I finished reading Elizabeth McCracken's memoir this morning and abruptly burst into tears. I'm always sad when books are over, especially ones I love, though I've never cried, let alone sobbed. It was like the young male sage femme said to me, "C'est fini."
Finally finishing this book was devastating for me; first, because I loved it, second, because this book was to be about the 'lighter side of a child's death'. I was sad to say goodbye to the lighter side. Us mothers want truly to remember our child with pleasure instead of grief. To have permission to still love our dead children, a love that isn't 'morbid', 'unsightly', or that not all of this experience need not be 'shoved away'. Saying goodbye to that lighter side, and going back into my darkened grief was hard today. But as I look over the book as a whole, I welcomed the way that she was able to weave in both, the devastating grief, the calamity of it all, but also that immense love and hope we all felt during the short time we had with our dear babies.
Some of the lighter sided? I will never forget the dwarves of grief that provided such relief to McCracken and her husband, I've taken them on myself to use at the saddest times, to put a crack into some of my grief. They have become as dear to me as the pieces of comic relief that sustained me through my own birth. I will never forget my labor and numerous baths in the birthing pool, singing with Simone and my then 3yo niece Stazia. I also greatly appreciated her description of the man she met on a train in Boston, who presented her with a card that said, I AM DEAF. She says, "I have thought of that card ever since, during difficult times, mine or someone else's: surely when tragedy has struck you dumb, you should be given a stack to explain it for you." I reeaallly want that card.
I appreciated how she described her fear to wish for what was. I have felt the same fear, but didn't know why. Shouldn't I wish everyday for my son to be here and healthy? I don't think so. As McCracken stated, bargains/wishes are disastrous in all of fairy tales. "Terrible things happen." And I think the point is that you can't just change one piece of the past, and not risk everything there is today. Somedays, that doesn't feel like much, but I have no desire to risk what I have today (especially my daughter Simone) for a piece of the past which STILL would have no guarantees.
Sigh, there is so much in this book, and I read it so disjointedly, in fits and spurts. I empathized with her on so many things, i couldn't list them here. I also envied her, for I agree with her conclusion. When you are waiting for the birth of your child, you are waiting to be transformed. To go back to my same old life, where nothing was different, but where everything within you is so irreversibly changed is quite awful. Like, McCracken, I think that once you've experienced such calamity, that nothing that came before or will come after can be seen without that lens of disaster. I've want to run away so many times in the last year, to the ocean, to some far away place, to somewhere or to do something wholly unrelated, totally removed from my son's death. I do not have the means to do this, so I was jealous of her in that weird way us bereaved mothers never understand. A jealousy that isn't rational at all. I was also jealous of her rainbow baby, especially when she described how caring for baby Gus, nursing him, bathing him, made her feel like perhaps she was doing those things for Pudding somewhere, in some other dimension. I so looked forward to nursing Myles, but nothing in my daily life feels close to him. Nothing I do day to day is remotely 'baby'. Still, how can I be jealous of a rainbow baby? Inexplicable.
I think everyone should read this book, and by everyone, I mean every single person in the United States. It does everything I have never been able to do. When I have to talk about still birth, I tend to do it with facts and figures. I don't know if I'm trying to scare everyone or prepare everyone, that the statistics are there, and stillbirth is much more common than most ever want to believe. It also gives me an objective stance, one where i can spout of numbers which, in general, hardly bring people to tears, especially me.
What she is able to do is describe what it's like, really like, to live through that devastation, to be forced into this life where you are the worst case scenario, 13 black cats, a thousand broken mirrors. A pregnant woman's worst nightmare. I remember feeling like I would be seen as the harbinger of death. And she describes the awkward and sometimes insensitive comments, the difficult dates and events overlapping between her two pregnancies, and how it fit into her everyday life, sooo beautifully.
I will definitely read more Elizabeth McCracken, and I will pass this book onto everyone I know, bereaved mother or not, because stillbirth is real, it's not something that happened in history, it happens every day, too often. She takes stillbirth out of the shadows, and she takes those emotions we feel; love, guilt, shame, anger, despair, fear, jealousy, out of the shadows too. Surviving the stillbirth of your child is complex, no matter how many well meanign but oblivious people want to simplify it. McCracken portrays that complexity, and destigmatizes it. The love we feel for our dead children should not be considered 'unsightly' in our culture. McCracken's book makes that love beautiful, for all to see, as a mother's love should be.