You lost your baby. You’re no longer pregnant. It’s a long story. You don’t want to talk about it. The doctors. The Rabbis. The Dayan. They all said you had to do it. You can’t talk about it. Nobody knows what really happened. Your husband refuses to talk to you about the baby. He doesn’t want you to bring it up ever again. You must move on. Everyone tells you if you get pregnant again you’ll forget about this baby. You don’t know if they’re right. But you don’t have a choice because you can’t tell anyone. So you will try to forget. But the SHAME. It never goes away.
You desperately want to talk about it but you can’t because they all say “It’s not healthy, it’s better to just forget”. No one wants to hear it. When you tried, the looks you received spoke loudly. Their eyes scolded you, “SHHH! QUIET”! And so you keep quiet. They don’t want to hear it. They have their reasons. It’s too frightening. Maybe the same thing will happen to them. And so you choke back your tears. And you choke back your words. Because they are forbidden. Even though the Rabbis said it was permissible. What happened with your baby may have been permissible. But the words, aborted, stillborn thoughts, remain forbidden.
The crushing waves of emotions threaten to drown you. You drown in tears that are swallowed. Tears you hold back with every ounce of strength you can muster. Because abortion is shameful and not something people talk about.
The doctors and the Rabbinic advisers had concluded that an abortion was necessary, permissible and sanctioned. And so, with a sinking heart, darkness in your soul and a flood of shame, you went through with it. But you’re drowning in the shame. Always the shame. What will people think of me? My mother in law? My sisters in law? My friends? If this happened to me, it must be I am unworthy of bringing life into the world.
And so, the abortion is a horror that puts your physical and emotional systems into shock. It’s too much to handle and you numbly return to the laundry and dishes waiting at home. Or to the office or the classroom, and pretend to be fine. That is what is expected of you.
Your baby is gone, but your secret is not. The secret stays buried deep inside of you. It stays quiet on the outside but inside it is screaming deafening screams. The baby still cries and keeps you up at night. When these thoughts bubble up you push them back down. It’s not ok to talk about it. At least that’s what the people around you are saying either with words or the looks on their faces. Be quiet. We don’t talk about such things.
Your husband cannot be convinced to talk about it. In desperation you reach out tentatively, on tiptoes, in a whisper, to your mother, or your sister. They are quiet. So you are quiet too. It is too shameful.
Weeks later, you have not moved on. Again, they tell you to forget about the baby. They tell you there will be another one. But you wanted and maybe even loved, this one. The one you lost. The one that’s gone. The one you aborted. With medical and religious sanction. And with SHAME.
It has been brutally hard work to gather your shattered pieces and put them somewhere deep inside. It’s not acceptable to let them out so you will keep them inside. The powerlessness of being told what to do to your baby by the doctors and the Dayan. You know it was the right decision but your head and your heart are not on the same page.
And the shame grows. You feel isolated from friends. No-one knows your secret.
You can’t talk about the feelings of joy and excitement that engulfed you when you saw the pink line indicating “positive”! on the pregnancy test. You can’t talk about the nervous anticipation during your pregnancy, all your worries about the baby being born healthy. You can’t talk about your ideas or maybe even decisions about what name you would give the baby. You are alone. Often in the same home as your partner. But he suffers alone too. His friends and rabbis do not even have words to label the emotions being felt.
Perhaps your story is the loss of your baby being a Stillborn. Or the crushing blow of news during a routine ultrasound that there is no heartbeat. Or tests that reveal shocking evidence that your baby has a fatal illness and will not survive past a few hours or days after birth. Then being blindsided with the news that you will have to go through labor and delivery anyway to give birth to a child who is already no longer alive, or a child who will die within hours. The devastation in the delivery room. The flow of hot tears. The look of horror and desolation on your husband’s face. His tears.
‘If this happened to me, it must be I am unworthy to bring life into the world’. SHAME.
You plead with your husband then and again weeks and months later, to no avail, to just talk about what happened. To talk about the baby. To say something about the baby’s name. To share your grief together. He does not know what to do with what happened. How to organize it in his mind. How to find words to describe it to himself. To say them out loud. He may not know what the feelings are. He may not even know that he has feelings about that baby. Feelings about what just happened to you as a couple. And so he declares silence. It shall not be mentioned again. Ever. Life is to return to normal. You are expected to forget the child that you carried and nurtured inside of you.
And then. With no warning and no explanation you are told that the baby has been buried. In a secret place. You will not be informed of the location. You cannot visit and grieve at the baby’s grave. You were not a part of the burial, you were not invited to participate, you were not involved at all. No amount of pleading to visit the baby’s grave yields the answers you so desperately seek. That is to remain a secret too.
Losing a baby while still in utero or an infant shortly after birth is devastating. Not being able to talk about it is TRAUMATIZING. The stigma of abortion, even of medically and religiously sanctioned abortion, leaves women broken, socially isolated, and utterly alone. The immense pressure by family and community to return to normal life and its daily tasks as if it never happened threatens the mental health of such grieving women. Suffering in silence is emotional cancer. It grows.
My fellow Jewish Brothers and Sisters: Let us create space for the women and men amongst us, who grieve silently, each differently, yet too often alone. Let us give them permission and encourage them to give voice to the dark thoughts about their loss. Let us not shy away from the horror and terror of what they have gone through. Help them talk. Invite their words. Teach them words and feelings. Say them out loud. Show them how. May the words soothe the hurting souls and melt away the shame.
The Stillborn child was not her fault. Nor his fault. Let them know you believe that. Let them know they deserve a healthy child, and they did nothing wrong to cause it. Be with them. Invite words. Say words. The scary ones. The words you are trying to push far away. Those are the words they need to hear. The ones you don’t want to say. Show them how to say the words. It’s ok.
Let us extend to our sons and sons in law, nephews, grandsons and our friends’ sons and grandsons, an open invitation to talk about their grief. Not just one time. Give them multiple invitations in big ways and small. At different times, multiple locations, and in different contexts. Most importantly, let us help them alleviate the shame surrounding their loss by being present with the pain instead of avoiding, evading, distracting and joking.
Let us extend these same invitations to our daughters, daughters in law, nieces, granddaughters and our friends’ daughters and granddaughters, let us make space for their shame so that they may unburden it. Let us provide an environment from which emanates the soothing message that ‘Every Feeling is Welcome’ and every Part of themselves is welcome and will be embraced, loved, nurtured and accepted. Let us help those who don’t yet have a relationship with their own thoughts, feelings and experiences, to learn the language of Self, name their shattered Parts, to give birth to the words and take ownership of them. And once they come to know the different Parts, the dark thoughts, the terror, the loneliness, the fears about the future, the guilt and the shame, they may then realize that it is not as terrifying as they thought to welcome moments of vulnerability instead of pushing them away. And so they can come together in their pain to express and grieve alongside their beloved, as Partners.
Let us educate parents, in laws, siblings and our communities to say “YES”! to talking about the trauma and the shame that often comes along with the loss of a baby through abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth or the early death of a child.
Let us give grieving couples permission to grieve out loud and together. They must not go it alone. The cost to the relationship is too great, and the price of shame perhaps greater. Help them talk to each other, to share their different ways of thinking and feeling about their terrible loss. To acknowledge each other’s differences. To be there for each other. If the grieving mother and father can talk about the searing pain, perhaps they can also alleviate their shame.
Watch Chaya Feuerman's Video About this Subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xd1PsYsAMb4