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 . . . .  



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?



This post was inspired by an exchange of e-mails with Christy B about her son, Oliver.  All the best lines are hers. Any spelling mistakes, poorly chosen words or clumsy turns of phrase are mine.

'Here ends the joy of my life, and for which I go even mourning to the grave.'

From the diaries of John Evelyn, written on the death of his eldest son, Richard, on the 27th of January 1658. 

I didn't know who John Evelyn was on the 29th of August 2008, the day my eldest daughter died. Yet there he was, striding on ahead of me. Three hundred and fifty years in front, part of this endless procession of weeping parents.

Early September 2008 - I sat on the floor of a hospital corridor. Overwhelmed. Head between my knees, the beating of unanswerable questions bouncing around and around against the walls of my skull. 

How do I get up from this floor? How can I go back to work? Or watch a film? Or smile? How do I come back from this? How can I recover from this? How do I continue to live?

Without her?

Pulsing with the blood around my body, throbbing in my ears with my heartbeat. In strange counterpoint to my unanswerable questions, these statements repeated in an endless loop.

I love her. She died. Ruined. I love her. Ruins.

My own equivalent of John Evelyn's words. Three hundred and fifty years later.

Here ends the joy.


When you arrive here, this place, this Glow in the Woods, someone is waiting to meet you at the door.

On this particular day, it's me. Catherine W. I'm waiting. I have a pot of tea. Cake. I also have red, red wine. Beer. And cold, clear water. Ice. Lemon. Spare slippers. 

I peer out into the dark. I call, "My baby died too." I hope you hear me.

Sometimes I don't know why I'm waiting here. I don't have a great deal to offer you. But I want to help you, so very much. 

I wish that I could, at the very least, provide you with a schedule, a time table, a handbook. Your Baby Died 101. What To Expect When You Didn't Get What You Expected. Crammed full of practical timelines and guidance. Useful facts such as you will start to feel better in approximately x weeks time.  

But we both know the one thing that I want to give you the most. A letter telling you that this has all been a horrible mistake, a bad dream, an administrative error. And those letters are not in my gift. 

I beckon you in. I think I know where you have been walking. In a place with no comfort. Where it is always too warm or too cold. Where food doesn't seem to make you any less hungry, whether you are choking down a few mouthfuls or stuffing it in. Where there is no rest and no sleep. All positions, sitting, standing, lying down, crouching. All equally uncomfortable. All postures give you a crick in the neck and a sore foot. Everywhere aches or is pins and needles. Very nearly everyone suddenly irritates or annoys. Even people you used to love. 

But perhaps I'm wrong? What would I know. Not a great deal in truth. I'm only one person, with one experience to go by. I can tell you what happened to me but it is not my place to tell you what is happening to you. 

You might think to yourself. Her? They sent her, this Catherine W., as a welcoming committee? Hmmm, I'm not sure about this. She's still here? 2008, that was quite a while ago now. 

But no matter how different we may be, we probably have one thing in common. 

"My baby died." I repeat.

photo by Rainer Brockerhoff

And you notice that my muscles don't spasm. Not any more. That I can speak that sentence, 'my baby died,' without my voice breaking. That I am wearing mascara. That my clothes are on the right way round. That I have just showered. That I appear to have slept last night. That I am still breathing in and out. That I may even be able to give you a comforting, knowing smile.

Sit here with us, try to rest, gather your strength. No pretence, no game face, required. We are here, we will abide with you.

I can't remember the first time I bought some new clothes after Georgina died. When I first made a phone call. When I first went out to buy some food. Or watched a film. Went out walking. Laughed. Went to work. Had sex. Plucked my eyebrows. Smiled when the sun shone. Drove my car. Even when I first stumbled here, to this Glow in the Woods.

But I did. Sooner or later. I have done all of these things. Stumbled. Watched. Walked. Laughed. Worked. More than once. Sometimes I liked doing these things, sometimes I hated doing them. Because I hated that they still existed, food, shopping, cars, eyebrows, tweezers, movies, breathing, internet sites. They all continued when my daughter did not.

At times, I didn't want to do them, I didn't want to even start getting involved in normal life again. Because how could I be remembering her properly whilst I was changing gears? Taking my wallet out to pay for groceries? 

And I also can't tell you the first time that I remembered that little baby, that once was mine, and smiled rather than cried. When I saw her, rather than only her absence heavily outlined in red. When I looked at that empty chair and nodded. In acknowledgement of where she might have been. When I looked back and thought to myself, I can't believe that I made it this far. But I did. 

When everything else was burnt away and all that remained was love. 

I can't offer you a map. I can't offer you any guarantees. I can't tell you how to fix this because I don't think that it can be fixed.

I can only tell you that the joy of my life did not end.

The joy I have now is not the joy that I expected. It is not the steady sunshine of watching my daughter grow from a baby into a young woman. 

My joy is a flickering candle, leaping up fierce and brightly. Sometimes it sputters, sometimes it goes out. But it will be lit again, sooner or later.

It is like my ghost daughter, laughing, delighted. Here. Then gone. But I know her still.

My joy. It did not end.

But yet I still go even mourning to my grave.


How do you feel about joy? Is it still there for you?  Is it the same as it was before or does it have a different quality? Does it flicker like mine? Or is the very thought of experiencing joy currently unimaginable? 

What were the questions and statements that rattled around your mind in the early days and weeks?

Family Assortment

If I had noticed them, standing there, standing by, I would have felt sorry for them. But I only had eyes for my girl. I should have felt sorry because, being my family, they couldn't run away. They couldn't pull that conjuring trick of disappearing for six months, a year. Then coming back with a forced smile and pretending that none of this had ever happened. That there was no other baby. Vanishing her with a slick sleight of hand. A grandchild, a niece. Here and then gone in a puff of smoke.

When I did finally look up, they were still standing there. Three decades of looking to them for succor, for consolation, for aid and I felt as though I had taken a hammer to them, smashed their bones, set a snare or a pit fall trap. "Come with me," I'd whispered in their ears. Luring them towards a place where they could only be hurt. Coaxing them along with me to a place of death and illness with false promises of chubby babies and matching outfits.

Until the day Georgina died I hadn't hit my younger sister for at least two decades. Our days of tussling and hair pulling long behind us. But that day, I felt as though I had delivered a sucker punch to that face, so dear to me. When I handed her the dead body of her niece with such maternal pride, I ripped at her flesh, pinched and pulled and bruised. In one fell swoop, I took all her security, all her potential pleasure and joy in her own pregnancies and babies, all her calm, all her peace and crumpled them up. I only hope that she has managed to smooth them out again and, whilst they will never be as they were, that they are still usable, that they will serve. And I am so sorry, more sorry than I can say. I was supposed to protect her, to show her that this was easy and lovely.  

But she didn't run, she didn't fall silent, she didn't refuse that body, its smallness, its deadness. She didn't flinch or look disgusted. And, if it were possible, that made me even sadder that my daughter had lost her own sister. And she'll likely never have another.


I sometimes feel that I was the bystander, the observer. As I watched my daughter's twin sister die. Because it is not in my generation that her absence will echo longest. After all, I managed to live nearly thirty years without her. I expected her to carry on living, long after I had died. But her siblings, they could have had a relationship with Georgina that lasted throughout the entire course of their lives, it could have been their longest connection, their most lengthy friendship. And nobody might have known Jessica better than her twin, kindled into being alongside one another, nervous systems and heart forming together. Georgina could have been a confidant, a supporter, a source of worry or trouble, a mortal enemy? I'll never know and Jessica will never know either. With luck I expected to fade out of Georgina's life at the half way point. But Jessica, she lost the potential of a lifelong companion. And sometimes that seems so much worse, so far greater a loss, than my own.


I have always been easily hurt. When I was a child, my father tried to toughen me up. It didn't work. I am, I have concluded, un-toughen-up-able. I am still what the kind would call sensitive and the unkind, a wuss. When Georgina died I felt as though all of my skin had been flayed off. That there was only the thinnest line of defence between the outside world and my churning, flinching internal organs. A couple of lines of cells perhaps. Not much of a shield. 

And then those words come. Those words. You don't need me to spell them out because you've all heard them already. People have said them to you, about your baby or your babies, about your grief, about how this all makes sense only you can't see it, about how you are too angry or too sad, about how you need to be like this or like that, about your self pity or self-absorption.

Like needles, piercing my onion skin remnants as I tried to clutch them around me, stabbing straight into my guts. When these words come from a nobody, a passerby, the needle jabs in and comes straight out again, a clean strike. But when they come from somebody close, someone you love, the needle can go in and explode. Like a dirty bomb. Spinning out fragments that scratch and remain. Thin pieces of metal that can encourage infection or which linger, healed over but never entirely integrated. Irritating your flesh. 

And I began to understand how family feuds begin, how people can chop those they once loved off like a diseased tree limb, never to be spoken of again, fit only for burning. Some of those words are not easy to forget. Sometimes I question whether, by forgiving them, I have somehow allowed my daughter to be set aside, considered less. Because I am afraid to make a fuss, to call them out, to say "no, you may not speak about her in that way. Do not dare." 

Photo by wwarby

But then I remember. All those other words, the words that wrapped me and my little girls up so tightly. That told me that she mattered. The dead one. The tiny, broken one. That I mattered. That what had happened was sad but that it was not my fault. The hands that held me and washed me and smoothed my hair. That cooked my meals and filled my car up with petrol and made sure that the mortgage got paid. And those binding, wrapping words, those kindly hands, are so much more important to me. 

It doesn't matter that the hurtful and the helpful often came from different individuals, some consistently jabbing at me with exploding needles, others always handing out tea and scones. Because it is easier to deal with being wounded with someone's arm slung around your neck. And, having lost one, I didn't want to lose anyone else, even those wielding pointy needles. Or perhaps I was just too much of a coward to risk making a scene. 

But here's the thing about family, be they the family you call your own by blood or the family that chooses you and that you choose in return, when others run away, they might just stay. If you're lucky. When others are silent, they might continue talking. When I was walking around like an open sore. When there were no right words because the only words I wanted to hear were something along the lines of, "oh this has all been some major administrative error and obviously should never have occurred. Our apologies and please do reclaim your daughter. Just fill in this form." When they had to talk on a subject that was painful and uncomfortable to them for hours and hours because I would not countenance anything else? Well it's inevitable that somebody's feelings are going to get hurt. It's hard to talk about grief and death at length, especially with someone who is as easily jabbed as I am. 

I found this quote on the internet a while ago, my sources tell me it's a Swedish proverb. These words remind me of my family.

'Love me when I least deserve it because that is when I really need it.'


And your family? Your friends? Did they run? Did they flinch? Did they say the right things? Or the wrong things? Or nothing at all?

If they hurt you, did you manage to resolve it? Did you cut any family members or close friends off entirely? And how do you feel about that now? Regretful, remorseful? Or glad and relieved?

good grief

'Tis very true, my grief lies all within; 
And these external manners of laments 
Are merely shadows to the unseen grief 
That swells with silence in the tortured soul; 
There lies the substance: and I thank thee, king, 
For thy great bounty, that not only givest 
Me cause to wail but teachest me the way 
How to lament the cause.

A voice. It sounds as though it is coming from far away although its source is right next to my ear. "Stop it. You're embarrassing yourself," he hisses at me. I don't respond. I don't stop. "You're scaring that little boy." 

I can feel his muscles tensing, wanting to move away from me. But he doesn't.

I have fallen into parts. A dry, thin, Greek chorus of me hovers up close to the ceiling. Tutting and disapproving. Scathing. All this emotion. So very florid and unprepossessing. It idly ponders things like the upholstery on the chairs and the many layers of gloss paint on the hot water pipes, painted and repainted over and over again. Bored with the hysterical fit taking place beneath.

I note the frightened face of the young boy with distant horror. "Shut up, shut up, shut up," I whisper at the collection of other fragments of me gathered on the floor of the same hospital corridor.

They form a fleshy tube designed for howling through, with my physical features stretched and wrapped around its outside. They slump on the floor, melodramatically collapsed. They wail and leak. And continue to wail and leak. Blood, milk, water, phlegm. They are beyond being reasoned with. 

The distant pieces inform me that I should be embarrassed and mortified.  And I am sorry for scaring that passing little boy. Very sorry indeed. It seems to me that his mother has an accusatory glint in her eye. But I cannot stop.

He looks at me, my husband, with a look that has been repeated many times since. 

You are doing this all wrong, you are very strange and you are a stranger to me. You are, not to mince my words, completely and utterly batshit crazy. My wife, what on earth has happened to you?


This is not how I thought I would react. I had an idea, before I had experienced any such thing, that I would be elegant in grief. Graceful. Gracious. I imagined that I would retain my kindness. That I would be considerate. That I would be the tower of strength that others could lean against. 

But I never imagined that the first death I would contend with would be that of my child. My three day old daughter. It transpired that I simply couldn't grieve for her quietly or discretely. This experience knocked my small claims to calmness, stoicism and compassion over the head and carried them off. Leaving a space to be occupied by my inner banshee.

Death didn't barge in. Not yet.

I still wanted to pretend that I hadn't even seen Death come in at the door. Because, in my childish grief mind, if I didn't see Death, perhaps he wouldn't see me. Or them. Besides there was no room for Death. There was no room for anyone at all apart from me and my daughters. I barged in on myself and squashed my face into my own face so hard, that I could no longer see. There was only me. My grief. My pain. My own closed eye pressed up against my own closed eye. Forming a greedy trinity with my children that occupied my entire field of vision, relegating my husband, my sister, my mother, my father, manners, social conventions, simple human decency, all to the peripheries. 

I was not the ascetic grieving mother, dressed in black with a single tear welling in the corner of her eye. Grief didn't endow me with restraint or wisdom. I was a despairing, empty thing with a ravening maw. Cramming myself with sweet things, fussing like a toddler over being too warm, too cold or too tired. As though all the inhibitory circuits in my brain and the taboos ingrained therein had been abruptly switched off. I wanted to scream and drum my heels deep, deep into the ground. Eat twenty three packets of chocolate biscuits. Walk around all day wrapped in a duvet. Storm around in tears, unable to contain anything, sending it all spinning out into the ether. 

But a few weeks later, I woke up, showered, dressed, brushed my hair, applied my make up and drove to the hospital. I sat quietly by the remaining incubator. Tears moistened the corners of my eyes. When one of the nurses asked me why I looked so grumpy, I replied, "Oh, that's just the way I look. No need to worry. I'm fine."

An internal switch had been thrown and I can't go back. To that greedy, grasping, uninhibited sadness. Sometimes I almost regret it, almost miss it. I don't think I'll ever cry for my daughter on the floor of a supermarket again. No matter how much I might feel as though I want to.


I am not proud of my behaviour in the immediate aftermath of Georgina's death. I have had to apologise to many people. But I don't know how to find that little boy or the young man who rounded the corner of the supermarket aisle looking for a tasty snack only to be confronted by a wailing woman in amongst the crisps. 

At the time, it didn't feel anywhere near enough. Part of me wanted to make even more fuss, to scream louder, to tear my hair and rip my fingernails out and leave them in a pile in the corridor, to scare more passing children. Surely my daughter's death deserved to be marked by more than the scaring of one paltry little boy?

At other times, it feels like too much. How could I have done that? How could I have folded in on myself so weakly, so comprehensively? How could I have frightened that little boy and embarrassed my husband? How cruel and how selfish.

Nobody can teach you how to lament. You can only muddle through in your own fashion. 

And no matter how public the display, or how private the lamentation, it would have been only the merest shadow of that unseen grief, the substance of which is known only to me.

Do you feel that there is such a thing as 'good' grief? Some sort of standard (or polite) way of behaving in the event of a bereavement such as this? Do you feel other people might be holding you to this standard, judging your grief as a success or a failure? Are you even judging yourself? 

Do you feel you let everything out or kept everything in? Do you feel proud of how you grieved? Or do you, like me, look back slightly shamefacedly?


"psychogeography - the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals." 

Guy DeBord

“No matter whether one is flying over Newfoundland or the sea of lights that stretches from Boston to Philadelphia after nightfall, over the Arabian deserts which gleam like mother-of-pearl, over the Ruhr or the city of Frankfurt, it is as though there were no people, only the things they have made and in which they are hiding.”

W.G. Sebald - The Rings of Saturn

My daughter was born in our local hospital, about ten minutes walk away from my own front door. She did not die there. She died in another hospital, in a different town, about fifty miles away. 

The first hospital is so physically close, so much a part of my life, that I have started to tune its presence out. I used to walk past and feel the air dense, a haze of hopes and fears emanating from the coarse render, as though my daughters and I were replicated in every room on every floor. Now it hardly registers, a grey rectangle squatting on the horizon. The memory of my daughters' births overlaid now with a dulling patina of time.

It is the second hospital that haunts my thoughts, the one where Georgina died. It is an old building, a former work house and then an asylum. A strange, twisty place, full of echoing halls and outmoded gadgets. 

My haunting started early, even before my daughter died. In the windowless NICU parents' kitchen, amidst the labelled pots of yoghurts and stained coffee cups, I phoned my friend to tell her what had happened. I suddenly felt myself whizz up to the ceiling and then higher still, saw from above my distress call emanating from the gizzards of the building, a flickering patch of bioluminescence amidst stone and cement, a synapse firing helplessly in an uncaring nervous system of concrete and discoloured gloss paint. Tap tap tapping. And I knew that this place was one which would not leave my mind easily.  

The room in which my daughter lived was a small one, a side ward with a blue linoleum floor. There were four bays, the twins were in the two spots closest to the door, Georgina to the left hand side as you entered the room. This place where my first born spent the majority of her life, where she took her final breath. A room I subsequently spent a great deal of time in. I failed to recognise the incubator in which she had lived when it came around again, or to locate the room where she finally died, where her heart stopped beating. My husband knew them, the incubator he pointed out, the room he would not, but they had already left my memory. This made me feel as though I had betrayed her, that I could not find these two small spots of contact between my daughter and the earth that remained behind her. 

Image taken from the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the BPL

I should like to go back into that room and stand there, now that it is empty of people, at nighttime perhaps? I don't know what it is that occupies that space now. An office? A different type of ward with larger occupants? I know that it is no longer a neonatal intensive care unit. That time has passed. The NICU is now located in another hospital on the other side of the town. I don't know what it is that I hope to find there, in that stillness, in the depth of the night. I always had a creeping sensation that there was something happening in the NICU, something hidden away behind the scenes. Because the plastic boxes and alarms surely couldn't be real. Too terrible and strange, surely a facade or a trick. Perhaps I hope that she is still hidden in the walls somewhere. Or maybe I am looking for pieces of her? Or shards of myself? Those that flew away with such force that pieces might still be embedded in the walls, those that crumbled away gently to such a fine dust that they could never be reconstituted, those I ripped out with my fingernails and cast away with a shudder of revulsion. Look, there's the part of me that cared when your boyfriend dumped you. That small pile of fluff in the corner, there's my certainty that everything will, in the end, be ok. That small translucent snippet of cellophane, a discard from some piece of medical equipment, the part of me that looked around eagerly for help, turned to higher powers for assistance and aid. 

There is only one other place where I can feel her so close at hand. Rather unromantically, it is the final toilet stall at my place of work, the one that adjoins the cleaning cupboard. In my dreams, the two places combine, to form a strange lurching amalgam of places where I might find some left behind pieces of my daughter. I turn away from her incubator to find myself in the toilet cubicle, although in reality these two places are miles apart.

I used to kneel there, by that toilet, clutching at the bowl, nausea roiling through my stomach. After she'd died, I walked back into the small, smelly cubicle for the first time in over a year and sunk to my knees again. I suddenly felt solitary and alone although it had been a long time since I had been a being in triplicate. I balled myself up amongst the cleaning supplies, laid my cheek down on the industrial size packet of toilet rolls and ached for her. "She was here," I murmured. "She was just here." And as I lay there, I momentarily felt that I could reach out, grab the empty air and twist it through ninety degrees, to send her hurtling away from her death and back to me. But, sadly, that proved to be just an illusion, although it is testament to my own desperation and craziness that I tried it. I had to check that it wouldn't work. 

 Are there any places that remind you of your baby or babies? Or where you feel a particular connection to them? How would you, or do you, feel about re-visiting these locations? Do you feel that you are looking for something?


I am a professional nitpicker. I sift through documents, link them up to one another, count them, summarise them. Before my daughter died, I’d spent nearly five years analysing other people’s sad stories, their deaths, hospital admissions and operations, reducing them to numbers to be crunched. 

I treat them with more respect these days. Try to approach my computer with a bowed head and leave a little pause as a mark of respect before I attempt to weave these records into a palatable form. Because these documents, when viewed in their human context, tell some tragic stories. One of them is mine.

The strangest day of my life was comprehensively documented. Hospital records show my time of arrival in the accident and emergency department of the local hospital with back pain, the back pain that turned out to be premature labour. What should have been December instead one clear summer night in August.

The birth transcript from the next morning records the dates and times of my daughters' births. It looks like any other record, the hospital must spew out tens of these documents every day of the year. But the recorded birth weights cause something to catch in my throat.

There are a plethora of other documents, transfers to the NICU, treatments administered, the reactions of our daughters, our reactions. All meticulously noted down. Box files upon box files full of paperwork.

When I open my daughter's memory box, there seem to be two distinct categories amongst the contents. Little woollen hats, photographs of my hands stretched over her bruised little frame, photographs of her dead body cradled in the arms of my husband, her ashes. 

And formal documentation. Birth and death certificates, medical records, the paperwork that I must pass on should I ever have her ashes interred. 

Somewhere between these two imperfect, inadequate records sits my daughter's memory. All that is left of her is contained within that box. 

I have retained the slip of paper that informs the registrar that a death has occurred. Signed by the doctor who witnessed her death and decided what caused it. I quite like to think of that quiet, gentle man bringing the whole power of his considerable intellect to bear upon that question. That just for a few minutes, perhaps, she filled his mind as he disentangled the chain of events culminating in her death. A tiny, icy comfort. 

My husband and I had to take this small slip to the registry office. I remember driving there resentfully, sulkily, wishing that someone else could do this. Hardly believing that we were expected to. My introduction to the unrelenting world of parenthood a strange one but still one with an inescapable truth at its core, nobody else is going to do this for you, be your child living or dead. The buck stops here.

I sat in a chair over the desk from the registrar. I seemed to be able to view myself from the outside. I could see the registrar looking at a person who looked like me, who appeared to be holding things together but, in reality, I had been decanted somewhere to the right of myself, gibbering, trembling and translucent. I am certain that I was not the woman who sat in the chair and calmly handed over the slip of paper, the proof that her daughter had died.

Photo by Zach K

I remember that I wanted to sign for my dead daughter's birth certificate. But I couldn't bring myself to sign for her death certificate. My husband did that. He is listed as the informant on her death certificate. His qualifications for doing so listed as being her father and as being present at her death. Such dry little phrases concealing such a world of awfulness.

The registrar spelt one of the causes of her death incorrectly. I wanted to ask her to change it but I couldn't get the words out, they clotted in my mouth. Now the mis-spelling glares at me accusingly.

I left clutching those documents tightly in my hand, the only proof that I had not imagined her existence. Clinging to the sad, strange consolation that, should some great-great-grandchild go looking whilst researching their family tree, they would come across her.  

Seven months after my daughter had passed away, a receptionist in some far flung part of the hospital ‘phoned me. To ask if I would be bringing the twins in for their hearing tests. For a moment, the room swirled around me and I saw my thin, ghost girl alive somewhere. In a hospital filing system. Preserved there. Squashed between files like a pressed flower. And part of me didn't want to tell the woman on the other end of the phone that she was dead. Because I would have liked to maintain the pretence and she was my only co-conspirator.

When my son was born, nearly three years later, my husband and I went to register his birth.

"Only one?" asked the registrar, "Are you sure you aren't hiding a twin anywhere?"

She probably says this to every family that comes through her door. 

"No," I replied. "Just one."

But there is a hidden child in our family. She's been hiding for a long time now.

Did you have to complete any paperwork relating to the death of your child? Did it bring you any comfort or cause you further pain? Or did an absence of paperwork cause you hurt? Did you find any kind souls amidst all the bureaucracy? Or any callous ones? Have you had the disconcerting experience of someone in the 'system' contacting you assuming that your child was still alive?