A little while ago, when I was about seven months pregnant, I had a dream that I miscarried (just so there’s no confusion, it was a DREAM! Not real!). In my dream I looked at the little dead body, so close to being fully formed, and mourned. Not for the loss of a child but for the loss of an idea.
I mourned for the loss of the potential second child I had so hoped to have, not for the loss of a particular beloved individual child. I mourned the fact that I would have to start pregnancy over from scratch, going through the morning sickness and and all of that uncomfortability all over again, not for the loss of a person that I loved. I mourned the fact that all of our carefully planned timing would now be off, not the death of a baby.
When I woke up and analyzed the feelings I had had in that dream, I was surprised. I had been taught growing up that the fetus was a person long before being born into the world, and that mothers automatically bonded with their fetuses, mother to child, from extremely early on. I had been taught that if a pro-choice woman became pregnant, she would realize right away that her fetus was as much a person as the baby she would hold in her arms months and months in the future. I had been taught that there was no way that a woman could feel her fetus kick within her and not love it as her child.
While I had long since made my switch from anti-abortion to pro-choice, I had not reevaluated these specific teachings. But that one dream at seven months pregnant made me realize how very wrong they were. I had felt my fetus kick, and for seven months it had been growing within me. And yet…I clearly did not see it as my own special and individual child. I had not bonded with it. For me it remained a potential child.
Now this is not to say that it is this way for every woman. Every woman is different and every woman approaches pregnancy slightly differently. For example, reader Paula had the following to say of her own experience:
I have to say that though I understand the perspective that an embryo is not quite the same as a baby, that perspective–which seems to be the norm in the medical community–can sure as heck be confusing for a woman who is having a first-trimester miscarriage. As I did just a month ago. As so very many women do, I’ve learned since then.
You’ve cherished it and thought of it as your child for a month and a half, two months, and everyone around you has happily shared that point of view–but now that it’s dying, the nurse says it’s just “products of conception.” It’s been demoted. It’s just a period with some lumps in it, flush it down the toilet. I’m so very glad I didn’t do that. I buried it in the flowerbed and put a black stone over it, I can see it from the kitchen window, it gives me such comfort to see the flowers around it. That may seem sentimental and dumb, but good Lord was it necessary for my heart.
It would be as silly to say that no pregnant woman bonds with her fetus or sees it as her child as it is to say that every pregnant woman bonds with her fetus and sees it as her child. One woman might take a first trimester miscarriage in stride while another is devastated. One woman might mourn for a lost child after a miscarriage at seven months while the other mourns the fact that she has to do the whole pregnancy thing again to get the potential child she wanted. I think sensitivity requires being attune to both, and not generalizing your own experiences onto everyone else.
But the point remains – what I was taught growing up in the anti-abortion movement, that every woman instantly bonds with her fetus as a mother to a child, is incorrect. The idea that every woman can’t help but mourn a lost child after an abortion or a miscarriage is simply wrong. Some may, but not all do. For some women, in contrast, the fetus remains a potential child all the way up until birth. Indeed, even now, as I approach that point, I still see my fetus that way.
And someday soon, when my baby is born, I very much look forward to bonding with him as an individual, as the sweet and precious child I have so carefully planned to welcome into my family.