In spring of 1974, when our family of two parents and four kids — plus one dog — was living on Jerusalem’s French Hill, I suffered a miscarriage in the fourth month of my pregnancy.
It was difficult for me to believe. Up until then my four previous pregnancies had been uncomplicated. Deliveries swift and normal, to the point that one daughter came close to being born in our car on the way to Overlook Hospital in the middle of the night, and another was born within 10 minutes of our arrival at St. Elizabeth Hospital. Only the last, our only son, took his time. He was born on Shabbat Yom Kippur in 1970. Our Jewish doctor was impatient to get on with the holy day but our baby was in no rush. “What’s the hurry?” he must have thought.
And so, in 1974, having experienced our first (and hopefully last) war and dealing with little kids and blackouts and middle of the night trips to the bomb shelter with sirens blaring, I was overjoyed to announce that a bat tzion or ben tzion, a daughter or son of Zion, was going to join our family. A sabra of our own! Nothing could have been a more appropriate response to the many losses of life in Am Yisrael during the Yom Kippur War, a war that history reveals came startingly close to being lost. Nothing could have been a more meaningful sign of faith in the power of our people, our God, and our nation, than to bring another child into our world.
Much has been written about fetal loss. Many, perhaps even most, women have experienced it, sometimes before they even know they are pregnant. It is a loss without ceremony. It remains un-commemorated, even by those closest to the woman and her family. Trivial remarks follow, like “You’ll have another one,” as if this baby, this child, could merely be exchanged or returned to sender. And how much sympathy could I rouse with my four young children when there are so many women coping with infertility? Adoption was almost a way of life in my own extended family, the pathway to numerous additions to our ranks.
So no one considered my sadness. Perhaps this was just nature’s way of dealing with an unhealthy fetus. I would never know.
Nor would I learn the gender. Was the baby a girl to join her three sisters, or a boy to be a playmate for our youngest? The doctors surely knew but they didn’t tell me and I never asked. Somehow, not knowing made it less intimate, more distant. Less real.
Through the years I have thought about this child of ours. No doubt any woman who has suffered a fetal loss remembers the one, or more, who was never born. By now my baby would already be middle-aged, probably married, perhaps a parent who would have given us more treasured grandchildren to love and spoil.
Would he or she have been a good student? A committed Jew? Would he or she have lived in Israel, the place of his/her intended birth? I can assume this would have been a dark-haired child with brown eyes, although we do have one gingy with blue eyes.
I expected a child. Instead I have a void in my life, a would-be baby who never arrived, never joined our family.
I know I am not alone. And I know that life goes on and there is joy and there are smachot, happy occasions, to celebrate. But to all of my many, many sisters who have lost babies in utero, we share and we know that these are real losses. These would have been our babies and we cannot help but wonder who they would have become. We don’t need to wonder if we would have loved them. Indeed we do.
Rosanne Skopp is a contributor to NJJN and blogger for the Times of Israel. She lives in West Orange and Israel.