The Empty Sac
By: Sara Esther Crispe
I had only been married a few months. A lot had been going on since we decided to spend our first year of marriage in Israel. Two months after the wedding, we packed our suitcases and embarked on this journey to the unknown—both in terms of the land, and in terms of our life. While I had spent a significant amount of time in Israel, my husband had never been there. And as newlyweds, we were still really getting to know one another in this new framework of husband and wife.
To add to things, we came with about a thousand dollars total in our savings, with no jobs or real idea as to how we were going to survive. We knew that we wanted my husband to be able to spend the first year learning in kollel, in yeshiva, since after that, he would not be able to dedicate all of his time to learning. I, therefore, was going to work and support us. However, we never factored into the equation that we had arrived weeks before the month of Tishrei, filled with Jewish holidays, and the worst possible month to seek employment.
Our apartment was barely bigger than a shoebox, and with no air-conditioning, it was unbearable in the heat of the Israeli summer. It had been a few weeks with no work, no prospects, and no break in the heat wave, when suddenly I began feeling terribly nauseous.
It took me another week or so to decide to take a pregnancy test, and to my surprise and shock, I found myself staring at two small lines in the window. I was nervous, scared and overwhelmed. As much as I so badly wanted to have a baby, the timing seemed terrible and I wasn’t sure how we would make it. We also knew that in our situation, we would have few people supportive of our decision to have a baby right away. To them it seemed irresponsible, premature and entirely inappropriate.
Needless to say, my job hunting now became nearly impossible. Just getting out of bed in the morning was extremely difficult, only to board a crowded bus, feel sick, and find myself jumping off in the middle of nowhere desperately seeking a garbage can.
I was used to being in control of my life. I was organized, kept track of things, and made sure to do what needed to be done. Suddenly, I was a mess. I was forgetting everything, felt and looked terrible, and couldn’t do the most basic task without becoming completely exhausted. I would sleep endlessly, accomplish what seemed to be nothing, and still be tired at the end of the day.
Then one day, I noticed the slightest trace of spotting. I didn’t really think twice about it, but then I noticed it again. At this point I decided to call a doctor and ask if I should be concerned. When I was told to immediately get to the office for an ultrasound, I froze.
Until this point, my pregnancy had been a given. After all, I hadn't been doing anything to prevent it, so of course I was pregnant. And so I thought that of course I would have an easy pregnancy, of course there would be no complications, of course I would have a smooth delivery, of course I would have a beautiful baby.
I was wrong.
It never occurred to me that there could be a problem. If anything, this pregnancy had been interrupting my normal life, and I was a bit annoyed, though generously putting up with it. I was excited about the baby, I just had no patience for the process of getting there.
My husband went with me to the doctor. It was Succot and it was my birthday. I remembered how in high school my best friend and I had decided the perfect age to get married, and the perfect age to have a baby. A few days before my birthday, I thought about how I actually got married at that “perfect” age, and now I was pregnant with our first child at the “perfect” time. I hadn’t planned on spending my 24th birthday in the emergency room.
Immediately, they wanted to do an ultrasound. I had not yet had one and, not realizing how serious my situation was, felt quite excited to see my baby. I looked at the chart in the room, figured out how far along I was, and couldn’t wait to find a little fetus with developing arms and legs swimming around.
The doctor jelled my stomach, and I watched the screen as he moved the instrument around. “Here is the sack,” he said as he pointed to a roundness appearing in the screen. He continued to search, yet had a blank expression on his face. As I stared at the screen, I couldn’t understand what he was looking at since I didn’t see anything.
“I’m sorry, but the sack is empty,” he said, trying to sound apologetic.
How do you respond to that? What does that mean? I am not one to cry around others, but the tears just started to stream down my face. Empty?
The doctor tried to calmly explain that I had a blighted ovum. That the pregnancy had never actually happened, and that I basically had a group of cells inside a pregnancy sac, but no fetus.
His words kept echoing in my head over and over.
Empty. Empty. Empty.
From the moment he said those words, my life was empty.
My husband didn’t know how to comfort me. I didn’t want to be comforted, I wanted a healthy baby. But suddenly I was left with nothing to do. It was as if nothing had ever happened. It was as if I had fallen for some false reality that never took place.
For three months, I thought I was carrying around a baby. I spoke to this baby, I connected with this baby. I loved this baby.
In truth, at least medically speaking, I was never really pregnant. I had pregnancy cells, but no pregnancy. So while my belly swelled and body went through the typical symptoms, the problem was that the fetus itself was missing.
I felt like a fool. I thought that I should have known better. After all, how could I be so out of touch with myself and my body, that I couldn’t even recognize that this baby I was connecting to didn’t even exist?
The rest of my experience was only more horrible. There was the doctor who had helped me, who wouldn’t continue to see me since my insurance didn’t cover him. There was the emergency room where I waited for endless hours, and then when there wasn’t a spare bed, I was put with the women who had just given birth. As I sat and cried, they cuddled their babies. There were the nurses, who, though they were trying to be kind, told me not to worry, that I was young, that I would get pregnant again.
The truth is that I was in too much of a daze to have even cared. The wounds were still so raw that I didn’t even feel them. Physically, I knew I would be fine. Emotionally, I wasn’t sure how I would manage.
The thing I remember most is that I felt so alone. I felt like there was no one who could understand me, and no one who had gone through this before. Until this time, I didn’t know anyone who had been through a miscarriage. Or so I thought. My husband wanted so badly to be supportive and helpful, but I wanted him to feel my loss, the very same way I felt it, and he couldn’t. He had also lost a pregnancy, but it hadn’t grown, or for that matter, not grown, inside of him. He could sympathize, but he couldn’t empathize.
I felt like a failure as a woman. It wasn’t rational, but that is how I felt. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t even carry a healthy pregnancy? What if I never could? The thoughts were overwhelming. I was terrified that maybe I would never have a child.
And then I thought about all the times that I was annoyed with my pregnancy. All the times I had wished that it had happened at another time. And no, by no means did I think that I had caused this loss. By no means did I think that this was some form of punishment. But rather, I so badly wished that I could have used the time to have recognized what a miracle pregnancy is. I wished that I had been grateful for the fact that I did conceive so easily, for so many others weren’t that lucky.
Until I had miscarried, I knew nothing about miscarriage and thought that it was a very rare occurrence. I had no clue how common it was or how many women had suffered. Suddenly, as those who were close to me found out about my situation, the phone calls starting pouring in. Women who had numerous kids, who always seemed to be pregnant, told me of their stories and losses. One woman who had just had her seventh child, said that for each baby she birthed, she had lost one. I was amazed. These women were supportive, helpful and encouraging. They were proof that life would go on and that there was no reason to believe that I wouldn’t be able to carry a healthy pregnancy. But most importantly, they drove home the message that nothing, absolutely nothing, can be taken for granted.
I did not get pregnant immediately after, as some had told me I would. I did not feel better a few weeks later either. To be honest, I was traumatized for some time, and in a certain sense, forever. I had lost a part of me with that pregnancy. There was a baby that would never come into this world, and there was an innocence and arrogance that had protected me which was shed for good.
Unfortunately, this was not my only miscarriage. I suffered another one a few years later. But this time, the knowledge that I was not alone and that there was nothing wrong with me made it that much more bearable. Yet, it was still horrible and scary. This was my third pregnancy, and two had been miscarriages. Not a good ratio. Even though, unfortunately, the statistic is that one in three pregnancies end in miscarriage.
Through my losses, however, I was also able to gain tremendously. Had it not been for my suffering, I don’t know if I ever would have been able to appreciate a healthy pregnancy in the same way. I had a level of gratefulness with my pregnancies that I carried from the moment I found out until the birth. When I was tired, irritable or not feeling well, I reminded myself of the blessing and miracle, and how happy I was that my baby was healthy.
And I learned that you can never know what someone else is going through. And you can never know where they’ve been. Everyone has a story. Everyone has a difficulty. No one can be judged.
Though I lost two pregnancies, both in the 14th week, I have been blessed with four children, fairly close in age. With the oldest 6 and the youngest 1, I am often asked how many more I plan on having. Often, if I call someone I haven’t spoken to in a while, the first question is, “Are you pregnant again?” Little do these people know that while I may seem like a baby making machine, I cried for months after the loss of my two pregnancies. These people don’t realize that with my second baby, I was rushed to the emergency room in my second trimester as I gushed blood, and they did not think my baby would survive. They do not realize that with my third child, he did not appear on three ultrasounds and I was scheduled for a D&C, when in truth, my dates were wrong and he was simply too young for them to see the heartbeat. No doubt I have been blessed. But I wouldn’t say that I have had it easy.
Rabbi Ginsburgh, my rabbi, taught me the most beautiful lesson after one of my losses. He explained that every soul that is brought into this world comes for a very specific reason and serves a very special purpose. We live our lives to fulfill this mission and it takes each individual a different amount of time, along a unique and specific journey. In addition to new souls that come into this world, there are also reincarnated souls that come into this world to complete what they hadn’t been able to in their previous lives.
Sometimes these souls need to live a full lifetime, others for just a few years, others for only a few months, even at times, just a few days. Then there are the souls that need so little to complete their mission, those whose soul only needs to come into a body long enough to beat its heart or simply create a pregnancy. These are the highest of all the souls—the souls of the truly righteous and pure tzaddikim whose mission took so little to complete.
However, for the woman who had lost her pregnancy, this does not take away the pain. This does not take away the suffering. But it does give it meaning and it does make it easier. While I pray for myself and for others to only have pregnancies, births, babies, and children that have much to complete and much to accomplish so that they live long and full lives, I feel fortunate to know that my loss was not for nothing. Unlike what the doctor had said, that sac was not empty. And all the morning sickness and emotional trauma did serve a purpose. A very important purpose. For I was chosen, for one reason or another, as the conduit to aid a very holy soul in its vital and final mission. And that means the world to me.
The information provided is for informative purposes only and in no way is intended to give either medical or halachic guidance. Please consult your doctor or rabbi for any questions in these sensitive areas.
(Originally published on Chabad.org in 2006, for a loss that took place over 20 years ago.)
Sara Esther Crispe
is a writer, inspirational speaker and life coach for teens, adults, couples and families. She is the Co-Director of Interinclusion.org, a social mosaic which perpetuates the arts, sciences, literature, and music through Jewish tradition. She was also the creator and editor of TheJewishWoman.org and has worked as a producer for shows relating to Judaism on the Oprah Winfrey Network, HARPO Productions and Refinery29. She lives with her family in Danby, Vermont where they run Jewish experiential retreats and programming. You can follow her on Facebook, and for speaking engagements or coaching, please email her.