Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Recently at work, I got into an elevator. Two other women were already in there. My ears immediately pricked up as I heard one of them speaking in a muffled, guttural voice, combined with hand motions. She was obviously hearing impaired.

It was oddly familiar & comforting to me -- transporting me in a flash back to my grandparents' farm, 30. 40 years ago.

My dad is the youngest of four sons, & second-youngest child of six. Actually, seven. My uncle, his next oldest sibling, is about two years older -- and he had a twin sister. I don't know very much about her, except that her name was Olga. The aunt I never knew.

As I understand it, they both got very sick when they were still babies -- scarlet fever, I think. She died. My uncle survived, but lost most of his hearing. And because his speech had not fully developed yet, he was & is difficult to understand & to communicate with, particularly if you didn't spend a lot of time around him. (Add in the fact that my father & his sibilings didn't speak English until they went to school.) Family members communicated with him by speaking very loudly & slowly, with lots of gestures & exaggerated facial expressions. He would respond with nods, gestures and some words & sounds.

Needless to say, there wasn't much in the way of special education or speech therapy or accommodations available in rural Manitoba in the 1940s. Doctors recommended he be institutionalized. My grandmother would not hear of it, & kept him at home on the farm, where he lived until after my grandfather died, when Grandpa was 96 & my uncle in his 50s. He finally got a hearing aid in middle age.

It only just hit me now, when I started thinking about my uncle, and the aunt I never knew, and my grandmother's loss, that my father was her "rainbow baby," her subsequent pregnancy, two years later. (Her last child, my youngest aunt, arrived eight years later, when Baba had reached the advanced maternal age of 40.)

My mother says my dad spent a lot time with his mother growing up, helping her around the house. (He's a fabulous cook -- makes borscht using vegetables from his own garden.) Knowing what I know now about infant loss & subsequent pregnancies, I can see why she probably wanted to keep him close.

Baba died at the far-too-young age of 68, when I was 14. I blogged about her here, last year, 35 years after her death. I wish I had had more time with her. There is so much more I'd like to know about her. But I feel like I've begun to understand her a little better, these past 13 years.


  1. we can understand our ancestors, regardless of time.

    My great-grandmother lost a twin too, to 'crib death', aka SIDS.

    She died before my teens, but I remember her as the sweetest lady, my great-grandma White.

  2. I have a great aunt who had a baby die of SIDS. I guess I became aware of this sometime when I was in college... it just happened to come up in conversation at a time when I was finally interested in listening to the "grown-ups." I remember being solemn and affected by how sad that was at the time I heard it. But what amazes me NOW, after my own experience with baby loss, is that I remember my aunt Jean laughing and enjoying her other children. It helps me recognize that time will help more than I can imagine at the moment. And I also feel like I can draw some strength from knowing that other women in my family faced tragedy and emerged on the other side.

    As a fellow bookworm, I have to ask if you've read Laura Thatcher Ulrich's book Diary of a Midwife? It's fascinating reading and I was (of course) interested in the statistics of stillbirths. Amazingly, they have barely changed at all since eighteenth century New England.

  3. @ Brooke: Haven't read that one... another one to add to the to-read pile! : )

  4. I haven't heard the term "rainbow baby" before. I kind of like it. Until I was in college, I didn't know that my grandma's first children with my grandfather (she was widowed when they met) were stillborn twin girls. I wish I had been able to ask them about that.

    When I was pregnant with I & N, I attended a rehearsal dinner at which the mother of the bride confided that she was a twin, but her sister died at age 6 months, while they were sleeping in the same cradle (probably not SIDS, though). And she said she has always wondered about the psychic implications of this loss. Another friend was also the surviving twin and an only child after IF. It definitely changed family dynamics and also her own sense of self -- always feeling that someone was missing. : (

  5. Thank you for sharing this thoughtful and interesting post Loribeth. I also got a lot out of reading Ya Chun, Brooke & Ellen's replies.

    It is amazing how we are able to process things about our lives and relatives' life experiences differently the older we get and the more perspective we have.

    I also think it is interesting and bittersweet how still birth and infant death has been dealth with throughout history. I appreciate in many ways that I "got to" have Molly when I did, during a time when it was more acceptable for me to see her/hold her and do things like having a bereavement photographer there to capture her short life after her birth and the time we spent with her after her death.

    Thanks again for sharing your flashback with us.