Sunday, October 9, 2011

Controversial article

Has anyone else seen this recent Salon article, "My stillborn child's life after death"? What did you think of it?

OK, I'll admit, the part about taking the baby in a sling for a walk to the park seemed a little bizarre. Not something I would have done. I kept wondering what would have happened if one of the other moms at the playground wanted to take a peek & admire the baby.

But on the whole, I found myself applauding these parents for saying goodbye on their terms, not to mention the funeral director who encouraged them to do so. And maybe just a little bit envious.

I especially liked this line: "This was when I understood: Thor was our baby. He did not belong to the hospital. He did not belong to the funeral home. He was ours." It has taken a long, long time for hospitals and funeral homes to start acting like they understand this. Given the silence that still exists around stillbirth and pregnancy loss, it's something that many bereaved parents don't realize until it is far too late.

It brought back memories of when my grandfather died -- almost exactly 13 years ago this week. I never got to see him again. Before I could arrive for his memorial service, his body was sent away to be cremated. His ashes were returned to us a few days later, after the memorial service had already been held. Returned IN THE MAIL. US Postal Service. (Tell me THAT's not undignified.) I don't remember what the postage was (!) but I can still remember my mom coming into my grandparents' apartment with the parcel under her arm, wiping her eyes. "Here's Grandpa, home for the last time," she sobbed.

My immediate thought? "Oh, and we don't even have his chair here for him!" I said. My grandparents had been living at the seniors care home in town, but we had kept their apartment, partly as a place to stay when we went to visit. Mom had wanted to move Grandpa's easy chair to their room at the home, but he wouldn't hear of it. I think he knew that would mean that he really wasn't going back to the apartment. After he was gone, we took it up there for Grandma to use.

Anyway, it might have seemed weird to some people to give a container of ashes the place of honour in an easy chair. But that's what felt right to me at the time, and I wish we had been able to do it.

Later that afternoon, under gloriously clear & sunny Prairie skies, Mom & I set the container of ashes between us in the front of the car. Together with some other family members, we took Grandpa home, to the site of the farm where he had grown up and, as he had wanted, scattered his ashes on the land that he loved, taking turns reading the service from his mother's Book of Common Prayer. "I love you, Grandpa," I said, as I let a handful of the ashes slide through my fingers. A few generations ago, doing something like that no doubt would have been controversial too.

If you read the article, beware the comments. Some of them are truly awful. It's so obvious that people really don't understand until they have lived through this themselves.


  1. I'll refrain from reading the comments, I know how those can go unfortunately. People who have never experienced something personally, often seem to have some of the strongest opinions on the matter.

    The walking in the park part did seem bizarre, and I wouldn't have expected a funeral director to allow them to take the baby home with them either.

    But the article was touching, and it reminded me how much things change over the years. I've talked with a woman who had her child whisked away, where they told the father about the stillbirth before her, and let it be. And then my sister, who had those precious hours in the hospital with my niece.

    I feel like in this day an age, we are pretty devoid of our rights to say goodbye in our own way. We have rules/regulations set up telling us that this is what's best for us, or to "protect" us... and really, I think we each own our own grief, and should be able to experience it and express it fully. I think hospitals have made some progress when it comes to infant deaths, but I think they still have a long way to go (even with miscarriages, which the lack of compassion I've experienced still leaves a sour taste in my mouth).

  2. I read the article a few days ago, and it was a little odd; clearly the writer's husband was not comfortable with the dead baby's presence in the house, and that's very unfortunate. But I liked that the mother wanted to introduce and say goodbye. Having read so much 18th- and 19th-century lit with mourning customs -- just yesterday I was reading "Bleak House," in which two young ladies (late teens) clean, dress, and put a dead baby on a shelf in the poor mother's hovel -- I don't think it's morbid or, as implied in comments, unsanitary. Just purely caring. Also, I remember our first big outing with the girls was to the local history museum, where we saw infant and newborn death masks, one of which looked an awful lot like Ivy. That has really stayed with me. It struck home that dead people, and especially dead children, used to be handled and memorialized in more physical ways. Hair jewelry, etc. The bronzing of infant shoes is another type of memorializing, even for living children. But now, if something happened to the girls, I would have photos, videos, and clothes to remember them by -- but I couldn't physically remember their bodies by touch.

    That funeral director is a really good guy.

    I read a couple of pages of comments that day, but not since.

  3. I just read the article you linked. Wow! I hate that so many misunderstood the wishes of the mother. Why is it so wrong to want to say goodbye in your own terms. While no I do not think that I would have wanted to take my son for a walk after we lost him, I understand her desire. Thank you for posting the link.

  4. I can totally understand the need to spend some time with your newborn baby - such precious time when it's all you're going to have. I think the negative commenters are demonstrating their ignorance and lack of empathy. I have only had early losses, but I have friends who have experienced stillbirth and neonatal loss and NOONE who has not been through it has the right to tell those that have how they should grieve. Everyone grieves in their own way and frankly, anything that helps you get through it - as long as it's not hurting anyone else, and that clearly wasn't - has to be worth doing.

  5. I read it (and tortured myself and read ALL of the comments) and while I probably wouldn't have done some of the things the writer did, I still totally respect her way of dealing with things. I spent 21 hours with Hope before leaving her body in the hospital and the idea of taking her home with us was never even mentioned to us. I don't know if I would have. Part of me wishes that I did. But I can't change things now. We did the best we did at the time.
    The post reminded me why I am so careful about who I share Hope's story with. Mostly it is only on my blog or in the comments of other blogs - all with people who have lost babies of their own. The comments section reminded me what many people out there must think of "us". Absolutely bat shit crazy, no doubt. I slept with Hope in bed with me the night we spent with her, so I can only imagine what those people would think of that.
    Thanks for sharing this.

  6. Wow. I am blown away by so much of the article. I understand why she wanted to do what she did, but I don't understand why she would want to share it: it seems like a very private time. Mourning and grief to me aren't something I would want to share. But I HATE that the comm- enters couldn't see the pain behind her actions and chose to abuse her verbally. I pray that no one ever have to feel what that woman was forced to feel.

  7. I was blown away by the article as well. Yep, pretty much thought it was morbid and a bit horrifying, but then again, I'm not her, I've never lost a child and I simply don't know what I would have done. I can have my judgment about it, but frankly if she wrote an article about it, she doesn't really need my validation.