what can you say when a baby dies?
ive been wanting to post for a long time about what to say when someone loses a child. some days i feel like i really didn’t lose a child so much as i lost the possibility of one, or two, as it were. when my mother remarked that i didn’t really have them, i knew what she meant, and i agreed, after i recovered from the initial sting of her candor.
i didn’t after all. my dear ayla, the one whose bag of life was so grievously compromised, never showed us any signs of spirit after she was born. she was on the shuttle already as we nuzzled her warm body.
sweet juliet was pink, opened up her little mouth, stretched her limbs. morphine i cried out, “T! cut her cord!” so desperate was i to believe the deceit of her movements. silly people, my daughter is fine!
run along now. ah but reality resurfaced all too soon. the amazing wonderful caring loving angel at my bedside nurse worked swiftly to baptize her and deliver her to our arms.
this is where is gets hazy for me.
i know T held his sweet girl as she went on to join her sister. he says she made a face that looked just like her mama right before she drifted off.
i slept in and out of consciousness for hours, waking only to deliver the placentas and fill the space-age barf bags i was provided. when i finally half-shook my stupor, my mom helped me shower and put on a stretchy netted undie.
the doctor came in and told me i could leave whenever i wanted or i was welcome to stay. i gave him a ‘watchu talkin bout willis?’ kind of look. i was in no shape to leave and after awhile i was moved out of the birthing suite into a regular room.
T showed me the text he had sent out to our friends and families:
‘this morning at exactly 20 weeks we delivered Ayla Joy and Juliet Grace. we held them in our arms, baptized them, and kissed them goodbye.’
i never would have thought to send a text and i forwarded it, in disbelief, to many. one went out as an answer to a ex co-worker who had not 5 minutes earlier asked how everything was going: not good. its not good.
the condolences started rolling in. well, mostly condolences. T got a few ‘congratulations!’ back, from people who had just scanned the text. that’ll teach em to cut corners. this is where it gets tricky.
i in no way want to sound ungrateful for people’s sympathy. any words of consolation or comfort were of course appreciated, and the commonplace ‘im sorry’ and ‘you’re in my prayers’ were lovely to hear. though
T wondered aloud exactly when all of his friends had started praying.
its just that the words that meant the most to us were unique. one friend wrote ‘you gave them such beautiful names’, another, ‘your little girls are angels now, they will always be with you and i will never forget them.’ after he and his wife could gather themselves enough to be able to call me; my cousin, a dad of two boys, cried with me. he said ‘i wish i could have met them’.
so what can you say when a baby dies?
certainly nothing that anyone said took the pain away, but having the girls acknowledged was something that meant a lot to both T and me.
when an older person dies, you don’t just say you’re sorry, you usually elaborate about the person and what you loved about them. that’s what we especially appreciated about these few comments. people were not just pitying us, feeling sorry for what we went through, they were remembering our girls to us and acknowledging that even though we didn’t really get to have them, lord, they were here.
So here I am, not yet 35, and wading into the nastiness of my second marriage falling apart.
I guess I could say that I got married the second time because it seemed worth betting that the first time was due to *him…” so a different guy could fix that, right?
But the problem – if you want to call it a problem – is almost certainly me.
My mom said it brilliantly in her recent email to me:
I guess it’s truth out time, and I’m about to be a bad mom.
Truth – Dad wanted to hogtie you and send you to Tijuana before you married Steve*, but I talked him out of it. He was really upset, but I thought he had Steve pegged wrong.
Truth – after living with Steve for two months, I agreed with your father. I wanted to bitch-slap Steve so hard his head would fall off.
Truth – he lied to you about stuff (mostly little things), but I never said a word because I felt it wasn’t my place. But one of those lies cost you 5,000 dollars. You have no idea how furious I was or how much I kicked myself.
This really isn’t the time to be landing this stuff on you, but Dad and I both are feeling very responsible for our little girl getting hurt (again) when maybe if we had just opened our mouths, we could have prevented all this. Of course, to be realistic, it may not have made any difference, but these thoughts cross your mind when you’re a parent.
We both agreed when you were little that whoever married you would have to be one hell of a special kind of guy. (In Dad’s words, “God help him”). But I always pictured you either a) single, and blazing through the world in a cloud of glory or, b) married to a guy who was your equal – smart, confident, strong-willed, motivated and out to make his mark on the universe, but at home would have to know just when to push and when not. NOT easy to find!
However this turns out, we’ll always be here – doors and arms open. Remember that. And don’t worry, next time, we’ll speak our piece – welcome or not – and hogtie if necessary!
By the way, your brother wants to kick Steve’s butt for hurting his sister. That’s his way of saying he’s there for you, too. And if you want me there, just call. I can grab a flight and work be hanged! I love you very much – we all do.
The beautiful part is that they said almost the same thing after my first divorce, although she left out the part about how she always pictured me single.
That would have given me a lot of strength, I think.
I spent my whole life thinking that I was a failure if I wasn’t married – or conversely, that being able to “get guys” to want to commit to me was some kind of major success. I think having a best friend for most of my life who was openly jealous of my relationships probably didn’t help.
But, hey Mom – THIS time I was obviously very hesitant about getting married, and I ASKED you all to tell me if you had any hesitations!
And good grief, Dad, why couldn’t you grow a pair? You knew Steve best, and if you’d said it was a bad idea, wild horses couldn’t have gotten me down that aisle.
Something tells me, though, that I’m not the only person here who bought into this assumption that women simply “should” get married; that getting married is always a victory, even if your (first) husband is half-jokingly gloating that “someone needs to get [you] under control”.
(He did, and so I compensated for that the next time by marrying someone who wanted ME to be responsible for everything. And I was, but it cost me everything I wanted to do for myself!)
I feel like I’m waking up.
Men attacked me when I was a child, so I spent all of my teens obsessed with them, but avoiding any actual contact with them; then I got married as soon as I could; then, divorced and terrified of single motherhood, I got married again as soon as I could; and now here I am fighting my way free again.
It’s been a day and a half since he moved out (temporarily, because things turned violent, though that wasn’t the pattern or anything – but can I add that having the ability to leave immediately if someone breaks that rule with me is something it turns out I REALLY value?), and I’m not in any way looking forward to the next steps, but I do feel like I can see a clear path for the first time in a long while.
You may have been a little (lot) late, but that helped a lot!
(And you can bet your hiney that when MY little girl wants to get married, I’m making her a laundry list of every reason in the world I can think of not to – if she still does, great, I’ll support her; but she deserves to know what I really think. I guess sometimes the hardest lessons you teach your kids are the ones where you show them how not to do things!)
Every Friday, we at Band Back Together run questions from our readers hoping that you can help them answer. All are welcome.
Please, join us and help this gentleman with his child’s school bullying.
The new school year has recently started and already, my six year old son has had some kid at his school bully him.
My wife had to coax it out of my son – he didn’t want to share She immediately messaged his teacher and let her know what was going on.
I feel so sad for him because I myself was bulled as a kid at school I became a teenager andI don’t want him to have to go through what I went through.
His teacher was proactive – she moved his seat to a different group and talked to both the boy and his mother. While I hope it never happens again, I don’t know quite how to manage his feelings and my feelings.
Any advice, The Band?
This is their story:
I want to tell you about the monster that tries to eat me.
Each day there’s a new challenge to overcome.
Living and breathing are a luxury.
I live with her.
I’ve known her.
Nobody knows her the way I do.
Nobody has met the monster inside of her, the one they call Bipolar Disorder.
Abusers either target everyone around them or one person in particular. I am the person she targets.
Maybe it’s because I am the only child or maybe it is because I resemble my father, whom she despises.
The monster has two faces; one is sweet and caring in front of everyone who is watching, and one violently screams and tries to break me to the point of no return.
People often see her as a victim, a victim of a spontaneously rebellious child.
I’m called spoiled, a rebel, bad, violent. For years, I’ve felt guilty for these things.
But I realized I’m not an angry person – I’m just pissed off at everything that has happened.
I’ve also realized I am not guilty or responsible for her demons.
I have my ways to beat the monster, to tame it. But ignoring is not one of them; neither is feeding it.
Quick wit can get you far, as will patience, but you can’t be tolerant because with tolerance comes more abuse. You have to show it that you won’t be broken down, that you won’t stay passive to everything it does.
Giving into the victimizing is as big a deal not as engaging in a screaming fit.
How can you deal with it?
The formula is simple: you don’t give it what it wants. It confuses the monster, and it puts it down.
This is a survival game; every day you’re on defense.
Every day, you need to examine the opponent, and every moment you have to be ready.
It can drag you down or make you stronger, whichever you choose.
Bear it until you are able to really escape.
We all have letters we’d like to send, but know that we can’t. A letter to someone we no longer have a relationship with, a letter to a family member or friend who has died, a letter to reclaim our power or our voice from an abuser.
Letters where actual contact is just not possible.
Do you have a letter you can’t send?
It’s almost a shame that this time of the year brings memories of you. Of losing you.
We were best friends for so long – even our families were intertwined. You, me, my brother, your brother. Our parents. I breathed out, you breathed in.
How many years did we spend on the phone, planning our outfits for the first day of school? The corduroys. The turtlenecks. One of the hottest days of the year, but we had to wear our new clothes.
A right of passage, I suppose.
I had so many hopes that our children would do the same. WE shared those hopes and dreams of our future. Together.
I watched your daughter for you when she was an infant. I didn’t have a job. I was there. I wanted to be a part of her life. Her aunt. I hoped the same would happen when I had a child.
It started off like this, but time changes things, and now there is no “Auntie *you*” for my daughter. I was losing a friend.
There is no older, seasoned best friend for her to call and chat with.
No looking back at ourselves and seeing our life unfold before our eyes with the next generation.
Time changes and does not always heal. Loss is loss and our relationship is lost.
I stumble across pictures and struggle to answer the questions. ‘Who is that, Mommy?’ she asks.
I shake my head, hear myself whisper softly.
“That was mommy’s best friend.”
I won’t cry. I can’t. But it’s sad.
My birthday approaches and I think of what we used to say. The future we used to see. And it’s gone. Disappeared like a puff of smoke. Several years ago we walked through the wrong door and never truly turned back.
I cut my losses. I don’t need a toxic relationship in my life. Despite the love. The memories. There was too much sadness to bear. You broke my heart in many ways, were not there for me the way you were supposed to be. And so, I moved on.
And I continue to. I keep going. Hold onto some friends. Think of you now and then. Sad? Yes. Wistful? Sure. Turning around and going back? No. Unfortunately that isn’t an option.
And still I’ll always remember.
You were my friend