” I said.

She looked delighted. “I want to hold the baby,” she said.

She had been asking when it was coming out, planning to hold him on her lap like the babies she knows: all the babies the age of my first non-baby, who died last year.

“He died,” I said. She doesn’t know the word “died” and didn’t understand what I was saying.

“Where is he?” she asked again.

“He came out and he wasn’t ready. He died,” I said again.

“Who took him?” she asked. Then her eyes lit with understanding: “The doctors?” I had been going to doctors about twice a week at that point, trying to stop the situation.

I was relieved she understood. “Yes, the doctors took him. He wasn’t ready.”

She understood. “Mommy, you get a new baby. She come out when she ready and I hold her.”

 

Ah, the optimism of the three-year-old. How many babies can I stand to have move inside me and “come out before they are ready.”?

 

That wasn’t the end of my discussion with Chana. The next morning, Chana crawled into bed with me. I’d been up since 4:30 and looking forward to seeing her.

She said to me, “Who is going to give you a new baby?”

This is in line with similar questions she asks: “Who changes the traffic light from green to red?” “Where did my bracelet come from?” “Who made the playground?”. She doesn’t understand my answers: “the city,” “a boutique,” “people.”

When I paused, she asked, “The doctors?” Ah, then I understood.

Hashem (God).”                 

 “Who?” she asked.                              

Hashem will give me a new baby,” I said. I hope, I added mentally.

She didn’t understand. “What’s his name?” she asked.

“His name is Hashem,” I said.  Chana still didn’t understand:

“What’s his last name?” she wanted to know.

“He doesn’t have a last name. His name is Hashem. Just Hashem,” I said.

“Mommy,” she said to me, “I don’t know who you’re talking about.” And she changed the subject.

 

And a third time she came over to me and told me that there will be a new baby that will come out and she will hold. I know in 3-year-old speech, a declarative statement is really a wish. I feel much like a 3-year-old myself, making wishes to an ephemeral parent who understands my want, and whose decision to give it to me or not is based on a calculation my three-year-old brain can’t comprehend.

 

It is a relief to be out of bed. I can feed myself (though I always have a tough time nourishing myself after a fetus dies), and I can feed my family again. I can straighten my home. Although I have afterbirth pains, they are not round the clock contractions anymore, and I am almost giddy with delight to not be in physical pain anymore. I am grateful to live in an Advil era. Women used to have to bear the afterbirth pangs. With Advil, I almost don’t feel them. There is a vicious glee in blithely taking Advil after so many months of not taking drugs that might harm the fetus. Also, the blood doesn’t freak me out. That’s also a relief. I always dreaded seeing blood that meant my fetus was in danger. Now when I go to the bathroom, I don’t worry that I’ll push out the fetus. It’s over. Everything about it is a relief except that another baby is dead.

 

When we found out I was pregnant this time, we were guarded. We’ll see, we said to ourselves. We caught ourselves when we talked about a due date. We’ll see, we said. As the months went by, we began talking about a Pesach bris (circumcision). We breathed when we made it through the first trimester. My parents and in-laws were jubilant. I couldn’t talk to them; they couldn’t understand why I wasn’t happy. I mostly pretended I wasn’t pregnant. I tried not to think about it. But of course we hoped and were happy and did think about it. Sneakily. We weren’t “getting our hopes up”, but they were up anyway. Other people get pregnant and expect to have a baby. To me, being pregnant does not mean there will be a baby. People thought that, when I got pregnant again, I would “get better” from losing the last one. Now is the hard part. We have to get through the next 4 weeks.

 

I cried when I found out it was a boy. I cried because now I knew what it was, and it may die. I would have cried for a girl too. The gender makes it more real. But even as I cried, I hoped. I thought he would make it. I picked out a name and planned to raise him and thought about his bris. I first felt him move on the day after the contractions and bleeding worsened. I was sorry that I could feel him; I didn’t want to feel another baby that would die.

 

Will I get to have a healthy perfect baby that will grow to bris, torah, and mitzvos (good deeds)? Do I have strength to even try?

 

I miss him so much.

 

Jessie Fischbein has, thank G-d, since had a healthy baby boy, and is P”G expecting again.

She is the author of ‘Infertility in the Bible: How the Matriarchs Changed their Fate; How You Can Too’, published by Devora Publishing.

Posted in Stillbirth, Stillbirth.

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