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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.

Many thanks to artist Stephanie Sicore for allowing us to feature her little bird in our banner.

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Sunday
Mar012015

No place called home

Four walls, a floor. A roof, and a door. Doors leading to other four walls, windows leading to the other side, the outside. Maybe even a window looking up at the sky? All this, and our things, our dreams, our moments, our memories.

This is what made a home to me. Real estate can assess location, square footage and price all it wants, all I wanted were walls, a floor, and a roof. A few doors and a few windows. All I wanted was a place for my children to grow up in, to make mischief and messes in, and to spread their wings from. A vagabond my whole married life, I wanted permanence, mundaneness, busyness, tiredness. Just an ordinary life bringing up, running with, holding up, my two children.

The walls fell down. The floor cracked, the roof gaped open. The door led in cold, frozen air. The windows were fogged with the breathlessness of death. When the carnage was over, and death left our broken little family stranded in the dark, all that remained of my home was the window to the sky. A suspended window that I look out of every day, toward the sky. Toward the new home of my little explorer.

Do Raahi-s, do explorers, do those on a constant, eternal journey, ever have a home? Surely there is a symbolism in her spending her whole life in a hospital, traveling with us after coming to live with us, and dying in a hotel?

We have spent this past month and half looking for a house to buy. Our means are limited, our list is not long either. We don’t need a lot of space. We just need a place to call our own.

And yet, after a day of looking at homes, making and comparing lists, and focusing on little and big things, as I lay in bed one night, I wondered, is there a place I can really call my own? Should there truly be the security, the certainty of a home for Raahi’s family, when they have been through the harshest insecurity and uncertainty of life itself? Our smallest, newest member, true to her name, never claimed anyone, anything as her own, and lived and died in two temporary places, from where people come and go, and never stay for long. She did not have a room assigned to her, nor a dedicated nursery awaiting her big arrival. Depending on her graduate student father’s new employment, however, her parents had rented the biggest home they would ever live in, in a place far away from her birthplace, and the hospital she was born and lived in.

Her mother, rocking Raahi every day on a hospital-provided rocker near her crib in the NICU, with the clock ticking to the time she would have to put her baby down and head home alone, wished for no new furniture, but a rocker, in her new home. She dreamed of placing it next to the big glass door leading to the backyard. There, after her husband and son would leave for work and school, she would sit and hold Raahi, hold her all day long. She would get up to change and feed her, and sit back again. She would sing to Raahi, play with her fingers, look into her big bright eyes, move her fingers gently on her face, her neck and arms, and tell her that she is finally home, never to go anywhere again, never to be away from her family again. Her mother had promised Raahi, putting her back every night into her crib in the hospital, that she would never put her down at home, and hold her so much and so long, that they would both forget they were ever apart. She had dreamed of taking her little baby out on walks, and of placing her on a mat in the backyard. There, she had promised Raahi, they would have their own little picnic. Raahi would play, lying down, the warm sun on her cheeks, the gentle breeze blowing her black hair, and sometimes making her bright eyes blink, as her mom sat next to her. In the evening, after “the boys” would come home, they would gather near the kitchen, and Raahi would play with her brother, in her playpen, as Ma and Baba watched and cooked dinner.

That was my dream for a home. That was my dream home.

Nine days before our rental home became available, Raahi died in the hotel. She never came to this home, and I vowed never to sit on a rocker again. I seldom go near the door to the backyard, and I do not like the warm sun or the gentle breeze on my face or hair anymore. Her few things were placed in a box, her playpen never unpacked from the move, and they were all stowed away in the guestroom closet. There I sometimes sit, closing the door and liking the darkness and the closedness of the closet. I often stop at the driveway, and look at this home, thinking how it can be home if she never came here. I often wonder if I would have been able to live here, if she had died here.

Owning a home is a big step and a lifestyle change. “You don’t need to compromise, you have to be happy in it,” chimes our confident realtor. She often comments on how easygoing and “reasonable” clients we are, liking most things, accommodating others. She knows about Raahi, and is patient with us not knowing how many bedrooms we need in a home. “If I were to have another baby” is a sentence I utter during every showing she arranges for us. Even the uncertainty of a future pregnancy seems to be a stronger determinant of our needs than the reality of a lost child. Raahi is never assigned a room. She has no need that we know of.

Here, in our quest to plant our roots in a new community, I feel uprooted as Raahi’s mother. I, a true gypsy who felt unsettled her whole life, had come home with my daughter. My explorer had settled me. Then she left alone on her voyage. Am I true to her legacy if I settle down? Can there be a home for us when she is on a journey?

Four walls, a roof. A floor, a door. A few windows, one always, always opening to the sky. A place to live and grow old in, and a place to house my broken family. Maybe a refuge from the storm, maybe a hideout from the outside world. But never to fill out the empty space, and always temporary, always by the road, always incomplete.

Never a home.

 

What thoughts did you harbor about bringing up your family in your home? What does "home" mean to you after the death of your child(ren)?

Monday
Feb232015

from the archives: make 'em laugh, make 'em laugh

As I've been looking through the archives, I came across this piece posted by Jess about laughing, and it struck a chord. Not because it's the way I felt--actually I don't remember doing a lot of laughing, hysterical or otherwise, after Joseph died--but because this piece is so different from my own experience. I'm even a little bit envious of this ability to laugh. To me, laughter can be a shield. A way to deflect the hurtful or misguided or inane things other people say and do. And I've never been very good at that. No, that's an understatement. I'm terrible at it. 

This was originally posted in August of 2011.

~ Burning Eye

 

My daughter had a tiny little coffin. It was small and white. It was also free. They don’t charge for baby coffins in England. How do you put a price on honouring the memory of your child? They don’t charge for baby funerals at all, unless you want something out-of-the-ordinary.

We wanted ordinary. We wanted the ordinary alive baby that other people took home. Instead we had an ordinary little coffin.

We discussed our wishes with the funeral director. She showed us a death catalogue: the caskets, the urns, the cars. She said ‘you can have any car you want, even a Limo.’ We turned away, our shoulders shaking. She left the room, respectful of our grief.

But we weren’t crying.

She offered us the limo and our eyes met. We knew we were thinking the same thing. We were thinking of driving up and down the main drag of our city hanging out the windows of the limo like kids on their way to prom; whooping it up with our little tiny corpse.

We laughed. Because what the fuck else would we do?

 

The day after we’d been to see Iris for the last time, I was gathering the hot, fresh laundry from our dryer. I held it in my arms and breathed deeply. David said ‘isn’t it nice, having something warm to hold?’ Loaded silence. Hysterical laughter.

We laughed. Because what the fuck else would we do?

We overheard our living daughter and her little friend. They were playing a crying game. They were sobbing huge, fake sobs. ‘Oh boo hoo. Oh boo hoo hoo. We are so sad. Boo hoo hoo hoo. We are so sad that baby Iris is dead. Boo hoo.’

We laughed.

A relative brought a gift for me. A lovely, well-meaning, slightly misguided gift. Iris scented soap-on-a-rope. Because who wouldn’t wash their armpits with sweet babylost memories?

We laughed.

A former colleague bemoaned the lack of sympathy extended to her when her cat had an operation: ‘when Jess’ baby died, everyone was so supportive, but no one seems to care as much about my cat.’ 

We laughed.

When I was pregnant with my son, we'd high-five after every sonogram: 'Woohoo! Let's give it up for an evident HEARTBEAT!'

We laughed

Today my husband had a bad day. A very bad day. He said 'well... no one died... No, wait, actually she did!'

We laughed.

We laughed.

We laughed.

Because what the fuck else would we do?

 

And the questions, as Jess originally posted: What makes you laugh now, following the loss of your baby or babies? Do you find humour in the darkest of places, or are some things Just Not Funny? 

Monday
Feb162015

her story

“Let me see a picture of your daughter,” she says to me. I sit down, start to scroll through on my phone to find the cutest, my most recent favorite. We are in her tiny office, where I sometimes stop in to ask some Spanish question but mostly just walk past, saying hey there or hola over my shoulder. I find my picture, and slide my phone across her desk.

She smiles at my daughter.“Let me tell you,” she says, handing the phone back. “When your baby died, when that happened to you…”

I am taken aback. I have to stop and think. How did she know my first baby died? She didn’t work here. Did she? Then I remember, she did used to work here, in a different position. I barely saw her. And then she was gone for a year, and I forgot about her.

She shakes her head slowly. “I thought about you,” she goes on, in her thick accent that leaves off the final English consonants. “Because the same thing happened to me. I had a son who died.”

She begins to tell me her story.

Thirty-four weeks.

I nod. “Joseph was thirty-four weeks.”

He was her first baby.

“Me, too. Joseph was my first.”

This was years ago, and in her third world country, the hospitals weren’t good. It was no good. Her words have drifted from English back into Spanish, the language of these memories.

With me it was… I want to say.

They finally got him out with forceps.

For me, they didn’t… I try to interrupt. I am nodding my head, shaking my head, cataloguing the ways our stories are similar, the ways they are different.

Five heart attacks. The last one, they didn’t revive him.

And Joseph… I want to tell Joseph’s story. I want to say his name, talk about him. I never get to talk about him anymore.

In those days, she says, they didn’t let you hold the baby. I wish, I wish I was able to hold him.

It’s not even eight o’clock in the morning. I feel like I’ve been blindsided. My heart is heavy with her story, and my own scars are tender and aching.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to hold Joseph, I don’t say. But I did. I wish I’d held him longer. I wish I hadn’t been so afraid.

I realize this is not the time for Joseph’s story. Not the time for my story. This is time for me to listen to their story.

She tells me about her husband. How she knew she wanted to leave him before their son died. She tells me how quickly she got pregnant again after her loss. An accident. She didn’t want the baby. I think about how hard my subsequent pregnancy was and I wanted it, and my heart breaks for her a little. She tells me about the anxiety. The crushing fear. She doesn’t tell me about her daughter’s birth.

I ask her son’s name and she tells me.

He would have been twenty-two this year, she says, looking straight at me. A soft smile on her lips.

I am counting in my head the number of us at work now that have lost a baby. How I had thought there were just three of us, then four, then seven. Now we are eight, and I cannot comprehend this number, this percentage. How many of us are surviving with these holes in our lives. How many of us walk around each day carrying the absent weight of our babies. How many of us have stories we are longing to tell, babies’ names we yearn to say out loud and hear repeated back to us.

I don’t want to be sitting here, listening to her story. I have a meeting to get to and already I am a few minutes late. Soon I will have to stand, shake off the shadow of Death, and walk out of her office as if everything is okay.

And still I don’t interrupt her, not quite yet. Because I know she needs this. The same way I, too, need to talk about Joseph, and hope someone will stay a moment, and look me in the eye, and listen.

 

Are you in a place where you can listen to other babyloss stories? Are they somehow comforting? Or do they make it worse? How do you integrate them into your own experience?

Monday
Feb092015

of water and wolf: we are altered.

(This post mentions living children and family life).

Four years, almost five means the normalcy of life slips around us like a comfortable coat again. An average day, the rumble of life and bounce of activity and I fool myself successfully that we are always as we were once.

Bags packed. Lunch made. Car filled. Drop offs accomplished. Teacher alerted to latest mini-drama in the life of the children.

The internal dialogue: "five bags, not six, five lunches, five seats, 4 schools, no reception aged child" is a whisper.

I have it in place, checked, muffled, restrained.

Biding time.

***

He died and a day would pass and tears would come at night, pent up exhausted emotion, hidden until the little ears and eyes were sleeping. Flood gates opened willingly, a barely contained tide of sorrow. Roaring sobs. Anguish. Despair.

All the words and all the agony that each of us here knows.

He died and a week would pass and a grief tsunami would blindside me, the choking horror flinging itself above the dam walls and tearing my feet from under me. Swollen eyes. Wracking wails. A darkness that swallowed and drowned and took the light, the oxygen, the hope.

He died and a month slid by; numb, disbelieving, functioning, robotic. Smile politely, say the words, a film across my eyes and the world seen through a rain streaked window pane. The constant fall of droplets, the hammering storm and an eye that saw sun but could not believe in it.

And no rainbows. Not one.

He died and a year passed by; some ill constructed raft, knotted from driftwood branch and stray half-rotten vine kept me afloat. And somehow, somehow, I began to float along the current.

And one day, I found that I had a paddle in my hands. And somewhere... somewhere... I must have begun to row.

***

The day - this almost 5 years on day - clatters to a close; the hallway strewn with bags and my outraged berating voice as I trip across a boot and shout for chores to be completed. Those muted, bleary grief days seem so far away when the children slid to bed - often found curled together, sleeping in comfort pairs - and we huddled beneath a blanket and stared blankly at TV trash, all resources spent and the grief storm raging all around us.

We rarely mention him. We rarely speak of grief. Less and less do we need to poke gently at the wounds that grief left across the children  - or ourselves - and consider what balm we need to offer. My husband is not one for pulling up the past and I could be forgiven for thinking that all of it - Freddie, grief, loss and all the rest - is long gone from his mind.

But we are changed. In all the murk and carnage that came after, we seemed to reach for mindful rest, to be together in some other way than vacant entertainment. And so we sit, companionable, entertained by our own pursuits but together. Reading, making, doing, gaming, writing, learning. And sometimes I tentatively pull the threads of grief to see if he still has some and mostly, he stitches firmly at the ragged edge and neatens down the the damaged patch without a reciprocating comment. Polite, gentle, closed.

He read Wolf Hall 5 times. I couldn't imagine why, having shied away from it myself. But lately, we've listened to it together, sharing spoken word and taking our own meaning from it. From time to time, he reaches out, touches my hand or arm and each time I know what is coming: a loss, a grief, some pain or hurt written inside, and his care to let me know that he is there. That he notices these parts, I think. I hope.

I keep my face unflinching, afraid to break and stop him offering the comfort, lest it is too much to risk again. But I do notice.

“It is not the stars that make us, it is circumstance and necessita...." (Hilary Mantle, Wolf Hall).

How has grief affected your relationship? Are you different? Better? Worse? Are you raging at difference or can you offer a path or way or hope to those seeking acceptance and understanding of each other and themselves?

Monday
Feb022015

mother with darkness and light: a conversation

Today's guest post comes from Z's mum. She writes, "My son Zephyr made me a mother in December 2013. He was stillborn. Since the day he left my body I have taken pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. Writing is not a cure-all, but it has certainly been my walking stick as I journey through grief." We are honored today to share this piece by Z's mum, a sort of play/poem that echoes the internal monologue we babylost often have with ourselves. 

 

Stark naked and stripped of all she believed in, Mother stood alone. Her arms aching empty.

Mother: Who are you?

Darkness:
I am darkness.
 
Light: I am light.

Mother: Who am I? Where am I?

Darkness: You are here. I have enveloped you.

Light: You are now. You are yourself. You are slowly finding your way.
I am here. We are all of us here. Dark will always be, but so will I.

Mother: But I...

Darkness: Ha, you fool! You'd been heading at full pelt towards eternal sunshine.
Your broody bright grin, emitted pure joy of motherhood, glowing from within. Didn't you know about me? About death?

Mother: I... I thought I was becoming a mother.

Darkness threatened to overwhelm. Mother's shivering body crumpled to the floor. She sobbed incessantly, uncontrollably. Light reached over to her, Mother spoke falteringly.

Mother:
I had imagined...

Light: I am not the light you'd imagined, I am not the source that you were drawn towards. I am sorry that your son isn't here to giggle in the blissful radiance of your smile, that you have been submerged in motherhood without.

Darkness: You once shone as warm and iridescent as sun herself, now you are too weak to face exposure to her rays. Your boy ignited in death's fireball. Your life disintegrated in an instant.

Light: Your life has not disintegrated beyond repair.
I am so sorry...

Darkness: 'I am so sorry' uttered the gentle-eyed doctor, as I crept in amongst tatters of the fallen meteorite. I slithered across the floor like filthy truth, whilst she failed to find your child's beating heart. I'd loitered in the shadows of affectionate happiness (as I do in every life.) In midday heat of glorious expectation I'd have burned, but the moment it all fell apart I found you. I lodged myself inside your pregnant body, next to the torso of your burned out dreams. I wrapped myself around you, smothered you.
 

Mother looked down at her body in disgust. The soft touch of light lifted her from her thoughts.

Light: Though your hearts were broken, though your dreams forlorn, though your tears threatened to plummet heavily into everlasting winter, don't you remember the moment he was born? He was born to you, Mother.

As she looked up, a smile began to appear on Mother's tear stained face.

 Mother: Yes.

Darkness: No.
I am the darkness that was born
I am the night sky that fell when he died.
I am doubt that lurks within.
I am grief that silhouettes your future.
I am sorrow, that swallowed you whole.
I am shadow of blanketed hope.
I am death.
Death
I am undeniable
death.

Light turned to Mother, and offered her a small torch of hope. 

Light:
Death is undeniable, but so too is life.

I am love that was born
- and you are still mother
I am sun that continues to rise
- though you don't always welcome me
I am fierce power within
- as you draw from the darkness
I am breath to your future
- if you choose to inhale
I am brighter, more vibrant
- than you've ever before known
I am horizon of hope
- when you're ready to look out
I am light, life, living
- and you are undeniably
Mother.

Mother: I am changed by my child. I walk in darkness of his death, and light of his life. I live for him, live because of him, and I love him.
Yes, I am Mother.

 

What helps you remember you are a mother or father to your baby(ies) who died? What brings hope and light? What calls down the darkness?