Thursday, January 1, 2009


As 2009 begins, I am thinking of the pathways we travel in the journey to have a child.

Some journeys are emotional, some literal, some a mixture of both. Last summer, Will and I took a trip to Japan with his parents. It was a culturally rich, stimulating trip, but it was a journey colored by loss.

A few weeks before we left, we found out we had had a missed miscarriage at 7 weeks. Our second missed miscarriage in six months.

As we arrived in Japan, I had just stopped bleeding from the D&C. The loss was still fresh, and I felt vaguely empty and distracted, ambivalent about traveling, but thinking we shouldn't cancel the trip either.

What we found when we arrived was that Japan has space in its culture to acknowledge pregnancy loss in ways that don't exist in the United States. In English, there is no word for a miscarried baby. There are no culturally accepted ways to mourn, and in fact, very few people knew that I had been pregnant or had lost another pregnancy. We deeply felt our losses, but we didn't know how to mark them. How to honor these lives that had been. And we did not know how to move on.

"Mizuko" is the Japanese word for a miscarried baby. It translates to "water child" because in Japanese Buddhism it is believed that the soul flows slowly into a child, the child becoming more solid as they age. In this way the mizuko is somewhere on the spectrum between being and nonbeing, neither a full person nor a nonperson. I loved this conceptualization. It seemed to fit perfectly with our experience of these betwixt and between lives. These losses that were so real but also felt vague and undefined.

You can make an offering to Jizo, a Bodhisattva who will help your mizuko find a second way into being, helping it to either return to you in the form of another baby, or to find another family. There are Jizo statues all over Japan, often adorned with bright red bibs and bonnets, which are made and given as offerings. We had read in a Peggy Orenstein essay about her miscarriage in Japan that we could also leave toys with a Jizo to help our two lost babies find a way back into being. So amid our other sightseeing, we detoured to a toy store and bought small gifts. We found a Jizo statue near the main palace in Tokyo and laid two toys out awkwardly in front of it. It felt slightly alien, but good to do something tangible to acknowledge these pregnancies. It felt like a step toward moving on.

Later in our trip we found ourselves at the top of a hill where there was yet another Shinto shrine (we must have seen more than fifty shrines and temples on our trip). We found a Nanairo-no-yadorigi tree and read that this tree is famous for its symbolic ties to fertility and pregnancy. You can write a wish on a piece of paper and twist it around a tree branch to help you conceive and protect an unborn child.

So we tied our offering to this tree, a prayerful wish that we would conceive a healthy child. The custom is that when our wish is granted we should return to the tree and find and untie the paper.

I am a person who struggles to have faith, to believe that things will work out. But somehow, this trip, which I had been so ambivalent about, felt meant to be.

It felt significant that we found ourselves in this particular country just after losing our second pregnancy in six months. A country where there is a word for a miscarried baby and rituals to help that baby find its new home. That we found this tree to leave our request that we be blessed with a child who could live.

Unfortunately, not long after returning home, we learned that we had become pregnant a third time and were miscarrying yet again. But it is comforting to think that our written wish is maybe still there, sunstreaked, dampened. Perhaps if we are lucky, we will need to return to Japan next year, or the year after that, to find the note twisted onto the tree branch and remove it because our wish has been fulfilled.

Today we welcome the New Year.

We wait. We continue to hope.



  1. Oh my. Have you read "Waiting for Daisy"? She also miscarried in Japan and found the Shinto shrines very comforting.
    So many losses. I hope 2009 is much much better.

  2. Wow that is beautiful! It sounds like a great tradition they have over there. I really wish there was something like that here.

    I hope you have a Happy New Year!

  3. I had also read about these shrines in "waiting for Daisy". How comforting that you found yourself in that culture at a time that meant so much for you.
    Rituals are very significant, even for non-believers. They have a function in our minds, and just the fact that you took the energy, time and effort to make your prayers more 'tangible' has a healthy effect on your psyche to say the least. No matter how 'evolved' or scientific we believe ourselves to be, rituals are still a very necessary part of who we ultimately are and become. It's lovely to hear that you embraced those foreign rituals and found some peace and hope in them.

    Thank you so much for your support. I really appreciate that you took the time to write such a generous comment to my last post. Your words made a difference. thank you.

  4. A beautiful post, Mo. I'm not sure if anyone could have said it better. Here's to 2009...

  5. What a great story. Happy New Year to you.

  6. Your post moved me. Sadly, it surprises me that there's a culture that acknowledges the legitimacy of miscarriage. I hope that it was healing for you. I hope that 2009 is a healing year for you, for all of us who've struggled and struggled and struggled.

  7. That is amazing - our culture really does not have much for us with regard to our lost babies...

    Here is to '09.

  8. What a beautiful post. You brought tears to my eyes. Happy New Year.

  9. I, too, find so much comfort and beauty in this ritual -- as other commenters have mentioned, I first learned about it in Waiting for Daisy (if you have not read this book there is also a very good piece by the author on the topic at
    Now that I've had a loss of my own, it is all the more meaningful for me as well. I truly hope 2009 offers you a chance to go untie that paper. Wishing you all good things in the new year.

  10. That is beautiful. I had no idea that existed in the Japanese culture. I hope it continues to bring you comfort. Happy New Year!

  11. "Waiting for Daisy" also described these shrines. I'm so glad that you were able to connect in the way you could.

    I pray for a better 2009 for you. Hugs.

  12. incredible post. I am so grateful you shared this. Creme de la Creme. Sad and beautiful. Yin and Yang.

  13. What a beautiful, poignant post Mo. *hugs*

    Wishing you nothing but the very best for 2009. Here's to new beginnings!

  14. Beautiful post Mo. I really hope you have to travel back to Japan. It'd be a great reason to return.
    I'm praying 2009 is your year.

  15. oh, mo! what a great and beautifully written post. i so wish that our culture has some sort of method or way to acknowledge the losses that so many of us have faced. i don't understand how it is acceptable to talk about your cancer, or other disease states, but then not to talk about miscariage or IF. Most people don't know how to respond. Sounds like it is so much better there!

    I am very hopeful that you will plan another trip soon!

  16. I love this post Mo. I wish that we had something half as comforting her to women who have miscarried.

    I hope you have a wonderful 2009.

  17. Beautiful post.

    IMO, grief rituals are important. Americans are pros at denial.

    Hope you're snuggling your baby this time next year.

  18. Beautifully written. Shitty and sad to have gotten there but hopefully 2009 will bring better things.

  19. That was a beautiful post. I am catching up! I need to put you in my google reader!

    I was reading about your meeting with the R.E. Sounds like you have a plan!

    I hope that 2009 is a year full of happiness for you!

  20. Here's hoping to your mandatory return to Japan in 2009.

  21. This is an AMAZING and beautiful post. Thank you for sharing.

    My greatest wish for you and Will, is that you return to Japan with a beautiful family and untie the wish and offer thanks to the higher powers.

    Waiting and hoping by your side...

  22. Wishing you a true miracle in 2009.

  23. Found your blog through the Creme list (lovely first post by the way).

    Mizuko... an ethereral sounding word. Calm and peaceful. I'm glad there's such a beautiful word for my two lost babies that expresses how much it meant to have them in my life, if ever so briefly.

    Thank you for this.

  24. So nice how the Japaneese culture has a word and space for infertility.
    Wishing you a return visit in the near future.

  25. beautiful. simply beautiful.

  26. I have heard about this and find it so wonderful that this culture creates that space to recognize and honor loss that is so poorly misunderstood here. ritual is so important, and it is so lacking here in the U.S. thanks for sharing this.

  27. What a lovely post. Truly the creme de la creme. So sorry that you've experienced the losses, but it's nice to hear that you found some comfort in this ritual.

  28. thank you for that beautiful post.

  29. Beautiful post. I have also found comfort in Jizo.



  30. Arrived here from the crème de la crème list.

    Very moving post. Having a name for a miscarried child is a foreign concept to me, but having one makes so much sense, in all the ways you describe.

    Multiple miscarriages are such a heavy burden to carry, I'm very sorry for your losses. Hoping with you that your wish comes true soon.


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