Scarred for Life (Judith)

In 1991, my then 73-year-old mother visited me in Paris for my 36th birthday.
She’d made the long journey from the Dutch countryside by train, and while brewing a cup of tea, I drew her a bath.
Unable to get out of the tub she called for help.
While I’d often seen NIta in the nude as a child, it had been 30 years since I saw her completely undressed.
“Now you’ve seen it all,” she said, no doubt in response to my gaze.
She caught me taking in the slack, creamy skin of her deflated stomach, the nearly hairless pubes and surprise, surprise, her, our, my labia.
Would my body be like hers, I wondered.

A year later I was about ready to give birth.
Throughout my pregnancy I had continued my yoga practice and Jane Fonda’s exercises for pregnant women.
Fonda created the book with a midwife, who in the last chapter warned against the danger of a vaginal breech delivery.
Our breech baby Ariane Eira suffocated, just like the midwife described, during the last five minutes of her birth.
The past nearly 18 years it seems I’ve attempted to keep my stomach round, filling the empty skin, not wanting to view or face the emptiness.
The ten years following our loss I got pregnant four times, each pregnancy ending in a miscarriage.
After a “missed abortion” in 2003, I decided to stop trying to have another baby.
No longer trying to have a family, I focused on what we, my husband and I, had and could have together, just the two of us.
We got a puppy. I remember the moment I felt her heartbeat on my chest, a subtle reminder of earlier loss.

These days I’m working with a personal trainer to get back in shape, I enjoy the rediscovery of a former self.
As the fat burns away and my muscles tighten, the empty belly remains,
Other than that there’s the seldom shared, elongated scar on my perineum, which unlike the scars on my heart, is another visible proof of my motherhood.
My mother and I, so alike in so many ways, except for the daughter she got to see grow up and I had to let go before I could feel her heart beat outside of me.

55 (in November 2010)
6 pregnancies, one birth
18 years postpartum
Collage “Starlight” ¬©Judith van Praag
illustration from Creative Acts of Healing: after a baby dies


22 thoughts on “Scarred for Life (Judith)

  • Friday, November 12, 2010 at 10:15 am

    So sorry for your losses, your writing is absolutely beautiful! Good luck to you on your journey and rediscovery :)

  • Friday, November 12, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  • Friday, November 12, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story. I hope you and your husband enjoy yourselves and the freedom to move freely. Be well.

  • Friday, November 12, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    this is so poignant an beautifully written. thank you for sharing it with us.

  • Friday, November 12, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    I have to admit I am humbled by your story. For 15 months a part of me has been angry about my doctor’s declaration that “you cannot have a vaginal birth with your breech first baby”. My mind has repeatedly gone back to my mother-in-law, who was born breech, and my friend from college, who was as well (although only moments after her vertex twin sister). I thought it was an over-cautious medical stance that forced me to have a cesarean. But your story forces me to realize that something could have gone wrong, that breech births aren’t as simple as they seem. I would do the surgery dozens of times if only to protect my children.

    Thank you so very much for sharing. I am terribly sorry for your loss.

  • Saturday, November 13, 2010 at 12:21 am

    You are a truly amazing woman. I cannot imagine the strength you must have summoned over the years while other women around you rejoiced in motherhood. I have just been in to kiss my 11mth old son while he sleeps and smiled at my stretch marks in the mirror. What a silly thing to worry about when I am so blessed. I think your physical scars are the kisses your babies left behind to remind you how much they love you.

  • Saturday, November 13, 2010 at 7:01 am

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. Your loss makes my heart ache, but your hope & love warm it.

  • Saturday, November 13, 2010 at 9:41 am

    Oh Judith,

    This piece broke my heart. You are so brave, so beautiful, so strong. I don’t know how you managed through these losses, I’ve experienced several major losses in my own life, but never one that came from within me. I have no idea how I would cope and I have an immense amount of respect for you never giving up, realising when it was time to move on, picking up the pieces and making beauty from the pain. You are an inspiration.

    Much love,


    P.S. Many thanks to The Shape of a Mother for featuring this incredible post. I am sure this piece has helped many other women gain valuable perspective.

  • Saturday, November 13, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Thank you for sharing this touching, intimate story. I’m so sorry for your terrible loss. I wish you healing and happiness.

  • Saturday, November 13, 2010 at 11:00 pm


    Your story is touching and heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing it, it brought many things to mind. I was a breech, but so many came before me I like to think my mother hardly noticed. But mothers always notice, don’t they, every unexpected gaze, every time we catch our breath.

  • Sunday, November 14, 2010 at 5:32 am

    Judith, What a truly toucjing but heartbreaking story. I applaud your courage in sharing this and I send all my best wishes for your ongoing healing process. Andrea.

  • Sunday, November 14, 2010 at 6:12 am

    Judith – rendered speechless by this. A beautiful outpouring that reminds us all what is important in life. Thank you.

  • Sunday, November 14, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    My heart aches for you, Judith, and yet I’m so proud of you at the same time. Thank you for giving your story a voice. I’m busy on my own memoir, which had many long difficult months, but ultimately a happy outcome for our family. I worry that those who have suffered losses like yours will find it painful rather than uplifting.

    On a funny note, I remember seeing my mother-in-law naked for the first time and noticing how she and my husband have the same rear end. This was information I could have gone a lifetime without knowing. Talk about being scarred for life!

  • Sunday, November 14, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    I am so sorry. There is nothing else I can think to say.

  • Monday, November 15, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Judith, this is heartbreadking – and lovely. And brave. I’ve recommended it on SheWrites, in the big blogger group thread “What Blog did you VISIT today?”

  • Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    Mary V, Amy, ANGW, Marz, Laura, Charlotte, Mina, Victoria, Andrea, Amanda, Apryl and Meg, many thanks to all of you for taking the time to read and then to leave a few words of solace. For that’s what it means to me/us.

    Especially during this time of the year, the upcoming holiday season leading to the anniversary of our baby’s birth and death, I can use all the positive attention I can get.

    @Colleen, I’m relieved to know you had your C-Section and grateful that reading about our experience made you realize your doc’s advice was not that off the wall.
    Years after our loss I had a chance to be an advocate for C-Sections for breech deliveries in the Netherlands. This wasn’t possible until after the clinical studies of Dr. Hannah. The studies proved C-Sections, while serious operations, were safer for mother and child in the case of a breech than a vaginal delivery. And that while Dr.Hannah set out hoping to prove the opposite!

    @Sezin, thanks for your compassionate words, now you know what I meant by “intimate scars” and why I was hesitant (still am) to share an image for your project.

    @Susan, Thank you for your compassion. It is true, even when I’m happy for other mothers, even when I enjoy other people’s children, there’s always, usually after a confrontation or get together, the reminder of what we miss.

    It does get less acute over time, the scars do heal, but grief can hit at the most unexpected moments, years, even decades later. I’ve come to realize that having a successful subsequent pregnancy and delivery can make a big difference, something we haven’t been able to experience.

    @All, Knowing that my writing has touched you touches me in turn. I’ve read all of your responses to my husband and he says the same.


  • Friday, November 19, 2010 at 8:28 am

    I am so very sorry for your loss. My son was born by emergency cesarean as his heart rate plummeted. I know how close I came to losing him, and can deeply empathize with you.
    I’ve found that when we share our truth, releasing the pain we carry in silence for years, it not only frees us but breaks us open to receiving. You have reached countless women through your writing. I believe that you have shifted something in your personal universe…and miracles will happen for you as a result. Watch for them…

  • Saturday, November 20, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Thank you for connecting sharing your own experience and for your kind words. I’m glad I had a chance to visit your blog and read about the tragic event that influenced how you stand in life.
    As I read your poem about the fire that devastated your home and killed your pets, I was reminded of a section in my book Creative Acts of Healing.
    Whatever happened as I was growing up, my mother would always say: “Brand is erger,” or “Fire is worse.”

  • Monday, February 7, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    Thanks for sharing and im so sorry for your loss!

  • Saturday, April 30, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    I’m sorry for your loss, and I thank you for sharing your story, it takes courage to recount painful memories. I was blessed to have a daughter when I was young, single, and did a foolish thing….when I older, secure, and married, I was never able to get pregnant again, there has always been a secret loss in my heart for another child, to truly appreciate the miracle of childbirth, that I so foolishly took for granted the first time. I love my daughter dearly, but I still long for a second one….

    My grandkids now ask why I only had one child (there are four of them), I try and explain that life does truly work in mysterious ways.

  • Sunday, May 1, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    I am so sorry for ur loss. though i am not a woman but after reading ur story my respect for woman has increased..thank u so much for sharing ur story.

  • Thursday, July 25, 2013 at 11:02 am

    Ontroerd door je levens verhaal.
    Wat een moed om dit zo tevertellen.
    Find je heel dapper om je zo bloot testellen.
    Bedankt hier voor!
    Veel vrauwen hebben deze littekens van zwangerschap.
    Ook bij mij bracht ider zwangerschap een andere serie littekkens me: vlekken op mijn gezicht, witte haren, zwaardere borsten etc.
    Maar zo ook de rest van het leven..
    Heb nooiet deze littekkens appart bekeken maar geacsepteerd.
    Zie ider tekken als een deel van mijn leven waar ik trots op ben want ik ben trots op wat ik heb berijkt in mijn leven.
    Bedankt voor je mooie foto’s van echte vrauwen.

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