Death has been a little too familiar of late. On the same day my friend lost her brother my uncle passed away. A man in his mid-70s, I recall him mostly as shy and soft-spoken — the straight man to my gregarious father. It has been 20 years since I last saw my uncle so my sadness upon hearing of his passing was predominantly tied to the loss I knew my father was feeling. He and his older brother were practically Irish twins, altar boys who while sweet faced got into more than their share of trouble.
Watching the images of my friend and her brother at his memorial service my friend told me that the recent loss of a parent in no way prepared her for the loss of a sibling. As she described it, you lose a part of yourself, your childhood. In a conversation with my mother on the same topic — I was still worrying about my dad — she told me that yes, losing a sibling is more difficult. Losing a parent is part of the natural order though she assured me she and my father have no plans. Then what she said next had a delayed impact. The full force of it visited me during a minor bout of insomnia. She added “that’s why the loss of a child would be the most devastating.” It would just turn your life upside down. I assured her that I had no plans either.
As I thought more about our conversation later I realized again how western society assigns value, grieving and support to different forms of loss. The loss of a parent, a spouse, a sibling, a friend, and the granddaddy of loss, a child — all have an understood mourning and response. All except, that is, for the loss of a child-to-be.
In some religions, such as Japan’s Shinto as Peggy Orenstein’s book points out, there exists a mourning ceremony for miscarriages. An enlightened, empathetic but unfortunately minority view of the experience many couples face. Those of us who suffer loss through IVF or early pregnancy don’t get the benefit of the traditional grieving and support system. Being told to “get over it” is typically the extent of the support we get from society — if we get any response at all for that matter.
While much, oh so much, goes into trying to bring a child into existence with cumulative success at each step of the finely orchestrated process — from egg follicle development, egg harvesting, fertilization to embryos — all too often the result is private anguish and heartache.
My loss after several IVFs remains so visceral, so real that even a few years later I continue to mourn the loss of my children. Yes, mother, I said upon reflection in the still of the night, I have a very real understanding of how devastating losing a child can be.