September 21, 2008

Would you have labor induced to deliver a 20-week-old fetus that had already died?

David Hlavsa's wife, given the choice between childbirth and a D&C, chose to go through labor -- painful, induced labor in a maternity ward-- so that she could see and hold the dead child. She keeps the baby's ashes -- a teaspoonful -- in the drawer at her bedside.
We each assumed there was only one possible decision, so when we talked, we talked logistics: appointments to reschedule, job responsibilities to manage. We asked questions we might have asked the midwife, about recovery time.

Then we realized we weren’t in agreement. I was talking about the D and C, while Lisa had decided to give birth. Incredulous, I asked why she would want to go through all that pain. She said she couldn’t imagine just getting rid of our child by a surgical procedure; she wanted to see him....

Resting on my outstretched hand, he was thin, nearly weightless, his skin pinkish-gray and translucent. He seemed to me less like a small baby than a scale model of a stripling child. I cradled his head between the ends of my middle and ring fingers, his features peaceful, perfect, blank.

When we got back from the hospital, the epidural had not quite worn off, so Lisa did not have full use of her legs and clung to me as we staggered up the front steps. Thinking of ourselves as a public spectacle (How must we look to the neighbors? Drunk again!), we burst out laughing. Once inside, the bleak humor continued: Anacephalic? All right, so he won’t go to Harvard.

It wasn’t until I had settled Lisa onto the couch that my own legs quit working. I was in midsentence — something about an errand — teakettle in hand, halfway between the tap and the stove. A spasm went through me, I doubled over and I heard my own voice howling from far off, the full-throated cry of a child.
This story is published in the "Modern Love" section of the NYT. I know it will make some people talk about abortion and the right to life, and I know what both sides will say about the story to appropriate it. It's inevitable, but maybe it's wrong.


Unknown said...

"Then we realized we weren’t in agreement. I was talking about the D and C, while Lisa had decided to give birth."

Life imitates Hills like White Elephants.

Ann Althouse said...

I deleted an off-topic post that was especially inapt here. To the deleted poster: We already played that game a week ago, before you put it on your website.

Bissage said...

I suppose there are lots of people out there who can read that piece without being moved to tears.

I’m not one of them.

Tari said...

In answer to your question: yes. If doing so would allow my husband and me to grieve properly for the loss of a child, definitely.

rhhardin said...

If you want to know when life begins, look at the parents, not the fetus.

There is huge variety in this.

William said...

It's the irrational choices we make that give life its zest and significance.

TMink said...

A misscarriage is a huge lost for many people, a death, plain and simple. I understand why this would help her grieving. I am not sure what I would need in that case, besides a lot of therapy and a couple of years to try to feel almost normal again.

God bless us all.


KCFleming said...

"A spasm went through me, I doubled over and I heard my own voice howling from far off, the full-throated cry of a child."

That's one of the most beautiful and moving passages I've read in a long time.

former law student said...

Very sad, the more so because it revealed a world of hidden grief and suffering.

Nathan said...


This is sort of an odd coincidence. I've lurked around here for a while, mostly for the interesting political insights. I'm also a former student of David Hlavsa.

I couldn't say what his position on abortion is; the topic never came up. What I can tell you is that he understands in a profound way that none of us live in a vacuum, that our choices affect those around us, and that we ought to be mindful of those relationships when we make our decisions.

In the end, I don't think he'd mind too much if this story makes us reflect on the nature of abortion, so long as we keep in mind that at the heart of every story--even the story of an abortion--is a real human being with real hopes and fears, trying desperately to make sense of the tangled web of relationships she's caught in.

All too often that gets lost in the debate.

TMink said...

I agree FLS, the ritual of the birth and the holding of the little lost soul's body apparently lanced their grief and freed it.


kimsch said...

I miscarried at 20 weeks. The death was noted on a Saturday, I was scheduled for a D&C on the Monday. Sunday I delivered him, at home. A tiny little boy the length on my hand from the top of his head to his bottom. Finger thin arms and legs.

I was able to hold that little boy for a little while at least. That helped some.

Then the ambulance came and they carried me down the stairs and took me to the hospital where the placenta was delivered.

NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

That's horrible. It's sad. I don't see how it really matters to anyone else, one way or the other.

NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

By which I mean, it's not a political football but a personal tragedy.

The Florida Masochist said...

My wife Leonita gave birth to our son Daniel in 2003. He lived 14.5 hours, Daniel dying of sepsis. My son was born premature at 28.5 weeks.

About an hour after Daniel's death, a NICU nurse brought my son to Leonita's hospital room. We, plus my mother-in-law and sister-in-law got to spend about 6.5 hours with our baby.

For parents who lost a baby after a live birth, or after a still birth, the hours spent holding the child are priceless.

I wrote a long post about my son, here's a link. Ann I hope you don't mind.

Bill Jempty

Trumpit said...

Selfish, not to donate the stillbirth to their local university for scientific research. People who are into grieving scare me to death. I grieve for the sickness of the Bush administration that destroyed the U.S. economy to benefit his already rich cronies. I'm more into blame than I am into grief. Save your energies for the poverty-stricken and hungry children that dot the landscape in a land of plenty. How can there be billionaires and billions of hungry and poor children and adults living "side by side" in this Goddamn world. There is no God; need you any further proof?

Graham Powell said...

My wife had a miscarriage a few years ago - very early, just three weeks or so after we learned she was pregnant. It was painful but a year later she conceived again and we now have a beautiful four year old.

To me, that's what's most painful: not what was, but what could have been. And I think we all have experienced that sudden, unexpected burst of grief at one time or another.

Graham Powell said...

Trumpit, everyone feels grief. That doesn't mean they're "into" it. Have you never lost a loved one who you've grieved for? Emotions aren't rational, you can't just decide to have them or not.

Trumpit said...

"She keeps the baby's ashes -- a teaspoonful -- in the drawer at her bedside."

If that's not "into grieving" I don't know what is. I have no sympathy, sorry, only contempt.

Trumpit said...

"Have you never lost a loved one who you've grieved for?"

That's dumb of you to say. I'm surprised the doctors didn't insist more forcibly that she not go through life-threatening childbirth to satisfy her desire to "know" her dead baby. Sick, sick. It feels like a violation of medical ethics to participate in such a emotional scandal, unless it's done to benefit the science department or for toxilogical forensic purposes. She had a fascination with death that had nothing at all to do with mourning a lost loved one. She should get no moral brownie points for her risky, self-involved indulgence.

chuck b. said...

What a terribly sad story.

Unknown said...

Trumpit is a troll. Don't feed him.

Trumpit said...


I made my points; you made nothing as usual. Troll.

Freeman Hunt said...

Terribly, terribly sad.

Her decision doesn't seem strange to me. I would probably do the same thing.

I think he brings up an important point about there being no obvious cultural paths for dealing with the loss of a child before birth. I've never experienced that, but I've thought about it a lot and often wondered what other people do. Take miscarriage, for example. If a woman begins to miscarry, what does she do? Go the to hospital? What happens there after you miscarry? Do they show you the baby? I have no idea. It seems like such a mystery.

I can see why so many people came to his office after he sent his email. This seems like the sort of grief that leaves one feeling like a little boat lost in an ocean of What now?.

Anonymous said...


You are an idiot. A D&C at 20 weeks has more medical risks than an induction of labor.

So not only do you have a lack of compassion, you don't know what the hell you're talking about.

Chip Ahoy said...

This just flat breaks my heart.

* repairs heart *

When we lived overseas my mother became quite fat. She asked us to help her exercise. We held her legs while she did sit-ups. It was all great fun. We loved playing around on the floor with Mum. Her weight dropped dramatically. We kids attributed her remarkable loss to discipline of exercise and we marveled. This is where I formed my opinion about the effectiveness of exercise. I was an adult when I learned during that period she had miscarried. The thought of nearly having another sib, and what my mother endured without telling us, stabs my heart. This whole thing makes me sad all over again.

vbspurs said...

Bill, my belated but sincere condolences.

My mother had difficulty bearing children. Of her three pregnancies, I the first, was the only one who survived. I was a preemie, so I consider that a minor miracle.

I think she would've made the same decision Lisa did.

TMink said...

Trumpit wrote: "I have no sympathy, sorry, only contempt." among other heart and clueless things.

Dude, you are not a well person.

Get some therapy, years of it.


CarmelaMotto said...

Very sad. I did tear up.

I think it makes sense. You cared for him, I am sure she was eating right and avoiding alchohol. Picturing him, naming him....if I were in her shoes, to have him surgically removed would seem barbaric.

So sad.

vnjagvet said...

There is a considerable degree of arrogance to Trumpit's outbursts here. Why does he feel it necessary to ridicule people in pain who are merely trying to make the best of tragedy? And what reaction would he expect to his outrageous ranting?

To try to convince us that human suffering is no less important than political blame is not only silly but at some level, diabolically evil.

Unknown said...

Calling Trumpit a troll is actually an exercise in giving the benefit of the doubt. True trolls often engage in their provocative arguments purely for arguments' sake. To consider that Trumpit actually believes what he says, that be is that sick, is difficult. But I guess it is necessary.

KCFleming said...

T-pit always make me think of the assholes in The Catcher in the Rye that Holden Caulfield hated:
"Somebody'd written 'Fuck you' on the wall. It drove me damn near crazy. I thought how Phoebe and all the other kids would see it, and how they'd wonder what the hell it meant, and then finally some dirty kid would tell them- all cockeyed, naturally what it meant, and how they'd think about it even worry about it for a couple of days. I kept wanting to kill whoever'd written it".

"If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn't rub out even half the 'Fuck you' signs in the world. It's impossible."

Graham Powell said...

Well said, Pogo.

Trumpit said...

"We asked whether there were medical advantages or disadvantages to either choice. She told us it was simply a matter of preference. No hurry. Let us know."

You're the idiot, storkdoc. I fear for your patients. You need to reveal your name so people can avoid you like the plague for their obstetric care.

Unknown said...

Hey, dickweed: you're the one that said inducing labor was life-threatening. Now you're using the very post you attempted to contradict as evidence? Are you even from this planet?

Kathy said...

I have several friends who've gone through miscarriages, some more than once. I'm not well versed in what happens at the hospital, but I know that around here there's an organization to help parents going through this. They give the parents a teddy bear so they have something cuddly to hug, and if the parents wish they can have the baby's picture taken with the teddy bear. It might sound morbid but it allows them to remember the baby. Then the teddy bear they take home.

Would I have labor induced in that circumstance? Probably. But then, I've had four children so maybe it doesn't scare me like it does Trumpit. And I'd rather have the baby intact to see at least once.

(BTW, there are lots of sites with patterns for crocheting or knitting tiny, tiny baby outfits for burying these little ones. Apparently some women do this as a service, so parents can dress them--even preemie clothes would be too big.)

Trumpit said...

MCG = dickhead,

WHO says that over 1/2 a million woman die giving birth worldwide. Too bad you are not a woman in India who died from sepsis giving birth. I'll have to hope you die some other way. Worthless worm that you are. You try to make my 12year old daughter have a rapist's baby and you'll start another Civil War. YOU STINKING WORTHLESS TURD.

amba said...


Because they laughed?

Mike Lief said...

An almost unbearably moving account of loss.

My condolences to Bill, too, for Daniel's all-to-brief life.

Nichevo said...

Tell ya what, trumbone. I could come over and screw your 12 year old for you a few times, if you like. I'm quite potent. (Is she cute? Have you trained her at all yet or will I have to teach her to do everything?) Then we can see what you really do when the rabbit dies.

But since I deprecate nonconsensual and/or preteen sex, perhaps Sandra Bernhard's black gang-rape gang - you know, the one she had scheduled for Governor Palin? - could fit her into their schedule.

But you would have to cough up for plane tickets from New York. I'm sure they are busy and after all, they would be doing all the work (unless you HAVE been training her, you slyboots). Where do you live again?

Are you white with rage (no racism intended) yet? Now you know how everybody else feels wading through the slime you track onto this blog. Enjoy.

PS I do have to wonder...if they would do Gov. Palin AND your daughter, or neither, which would you choose? (Choosing one but not the other makes you a chickenrapist, of course.)

After all, a good shtupping might knock her out of the race, McCain might look bad, could pick you up some votes somewhere. And you could always console your daughter with that abortion, and maybe some ice cream. Kids love ice cream.

So think it over carefully. If she's really your daughter then I'm sure she would understand the need for sacrifice.

(Yes, this is how we see you. This is how you portray yourself.)

Rachel Bruce said...

I would choose induction over a D&C. My heart goes out to the Hlavsa's and to Bill and his wife.

A friend went through the same thing at 27 weeks and she also chose induction.

She was blessed to be supported in her grief by the kind and compassionate folks at the Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep Foundation.

For more info:

Trumpit said...


Turn your insane self into the authorities for being a child molester. If you ever lay one finger on my daughter, I'll blow your head off then get a medal for it. You are a piece of human filth. You are the first publically announced rapist and child molester on this blog. I will turn this info over to my local police department so they can investigate you and put you behind bars where you belong. You are dog shit.

Nichevo said...

But Trumpit, don't you believe in gun control? Besides, no doubt as a sensible leftist parent you already have her on birth control, so what's the harm? What exactly are you whining about? C'mon, if it was Barack Obama or Bill Clinton what done it, you'd be thanking them for advancing her education. You're for extreme sex ed like Obama wants, right?

I'm just trying to help you win an election here. You should thank me. (Or Sandra Bernhard's rape gang, whichever.)

I guess you lack fire in the belly. More likely, you can dish it out but you just can't take it. So typical. I didn't even ask if she was your child or if she was retarded.

I was never going to lay a finger on your juicy young daughter, Trumpit; the best I could have hoped for was your having an aneurysm, and it seems that's not on, so bully for you. Anyone would think you'd never read Jonathan Swift. Or Bill Ayers, or Bernardine Dorn. But surely you've seen movies by poor put-upon Roman Polanski, more sinned against than sinning?

I would ask if you'd learned anything by having your very own methods used against you, but wouldn't waste keystrokes: your type never learns. You certainly aren't responsive to any of the other points I made (so what else is new).

Hey, look, now, if I filled your head with alt.* visions and you go out and molest her on your own, I take no responsibility - shrink, therapize yourself...

But if you do, please make sure the papers know your blogger nick is Trumpit. Everybody will want to know what you've been up to.

Oh hell, you're probably not even upset, just ginning up crocodile tears. Man up and face it, being your daughter, if she is yours, she's probably already been plowed like the back forty. You can check that yourself, of course; any surgical supply shop can sell you a speculum. Or you doubtless have friends who can lend you one. Or a finger always works...she might like that better, a speculum is so cold and impersonal. Why don't you ask her?

No gratitude, no gratitude at all...