It was a rainy Tuesday morning in June. I remember pounding rain on a copper roof outside my window; sheets of water splattering as a city darkened and pealing thunder brought with it the full force of a summer rainstorm. Then fierce pain.
I had waited ten years for a child.
At twelve weeks, her lifeless body was a marvel to behold—a horror and a marvel. No woman expects to see her child the way I saw her. Yet, that viscerally shocking sight of our daughter's body was the only sight I would ever have.
To this day the recollection of the bond forged between us in that instant is as real as if I had her in my arms now, as a three year old. The perfect coils of the cord that bound her to my flesh and blood remain imprinted in my mind as though a photograph. In a flash of realization at what was taking place, I beheld the marvel of her life in miniature. Its beginning and its end seared my soul. It was a vision unmatched; a dolorous mystery. At the threshold of life and of death, that striking glance of love locked forever in the silence of her body became for me a memory of her brief and stunning life, and has since been the synthesis of hope. It is in last moments, in the greatest poverty of loss, that we behold eternity—and falling, blinded by the brilliant prism of our tears, begin to believe.
I had been acquainted with sudden death. Before her body there was my father's body. I had stared at death in his lifeless face, and so learned, too late, to love him more. She offered me the same: a lesson in loves that are eternal, and a piercing insight into the meaning of an ageless prayer I had uttered in grief many times before. “Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her,” I prayed—a lament and lullaby to honor her life, as I commended her soul. Eternal rest I wished for her, as I labored through hell.
They called her “pregnancy material.” It was as if this were her name. The horror of their callousness infuriated me, and my newly born maternal instinct rebelled within me, adding anger to the laceration of grief compounding the fierce onslaught of forsaken love. “Pregnancy material” was the first thing I heard when I realized I was losing her. They told me I was to “expel the pregnancy.” They ordered various ultrasounds. They sent me off to “wait the process out.” I write this now, three years later, because I was not carrying around pregnancy material. I was carrying my first child—my only child, and she was dying.
To them, she was a biological waste product.
But I was giving birth.
I will not forget her lifeless body. There was no one there to mourn her with me. The vision was still, and cold, and agonizing. There were no smiles, or first cries. There was no Holy Baptism or Funeral Mass to beg for one so innocent the glorious inheritance of Lazarus, that glorious company of the blessed. Only silence; agonizing silence, which would later turn to ceaseless prayer before altars, and usher forth the realization of a maternity that would be hidden from the world—a mystery of hidden love that would be lived as one Mother had shown before, pondered in the heart, and then held lifeless on the hill of Calvary.
* * *
For it is easier, God says, to ruin than to build;
And to bring death than to bring to birth;
And to kill than to create;
And the bud does not resist at all.
That is in fact because it is not made for resistance, it is not commissioned to resist.
So begins the heart rending play by Charles Péguy: his masterwork, “The Mystery of the Holy Innocents.” As a nation watches in sorrow and horror videos showing the dismemberment of the human body inherent in abortion, I relive the physical loss of my daughter with every woman who has miscarried a child as I have, or held a stillborn, or had an abortion—and I mourn.
The physicality of each of these experiences is practically the same. Labor sets in or is induced. A birth takes place, though we may opt to call it “pregnancy loss,” “miscarriage,” a “termination procedure,” a “D&E,” a “process.” There is a body, or the dismembered remains of one. Sometimes, the loss is spontaneous. Other times, is it an agonizing experience of wait as the mother's body adjusts for a birth it was not prepared to undergo. However these lives end, there are maternal bodies that initiate hormonal changes equivalent to those of women who give birth to living infants. Oxytocin is released as with birth, and bonding hormones surge. There are weeks when pregnancy tests come back positive though the child's body is long gone from the mother’s womb. There are human remains that are not medical waste. There are mothers and fathers who grieve. My own agony of child loss shatters the stark darkness of deceit. I join millions more who have so suffered, and ask: How can we look at these precious bodies and still use the lifeless lexicon of “pregnancy material,” or “medical waste,” or “fetal specimen”?
The truth is written in blood. We behold them and say, “This one, at last, is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones.” My body, and my blood. This one, at last, is our daughter.
Maria Grizzetti (@mgrizzetti) is the Director of Development for the World Youth Alliance, and writes in the area of theological reflection at Incarnation and Modernity (www.