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" A good traveller has no fixed plans,

and is not intent on arriving "

Lao Tzu

Reframing Miscarriage & Stillbirth

April 7th, 2015

In the BBC drama Banished, a way of seeing a deeper and positive purpose behind an event which we usually see as deeply sad is proposed. Rather than understanding miscarriages and stillbirths as negative or tragic, Anne – an Irish convict in an Australian penal colony in the eighteenth century – reassures vicar’s wife Mrs Johnson, who has lost many babies after giving birth:

Anne: Tell me what you want to know?
Mrs Johnson: Everything that might help me.
Anne: There are not just the living and the dead, Mrs Johnson. There is the world of the unborn. Millions of souls waiting millions of years to pass on to the Kingdom of Heaven. To them, the unborn, this life is nothing. It is a river they must cross to reach the other side, to reach the Kingdom of Heaven. So they want this life, this river to be as short as possible. To the unborn, a woman like you is heaven-sent. You give birth to them, they die within minutes, and before they know, they are with the angels in Heaven. For the unborn you are the ideal mother, Mrs Johnson, and your children are eternally grateful. Do not grieve or blame yourself in any way. Instead, Mrs Johnson, rejoice! Is that not comforting?
Mrs Johnson: Yes. But it is heresy Anne.
Anne: To say the Earth is round was heresy once.

I’m aware this is an extremely sensitive issue, and ‘cold’ on the page it seems less powerful, but when viewed on television as a conversation between two women, Stephanie and I found it deeply moving – perhaps because it radically reframes an event which is so upsetting. It’s a provocative idea, and may raise more questions than it answers, but if reframing comforts, does it need to be ‘True’?

18 Responses to “Reframing Miscarriage & Stillbirth”

  1. My daughter had three stillbirths, with all the attendant heartache, before she successfully carried her son. It is interesting that many times she was told by friends that the children were there for her, they were angels now, looking out for her. I took it as a device to avoid pain,but she feels their prescience herself, and it does bring her some comfort. She took her son at Easter to visit their grave-he is just short of three years old, and while she cleaned up the grave he talked to the children, and then told her they were sleeping, and said goodbye to them.i have heard that young children live between the worlds, and maybe they do. My grandson seems not to have any problem communicating with them.

  2. at last somebody is (fr) naming it..thanks you so much for sharing, I knew this for a long time but it is not easy to mention. as are all the things that are infact comforting or reassuring about life after is as if comfort is to be distrusted.. good to read <3

  3. We do not subscribe to a deity, or an afterlife of any sort, and finding comforting words from family and friends after my miscarriage was nearly as painful as the event itself. We simply had to stop talking about it. Grieving the loss of a child and simultaneously having our beliefs trod upon with talk only of god and heaven. We chose to think that the interconnectedness of all things brought this event to our lives, and through it, we developed a compassion for others also enduring loss. We chose to believe it was not about the child at all, but about ourselves, and strove to become better people as a result.

  4. Please be thoughtful about what you are saying here. Miscarriage has become murder in at least one situation here in the US.

    A woman in the US has just been jailed because of a miscarriage. Patel was arrested in July 2013 after she went to the emergency room, bleeding heavily, at St. Joseph Hospital in Mishawaka, Indiana. Despite initially denying the pregnancy, Patel eventually admitted to medical authorities that she had a miscarriage and threw the stillborn fetus in a dumpster.
    According to Sue Ellen Braunlin, doctor and co-president of the Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice, Purvi was most likely 23-24 weeks pregnant, although prosecutors argued Patel was 25 weeks along in the state’s opening argument. The prosecution confirmed on Monday that the baby died within seconds of being born.

    Patel’s lawyers argued that she panicked when she realized she was in labor. Patel comes from a conservative Hindu family that looks down on sex outside marriage, and the pregnancy was a result of an affair Patel had with her co-worker.

    “Purvi Patel’s conviction amounts to punishment for having a miscarriage and then seeking medical care, something that no woman should worry would lead to jail time,” said Deepa Iyer, Activist-in-Residence at the University of Maryland’s Asian American Studies Program and former director of South Asian Americans Leading Together.

    Despite Patel’s claim that she gave birth to a stillborn child, prosecutors argued that Patel gave birth to a live fetus and charged her with child neglect. Prosecutors also claimed that Patel ordered abortion-inducing drugs online and tried to terminate her pregnancy, but a toxicology report failed to find evidence of any drugs in her system.

    • Not sure who you’re addressing here Sarah – the previous commenter, the scriptwriter or me! And not sure what your point is!

      • On first reading your post, I had a very visceral reaction: I have a concern about making miscarriage public spiritual ‘business,’ as is happening in parts of the US and in other places in the world, where it is investigated as murder. Women have a widely varied response to the notion of ‘personhood’ or soul story for their unborn children. Society at large is still under the shadow of religious views of purgatory, etc., and the guilt of women who choose abortion rather than carry a child they cannot care for to term.
        On rereading your post, I could appreciate the gentle meaning and outlook of the quote from the drama, and also become aware of my own defenses against ‘deciding’ what happens to the souls of unborn children.

  5. Thank you for sharing this. It is a beautiful idea, I enjoyed the imagery in the words, of the gratitude, imaginary or otherwise, and the power in shifting perspective.
    Anne makes perfect sense to me.

  6. I find the idea pretty offensive, further dehumanising the dead child. My mother lost a child to a miscarriage and he/she was not part of some subspecies called the “unborn” but was my brother or sister. I believe that we help the bereaved best not by concealing the humanity of the child, but reinforcing it. I have never suffered a miscarriage, but this idea is so painful to me that I am filled with rage against whatever scriptwriter came up with it. I can only imagine how I would feel if I were the mother of a child dismissed in this cruel way.

    • A friend just telephoned me. She had a miscarriage a few days ago. She too had seen the TV programme and had found it deeply moving and comforting. It is a strange idea – that of unborn souls not wanting to spend much time on this Earth and mothers who go through this performing some sort of ‘transfer’ service… and yet for some people this is reassuring. What fills one person with a sense of peace fills another with a sense of rage…What seems a kind thought to one seems a cruel thought to another. When I read the idea on a page it does seem odd to me, but enacted it felt immensely compassionate.

  7. I lost two babies to miscarriage, the first horrifically, passed in the womb and I had to carry for 3 more months before delivered…I kept holding on that the dr’s were mistaken and I would wake up to having a baby…alive…we were in Louisiana at the time, in the town of my ancestors. I was so devastated I went to a Traitor, pronounced Treater, a person with healing love that takes no money, only non-money donations. what he told me healed my heart..your next child will be the spirit you thought you lost. they just changed their mind. something happened in the heavenly, spiritual universe that needed them. That would have been my second child…I lost what would have been my fifth child as well, still believing I would wake up with a live baby…the children after are so very special

    • Sherrie, Yes, I believe the intuitive and mystic Carolyn Myss has also expressed this idea. It totally resonates with me.

      • Yes Nancy, resonate is the perfect word, a belief, a knowing. I will need to look up Carolyn Myss as I have not read or heard of her. thank you
        A friend of mine has three daughters, they came to her one day and said that the second was originally going to be the first but they switched midway through the pregnancy because she just wanted to come so much. and she believed them completely because the feel, the spirit of the child she was carrying changed just as they said.

  8. Sorry find I cannot agree with this I had stillborn twins at 8 months and this gave me no comfort at all. The person who wrote the script could never been through this or she would never have written it in this way.

  9. Thank you for posting this! I miscarried my first 3 children before finally carrying my son to term. The only way I was able to cope is similar to what you posted. I see my kids as passing through me to beome human and then living out their lives in the Summer Land. My son used to tell me opf conversations he had with his sister and brothers. I speak with them through meditation and my mother has also told me of them contacting her in dreams. So if asked, I say I’m a mother of 4 with just one here with me.

    • Beautiful Brenda, thank you for your post. And, what wonderful mothers to love and Know our children’s spirits.

  10. Thank you for posting this. It is a very sensitive subject. I lost my daughter Ana at 18 weeks. I carried her two weeks post finding her heart had stopped beating. I was supposed to have a D&C as I was too far along to naturally miscarry safely but my doctors office was not able to perform it. I was referred to the local planned parenthood clinic. I drove there and found protestors outside with a sign that said “monster”. The memory of that sign, it will creep into my dreams it. I couldn’t go in and have my already dead daughter removed. Instead I carried death inside for a few more weeks until I started to bleed and my water broke. My now ex-husband away on business, I embraced every painful contraction until I gave birth to this beautiful human-like form not even the size of my palm. Crying and praying to hemorrhage out and die, but I did not. The only thought to keep me alive was my son who is older was waiting for me at his grandparents. I believed I was a monster the protesters called me for not only had I failed to create life but I carry death inside for so long as well. Years later and lots of money thrown at psychotherapy got me past that pain but I still struggle with what was the point of it all? And while I do not believe in heaven or hell as I’m not a Christian, it is comforting to think that perhaps there was a reason or perhaps what happened was more a blessing than a curse for my little Ana. Maybe there is a world of the unborn who hold a greater meaning than our biggest failures and pain.

    • Thank you for telling your story Christy. Your last sentence is so beautiful:”Maybe there is a world of the unborn who hold a greater meaning than our biggest failures and pain.” And that goes straight to the heart, I think, of these two posts (this one and the following day’s) – it’s not about whether the theory that is proposed by one woman to the other is ‘true’ – for how can any of us know? But that it evokes the hope that maybe there is a deeper purpose to all things, to all our suffering, than we can possibly imagine. Thank you!

      • Christy, thank you for your brave and insightful post. I am so very sorry for your loss.
        I had a similar with my first….the dr’s called it ‘missed abortion’…what a horrible nightmare term.
        I just wanted send you what ever comfort I could and let you know you are not alone.

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