Warning: This entry is sensitive.
Whoever said "sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me" was either disillusioned or a liar. In fact, the effects of stigmatizing, isolating, devaluing, and marginalizing language cause deep psychological and social pain that often endures long beyond physical wounding.
In 1994, on her due date to be born, my baby- all 8 lbs and 22" of her- with her long piano fingers and her rolls of wrist fat- her black curly hair and deep olive skin- her long torso and long eyelashes- died. Yes, you heard me: My beloved baby- my child- my daughter. Death came into my body, brutally violating me and my motherhood. I felt psychologically raped.
And then, in a flash, she was gone.
Only moments before I was to give life, my Judas body gave Death.
The shock of her death continues to reverberate through the walls of my life. And my suffering was prolonged and exacerbated by the dismissing responses of others, responses that lingered for many months and even years in the aftermath.
Her death also continues to inspire me to live more fully and joyfully. Nearly 17 years later.
Now, back to "sticks and stones".
Let me say this with great clarity to my academic and research colleagues. To the feminists who read my blog. To other bereaved parents and leaders of support groups. To authors of books about grief. To mental health professionals. To obstetrical physicians and nurses and social workers. To religious leaders worldwide. To anyone who will listen. To the dead and and to the living. To G*d and the constellations and the angels and the birds:
My baby daughter died.
I lost my beloved child.
Did you hear me?
I did not experience
the "loss of a pregnancy" or
a "failed reproductive event" or
a "negative outcome of pregnancy"
and the lying language you continue to foist on me is infuriating. I will never, ever, ever support events, books, research, and any other movement that propagate this lying, offensive, diminishing language.*
This process of naming- the nomenclature of death- has an outcome that can be measured by society's perception to the death of a baby. It's sublime effects are used for social and political manipulation and misappropriation. It is subtly powerful and insidious.
This misuse of language encourages the systemic dismissal of this tragedy, inferring that the traumatic experience of 10 months of pregnancy, hours and hours of excruciating labor, only to then give birth to a dead baby, followed by postpartum reminders such as breast milk, burning arms, sleepless nights, pacing the floors, hormonal insanity, physical recovery, and indescribable grief isn't worthy of mourning just as any other child's death.
Rather, the implicit message is that this trauma was merely an "adverse outcome of pregnancy" or a "pregnancy loss" - and not really the death - or loss if you prefer- of a baby- a son or a daughter. And thus, these children, themselves, are devalued. This translates to the social oppression of thousands of grieving mothers worldwide who are relegated to the depths of despair alone.
And this type of lying language is in part why- in 1994- her death was treated with contempt and disregard.
It is in part why research funds have been channeled elsewhere.
It is in part why women have suffered in silence for decades, fearful to speak their children's names.
It is in part why- even at support groups for grieving parents and in textbooks about death- stillbirth vis-a-vis "fetal demise or fetal deaths" are segregated as the 'other.'
And it takes an enormous emotional toll on women to be faced with constant assaults on their child's dignity, fearful to tell the real story of their child's death for risk of the "Oh, well, at least..." comments, or "no big deal-why are you so upset?- glances." (For the record: I work with many parents who are survivors of suicide and they also face many similar effects of disenfranchised grief).
I implore you- use your voices if you share these feelings. Those who do not help to change this prevaricative language are complicit in this social misconstruing of reality, passively contributing to the suffering of women who will, in the future, face this unspeakable loss.
And to current or future potential colleagues: Please don't email me and ask me to support your research or your event or your whatever if your project makes reference to a baby's death as pregnancy loss or reproductive loss or whatever other lying nomenclature happens to be featured in the literature on that day.
Speak the truth. A beloved baby- a precious child- died. A child who is just as valuable and loved and worth of dignity and mourning as any other child.
Remember that sticks and stones can only break bones. But words can wound forever.
*Note, please read this part carefully: This is not about the use of the words loss vs. death. It is about understanding the difference between the terminology of "pregnancy or reproductive loss or reproductive failure" and "infant or baby loss (or infant death)".