by Liz Ligawa
Her name is Olivia. And six years ago, she was expected to be born this month.
I was finally enjoying a stress-free day. After just wrapping up classes for this semester, I allowed myself to enjoy some respite from academic rigor by scrolling, unthinkingly, through my Facebook newsfeed. As I scrolled, I laughed…smiled…blocked (you just have to do that sometimes), and then suddenly stopped. NPR was seeking feedback on their Facebook page about what people “wished others knew about miscarriage”. I stared blankly at the screen of my iPhone, and felt uncomfortably, unnervingly bare. “How did this find me?” I wondered as tears rolled at pace with sighs. I tried to continue scrolling down as if I never saw the post. I looked for things that were funny. I looked for things that were cute. I looked for anything that would help me escape from dealing with the dynamite that had so casually been laid in my lap. This escape I could not find.
Our society has carried a message pretty well. The message we have historically been exposed to is one that makes womanhood synonymous to motherhood. Even a woman’s age is labeled with respect to having children- “child-bearing age”. The moment we become engaged, we start receiving inquiries regarding if we will have children. As soon as we sashay down the aisle, we are asked when we will have children. As soon as the first child is out, we are asked when we will have another. It seems to never end. Now, I am not against women, or children, or women having children, I just wonder what message we are sending to ourselves and other women when motherhood is not a part of our story.
I never expected to no longer be expecting. I did not anticipate the certainty of loss. As the news that I was carrying ignited applause, the fact that I miscarried would be silently observed. Unfortunately, I received this silence as a directive since I also did not know how to respond.
I scrolled back to the NPR Facebook page. I did not have a plan for what I would do once I got to the page. I was not even sure if I wanted to contribute to the survey. I just knew I had to go back. I cautiously started to view the comments that were listing. I wondered what truths would register in my heart, but also feared the shame that could also be exposed. Comment after comment, they kept on coming. Line upon line, they took ownership of space. One after the other, they told a story, and expressed truth. Post, after post, after post: Grief. Shame. Uncertainty. Self-Blame. Disbelief. Scorn. Fear. Rejection. Loss. Loss. Loss. I recognized my story. I recognized myself. What I did not understand is why we discuss this loss in such muted terms. Why do we whisper these wounds? Is it wrong to suffer loss?
As a newlywed, I was told that I would have plenty of time to try for more. As an expectant mother, I just wanted my baby.
As I looked at the commentary, I started to wonder how much our society’s view of womanhood and motherhood had to do with our personal experiences of loss. Should grief be automatically flanked by guilt and shame? If motherhood and womanhood were not used interchangeably, could we appreciate each more? If I am a woman, is it okay not to be a mother? My personal experience of guilt and shame were founded on the belief that having a child was as simple as being a woman. It is just not true. Some of the women who have impacted my life the most are those without birth children, or who have experienced loss of a child. I consider myself a part of them, and I am deeply privileged to be one of theirs.
In considering how I could listen more closely to others so that I may hear their whispered wounds, I learned that I first must bear witness to my own. When I ran across the Facebook post, it had been a year since I had spoken Olivia’s name, and just as long in acknowledging that pain. In this way, I am thankful for the survey.
So, on this day that mothers are celebrated, I am mindful of the mothers who have suffered loss; I am respectful of the dear ones who long to mother; I am honored by the ones who mother alongside me; and I am grateful for the ones who mother me.
I grieve the first one of my womb
With hidden words
And muted hues
Silently and underneath
The uninquiring pleasantries
Stifling questions held the applause
Of things to be, now just what was
And memory’s unforgiving stare
Credits me for what’s not there
I grieve in syncopated breaths
When stillness fills the room
I grieve in smiles and how-do-you-dos
When still is gone too soon
We spread the news too soon I guess
But even those who knew
Are scared to hear or tell of you
The first one of my womb
If this post spoke to you because of a personal experience of miscarriage, stillbirth, early infant loss, or infertility, you may be interested to learn about Cradled by Love, Hope and Healing an organization in Waco that offers individual support as well as weekly peer support groups.
This post was written by Liz Ligawa. Liz is a graduate student of Baylor University where she has found the perfect expression of her community-centered heart in the MDiv/MSW degree program. With a concentration on Community Practice, she is also the adoring mother of one son, Elijah, who prefers to be regarded in public as Spider-Man. She may be reached at [email protected].
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.