Mizuko Jizo

Recently, a 21 week old baby survived her premature birth. A wonder. She was just under 10 ounces and about as long "as a ballpoint pen". I admit this gave my pro-choice self a pause, and it's not the first time this has happened. When I was pregnant with both my children I felt like I was carrying little souls from day one. Little gifts from heaven percolating in my belly. When friends have lost their pregnancies it was without a doubt a loss of a child no matter which trimester it occurred in.

Funnily enough, I'm still very much pro-choice. As I sweat over each parenting decision I make (especially ones made on my bad days, those days when getting out of my pajamas seems insurmountable) I realize how vulnerable these wee lives are. How important it is that children are wan
ted and brought into families that can care for them well. And how life altering a pregnancy can be, how overwhelming it could be to someone unable to bear it.

And so how do I reconcile this belief that babies are babies from day one, and yet still remain an advocate for pro-choice? I felt like I got some perspective when I was reading Waiting for Daisy, a women's accounting of her difficult fertility. When the author was in Japan she miscarried her child and had to have a D&C. She learned that after having a miscarriage or abortion, Japanese women often honor the soul of their lost child with a practice called mizuko jizo.
Mizuko means ‘child of the water’ and is used to refer to the soul of a child who has been returned to the gods, and Jizo is the name of the Buddhist god who protects and guides that soul on its journey to another world.
(In Japan) Abortion is regarded as the parents willingly making a decision to return a child to the gods, sending a child to a temporary place until such time that it is right for the child to come into this world, either into the same family or another one. The child is returned because the parents, at that time, would be unable to provide enough love, money, or attention to this child, without it being to the detriment of their present family. Practising mizuko jizo allows the parents to provide a certain amount of attention to the child, who is regarded as a member of their family: to apologise to the child and to ask for forgiveness from their child for being unable to bring them up. -
Mothers create shrines at home or in temples with small statues or dolls. The baby is honored with prayers and bows. Learning about this Japanese perspective helped me to see that we don't have to view our lost children (be it a miscarriage or termination) as "fetuses" or "cells" in order to comfort ourselves. And that yes, pro-life people are correct, this is indeed a life. It is a life that should be honored. Can we do that? Say goodbye to a child to be, wish him or her well in their lives to come, but still do what is most merciful and healing for both child and mother? In my heart I think we can. Perhaps, honoring our departed babies instead of viewing them as stages of cell growth is the way we can be pro-choice and not give up something of ourselves as mothers and women. What do you think?


Anonymous said...

It's nice to see someone being completely willing to put there beliefs out there. My belief is like yours, that every baby..... no matter what it's stage is a baby..... a life. I know what an abortion is. I know what it is exactly. I watched a program on T.V when I was about 19 that changed my thinking forever. I learned exactly what an abortion was. When I hear pro-choice people saying it's a womans body and her choice.... nobody says anything about the babys body. They have no choice. I honestly believe there would be less abortions out there if everyone knew EXACTLY what took place. I read the other day that a large percentage of women get abortions so nobody would know they had sex. Of course there were way more serious reasons too, that one just surprised me. I'm obviously pro-life but I'm totally pro-adoption as well!

Not to get so serious...... it's just a topic close to my heart. What you shared about Japanese women was nice. That's how they cope with what they have to do. It's something we should do here in the states for those who choose abortion. They mourn their babies as well. Makes me want to hug them. Thanks for sharing..... you have sweet thoughts!

Lotta said...

Thanks for your comments. Just to be clear, I am pro-choice. I just think we can still view it as a merciful choice rather than a clinical procedure.

Julie Pippert said...

I think we lack cultural rituals that honor difficulties, is what I think.

In the US, we are so strapped into the Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps (the colonial version of Stiff Upper Lip) that we sort of kind of sometimes ignore a necessary grief. It requires a degree of depersonalization that makes for a very lumpy carpet, what with all the sweeping things under.

No wonder with their semi-anonymity and high degree of confessional blogs are so popular these days.

When we dealt painfully with infertility and loss, I recall my mother saying, "I'm just sorry this has made you into such a bitter person," because I could not make lemonade out of lemons in that moment.

After her fifth miscarriage, a fellow IF friend started a ritual where she cried tears into the ocean (a sort of releasing the baby dream and soul back ritual) and planted a flower. It brought her a measure of peace.

I had a Daruma. An Indian friend got me started with that. It's another lovely ritual.

The thing I came away from IF and motherhood with is an understanding that life is, indeed, yin and yang and you have to face both.

A ritual is a wonderful way to acknowledge and honor that.

So, vagueness aside, I think you make a really intriguing point that I will ponder deeply. At the moment, it feels a bit like the missing puzzle piece for me about this issue.

Lotta said...

Julie - Truly, you impress me so deeply. Your comment was amazing and insightful in so many ways. Thank you.

jakelliesmom said...

Lotta - I love that you wrote this, and Julie, I love your perspective and wisdom.

I am a pro-choice, pro-motherhood kind of person; but I've had neither a miscarriage nor an elective termination so I've never had to make the choice or grieve a loss like that. Had I, I would hope that someone would suggest such a beautiful ritual to help me heal.

Beccy said...

I too am pro choice although I don't like abortion being used as a form of contraceptive.

The Japenese ritual you described sounds a wonderful way of dealing will the loss of a baby.

Janet a.k.a. "Wonder Mom" said...

That sounds like a beautiful way to cope with whatever choice you have made or situation you find yourself in.

jo! said...

While I am pro-life (and that means all of life! I'm not one of those people who equates pro-life with anti-abortion; it applies to euthanasia, capital punishment, senior health care, war, violence-- LIFE), I really make the effort to hear other opinions with open ears. I like good clean debate too much not to! But here is my question: What if a family brings a baby into the world and then decides that the parents, at that time, would be unable to provide enough love, money, or attention to this child, without it being to the detriment of their present family? It sounds like it should still be ok to send the child "back to the gods," yet something tells me that that wouldn't be very well accepted. You said yourself that you felt like you were carrying souls from day one. Aren't those souls as precious pre-birth as after birth? And with options like adoption available, shouldn't a woman take into consideration that her's is not the only life on the line? These are honest questions; please don't think that I am some zealot who will come and bomb you house for being pro-choice!

Little Monkies said...

Oh sister, you have stirred the pot on this one. And in such a beautiful and insightful way.

I have never been so ardently pro-choice as I am now, the mother of two. I could go *on* about this subject, but I'll just say that I agree with Jo! in the sense that if you are going to be pro-life, you need to be pro-life, not pro-birth. (Google Sister. Joan Chittister for some great thinking on this) Adopt abandoned children, fund programs that support struggling families, pay for drug rehab so families can rejoin. But if people are going to talk the talk of "life" (not you, Jo!, but the general culture) then put up and take care of all of those children you are so interested in getting here.

But in response to Jo! and anonymous, adoption is often touted as the easy alternative--it's just not for many people. This is coming from someone whose closest family members were adopted. It's not just an easy thing you do because you "can". It's an incredibly difficult decision that is sometimes a life-long struggle for all parties.

But I know this post was really about grief and I want to honor that. It's an incredible idea, Lotta. Why not build a database of rituals women can tap into to share their grief, joy, etc? O, The Joys had a mehindi party to celebrate her impending birth--just incredible. I had a mikvah (although I am not a Jew) to celebrate and contemplate my impending marriage. What can we do to re-create the identity of ritual in our culture?

Oh, The Joys said...

Lotta, I so deeply appreciate your uncanny way of being able to talk about this issue and always find middle ground. Do you have any idea how amazing that is??? You should run for office.

Lotta said...

I think that you guys realized that I was writing about the need for a rituals before I did. But, yes - I think we do need more in our lives.

Jo - I don't think you are a zealout. Here is my position, adoption is by far the preference. I was adopted and would love to see more of it. However, having gone through some pretty bad post partum depression I can also imagine how bearing a child and then giving it away would simply be too much for some women to bear. And they need the option of saving themselves as well.

Katrina said...

A ritual for a miscarriage would be a wonderful thing. I wish I had known about it when I had mine.

Ty said...

I remember when I had my sonogram when I was a mere 6 weeks pregnant with my first child and how amazed I was at the sight of her tiny little heart beating away.

My views changed a lot that day and even though I can't say that abortion would be an option that I would take, I do not judge anyone else for doing so.

And even though there are some women who don't take the decision of abortion very seriously, most do and I know they grieve. A tradition like the one you mentioned is a wonderful way to work through that.

celticpole said...

I hope I'm not too late on this topic, I lost your blog and it's taken awhile to backtrack. I read your blog yesterday and it's weighed on my mind since then. I appreciate the civility of this discussion and I hope my comments will be taken with that in mind. Anyway...I am baffled by your stance of pro-choice after all you said about pregnancy, acknowledging the wonder of this baby that survived. When you know this is a human being how can you condone another person terminating that life and simply say, "Hey, that's your decision, your choice, not mine." The link to being-a-broad mentioned in Japan abortion as a necessary sadness. Why is it necessary? Because parents cannot provide love money or attention? I have difficulty accepting those "excuses" especially in light of what abortion truly is. I realize the decision to choose abortion can be painful but all too often, especially with the young mother it is offered as the only solution. I agree that a ritual remembering a child lost in miscarriage is excellent. I have friends who have done this.
But please, could you help me to understand how you can bepro-choice when you have been pregnant and carried that pregnancy through, and hold that child in your arms. I seriously would appreciate dialogue on this.

Lotta said...

Celtic - I guess I'm pro-life in the sense that I would encourage everyone who gets pregnant to strongly consider adoption. I wish we had more adoption resources AND better contraceptive/sex education for young girls.

Here's the "But"

I don't think everyone is mentally or physically able to bear a pregnancy and I think the option needs to be there. But that doesn't mean we need to approach the procedure without compassion.

celticpole said...

I agree - compassion. How far does that compassion extend - only the woman or to the baby she's carrying?
A pregnancy is a baby regardless of the mother's financial/emotional circumstances. I wholeheartedly agree that when the life of the mother is in danger abortion should be an option. Yet when one selectively decides abortion is your choice, right for you, but I would never, that doesn't make much sense to me.
Better adoption procedures - agreed.
Better distribution of birth control - that's an iffy for me. Since only abstinence is the only 100% birth control, what's being communicated when passing out condoms to teenagers?
This is a complex issue. There are so many tangents to this topic - what is pro-life, federal funding, our culture losing its connectedness/support structures, etc.
I appreciate your forum for this discussion and I hope my words are taken with the understanding that I truly desire dialogue.

Angelina said...

I really love this post. I respect your ability to feel the way you do about a fetus being a person from day one while still being able to see that sometimes parents are doing a better service to the person by not bringing them into the world.

I think I feel pretty much as you do. My mom had an abortion and says that it was my brother's spirit she set free and that later, after having me, and being ready for another child my brother came back to her. I've always thought that was kind of beautiful that she felt she recognized his spirit. She believes that we choose our parents and that my brother needed to be with my mom and waited until she was better prepared to have him in her life.

She chose abortion, and certainly understood that it was a person in her womb, and knowing that made her really agonize over the decision. She said she mourned for the baby for a long time. But it would have been bad for both her and the baby for her to have gone through with it.

I think giving a baby up for adoption is a positive option for some women. However, having gone through one pregnancy and birth, I have got to say that it isn't a small thing to carry a child for nine months and in agonizing pain bring it into the world. I could never go through all that and hand the child over to a stranger, or anyone for that matter.

I think you are all so right that rituals can help us all get through tough moments in our lives. This one you wrote about, Lotta, I thought was a particularly lovely ritual from Japan. I'd never heard of it before and I think it's wonderful.

Amazing post.

Lotta said...

Angelina - Thanks. Just, thanks. Perfect post? Perfect comment!

Common Sense and No Excuses said...

I'm sorry, but this "ritual" is nothing more than an attempt to make the so-called mother feel better about making the choice to sacrifice her child because it is inconvenient to her. It is very common for people to try to justify their wrongdoing by wrapping it up in a pretty package, but shit wrapped in a pretty package is still shit.

I worked reception in an ER for 3 years, and in that time saw 4 attemped and 2 successful suicides of young women within the 6 months after having an abortion. We teach young women that it's okay to abort (hey, it's just a simple, outpatient procedure, right?), then don't prepare them for the guilt and trauma afterwards. So the solution is to give them a ritual to honor the spirit of their "child of the water"? Let me ask you, if this is supposed to make everything all hunky-dory, why do they have to "apologize" and "ask for forgiveness from their child"? And how can denying the child life be "what is most merciful and healing for both child and mother"? Sounds to me like that would be entirely for the mothers benefit.

Think about this: If you truly believe that pro-choice views are correct, why do you have something inside you arguing otherwise?

Lotta said...

Common Sense - I can tell you are angry and I appreciate that you took the time to comment. We certainly see it differently though. And this is all I'm going to say about it.