Mizuko Kuyo
December 4, 2007 12:51 PM   Subscribe

Mizuko Kuyo, meaning "water-child memorial service" is a memorial service held by or for those who have experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth or abortion, and has become widespread in Japan since the 1970's. (Wikipedia definition). Peggy Orenstein relates her experience with miscarriage and this ritual in Mourning My Miscarriage - In Japan, I Find a Culture Willing to Acknowledge My Loss. posted by agregoli (28 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
An interesting book about the practice is Marketing the Menacing Fetus in Japan. It's definitely the book to read when you don't want the guy sitting next to you on the airplane to strike up any spontaneous conversations.
posted by jonp72 at 12:55 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Thanks jonp72!
posted by agregoli at 12:59 PM on December 4, 2007

"Menacing Fetus" is a name in search of a band, fer sure.

I've known three women who got abortions, and two of them secretly grieved for it. Too bad we don't have similar ceremony in American culture to help foster closure this way.
posted by pax digita at 1:06 PM on December 4, 2007

There is some good stuff in that article. Great post.
There is no real equivalent in Japan to our "pro-life" movement. The Japanese tend to accept both the existence of abortion and the idea that the mizuko is a form of life. I wondered how they could reconcile what seem to me such mutually exclusive viewpoints. But maybe that's the wrong question: maybe I should wonder why we can't.
posted by chunking express at 1:10 PM on December 4, 2007

I had a blighted ovum a year or so ago and it was absolutely heart-wrenching; the possibility of a pregnancy and then having it yanked away. This article is very, very poignant to my own experiences. I especially appreciated this little passage:
I tell myself that this wasn't a person. It wasn't a child. At the same time, I can't deny that it was something. How can I mourn what I don't believe existed?
posted by grapefruitmoon at 1:23 PM on December 4, 2007 [3 favorites]

You're mourning a potential, an opportunity. It certainly isn't a Nothing. Many of us feel the same. (@Grapefruitmoon)
posted by Wilder at 1:30 PM on December 4, 2007

You should really check out the book Liquid Life for a treatment on the subject. Cannot recommend it enough.
posted by absalom at 1:37 PM on December 4, 2007

A shorter BBC article on abortion and Buddhism.

I wish I knew what more to do or say to friends who suffered miscarriages. We brought them food, it was the only thing we could think to do. That and express our sorrow.

It's humbling when you realize there isn't even an easy way to talk about it, precisely because it's more than a possibility, but less than a child. For months afterwards, a friend couldn't bear to be around other friends with kids, and couldn't bear to admit to them why.
posted by canine epigram at 1:37 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

A friend put together a fantastic (and wrenching) collection of writing on this subject: About What Was Lost, with essays by writers like Joyce Maynard and Susanna Sonnenberg, among others. One of the writers, Miranda Field, touches on mizuko kuyo in her piece.
posted by mothershock at 1:54 PM on December 4, 2007

I was curious to see pictures of the shrine, so I poked around a bit and found some: 1 2 3
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:57 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

In my mind I lost a baby, even though I had an abortion. Because you're right, canine epigram, it's more than a possibility, and less than a child.

I mourned, and felt the guilt, and finally let it go a year later. I had looked into the Mizuko Kuyo, but decided to do my own thing, mostly because of the negative energy and marketing surrounding the practice. And because I didn't really need to share it with anyone.

Well, honestly, I couldn't. The only people who know are my ex and my cousin.

I don't think there will ever be an answer or reconciliation between the two viewpoints, "life as sacrosanct" and "woman's choice". Maybe there shouldn't be. We can't always have easy answers.

I do wish, however, I could have shared my pain more openly. I'm sure women who actually miscarry would wish the same.
posted by no, that other sockpuppet at 2:01 PM on December 4, 2007 [3 favorites]

I had a blighted ovum a year or so ago and it was absolutely heart-wrenching; the possibility of a pregnancy and then having it yanked away.

I had one a few years ago, myself. I remember speaking with my OBGYN and mentioning my pregnancy, and having her respond (too strongly, in my opinion), "There was no pregnancy!" To which I replied "it was one to me."
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:02 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

mothershock, thanks for that link.
posted by no, that other sockpuppet at 2:04 PM on December 4, 2007

That was a very moving read.
posted by cmgonzalez at 2:07 PM on December 4, 2007

I got pregnant and had a miscarriage last year (chronicled through my askme's). This article touched me very deeply, especially the passage grapefruitmoon quoted. That is exactly how I felt.
posted by arcticwoman at 2:08 PM on December 4, 2007

When I was in Japan visiting shrines I was struck by these strange little statues with bibs and caps, but I since learned that it was Mizuko Kuyo.
posted by clevershark at 2:24 PM on December 4, 2007

The Light Fantastic: Yes! I've had some friends say the same thing - "Well, you weren't really pregnant..." Blah blah, semantics. I felt pregnant, in my mind, I was pregnant and my emotional reaction was completely in line with that.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:27 PM on December 4, 2007

My aunt had a miscarriage many years ago and to some degree I don't think she ever got over it. It really isn't talked about in our culture, that sense of longing and loss. People also didn't know how to talk about babies around her after that, and that made it even more awkward for her.
posted by 45moore45 at 2:43 PM on December 4, 2007

Thank you for this agregoli. This hits close to home.
posted by never used baby shoes at 3:13 PM on December 4, 2007

What a poignant and also personally meaningful post. Thanks agregoli. I've really been enjoying your posts and comments. The article on Abortion In Buddhism was especially well written, thoughtful and balanced on a topic with so many complex aspects.

It makes sense that women who became pregnant and lost the fetus, for whatever reason, could or would feel grief about that loss and that, if they felt grief, that it could be honored in any way they chose, including a ritual of remembrance, honoring that loss.

At 16, in 1970, I was a homeless, penniless runaway and got pregnant. A high school teacher/lover arranged for me to meet an illegal abortionist and I was on Monday to have an 18" glass catheter put inside to trigger miscarrying. Naturally, I was terrified and thought there was a reasonable chance I would die. Abortions were still illegal then in NYC. Three days before the appointment I miscarried, had a D&C in a hospital and was put to recover in the maternity ward in a room with the wife of a police officer who was livid there was a girl on the ward who had an abortion.

That night I stood in the ward corridor, outside the glass looking into the room with the newborn babies, wondering what if I'd carried the pregnancy to term and experienced overwhelming feelings of loss, grief, guilt, self loathing, yearning and a month or so after attempted suicide. None of the adults in my life who knew seemed to imagine that I could have had any reason for bad feelings, either about having an unwanted pregnancy, being pregnant and bewildered, facing a nightmare abortion or the loss that came after miscarriage.

At 25 I was told I couldn't have children and at 26 had an ectopic pregnancy. Then at 40 became pregnant and had a blighted ovum, for which the gyn told me I'd have to have a d&c, as for a miscarriage. That term, blighted ovum, seemed to disconnect the ovum from the pregnancy process, like a rotten tooth and so forget any feeling of loss, in spite of the pregnancy test showing that I was, in fact, pregnant.

In all three pregnancies there were major hormonal changes in my body, an emotional roller coaster during and after. An interesting situation to experience while also being pro-choice.

Yes, that statement is very powerful for me too, "I tell myself that this wasn't a person. It wasn't a child. At the same time, I can't deny that it was something. How can I mourn what I don't believe existed?"

This feels somewhat strange to say but I was once given a mischievous puppy considered a nuisance by the Tibetan monastery to which it had been given. When my dog was later killed, I was so bereft the monks and teachers at the monastery did a ritual for a dead child and at that time I was able to access and and let go of some of the built up reservoir of grief from the previous losses. It was then I realized how comforting and healing a ritual to honor loss can be.
posted by nickyskye at 3:23 PM on December 4, 2007 [5 favorites]

What a thoughtful, beautiful article. Thank you for sharing.
posted by headspace at 4:19 PM on December 4, 2007

One of my adult students is a gynecologist whose job naturally involves a steady flow of abortions as well as miscarriage-related d&c's. While she places little store in the religious practices of her country (she's one of the most pragmatic individuals I know), her nurses urge...nay, demand...that she attend these ceremonies and also receive additional blessings for the clinic, itself, weekly. In the past, she tried to express her own opinion about the dependence on ritual, and there were threats of resignation, so now she acquiesces.

There are no personal stories I can add about my own childless state that have not been already mentioned above, but I am struck by the fact that so many of us has suffered these griefs by questioning our own need to grieve. We did what we had to to "get past" what we had experienced and end up with so many hidden scars. Perhaps a ritual is precisely what we needed, oh so many years ago.
posted by squasha at 4:30 PM on December 4, 2007

This post and many of the extra links and comments added by the MeFi community are poignant, yet wonderful - thank you all for sharing.
posted by Floach at 7:19 PM on December 4, 2007

Thanks for that article. Again I am touched by the beauty of Japanese sentiment. One of the more amazing collections of Jizo statues is located in Okunoin of Koya-san in Wakayama-ken.
posted by ikahime at 9:37 PM on December 4, 2007

I second many of the posters here. While I have never been a mother (and honestly quite hoping I won't be, because I would be a terrible mum) your stories are all touching and poignant and definitely made me think about a lot of things - family, love, holding on and letting go.

Thank you. Lots of love and hugs to those of you who have shared your stories. You are so incredibly brave.
posted by divabat at 9:40 PM on December 4, 2007

Thanks for this. After much hope my wife became pregnant last year. Unfortunately after a few months our child was diagnosed with trisomy 18. My wife had a late therapeutic abortion. It broke our hearts. Our son has been buried in the children's corner of the local cemetery. I thank all the ones who have been involved in the creation of that corner. Without it I don't know how we would have managed to get through. I can't express how much mourning has been facilitated by this.
posted by nicolin at 2:14 AM on December 5, 2007

divabat, you have a lovely and tender heart.

nicolin, Hadn't heard the term trisomy 18 before and yes, can well imagine what a painful decision that must have been for you both. I'm so very sorry for your and your wife's loss.
posted by nickyskye at 6:25 AM on December 5, 2007

Thank YOU to all who added personal stories and further links. You've made this a much richer thread.
posted by agregoli at 7:12 AM on December 5, 2007

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