Saturday, October 18, 2008
in the midst of life......
my mother's first baby was stillborn.
'born dead' as she later was to put it.
the baby 'took too long to be born' she said.
an at home birth over 60 years ago, with a midwife in attendance.
a life and death struggle that went on many hours longer than it should have.
she almost lost her own life in the delivery.
she went on to have seven more children, one of whom was me.
her 'first' daughter.
(yet not the first after all.)
when i was very young and the only girl in a house of boys she got pregnant again.
it seems like there was a baby every two years.
this was the way in catholic families then.
she went to the hospital but came home empty handed.
i was too young for an explanation.
i have vague and confusing memories of that time.
there was no new baby coming to our house.
there was no period of grief, no allowance for mourning.
the baby was dead, just like the first one.
i think this baby was a boy; the first one who died, a girl.
she would be the big sister i never had.
he would be the little brother i was never to know.
when i thought of them in those terms, i felt ...'robbed'.
the baby was taken away from her as soon as they knew he was stillborn.
she was never given him to hold.
or to say hello and goodbye to.
to look at after the nine months of unknowing.
to 'see' who he was.
there's no moment like the moment when a mother sees her baby for the first time.
he was just 'taken away' and she never knew where.
those details weren't discussed.
now, 50 years after he died, a mass grave for stillborn babies has been found in my old hometown.
it's in the cemetery near the hospital where many women like my mother gave birth and gave up their stillborn babies.
a woman who went through the same ordeal in the 60's has researched the burial ground and found where these babies, including hers, are buried.
my question is if they took the time to bury the babies why didn't they take the time to mark the grave and to let the parents know where their babies had been taken?
a few weeks after the birth and death of this 7th child, this stillborn boy, someone from the cemetery turned up at the door requesting payment from my mother and father for the burial.
a burial that they didn't attend.
a funeral that they weren't invited to.
now there is a plaque at the site of the grave.
a tree has been planted.
women who did not know before, now know.
they have a place to go, if they wish, and many of them do.
there is dignity of a kind in a final resting place.
an acknowledgement that there was a birth.
and a death.
that this child existed.
that this child's parents and family deserve to be able to mourn.
my sister is going to find out through death records for stillborn babies if the sex of the baby was, in fact, male.
we only think so.
then we can pay our respects to the brother or sister we never knew.
we can express sorrow for our mother and on her behalf, because she isn't here anymore.
too late for that now.
she always felt the pain of losing two children but she had nowhere to speak about it.
it wasn't 'done'.
she must have taken that sorrow with her to her grave.
it was different then.
these days we understand the pain a mother feels and we are sensitive to the fact that a baby stillborn is still a child; still someone whose birth and life were planned for and anticipated with love.
now, we can go there and say,
we knew you.
you were one of us.
and we hope that your mother's arms are around you now.
* we don't know (yet) what happend to the body of our mother's first baby. this birth and death predates the burial plot of the second baby.