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Wednesday
May022012

nothing to be afraid of . . . . .

When I was eighteen I had a premonition.

She was standing across the bar from me. In a student union. Not a student. Not a teenager. Something about her posture was crushed. Tiny fractures in her vertebrae. But I didn't recognise grief when I was eighteen. Because I was lucky and stupid.

We were loud back then. Or we were quiet. Boasting with ideas. Or clinging to the wall, hoping to pass unnoticed.

Our thoughts so predictable that you could probably have written them out on a blackboard and counted out the nodding dogs. Insecurity and hubris and hormones. But hers were unreadable.

She was slight with a cloud of dark hair. She drank only water. Her eyes were wide but she seemed to be looking somewhere other than where she happened to be at the time. Sinking or rising to a parallel, near the ceiling or just above the floorboards. Disconnected, in a far off place. She looked mildly upon us. Occasionally her expression was kind. At other times, I suspected, less so.

I almost spoke to her once. Out of curiosity. But, before I approached, I asked someone why she came here, to our bar.

 "Her baby died," was the reply. Apparently her baby had died at the hospital around the corner. In the inner city, it's hard to disentangle places for death and places for entertainment. Perhaps that bar was as close as she could bear to get.

I felt relief wash over me.  That I hadn't spoken to her. Because now, now I was afraid of her.

How sad. Eighteen year old me, you were so stupid. You were afraid of a mother and a little baby. You were afraid of love, afraid of death. How silly. You can't outrun those two, even with eighteen year old legs. If you are a human, those two will chase you down, no matter how fast you run. 

I don't even know if this story was true. I never did speak to that lady in the end. A dead baby is one of those convenient explanations rolled out for anyone acting a little oddly. The handy urban myth. Her baby died. His baby died. An instant and, supposedly, plausible explanation for all sort of scary and strange behaviour. 

Because we're frightening. All of us here. Their worst nightmare.

Altogether now . . . .  

RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

****

I emailed a friend this autumn. About how the Halloween themed October page on my cupcake calendar was really pissing me off. It was a cupcake with a gravestone on the top. Hmmmm. Death. Is it cute and yummy? Or scary and associated with ghouls and monsters? Is death frightening? Or is it something appetising and edible? Trivial or taboo? Awful or nothing to be afraid of?

Photograph by Maria Olejniczak

***

Just after Jessica, my surviving daughter, came home from hospital, a film came out on release in British cinemas and was trailed extensively on television. I came to hate this film, 'The Unborn.' Can you guess where this is heading? Something a bit spooky and unsettling appears to be happening? Check. Is there a hysterical woman? Check. You can bet they'll be a dead baby at the bottom of this one. And, let's face it, the title is a bit of a giveaway.

A young woman discovers she was (is) a twin. Her brother died in utero. And now she is haunted by the dead twin? Possibly? I'm not entirely sure from the rather confused plot synopsis I just looked up via Google and, for obvious reasons, I wasn't queuing up to see this film.

Because there is nothing like the repetitive screening of a trailer for a horror film to sneak up on you and remind you of what your life has turned into.

**** 

This strange dichotomy seems to put us in a bit of a bind. We are scary but we must also remain meek. Something to scream at that must also creep about, quiet as a mouse. 

We are terrifying. What has happened to us is so awful that it is wheeled out as an explanation for a multitude of sins. It is a frequently used plot device, the dead baby. It has been written about at Glow before, by far better writers than me, please see this wonderful post of Tash's here. Arson? Drinking too much? Suicide? Even, as in one extremely popular British soap opera, stealing someone else's baby? The motive? Yup. That's right. A dead baby.  

As someone with my very own, extremely personal, dead baby, I do sometimes wonder what people think of me. Do they think I'm eyeing up their babies, ready to make my snatch? That I'm drinking from secret bottles of gin secreted about my house? Crazily cackling over my box of matches? I know it's been a while since my daughter died but there is still time for the crazies isn't there? But, in reality, all I do is love her and miss her. And sigh quietly.

A fictitious dead baby stands in for unspeakable horror, an explanation for the most erratic and strange behaviour. One that might even afford the perpetrator some sympathy (although don't bet on that, poor baby-snatching-lady from the soap didn't get much here in the media) a real, honest-to-goodness, true life dead baby seems to be a different proposition. When they stop being a plot device and become a real child. My daughter, Georgina, who I loved and cared about. Not a handy explanation or short hand for why I'm so screwed up. It is, apparently, less easy to discuss her than it is a made up baby on a soap opera. I've had entire conversations about the dead-baby-mama-turned-baby-snatcher plot with people who have never once mentioned my own daughter. Although I know that they know that I have a personal interest in this storyline.

We don't talk about that. If this happens to you in real life you'd better not become unhinged. You can't even get away with being slightly angry in some quarters. Don't yell, don't even whisper. Don't tell anyone your feelings or you will be giving too much away. Bad enough that your baby died. Don't talk about it for heaven's sake. Don't have any feelings about it. Don't, whatever you do, write on the internet about it. Just keep quiet.

Scary. Scary and silent. Silent about the very thing that makes us scary. An odd corner to be painted into. One that I'm uncomfortable in.

Do you think that 'joe public' finds us scary? Do you ever feel scary?

 What are your feelings about the 'dead baby' plot device, that favourite of literature and film?

Why is talk about strong emotions, death, love or anything that really matters, so very unfashionable? Or is that just in the circles in which I move? For the purposes of full disclosure, I'm 32, British and move in circles composed of mothers with young children and/or people who like numbers and databases. Is it different where you are?

 

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Reader Comments (30)

Yes, yes I do...if they know. For others who don't, I think a certain "oddness" eminates from us? I feel this; just do.

I've been in situations where I just could NOT keep my mouth shut and even in my sweet, calm voice when I make mention of something not being funny, or not being cute, or please don't ask me when I'm going to have a baby, because what seems an innoculous question is not. It's invasive even if you are naieve to this kind of tragedy; NOBODY should ask you such a personal question. I'm going off on a tangent.

I obviously feel scary given my wicked witch from Snow White analogy in the past post. And sometimes I'm so numb to it, it's like I'm catatonic; a complete zombie that I think I'm just walking around breathing; without a purpose.

And it's not "unfashionable." It's uncomfortable and if people really took the time to LISTEN to others, even if they can't relate, even if it makes them squirm, we'd be better off as families, human beings, and a better society overall.
May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCava
I've never really given much thought to the dead baby plot. Or maybe I've just never watched any movies that had that.

There are people that are scared to talk to me, but I think it's more because they don't know what to say or don't want to talk about it, rather than me actually being scary. The only time that I can recall myself seeming scary, even if just to myself, was when a conversation turned toward dead baby jokes. I personally never found them funny, even before my own baby died.
May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNika M.
RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Love you Catherine - magnificent, as always. And I am totally scary. But I own that because I am totally hopeful too. Even though I'm terrifying I'm also (I hope) a light in the scary darkness.

Thanks for giving me something new to think about.

xoxo

C.
May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristy
I'm a voracious reader--always have been. Yet, when my daughter died, I couldn't bear to pick up a book. It was months before I could bear to do something as normal as read a book. And the first thing I read was an old favorite: the absolute brain candy of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. About two-thirds of the way through the book, Redcoat soldiers come upon the heroine, Claire Fraser, and it's very important that the soldiers think she's Scottish rather than English. So a quick thinking Granny MckNab says something to the effect of, "She's mute. She went fair soft in the head when her baby died a year ago." I remember reading that sentence and feeling a deep sense of relief. It had been months and I still felt entirely unhinged by my loss. I knew it was fiction--both the novel and the story spun by Granny--but for some reason, it gave me permission to feel what I was feeling.

On the other hand, saw those stupid commercials for that stupid movie and it made me very, very angry.

So, I don't know. I used to hate the "dead baby" plot line. I thought it was gimmicky--a way to capture a reader's (or viewer's) emotions. But as soon as I lost my sweet girl, I began to seek out stories that (respectfully or honestly) dealt with baby loss. I think I wanted acknowledgment that I was a mother.
May 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHMC
You are awesome! I don't watch movies like that, never have but I can tell you that I am not at all suprised at a plot around the subject of dead babies....the death of a child, is horrific, it is the worst possible of terrifying. Those of us who have experienced know this. We do not need a script to understand the horror. We live it everyday. I have never wanted anyone elses baby, but I have certainly felt crazy, crazy in my head for sure. crazy with grief and despair for sure.
Oh and those cupcakes YUCK! I think holloween is completely creepy. I know kids love it, but since Camille died...the thought of ghouls and dead things makes me ill. I don't need a day to remember, I remember everyday. Its not cute. Neither are stickers on the back of cars instead of stick figures they are skulls and cross bones.
For Kai's first Halloween we were a family of skeletons. I have seen a maternity shirt that shows exray of ribs for mama and a skeleton baby, it gives me the freakn' creeps.
May 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRenel
I was just discussing with a colleague about horror movies today and she was telling me about the plot of one where the child is possessed by demons but said it all worked out at the end of the story. So I say, you mean my the child being killed - that's a great ending! Ha.
May 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDiane
Yep, pretty sure people find me scary. I sometimes find me scary. Though, I must say, not as much anymore. And I think that's the thing at almost four years out, people forget. I think people SHOULD be more scared of me, as no one ever thinks it will happen to them. My story is an ancient almost forgotten memory to them now,
But I'm still living and breathing this hell every day.
May 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSally
Her eyes were wide but she seemed to be looking somewhere other than where she happened to be at the time.

*****

The scare comes in where the illusion of control ends. There's nothing worse than a living (maybe?), breathing (?), uncooperative, un-soften-able reminder that death is - really- that close. That close, and that insurmountable.

Quite incompatible with the escapist denial-fest which pervades, not only the land of 32-year-old British writers, but certainly here. I (heavily) suspect we are not alone.

Now that I've actually caught a peep of those cupcakes, they are even more sticky-finger-in-your-eye.

Schizophrenia lives. Tombstone cupcakes, costume the kids and party. Grief and Death, shut the door, bar the gate, smother under the rug.

"Scary. Scary and silent. Silent about the very thing that makes us scary. An odd corner to be painted into. One that I'm uncomfortable in."

How do you feel about being labeled scary just for telling the truth?

The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls,

Cathy in Missouri
May 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCathy in Missouri
Oooo - even STICKier cupcakes!!

(Is it my imagination, or did they just morph?)

CiM
May 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCathy in Missouri
Venturing out to do the school run a very, very short while after Emma died, I actually had a pregnant woman (another school run mum) catch my eye and then cross the road. Yes, her baby lived.

I hate all the mad women trailing dead babies in literature. Awful. And it is always mothers isn't it?
I love this post! I've been wondering to myself for months what my next move is - what is the next step in the plot of my life, now that it's nine months after my baby died? How do I find the heroic position and come back with strength and grace and beauty from the ashes of grief? (In a lovely, flowing gown) What does that soundtrack sound like? All of the other players in my world have seen me and cast me in the light of Nathaniel's death, and so how can I not only work with my own internal devastation, but with the expectation and projection of others as the ghastly participant in The Saddest Event?

I'm still trying to figure all of this out, because, frankly, I'm just sooo broken, and yes, I think I'm scary to people. Sometimes I think I'm even scary to IRL babyloss mamas, because I talk openly and honestly about the option of closing my front door and not leaving the house for years. Because I talk openly about my reactions to living babies.

For a long time, I was determined to be strong! And resilient! But the truth is that I'm not the same person I was before Nathaniel died. His life changed me. His death changed me. And I just don't know who I am anymore. . .
May 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne
Oh, my God, Catherine. As so often happens, I am amazed and deeply touched by your writing. You have an uncanny and beautiful ability to clearly articulate so many of the same kinds of things I think and feel, things that are often a big, jumbled mess in my confused mind and heart.

"How sad. Eighteen year old me, you were so stupid. You were afraid of a mother and a little baby. You were afraid of love, afraid of death. How silly. You can't outrun those two, even with eighteen year old legs. If you are a human, those two will chase you down, no matter how fast you run."

I went to a concert Tuesday night and was surrounded by the screams of excitement and lighthearted laughter of mostly very young people. (Urg, sometimes I feel OLD.) And I had similar thoughts and feelings to what you so eloquently expressed above.

I frequently read what you write and think, "Yes! That's it exactly!" And I feel such a sense of relief because you've been able to clarify what I couldn't. It helps me breathe. Thank you so much for that.

"Just keep quiet." Yes, I often feel pressure to do that. And when I do talk or write about my baby outside of this community, the reaction I get is sometimes like a collective closing of the eyes, hands over the ears, "LALALALA! I can't hear you!" I do indeed feel like people think I'm some sort of scary monster, that frightful thing lurking under the bed that they keep telling themselves isn't real.

I get angry about it at times. So they are uncomfortable with my baby and her death? How the hell do they think I feel, having to live with it every minute of the day?

But most of the time, it hurts and makes me sad. Which is why I'm so appreciative of the community here. And you. **Thank you** for sharing your thoughts with us. xoxo
May 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMissingMolly
Sometimes, I swear it's like the people I talk to forget that I even lost a child. I was recently with some friends and we were talking about the book PET SEMETARY. The husband started talking about how awful it would be to lose a child and he kept saying, "It just makes you think, you know? Just makes you think...what if I lost mine?" But the way he was saying it to me it was as though I had never lost mine. I finally said, "I know. My child DID die..." To that, he replied, "Yeah, that book just got to me. You don't want to think about anything terrible happening but then you read something like that and..."

For him, it was much easier thinking about the death of a child in terms of a fictional story than actually relating it to my life.
May 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca
Yes, I feel like a spectre of baby death. I know I scare pregnant women, some have been honest and told me so. I'm a warning to all...and then again others still cling to their naeivety and steadfastly refuse to believe that babies can just die, I don't blame them, it bloody terrifies me. I still struggle to believe it myself.
May 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeanette
Catherine, what a poignant and beautiful piece of writing. Thank you.

Scary? Heck yes, I'm scary! And it's not because the death of my baby has turned me into the stereotypical horror movie lunatic. My eyes are not blood-shot and crazed, my hair is not a tangled mess, my clothes are not dirty and torn, and I'm certainly not wielding a mass murderer's axe. I am just... normal. Plain, simple, normal. And THAT is what's so scary about me. I violently remind others that baby loss happens to normal, average people. I silently scream in their face - IT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU TOO!!!!!

As for Halloween... allow me to go on a bit of a rant. I HATE that stupid holiday! Sorry, Halloween, nothing personal, you and me are just not meant to be. And those RIP cupcakes are not helping. See, I went to my very first Halloween party as a freshman in a US college, fresh off the boat from Bulgaria (where we don't have this holiday). The next morning, hung-over and confused I woke up to the phone ringing. It was my dad, calling to tell me mom had died. Ever since then, I've treated Halloween with trepidation and mistrust. Last year, 38 weeks pregnant and in a generous mood, I promised Halloween we would make up - once my boy was here, I was going to get into the whole costume bonanza, go treat or tricking, have fun with it. Start all over, through the eyes of my child. Well, what do you know... Two weeks after Halloween, that child died too.

So, Halloween, please try and keep your skeletons and zombies and tombstones out of my face. There is enogh death for me to ponder around that time of the year without your kitch reminders. Real death. Death, sans chocolate frosting.
May 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMira
Yes, I also think that it's often the reminder of how vulnerable we all are, and it seems especailly to impact people who have babies or who are pregnant. Not long after our daughter died and I was dropping off our four year old at preschool I caught a glimpse of another mom who was now ~7 months pregnant with her hand over her mouth in that "OMG" horror as she drove away after seeing me. I called a close friend of mine whom I have known for 20 years and she apologized for not calling, she said she had been scared. I told her I get it, and I do, I have imagined many times what it would be like to be the mom of a living baby and everyday seeing the mother of the one who died. Especailly, as it is in our circle, if many of us were pregnant together and due around the same time.
As far as movies, I don't (and never have) watch anything with child death as a theme, and eschew horror movies as a genre... I'm all for throwing myself at my fears to work through them, but those films just feel gruesome and disrespectful to real suffering.
May 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHannah
I feel scary when I am around pregnant women that know about my loss - I irrationally worry that what happened to me might happen to them and it will somehow be my fault. I also feel an enormous amount of pressure to have processed the loss of my daughter to some kind of inspirational end, that it would be much easier for people to hear "I lost Zoë, but it's okay because I've made my peace with it." Grief is so so much messier than that.
May 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobynne
"The scare comes in where the illusion of control ends. There's nothing worse than a living (maybe?), breathing (?), uncooperative, un-soften-able reminder that death is - really- that close. That close, and that insurmountable. "

I could not have said it better myself, CIM. It is totally this.
May 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrianna
Two of my close family members were pregnant when I miscarried our little girl (one of them had a baby boy yesterday), and neither of them have been in touch with us. I flip from thinking they don't want to upset us to they don't want us to upset them. Oversensitivity is a bitch huh?
That film came out long before this happened to us, but I still thought it was a terrible plot-line and gave it a big swerve. My teenage son saw it though, because I guess teenage boys are like that.
Val
xxx
May 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterValerie
Scary? Oh yes, most definitely. I felt like the angel of death for about two years after Ben died, when all of my friends, relatives, and acquaintances were having babies. ("all"--not really all, but it felt that way). How they avoided looking in my eyes, or swept their eyes over my empty womb when they thought I wouldn't notice. Oh, I noticed.

And now I am living (temporarily) next to my mother-in-law, who tells me it is time to "play down" my son's death, in reaction to my surviving child bringing up his dead brother in front of her. She is horrified that I want to keep Ben's memory alive, her grandson. Can't even call him by his name, but refers to him, when she refers to him (almost never) as "the baby."

It happens, folks, I want to scream: babies die. Every day.
May 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGinny
Wow. Yeah. This post is beautiful, and reading it and all of the responses I feel, inside of myself, the nod of recognition.

Walking in the hall a day after my emergency c-section and the loss of my youngest daughter, and realizing that the nurses were actually avoiding looking at me was my first taste of this. Not my nurses, they were great, but the others. I knew they knew. Not one nod. Eyes firmly averted. Did they think I was a drug addict? That I had killed my baby? I felt like a pariah, out in the company of strangers.

At Christmas my cousin who was out of town in September when my daughter died breezed in and out of my parents house with her four teenaged children, sweeping by me with determined, exuberant cheer, and not a word of acknowledgement for my daughter, for our loss. I felt isolated on a tiny island by the force of her NOT GOING THERE! approach.

I feel that I can wear out everyone except for my husband and a couple of close friends. We are so grateful for our parents support group, because we can talk, and talk, and talk about her and know that these people understand us and want our words as much as we want theirs.

Our daughter, who is three and a half, announces to complete strangers that her baby sister passed away. I watch with detachment, because I'm not about to rescue anybody, or jump in with an explanation. I don't want her to think her sister is a shameful secret. The best reactions have been compassionate. The worst was a young woman at the flower counter who averted her eyes and smirked. I didn't feel mad. I gave my daughter a hug and thought to that young woman, Wow. Sucks to be you. And I meant that with protectiveness towards my little girl, as well as compassion:

When my son's young, vibrant second grade teacher died in a car accident it was a crushing loss. Her family- husband, parents, sister and brother in law- came to the school for a memorial dedication to her. They entered just ahead of mass stampede of students coming in from the buses, and stepped aside, marooned by the river of tiny humanity streaming past them. Some one of them met my eyes across all the little bobbing heads, and my eyes involuntarily jerked away. I still feel horrible for not holding their gaze, offering a smile, a wave. I was hurting so badly, feeling such raw grief over this dearly loved young woman's death, and I regretted in that instance that I had not been there for them. I still regret it. So I try to remind myself that I need forgiveness from others, and they need it from me, when I'm done feeling pissed and hurt.

Still, I do wish that the subject of our loss wasn't treated like something to sweep under the bed, something to "get over". I don't ever want to get over her. I do treasure the times when I think of her with peace and a semblance of clarity, and when I experience a glow of gratitude for her being and existence. I wish people would acknowledge her as a person, a person still, even though her life is happening elsewhere now. It hurts when people brush by my mention of her, pretend they don't hear it, avoid us or treat us like we have a disease. It is subtle sometimes, but it is there. I try to forgive, because I don't know what is inside them that makes it so frightening, but I wish there was a common vernacular for this loss, I wish it was universally accepted that the people we lose are still with us, and it is better to talk about them than to pretend they have faded away. After all, she is my daughter and if I want to talk about her why the fuck should someone act uncomfortable? Like she is Unmentionable?

So I alternate between forgiveness, and anger, and wanting to avoid everybody, and just feeling like ah, fuck it, I really don't need them any way. Especially people you would reasonably expect to be there for you who have shown by an invisible wall that they are not.

Thank you for this post.
May 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen
Today I was at the grocery store and my boys were being especially adorable. A women stopped me and said, "Oh, my. They're so handsome. You're going to have a girl next, right?" (Just to be clear, I hate that question. And since I have two boys, I get asked that a lot.)

I responded, "Oh, we had a girl, but she died."

The woman was taken aback ands said, "Well that's not something I like to hear!"

She spent the rest of her shopping avoiding me and not looking at me or the boys when we happened to be in the same aisle with her. I guess I am kind of scary.
May 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHMC
I have always been somewhat obsessed with stories about baby loss. After my first miscarriage, maybe that obsession grew. Then a second, third loss, I still paid attention, but with a different perspective (a bit hardened, I guess). After my son was stillborn this year though, I had a loss that friends and acquaintances even knew about. I am still surprised about how infrequently the topic comes up. I can count on one hand how many friends have asked the "how are you?" question in the specific, targeted way that suggests more than the casual asking of the question. ON ONE HAND. Yesterday, I saw a friend who is newly pregnant. I congratulated her. She told me that there were twins and one sac was now empty (still first trimester). I told her how sorry I was and 'wow that must be so hard'... I meant everything I said but still I was shocked that no one asked me how I was feeling after delivering and holding a dead baby??? (other mutual friends around)

It is scary. Like the other posters, I feel kind of contagious. I have (mostly) moved away from completely hating pregnant women, but I do feel afraid of contaminating them, or at the very least, dulling their bright presence just by being near them (as if to say "oh, does that body remind you of hopefulness? of happiness? well look over here at this one...")
May 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeigh
Cava: Yes, you're right. Unfashionable was a poor choice of word on my part, uncomfortable is far closer. I also feel a certain 'oddness' emanating from me somehow. As though I'm just a little 'off' centre, if that makes any sense.

Nika M: yes, I agree. Perhaps other are more scared of us than we are actually scary. Unless we are confronted with stuff like dead baby jokes and then I think we would be entitled to as scary as we liked.

Christy: You are most definitely a light in my scary darkness. Thank you.

HMC: I read Outlander after the twins died, I hadn't read it before but it is lovely brain candy. I agree, I thought it was generally quite respectful and yes, validating. But I really hate when the death of a baby gets muddled up in stuff like that horror film. It made me angry too.

Renel: That maternity shirt. Yipes! How awful. Glad I'm not the only one who has taken against Halloween, I'm quite glad that it is not such a major celebration(?) here in the UK as it in some other countries.

Diane: It all worked out? Ha indeed.

Sally: I'm sure that most people have forgotten about Georgina too. In some ways, I do find that a little sad. And yes, I find myself scary and sometimes I think people SHOULD find me more scary as it doesn't go away, I don't think?

Cathy: Sadly these are not THE cupcakes of our email, the genuine cupcakes that originally annoyed me on my calendar. They did morph. It's a long story! Sometimes I just feel tired of the denial. Death is many things, scary is only one teeny, weeny one of them, to my mind. Did you ever read 'Plop: The Owl who was Afraid of The Dark?' and his mother tells him to go out and research darkness and he finds it is exciting and kind and all sorts of other things. Sometimes I feel like 'Plop' an appropriate name for one such as me! Tentatively researching. Perhaps death would be something other than scary, or something we need to prettify as a cupcake,if we would only stop hiding under the rug? I'd be lying if I said I wasn't frightened myself but I do try to stick the occasional toe out!

Jill: Oh that lady crossing the road, How painful for you. And yes, it does often seem to be mothers. I kept trying to think of a plot that involved the exploits of a mad baby loss dad but I couldn't come up with one. I'm sure they exist though.

Suzanne: I keep hoping for my own long, flowing gown. But yes, the expectation and projection of others as a participant in The Saddest Event occasionally cramps my style. I too feel that I don't know who I am anymore but I am figuring it out, little by little. Jill A. wrote on the messageboard a little while ago about the death of a baby throwing you back into a second adolescence. That really made a lot of sense to me. You thought you had figured out who were and then your baby dies and suddenly you are back to teenage tantrums, trying this all out. Again.

MissingMolly: I'm sorry, that LALALALA is so sad. I do wonder what people think they are avoiding talking about. I don't think our babies are scary, they were just our sweet little daughters. And sometimes I feel kind of creepy or that I am giving others the creeps because I want to talk about Georgina, even now. That makes me sad, the only reason I would like to speak about her is because I love her. And love and death aren't anything to be afraid of, to be uncomfortable with, they are the constants perhaps?

Rebecca: Oh my. I think that is why I find the conversation about the baby-snatching-lady in the soap so disconcerting. It's as though people forget that I had a baby who died too. And then, when you say, actually I would understand because they did happen to me, they just kind of freeze you out, or carry on talking over you. Very, very strange.

Jeanette: It terrifies me still. It does rearrange your world view I think?

Mira: That is how I feel too. I am so ordinary and average and yet this happened to me. And I'm not the crazy lunatic of some branches of literature or film (well, most of the time I'm not!) and I'm just getting on with my life, not speaking about it.
I am so sorry to read of the awful associations that Halloween has for you. To lose your mother and your little boy so close to the same holiday. It made me so sad to read of the promise that you made and how cruel that the things you hoped did not come to pass. I think we should leave the chocolate frosting alone too.

Hannah: I did wonder, briefly, what this would be like before it was. But it was something so awful that I quickly put it from my mind with a 'oh, something so dramatic and unlikely would never happen to me.' Hmmm, goes to show how much I knew eh? It must especially hard to be part of a circle of pregnant ladies, all due at the same time.

Robynne: I also worry I might somehow contaminate pregnant people who know what happened to me. It makes me feel as though I might curse them or jinx them. Oh and that pressure to come out with the inspiration summary. Ick. I still catch myself doing that at times, nearly choking myself in my haste to tell people how it's ok really. When it isn't?! But I suppose I just want to put them at ease.

Brianna: Yup, close and insurmountable. Supremely uncomfortable. Why I did not hit on the word 'uncomfortable' when I was writing this I have no idea!

Valerie: Oversensitivity is just such a burden to me. I was bad before Georgina died and now I am a gazillion times worse. I often do that 'they don't want to upset me versus they don't want me to upset them' style flip-flop. I think that film was pretty much squarely aimed at the teenage boy market. Strange what appeals but I'm sure all those scary movies must fulfil some kind of psychological need?

Ginny: Oh I'm so sorry. That must be horrible, coming from Ben's grandmother. I don't think that some of my family members like the fact that I've chosen to tell my living children about their sister. I'm hoping that they don't choose to debate the issue with me or I'm worried I will start an awful family feud. And the thought of those eyes sweeping around, that just breaks my heart for you. Ah me.

Jen: Oh those nurses looking away from you. It's horrible, feeling like a pariah and judged. I often wonder if people think I did something wrong that caused the premature birth of my daughters. I think people like a nice, neat line of causation when it comes to baby death. She did x so her baby died.
Your description of the NOT GOING THERE! force did make me smile. I've been there. Sheer determination to avoid anything sad or worrisome. Very isolating for those of us who can't avoid going there.
And that lady who smirked? Really? Wonder what on earth can have been going on there. That is truly awful. Your poor little girl.
You are right about forgiveness. I know that I need it too, often and often.
I don't know what makes this kind of loss so frightening and uncomfortable. When I think of the contrast between how many people were eager to ask questions about and discuss at length my surviving daughter, with how very few have ever mentioned her sister, it does hurt. When I love them both the same and I do try to hold on to those moments of clarity you have described so beautifully.

HMC: ? . . . ?!....?!!!!! She said what?!? 'That's not something I like to hear.' Really? To be honest, random lady in grocery store, that's not something I like to HAPPEN. To me or to HMC or to anyone. But as it does, so you not liking hearing about it is kind of besides the point. You and your boys should have stalked her up and down the aisles, ready to jump out and go RRAAGGH! And I'm sorry that the question of when you will have a daughter is such a common one. Such an awful, intrusive thing to ask even under the very best of circumstances.

Leigh: I'm so sorry that nobody has asked you how you are feeling. You were so kind to talk openly and sympathetically with your friend and I'm sorry that nobody felt as though they could extend you the same courtesy.
I certainly felt, and do still feel on bad days, contagious. As though I am only capable of producing death and uncertainty.
And I know I'm not a friend and so it doesn't count for as much, I'm just some random internet person far away, but I would still like to ask, "how are you?" in a specific, targeted way. You can tell all of us here if you feel able to.

Thank you very much for all these lovely, interesting, heart breaking and occasionally just slightly scary, comments.
May 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine W
Elizabeth McCracken talked of that in her book and I remember reading it the first time and going 'oh god yes, that's it' when she talked about being 'worse than a cautionary tale, being a horror story'. It was especially evident during this pregnancy. Bad enough being high risk, worse being the person who darkens the room with your very presence because there is no way to avoid my history. Even if I don't talk about Gabriel, even if I were quiet about the source of my unrelenting anxiety, there was no escaping me and all my baggage.

You have no idea how many medical professionals looked at my chart during my pregnancy and did a double take and then asked me to go through each loss because they don't often come across a woman on her eighth pregnancy with no living children.

I don't think I scare people anymore, so much as puzzle them. Why do I still talk about him almost three years later? Why am I sad when I have such a delicious new baby to love? Aren't I maybe just making too much of this? After all, he wasn't really a real baby . . .

But there was a time I was a walking nightmare and horror show, and yes, as you describe it, that corner is a bad one isn't it? Don't talk about it, because we don't want to hear it (or you are dwelling, or you need to move on, or whatever variant here), but also leaving it silent means that anything could be happening. Anything. . . and perhaps you are crazy. Better watch out to be sure.

There was very, very recently a horrible, horrible event here where I live, where a woman shot a new mother and took her three day old baby as they left the pediatrician's office. You may be unsurprised to hear that her erratic behavior leading up to it and the defense of the event itself is being directly attributed to her recent miscarriage (which may or may not have actually happened). Yeah. I know why people are scared of us.
May 7, 2012 | Unregistered Commentereliza
Mostly I think I bemuse people. I'm like the bad bit in a fairy tale, before it comes right. And then, having Ben, people think it has. Not scary so much as a person living an unlikely story. Improbable. And also that little bit as if I make it more or less likely it will happen to them.

I love how you write Catherine, like a person forever in two places at one. Like Hatty in her midnight garden is how I imagine you.

Xxx
May 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMerry
"I love how you write Catherine, like a person forever in two places at one. Like Hatty in her midnight garden is how I imagine you."

Well said, Merry!

Exactly right.

Cathy in Missouri
May 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCathy in Missouri
I was going to respond to this earlier to say that I'm surprised people aren't more scared of me. I was thinking specifically of two encounters I've had with acquaintance-moms at the playground. In each case, I told my story because it was awkward not to and though I was worried about their reactions, both of them just sort of took it in stride, as if babies just die all the time (I know they do, but I was surprised by this reaction in non-babyloss moms). One of the women was even 38 weeks pregnant at the time. I felt, in both cases, like they SHOULD have been scared of me and wondered why they weren't.

But then, after reading this post and thinking about it a bit, I suddenly noticed how other parents at E's daycare treat me and it became immediately clear to me that a number of them are f**ing terrified of me. In a weird way, I felt kind of validated, gratified, powerful. Also lonely and isolated and vulnerable. Ah, what a mess, all round. Thanks for a beautiful post as usual Catherine.
May 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJLD
Just recently, I sat with my sister in her front yard. We were having a yard sale. A mini-van pulled up and a woman climbed out, walking toward me with a big smile of hey-I-know-you. "Weren't we in a maternity class toghether?" she said. Oh shit, I thought. I'm not sure if I remember, I faked. Her husband climbed out next, and went to turn the baby loose out of his car seat. They were here to browse. How is your baby? I asked. He's great! she replied. No return question... gee, perhaps she's catching on now. "My baby passed away," I said.

She froze. Said she was sorry. Then, nothing else. No how are you, no how did it happen. She backed away, wordlessly communicating to her husband to pack the kid back in, and start driving, FAST. I heard doors slide shut, and the van drove away.

Really? really?? For a moment I felt guilty for "scaring" her with my bluntness, but that ended pretty quickly. Grow up, world. What can possibly be gained by simply fleeing like that? That was my first true taste of the Unmentionable, Untouchable feeling. It is an odd sort of "power" to be endowed with.
May 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLi
A good post indeed! That’s the sunny side of your writing, you write in a lucid manner and I have no difficulty to understand.
November 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKatharine Rhoades

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