I recently listened to a Moth Radio podcast episode about a chaplain’s experiences with the bereaved and their near-universal desire to see the body of the recent dead. The story was touching in so many ways, and it made me cry.
I cried because I am a mother who has never seen the body of her child.
This perfect, unique human that I built so carefully and purposely, I will never, ever get to remember or picture in the physical form. What was her jaw structure? Were her eyes big and round, or small? What about the shape of her nose? Mothers should be able to see their children, whatever form and stage they are, and caress them, hold them, and gaze at this miracle that they created within the womb with just time, love, and instinct.
I could have scooped up the placenta and tissue fragments I passed in the toilet before my D&E, but I didn’t. I could have said yes to the nurse’s offer to stamp my baby’s footprints onto paper, but I politely declined. I could have agreed to send her body to a local funeral home to then pick up her remains a few days later, but I opted instead to donate her to the university that I graduated from seven years prior. I could have laid her to rest in the forest at home to watch her body nourish the trees that give me oxygen every day, but instead she’s all cut up, sectioned into test tubes and pried apart to start the discussion with med students of “what can go wrong in pregnancy.” Not that there is anything at all wrong with any of these decisions, but I wish now that her body could be here on the land, with me every day, safe and sound.
The value of having tangible, physical closure when a loved one dies cannot be underestimated. Some folks are fine without having a body, or tissue, or token of remembrance or whatnot. But for me, I still grieve that I have nothing left of my baby.
Well, not quite nothing.
I have the memories of my pregnancy, my writings during and after, my emergency room and surgery clinic medical notes, my hospital bracelet, and if I ever become brave enough to make the call to request my records–her one and only ultrasound photo of her quiet body resting inside of me.
The best remembrance I have is my ring. Months after my baby died, I decided I wanted to commemorate this child, among all the other children I may carry, in a Mother’s Ring. A ring to sit on my right hand for the rest of my days, to remind me every moment of all the children that are so crucial to my identity, the children that made me into a mother. The ring is a gold band that had belonged to my great-great-grandmother before she immigrated to North America. From this ancestor to my children, this ring connects 6 generations along the maternal line, a thought that gives me goosebumps. There is just one stone cast in this gold ring: a tiny peridot gem for the month of August, when my little one was conceived and her life began inside of me.
And, though I am not consciously aware of it, I literally hold my first child within the tissues of my body.
Science now shows that fetal cells merge into and join a mother’s tissue during the months of pregnancy and remain a part of the mother’s DNA for decades, and maybe even a lifetime. And what’s more, according to this same article, “the mother’s body accumulates cells from each baby—and potentially functions as a reservoir, transferring cells from the older sibling into the younger one” (Callier). Not only will I continue to have DNA of my baby in my body, but the baby currently living and growing in my womb will inherit the DNA from their big sister as well.
And that, to me, is a pure scientific miracle. We will never, ever, forget our babies: in our hearts, in our minds, and in our very cells.