I was 19 the first time I mourned a loss. And there wasn’t really anyone around who could understand.
At the age of 19 we think we’re invincible. We may know that bad things happen, but we never think they’re going to happen to us.
I got married at 19. My husband and I were part of a group of couples who got married within an 18 month time span. Two of our couple friends already had children and a short time after our wedding, I found out I was expecting. We were ecstatic, we were thrilled—and maybe a little bit thrown. We were only married a few months and we were enjoying being a couple. But the thought of adding another person to our lives was something that made us happy.
I had my first doctor’s appointment and the reality clicked—we were going to be parents. And then I started staining. I went for an ultrasound and they told me there was no heartbeat. I may be 52 today, a mother and a grandmother, but it takes just a few minutes to become that 19-year-old girl feeling as if her life was over. I was overwhelmed with sadness and grief, as was my husband.
We had no privacy. Everybody knew about our loss—my mother, my mother-in-law, my aunt, my grandmother. As a matter of fact, I remember walking out of the sonogram place and getting into the car with my aunt and my grandmother. I can’t remember anymore why there were there, but I do remember my grandmother saying, “At least you know you can get pregnant. Some people don’t even get that.”
I know she meant well; I think I even nodded in agreement with her. Was is comforting? I don’t think so.
I knew about miscarriages. My aunt had had a traumatic one. My loss wasn’t traumatic, not even emotionally. It just made me very sad. I remember being at a friend’s wedding shortly after and feeling an overwhelming sense of grief.
The years passed and, baruch Hashem, we were blessed with four children. When our youngest was about four, I miscarried again, and again, and again. I don’t remember much about that year except feeling obsessed. I had to have another baby. And each time I experienced a loss, I didn’t feel sadness or grief, just this overwhelming sense of, “I have to have a baby. I have to. I have to.”
The third miscarriage changed all that. It was an erev Shabbos and I was staining. I called the doctor and he told me to come in right away. We were having a house full of company. It was my cousin’s aufruf and my grandparents were sleeping by us, as was my mother and some other relatives.
It was a short Friday in January. When we got to the hospital, the doctor told us I needed a DNC. I don’t remember a lot about the rest of the day, except for the doctor telling me that by the time I woke up it would be Shabbos.
It was. The hospital staff was great. They put us in a private room and we stayed there all Shabbos. Once the nurses saw that I was okay, they came in just periodically. That Shabbos was an oasis in time; just me and my husband alone on the Lower East Side. It was a great gift.
Throughout that year, I had no one to share my feelings with. I did have one friend who had experienced loss and I could talk to her. But that’s it. There was nothing to read, no one to call.
It has been more than 20 years since that loss and today I run A TIME’s pregnancy loss support program, HUG. I have had the opportunity to speak to hundreds of woman who have experienced loss in various stages: early miscarriages, second trimester losses, stillbirths, babies who lived only a short time.
What I have learned is that there is no one way to grieve this kind of loss—the loss of potential, the loss of hope, the loss of a dream. For every woman, for every couple, it’s different. The common denominator is the need for validation. Every couple needs to hear from the family and friends one thing: I wish this hadn’t happened to you. I wish you weren’t in pain. I am here to help in any way you want me to be, even if that means just sitting here and being silent.
I know that’s what I wanted to hear.
And today, no couple has to bear this pain alone. A TIME/HUG provides services in many ways: a comforting packet filled with self-care goodies and chizuk related material, monthly support groups, national teleconferences, our Kol Chaya line with recordings of all our programs, community events with great speakers. We also help arrange for Chevra Kadisha when needed, comfort doulas to be with couples during DNE and inductions, and meals for the first night at home. In addition, our medical consultants are experts in the field of reproductive health and can guide couples in making the best choices for their particular situation.
It’s comforting to know that all a couple has to do is pick up the phone and a wealth of support is waiting for them. Don’t ever think no one understands; we do.
Chumi Friedman is an editor at The Jewish Press and directs HUG, A TIME’s pregnancy loss support program. She can be reached at [email protected]