In search of a happier medium

photo by  K. Inglis

photo by K. Inglis

The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out. —James Baldwin

What is it about the loss of a baby that either a) brings all the assholes out of the woodwork, or b) inspires ordinarily sensible people say asshole-like things?

I have a vested interest and will therefore be the source of your enlightenment a voice intones without speaking.

Then, paraphrased:

Look at Family A, the ones with the daughter who lives in the bubble. Or Family B with all that divorce and the alcoholic and the foreclosure. Or Family C with the boy who is disabled.

You’re not the only one in the world who hurts. Stop dwelling, stop spilling your guts on the internet. Think of all the people around you who need you to be uplifting. Be like so-and-so. She’s always so positive.

All of the above implies that I am a falling-down mess, a naval-gazing embarrassment despite being a mother and a moneymaker and some reasonable facsimile of a wife, at least when I’m not wearing those revolting yellow sweatpants.

I sit ball-gagged with graciousness, almost too confused to be wounded. From where I sit, you see, I am doing well. I’m fiercely proud of myself and my family, a year ago and today. Made to live through it again I would choose to be, do, say and feel the very same without hesitation.

I’ve never been so expansive of a woman as I had to be last year. It was messy, but I swam in it. I wore every aspect of it like a bloody sandwich board around my neck because that’s just what I had to do.

For two months I pumped and cuddled, loving both of those boys regardless of speculative outcomes. I forced myself to stare unblinking at the horror until I could see the beauty underneath all the wires and tubes and bleeping because dammit, if one or both of them were to die, I wanted to remember their hearts, their eyes, their soft skin and wee grunts. Not just machines and misfortune.

Then I went home and rolled around on the floor with my two-year-old, tickled, grilled cheese, daisy-chained, story-read. Then to bed and up again in the morning for my NICU commute, indoctrinating myself to the live version of Bob Marley’s War because it was the only music I could tolerate—a message of hope and hopelessness on such a vast scale that mine might seem manageably provincial in comparison.

Then those double doors would swing open and I’d step across the threshold, the lone good guy at the wild west saloon, guns at my hip, death-defiant. Don’t mess with me. Don’t you fucking dare.

Despite all that, the occasional message persists, a year later: You’re making everyone uncomfortable. Who do you think you are, anyway? Do you think you’re special because of all of this?

What’s almost worse, aside from the logistical nightmare of faking one’s own alien abduction? The flip side: the silence.

What a crummy spring we’re having... too much rain, eh? he mumbles as he fidgets and stares at his shoes. I know he knows. He knows I know he knows. He stands in front of a wrinkled, grey, twenty-foot trunk that spits peanuts against his forehead with a shwuck! schwuck! schwuck! as he shrugs elephant? what elephant?

I’m being considerate, the silent majority congratulates itself. Best not mention it. Easier for everyone.

Chickenshit, I say to the latter. Chickenshit with whip cream and a cherry on top.

And in the face of the former—the forcible enlightenment barbershop chorus—I fantasize sticking up for myself without regard for friction.

I’ll do it in my dreams, if nowhere else. In my magical fairyland where the sea rises, the light fails and we hold each other, keep faith with one another, lest the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.


Through the weekend as it sat on the backburner, this post overheated until it stuck to the bottom, blackened and tough, tainting the rest of my brain with a faintly ruined flavour.

We are a prickly bunch, are we not?

I fish for evidence, cling to outrage. I walk through the world with my arms folded across my chest, daring people to prove me right. And when they act human—when I trigger their own demons and nightmares and they prickle at me for it—I hold it against them. Or when they naturally recoil from deadbaby cooties, as I would have done myself, I scorn them for it.

It's exhausting.

I need Zen and the Art of Spirit-Baby Motherhood to figure out how to be patient with the universe. To redirect misspent energy. To help those who make tentative steps feel welcome standing beside me, even though their attempts may not always be graceful. To be sure of my own truths. To forgive.

A year out, if you've reached it yet, where did you stand?


Author, photographer, founder of Glow. Mother of three boys, one of whom died at six weeks old nine years ago. Nine years ago, I was someone else. Love and sorcery and poetry and terrible luck and wonderful luck.