Even though I knew it was still a tiny fetus the size of my fingernail, it was already a baby in my mind. I was so excited to meet the little critter that, even only at eight weeks, I practically ran into the office of my ob/gyn for my check up. But something was wrong; my doctor couldn’t hear a heartbeat. She told me it was still early and suggested I come back in a week and we would try again.
Six days later, I raced into her office. Still nothing. If we don’t hear a heartbeat by next week, she told me, it probably wasn’t going to happen this time. I prayed and hoped for the next solid week but was informed that, at 10 weeks, with no audible heartbeat, the situation looked grim.
She offered to arrange a D&C operation for me, but I held onto a shred of hope that somehow she was wrong. It wasn’t until I started bleeding about a week later that I truly understood I’d lost the new life growing inside of me. Tests performed after the fact indicated it would have been a little girl. My little girl.
I knew I was far from the only woman to go through a pregnancy loss. In the U.S., anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage—that is, the loss of a fetus typically before the 20th week. But I was devastated. My husband was devastated. He handled it in his own way; he withdrew and stewed it out. I cried and got drunk.
Two years passed, and then I became the mother of a beautiful, spirited, much loved son. I sat down to dinner with my husband and infant one early summer night when it dawned on me: It was the second anniversary of the loss of—dare I say—our daughter.
I mentioned it to my husband. “That’s dark,” he said. “I don’t want to think about it.” But I did.
I wanted to think about it not in a solemn way, but in a way that remembered the loss and memorialized our attempts to get her—the early collection of tissue with a heart that would have become my daughter—onto the planet.
I did have mixed feelings about remembering or memorializing my miscarriage, especially without the full support of my husband, who seemed like he still hadn’t fully processed his emotions. So instead, I tucked the memories and thoughts I had about it all into the back of my mind and held them there.
One evening, I came across a thread in an online mom community posted by a woman who was going on a vacation with her family and wanted to memorialize her miscarriage while on her trip. She asked other members to contribute ideas for ways she could do that.
I was moved by the conversation and read the thread with fascination. The ideas other moms offered were heartfelt and touching. The responses made up a beautiful collection of simple, thoughtful ways to commemorate a barely there life that had been lost. I was certain that finding my own way to recognize my loss would help bring me some closure to the memory I carried of my own loss that felt somewhat healed, but not fully.
The thread also raised a lot of questions for me: Was it “too late” to memorialize mine? Should I try to include my husband, or should I do it on my own? If I were to choose a way, how would I go about remembering my unborn almost-a-daughter? And was it OK to call her my daughter, since that’s how it felt to me? I was compelled to find answers, for my own peace of mind and for the memory of the tiny little girl-in-progress who would have, could have been mine.
So, both for inspiration and out of genuine curiosity, I reached out to several women who have experienced miscarriages and asked them if, and how, they chose to remember their losses. Here are their stories.
Maggie, a Los Angeles-based mom of two, opted to purchase and wear a special piece of jewelry to honor her loss.
“My husband and I both spent a bit of time looking for a ring that felt like a meaningful commemoration,” Maggie explained to me. “We’re both big antique jewelry fans, so we knew we wanted an antique.”
She scoured the internet for a while, looking for something that felt right, and her husband eventually found the one she ended up getting on Etsy. “The baby’s due date was in April, so I was looking at mostly diamond rings since that’s the April birthstone,” she said. “The diamonds are all set closely together, which felt like a way to symbolize keeping the baby in our hearts and in our family, even though he—I think it was a he, but we don’t know for sure—is no longer with us.”
Dava, a comedian and writer, keeps a blog where she writes about her experiences as a mother, and she eventually included her miscarriage stories.
She experienced three miscarriages, one before her daughter was born and two before her second daughter was born. Dava naturally chose writing as an outlet and wrote the stories of all of them down after her third miscarriage.
“Writing is a way for me to immortalize them, somehow,” she explained. “I believe people live on through stories about them. I felt such a lack of control, it was a way to do something concrete. It feels cathartic; so they don’t just drift away with me when I eventually die, and/or so my kids know what happened when they are older or become moms.”
Nikki, another mom who has experienced multiple miscarriages, kept the ultrasound photos handy.
The experience of her first miscarriage was drawn out due to it being an incomplete miscarriage that required surgery. “But during that time they diagnosed my infertility issue and were able to correct it,” she shared. “It will never make up for the loss, but it was a relief since they said that particular type of infertility issue isn’t normally diagnosed until multiple miscarriages.” After her first loss, she chose to keep the ultrasound photos in a little box.
After her second miscarriage, she said she is still undecided about whether she’ll commemorate it. “[My partner and I] discussed getting a tattoo of the heartbeat, but we’re not sure yet,” she said.
Amy, a Brooklyn-based musician, who miscarried at 21 weeks, found solace in a stuffed animal that was roughly the size of the fetus she lost.
“I Googled 21-week-old fetus, which is always fun, and got the average measurements,” she explained. “I looked through my then 17-month-old son’s stuffed animals to find one that was about that size."
She found a little stuffed Grover (from Sesame Street) toy that seemed just right. She told me, “[It] fit in my palm perfectly. I slept with him against my belly for a few months, and after that I put him in a little box in my nightstand and took him out every once in a while and cried.”
In a few years, Amy became pregnant again and said she felt “terrified.” She had another healthy boy. “During the early days of nursing and recovering from a c-section, I took little Grover out a few times to meet his new brother. I felt nuts doing it, but it also felt sweet,” she remembered. “Now my boys are 6 and 2 ½. Grover would be 4 ½. I eventually let Grover out of his box for good when my 2 year old found him. Now he lays and plays among us just like a normal kid.”
Irene, an actor and improviser, chose to tell her story aloud to friends and eventually turned to social media to remember her loss.
“There is something powerful in a shared-in-real-life story,” she said. “I would share with a person, and then I’d hear their story or the one about their mom or sister or best friend, and in that honest verbal sharing, I felt less alone.”
She also eventually shared her experience as part of a public Facebook post she came across that any mothers who had experienced a miscarriage were encouraged to share on their page, with their own story attached too.
She contributed to that post: “I was supposed to bring a bundle of joy home this very month. This reminds me, for a moment, something magical did happen and I have hope my moment is around the corner.”
Sarah chose to hold a ceremony on a beach in Hawaii, during her vacation and birthday.
“We knew we were having a boy, and I named him River. My husband wasn’t into naming, but it was important to me,” she explained. “My 3-year-old son and I collected plumeria flowers that had fallen on the ground after the rain, which we released into the ocean while singing the ‘River Song’ as a family. It’s a song we have sung to my son since he was little. I didn’t cry, it was cathartic. Wading out into the ocean with my son in between us and releasing the flowers as the three of us sang River’s song felt exactly right.”
The words of the song seemed to perfectly reflect upon and capture the ebb and flow of emotion, grief, and loss that come to play while processing a tragedy: The river is flowing, flowing, and flowing. / The river is flowing, down to the sea. / Mama, carry me. Your child I will always be. / Mama, carry me. / Down to the sea, down to the sea, down to the sea.
Mary didn’t plan any kind of ceremony, but when the feelings wash over her, she spends some quiet time alone with her thoughts and her “lost babies.”
She elaborated in our interview: “I think about my lost babies around their would-be due dates. I think how old they would have been and how different life would be. I don’t do anything special in those moments. I just envision how life would have been different. And sometimes I think how I probably wouldn’t have the babies I have now if I had had those babies, which in a weird way makes me feel grateful because I know these are the babies I was meant to have. But then I feel guilt for the lost babies and try to give them some time where I think about them and how they would have been.”
As I thought about how and if I should commemorate the loss of my little ghost baby, I considered my options. A ceremony felt too grandiose, but doing nothing felt too empty for me.
As a performer and comedian, I opted to use that medium. I know the idea of “miscarriage jokes” might seem a little, well, macabre, but it was what came naturally to me. I wrote and told an hour’s worth of them on stage in New York City in a show called “Before My Water Breaks,” which I presented at nine months pregnant, about a year after my miscarriage. I wasn’t sad; I was surrounded by friends and in my element. We recorded the show, and I have it for posterity.
Another mother, Jasmine, told me that she and her husband planted a blend of wild flower seeds near their home. “We didn’t say anything,” she told me. “We just hugged each other and made dinner together, I guess as a ‘life goes on’ sort of message.” This ritual also resonated with me, and I now plan to plant a tree in my baby’s memory, as it is something I keep coming back to again and again. I will when the time is right.
Sometimes, in a quiet moment, I think of what she would have been like, what her name would have been, how our lives would have been together—but I don’t let myself think about it too much. I don’t want to get too lost in thought, because I want to stay in the present, for my family and for my own mental health. That is the choice that fits me best.
I suppose those who’ve experienced it use the tools we have to get through it. Writers write, nature lovers plant trees, foodies cook, spiritual people pray or hold a ceremony. Some people choose to just let it go for one reason or another.
No matter how one views an incomplete pregnancy—as a monumental loss, a blessing in disguise, or something in between—there are ways to help find comfort and to heal when it is needed, even if seemingly simple or small.