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lost and found


Cleaning out the basement was like finding a long spiraling staircase into our family, winding and intricate, exhausting and dizzying.


photo by bourget_82.

"Today is Finder's Day," my daughter tells me as she plays with a baby toy she once adored. "The day we find things." We found a box of hand-me-down big boy clothes for Thor that we tucked away for when he was big--3T-4T. He fits into them now. It is good luck, I am informed as the children tug at me, showing me a wheat penny underfoot. I found clothing from my single working life. Six power suits ranging in sizes from Size 4 to Size 12, plus three additional maternity suits. T-shirts that went to New Zealand, Puerto Rico, California, Italy, New Jersey, across the border into Mexico to buy tequila on the cheap. I found my favorite jeans. Ever. My hoodies for cycling. That perfect skirt from Anthropologie with feather fabric. I found all the little shoes, some worn only twice, before Beezus grew out of them. We made a pile of baby stuff--high chairs and cribs and beds that are not quite adult-sized. We are done now with miniature things.

There were boxes of Christmas ornaments bought at the drug store on Christmas eve, made of cheap glass and glitter. Photographs of my parents married and remarkably young, one of my ex-husband and one of me--thin, drinking bourbon, and not wearing a bra. I found parts of myself lost through the years of grief -- the single person, the happy person, the moderate drinker, the tortured corporate lackey, the caregiver, the auntie, the non-grieving mother. I'd forgotten about those people. I searched their faces looking for something that might explain why my baby died and how I became this person.

I was stoic about the process, then grateful for it. Afterward, almost excited at all the space we now had in our basement and in our heads. As I dug through clothes, piles of boxes, I realized how this stuff kept me simultaneously in the past and in the future, but not anywhere close to the present. I kept skinny clothes for a day somewhere down the line where everything would be back to the way it was. It was the same thing with the baby clothes. It was as though we freed ourselves under the weight of next time. I dug through boxes and boxes of little girl clothes marked Beezus Aged Younger Than Now, but still they felt like Lucia's clothing. I saved them for her. I was still waiting for her even up until this miscarriage last month. I saved nothing of Thor's, I admit. I sent all his newborn things to babylost mamas waiting for their next baby to come. But the girl stuff, the stuff meant for Lucia, was put in bins, preserved for the little sister that never came.

Later in the day, I notice a dark stone nestled in moss outside. I bend to pick it up. A caracol shell broken and exposed, its spiral clear and strong. It is exquisite in its brokenness, still filled with something weighty like emptiness. Caracol, I realize, is Spanish. It is a snail shell--slate grey with white and black. The intricacies of its chambers remind me of the sacred spiral. Fibonacci's sequence. The divine ratio. I pocket it.

I had an obsession with drawing the Fibonacci sequence after Lucia died. 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 , 21,...I wanted my kitchen backsplash to be designed in the shape of it-one tile, one tile, two tiles, three tiles, five tiles...the front walkway, the back brick pattern, a tattoo, her name.

If I added each loss, the thousands of losses after her death, with the last, the next, the next, grief expanded in me, cut me up into this spiraled pattern. I was put together in a twisting line of boxes something wholly different than I was, turned around and back again, but something like me. Or more me. Lost and found. I felt expansive, larger inside than out. Emoting the emptiness I felt. Her death erased the color of me, blurred my subtleties into pockets of blackness separated by a thin white delicate casing. I became the curious dark holes in the shell of me, lines curving downward, spiraling into a simple black dot.

Three plus years ago, I packaged my grief into bins for another day, put them in my basement. I kept doing that with each stage of clothing Beezus grew out of, waiting for Lucia to return and wear them. I hid the hope away in the chambers of my shell. They are labeled anger and guilt and regret and resentment. Sometimes they are labeled not giving a shit. They were parts of my grief that feel like vital organs. I couldn't imagine living without them, so I carried them on my back, filling the space around me. Until it broke off my back, nestled into a bed of moss and waited for someone to pick it up.

It is Finder's Day. We go into the backyard and pick all that we find. Squash blossoms and fiddleheads. Bark and dandelion. We soak them in vinegar and salt and sugar, serve the strange found food to the guests. We empty the bins of what we wish we were. The bins of what we used to be. The bins of envy. The bins with more children to fill the hole of the one we lost. We fill thirteen contractor bags of those wishes, give them away for another family to make a home, a large perfectly symmetrical shell of happiness that is broken to us, but perfectly useable to others, nonetheless. It is hopeful even.

Our life feels all new now without those bins. Our home is emptier than we thought it would be, but it is perfect, nonetheless.


What things did you pack away things for your child or children that were never used? Were you able to give it away, or do you hold on to those things? Why or why not? How do you think holding onto these things helps or hurts you? Conversely, what things have you lost and found in your grief journey?

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Reader Comments (20)

You know, I'm a shocking hoarder, or at least I was. I have all our tiny stuff, filled with memories and all our girls wore them. But when Freddie was in scbu I didnt put him in them, I didn't want to spoil the happy memories. So I have nothing, bar one vest that the first five wore and that is tucked away as the only thing of ours that he wore. So Ben never can. there is nothing all 6 can have.

I had some outfits I bought specially for Freddie, being a boy, and those were in his memory box. Then one day that seemed stupid. He never wore them. I didn't know it but I bought them for Ben, not Freddie. And so we got them out and used them and it just finished off a process that started when I was expecting Ben. My hoarding is over. Stuff is just stuff. It can't keep them babies, nor even bring a baby back. We don't need it or have to have it and it can mostly hurt us when hoarded.

It's a strange feeling to be free of sentimentality. That's the thing I lost along with Freddie. I lost the ability to invest emotion in stuff.

I say all this but, lest I change again, I cannot let go of his memory box, nor can I bring myself to let the earth claim his ashes. My dh is so unsentimental that I worry what will happen to that little box of arm splints and eye mask and footprints and hair lock if I die. Honestly, my lovely husband is so unsentimental he would stick it all in a skip! And it is pointless to even worry about that, because I will be dead. So I won't care. But I still do.
June 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMerry
Oh, and I do hope all that clearing out is gentle on you over the next few days. I think I would have a retrospective wail.
June 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMerry
I have been slowly giving things away: to other babyloss moms, to a friend in my neighborhood, a cousin. I have had trouble just getting rid; I've done much better giving to. I freecycled the carseat and had brief moment of panic and tears as I watched it being carried off. Eventually, that's what I'll keep. The maternity clothes are gone. Most of the baby clothes up to the size that just came out of the drawers. I have to stop myself from opening the boxes before I hand them on though, or I'll pull out too many things I think I should save. There is a very small bin, in the back of a closet that holds the things I most associate with Henry that will stay. The rest will slowly, slowly make it's way out.
June 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSara
I am still in limbo. My "having a baby" life is in a holding pattern, and so is all of our baby stuff. Because the disease that our babies died of is, in our case, hereditary, we are exploring our options for adding to our family. Most families who have a baby with ACD go on to have more healthy babies, but there is every possibility that for us ANY subsequent baby would have ACD. So we are keeping the few things our babies did use and the many, many things they never had the chance to use, hoping against hope that embryo adoption will be not just an option but successful for us.

Limbo is a hard place to be. I have said many time that I would like to move to five years in the future, past this holding pattern and know if there are children in our future or if I need to accept that this is my life and move past putting my energy into hoping and fearing that those hopes will be crushed again.

But in the meantime, although I am by nature a purger, I can't get rid of the things that my babies should be using. That I hope future children will be able to use. Until I know for sure.
June 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKim
Oh wow!
I can see how it would lighten someone. We packed every single piece of clothing Eva ever wore into a beautiful wooden box. Also packed up the stuff I had bought ahead into bins labelled 'Eva's clothes that she never wore'. They are sitting in the basement. Waiting for Hope to fill them.
And we moved Eva's crib from it's spot in her room into ours. We put her blanket into it as well as a few teddies, and photos and other stuff from her short life. It felt weird, but good, to move her crib. And it is, right now, also a symbol of Hope. The Hope that might never come but that I think will come. One day.
Thanks Angie.
June 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEm
Thanks for this post.
Eszter was my second daughter, therefore I didn't need to buy her many things. We saved the stuff of my first daughter, and when Eszter died, I could not give them away since the clothes, the bed (with handmade decoration), the toys and the rest was more linked to my living child. However, I bought some new clothes to Eszter too, but I was simply not ready to give them to anyone. Because "anyone" could not deserve them.
I bought Eszter a playmat and a babycarrier on ebay. The carrier arrived on the day when she died. When I returned from the hospital, I just couldn't watch the babystuff, but I just didn't want to pack that things. I wanted them to be used. To make a baby smile. But who was the baby I wanted to smile? (I hated all babies and all mothers that time)
I have a friend who had been waiting for a baby for ages. Luckily she got pregnant 3 months before me, and she delivered her little boy on the wk 29 of her pregnancy. It was not sure, that the little one would make it, but fortunately he is ok now. So I sent the mat and the carrier to him. My friend and her husband cried, and asked us to be the godparents of the little boy. (Ok, maybe not because of the baby stuff I gave them, but somehow I feel, that Eszter's things couldn't be on better place but by my "giftson").
June 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnna from the moon
This post connects the babylost parts of me with all of my other non-death-driven dithering. I thought that things like indecision and clutter would just melt away after R died and I'd throw everything out and live in a cave somewhere. But, alas, bills needed to be paid and I couldn't go to work naked...so...

But I remember very clearly when I decided that I was done with pregnancy and babies and all of the associated stuff and hopes. It felt good to let go of that unholy combination of the past me and the future me that the past me envisioned.

I've pretty much ditched all of my things that were supposed to link the past me to some magical future where all of my holes are patched. R's stuff is in one smallish box. C's baby stuff got boxed and shipped to the first takers (although it took 3 years to purge all of it). But I'm keeping my skinny jeans...just in case.
June 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTracyOC
I've never been one to hold on to baby things, each of my older children have a box in which I've kept special things, but otherwise I gave it all away and had to start again fresh with the next baby.
I prepared a lot for Florence, I sewed and I shopped, believing she would be our last baby, and just so happy to be adding to our family.
After she died, most things were put safely away, although her wardrobe of clothes were just not opened. (unless I wanted to sniff them)
When Ernest was born, I used lots of the newborn clothes, and for many of them it did seem like I'd bought them for him afterall, as Merry said, I just didn't know it at the time.
Some things I couldn't bare to use for Ernest, and there seemed no logical reason.
I gave away the car seat and bought another, I bought a new pram leaving the one I'd prepared for Florence tucked away in storage...I wrote about that recently, or rather the finding of it. ( http://lazyseamstress.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/right-where-i-am-2012-two-years-ten.html )
There is one little dress in Florence's memory box that she never wore, but I couldn't part with. It's a tiny cotton lawn smock. Whenever I look at it I can almost feel her warm soft skin...or how it would have, should have felt beneath the cotton, little bare legs and arms sticking out, curled and snuggled into my sling...that little dress breaks my heart, but I can't let it go.
I gave away everything else that was for a girl though I hesitated, I didn't want the person I was giving it to to feel like she was dressing her daughter in dead baby clothes....
June 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeanette
i can't let it go. i have all of it. as long as there is room, and i feel ok about it, i will keep it.

i don't know why. maybe if i let it go, then i have nothing. like, i don't already have nothing?! but those little somethings buffer me from their nothingness.

with our daughter, we never knew she was a girl unitl she was born. all of 'the baby's' yellow and green clothing got used for my living son. and i am saving it for the next baby. i can't let any of it go, mostly, because it was 'her's', and i tried for so long and hard to finally have a living baby, those clothes began to mock me as they lost their scent of dreft, getting dusty in the full-but-empty nursery. using them felt like a release.

i did go out and purchase a very spendy little dress, for her, shortly after she died. i wanted something just for her (my "parenting" in action). it had little strawberries and ruffles, something a toddler would wear. i would have bought it for her, i knew, if she had lived, and it seemed a good enough reason to get it for her anyway. so, i keep that too. i keep everything associated with her. to buffer againt the nothingness.

the same as for my son who died. i kept aside the few items we purchased in wild abandon, at target, when we thought he night actually be born alive, a couple days before he ended up dying. a onsie with trucks. a shirt that says 'i love my mom and dad'. how can i give that away? also, sometimes i think, do these items carry with them the sad energy associated with them? would a new mom want to dress her little bundle in a shirt that was supposed to be for a baby who wound up dying? i don't know. these things are sacred to me. maybe one day... but i doubt it!

after he died, i went thru a period of time that i thought we were cursed, to have lost two babies to stillbirth. my husband was away visiting family, and i took the weekend to purge my house of anything and everything that may be bringing this bad energy, this curse, this horrible blackness, to our lives. i was heartless in my purging and boxing. i got rid of all my old momentos 20 years of memories. i mean, anything we hadn't touched recently, gone. maybe 50 boxes of stuff. i felt better. i burned some sage. i don't think it really helped, but it felt good to get rid of things. i do regret being so heartless, because i now go to look for something only to realize it got done in the big purge. like i had a house fire, but not really.

i've kept all of my maternity clothes. these, i don't know why. i think because we had infertility, being pregnant was *such* a big deal. those clothes were a triumph over the infertility. we want another baby, but will use a gestational carrier, and i am sure she won't want my old maternity crap. but i'll keep it, under the bed, never to be worn again. just as a reminder that i did indeed get pregnant and grow 3 big babies. i don't ever look at it though... too painful! all those memories, so tainted with the eventual tragedies. my living's son't maternity clothing i have no real attachment to, but, i keep it because, how can i ditch his stuff and keep theirs?

even my IVF stuff. my leftover medicines for getting and staying pregnant. all stuffed in bags in the back of the closet. i've no idea why. maybe as a visual reminder- 'yes you did indeed go thru that...' and here is the evidence. i don't ever look at it though. but i need to know it is there, to verify my curious history.

and yeah, my husband would probably get rid of these things if i was gone. i should tell him i want it all burned. i don't want anyone else seeing it or having it, wearing it or using it. just light it up and send it out to the heavens, and then put out the fire with a bottle of the finest champagne.

angie, your writing is so beautiful and meaningful. it really brings me to thought.
June 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterss
just wanted to add, that, while i answered some of the questions you posed at the end of your post, i forgot to address the actual content.

i hope that your new empty becomes filled with some beautiful experiences. it reminds me of that zen concept of the beauty that comes only from absolute nothingness. i admire that you have cleaned out your basement, and also then have come to a new place of peace and beauty in releasing another layer of grief. it really is inspiring to me, and i am glad that you chose to share it here.
June 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterss
I kept my pee-stick but unitentionally; not to put in some ridiculous pouch or scrapbook even when I was naieve and thought everything would work out. When I came upon it, I needed to keep it for proof that I ever was, in fact, pregnant.

The only thing I have left is an adorable photograph that was intended for the nursery of a beagle puppy, wrapped in a blanket, in a bona fide car seat. This was to be professionally framed and hung as a centerpiece in said nursery, given Ema (Mom) is a huge canine lover/rescue-advocate and that this child would always be raised with dogs. Or so I thought.
June 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCava
I had the hardest time letting the car seat go. It was comfy and safe and a place for my daughter to nap and travel in. It was full of intention. It took me 3 years to release it and I gave it to my best friend's daughter to use as a toy. By this time the care seat had expired so it is illegal to use. There was just no baby special enough to use it.

I am an underfertile, multiple miscarrier. I clung to the clothes through my 6 miscarriages and wouldn't let anyone borrow them. Eventually I went through the clothes and cried inspecting each item. It was time and logically I knew I didn't need them. I just wanted emotionally to hold on to them, but never look at them either. So hard to describe, yet, in this company, I feel understood.

I gave the clothes to a friend of a friend who had a girl. She was thankful and I was neutral. When I found out the ones that didn't fit she shipped to Texas I had a small heart attack. I am just connecting dots now and am able to understand that I didn't want a stranger to get the clothes. A stranger would not appreciate them enough.

There were no good answers.

"We empty the bins of what we wish we were. The bins of what we used to be. The bins of envy."
That is perfect.
Oh Angie. You write so very very well.
June 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdiana
Still have. Still have the brand-new stroller, the brand-new carseat. All of the gifts from the babyshower still in the largest gift bag, still sitting on the basement floor. All onesies, diapers, outfits and pajamas, freshly laundered and carefully folded in the dresser drawers, exactly where they were a year ago.

The only thing that seems right to me is to use what I can as mulch. Plant my propagated rose garden and use the teensie onesies and organic diapers as mulch around the plants to keep down the grasses and weeds, bury it all and allow it to decompose and help me shape up something of a garden.

As always, I love your writing.

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne
We kept everything and left the nursery exactly as it was. It was all gender neutral and our one and only hope after she died was to go on and have another baby, as that's all that was left to do. We were ready, she was taken from us. We had to finish the job and bring a baby home. Some of "her" things have since been used on two siblings and two cousins. It makes me nostalgic and a bit teary, as each time I see an item of clothing worn by one of the kids that was intended for her, I want to wail but I know had she lived this stuff would have been shared anyway. The practical side of me knows this was for the best. I put away one teddy bear that I bought. I bought that the day I took the positive pregnancy test, so smug and sure was I at this early stage that positive pregnancy test meant = bring baby home to cuddle teddy in nine months. I have barely looked at or touched that teddy since I shoved in in the box under my bed almost four years ago.
Otherwise, every little thing any one ever gave us to remember Hope by, I have kept. Most of which is still on display in my house now, in my Hope like shrine because I don't get to have my Hope here.
Lucia is missed.
June 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSally
Every time I lost a child we had to pack up everything.

First time, with Freyja, we hadn't really bought many clothes, as I was 28 weeks when she was stillborn. We had bought a pram and a car-seat though. Such a traumatic shopping day that was. I had a two door sporty car and I was beginning to think I'd have to sell it and get something more practical. Fortunately we found a fabulous pram and car seat which would fit no problem. Unfortunately Freyja died and the purchases were returned to the shop. The lady who helped us shared that she had a stillborn child also.

Then with Kees we had everything. After all, he was born and lived with us for 7 weeks. The only problem was that a friend had lent me nearly all the clothes that he wore in the first 5 weeks, and I'd just returned them to her when he died. So I had a wardrobe full of clothes that he never really wore (clothes up to age 3-4), and the clothes he did wear belonged to someone else. We kept all his things, except his pram, we returned that to the shop.

With Jet, we had bought nothing, except a pram, because my sister gave me a whole lot of newborn's clothes, which her children had worn. And of course we had everything we needed for a child, because we'd already had Freyja and Kees. However, Jet died before he ever left the hospital. He was only 3 days old when he died. We returned the pram (again).

We still have everything. Except the prams, the car-seat, and those clothes which Kees wore in the first weeks of his life. I've kept everything.

I'm 43 years old, and I know we will not have another child of our own, because no-one knows why our children died. I could never take that chance again. Yet I'm not prepared to give up on parenting. Not yet. Perhaps I'm being foolish. Perhaps I should be more realistic. But I'm not ready yet.

So the boxes of baby clothes (and maternity clothes) are still waiting.
June 8, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermirne
Beautiful piece of writing, thank you!
Nina has a memory box with scan pictures, a few little gifts she received before she passed away, my dvd's of her scans and all the sympathy cards we got after her death. I also kept 4 pink babygrows I bought, and a little jersey decorated with antique buttons that my mother-in-law knitted for her. She also has two soft toys, a floppy dog and a purple unicorn that was intended for the pony room we were going to make for her. My sister was going to be her godmother and because we are both horse lovers she was going to be one too :)

I still have all the babythings we were going to use for her, but it was used by my sons before her and also by her brother after her, so I'm sentimental about the stuff because of all of my chilren. We won't have any more, so I'll have to do the big giveaway soon.
June 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMandie
We still have all of AdiaRose's baby clothes in a big dresser drawer. I feared to buy her things, yet I relished it at the same time, as if imagining dressing her up in these beautiful things could make her get here safely. I enjoyed it so much, each specially chosen thing an act of love, a plea, evidence of her existence ... stars, ducks, tiny flowers. She was 3 lbs 5 oz when she was born, and everything was too big. The hospital gave us a pretty little gown and tiny knit hat that fit her perfectly, and I wrapped her in the soft, warm blanket I had made specially to bring her home in. It was really hard to let that blanket go, because it was hers, I had made it for her, and I couldn't imagine not having it here. But, I needed her to be wrapped up in my love even more.

The rest of her things- her dolly ( who I've made clothes for), her bowl, her Christmas tree ornaments, her night light ( we made it for her, and it stood guard on her grave until winter, and now it lives on our bedroom windowsill per her Daddy's request) her hospital blanket-the one thing we have that she wore- are all in active rotation around the house. Paintings of her, and photographs are on our walls, her memory box and baby book are out. It feels... solid... to have this physical evidence of her; if I didn't I would be looking, and looking, and looking for her everywhere without rest.
June 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen
P.S. Angie- this is very beautiful. Thank you for sharing, I've read it over several times.
June 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen
I packed away her shoes. The day we found out we were having a girl, we went to Target. Mike picked out a tiny pair of sherpa boots identical to ones I wore. I chose a tiny pair of ballet shoes. My daughter would have worn them as she kicked her tiny feet and cooed at us.
A stuffed giraffe my sister gave to me, she knew I was pregnant even before I knew. A few blankets. A frothy pink dress. That dress is in the closet. We should have buried Charlotte in it. Every time I see it, I realize that I do not know what my baby was buried in. I didn't look, I didn't let anyone else see either. That dress could have been Sophia's blessing gown, or a nice photo prop, but I could not physically bear the weight of seeing another child in Charlotte's dress. So it's just hanging there in the closet upstairs.
Almost everything else we had, we used for Sophia (our rainbow baby- her due date was Charlotte's first birthday, she was born 11 months after we lost Charlotte.) Some things I still see as Charlotte's. Things she passed on to her sister. The baby car seat that is in the garage, taking up space. I can't let it go because it was bought for our Charlotte, even though only Sophia sat in it.
And a huge fleece quilt my mom made for her. On one side is Winnie The Pooh, which has never been my favorite, and butterflies on the other. Twin sized and much too warm for June, but I sleep with it every night. It's the blanket I told Sophia she can't have, because her sister left it to me.
June 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarinda
i"m late to the party but wanted to comment anyway. I love this line Angie- so true.

"I realized how this stuff kept me simultaneously in the past and in the future, but not anywhere close to the present."

I saved all things given to Silas and now I dress and use those things for Zeph. It feels good and right but makes me sad sometimes that they came to him new, not used and as a hand me down.
June 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLani

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