After trying to conceive for 10 years, a woman finally got pregnant. However, celebrations would be short-lived. Within four days of finding out she was expecting, she went from the high of anticipating the birth of the baby she had tried so hard to conceive to an unfathomable low after receiving a call from her doctor.
After a history of miscarriages, Carolyn Savage and her husband, Sean, turned to in vitro fertilization in the hopes of having a fourth child. Much to their delight, it had seemingly worked. Carolyn was finally pregnant. Sadly, within four days of receiving the news, the Sylvana, Ohio, couple would have their entire world turned upside down as they learned the frozen embryo of another couple had been mistakenly transferred into Carolyn’s womb.
Faced with the embryo mix-up, Carolyn had an unimaginable choice to make. Carolyn could choose to abort or the Savages could fight for custody of the baby once it was born. Due to her strong Catholic faith, abortion was out of the question for Carolyn, who chose to carry the baby that she and Sean called “Little Man.” However, after carrying the baby to term, Carolyn decided the baby was not hers to keep and made the most selfless decision she could ever make.
On September 24, 2009, the Savages held their newborn son for 30 minutes and then returned him to his biological parents, Shannon and Paul Morell of Sterling Heights, Michigan. The Morells, who had maintained a respectful relationship with the Savages throughout Carolyn’s pregnancy, named him Logan.
Although the Savages considered it a “gift” to return Logan to his biological parents, they admitted that the horrific mistake tore apart their lives. Carolyn was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after the delivery, and their marriage was under tremendous strain, prompting them to seek counseling.
Eventually, the Savages decided to share their long, painful, and somewhat “ambiguous loss” in a book titled “Inconceivable,” in which they shared their unusual journey and what it was like to grieve a baby who didn’t die. Although their son had not died, he was gone, and it was a loss they felt deeply.
“We have three children. Or do we have four? A strange question, but the kind that parents who have lost a child ask themselves from time to time. That absent child is always with you, a loss you feel some days as yearning and other days in a gasp of pain,” Carolyn wrote. “This was a child whom I nurtured and we both protected from the forces conspiring against his survival,” she added in the book’s prologue. “Yet I understand that I may never hold him in my arms again and that the next time I see him, he will think of me as a stranger.”
The Morells also wrote a book, titled “Misconception,” in which they described their own harrowing wait, knowing that with Carolyn’s past history of miscarriages, their child might never be born, according to ABC. Thankfully, however, the Morells’ wait ended with the birth of a son—their “miracle baby,” while the Savages’ painful experience and grief were only just beginning.
While some may not understand the feeling of loss the Savages experienced since the child Carolyn carried had no biological connection to them, the grieving mother was able to put into words what she had felt for the child who grew inside her. “He’ll always be my baby, even though he’s their son,” Carolyn said. “There was no way of entering into a pregnancy and taking a 12-cell embryo and turning it into a human being and not feel a maternal connection to him.”
The Savages and Morells are not the first or the last to suffer an “ambiguous loss.” In fact, the term has been coined by Dr. Pauline Boss, an emeritus professor at the University of Minnesota who described the ambiguity in her book “Ambiguous Loss.” The term is used to describe a loss that isn’t clear, such as when a person goes missing and might be presumed dead, but their body has not been found. Examples include when people get lost at sea or children are kidnapped without a trace.
An “ambiguous loss” happens when we have no physical body to confirm that a death has happened, but the person is no longer with us physically. “It’s a loss that has no closure,” Dr. Boss, a pioneer in the interdisciplinary study of family stress management, explained. “People have a difficult time resolving this,” she added. “There are no rituals or sympathy cards for them.” In this case, there are also no “thank you” cards that could adequately express the gratitude the Morells must feel for the Savages and the gift of their son, but we are sure it is felt every time they look into their child’s eyes.