Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Fairytales, happy endings, loss & childless living

Writing and thinking about meaningful songs made me think of a recent song, although it's not really related to loss or infertility (in an obvious way, anyway... I suppose you can interpret just about anything the way you want it to...!).

I don't really like rap or hiphop at all (showing my age here), & Fergie & the Black-Eyed Peas are really not my style. But I do find myself humming one of Fergie's recent songs these days -- "Big Girls Don't Cry" (not to be confused by the song of the same name by Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, which is more within my frame of reference...!") It has a beautiful melody & a lovely, wistful quality to it, and there's a line in it that goes: "Fairy tales don't always have a happy ending, do they?"

Maybe not. My fairy tale/dream come true pregnancy with Katie certainly didn't have a happy ending. To say dh & I are living happily ever after our loss & infertility is stretching it. But I can't say that we're living UNhappily either -- not all the time. Maybe fairy tales sometimes just end differently than you'd expect -- without the conventional expected happy ending.

Have you ever read the children's book "The Paper Bag Princess" by Robert Munsch? It starts out very much like a traditional fairy tale, with Princess Elizabeth slated to marry her Prince Ronald. A fiery dragon destroys Elizabeth's castle, kidnaps Ronald, & burns her dress, forcing her to innovate and wear a paper bag. Elizabeth sets out to find the dragon & rescue Ronald -- who is less than appreciative when she finally finds him, and criticizes her dishevelled appearance. She tells him he's "a bum." The last line of the book is: "They didn't get married after all," and the final illustration shows Elizabeth skipping off happily ever after into the sunset by herself. Needless to say, the feminist in me absolutely loved this twist on the traditional fairy tale (I have given this book as a present to countless little girls).

Munsch is also the author of "Love You Forever" -- a book which adults apparently either love or hate (some find the image of a mother sneaking into her grown-up son's house at night to rock him a tad creepy). Personally, it never fails to bring me to tears. You see, what many people don't know is that Munsch wrote the book as a tribute to his two stillborn babies -- the Sam & Gilly the book is dedicated to. (I learned this in a wonderful segment about him on CBC Television's "Life & Times" series -- sort of a Canadian version of A&E's Biography.) The lullaby the mother sings in the book is one he made up for them, and he sings it when he tells the story on the program, and in live performances.

Dh & I saw him perform "Love You Forever" (and several of his other stories) at the annual Word on the Street literacy festival in Toronto several years ago (a few years after Katie was stillborn). The children in the audience were giggling. Dh & I were blowing our noses & wiping our eyes. I felt a little silly until I looked around & realized most of the adults in the audience were doing the same thing. Not sure whether their reasons were the same as ours, but it's obviously a story that strikes a chord.


  1. I've come to realize that there are probably fewer charmed lives out there than I once believed. If someone were to look at me they might assume I live something of a charmed life. There are many aspects to be envied, but if they got inside my head and felt the (sometimes) overwhelming sadness they'd know otherwise.

    I do try to focus on the good things that have come my way as an antidote to the sadness, but when you've faced loss on a hard to imagine scale it's something that stays with you. It surfaces with much emotion when I hear stories, poems or songs like you describe. Thanks for helping me to see that the emotions are just a part of who I am.

  2. I had no idea that "Love You Forever" was about the author's stillborn children. It now has a completely different meaning for me. I've found that in the past three months, I'm a sap for poetry/songs about dead children. I cry every time.

  3. That fairy tale about the paper bag princess sounds great - I will have to check it out for my nieces. It would be a good balance against the tidal wave of Disney princessdom out there. Not that I have anything against princess stories per se, but it does seem excessive these days.

    We're trying to figure out life in that place between "happily ever after" and "unhappily ever after." Like Pamela Jeanne says, there probably aren't that many people out there with charmed lives, but sometimes it can sure feel that way.

  4. My 8 year old DS bought the "Love you Forever" for 10 cents at a book sale. I read it the other night and lost my voice as I read because, yes, it touched me. It means more to me now because I am now infertile and mourning the loss of a dream.

  5. I love this post, and I feel like you just read me a bedtime story... so interesting how one true fact can change the meaning and impact of a story. I'll probably bawl if I read "love you forever" now. and thanks for the tip on the "paper bag princess" - I'll have to check that one out for my nieces. ~luna