I felt cheated out of the comfort, love and support that families receive for any other type of loss.
By Wendy L. Lyon
My pastor directed me to write down everything I felt about this whole anguishing experience – it became my “Letter to God.” Writing it was no picnic. I’d never done anything like this before. We modern day Protestants are used to formal, in-church, prepared confessions of faith. Did I really want to do this? Did I need this? What did I feel? How could I accept responsibility for letting my baby die? But then I though, who but God could best understand my son’s death? Now that our baby was gone what did I have to lose? No wait! Wasn’t there a rule… something about “Thou shalt not kill”? How could I tell God, the creator of heaven and earth and man, that I chose t let my son die? He’ll never accept it, it’s too much. And even if He does accept and forgive—how, oh how will I ever forgive myself?
Needless to say, all these questions led to some pretty intense discussions for me. I felt so ignorant, so emotional, so afraid. Now, in hindsight, I really believe that my own personal anguish during this whole grief period was based on doubt and some sort of feeling of wrong doing. My husband and I were reluctant to tell people about how that baby died—my in-laws were not told until several months later when we could discuss this in person. The telephone is a cold, hard, unemotional instrument that somehow can’t communicate true feelings. We did not share the details of this loss, this death of our child. The pain and anguish I experienced after 22 hours of panic-stricken labor to hysterically deliver a dead, tiny baby boy and have him whisked away never to see again was beyond communicating. But that is precisely what I felt and what I needed to share.
These special circumstances, this extraordinary death was even that much more traumatic than any other loss! And nobody knew! That was the devastating part – I had carried a child, decided to let it die, participated in its death and couldn’t tell anyone! I guess I felt I wanted the whole world to know about this terrible, abominable obligation. But what would they say? Would they judge me? Had I done something so wrong that I felt I had to hide it, that I had to be careful whom I did tell, and whom I didn’t? I felt cheated out of the comfort, love and support that families receive for any other type of loss.
There was no acknowledgement that our son ever existed, no funeral, no telephone calls, no condolences. It was like nothing ever happened. Did I imagine the whole thing? Was it just a nightmare and I would wake up and everything would be fine? Our choice had been right, hadn’t it? Somewhere deep inside me I knew it was, but my heart was ripped open and bleeding and not much good for anything but tears. My body rejected any nonsense about not being pregnant anymore and the empty space where the baby had been ached and bled until the 40-week cycle was over. If I was so sure the choice was right, why all the doubt, fear and anguish. Part of it was because I had not been allowed to say “Hello” to this dear child of mine whom I knew so well, yet didn’t. Part of it was because I could never say, “Goodbye.” He was gone forever, wasn’t he? And part of it was having to face my emotions.
Writing that letter to God was difficult; it took so much time reflecting, wondering, writing. Questioning myself, analyzing to the best of my distraught abilities. I changed it every day. Some days it was too painful to read. In the process though, I was putting words to my emotions and that alone comforted me. Yes, this was what I really felt and what happened and what I believed. I had to believe, from my reading about grief, that all these intense feelings were not weakness or faults. They were completely normal. I was normal. I was not a monster. I was an ordinary human being who had just participated in the extraordinary death of her baby. All the shock, trauma and overwhelming sadness were normal. I had to believe that I was not really going crazy.
I would like to reproduce my letter for you but I can’t—it’s gone. I can, though, share some of what I remember where the important details. I told God how ashamed I was that I felt I couldn’t properly care for a handicapped child. I was afraid that I would not be able to deal with his disabilities. Having only two days to decide, my first impressions were to take this child away. How sorry I felt that I had done this to my baby. How angry I was that this was happening to me, that I was forced beyond my capabilities to make a decision. How so incapable I felt. I was so sorry that we had to interrupt our child’s life, but deep down I knew my baby would never have to suffer. I thanked God that we were allowed the opportunity to intervene, to spare our child possible trauma and pain. I thanked Him for the five months I was able to carry that child and love him. This was something I would cherish forever. In retrospect, I know that the thought required to compose a “Letter to God” played an important role in my grief work and growing acceptance.
This is an excerpt from Wendy Lyon’s book A Mother’s Dilemma: A spiritual search for meaning follow pregnancy interruption after prenatal diagnosis.
©Copyright 1993 by Wendy L. Lyon, published here with permission
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