Dreams of Miscarriage

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.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • machintelligence

    I will believe that religions truly believe that a fetus is a human being when they hold funerals for miscarriages.
    Is a miscarriage God’s way of saying “OOPS”?

  • Dianne

    I had my child lateish in life and have a possibly suspicious gene (of the sort that causes problems only when present in 2 copies) and so had an amnio at 14 or so weeks. In the end, everything was good. But my main feeling on getting the amnio wasn’t, “I’m going to find out if my child is too sick to live” but rather “I’m about to find out if that 14 weeks of nausea and fatigue I just went through were a total waste of time and I’ll have to start all over or not.” For me, at least, the fetus wasn’t a baby in my mind yet. Also it looked like a figure 8 on the ultrasound, not a baby. Other women may feel differently. I might have felt differently if it had come down to an actual diagnosis that demanded a decision. But at least in theory, the feeling just wasn’t there yet.

    Best wishes for your and your fetus’ continued health! May you have a completely uncomplicated pregnancy and deliver a healthy baby!

  • Twist

    “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’m wondering, if pro-lifers really believe that all women instantly bond with their fetuses, planned or not, why they think there are still abortions? I mean, if all it takes for a woman who is staunchly pro-choice to turn pro-life is to become pregnant, surely there wouldn’t be any abortions, or at least no abortions for non-medical reasons

    • SophieUK

      This does seem like a very poor argument! I have only heard the “lite” version, that being that as soon as a pro-life woman has actually had a baby, she will no longer be able to conceive of aborting another pregnancy. As if all women who have abortions are childless.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      A pro-lifer would say that (a) boyfriends often pressure/force their girlfriends to have abortions; (b) planned parenthood et al serve as “abortion mills” willing to do anything to get women to hand over their money in response for abortions, and they therefore lie and say “it’s just a lump” and otherwise try to cloud women’s consciousness; and (c) many women are simply selfish, willing to murder their children in order to be able to continue their selfish single lifestyles. And probably there are more things they would say, but those are the three I get off the top of my head.

      • minuteye

        But… if a woman who gets an abortion is consciously murdering her child for selfish material reasons, why the heck would you want that person to be a mother? I’m not convinced people who make that argument have ever really examined it.

      • Twist

        I guess I have the biggest problem with (c) out of those. If someone who was pregnant, had bonded with the fetus and thought of it as her child, as exactly the same as a baby she could hold in her arms, and aborted it regardless so she could continue her single lifestyle, isn’t that the same, to this hypothetical woman, as killing a one year old becuase it was getting in the way of her life? In that case, should she be trusted to raise children at all, let alone forced into it against her will?

      • Twist

        … and if I spend fifteen minutes typing out a seven live response, someone will usually beat me to what I’m trying to say ;-)

        I’d like to add that when I was confronted with this decision (and I in no way saw what I was doing as ‘murdering my child’) that alongside my desire to go back to school etc. part of my decision was based on the welfare of the potential eventual child. Would I have made a good parent? Absolutely not. Would being forced into it have made me any better at it? Absolutely not.

      • Rosa

        A pro-life demonstrator actually said to me “they’ll lie to you! They’ll tell you if you have a hangnail you have to have an abortion and not a baby!” (this was after I told her about my life-threatening pregnancy with my son.)

        So the pressure/abortion mill theme is pretty strong for some people at least, strong enough to make them ignore actual women’s actual decisionmaking process. I think it’s linked to a general devaluation of women’s abilities.

      • Twist

        I don’t understand what ‘they’ would have to gain from this though, considering that PP do not make a lot of money out of abortion. What about places where abortion is completely free? What would ‘they’ have to gain from it there? So reasons (a) and (b) basically come down to ‘women are mindless zombies who can’t think or make informed decisions for themselves’, and (c) comes down to ‘women are cruel and selfish’.

        Years ago, I did used to struggle to see what was anti-feminist and anti-woman about the anti-choice movement. I mean, I didn’t agree with them, I just didn’t see what was so sexist about it until I realised that the main arguments tend to float around the ideas that women are either so stupid or so cruel that they can’t be trusted to make decisions regarding their own bodies, and it had so much more to do with controlling women than ‘saving babies’.

        Libby Anne – I hope the rest of your pregnancy goes smoothly and you’ll soon have another lovely healthy baby :-)

  • http://puddinsilovemylife.blogspot.com/ Tonya Richard

    I have to say my feelings about pregnancy are more like Paula’s. I have miscarried 3 babies. The first one at 14 weeks, and the other two at 8 weeks. I was devastated for all three and definitely thought of them as my children. They are all buried in the flower garden outside of my window as well. I didn’t even allow D & C’s because I wanted my babies/fetuses to be whole. While I was in the whole quiverfull movement while having my children, I still feel the same way now that I am pro choice. I am scheduled for a tummy tuck in two weeks to try and erase the damage of 8 pregnancies on my belly and have seriously thought about what I would do if somehow I ended up pregnant after this surgery. (My husband is going to have a vasectomy soon and I have never gotten pregnant before while using birth control, however I know it is a possibility) Even now, I would consider a pregnancy a baby as soon as I found out and could not even think about having an abortion. I would even be upset if I miscarried. For some reason, I seem to bond as soon as that test comes up positive. One of the reasons I decided to stop having children is the stress of worrying about losing the baby. I always knew there was that possibility and it was very upsetting for me. I am glad I don’t have to worry about that anymore.
    These are just my feelings, and in no way am I judging someone else who feels differently. I used to believe that everyone felt like me, so always wondered how they went through with abortions. Now I know differently, it really is crazy how insulated you are to the rest of the world when you are involved in these belief systems. Since becoming an atheist/agnostic, my whole world view has been turned upside down. Your blog is very helpful in coming to terms with my new belief system, thank you!

    • Rosa

      I’m so sorry you went through that. Most of the women I know have had a miscarriage at some point, if they have ever tried to conceive. I wish we talked about it more, so the range of experiences and responses was more open – every one of my friends was shocked and relieved to find, when she told people about her miscarriage, how often her mother or sisters or friends had gone through the same thing. Some grieved, some were relieved, some were pretty pragmatic – but having company with any of those reactions is really helpful.

      Personally I think getting off that rollercoaster – wanting/not wanting/fearing/losing pregnancy – is a huge benefit of reliable birth control. Most people who plan 1-3 kids are on it for maybe 5-10 years instead of 20-30, and that’s a HUGE psychological benefit.

  • TiG

    Before my elective abortion I kept waiting for that feeling of bonding to occur. When it didn’t, I was terrified that I was some kind of bad person without a heart or something – but I’ve accepted now that not everything is true for all people. 20 years on, I am still very relieved to have ended that pregnancy.

  • MI Dawn

    I mourned the loss of a 6 week (accidental) pregnancy by miscarriage, but I also faced the D&C with no qualms. With 2 children, I did not wish to continue to bleed as heavily as I was – I was really unable to do anything for them at the time. I did not mourn the loss of an ectopic pregnancy. Rather, I was a) furious it occurred at all (5 years after a tubal ligation) and b) more furious at my Catholic employer who insisted I could not be treated while the embryo had a heartbeat. (I couldn’t even go to another hospital to be treated, as my insurance would not have covered ‘an abortion’!!)

    But people are different. I had a patient go through a still birth who held her baby without tears. When questioned, her reply was “it wasn’t MY baby yet.” But she cried and mourned over a 3 month miscarriage. So women can react differently to different pregnancies, too.

    As a nurse and midwife, I never judged my patients. If their actions were not what I would have done, I still respected their decisions.

  • Anon for now

    I’m really uncomfortable with how you often define womanhood as including reproductive capacity. It’s very degendering to trans* readers of all types, I am one lurker who is trans* and I feel very uncomfortable being called a “woman” just because of the insides I happen to have (and actually REALLY loathe).

    I’m sorry if this offends people, I really am, and I do feel bad if I upset people. It’s just that absolutely every white cisgender feminist who is capable of having children tends to define women by ability to have babies. It’d be nice if there were some who did not.

    • Contrarian

      Where did she define “including reproductive capacity” as a property of “womanhood”?

    • Julie42

      The closest thing I can find to your complaint is when she says, “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.”

      Yes, she did say “Every woman.” But it’s pretty obvious that it’s meant as “Every woman who experiences pregnancy.” I don’t have kids and I don’t want kids, but why should it offend me if she talks about the way “every woman” experiences pregnancy? If she says something like “Every man approaches fatherhood differently,” people understand that she doesn’t mean that every man has the potential to be a father.

    • http://riliansrlog.blogspot.com Rilian

      I can relate. :(
      Here’s some sympathy pats if you want them:

  • BabyRaptor

    I had been taught that if a pro-choice mare became pregnant, she would realize right away that her fetus was as much a pony as the baby she would hold in her arms months and months in the future.

    The exact opposite happened to me. I was undecided until I had my son, but the pregnancy cemented my beliefs. Learning how dependent on me the fetus was shook my thoughts on the matter pretty hard. I went into preterm labor at 27 weeks…That was what ended up sealing the deal. I was told several times that there was a high chance the fetus would not survive. The entire experience confirmed for me that what I was carrying was not a person from conception, and that a woman should be able to choose what she does.

  • Nurse Bee

    I’m not sure what bonding has to do with it. A woman may not bond with her baby right after birth either (or ever for that matter), that doesn’t mean the baby isn’t a person…

    • http://riliansrlog.blogspot.com Rilian

      Even if it is a person, that doesn’t mean that abortion is wrong.

      • Gudenuf

        The violin anology compares a fetus to a stranger. But if a fetus is a person, then she is not a stranger, she is your daughter. Now, I wouldn’t condemn anyone who would decide not to help a stranger. But if you wouldn’t sit in a hospital bed for 9 months to save your own child, you are a monster.

      • http://phoenixandolivebranch.wordpress.com Sierra

        1. A fetus is not a person.
        2. A fetus is not your daughter because it’s not a person.
        3. “You are a monster” is an emotional reaction, not a legal argument.

      • Gudenuf

        Sierra: Did you Rilian’s link?

        The paper is about whether abortion can be ethical ASSUMING that a fetus is a person. If you’re not willing to talk about a counterfactual world where a fetus is a person, then don’t comment on the article.

        And yes, “your a monster” is an emotional reaction. How would you react if I let my 7 year old daughter die because I didn’t want to lay in a hospital bed for 9 months?

    • http://phoenixandolivebranch.wordpress.com Sierra

      It always amuses me how willing people are to treat birth as though it’s meaningless. Birth is HARD. Birth is often long and dangerous. Birth physically separates the woman from the fetus. The newborn breathes for the first time. The mother ceases to be pregnant. The umbilical cord is severed. Every single one of these things is a milestone in the transition from fetus to baby, and has been considered the beginning of personhood in major societies for millennia.

      The abortion-infanticide connection is so contrived, I’m amazed it has so much traction. Because you know what happens during birth that turns a fetus into a baby? BEING BORN. It’s a big deal.

  • Stony

    The first four months of my pregnancy were rife with serious depression. I did not bond with my baby until he started moving in my belly, and then it was crazy-good…I was hooked. Then the delivery got hosed up and there I was again with post-partum fill-in-the-blank. My in-laws happened to ask me the stupid question of what I would do if their son died while I was pregnant. My truthful at the time answer was that I would abort. It was early in the pregnancy and see above: depression. They haven’t forgiven me for that answer nine years later.

  • mae

    was raised in the Evangelical and quiverfull movement. I’m now currently out of a bad marriage and realizing a lot of my abusive past history was due to being raised to be a submissive woman etc. I’m well educated in the science field and getting a graduate degree this year.

    Despite changing my viewpoints on pro-life to pro-choice, I don’t believe the decision is ever made lightly, nor do I believe all women who do it have the same detachment you’ve expressed here. I’ve seen women mourning in my domestic violence groups over the abortions they chose to have while in abusive marriages. While we in the group encourage them not to judge or be angry at themselves for choices they made while trying to escape a violent marriage, I still see VERY LIBERAL women, who have been raised liberal and been liberal FAR LONGER than myself, going through a grieving process for the loss of these children.

    Everyone is different. And I also don’t believe you might experience the full range of time and emotions from a dream that one might experience when going through a real life experience.

    This is purely conjecture from my part. I had three normal healthy pregnancies and no miscarriages. While I did have a scare every now and then, I did feel I developed a relationship with this child that I took everywhere and who responded to my touch and to my voice while inside of me.

    As always-thank you for sharing your thoughts-I always appreciate them and they stimulate me to think through my own experiences and sort through my past.

  • http://riliansrlog.blogspot.com Rilian

    Some people think it’s stupid to have funerals for 2-week-old babies. But it just depends on if the family cared. How is one dying at a few months (during gestation, when called a fetus) different than dying when a few years old? Both are dying way early.
    If I were going to have a baby and they died in the womb, I’d probably want to have a wake or something. Because I’d be attached already!
    I’m not saying that everyone has to feel that way, but a lot of people seem to say that it’s *wrong* to feel that way.

    • Carol

      “Some people think it’s stupid to have funerals for 2-week-old babies. But it just depends on if the family cared.” Oh, I don’t know. I never heard that anyone would think it was stupid to have a funeral for a 2 week old baby.

      “How is one dying at a few months (during gestation, when called a fetus) different than dying when a few years old? Both are dying way early.” Well, who knows, as you say, for some people it feels different. And sometimes women don’t even know they’re pregnant.

      “I’m not saying that everyone has to feel that way, but a lot of people seem to say that it’s *wrong* to feel that way.” Who are these people you keep talking to. Why are you so worried about what they say.

      Attachment is a very tricky thing. It’s different for every woman and for every pregnancy and every baby. You may feel one way during pregnancy and completely opposite at birth. That happened to me both times, both opposite each other and opposite of how I thought I’d feel. Regardless of what “they” say, both times my feelings were perfectly fine and normal.

      • http://riliansrlog.blogspot.com Rilian

        The people who say it’s stupid to have a funeral for a young baby are some people I know IRL.
        I too am saying that both ways of feeling are fine.

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  • Gudenuf

    You can’t have it both ways. A fetus is a person, or it isn’t. That is an objective fact, not a subjective product of your emotions.

    • http://phoenixandolivebranch.wordpress.com Sierra

      It isn’t. But you can grieve for one as though it were based on how you feel about it subjectively. Your grief doesn’t make it a person, but it not being a person doesn’t make your grief less real.

      • Gudenuf

        You can grieve over burnt toast as if it were a person. You can name your burnt toast and dig a grave for your burnt toast and ask your friends to console you as you deal with the tragic burning of your precious toast. That’s what we call “overreacting.”

  • Ismenia

    I’m coming in on this late but an experience a friend of my mother’s had made me think about how we imagine unborn babies. A couple my mother knows were expecting their first child. They were told it was a girl. They had chosen a name for her. The mother talked to her bump as a little girl (an interesting insight into gender socialisation as well). At about 8 months the woman went for another scan and was told that actually it was a boy. They were really shocked.

    Thinking about this I realised that from their perspective, their baby girl had been taken away or destroyed. It was as though someone had switched her for a baby boy. Except, of course she never existed. The parents were projecting ahead, imaginging the little girl they thought they would have.

    A month later their son was born and I think the reality of their new baby son eclipsed the idea of the daughter. Hearing about it did make me think a lot though. Meanwhile, my sister has just been told that her foetus is a girl. The sonographer said that she is certain about it but my sister is extremely worried that they might be wrong.

  • http://pslibrary.com MrPopularSentiment

    As much as I love my son, I would say that that love was more for my unspecific child rather than for him as an individual right up until he was about a year old, when what had been just temperament started to become a much more specific and refined personality. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t have grieved had something happened, but there are definitely stages, and his irreplaceability grows as he becomes more of an individual. The more he is, the more there would be for me to miss.

  • http://yahoo.com simran

    I am unmarried but i saw a miscarriage in my dream …it was like i was very happy and enjoying the pregnancy but suddenly a pain and den i see a dead half formed embryo . it was quite painful. to see d image in my mind.. what does dis mean ?