The Inadequacy of the English Language


A word cloud created from this blog.  I guess I say “like” a lot?

I’ve been thinking a fair amount lately about the inadequacy of the English language.

I’ve had a lot of doctor appointments recently, and have had to talk about our experiences with various members of the medical staff.  There are still several apects of our experience that are hard for me to describe, and I find that my speech becomes halting whenever I have to talk about them.

The image that goes along with this post was created with Wordle, and shows a graphical representation of the frequency of the words I use on this blog.  It’s not a bad place to start.

Miscarriage – As I look back through my blog, I find that I used the word “miscarriage” more frequently in the beginning of the blog, and now I use the word “loss” more frequently (they’re almost equal sizes on the plot).  I find it more and more difficult to find the right words to describe what happened to us.  In a medical setting “fetal demise at 18 weeks” feels right, but with most people it’s too technical.  “Miscarriage” doesn’t feel right either.  When I think of a miscarriage, I think of a first-trimester event.  I know that first-trimester miscarriages can be just as emotionally traumatic as second-trimester losses, but the physical experience, etiology, and prognosis for future pregnancies are undeniably different.  I’m therefore uncomfortable with the word miscarriage, since I think a lot of people misunderstand my experience when I use it, but I don’t have another word to replace it.  Stillbirth is clearly inappropriate — I was about a week and a half shy of the miscarriage/stillbirth line in the US, so it’s medically inaccurate, in addition to which it feels presumptuous to use a word that is generally understood to describe the loss of a baby at full term.  “The loss of our daughter” or “after our daughter died” are phrases I’ve used a fair bit, but even though I certainly consider her our daughter, I know some people wouldn’t, and I worry that people who don’t know what happened might get the wrong idea — I don’t want to sound melodramatic.  “Pregnancy loss” isn’t a bad compromise, but it’s vague as well — a pregnancy loss could refer to any stage of pregnancy, so again it requires people to assume.  I’ve tried “pregnancy loss at 4.5 months,” but that’s clunky as well.  I tend to adapt my description based on the situation, but amazingly, even after talking about it for nine months, I still don’t feel like I have a good grasp of the language.  Every time, I hesitate before saying the words, because I have to carefully choose which words to say.

Infertility – This word is very, very small on the graph.  I had to check to make sure it even appears.  There is no doubt in my mind that we are experiencing infertility, i.e., the inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term after a year of trying (in fact, we’re going on two years strong, baby!).  We’ve also got a clear tubal factor infertility diagnosis, although since it only happened a few weeks ago I’m still ruminating on this new aspect of my identity.  Obviously (from the word cloud) the experience that looms largest in my mind from the past two years is our pregnancy loss, not our infertility.  We clearly weren’t infertile before our loss — perhaps subfertile, but not infertile, and the serious infertility started as a direct result of my first pregnancy, so in a way we’re experiencing secondary infertility… although technically “secondary infertility” only applies after a live birth.  So, what the heck are we?  Newly infertile?  Crappy at producing live babies?  Really unlucky?  (Yes, yes, and yes.)  I recently mused to friends that I was thinking about joining one of the two major support group organizations in our area, but I wasn’t sure which group to join: do I join the pregnancy loss support group, or the infertility group?  I’m sort of an outlier in either, although I clearly belong in both.

Trying naturally – This is a phrase I’ve used before myself, but these days I’m coming to heartily dislike it.  It’s not the “trying” I object to (in fact, I find it an amusing euphemism for having lots and lots of sex), but rather the “naturally.”  As we move closer to starting IVF, I worry that thinking about this method of conception as “unnatural” will bleed over into our thoughts about the child that we hope to bring to life through this method.  That child will (I hope!) be our natural, biological child, just conceived with the assistance of some folks in lab coats.  I find myself stuttering over the language of moving to IVF.  We’re not “giving up” on “trying naturally,” we’re allowing for assisted conception.  We’re trying with assistance.  We’re using assisted reproductive technology.  Nothing quite feels right.  Perhaps the simplest thing to do is shrug it off and say “we’re moving on to IVF.”

So much of what we’ve experienced in the last year has defied words.  How do you describe those first fluttering feelings of your first-born child in your womb?  Some people say butterflies, some people say slippery eels, but there are just no words for that incredible sensation.  Then there’s the moment in which you realize that your longed-for baby has no heartbeat, that in an instant your life has changed, that nobody can reverse the terrible stilling of the heart that you’d hoped would beat for a hundred years.  There are no words for the fragility of life that you feel, suddenly realizing that your husband’s heart might stop beating at any moment, or your mother’s, or your own.  There are no words to describe that tiny, red, beautiful body with the perfect fingers and the perfect eyelids that is your first born daughter.  No words to describe the feeling as she slips from your body and leaves you empty inside, emptier than you’ve ever realized you could be.  No words to describe the apathy and remoteness you feel in the weeks and months after her death, when your mind is constantly rearranging its conception of your future around this terrible truth.  No words for that constant nagging sense that you’ve forgotten or misplaced something — but when you pay attention to the feeling, you realize it’s your daughter that you’re missing.  No words for the hopeless tears that take you by surprise, for the obsessive circular thinking, remembering, and fears for the future.  No words for the sudden knowledge that your fertility has been permanently lost to infection and scar tissue, that you will never again have the experience of making love with the hope of a child resulting from that perfect, private union.  No words for the hopeful miracle of IVF as it starts to consume your life, both body and mind.  No words when you see parents with their children and remember the one time you held your daughter, or wonder if you’ll ever hold a living child of your own.  No words when someone asks “Do you have kids?” or “How is your baby?”  No words to describe the terrifying blank slate of the future.

There are just no words.

5 thoughts on “The Inadequacy of the English Language

  1. theskyandback

    I have so much to say about this, but haven’t had a free second all day, and now I’m about to fall asleep from exhaustion. But I wanted to at least come on here for now and tell you that I wholeheartedly agree — there are no words. Not a single one. This was beautifully written and made me cry. Nice going! 😢😢

    1. lyra211 Post author

      Thank you so much — I really appreciate your words as always. Isn’t it amazing how words from someone who’s been there can make such a difference? 🙂

  2. Wifey

    I really, really like this post. I can’t seem to find the right words to tell you how much I agree or how this makes me feel or how well you’ve articulated your/our situation. Words are just never enough. Sometimes I wish people could look inside my heart. Maybe then they would really know.


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