The little green box sits in a drawer now, a fine layer of dust collecting from god knows where. I do not open it anymore. I know he is not in there.

I thought I'd said goodbye long before I really did. The first time I held him, he was dying. And though I whispered, it's okay, it's alright little one, you can go, mama loves you, it's okay...I was only trying to ease the passage, make him feel safe since I could not keep him safe, since I could not keep him. But that was not goodbye...in my heart, I was still saying hello.

The last time I held him he had been dead twelve hours, lividity darkening one side of his small face. I waited for them to bring him to me, shy and eager as if before a date. I remember most the adrenalin taste of my anticipation, the leap in my heart even though I am a sane-ish sort and the joy I felt awaiting him feels ridiculous, even macabre in the recounting. But I did not believe he was alive: more that life and death were irrelevant, for a minute. It seemed enough that he was himself, and would be with me again. I think I thought that I wanted to say goodbye, though I couldn't have said those words aloud then...too maudlin. I think now that I was wrong, that goodbye was nowhere on my radar. I just wanted my baby. And I would want him with a keening ache for a long time after.

Our culture tells us that goodbye comes with death, or at the very latest with the last leavetaking of the body of the departed. The dead leave visible holes in the fabric of our lives, and we know them gone by the gaps.

But with babies, especially those who never came home at all, the thresholds are blurred. Waiting for a baby, a parent's life and selfhood shift to accommodate the coming addition...but the changes are private, woven in secret thread, invisible. When the baby dies, the leavetaking comes hand in hand with - or before, or in place of - that first magical hello, and all the anticipation and identity shifts of the parent-to-be are left hanging, shredded, irreconcilable with the fabric visible to the outside world. The usual rules of goodbye suggest that the absence of someone who was barely, in fact, present should be a simple thing.

But if it were, this corner of the internet would be a lonely place.

Pieces of goodbye crept up on me, crowded in. Each time I called him into being aloud, spoke the reality of his death, he slipped a little further from me. Each time realization fell and the obvious clicked: that I would never see what he would have looked like as a five year old, that I that there would never be a photo of all my children - if I eventually had other children - together. Each one tore at me, ripped open again the wound where all the futures I'd woven for us had been. Each one was invisible to the outside world, unremarkable to anyone who did not realize that my heart still held him whole long after his body had been relinquished to the fire. I knew he was gone, knew it in every part of me...my spread hips, my leaking breasts, my empty, searching hands. But it was the rituals of living without him that forced me to acknowledge what I knew, internalize it. Each time I moved forward without him, I let go a little. And I hated that. We had had so little time, he and I.

Then one day I opened the little green box to finger his small hat and when I held it to my face to breathe him in all I smelled was dust. No trace. And I sat, alert, surprised, as if suddenly realizing that he'd been gone a long time. I felt...odd, caught out...as if someone might be watching, as if I'd been discovered mothering a box.

are you there, little one?
I whispered.

No answer. And it all clicked into place.

I felt the shift deep inside me, just as I'd felt it all those months before as I waited for motherhood...the quiet sea change where what was once incomprehensible becomes, simply, who you are. Still a mother. To a child I'd never see again. There it was: goodbye.

And yet I felt him, too, closer then than I had in a long time, that brightness and sweetness of the moments holding him in my arms. you're gone, I said quietly. I miss you.

Did you say goodbye? All at once, or in pieces? What does goodbye mean, to you?


this is my own goodbye, of a sort...my last post as a regular contributor here at Glow.

i will be reading, still, walking alongside, but almost four years out from Finn's death i feel another shift taking place in me and the urgency i long felt to write it all out has waned.  i still miss him, but that missing has become something i want to sit quietly with for awhile, and let other voices rise here to continue weaving our song of Medusa-hood, of love and grief.

thank you, all of you, for making this place a community.


I'm not sure why it's always such a shock. It shouldn't be...part of me knows that all of us out here - fingers touching in the dark, keeping company - are just a tiny statistical measure of some great silent rift of sorrow and scars that runs through the Happy Here and Now of our society.

And yet each time we multiply I'm floored, gobsmacked, as if my own personal secret hiding place were suddenly drawn out into the light; a cockroach discovering we are truly legion. The news comes by email or by way of a blog post and it makes impact and I am instantly utterly naked in the face of fears normal people presume are too lurid to happen to them.

Each time, I think oh, little one, oh child. Each time, I think oh jesus, those parents. Each time, I think, please not again.  not me

And then it is on CNN. Their son, Jett, 16, died Friday in the Bahamas, reads the announcer. John Travolta and Kelly Preston Grieve Son, blares the headline.

And I sit surprised, hot tears running down my face. Them too? Clearly, I don't know them. Nor what it's like to have a sixteen-year-old, lose a sixteen-year-old. But the chasm that yawns between the words of that headline, I know its outline. The shock of it. The empty, whether a crib or a chair at the table or a first car or what. The waking up and then remembering and everything is just wrong, upside down like a bad dream except...it's true. And you know it's true by the way everybody else's eyes turn down after and the way nobody quite knows what to say, and they watch you to judge whether you're grieving healthily, even if what that might actually mean to them is nothing more than hollow words in their Harlequin romance acquaintance with the ugly, confusing work of grief.

And if you're famous, they is the whole world, no sanctuary.  No private, anonymous blog to work it out on, no respite from the grinning and the bearing. Everybody sees you're blown apart...everybody feels the wind blow. In every grocery aisle across the tabloid-reading world, you are going to Graceland.

The news is full these days of How Parents Cope with Losing a Child and The Death of a Child: A Parent's Greatest Fear, the scabs and scars and snakes we wear here suddenly the flavour of the week courtesy of those poor fucking Travoltas. And I scan the pieces and realize those objects of curiosity described like museum exhibits are us, and my naked cockroach-self wants to skitter away safely back into my secret lair and hopes against hope that no one I know has seen those articles and read them and thought of me. I do not want to be a Poster Child.  I want to pretend I am not exposed.

Maybe I wanted to believe all I needed was a private jet and I'd never be vulnerable again. I get that this is ludicrous, that vulnerability is as simple as the price of love. I still want to go on believing I paid at the door.

What goes through your mind and heart when you hear of another family losing a child?

strong threads

I don't remember how I found her...clicked over from a comment at another blog, probably.  Her story was familiar - a son, stillborn, his absence huge and bewildering - and yet utterly specific...one particular little face missed, one particular family sorrowing, one particular struggle to resurface.  I was in a quiet place in my own grieving and surfacing, and the I hear you.  I feel you.  I'm so sorry that resonated in me never found a voice.  But I clicked back now and then, because her words moved me and her story felt like kin, her Callum an ephemeral brother to my Finn in this strange circle that binds us, the babylost.

Then she shocked me into speech.  Callum's anniversary, and a link to a series of baby slings by the company she started, then sold in the aftermath...slings that are being sold this month under the wry banner of Carry On My Wayward Son, with all proceeds donated to stillbirth research.  Carry on, indeed.  And oh, how I laughed, having howled that cockrock anthem beside moonlit bonfires, choking on smoke and the high notes - the perfect title.  But then I clicked through, and saw the label on the slings, and tears began to burn behind my eyes.

Because in early 2006, pregnant for the second time, still raw with grief and hospitalized on bedrest four hours from home, isolated and in despair at what felt like the hopeless cause of ever bringing home a live baby, it was her sling, made by her own hands, that happened to be the first baby item I ever dared purchase.  It was an act of defiance and an act of hope, clicking "buy now" there in that awful Craftmatic bed.  I lay still, eyes darting to the door, afraid that someone would catch me red-handed in the ridiculous, preposterous act of imagining myself with a happy ending.

I got my happy ending, that time.  The baby came safely, as did the sling.  It was the cocoon from which I introduced my son to the world during his early days...and since September, it's been doing the same for his sister.  It's made of strong stuff, well-sewn.  Of all the accoutrements of parenthood that have cluttered my house over the past few years, it's the one that I value most deeply, the one that testifies  to how tiny my babies were when they nestled almost invisible within it, the one that symbolizes my hard-won motherhood for me.  But realizing that C. sewed that sling - C. who did not get her happy ending with Callum - knocked the breath out of me and made me weep.  My heart sang out to her, You! You helped me heal! and I knew that she would understand.  And yet I would not wish anyone in a position to know how much that means.

Connection matters.  A year ago this weekend Kate and I first met face-to-face, and sat together and talked into the night of our sons and of Medusa-hood and of community and grief and love.  Glow in the Woods is the progeny of that night, thanks to Kate's tireless work and the contributions of everyone who writes here and visits here and comments here...it is, more than anything, a place for connections.  The threads that tie us within this circle of babyloss are messy threads, narratives of sorrow and brokenness, healing and resurfacing.  When the threads are all woven together, connected, our hope is that they make the circle a less lonely place to be...and make it easier to carry on.

What role have connections with other babylost parents - online or in person - played in your own coping and healing?  Have you had any random encounters or small-world experiences where your babylost identity and the rest of your life have collided, as I did with C?  Have you met many people who share your experience outside the ether of teh internets?


no dominion

Just for a second, I saw them, as if in a child's picture book or one of those Anne Geddes baby-as-cauliflower-type photo montages.  Legion, the lot of them.  Some in crisp black and white, Rogers and Nancys with white, salt-crusted headstones, all little lambs and angels.  Others were more Technicolour, like the garish, blurry snapshots of my own childhood...a Jason, a Robin, a "beloved baby boy".  One, much newer, I recognized; the newborn girl with the hole in her heart, the first baby I ever knew who died.  Across the sweeping hill in the older part of the cemetery I could see their compatriots...almost too many to count, dim and sepia, names obscured or hopelessly ancient, buried with young mothers or the siblings who followed in a series like stepping stones of sorrow.  For a second in the peace of the cemetery, I could see them all, each one a story, a whole life anticipated, condensed to a few dates and letters on a stone.  Each one a silent, plaintive testament to thethreshold we living things must traverse...into life, some way or another, and out.  For too many, the challenge insurmountable, the dates identical, cut short.

I do not go to the cemetery very often.  My own child is not there...we cremated him, still hoard the ashes in our bedroom with ambivalence, unsure of how to stage a letting go.  But I have known this place since my earliest years, when the grandmother whose bones lie here was alive and the guardian of the family stones, and I her charge, her companion in the regular pilgrimages of caregiving.  I fetched water from the old pump and dragged it to black, faded headstones of people even she barely remembered, fetched again and helped water the graves of her husband and brother and parents, all gone before I'd been born.  I listened and learned my family history in this place. 

While she weeded, though, I ran wild...and it was the childrens' graves that fascinated me.  I spun stories to myself about the children they represented, these names on the small stones.  I knew them, could have led a tour around the cemetery from Douglas to "wee Elmer" - though I was agog at the idea that an infant had ever been named Elmer - through the ones whose names were already crumbled away.  Rapt with the morbidity of childhood, I wondered about them all, spoke to them, flitted amongst them w eekly through years of summer afternoons while my grandmother tended the geraniums of people I'd never meet.

I drove through the cemetery on a whim, Friday, nearby and suddenly guilty because my grandmother has no geraniums to mark her place, now.  I stopped, and stood by her grave, staring at her name on the headstone, assessing...her name will be one of my daughter's names when this child crosses the threshold into whatever awaits.  I spoke to her, then, my grandmother, though I do not believe she's really there...spoke with love and awkwardness mixed, like a shy suitor.  I speak to Finn the same way, self-conscious; I do better listening for the dead than trying to hold up my end of the conversation.  Then I sat down by my grandmother's grave and drifted for a minute, feeling closer to her in calling up memories of her hands in the soil beside me.

That's when I saw them, all the babies.  My eyes caught on the first stone, three rows back and a few over, where it always was. It is a baby's stone, one where the dates, like Finn's, are only a day apart.   Nearly sixty years old now, that story, that loss.  I realized that the parents of that child are probably long dead themselves now, gone beyond whatever remained of their sorrow to the same side of the threshold as the baby they marked with a sandstone lamb.  And I looked to the left, where I knew the next stone would be, and suddenly for that one moment I felt like I could see them all, every one of them laid here, too small or too sick or just gone for no reason anyone will ever know.  They were neither beautiful angels nor objects of sorrow, of absence...just babies and children, real for a moment.  And time, finally, seemed to have made peace with them.

I wonder if, sixty years from now, when we here are mostly just memory, if the sting of our stories will go with us...if the words we leave here will bear witness only to love, to moments lived?

I long for that.


art of healing

everybody's doing it.

it's in, it's fun, it's great for teaching social media or sizing up a site. but until i saw Mad's stark and poignant Wordle a couple of weeks ago on the topic her February miscarriage, i hadn't considered that the novelty site might also serve as a tool for art therapy of a sort; that it could offer a mirror reflecting one's own words and sorrow and thought processes back to oneself, reconfigured.

the healing process doesn't really end, i don't think.  the pain becomes less immediate.  the desire to connect to it fades.  but, for me, with peace has come a curiosity about meaning, an urge to explore - from outside the raw wound that is personal narrative - what it means to live through loss and come through the looking glass.

so i entered text from my own posts here into Wordle, and stepped back, imagining myself perched on a bench in a wide, minimalist gallery, taking in the conglomeration of words and connections as if they'd sprung from some elsewhere, as if the blood they spoke of was foreign to me. there is healing in distance, my grandmother always told me. there is insight, i thought, maybe, to be found in this bird's eye view that brings my words back to me jumbled and reorganized, full of acrostic mystery.  

i cast my tea leaves and hit "create," and time, and think, and baby and grief and wanted all leapt from the page, not entirely unexpected but still surprising in their relative size and relational combinations.  in Wordle, the frequency of words in the base text impacts what size those words show up as in the created piece.   time made me nod.  think made me laugh.  i overthink everything, always have, but didn't realize the theme had come through so dramatically in writing.   the left-hand side conjunction of still, think and back juxtaposed with the alternate combination of still, go and back - with go slightly smaller, like a longing finally discarded - made me wistful...for the longest time, in my sorrow, i wished myself back to the time when my son was alive.  in moving beyond that place of wishing, i have left something behind forever.  but both realities - the one in which i think back and the one in which i would go back if i could - are present in the Wordle, roads diverged only by one word.  elsewhere, tiny wanted baby and peace wrong and healed though never exactly enough and the way lost fits inside time all catch my eye, my breath.  these are things never quite articulated aloud, yet there they are, alive on the screen.  seeing them is like looking through an old photo album, a former life flooding back in the recognition.




what do you see?  have you tried one of these for yourself?  is this art for you, or just a novelty gag?   what place has art - of any kind, writing included - had in your own grieving and healing process?


this cup pass from me

I am carrying a child who is almost precisely the gestational age her brother was when he was born.  And when he died.  And this is scaring the shit out of me.

26 weeks, 1 day is actually pretty decent for a micropreemie.  They told me Finn had at least a 75% chance of survival without major complications, statistically...even if he was a white male fetus, that most vulnerable creature of the species.

I have learned, more viscerally than any professor could ever have hammered through my skull had I actually braved such a subject in my studies, that statistics lie.  Or that only fools believe they will come out on the positive end of them, at least.  He did have major complications, ones that proved insurmountable, fatal.  Despite steroid shots, his lungs collapsed.  One so severely that they tubed him directly through his skin, through his tender, papery flesh and the tissue of his tiny ribcage.  I do not even know if there was anesthesia...I was ten rooms away, trying to recover some feeling in my legs and a blood pressure reading high enough to qualify as alive, to prove to the nurses that I could stand so that they'd let me hop in a wheelchair and go to him.  When we finally won that fight and were ushered to his incubator, the wounds of his own battle were already vivid upon him.  His little fingertips and toes were blackened from lack of oxygen, and his chest had been cut, his throat tubed.  Before his mama ever held him.  Before there was ever a gentle touch or a voice that spoke his name.

Then we did hold his hand, and he squeezed our fingers, and we stroked his little feet and marvelled at him, and in the end hours upon hours later when the outcome of the battle was undeniable we surrendered and unplugged him and held him and tried to fit a lifetime of love and comfort into one last hour, before he was gone.  We were lucky, beyond measure, to have that time. And he was medicated, probably more than I even realized, so I do not think there was pain for him at the end.  I allow myself to think that.  I need to think that.

But for the longest time the rest, those brutal early hours, were something I simply did not allow myself to think about at all, because there was this primal cry that would rise in my throat and choke me.  Because my baby, my tiny baby, had been born to a shock and suffering that even now I know I only know the half of.  Because that was the first of his brief hours of life.  And because it was me who enabled it to be that way, me who made the decision, at 26 weeks exactly, that we would rescind our previous "no heroics" designation and go all out to save the baby I believed by then could be saved.

I don't exactly think I made the wrong decision...that's not why I lie here in a cold sweat before dawn some mornings.  The odds were that he might have survived and thrived.  I would, I think, have felt worse had we done nothing and lost a baby who might otherwise have come through okay.  And I don't exactly feel guilt, because I made the decision without guile and on the basis of the best advice I could get at the time.   But owning that decision and the pain that it - that I - caused that tiny boy will sit with me, part of me, until the day I die.  It is, if I am honest with myself, the cruellest thing I have ever caused to happen to another human being, no matter my intentions, my investment, the depths of my love.  And what wakens me in the thin light of 4:30 am these days, heart pounding, is the fear that sometime in the next week or two I may have to face it again, to choose again.

Choice is often and in many ways a privilege.  When you have no real control over the outcome of your choices, though, it can feel like a mockery, like a bitter joke.

They ask me if I want the steroid shots and I say, i don't know and I cast my eyes around the room like a trapped animal, wondering hell, do i look like i'm writing this story, like i'm in charge here?  The truth is if my cervix is showing significant weakness of course I want them NOW and if it's not I want to wait because they are most effective when given within two weeks of delivery and preferably after 28 weeks but sometimes it's weak and soft and sometimes it's not, that tricksy cervix.  The truth is these same practices have taken far less significant decisions out of my hands in the past, in the crises of labour, so the fact that they defer to me on this Big Thing just leaves me wary, puzzled.  The truth is they don't know what's going to happen and I don't know what's going to happen and I don't want control of Big Decisions in this liminal boundary zone because I know it is a fool's game. 

I am chickenshit, burnt crispy.  I want to abdicate.

The little life that hangs in the balance...for my own sake, sure, I want her at all costs.  But for hers?  That is the road I do not seem to know how to walk this time, the road I wish I could close my eyes to and ignore until it is safely past and I get to believe, maybe, that I will not have to choose again whether or not my child's brief life will be one of pain and machines and invasive procedures, until we reach a place where I can breathe and hope that I will get to play mother this time, not hapless, impotent god.

I whisper, please.  give me a few more weeks, and i'll happily pretend that I'm bossing you around for the rest of my life.