Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I reread Harry Potter books 5-7 after Eliza died.

Someone online mentioned that they only reading she could do after the loss of her baby were books she had read before, plots that were familiar, endings she could see coming.  Maybe that was part of it.  I wanted to read a story that would turn out the way I expected it to.

But I also wanted to read Harry Potter because good people die in those books--unfairly and unexpectedly.  And because the dead aren't so far away from the living.  They can't come back to life, but they aren't entirely gone, either.  And because Harry Potter's story starts with his mother's sacrifice.  He's "The Chosen One" because his mother died trying to save him.  He's forever protected by her love.  He is an orphan and he misses his parents terribly, but he recognizes the immense love they had for him.

You know, the kind of love any parent has for a child.

The kind of love we have for Eliza.

* * *

David and I both did a lot of reading during my pregnancy.  I remember sitting on the love seat, slogging my way through a stack of essays to be graded and looking over at David who was sitting on the couch, reading Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way, carefully taking notes, a highlighter tucked behind his ear.  I looked at him and my heart swelled with love.  He was going to be such a good dad.

In the Bradley method, one of the coach's jobs is to provide lots of positive reinforcement for the laboring mother.  David was worried that he'd just end up repeating "Relax, relax, relax," so he started compiling a list of things he could say:  "You're doing great," "I'm so proud of you," "Every contraction gets us closer to the baby," "Just one more contraction," "Keep taking deep breaths," "You're doing such a good job."

"Would you want me to say this?" he would ask, seriously, offering me a new phrase that he had read somewhere.  I would consider it seriously and then we'd add it to or strike it from the list.  Because at that time, we still thought it mattered, what he would say during labor.

He filled an entire sheet of legal paper with these phrases.  I felt so confident about labor and delivery because I knew I wouldn't be on my own.  David was going to be prepared.  He'd know what was happening in each stage of labor.  He'd keep me calm.  He'd make me laugh.  He would be there doing the massage techniques we'd practiced and reminding me to relax and focus and breathe.  We were going to be fine.

Of course that all went out the window.  We weren't ready.  We weren't prepared.  We weren't going to be fine.

When I think back to that night in the hospital, I know that none of those carefully prepared phrases ever entered his mind.  In those terrible, terrible moments, he ended up repeating himself over and over again:  "I love you.  I love you.  I love you."

He must have said it to me a hundred thousand times.

And now I know that what he also meant when he said "I love you" was "Please don't die."

Because when I repeated it over and over to Eliza, that was what I meant.

* * *

A while ago--over the summer, maybe?--I heard about a book called An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination.  I was in my car driving home from campus.  NPR was talking about this memoir written by Elizabeth McCracken about having a stillborn baby and a subsequent pregnancy.  It intrigued me.  I specifically remember thinking, "I won't read that while I'm pregnant.  But afterward.  I'll remember that title."

Because God forbid I cloud my pregnancy with negative thinking, right?

It came back to me sometime in the last two weeks--a flash in my head, like Anne's House of Dreams.  Another book with a dead baby in it.

I ordered it from Amazon and it arrived yesterday.  I read the entire thing.

I have read a lot of sad, sad stories online.  Maybe I've read too many of them.  But this book astonished me because nothing else I've read about stillborn babies so closely reflected my own experience.  The facts were different, of course, but all of Elizabeth McCracken's emotional responses so closely mirrored my own that it was almost eerie.  Her reactions were so similar to mine that I felt almost as though I were reading about myself.

Like her, I just thought this baby was a sure thing.

And now I know that we can't really count on anything at all.


  1. What a beautiful post, Brooke. For me, after my stillbirth, I felt like a fool. How could I have been so naive, so sure, so damned cocky about childbirth? I occasionally still feel that way, almost two and a half years later. I sometimes think besides not having our babies here (and that is the saddest thing of all) it is that losing our babies shakes up our sense of order in the world. Everything is wrong when it used to be so right. It's heartbreaking. Remembering Eliza with you. xo

  2. Yep, I felt stupid too. Still do. Naive. My innocence is gone now. I did the breastfeeding, baby care, and lamaze classes for nothing. Well, I did go through labor but I had to find my own breathing pattern that worked, nothing that I learned in class.

    I've heard of that book but didn't know it was about a stillbirth. I guess I'll add it to my new collection of grieving books which ironically are sitting right next to What to Expect When You're Expecting. I agree with Monique. Everything in life is now SO wrong. :(

  3. I felt the exact same way about Elizabeth McCracken's book. I sat there on my sitz bath healing my episiotomy wound and cried and laughed and found hope in the thought that someone else had found their way into my mind and into my heart and had endured a loss as horrible as my own.

    My husband and I did Bradley Classes too. My labor was a little different in that our baby had not yet died, but I still feel like a total fool for believing everything I did, for hoping and trusting in birth...My husband was an amazing coach. I think he still draws upon many of his Bradley skills when I am crouched in the fetal position sobbing "I can't do this..." - it is very reminiscent of labor, the overwhelming waves of grief.

    I'm finding the only thing I can count on is that the waves will keep crashing on me.

    sending love.

  4. I'm so sorry for your loss. Your posts were very moving, i can tell you love your daughter very much. You might also try 'My year of magical thinking' by Joan Didion and 'Learning to Fall' When it comes to the heartbreak in the cycle of life they both offer some small comfort.

  5. "I love you" can mean so many wonderful to know that, in moments when words can do nothing, his still resonate so profoundly. I love you both.

  6. I wasn't prepare either. Not at all. When I was in labor with my daughter Freyja, one of the midwives said something about thinking about what we were taught. But we weren't taught anything. We hadn't gone to classes yet. We were only 28 weeks. We weren't prepared. We never did go to those classes.

  7. McCracken's book is wonderful. I have also read & loved "Shadow Child" by Beth Powning and "Life Touches Life" by Lorraine Ash (among others by bereaved mothers). Two other good (non-fiction) books about pregnancy loss are "Empty Cradle, Broken Heart" by Deborah Davis, & "A Silent Sorrow." (((hugs)))

  8. I'm back here looking for a quote to use on my Facebook page tomorrow to adequately reflect how I feel about my son on his second birthday. I've been reading through your old "quoting someone else" categories and I'm smiling at all the things you wrote before before I lost Jack... While I was smugly pregnant and so sure he was ours forever, you were already grieving Eliza.

    And I read this, and I thought "how friggin' true!" because I remember Scott holding my hand as we stood vigil around Jack and he told me over and over "I love you" and of course I said this to Jack, and of course we both me, "please don't die"... Ugh.