As a young mother, I had a few friends with tiny kids. We formed a tight-knit group, and we met together frequently to let our kids explore nature and run (safely) amok. One of these parents experienced a miscarriage, and we all grieved this loss with her. A second friend brought her a gift: a picture showing many smiling baby statues, looking like something out of a Studio Ghibli movie. She said she and her partner encountered these while traveling in Japan, and they were called "Jizos." She gave this picture to our grieving friend, and we learned, despite the juxtaposition of cheery faces, toys, and bright red hats, Jizos hold a deeper purpose.
In Japan, there is a way to honor and acknowledge the loss experienced through miscarriage and babies born still. "Mizuko Kuyo" literally means, "water" and "baby," and it represents the spirit of an infant who has passed, “beings who float in a watery world awaiting birth” (Jizo Bodhisattva: Modern Healing & Traditional Buddhist Practice, by Jan Chozen).
Statues called "Jizos" represent children that never were. Initially the family writes the baby's name on the Jizo, as well as the date of the loss. They may also include a personal message to the baby. If there are ultrasound pictures, one might also be left with the Jizo. The ceremony is performed by a Buddhist Monk, who essentially reads a scripture-like prayer for the baby. Families may come and add caps or bibs of red, pinwheels or other small toys and food offerings.
Mizuko Kuyo has no direct English translation. I would go even further to say, English-language cultures (and many other cultures) have no direct translation in ceremony, emotional comfort and release, and community acknowledgement of this loss.
As a doula, I have seen women and families experience miscarriage and babies born still. While every parent feels their experience differently, they often do feel it deeply. Sometimes these are family mournings, when the baby is closer to birth or gestational maturity -- society deems it more aceptable to share this news and mourn together. But with the majority of miscarriages occurring before 12 weeks of pregnancy, more often this loss is a private ordeal. Many parents or couples haven't shared the news of their pregnancy yet; the support which might be extended by their community is missing, and the pregnant parent, especially, floats through the loss feeling alone with their secret pain.
I don't know why our culture is so bad at this type of loss (we aren't good with loss in general). The point of Mizuko Kuyo is to recognize the passing of a "baby before birth." One Buddhist Monk notes, it doesn't have to be an official religious ceremony, and anyone can have their own Mizuko Kuyo -- even years after their loss. One woman, searching for a way to peace after her miscarriage, asked her husband to participate in Mizuko Kuyo with her. She shares:
"I gathered a few things. The pregnancy test – it symbolized the happiness my husband and I shared when we learned of our pregnancy. A family picture. I also wrote a note that simply said,
This post has been inspired by a dear friend dealing with her own loss tonight. I am sorry to all who have experienced this pain. You don't have to be Buddhist to remember your little one with a Jizo or similar ritual -- consider marking your baby's time with you in a way that settles with your heart.
Love and light <3.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)