For the Not-Yet-Born: Reflections on Miscarriage, Ritual, and Healing
By Levita D. Mondie-Sapp
You are life
So I asked for your remains
Despite their policy to keep and examine
After all, youwere sent through me
And for at least sixty-three days I knew you were coming
And only the day before yesterday
I imagined you sitting
in a high chair
at the dinner table
with me, daddy,and your sisters
making slobbery faces
But this morning theysucked out all the traces
And planned to discard the“material”
But I asked for you
For ceremony and ritual:
Libation at dawn
Names called from Great Grandma Willie
To Grandpa Tom
Seeds of my favorite fruit tree
forall those who have come
Planted with water in fertile ground
Accompanied by sacred sounds
played by gifted hands
that will pick and eat from you again and again and again. . .
The day after Mother’s Day I suffered my second miscarriage. On Mother’s Day, I actually imagined his face sitting at the table smiling with his big sisters. Or were we going to have another beautiful daughter? I was excited and joyous at the thought of bearing a third child. I had begun to tell almost every other person whom I met “we’re expecting another one.”
“Congratulations,” was the most common response. On Sunday night I finally told my mother-in-law. We talked for almost two hours that night about all kinds of stuff. The last thirty minutes of our conversation were about my being pregnant. We talked about the possibility of me taking time off from my job to be with this baby.“I can’t see myself going back to work after three months,” I had declared to several people. I had even begun writing a proposal for my school on how to better accommodate those faculty members who have children--plans around my baby.
The smell of fresh blood. . .my baby seeping out of me red drop by red drop.. .
“There is a but no heart motion,” the ultra sound technician informs me.
“The baby isdead,” the doctor bluntly states in response to my husband’s question about the medical jargon used to explain the result of my testsand ultrasound.
I begin to cry to the point of sobbing. My husband is there to hold my hand, embrace me, and assure me that it is not my fault.
The doctor tells me that at age 33, I’m young, and I can have another one. But I wanted this one and the one before that. . . But there is a baby lifeless inside of me right now. I know that because the red drops continue to seep. While everyone else around me is focused on my future, my thoughts cradle the now demised fetus that is already trying to expel itself from my body. Although I’m almost eleven weeks pregnant, the fetus appears to be at seven weeks of development the doctor says. For over twenty days my body hasbeen a walking tomb housing a body whose heart had long stopped beating.
“I don’t feel pregnant,” I said to my husband just days before the first red drop.
“How far along are you?” asked my little sister Ashley on Mother’s Day, just one day before the blood stained tissue. “Are you past the point where something can go wrong?”
On Saturday I woke up with this strange feeling like I needed to be alone but that I desperately needed to be around my family. Tomorrow was going to be Mother’s Day and I was feeling sadness. I knew it had to do with memories of Diane, my own mother, who died four days after Mother’s Day in 1996. It was like she was holding on just for my two sisters and me. One last Mother’s Day she must have said to herself. Four days later the ambulance brought her home.“You’re at home,” we told her as the paramedics rolled her in.
“I’m home?” she asked.
“You’re home,” we assured her.
With the comfort of knowing this, she transitioned less than three hours later.
Seven days later we had her funeral and burial. . .ceremonies thatcelebrate the life that the person lived; closure is what they aresupposed to initiate.
Before being released from the ER at 11p.m. Monday, the doctor instructs me to contact my OBGYN the next day for a follow-up. I do just that, and in the process I learn about theoptions that I have of a DNC in the office or at the hospital or, heexplains, I can have four tablets put in my vagina and the fetus willexpel itself in 24 hours.
“There can be severe bleedingand cramping and you could still end up at the hospital in need of aDNC,” he explains. I opt for the DNC.
The ER doctor informed me Monday night that I should save any material that comes out of my body and return it to the hospital to examine. But I would like to keep it and bury it in a ceremony that recognizes that a baby once lived inside of me and had transitioned to the other side before being actualized on this side. I need closure. Closure that I never quiteexperienced with the spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) that Iexperienced two years ago. The more I mentioned my miscarriage to other women the more I realized that countless numbers of us have experienced similar pain without any closure.
“I had a miscarriage at five months. . .I used the bathroom and the baby came out in the toilet,” a colleague over fifty years of age told me.
“My sister has four children but she had five miscarriages along the way. . .” another colleague shared.
Many of us have lost our unborn babies. And many of us had no ritual to acknowledge the babies that once were because we had to get back to our mates, back to our children, back to work, back to everyone and everything except ourselves.
Having had two beautiful daughters before two miscarriages I know what life inside of me feels like, and after two miscarriages I know death, too. I felt them growing and then they didn’t exist anymore. Spontaneously (divinely) their development ceased. There is matter to prove that they existed and yet no acknowledgment that they departed.
And so I’m left to envision a ceremony.
Just as I’d requested the placenta from and Niara’s births, I would request the remnants of my last baby. I’d take it home, gather the seeds of my favorite fruit tree, I’d buy some actual fruit of the tree that I am going to plant. The fruit would represent he harvest, the future that was to come forth as a result of this spirit coming. Water. A rock. Incense. Pictures of my ancestors would all be part of the ceremony. Those who had acknowledged the presence of this baby would be there, my husband T’Chaka, our daughters Yetunde and Niara who had begun telling people three months before I was pregnant that I was having a baby, my sister Ashley, my sister-in-law Carla, my children’s godparents David and Linda, and my friends Phyllis and Jennifer, the spirit of our family and friends who couldn’t make it, and the spirit of our ancestors watching over us.
I’ll have the ceremony in my yard. I’ll plant four trees on that day. One for my oldest daughter Yetunde with the placenta that nurtured her and came out on theday she was born. One for Niara planted with the placenta that nurtured her and that came out of me when she first suckled at my breasts. The third tree would be planted in honor of the first baby that I miscarried. The fourth would be planted in honor of the baby that is being removed from me today with the matter that will be removed. The ceremony would end with an affirmation about life, death, and rebirth. An affirmation for me and the life that I am blessed to live, the children, husband, sisters, family, and friends that I am blessed to have, the release (death) of those things that I no longer need, and the birth of new things in their place.
Every year when those trees bloom and bear fruit, I’ll be reminded of the life that once grew inside of me. I’ll do it on the Thursday after Mother’s Day, the anniversary of the day my mother transitioned. Somehow I imagined myself taking that day off.
<="style18">Levita D. Mondie-Sapp lives in Washington, D.C. withher husband T’Chaka and their two lovely daughters, Yetunde andNiara. She teaches courses on American Literature and Race, Gender, andReligion at . In memory of her late mother Diane Mondie,Levita started a vegetarian cooking service called Vita’s Eaterythat provides cooking lessons, personal chef services, and catering forsmall groups.