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What is DOLIU?

Doliu, pronounced \’yo͞o\ is a Romanian word, literally meaning mourning, which traces to  old Russian dolium, an earthenware cask or vessel, often large enough to hold an adult within it. 

Dolium, pronounced \ˈdōlēəm\ has its roots in Latin condolēre \kən-ˈdōl\, which translates as with pain.


So, let’s break this down a little bit.


Dolium means a jar which can contain an adult.  When you picture a jar this large, it might seem quite impressive on the part of the jar, but when I envision a jar this large, with a person inside so as to compare the size of the jar, I think about that person.  Aside from the jar being so large so as to engulf the entire adult person, do you give extra room in your mind for the person involved?  If even for just the moment the person is inside, I imagine quite a cramped quarter.  Keep that in mind.

When a person isn’t crawling inside for a size comparison demonstration, what were these used for?  How would you get your arm inside to retrieve whatever was held within it?

Dolium, or in Greek pithos, were containers that, while being used, were often held in pits for stabilization.  So a pit was dug, the pithos placed, so that it was while these vessels were in the pits, that they were accessible for others to reach what was inside.

These drums were used for holding precious sustenance, such as oils or grains or wine.  According to a little research, these drums could become discarded.  But what would become of a vessel so large and so heavy that it took a gathering of people to circle and lift it?  These earthen jars would become coffins.

I find it interesting, that a jar to hold life and nourishment would become what was considered discarded, and then hold death.

Interesting, also, that such a jar has so many names connected with bereavement: mourning, with pain.

The jar, even while bringing nourishment, while giving life, was known intrinsically for being with pain.

Here at stillbirthday, we share an acrostic called M0M: Mothering Our Mourning.  It means that we recognize that our journey requires we nurture our grief by giving ourselves permission to throw tantrums as children, to shout, to scream, to get messy and roll around in the dirt.  Sometimes figuratively, but maybe sometimes literally too.  But in mothering our mourning, we have to give it something else too, and that is discipline.  We have to put some safe frames around our journey.  We have to practice and learn self control.  To be respectful, to offer forgiveness to others, to, in our own time and in our own way, let our mourning grow up a little bit.  Mature our mourning.  And, in the acrostic M0M, it is not an oh in the center, but a zero.  Because the most profound growth possible comes from the pit, it comes from moving the dirt away and digging underneath to what may be hiding.  Making space.  Honoring that hole in the earth, the place that is, exactly because barrenness is what we see.  We make space, to fill it with life.

So when I say I am a DOLIU M0M, you now have a pretty good idea of what I’m talking about.

But, there’s more.

I want to really, really challenge you today as you read this.  And, you may need to read it more than once to fully grasp it.

I’m calling upon you to have eyes to see the fullness of one.single.moment.

Not what happens from that moment or any of the subsequent reactions or events or decisions made because of it.

But just, one, single, moment.

Can we do this together?

The moment in which a mother is faced with having to decide.  The moment a mother is forced to decide how long her baby will live.

Not how she decides or what she decides.  Before that.

It’s the having to decide at all.


Will her boyfriend really kill her?

Will this ectopic pregnancy really kill her?

Will this diagnosis really be fatal to her baby?


I was 21, and I found myself with cold gel on my abdomen and crinkly paper beneath me in a planned parenthood.  I saw the zoomed out circle on the outdated computer monitor.  I saw the disengaged glare in the eyes of the stranger and I heard her cold, unimpressed question.  “What are you going to do about it?”  These are the words that confirmed my pregnancy, and these are the words that were followed a single moment later by my decision.  I left the planned parenthood with my decision and later, I lived out that decision as I entered into a battered women’s shelter with my young son.

In “choosing life” I nearly lost mine.

And then I wrapped myself all up in what my infant faith taught me about life in the womb and I cast my condemnation onto others for a very long time.  I allowed my most selfless moment to fester into the ugliest kind of self righteousness all in the name of legalism and I thought I was pleasing my God because I stamped His name on my actions and I thought I was doing it right.

An inspection of fruit meant to be as far away as anything remotely depicting a break of the law of religion and, under the self righteousness was sheer terror that I might not pass this inspection.  I had to.  I couldn’t lose this faith, too.  It is all I had to stand on.

Murder is defined as killing with a forethought of malice, and murder is how elective abortion is defined as we cry out to defend life in the womb.  Murder is not the correct terminology when a mother doesn’t sustain a full pregnancy until the live birth of her baby.

When looking for a dictionary definition of abort – not abortion, but abort – the very first definition in multiple dictionaries is in reference to termination of a pregnancy which results in unviable offspring.  Yet, the word abortion in the obstetrical context is derived from the term used in, for example, air craft, which is to abort a mission and go back to base.

Then one might take some time to define what it means to have the mission in the first place, what physical as well as mental preparation, intention, course charting and goals in mind it takes for a pilot to set off on a mission, and subsequently, what it means for that pilot to turn around, to go back to base or to retreat and go back home.  None of these depictions are correct when a mother doesn’t sustain a full pregnancy until the live birth of her baby.

Abort in the aeronautical sense, then, is really, to quit.   Can a mother quit being a mother via elective abortion?  Does elective abortion forfeit motherhood?  Does it undo or turn around her pregnancy?  Because abort doesn’t mean to just stop in mid air like a hover aircraft, but it literally means to go back to the beginning.  The involution of the uterus postpartum is not an undoing.

In pregnancy, there is no undoing.  If quitting means to resign from position, this hearkens the depiction of a mother choosing an adoption plan for her baby, sacrificially granting another individual to share in the title of mom.  She is then, in a sense, resigning from this title.  Does this mean she is quitting on her child?

Quitting is an inappropriate term for adoption and abortion is an inappropriate term for not sustaining a full pregnancy until the live birth of her baby.  Because neither is a giving up and neither is an undoing or going back to the beginning.

When the dolium were given up on, when they were considered discarded, they held the remains of life.  They were known as being with pain.

Fetal microchimerism, beginning at approximately four weeks gestation, is a cellular imprint of the baby, of the pregnancy.  From the most microscopic, fundamental, foundational perspective, there is literally no undoing or going back in pregnancy.  The reality of us as people, as God’s most personal, valuable creation, is this solid, this constant, this unbreakable, this certain.   Maybe you fear your life has little meaning, and you wonder if you’ll be remembered after death, if you matter.  We do.  Each of us.  Intrinsically.  This is the undoable truth.

So let me digress and bring you to the point.

Hold your values in front of you, and really inspect them.  Not only where they derived from, but how they’ve been influenced, and what they ultimately result in.  There is substantial value to speaking to the inherent worth of life in the womb and we need to know about prenatal nutrition, health, and even bonding in the womb, because these things are true and good.  These things shape who we are and who we become.

But when a mother shares with me that she has been faced with the decision of duration of life in utero, I will not qualify my offering of love to her on the condition that she faced such a decision in the reactions that I might or even that I might wish for her.  Because sin literally means to fall short, and we all fall short.  Because love covers a multitude of these fallings, and it is when we are in the pits, that we are accessible to be reached.

In speaking for God and in speaking for life in the womb, we become so focused on the reactionary course and make our conditional love based on performance.  In so doing, we forget completely the very single moment the mother was faced with such a decision, and instead try to slice this moment out of reality, by telling her through our self righteous expectation of performance that there was no choice to begin with.

Well, the truth is, being faced with the decision of duration of life in utero, it really isn’t a choice.  Choice means the power to choose between more than one possibility.  And by attaching choice to abortion what these are collectively saying is that a mother has the power to choose to undo her motherhood.  It is literally impossible.

And so we cheer for the idea of a mother choosing to be aware that she cannot undo the reality of her child, and we sneer for the idea of a mother choosing to be unaware that she cannot undo the reality of her child.

When a mother reacts to being faced with the decision of the duration of life in utero by not completing the duration of the pregnancy to its fullest, she can face tremendous psychospiritual and/or social issues – some of which have been proven through biophysical research to be alleviated should she choose to face the duration of the pregnancy instead.  It is important to honor her baby and to honor her, by sharing these truths with her.*

These can include feeling distanced or isolated or shamed by her faith or spiritual connections, and requires a broader understanding of the challenges of such things as doctrine.  These can include feeling distanced from or shamed by other social constructs, including family, spouse, and other loved ones.

When a mother reacts to being faced with the decision of the duration of life in utero by completing the duration of the pregnancy to its fullest, she too can face tremendous, tremendous challenges on many levels.  Even while there may be some  real health advantages to this course, including a longer tenure of bonding, these don’t undo the moment(s) in which she was presented with the decision to begin with.

What is it like, to even be faced with the question?

To even have to ask yourself, what am I going to do?

To have the empty eyes peering at you over the brim of her glasses with the calculatedly vague circle of life on the dusty computer screen, asking you, “What are you going to do about it?”

What is it like to have to meet this question in your darkest, most vulnerable and intimate space?   And have this question answered already by others who dictate for you, by religious expectation or by violent attacks against your life?

There is war in this moment.  In this very moment, with a seemingly offhand question by the disinterested professional with the name tag.

The duration of life in utero.  DOLIU.

I have met this moment.

If you have too, you may have hidden battle scars, just from this moment, however you reacted to it.  Because doliu literally means pain, all by itself.  May you find yourself encircled by those who enter into your pithos, your mourning, arms reaching in, who touch you with the anointing oils and living waters of love.

Your moment of meeting doliu may have been overlooked, suppressed, blocked out.

But I remember.

And you are loved.


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  1. THank you for taking the time to write this. I am digesting the reading of it..will be back to share more.

  2. Kathie Neff says:

    The metaphors in this post contain deep truths. I have no words.

    Thank you for naming this so gently and effectively. Thank you for the challenge to us in this reading. May its seeds grow into strong, healing love to those who are most in need.

  3. sherry camp says:

    This is so deep but very encouraging. Thank you!


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