Grief after miscarriage: to see or not see a stillborn child

Three days after losing Queralt I began to ‘look for her’. I was unwilling to let the grief in. I needed to feel close to her somehow. Anyhow. I looked through her ultrasounds, I looked for things to remember her. But I didn’t have any. I hadn’t bought any piece of clothing, I had nothing I could touch. And I didn’t have any image of her in my head either, I didn’t know what her face looked like or how developed her body was. I wondered: was she much smaller than the palm of my hand? Were her little fingers already formed? Could I have caressed her tiny hand between my thumb and forefinger? With all these questions I went on the Internet to search for images of fifteen weeks old foetuses so I could get an idea. After finding many pictures that had nothing to do with what I wanted (abortions, malformations and things that I can’t remember), I found the images of an American woman who had taken pictures of herself with her child who was born prematurely at nineteen weeks gestation.

Grief after miscarriage:Walter Joshua Fretz (c) F2 PhotographyThey were very tender photos, the mother embracing her child on her chest, the mother holding a little hand with one finger, the father with his child, the sisters with their little brother. The same photos that any mother would take with an alive born child, but this child was tiny, had reddish skin but slightly translucent and you could see his veins.

Then I realized the mistake I had made when I decided that I didn’t need to see Queralt after she was born dead. Then I wished I had seen her, I had touched her, I had taken some photos. Although Queralt would have been smaller and less ‘made’ that that child (she was four weeks ‘younger’), and perhaps her colour was more like purple, or her skin affected by the three weeks she had been dead and bathed in amniotic fluid, anyway I thought I had made a mistake. I thought I could have touched her, just touching. I could have closed my eyes and touched her tiny hand, then her little head, and once I had felt her with my hands, I could have decided if I dared to open my eyes. I could also have taken a picture, or ask someone to take one, so I could later decide whether or not I wanted to see her. There were so many possibilities, but I had wasted them all because, when I found myself in that situation, I was not prepared to answer the question of whether I wanted to see my daughter or not. A question that I was asked without further ado, without further explanation.

What they did explain to me, was that if the pregnancy has not reached twenty weeks, your child is not considered ‘person’ enough for them to give you her body so you can bury or cremate her. If she has not reached the twenty weeks, they keep her and dispose of it in the same way they get rid of any surgical rest (an excised organ, a tumour…).

So then, knowing only that, when I was asked: Do you want to see her? I asked: What will she look like? How will she be? And the midwife said: She will probably be very purple and maybe disfigured because she has been dead for three weeks now.

Then I said I didn’t need to see her.

I also couldn’t imagine how that ‘seeing her’ would be. I thought it meant that when she got out, they could either let me see her or take her away. And that there were no more options. But she didn’t come out as I had imagined. She didn’t come out in the same way as when you give birth to a live child, which was the experience I knew. When the delivery is normal, and the child is born alive, they make some tests, they clean her a little bit, they dress her and they lay her on your chest straight away so you can hug her.

Queralt came along with the placenta and covered by the amniotic sac. I didn’t deliver a tiny little girl alone –which was what I had imagined– I delivered a girl inside an amniotic sac obscured by three weeks of lifelessness. You could not see anything, then. And when my mother (who was with me at all times that night) told me that what I had delivered was the sac and that she could barely see the girl, I thought: better this way, then, I don’t want to see a hardly visible girl because she is trapped in a dark amniotic sac. At that time it didn’t occur to me that they could get her out of the sac, clean her and bring her back to me later to see her calmly. And because a couple of minutes after the delivery I passed out and then came the curettage (with anaesthesia) and all the fear that I described here, I didn’t think again about the possibility of seeing Queralt.

I lacked information. I missed someone telling me: “when she’s born, we’ll take her, clean her (had to do it anyway for the autopsy) and if you want, when you feel a bit recovered, we can bring her for a moment for you to see her. You don’t need to decide it now, I’ll ask you again later. We could also bring her, and I can tell you how she is, her colour, how it feels to hold her, what her face looks like, and then you can decide if you want to see her.” This is what I missed.

If I had been told this, I would surely have decided to see her, or touch her. If I had been told this, I would have lived through the mourning otherwise, and maybe it would have been a little less difficult for me to live through those next days, in which the emptiness and helplessness take away your sleep and appetite and hope.