By Heather Herrman


A month ago, I lost my daughter to a miscarriage. Science did not tell me she was a girl, but I knew it through every bone in my body. My great-grandmother, Wilhelmina Volk, came from Germany when she was sixteen to an arranged marriage with a drunk. The man gave her two children and then left her. Wilhelmina survived by telling fortunes in the streets of St. Louis. She told them with uncanny accuracy. She saw ghosts of people who’d died across the ocean before ever hearing the news. I claim her intuition as I claim the knowledge of my daughter. She existed. She is gone. This is a truth.

At the hospital, the nurse gave me a pill to expel my daughter’s body at home. We knew she was gone because we saw her body in black and blue tones on the sonogram—a little fish who did not move in the ocean of my womb. The tech was cold, ill-equipped to deliver the news.

“There’s no heartbeat,” she said, after minutes of silent prodding, her hand moving the wand inside of me to send the oh so still image onto the screen while my husband and I watched, breathless. “Let me go get someone,” she said.

And that was all. They walked us through the back hallways, so that no one could see us crying. I wasn’t crying. I was a farmer’s granddaughter. I understood life and death. Cycles. Giving and taking. I was strong.


The tears came later as I paced the house, the pills inserted inside of me to get rid of the dead flesh.

“Like a light period,” the nurse told me. “Maybe a little more cramping.”

It was a birth. It was labor. I know, I have done it before. I have a son who is alive and well.

I paced the house like a wild animal for four hours, unable to sit, the contractions coming and going, coming and going, the emotions swelling. When she passed, I could not catch her in time and she was gone. Swimming through the toilet and away. Better, maybe, but I would have liked to see her face, the small gumdrop of the unformed woman she might have become.

We do not talk of such things, women. We smile and grit our teeth to the bodily bits of birth. We make pink quilts and sing songs.

And—because we do not speak—it is defined for us by men who make decisions about protecting what is not theirs.

It is mine to give or take. To lose. To grieve or not. It is not yours.

I have deflated slowly, losing the hormones and pounds, letting them push a needle into my arm each and every week to see if my body has stopped its confusion, if it has figured out, finally, that it is not pregnant. It has not. Still, my breasts are tender, my heart is sore. I weep at things that don’t need tears. And even more for the things that do.

Around me, the world is falling apart.

And my body aches the ache of a mother.

We are broken, and I don’t know how to fix it.

I post the correct posts on Facebook, I speak to relatives in hushed anger about why they must see what it means to let these refugees—these children—into our home, because we are all children. We all ache for a mother.

But I don’t know how to translate this white grief into action. I don’t know what to do or say that hasn’t been said before. I am a pessimist. I am always censoring the personal.

But I like to think my daughter would not. Does not. I like to think she opens her heart and mouth and flies, as Cixous commanded all her daughters to fly, above all this poison through a different language—the language of the body.

The grief of swollen nipples left unnursed, the spread of skin to make a room, left vacant. The body who wants to be made a house.

I do what I have been too scared to do.

I grieve.

My daughter taught me that.

Today, I do not post the protest links on any of the pages where, daily, I make my mask for the world.

Today, I speak from the body.

Today, I speak from the wound.

And with my daughter’s voice, which supersedes me, engulfs me, allows me this audacity to claim the universal womb—I beg my children to come home.


Heather Herrman‘s stories have appeared in journals including The Alaska Quarterly Review, Snake Nation Review, and The South Carolina Review. Her debut horror novel, Consumption, is out now from Random House imprint Hydra. Heather has taught writing classes at places such as New Mexico State University, Clemson University, and The Loft Literary Center. She also worked as a literacy advocate at two Minnesota nonprofits before moving to Omaha to birth her were-child and learn the trade of hunting, capturing, and skinning words alive to feed her pages. Visit her website at www.heatherherrman.com.

Photo credit: Trocaire via a Creative Commons license.

By | 2017-03-06T10:19:44+00:00 March 16th, 2017|Categories: Issue 16: 16 Mar 2017|Tags: , |4 Comments


  1. Nancy Dunlop 2017-03-17 at 5:58 am

    Love this. Elegy, crying out, claiming, taking back what is yours to begin with. Thank you for this piece, Heather.

  2. Heather Herrman 2017-03-17 at 7:37 am

    Thanks so much for reading, Nancy, and for your kind words.

  3. Lauren Genovesi 2017-03-18 at 7:56 am

    I love this. It’s not just swirlingly beautiful description about a painful experience that others might get a glimpse of and relate to–it actually spirals out instead of in.

  4. Brenda Davis Harsham 2017-03-21 at 10:24 am

    Wonderful story. A true voice for women. This makes me remember my own silent births, unattended and anguished. And I have three beautiful kids. How can men understand and legislate on women’s bodies when we cannot even relate a tiny portion of what we know about ourselves? When I spoke about my first labor, my dad got up and left the table. He didn’t want to know or hear, and I understood. But then stay out of interfering with women’s health. Leave us be if you don’t want to hear the whole story. Thanks for this beautiful, lyrical piece.

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