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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Pale Blue Dot

See the faint dot between the white lines? That's planet earth. And it makes me wonder about my dead baby.

Just before Voyager 1 ended it's primary mission and blasted off towards the outer reaches of the Solar System, it spun around and snapped a photo of earth, some three and a half billion miles away. This photo was taken in 1990 (and the Voyager, incredulously, is still going).

On the one hand, of course, the sheer insignificance of the earth, and our lives, in the grand scheme of the solar system is sobering. There appears to be a bigger story being written, cosmic and infinite in size, and one that will be downright impossible to ever understand. The notion that any of us, with such finite minds and limited understanding, could have anything figured out seems almost foolish. As astronomer Carl Sagan pointed out, “Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.”

From this vantage point of earth, everything about our significance is lost. The pain and joy and suffering and pleasures of our earthly human existence are all invisible. From out here looking in, our spinning earth boils down to life and death. The collective species lives and dies and enters the earth. End of story.

Insert my Margot into this picture of earth and you can barely discern any difference between her and the rest of the species. She lived, she died. She suffered the same fate as everyone else, and from this far away, the difference between her life and her great, great grandmother’s life is a mere blip in time, the same beginning, the same end. There is no tragedy from this vantage point, no suffering, no feeling of loss.

I am insignificant. She is insignificant. But at least we are together, tiny specks on a tiny speck with no Horton looking out for us. And there is some peace in this reality, some science comfort.

The other side of this image, however, reveals what a crazy, far-fetched, inconceivable fucking miracle it is that we even exist at all. The notion that the universe aligned in just the precise way for the species to make their grand entrance on planet earth, and for the species to continue to evolve over the millennia, and to evolve in such a way that our brains allow us the ability to think and feel and experience this little speck on which we live, is damn well breathtaking.

It’s here where I feel the tragedy of Margot June more deeply than ever. Her own miraculous story was cut short, without ever getting to experience this cosmic mystery of life on earth.  

I used to feel so sorry for my family, for our collective broken hearts, for the life we didn’t ask for, for the loneliness of losing a child. For her mother, whose waisted milk came in and dripped aimlessly down her flesh, who carried her for thirty-nine long weeks, who felt this more than anyone; for her sister, who kissed her in utero and spoke of her constantly, who always got this euphoric look in her eye when we described what being a sister meant for her; for myself and the broken dream of raising two girls, holding them both in my arms as we navigated life together.

Now days I mostly just feel sorry for her.

For in this image, I’m reminded of the revelation that she was, and all that was waiting for her on the other side of the womb. I’m heartbroken she missed out on the complexities of life on earth, no matter how insignificant or miraculous our pale blue dot is.


How does this image of planet earth make you feel in regards to your missing children? Does it bring peace or despair or a mix of both? Does science play a role in your grief? As the time has dragged on without your children, have you felt more or less sorry for yourselves?

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Reader Comments (18)

Thank you for this post. Holding in mind at the same time both the absolute insignificance and crazy miraculous significance of life has always been my personal religion, as far as I have one. I think most of the time, even now, it brings me peace.

I know others feel differently. When we were driving home from the hospital after delivering our daughter the song "Do You Realize" by the Flaming Lips came on. (I think the lyrics hint at what we're talking about, at least in my interpretation.) At that moment in the depths of our grief I found it a comforting reminder, uplifting even, that our Bea was a part of this universe, she lived and died, just like everyone else. My husband turned it off. It just made him feel more depressed.

I can't articulate my thoughts on this very well, especially when it comes to my son, whose short life was fill with suffering and pain. But it's something I think about a lot. And I don't feel sorry for myself. (at least not at this particular moment.) I'm just really, really angry at everything that has happened to my family.
March 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjill s.
As a non-religious person, science has been my fall back comfort in the wake of my son's death. I do not believe my son is an angel, I do not believe he's in heaven, I don't believe he and I will ever be reunited to exclaim "there you are!!!" as we bound over the fluffy clouds towards each other in that 'great beyond'. I believe he and whatever he was or could have been, is gone for good. But I do love the fact that he was cremated, and therefore the carbon, hydrogen, oxygen molecules he was made of now exist somewhere 'out there' and maybe, someday, somehow, someway, after I die, the molecules that made him and the molecules that made me will come together once again to make something new and beautiful.

As time goes on, I feel less sorry for me, and more sorry for him. I wish he could have seen a sunset, felt a hug, tasted a strawberry, learned a song, run a mile, drawn a picture, fell in love. This world may be insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but it has so much goodness in it. I wish he could have experienced all that it had to offer.
March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEmily
I asked my husband today if he felt like his relationship to space and time had altered drastically since our baby's birth, which was also her death. He said he knew what I meant. The world we live in, the bodies we have, the here and now of this life can be so rich, so beautiful, so painful, so terrible. It's what we know, so I think we can be fooled into thinking that it's all there is, I think as a species we tend to be near-sighted. What we are, where we are before we get here and after we leave here are part of the beautiful Mystery to me. I take comfort in the fact that I don't know everything. I don't have to know everything.

Science gave me the peace of mind of knowing why she died. A tiny cell, tinier than the pale blue dot, didn't divide right, and she had trisomy 13 because of it. That was the mechanism of her bodily death. Her life, though, her being and existence, gave us so much joy. I feel she continues, but somewhere I can't see, and won't know, until my body dies too.
March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen
Wow, that photo is very humbling. I think I'll just be lazy and say: what Emily said.
Great post, Josh. You guys have been in my thoughts so much of late. I know Margot's birthday is fast approaching.
March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSally
My mind contemplates this all the time. Human's significance, human's insignificance.

I ponder the animal kingdom. How must they deal with the loss of their offspring? I watch documentaries where vulnerable young are killed - and I cry for their parents. I'm sure this seems odd, but I am trying to make sense of the world, of my beliefs, of what I believe happens after death. And I agree with Emily "I do not believe my son is an angel, I do not believe he's in heaven... I believe he and whatever he was or could have been, is gone for good."

I also like Jill's reference to "Do you realize", the lyrics point it out so matter of factly. "Do you realize, that everyone you know someday will die." This is the inevitability of life - it's just our children died far to young to experience the beautiful things we do have in this life, relationships and experiences - things we are more aware of because of our evolution as a species.

I feel sad my daughter will never get to experience these things like the sun shining on her face, digging her toes into the soil and watching bees pollenating flowers. Simple wonders of our world that is but a spec in the solar system and beyond.
March 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDiane
shortly after my daughter was stillborn, i worte down a list of things she would never get to do. it was really long, and really sad. i felt sorry for her, that she wouldn't get to have a life. but i was able to balance that feeling with the gratefulness i had for the time that i did have with her, in utero. i try to balance out the sorrow with the fact that we loved eachother. i am just assuming she loved me, i was her mom :)

when my son died, i was overcome with anger at the universe, at the natural world, that this little life, my son, his life was wasted. stolen. i have a lot of sadness surrounding my daughter, but i have a ton of anger associated with my son's stillbirth. i pretty much hate the universe for letting him die.

and it was so scientific. reading thru the causes of why and how he died, things not working as they should, cells not acting as they should, causing a clot, randomly, to stop his heart. other babies with this same placental issue lived... it felt so cold and mean, just like the universe. the universe doesn't care how cute a little puffy animal is, little puffy animals get eaten and run over by cars and shot and eaten. the universe doesn't care about your mom getting cancer and dying at the prime of her life. doesn't care about battery acid being poured into people's drinking water sources. doesn't care about little baby's dying.

so, i try not to focus on the cold, scientific point of view. that's what that picture looks like to me- cold. like, none of it matters. and that is my whole thing with losing my babies- they *did* matter! its hard enough to convince your fellow pale-bue-dotters to care about your dead babies, to think that it doesn't even matter that you yourself care, well, uggh. i try to focus on the love that was there, for that little period of time that our hearts were beating at the same time. try to focus on the love i still have for them. does that love trump the vast emptiness of the universe and beyond? for me, it does.

and, i do feel sorry for myslef, i the same way i feel sorry for a momma cow that has her calf taken away to be a veal calf. its sad. my babies were taken from me, and i do feel sorry for that. that shit's just not supposed to happen.
March 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterss
I had very strong, religious convictions before Emma died ... I have spent three and a half years wandering around in an agnostic, sad haze wondering just what my daughter is now and where she is. I am rediscovering my faith, gradually and differently and my response to that picture is different now to how it might have been just a few months ago. I feel privilege ... privilege that in the immensity of the universe, in the huge vastness .. she was not an accident. Her life might have been brief and entirely interior but I believe she was created and that the minuteness of her existence does not negate the precious importance of it. I believe in a creator and the creator of that wonderful, mind bending expanse also created my child. I have felt very sorry for myself and for Emma, for the life she is missing out on. I think that has finally dissipated - I still feel a profound sense of unfairness but I also feel the gift of her being - of her little self being knitting together out of stardust and our genes. She is not an angel but I believe she still is ... somewhere. And I believe that one day I'll be there too.
March 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJill (Fireflyforever)
I want to hear more about why you feel sorry for Margot. It is interesting, because that had never occurred to me, and now it won't leave my mind.

I get overwhelmed by our sheer insignificance, and yet also comforted by it. Now. Early on, it was too much. I hated being in my head around ideas like the universe and being a speck on a speck. Lucy was little, so little. So forgotten, she was not even quite a speck, yet she looms so large in my heart, and life. It was difficult to sit quietly with thoughts of the universe. Maybe it is because when I got down to it, it made my grief feel silly and unjustified. But I can see now it is just insecurity around grieving, and being judged. I don't care now. I miss her, speck or not.

Thank you for a beautiful piece.
March 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAngie
I go back and forth on who I feel sorry for. But like you, as time passes, I mostly feel sorry for my son. I'm mostly angry because of what HE missed out on. Sometimes I'm more "woe is me"-y than other times, but mostly I ache for all that he lost.

this image brings more despair than anything mostly because it breaks my heart to think of my baby as a spec. Even if I am too.

Beautiful piece Josh. Thanks for sharing.
March 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCaroline
I love this post Josh. Both peace and despair at once. Peace that I am so insignificant and that anything that happens to me is so insignificant. As you say, I live, I die, I enter the earth. Like everything and everyone before me. Whatever this may mean, everything or nothing at all, I have had it. It has been mine. And for that reason I can't feel too sorry for myself.

On my sadder days I wonder which twin got the better deal, simply because being alive can be painful at times. I remember telling my husband after Georgina died that I was grateful that this could not happen to her, that she herself would not lose a child. Clutching at straws for consolation there a little admittedly!

I do feel desperate, despairing sorrow for Georgina. A brief existence as a speck might have been all she could have expected but to have even that snatched away? When I don't know if there is anything beyond this short life? When it was all I hoped for on her behalf? When it was all I had to offer her and all I wanted to give her? That she never felt the sun on her face, food in her mouth? Never felt her sister's arms around her? And she never, ever will. That she only had three painful days when I have had thirty two whole years, an aeon in comparison? That does make me feel very, very sad indeed. And yes, sorry for her. I wish I could give her whatever years I might have left in me but sadly, I can't donate years of life as I can donate blood or an organ.

When you think of what an amazing, far fetched miracle it is that any of us are here at all, it makes me feel even more sorrowful. Because that was her chance. Her only chance at this dubious prize that I was offering, human life. And she was conceived, she was perfectly formed, little fingers and toes and blue eyes and hair and a brain. But even with every assistance possible it wasn't enough and she died. The phrase that always springs into my brain is, 'so far and no further.' Both parts are equally mysterious to me, why did my little girl, that specific individual, ever begin and then, why did she end so very shortly afterwards? Guess I'll be stuck pondering on these two until I enter the earth myself, until I go where she has gone before.

And just to mess with my mind she had a twin sister who survived exactly the same experience and is only here thanks to advanced medical technology and a hefty dose of luck. Confusing.

Thank you Josh, from one blippy speck to another.
March 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine W
Tomorrow is Nina's birthday and deathday, hatching and dispatching if you will. She would have been 4. I don't feel sorry for her. I'm relieved she got spared the agony which would have been her life on earth with trisomy 13. I like to believe that, according to my "faith", she is a happy angel somewhere with wings and a whole body. I like to believe we will be re-united oneday. But my perception of faith has changed for ever. In four years I haven't decided what to make of it. Yet.

I sometimes feel sorry for myself, but most of all I feel sorry for the people around me who still miss having a little sister or granddaughter around. I produced 3 healthy, beautiful, intelligent sons - that should be enough. But its not.
March 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMandie
Last week I was floating in the ocean and listening to the sounds of the migrating whales projected through the water. I felt insignificant and amazed and I also felt very, very sorry for my son that he would never have an experience like that.

Lovely post Josh, as always, you give me something to think about.
March 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrianna
Perspective... hmmm... I'd say I feel much less sorry for me, for us, now. That's from a sense of cosmic insignificance, definitely, but also from constantly meeting new people through my work, hearing about their backgrounds, their personal tragedies. And from watching the news, looking out to my street, my city. We are so very small; she was so very small. But then Iris' brief existence, and the fallout from it, have been so shattering, so astonishing, so revelatory for me and I feel that to be affected by her is fundamental to who I am in the world, in the cosmos. Iris represents every contradiction I've ever struggled with. And I'm struggling again now to articulate it.
March 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJess
Science? No, science could not answer the "why"-question. There were no scientific reasons of Eszter's death. When I turn to science, I feel that her existance was simply pointless.
I belive that every small life should have a reason, a goal. It's not something that you can write down with formulas, atoms or chemistry - it is rather something you feel.
I also made a list of the things she couldn't experience. That made me sadder. I blamed myself. I was not able to show her the beauty of life.
Now I think, that I was able to show her to most important thing: love. Though a lot of things have been worse since her death, there are good things too: now I am finally aware of my insignificance. I am also more humble, and I am not afraid of death anymore, because I know that when I die, I will meet with her. And maybe, we will look the Earth, which will be only a pale dot from there...
March 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnna
Yes, I feel sorry for Freddie. I feel sorry for all the cerebral things and things like the sun and a good day and doing well at sport or being clever and able. Those things got stolen even before he died, when we thought he would be disabled. I feel even more sorry when I see his sisters loving his and their new brother, because he was robbed of loving and being loved. And seeing his sisters growing into their teens and becoming young women, sometimes I feel gutted that he will never experience the gritty things, a first girlfriend, being drunk, getting a good telling off. I've said his name a million ways to try and beam it through to him. I've even told him off for drawing on the walls when no one else was home. Just so he knows all the ranges of my love.

When he was in hospital we had a room with a grainy and very poorly tuned tv. On one night when we just couldn't sit by his cot any more, we turned it on. Dr Brian cox was doing one of his universe programmes and there was a tear on my cheek. I thought everything you said. There I was, in the depths of despair and my tear, me, Freddie, the family he would never know.... It was all just so very, very small. And so huge.
March 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMerry
I often think about this paradox. Ale was so insignificant in the universe. Still he was a whole universe to me. My first child. I don't feel silly when I cry missing him 3 years after his death, knowing that his was just a speck. A baby of whom we don't even know the hair color. It is so very sad and at the same time so insignificant. I feel sorry for him sometimes, but mostly I feel sorry for myself and his dad. I feel like a horrible secret was revealed to us and that we will have to live with it forever while most people go around never knowing what it feels like to lose a child. I envy their ignorance.

Beautiful post. Thanks for sharing.
March 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFrancisca
I was once very scientifically driven. Everything had a place, a reason, an explanation. Until Stella died. There was no "reason" it was a medical "mystery" The doctors, scientists, no one. not one person could figure it out. So I turned to the spiritual side of it. Why? Was this one of those "everything happens for a reason" "God has a plan" kinda BS?! Was I being punished!? I dont understand it. Not from a scientific point nor a spiritual point. It plain does not make any sense and just made life worse. Harder, less happy. Like a huge dark cloud in my heart covering the sun. Making it feel cold and iced. And every time someone has a baby or i see pregnant people or hear of all the beautiful rainbows being born, i feel sorry for me. Ive become introverted and selfish over losing Stella. Im mad that her brother ans sister couldn't meet her. That I dont know what color her eyes were. Then I become heaven sick. I sickly await my own death as people around me die off. ( literally just about every other month i am attending funerals) and I think "Boy they're lucky, they get to meet my daughter before me" "They've escaped this hell and get to be in heaven" When I do have times of peace and thanksgiving here on Earth I'm mad Stella cant be with us. She doesnt get to enjoy this with us. Or is she? Is she here with me? I just dont know. There is no explanation, no scientific proof she is here or not. Or even why she left. I just hate it all and have not accepted it. Its harder with out a reason. But then again, I have not seen the other side, the side that tells me Why.
March 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkrystal
I just lost my baby 3 weeks ago. A boy, stillborn. My 4 year old dealt with it OK but I feel frustrated with her as she continues to ask me questions. "What's in here?" she'll say to my still-padded stomach, as she did multiple times each day for months.
"Nothing!" I'll snap at her when I'm having a bad moment and unprepared to deal with the topic.
It's hard. I'm mostly sympathetic to her and her anger, except when my own anger is most acute.
March 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMeg

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