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 mattered.
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.


Suz said...

This is deep. Very emotional. I read it. I am thinking over this. I will have a good comment tomorrow.
One thing I can say is, you are so blessed to have such a large family. really. I know you are missing the ones that you Don't have, but the ones that you do have are great.
take care, suz

Clippy Mat said...

Suz: you are a very sweet person.
really :-))

ChiTown Girl said...

Aw, Clippy, how very sad and tragic for your mom. And dad, for that matter. I couldn't imagine going through nine months of pregnancy and joyous anticipation, only to come home empty handed. I've read many, many times that 1 in 4 pregnancies will end in miscarriage. My body must be dyslexic of something because it flipped the numbers. I've had 4 pregnancies, and only one baby. I can truly share in the pain of losing a child, although I can only imagine the pain is ten-fold when you have every reason to believe you will be bringing a baby home with you after having a seemingly normal pregnancy.

I wish I could give/send these to your mom, but I'm sending them to you instead. {{{hugs}}}

Stinking Billy said...

Hi, I found you at expatmum's place. I was born and raised in Newcastle, too, but you are surely a bit too young to have ever made a clippy mat - or a proggy one, come to that. I spent a few hours during WW2 helping my mother making mats but I wasn't too keen on it, I must admit. Tadger, eh? ;-)

Gina said...

this is so sad... i can't imagine what it is like to go through something like that, let alone the way it was "handled" back then.

wor vron said...

thanks sis for putting this tribute to our mother -it means so much- just so sad that women were expected to suffer and 'get on with it' back then, thank God things have moved on. The pain and loss must have been terrible, but as Suz said Mam was blessed with the healthy 'bairns' she did have, this must have helped.She'll be re united with them now though.

Anonymous said...

that is really sad
but very interesting as well
i hope when you come back you can visit there
lots of love
xx jenn

Lakeland Jo said...

I think it is wonderful now that parents of still born and miscarried babies are able to mourn their loss. As I understand it there is a lot more open-ness about it, and a lot more communication. I think there will be a lot of women who are traumatized by not knowing what happened to their babies and if there is a way that their tiny lives can be celebrated, it has to be a good thing. Well done for talking about a tough subject. X

Suz said...

I am sure this stayed with your Mother her entire life. I could not imagine it myself....Having a place to visit will help all of you.
take care, let us know what comes about.

Clippy Mat said...

Thank you for the kind and careful comments. and the hugs :-))
This is why I like blogging.
I get to vent my thoughts and feelings and I get thoughtful feedback. In day to day comings and goings we don't always get that do we? We have such an 'internal' life. Unless we are bloggers.
cheers all,
it means a lot.

Clippy Mat said...

stinking billy.
clippy mats i grew up with. there were still a few around when i was a kid though we never had to actually make any. and of course bobby thompson, aka the little waster filled in any gaps in my education re the same.
so , clippy mat is rhyming slang for pat. but you knew that right?
but stinking billy?
where on earth....?

Crazy Mo said...

Some things don't change. Sadly, when a friend has such a loss, we are still unsure of what to say. And I, too, am unsure. Oddly, working in funeral service doesn't help you find the right words to say to a friend when they lose a loved one. It's a completely different role. So I will say nothing. I will sit with you in silence while we meander through our respective thoughts. And when I leave, I'll hug you (squeezing just a little too tight) and you will know that I care.

The Girl Next Door said...

Wow I cannot imagine the pain and suffering your mom went through - and later you as kids. I remember the pain my friends went through when they lost their first at 5 months - they of course named her and buried her and mourned her. Fortunately, they were blessed with another, healthy child in later years. But the pain of the first they said would always be with them. Your poor mom! And as 1 of 5 in a similar catholic family, I can relate to how much siblings matter!

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

It is amazing how far we have come with dealing with loss. How heartbreaking to have this happen to you and then have it handled in the manner you've described.

J. Hi said...

That was very moving. Thank you for that. I feel for your parents and family. It is a blessing that parents have more support and resources now.

Mrs. G. said...

How very sad. I just read an amazing book about a woman who gave birth to a stillborn baby. It's called:

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken.

It is an amazing book.

Clippy Mat said...

again thanks everyone for the nicest comments hugs and insight.
and if you are new to visiting me i'm so pleased to see you here.
mrs. g. i didn't realize that the book you mentioned on your blog today was on that topic. what a coincidence. i'm definitely going to look for it.
cheers all

C said...

i dont know you, but you have my deepest respect for the courage it has taken to arrive to this point in your life. our parents went through so many things in their time and expected to "just move on" but thank god today we have resources to promote healing after a tragedy such as this. i am SO SORRY for you and your family. sending a great big HUG and prayers for your beloved mom whom i am sure is holding her babies as we speak.

Attila The Mom said...

::sniff sniff::

Anonymous said...

Its truly tragic to think of all those traumatized women, no grief counselling just maybe a pat on the hand a cup of tea and being told these things happen you'll get over it. My husband's mother twice attempted suicide both of which we have now discovered took place after such trauma. I have no doubt that your mothers faith sustained her through her difficult times.

Smileygirl said...

What a touching story. I hope this brings you and your family some closure. Just imagining what it must have been like back then for your mom brings tears to my eyes. I'm sure she is very proud of you and is happily snuggling with her 2 babies now.

Gill - That British Woman said...

that post really makes you sit back and think. Everyone's comments also made me think. How we have moved forward with the whole concept of still birth or miscarriage. Gone are the days when it was "not done" to talk about it...I feel so much sadness for what people have had to go through.

Gill in Canada

Expat mum said...

Can you even imagine? Unbelievable. I might have to have a visit next summer. My aunt lives in North Shields.