Dr. Julie serves as Senior Contributing Psychologist for
By Dr. Julie Bindeman
In Middle and High School, I often felt like an outsider. I’d stand at the periphery of a circle of girls and listen, hoping I could contribute something and share their knowing looks. But then I would, and instead of being included, I would feel awkward, and the circle would close tighter, firmly suggesting that I remain on the outside.
Now I’m an adult. Most of the time, I am able to feel included. But I notice there is a place where I still feel like I’m standing on the periphery.
I am not a stranger to baby loss—in fact I’m quite intimate with it. As a result of my losses, I have studied it, written about it, and I work with others as they wade through their grief. I’m about as seeped within the community as I can be. And yet, despite all of this, I’m still the girl standing on the outside.
All of you loss moms can empathize when I mention that I have lost three babies. My first was an early loss—6 weeks along, although I didn’t learn until I was supposed to be 8 weeks. A miscarriage. This is a fairly common story, and my feelings are no doubt familiar to many. My subsequent pregnancy after the miscarriage was fraught with early anxiety. Again, I imagine this is a place where we all can understand one another.
To start, I found out I was pregnant because I was bleeding. I was convinced I was going to miscarry again, and this time, I didn’t get to even enjoy a few moments of knowing I was pregnant. As it was, the bleeding was separate from the pregnancy, and the baby was fine. I was monitored, and the bleeding eventually stopped after a few weeks. I left the first trimester behind, with the baby growing, and feeling like I was in the safe zone.
This baby boy died during my 21st week of pregnancy. At this point in my story, I could stop. I would be enveloped by too many other women who have felt the agony of loss. But if I stopped at this point, I would be inauthentic to my son, for that is not his whole story.
And here is where I stand outside of the grief circle. My son’s death was not a surprise after a routine doctor’s visit. Nor was it the result of preterm labor. At 20 weeks, we learned that our son had no brain. A week later, I consented to my labor being induced, knowing that our brief hello would simultaneously mean goodbye.
This is the part where well-meaning women who have experienced loss start to close in the circle. It’s the part where the hierarchy of loss comes up. This hierarchy occurs subtly and most of us have contributed to it. We feel alone in our loss, and then we hear a story that is more heartbreaking than our own. Perhaps the mother was further along, or had an infant. Perhaps she felt the baby kick or was in the home stretch of the third trimester. All of these circumstances of loss are horrible. Mine is too. Mine is no better or worse than anyone else’s—the early detected loss or the cord-injury at birth. What adds the layer that tends to make other loss moms uncomfortable is the distinction that I chose my loss.
This is semi-true. I did not choose to have a baby that would not be compatible with life. But I did decide that I would end this baby’s suffering before it began.
My next pregnancy was uneventful, until the 17th week when her brain started to mimic that of the baby before her. The same cadre of tests revealed the same result. And once again, I chose loss. I made the choice of grief. Many women have a poor prenatal diagnosis and they choose to carry to term. Depending on the diagnosis, they might know that their baby won’t survive birth, or if it does, it will die shortly thereafter. They also choose when to grieve. Their choice is no better or worse than mine.
My hope in writing this is to call out the hierarchy we identify in grief and to support one another as a total community. To let the early losses be on par with the later ones. To let the losses as a result of choice be equal to those that were spontaneous. My hope is that those that made a decision that no mother wants to make can feel like this is a safe-space to share the full story of their baby, and not just the edges. We all hurt. Our pain is very real. And our pregnancies in the future won’t be the same.
Dr. Julie Bindeman Is a clinical psychologist at Integrative Therapy Center of Greater Washington and serves as Senior Contributing Psychologist for Reconceiving Loss. This article is reproduced with her permission and was originally posted here: “The Circle by Dr. Julie Bindeman”