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The identity crisis of losing a baby to miscarriage

It took just 10 minutes to flip a switch in Ariel Levy’s body and mind to make her into a mother. The journalist was on her final major overseas reporting trip, in rural Mongolia, when her pregnancy ended prematurely and she gave birth in her hotel to a son who did not survive. Levy gives her Brief but Spectacular take on miscarriage and our inability to control Mother Nature.

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    Now to another in our Brief But Spectacular series, where we ask people to describe their passions.

    Tonight, we hear from Ariel Levy about grief and motherhood. She's a staff writer at "The New Yorker" and author of the book "The Rules Do Not Apply."

  • ARIEL LEVY, Writer, The New Yorker:

    When I was 38, I took a reporting assignment in Mongolia, in Ulaanbaatar.

    And it was going to be like big adventure. I mean, you don't get much more exotic than Outer Mongolia. And it was the last adventure like that I was going to have for a long time, because I was five months pregnant. The doctors I talked to said, it's fine to fly until your third trimester. Off you go.

    But the second night I was in Mongolia, I went into labor in my hotel room, and I gave birth in the bathroom at my hotel. And for 10 minutes, I was somebody's mother. And then the baby died before the ambulance got there. And that was that. That was that.

    It was like a switch had flipped inside me, and I had experienced — however briefly, I had experienced maternal love. And I couldn't get that switch to flip back, so I felt like a mother. And, you know, flip a switch in my body too, when I was making milk to feed this baby who wasn't there.

    It was almost like an identity crisis. It was like, I know I'm a mother, but I sound crazy if I say it because I have no child.

    While the particulars of my situation are unusual — like, I have yet to meet another woman who is like, I too lost a baby in a hotel in Mongolia — like, that's weird — but miscarriage is extremely common.

    I was doing this reading in the Bay Area, and this woman said: I have three children who are alive. I lost four babies, and I am 77 years old, and I miss every one of them.

    I just had always thought that if you were dogged and strategic and you had tenacity, you could get what you wanted. But being dogged and strategic and tenacious has not convinced my body to make a child. And that's not up to me.

    I had this idea in my head since I was little that being a writer, like, a woman who was a writer was the kind of woman who was free to do whatever she chooses.

    No one's really free to do whatever she chooses, except Mother Nature. Just having a situation where your body is out of your control, it's a preview of death. It's a preview of mortality. And it's certainly been something I have thought about more since this happened, but, counterintuitively, or not, with less fear.

    I feel — I feel better about it.

    My name is Ariel Levy, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on Mother Nature.

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