Parents of lost babies and potential of all kinds: come here to share the technicolour, the vividness, the despair, the heart-broken-open, the compassion we learn for others, having been through this mess — and see it reflected back at you, acknowledged, understood.

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ghostbelly - part II

This is Part II of my conversation with author Elizabeth Heineman about her memoir Ghostbelly. Scroll down or click here for Part I of the conversation.


Burning Eye: Reading Ghostbelly I was struck by how certain you seemed to be of everything you did—bringing home Thor's body, giving him experiences. After Joseph was stillborn, I had no idea what I wanted. For months. How in the world did you know what you wanted? Would you call it "intuition"? 

Lisa: That’s one of the big mysteries, even to me. How did I know so clearly what I needed to do—and at such a critical early moment? One of the things I hear most frequently from bereaved parents is that they wished they’d spent more time with their child’s body, but they were so stunned they just let the hospital or funeral director take over. By the time they realized they needed something different, it was too late. How did I know what I needed before I’d had a chance to think things through?

Maybe that was the key: I had no time to think, no time to over-intellectualize or get tangled up in the pros and cons of various options. Maybe “intuition” is exactly the right word. In any case, I was incredibly lucky that my intellectualizing brain shut up and my intuitive brain took over. I didn’t do it on my own. If my funeral director hadn’t let me know that taking Thor home was an option, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to ask. But once he put that option on the table, I didn’t lose a second mulling over the question of whether I should do it or not. I knew immediately that it was the right thing to do.


Burning Eye: You have such a certainty that Thor's body was Thor. Yet for me, Joseph's stillborn body was the absence of Joseph. We held him hesitantly and looked at him (but didn't unwrap the blanket) and thought, "This is not our baby. This is just his body. Our baby is already gone."

Thor died unexpectedly during birth. But Joseph died two days before he was born, at 35 weeks. I've been thinking a lot about that difference in our stories. You didn't know going into labor that he was going to die. I knew I was giving birth to a dead baby. It's almost like you had this momentum of life going, expectations of bringing your baby home, that helped you shape the next few weeks with Thor. But for me, everything stopped the moment we found out Joseph had died. Everything went dark, like sleepwalking underwater.

Do you think there's anything to this… that maybe the timing of our babyloss (and I'm speaking generally now, not just about you and me) could affect the trajectory of our actions, our reactions, our shock?

Lisa: I wonder whether this is why you felt from the beginning that this body in your arms wasn’t Joseph, while I somehow felt that the body I was holding was Thor. You knew ahead of time that Joseph was dead; you still had to deliver the body, but you’d already started to come to terms with the fact that he was gone. I went into labor, delivered a baby, and then discovered he was dead. But this was the baby I had.

This was my initial impulse: to get to know my baby. We didn’t even know his biological sex till he was born. So we discovered he was a boy. We discovered that he had thin dark hair, and that he was big. We discovered that he was dead. We were discovering all those things at the same time, and we wanted to get to know him, with whatever characteristics he had.


Burning Eye: One of my favorite parts in Ghostbelly was the funeral home director, Mike, and what you call his "complete lack of orthodoxy." We don't typically think of funeral directors as being genuinely comforting or helpful, but Mike was really there for you.

Lisa: Yes, Mike! Everyone who reads the book falls in love with Mike. In a lot of ways, he really is the hero of the story. He’s the one who let me know that I could visit Thor in the funeral home and even take him home with me. But his personality was just as important as the fact that he passed this information on to me. He was so unorthodox, so allergic to cliché; he even managed to be funny. About a dead baby. It was a way of integrating grief into real life.


Burning Eye: Reading about Mike made me think of a sort of unorthodox encounter I had. Six months after Joseph died, I went to my 10-year college reunion. Standing in line to get pizza at our class dinner, I was talking to this guy I'd vaguely known through a friend. He always struck me as this brilliant, crazy egomaniac. He looked at my necklace and asked, "Who's Joseph?" When I told him Joseph was my baby who died, he said, "Fuck! Man, that sucks!" It was such a different reaction than the doe-eyed looks and calm, sweet words of sympathy I'd gotten from everyone else in my life. And I thought, "Yeah! Fuck! Fuck this! This does suck!" It was the exact right reaction, and one of the most memorable moments from that whole weekend. I wonder, are there any other people, besides Mike, that were unexpectedly there for you, or who said something unexpected to you that ended up being just the right thing to say?

Lisa: My other extraordinary experience of getting-past-cliché didn’t make it into the book. A friend who knew I was writing about my experience put me in touch with an extraordinary playwright, Jen Silverman. I think Jen was initially a little skeptical—she wasn’t interested in writing a conventional tear-jerker—but then she learned I’d brought Thor home, and that story tapped into her fascination with the bonds between the living and the dead. After a lot of conversations between the two of us, Jen wrote a play, “Still,” that moves in the realm of the fantastical. It involves a middle-aged grieving mother (an entymologist!), her midwife (who’s considering a career change), a dominatrix (pregnant with a baby she doesn’t want), and—walking around the stage, chatting up the audience—the baby (who is befriended by the dominatrix but is really searching for his mother). The play is incredible—it’s won a couple of major drama awards in the meantime. For me, though, the process of collaboration created a space for talking about death in a way that felt much more honest than ritualized phrases and hushed voices.


Burning Eye: Wow. That’s pretty amazing, about the play. I’m honestly a little jealous you were able to participate in that collaboration. Writing is such a solitary venture. Grief is solitary, too, even if we are surrounded by supportive loved ones. It’s rare to have a space to talk about death, like you said. I think that’s one of the special things about Glow. 

Are you still writing about Thor, about grief? Or was this book everything you needed to say?

Lisa: It’s hard for me to contemplate writing a new essay about grief. I don’t feel the same urgency about writing about Thor that I once did. And I really did say what I wanted to say at the time.

But that doesn’t mean the story you read is the final word, because my relationship to Thor and my thinking about that time continue to evolve. Many people say you shouldn’t write a memoir until a lot of time has passed—say, fifteen or twenty years—so you have some distance from the events and from the person you were at the time. But what I wanted to convey was the immediacy of grief, and if I’d waited, I would have lost that.


Burning Eye: Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, for writing your book, and for being willing to engage in this conversation here at Glow. Usually at the end of a piece on Glow, we invite the readers to respond, and Lisa has generously agreed to continue the conversation with our readers here in our comments. 

If you'd like to know more about Ghostbelly, it's been added to our bookshelf. You can also visit The Feminist Press website or the book's Facebook page.

How has writing helped you in your grief journey? How has reading others' stories and memoirs helped? Continue the conversation with author Elizabeth Heineman--questions, reflections, reactions--here in the comments section.


ghostbelly - a conversation with author Elizabeth Heineman

Bucking Americans’ typical cultural aversion to death and the dead body, Lisa brought her stillborn son Thor’s body home. She shows him around the house. Takes him for walks. Talks to him. Creates memories. 

This is the story in the new memoir of stillbirth and loss by author Elizabeth Heineman. Ghostbelly pulled me in immediately. Elizabeth—who goes by Lisa—is a feminist and an academic, which is apparent through her analysis to the broader themes she tackles surrounding Thor’s birth and death—home birth, advanced maternal age, relationships, parenting a living child, medical care and birthing culture in America. But her writing isn’t exclusively academic. She narrates the story of Thor’s life and his death in beautiful and poetic passages. And she delves deep, with a painful honesty, into those questions we that we babylost parents ask ourselves—who do we blame for the loss of our child? How do we grieve? What do we do now that our child is gone?

Lisa generously agreed to an interview—a conversation, really—about writing, grief, loss, and her book. Because we both had so much to say, our conversation will be posted here at Glow in the Woods in two parts.


Burning Eye: I was captivated by your writing, by all the angles you wrote from, by all the pieces of your journey and healing. But it was a heartbreaking read, and painful. And, like pressing on a sore tooth, it kind of felt good. It helped me feel closer to my stillborn son Joseph. I wonder who else you hope will read it, and what you hope they get out of it.

Lisa: My experience writing it was a lot like your experience reading it, except times a hundred thousand or so. It was painful, and it felt good. I love your analogy of pressing on a sore tooth. Writing about Thor kept me close to him. In a way, writing about him created Thor. One of the things that’s so existentially horrifying about stillbirth is that stillborn children exist in this liminal state between having-been and not-yet-having-been. Even women who experience their babies as “real” prior to their births get to know them in a whole new way after they’re born—when they get to see them, hear their cries, rock them, nurse them. Never mind what happens in the next few weeks, as, say, the baby turns out to have a good appetite but be a restless sleeper—as the baby really turns into an individual. Stillbirth banishes the possibility of even that most basic establishment of a child’s presence. So at some level I was worried that if my partner and I just buried Thor, if we just “remembered him in our hearts,” then it would be as if he’d never existed. I needed to make sure he existed.


Burning Eye: When you were writing Ghostbelly, who did you write it for?

Lisa: When I was writing, people kept telling me how wonderful it was that I was writing: that my book would be a gift to other bereaved parents, it would helpful to midwives and grief professionals, and so on. It irked me. I knew they meant well, but what they were suggesting felt to me like instrumentalizing Thor’s death: OK, my son died, and that was bad, but look, I’m making a book! It seemed to deny the vastness of what had happened, to shrink the significance of his death into something familiar and manageable.

So I felt the need to insist on the selfishness of my activity: to say “I’m writing it for myself.” And that was the truth.  I was simply compelled to write, obsessively. It came as a complete surprise to me: I’d never been someone to keep a journal, never used writing as a form of self-expression. Thor’s death cracked something in my brain, and out of the crack came a creative energy I didn’t even know I had.

But here’s the thing: even though I was writing to process my own experience, I also needed to communicate. Never mind the people who dismiss or trivialize stillbirth—even with my best friends, there was so much that I couldn’t say in conversation. So I knew from the beginning that I wasn’t just writing for myself: I wanted to get this thing published. But I wasn’t worrying about audience, which was a good thing, because that would have inhibited my writing. I would have been trying to anticipate what others wanted or needed to read, rather than what I needed to say.


Burning Eye: I really identify with that. I’ve always been a writer, and I’ve got lots of fans of my writing—family and friends—that I felt like I should be sharing what I was writing right after Joseph died. But it wasn’t for them. The art I was doing wasn’t for them. To be honest, I wasn’t sure for a while I even wanted to put any of my writing or art out there, even anonymously. Who do you want to read your book, now that it’s out?

Lisa: Bereaved parents. Their families and friends. Grief professionals. Midwives and doulas. There are lots of people with a personal or professional connection to the theme, and part of me wants to add “and anyone who might in the future experience the loss of a child or know someone who does”—in other words, everybody. But I also hope readers will come to it simply for its literary qualities: people who like reading good memoirs, or just good books. It’s a feminist book, so I also hope people interested in feminist perspectives on mothering, grief, or the politics of maternal health care will read it.


Burning Eye: You've clearly spent a lot of time thinking about answers for the judgey observers—and now readers—in your life. You've examined your experiences so thoroughly, as any good academic does, and presented justifications for the way things went. Your book deals a lot with issues of blame. Who do we blame? Who do we want to blame? How do we deal with our feelings of self-blame? Those were some of the hardest sections of your book for me to read, the chapters where you berate yourself and your body. I wonder, how do you feel now, five years after Thor's death, about blame? 

Lisa: I think all parents who experience the death of a child are haunted by the question of whether they could have done something differently, which is just a gentle way of asking whether the death was in some way their fault. Even if it’s 100% clear that it wasn’t. You still torture yourself with “what if” questions. It definitely wasn’t your fault that some drunk driver plowed into the car your daughter was driving—but if you hadn’t phoned her just as she was about to get into her car, she would have been five minutes further down the highway, nowhere near that driver. 

Without wanting to give away too much of the book, I’ll say that my situation was genuinely more ambiguous than that. This wasn’t one of those cases where everyone could agree that there was nothing that could have been done. Because Thor, in fact, could have lived. In the months following the stillbirth, I had to consider, very seriously, the possibility that I had made a fatal mistake in my health care choices. I had to consider the possibility that my midwife had made a fatal mistake in her care for me. I had to consider the larger context of American maternal health care—the ways economics and politics and culture sometimes combine in toxic ways. My partner, Glenn, tortured himself about his role. Although there’s an urge to find a single culprit, it’s usually not so simple. There were many different moments, many different decisions where, if any one of them had gone differently, Thor would be alive today.

All that is reflected in the book. You’re right, I spend a lot of time on the question of responsibility, or how things might have gone differently. And I keep coming to different conclusions, because in a situation with many possible culprits, the one you choose depends partly on who you’re pissed off at at the moment. On page 177 I might have been feeling particularly self-hating, while on page 204 I might have been feeling particularly angry at the medical profession. (I just pulled those page numbers out of thin air—don’t go looking them up!) That’s the tension between me as an academic and me as a grieving parent, or just me as an imperfect human being. I wanted to present my own inconsistencies in trying to unravel the question of blame. That was more honest than trying to present a watertight case. 


Burning Eye: As time went on, how I felt about Joseph—about his body, his presence, his place in my life, in my family's life—changed. A lot. There were things I wish I'd been able to do, later, that I didn't want to do at the time. Like taking pictures of him, with him. Looking back now, are there things you wish you'd done differently? Can you even consider that question?

Lisa: I don’t think there’s any way to get it 100% right. There was a time—I write about it in the book—where I realized with horror that I’d erased Thor’s smell by tossing every piece of fabric that had ever touched him into the laundry. When I came home from the hospital, it felt very important to create sanity in whatever ways we could, and cleaning was part of that. Later, I desperately wanted to bury my nose in something that smelled like him. Of course, the smell wouldn’t have lasted forever, but that wasn’t really the point.

I think the hardest part is wondering whether I did the best I could have for my older son, Adam, who was sixteen at the time. He was good at asserting his needs, which included not seeing Thor or pictures of him. Since his other mother—my ex—and I shared custody, he just stayed with her when we had Thor at home. But both Glenn and I felt strongly about displaying photos at the service. We let Adam know this in advance, but I honestly don’t know how easy it was to maneuver through the space without accidentally seeing them. There were a few other moments along those lines.

For the most part, I figured that when something like the death of a child happens, there will be some fissures—if there’s any time when you can’t guarantee that you’ll do everything right for everyone, the death of a child is it. I relied a lot on the fact that Adam is emotionally a very healthy person, and I also know that he grew in his own way through the whole experience. Part of that growth probably was seeing me in a genuinely bad way—so bad I couldn’t fully tend to him. That’s part of growing up. But still, I wish he’d been spared the whole experience.


Burning Eye: In the book, you talk a lot about your partner and Thor's father Glenn, about your relationship, and the differences in the way you were grieving. I know it's often very painful for partners to face the fact that we all grieve differently. How did you and he deal with those differences? How did you nurture your relationship through that early grief?

Lisa: Glenn and I were incredibly lucky: we just didn’t experience the strain that so many couples face. This may be a good place to point out that we were a bit older (perhaps obvious from the fact that I already had a sixteen-year-old), and that we’d both been around the block when it came to relationships (perhaps obvious from the fact that I had a sixteen-year-old with a woman). We’d accumulated a bit of experience and wisdom. We didn’t have any expectation that we’d handle things the same way, grieve on the same schedule, or want to do all the same things to remember Thor. But I think it only worked because we both did grieve. I think if one of us had had the impulse just to shove it under the rug, then we’d have been in big trouble.


Burning Eye: Now, five years later, how do you incorporate Thor into your family's life? You mention in the book that you've mostly stopped bringing him up to friends, but do you and Glenn still talk about him? Do you talk about him with your older son, Adam? What do you—or will you—say to your new baby about Thor?

Lisa: As it happens, we live only a couple of blocks from the cemetery where Thor is buried—and that cemetery was on my running route even before my pregnancy. So I run by the grave a couple of times a week, deliver new bird food, and say “hi.” Every now and then Glenn, James, and I all go there together for a walk. James likes to fill the birdfeeder, and we plant flowers in the spring (though often the deer nip them before they can grow).

James is almost four now. He learned about death initially by seeing dead animals, so we were able to talk about what happens when bodies die: how they go back into the earth, but how the people (or animals) who loved them might miss them and be very sad. And when you live close to a cemetery, as we do, you learn what they’re all about, even if you don’t have a dead sibling. On one of our recent walks to the grave, he asked me what was written on the gravestone—he’s at an age where he’s interested in letters and how words are put together. So I showed him the letters in Thor’s name and explained who he was. He processed this news in a very kid-logical kind of way. He understood that Thor had grown in my tummy but then had died, so he concluded that he, James, must have grown in Glenn’s tummy. Then I had to double back and give a refresher on the subject of adoption. No, not my tummy, but not Daddy’s tummy either.

Glenn and I sometimes talk about Thor. I continue to have new insights, and so does he, so we share them. New things come up because the book is out; I may tell him about a conversation I had with someone who attended a reading. Sometimes I share those things with Adam, too. But we don’t talk about him a whole lot—there’s no real need. Thor is just part of our common history. 


The second part of our conversation will post on Thursday.


The train brother and sister

This post is about my older living child. If you are feeling sensitive about others' living children, please skip this.


I am a boy. She is a girl.

I am big. She is small.

I am her brother. She is my sister.

I am the Metra. She is the El.

We were three. Now we are four.

Gender. Stature. Numbers. Opposites, new formations, favorite things, references. The unequivocal, irreversible way a three-year-old’s awareness of self was cemented, and his knowledge of the world expanded, as we announced to him gently about his unborn little sister.

Days later, we stuck two little Lego figurines – that of a little boy and a little girl – to a yellow Lego platform. The boy wore a hat, the girl had pigtails. They were my little son and my littler daughter, and we were very proud of our favorite ‘sculpture’. As we were fulfilled with our little children.

The Lego figurines still stand on my dresser. My children’s Lego avatars are together there, close to each other, on the same plane, in the same world. And around them plays a little boy, alone, his eyes not even daring to look at the figurines or claim them anymore. Now he calls himself “the boy who doesn’t have a girl.” Now he doesn’t want to grow up, turning his head side to side whenever someone calls him a ‘big boy.’ But even now, irreversibly, in his beautifully numbered world, we are four. When I burst out crying because he says that he always thought she was going to come out of my tummy and play with him, but she left without playing, he instantly assures me from the backseat, “Don’t cry Maani. I know she is always with me.”

Where do I begin this story of love, who do I tell about them? About a little boy and his undying love for his dead sister? What should this story be about? Should it talk about the truncated promise of camaraderie and companionship? Should it talk about love, pure and strong, that he poured from his heart? Yes, maybe. Maybe this story is about all of that. Yet, along the way, it becomes a murky tale of destruction, betrayal, abandonment, of meaningless loss. This story is about unfulfillment, of breaking apart, of having all this love but not having the one to give it to.

And then, this story is about a journey. Of a train brother and his train sister, running on parallel tracks. Never to meet again, never able to touch or hold hands. But always running together.

We rage on, angry, livid, that this happened to him, that our baby is having to unlearn all that he learned, and walk backwards at a time when the only road for him should be the one ahead. We are heartbroken that he was made to lead, and then left alone midway without a sense of direction. We watch helplessly as he eyes friends’ siblings longingly, coming home to tell me someone’s ‘baby is growing teeth,’ or another’s ‘baby is walking and falling down.’ Then we talk about what his sister would have been. Would. Have. Been. You would think it is too much for a little boy to imagine. It is.

But he smiles as he imagines “Bonu walking and falling down, walking and falling down.” He looks at my lost eyes, and smiles wider. I wonder if he would have smiled like this if she were here, walking and falling down. She. Were. Here. You would think it is too much for a mother to imagine. It is.

Then we travel together to what-if-land, stretching our imagination as far as it would go. Yet, it never stretches to reality, bouncing back like a big colorless knotty yo-yo. The imagined shapeless vision lays bare a very defined and empty reality. So we let our minds come back, shaken, frozen, broken. We let our imagination break away and freeze up, little by little, as we wander back to what-is-land, still smiling, and never looking away from each other’s eyes.

Those who know and love Aahir often tell me how he has had to grow up in the past year. That is partly true. Aahir, who is my knight in 5T clothes, grew up too much, too soon, long before Raahi died. He watched his Maani cry the day Baba left for Columbus, and there were still three toothbrushes in the caddy. They hugged and talked about her fears for Bonu, and he watched her make countless trips to the hospital alone. He grew up into a sheltering tree the morning he found his mother scared and needing to go to the hospital, since Bonu appeared to be coming that day. Sleepy-eyed, yet wide alert, he offered to wipe the spilled milk at breakfast, and again they worked as a team, he the fearless comrade, hurriedly putting on his shirt, she the tireless fighter, getting his bag together. When he said that he loves Maani, Baba and Bonu, as Maani buckled him into his carseat to go to his school, and then to the hospital, her eyes were full and her mental reserves empty. She desperately hung on to his faith, as hers was gone. He was three years old.

Those three-year-old hands would pull Raahi’s rolling bassinet to a private room we were finally allowed to bring her to, after her second surgery. His toes would get hurt every day, as the wheels rolled over them. He pulled on, never looking away from the bassinet. At the hospital, he stayed way past his bedtime, his eyes fixated on his little sister. He often fell asleep on the couch, waking again when it was time to go, his sleepy fingers pulling the bassinet back to the hospital nursery. All of the nurses knew Raahi’s big brother. All of them said he was the most caring big brother a little sister could ever have. When we would visit her by ourselves, they would all ask for my “big helper.” They didn’t know that he was less a helper and more a sustainer.

His “Big Brother” shirt hung in his closet, waiting for the day he would bring her home. He wore it for the first and only time, on the morning of July 15, 2013, as he danced around, readying his trains to welcome his baby sister into his home. He pulled at the “standy,” the feeding bag pole, at the hotel and the airport during our move, and ran ahead of us, alerting everyone, “Watch out, watch out! My little sister is coming!”

In the early morning eight days later, all he could do was scream. “Don’t hurt my Bonu Baba!” as a distraught Som gave CPR to an unresponsive Raahi. “I don’t want to go Ma!” as I pushed him into the neighboring room in the hotel. I could hear him screaming from behind the closed door, in there with strangers, as a war was raging outside. My comrade, my warrior son.

After we brought him back from a friend’s house that evening, he was quiet. He didn’t ask any question about his missing sister and the missing swing he had put together with Baba two days back. He lay next to me, ears perched like a wounded deer, sometimes holding my arm, often curling closer. He listened intently over the pouring waters as I sobbed in the bathroom. “Maani is crying,” he would alert everyone.

In the following days and weeks, Aahir got to know that his sister had “flown away,” and that he was never going to see her again. He remembered the little box in his chest, which housed the trains in Evanston and Tiki Mashi (my friend Katie), wondering if Bonu will be living there from now on. I had told him that everything and everyone we love live in a little box in our chest, and we carry them everywhere, when he was heartbroken at having to leave the Metra, the El, and Tiki Mashi back in Evanston. And I had said that the trains are going with him. “The Metra is Aahir, as it is big, and takes serious, heavy steps. The little colorful El Train in Raahi’s favorite purple, the color of my university, is Raahi herself. It flits by next to the Metra, hurrying along, running fast, just like she will soon!”  Aahir loved to think of himself and Raahi as the train brother and sister, and from then on, he would often talk about the many journeys they would take us on, and how he would always run ahead of her, showing her the way.

We didn’t know that the littlest train would outrun us all in four days.

A week after Raahi left, Aahir asked me, “Has she gone on to her next station Maani? Why can’t the Metra go there?”

I ask myself that question every day, and try to understand it. Was this earth one of my little explorer’s many sojourns, was her brother her fellow traveler only for this one short journey? Did she know how much we loved being on this journey with her? Has she gone on to her next station? Is she saving us all a seat on her train?

I don’t know. I know that right now, we’re on the magical Metra. We tell him every day how much we love riding with him. We watch every day as he gazes into space, still looking and wishing for his colorful little El train to run by his side, and the emptiness, the meaninglessness of this drive clouds his eyes. Then he smiles back at us, and takes us on a spectacular journey, holding my hands tight, leaning on his father. Showing us what lies ahead, and what comes along the way.

We wave the flag, clear our throats, and blow the whistle for the train brother and sister.


How have your living children responded to their loss(es)? Is there any special imagery/story you have created or found that helps them address the absence of their sibling(s)? What have you, as parents, learned about them from the way they are growing up with and despite loss(es)?


my grief baby

Our guest post today comes from Meghan of Expecting the Unexpected. She lost her daughter Mabel in March, 2014. She writes about her journey:

"'Your baby might die,' they said.  This wasn't the first unexpected news I received in pregnancy. I had thought her Down Syndrome diagnosis and the risk of stillbirth that came with it was my worst nightmare. Now kidney damage, low fluid and pulmonary hypoplasia gave my baby a very poor prognosis. I traveled the pregnancy path with fear, hope and uncertainty. At the end of the road, my daughter was born, alive but struggling. I was gifted six hours with her. Now six months later, I am re-assimilating. Learning to live life childless. Finding my way back to midwifery, to help others find joy in what has brought me grief."

We are honored to have Meghan writing for us today.


I startle in my sleep feeling her kick in my belly. Phantom kicks they call them.  But I know differently.  “Hi, baby,” I say.  As I gave away my newborn daughter, pale and lifeless, to the nurse, another baby started growing in my belly.  A seed that quickly grew into a moving, real creature.  She does not speak; she is only a baby.  She is my sorrow, my grief girl, the feeling left behind to fill the space that was meant for my child.  She kicks me in the belly to remind me that even in sleep I can not escape her.  She is mine, a part of me.

Sometime I carry her on my back.  I’m with friends and as I throw my head back in laughter, my head collides with hers, reminding me she is still there.  I suck my in breath, now critical of my easy mirth.  How can I laugh with the outline of a dead baby on my back?  My grief, she clings to me, the shadow of the child she should have been.

I let her lie on my chest, heavy and suffocating.  I recline on the couch, looking at photos of my daughter taken too soon, and remind myself it is only my grief baby, needy and crying out for me.  I embrace her for the moment and then tuck her under my arm, moving forward through the day.

Everyday I carry her around my neck.  I bring the necklace charms, a carrot and the letter M, up between my lips, speaking with my kisses. “I see you, grief.  You’re here. I won’t ever let you go.”

When do you feel grief the most? What kind of shape does it take? Is grief a comfort to you, a menace, or a monster?


the dying of the light

This post mentions my rainbow baby. If you are feeling sensitive about living children, you might want to skip this post.

My father’s voice quoting Dylan Thomas.

Do not go gentle into that good night. 

Only once he begins, my father can’t stop. This is his compulsion, brought perhaps by his own sense of mortality. He must recite the whole stanza, then the next, and the next, until he has given voice to the whole poem.  He sways forward and back, weight shifting from foot to foot; he makes eye contact; his voice a low half-whisper:

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

In the evenings I am sad.

I am all clichéd metaphors. I am the setting sun. The dusk, the twilight, the gloaming. The dark night of the soul. I am the dying of the light.

I rock M. to sleep, her weight solid in my arms. I slide her gently into the crib and tiptoe out. I drag my weary bones around the house, washing dishes, making my lunch for the next day, straightening up. I fall next to A. on the sofa and we watch t.v. because we are too tired, too spent, to manage anything else.

But under every step, every motion, every sigh, is Joseph. His name, Joseph, Joseph, the rocking current below the surface. A quiet pulse that I hear but I pretend I don’t. I wash M.'s bottles, measure ounces of milk for daycare. Joseph, Joseph. I match earrings to my outfit for tomorrow, finger the necklace with his name and pick out another to wear. Joseph, Joseph. I lie in bed, my brain a jumble of images and worries from the day melded in dream-like surrealism with the fictional tv characters. Joseph, Joseph.

A poem I thought I had memorized, but I can’t remember what comes next.

So I ignore. I put off. I want to write about him. I want to write about the stale shape of this grief. I want to write about the weight of Joseph’s absence. I want to write about M., about mothering this solid, living, amazing baby girl. I want to write about mortality—my own, Joseph’s, M.'s.

But time is not on my side and each day ends too swiftly. I drift off to sleep with words in my mouth unspoken, feelings unexpressed.

Resentment builds. Caring for the younger sibling steals time from the older, and Joseph is not here to demand my attention.

I rage. Who are you, anyway, Joseph? What kind of attention do you even need? How can I mother you, twenty months gone?

I rage. I rage against my selfishness, for all the things I choose every day over Joseph.

I do not know what words follow. I cannot recite the next stanza, or the next, because I no longer recognize this whole poem of grief.

Evening comes, the dying light of day. I have given voice to nothing. A heavy sleep sweeps me away. 


Is there a time of day you think more often of your baby(ies)? Is there a time of day you associate with grief?