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My Stillborn Child's Life After Death
October 7, 2011 1:43 PM   Subscribe

"Before I let go of my little boy, I needed to spend time with him. So I brought him home, and our journey began."
posted by mr_crash_davis (182 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
Haunting.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:49 PM on October 7, 2011


I have a lot of opinions about this, and I don't particularly care for any of them, so I'm going to keep them to myself. However, I'm reminded of a college friend whose first baby died within an hour of childbirth. She was always a little loopy, but that experience completely and irreversibly changed her mental health. (Afterwards, she pretty much didn't have any.) It so deeply affected her and her husband that they birthday card they sent me a full ten months later was signed "With love from [dead baby's] family."

I don't want to begrudge anyone the closure they need, and I have no idea what it would actually take for me to overcome something like this, but man....
posted by mudpuppie at 1:50 PM on October 7, 2011 [37 favorites]


I loved this line, which seems so obvious but still struck me as something new:

This was when I understood: Thor was our baby. He did not belong to the hospital. He did not belong to the funeral home. He was ours.

What a compassionate funeral director.
posted by cider at 1:51 PM on October 7, 2011 [17 favorites]


This is pretty creepy. I thought I was understanding where she was coming from but when I read, "Thor, isn’t that funny? I tickled Thor under his chin."

I couldn't stop thinking that she was living some version of Weekend At Bernie's after that.
posted by zephyr_words at 1:54 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have a lot of opinions about this, and I don't particularly care for any of them, so I'm going to keep them to myself.

I could not agree more. I don't think I'd know where to begin even trying.

I do know this though, I'm going to go home and bear hug each of my kids tonight.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 1:54 PM on October 7, 2011 [16 favorites]


I do know this though, I'm going to go home and bear hug each of my kids tonight.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 4:54 PM on October 7 [+] [!]


Eponydorable. :3
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:56 PM on October 7, 2011 [25 favorites]


Really, the older I get, the scarier it becomes to even consider having kids.

When I was 16, this never would have occurred to me as a possibility. Now that I'm 30, things like this, Matt Logelin's story, and damn near everything in between makes the idea of getting pregnant absolutely terrifying.

And yet... I want to do it anyway.
posted by bilabial at 1:56 PM on October 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


That was indeed haunting and creepy. I was okay with what was happening until: "We put Thor into a sling and walked to the park..." then it got to be too much for me.
posted by Specklet at 1:57 PM on October 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Having lost my mom last year, I completely understand this.
posted by SPUTNIK at 1:59 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pregnancy can be pretty frightening at times (obviously more so for the mother-to-be than for the father), but all and all, the vast majority of pregnancies turn out fine. There is a good 20 months of change though, from the pregnancy to the getting used to the new dynamic that exists in the family.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:00 PM on October 7, 2011


Yeah, the sling thing was weird, because hey, it gets warm being against your mother's body and that's not good for an embalmed baby (right ColdChef?) but then I remembered that I have no idea what it's like to have this devastating of a thing happen to me, and I have no idea what it's like to cope with that enormous loss. Everyone grieves in their own way and I sincerely hope she found peace and closure through the process.
posted by mathowie at 2:01 PM on October 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


Intimacy with your dead loved ones used to be normal. Like in those old movies where the body lies in state in the living room and people bend over to kiss and stroke its face, to take its hands in theirs. But nowadays you’re not supposed to caress and adore dead bodies. Now you’re supposed to keep corpses in their proper place, which may be the morgue, may be the funeral home, but most important is somewhere else, away from the living.

There's a pretty big (albeit fascinating) gulf between funerary traditions and carrying a body around. Not that I don't think she didn't need this, because it clearly helped her work through an impossibly difficult experience, but that particular appeal to authority (in the form of tradition) didn't quite scan for me.
posted by lumensimus at 2:02 PM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Because of numerological considerations, when my father-in-law died (in Japan), he had to lie in state for *several days* (in mid-summer!) in the equivalent of the living room with a block of ice on his chest, and all members of the immediate family (including grandchildren) had to stay close to home.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:03 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


.
posted by peagood at 2:03 PM on October 7, 2011


Other primates do this. It doesn't surprise me that a human mother would, too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:06 PM on October 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


There were some complications with my brother's birth, related to mecronium aspiration, although he survived. What tiny quantum differences, that my brother lived but Thor didn't. Life is incredibly tenuous and precious.
posted by muddgirl at 2:07 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


What specklet said. That is when it became too creepy for me as well. I am glad the only other child in the home was 16, can't imagine what the mom's behavior would have done to a young child, and what if someone wanted to see the baby in the sling?

I can understand wanting time to grieve, to see the baby, to hold him,even to have the wake at home and bury the baby nearby. Unhinged by grief perhaps, but the way she has written about it creates a grim and morbid picture. It reminds me of the poor mother monkey carrying the dead baby around for weeks.
posted by mermayd at 2:10 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


It reminds me of the poor mother monkey carrying the dead baby around for weeks

Well, why shouldn't it?
posted by peachfuzz at 2:14 PM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Dammit. I was trying not to read this. I saw the headline this morning, read a few paragraphs, then stopped and took my baby out of her crib so I could hold her.

This past year while I was pregnant I received a birth announcement from an acquaintance whose baby boy was born still showing just his tiny little feet. Later, I attended the funeral of a six week old who died unexpectedly just a week or two after I'd held her for hours. Her little coffin was the size of a mini cooler.

Thinking about this, I would probably have wanted to do the same thing if something had gone wrong for me and my child. I remember standing in the NICU just a few days after giving birth completely devastated to be physically separated from her by an isolette. There was something animal in me that made me need to hold her. I had to restrain myself from popping open the door and running away with her like a thief .
posted by Alison at 2:15 PM on October 7, 2011 [16 favorites]


We don't know if she was "unhinged."

Putting aside our (instinctual?) disgust for dead things, is this really much different than visiting (and leaving gifts at, and talking to) someone's grave site?
posted by muddgirl at 2:16 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Creepy" is one of those words that gets thrown around too casually.

It is sad to see so many people using it to describe the reaction of a mother that has lost a near full term baby. So much for sympathy.
posted by TheyCallItPeace at 2:17 PM on October 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


There is some evidence that seeing/holding the stillborn baby leads to worse psychological outcomes.
posted by yarly at 2:18 PM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Putting aside our (instinctual?) disgust for dead things, is this really much different than visiting (and leaving gifts at, and talking to) someone's grave site?

Well, visiting a grave isn't really the same as holding a corpse, is it? There's more of a remove.
posted by orrnyereg at 2:19 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Story Corps on Friday usually makes me cry on the ride to work. Now, for the ride home, the same.
posted by k5.user at 2:19 PM on October 7, 2011


"Creepy" is one of those words that gets thrown around too casually.

I agree.

I think there are probably really complex hormonal and emotional things going on with a mother who does this. But this instinct--yes, the same one we see in monkeys--is what makes primate mothers such good caretakers. We all wouldn't be here if it weren't for a mother's desire to stay physically close to her infant. I can't really hold it against this woman, though it is incalculably sad.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:19 PM on October 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Everyone grieves in their own unique way. Everyone does what they need to do to find closure.

Those of you who caught on her putting Thor in a sling and taking him around -- please note that she was taking him to the cemetery. Something in her thought that she needed the ritual of actually taking the baby home and introducing him to his new home....before she could let him go to that home.

She was this baby's mother. She felt she had to be the one to introduce him to his new world, even if that new world was a cemetery. If she hadn't had that chance, she may not have been able to close that chapter.

I wish her well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:20 PM on October 7, 2011 [49 favorites]


I remember being struck by the strangeness of the concept while reading through a bio on Rick Santorum a while back. But I have absolutely no frame of reference for dealing with this level of grief, so I can't presume to imagine how I personally would respond in a similar circumstance.
posted by SomaSoda at 2:21 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry if my use of the word creepy has made me seem unfeeling. Like others, I think this is what the author needed to do, and I hope it gave her the closure she needed. I have no idea how I would react in the same situation.
posted by Specklet at 2:21 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


But I have absolutely no frame of reference for dealing with this level of grief, so I can't presume to imagine how I personally would respond in a similar circumstance.

Agreed with this, entirely.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:22 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I read of a court case where a family handed down a fetus for generations and it was a mantlepiece. The state was seizing it and the family was protesting. This is more disturbing than that.

My heart goes out to this woman, but I'm going to come down on the side of this being unhealthy. My judgment means nothing though. She's an adult. She can deal with her grief how she wants to.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:26 PM on October 7, 2011


But I have absolutely no frame of reference for dealing with this level of grief, so I can't presume to imagine how I personally would respond in a similar circumstance.

Completely. But this:

I remember being struck by the strangeness of the concept while reading through a bio on Rick Santorum a while back

Just brought me uncomfortably against my own hypocrisy—I remember that I was, indeed, creeped out by the Santorum's choices, while I just feel sadness for this mother and hopefulness that her choices helped her and her family. It makes me wonder about how flexible our taboos and mores are, and how often breaking them is really treated just as shorthand for people like me and people not like me.

I wish this family well, and hope that anyone who has to deal with serious grief finds eventual solace.
posted by peachfuzz at 2:28 PM on October 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


Santorums'.
posted by peachfuzz at 2:29 PM on October 7, 2011


Well, visiting a grave isn't really the same as holding a corpse, is it? There's more of a remove.

Well, it's a continuum, right? I was lucky in that I didn't have to attend a funeral until I was 13. At the time, I thought it was incredibly creepy that there was an open casket and that people would want to see the dead body. But I was a 13-year-old knowitall piece of shit, so what did I know?

In other words, this particular form of grief is probably on the "creepy" side of the line for most people, but YOUR particular funeral practice seems creepy to someone else, and that person's funeral practice seems creepy, and so on.
posted by muddgirl at 2:30 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I find it curious that modern culture puts so much separation between the living and the dead. I worked on a theater piece a few years ago that focused a lot on death, and as part of that I was able to visit the Museum of Mourning Photography in Chicago. It was/is fascinating to me how common these practices used to be. I suppose it's not so strange to me that someone would want to have a few days with someone they'd been preparing to spend decades with.
posted by lholladay at 2:38 PM on October 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


Pregnancy can be pretty frightening at times (obviously more so for the mother-to-be than for the father),

I can think of a few reasons why you would be correct on this, but in our case being a physician and fully aware of the myriad disasters that can befall mother and child during pregnancy and labor, I didn't stop being terrified until a few weeks after delivery, more for my wife than infant. The worst? Sitting in the OR during a C-section while my incredibly chatty and comedic OB colleague worked away and then the onset of sudden, absolute and total silence in the OR when things got tricky. Starting a family is a crapshoot of epic degrees. It's best to try and not consider how many things can go wrong, and how badly they will hurt if they do.
posted by docpops at 2:42 PM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


I think she sounds incredibly level headed. If more people stood their ground and grieved as they see fit there would be a lot less mental illness, I suspect. Those nine months probably produced a lifetime's worth of imagined moments with her son. Good for her.
posted by docpops at 2:47 PM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Someone I know (but not that well) lost her baby after a few days. I saw photos of her holding her baby, and the baby's older sister (still pretty young) also in the photo. I cannot explain to you how much love was in the mother's face--love, seeing a lost future, a desire for joy that was halted by death--more emotions than can be understood.
posted by datawrangler at 2:50 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]




But I have absolutely no frame of reference for dealing with this level of grief, so I can't presume to imagine how I personally would respond in a similar circumstance.


I've always felt it's best to be graceful in these situations, given that like anyone I'll be dealing with profound loss at some point in my life, and that we've yet to see how I'll behave.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:55 PM on October 7, 2011


The hospital staff said we could have him for half an hour.

WTF? Is his stillborn baby hospital property? What if he wanted to do his own burial his own way?
posted by crapmatic at 2:58 PM on October 7, 2011


Okay, the moment I read this, I had two immediate thoughts.
1. This is some extreme fringe Women's Studies person.
2. This is totally illegal.

And upon further research, I was proven right. This woman is a Professor of History / Gender, Women's & Sexuality Studies at my alma mater, specializing in subjects like Nazi Sexuality and Nazi Women's Studies.

Now there is no evidence in the story as to when or where this child died and was buried. There is weak evidence that it happened recently. Assuming this happened here in town, I can see multiple violations of Iowa law. For example, you can't just take a dead body home with you and carry it around in your .

Iowa Code Chapter 100, Practice of Funeral Directors, Funeral Establishments, and Cremation Establishments

645—100.4(142,156) Removal and transfer of dead human remains and fetuses.

100.4(2) After the funeral director has assumed custody of the human remains, the funeral director may delegate the task of transferring the dead human remains to an unlicensed employee or agent. Prior to transfer, the funeral director shall topically disinfect the body, secure all body orifices to retain all secretions, place the human remains in a leakproof container for transfer that will control odor and prevent the leakage of body fluids, and issue a burial transit permit.

Okay, this is really damn clear, once the funeral home has the body, you need a license to transport it to the grave, and if it's not going to be cremated, it has to be embalmed and put in a casket. And it goes from the hospital (where the death certificate is issued) to the Funeral Home, to the grave site, no detours allowed. And I've gone through other sections of the law until I was sickened at the numerous violations. I want to see the burial transit permit, the burial site registration, and the death certificate. I really want to see this woman prosecuted for illegal transport and disposal of a human corpse. But the problem is, I can't find any laws that apply to HER, only to the Funeral Director.

This is so fucking outrageous. I am disgusted. I am considering making a complaint to the local district attorney, to see if it can be determined that a crime took place within this jurisdiction.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:04 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I also found that unsettling and strange, but everyone grieves in their own way. The footnote at the end of the article bothers me more: "[the author] is currently seeking representation for her memoir of her 2008 stillbirth." For me, that crosses some kind of line ... too public, attention-seeking, monetizing one's own grief, something.
posted by Quietgal at 3:04 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


TheyCallItPeace: "Creepy" is one of those words that gets thrown around too casually.

It is sad to see so many people using it to describe the reaction of a mother that has lost a near full term baby. So much for sympathy.


I find it very, very creepy, and I see no reason why my reaction should be dismissed because yours is different. So much for sympathy.
posted by tzikeh at 3:04 PM on October 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


WTF? Is his stillborn baby hospital property?

The law generally doesn't allow you "ownership" of a dead human body. There are rules and licensing for how it must be handled.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:05 PM on October 7, 2011


Why threaten it, charlie don't surf? I'm sure the local district attorney has an email address for complaints such as this - it would take much less time to forward a link than to write and post it all here.

Or are you just trying to register your disgust in stronger terms?
posted by muddgirl at 3:07 PM on October 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


I also don't see what Nazi Sexuality has to do with this. Are woman's study professors more likely to, as you allege, improperly handle a dead body than everyone else?
posted by muddgirl at 3:09 PM on October 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


charlie don't surf, don't you think your reaction to this might be a little excessive?

Who has been harmed here? What purpose would it serve to get the funeral director in trouble over this?
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 3:11 PM on October 7, 2011 [17 favorites]


This is so fucking outrageous. I am disgusted. I am considering making a complaint to the local district attorney, to see if it can be determined that a crime took place within this jurisdiction.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:04 PM on October 7 [1 favorite +] [!]


Basically, within the context of this story, who the hell cares how you feel about it, and why do you think that the disgust you feel is important enough to warrant a call to the DA? Your opinion, frankly, does not matter that much.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:13 PM on October 7, 2011 [27 favorites]


And it goes from the hospital (where the death certificate is issued) to the Funeral Home, to the grave site, no detours allowed.

That's some BS if it's true. This is the sort of thing Mitford wrote The American Way of Death about. There are lots and lots of cultures that demand a specific way of cleaning and laying out, and doing it in one's own home has been the norm for millenia in the west, right up until the 1900s.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:13 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I am a professional funeral director (though not working in Iowa) and there are no laws being broken here as far as I can tell.

This happens a lot more often than you'd realize. I've been around the funeral business all of my life and dead babies never fail to creep me out. But the services aren't for me. They're for the family. And I facilitate what they need. This was a hell of a good funeral director doing what the family felt they needed.
posted by ColdChef at 3:13 PM on October 7, 2011 [87 favorites]



This is so fucking outrageous. I am disgusted. I am considering making a complaint to the local district attorney, to see if it can be determined that a crime took place within this jurisdiction.
posted by charlie don't surf

Please don't. Even if you were right, all you're going to do is get some nurse fired.
posted by Stagger Lee at 3:14 PM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


That's some BS if it's true.

It's not.
posted by ColdChef at 3:14 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is so fucking outrageous. I am disgusted. I am considering making a complaint to the local district attorney, to see if it can be determined that a crime took place within this jurisdiction.

Well that's completely fucking ridiculous.
posted by brennen at 3:14 PM on October 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


As for the original article, carrying her dead baby around for a day doesn't bother me nearly as much as embalming does.. eww.. but that's just me.

Writing about it, and Salon headlining it? THAT bothers me a lot more.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:14 PM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Even if you were right, all you're going to do is get some nurse fired.

RTFA. She took the body from the funeral director, not the hospital. I know which funeral home this is, and who the director is. It's where my mother and my grandfather had their funerals. One of my friends from high school is the co-owner. If it wasn't after 5PM on Friday, I'd be on the phone talking to her right now.

I am not so disgusted by the flagrant violations of funeral law, but by the author's deliberate use of the death of her child to make some public controversy in the media. As others have noted, everyone grieves in their own way, but I can't imagine anyone but a radical gender studies professor grieving by parading around an unembalmed corpse and then writing about it.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:20 PM on October 7, 2011


Well, a woman's studies professor and Rick Santorum, but knowing that would require reading other comments in this thread.
posted by muddgirl at 3:23 PM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Without the embalming, the baby immediately and quickly begins decomposing. Without it, she'd never have had the time with him. I'd be very surprised if some sort of preservative process did not occur.

"Parading around" seems an awfully insensitive way of describing what this mother did. She spent time with her child before she said goodbye to him forever.

But I do understand charlie's discomfort with the idea of this. It seems strange to someone who is not confronted with this kind of thing on a daily basis. As others in this thread have said, grieving is a strange process, and different for everyone. Be careful in judging what others "need."
posted by ColdChef at 3:28 PM on October 7, 2011 [19 favorites]


I feel so sorry for this woman, and I hope this grieving process helped her.

My only caveat is that I really hope that the rest of her family was okay with this, and not just putting up with it because it was what she needed to get through things. If my spouse needed to do this to heal, I would get the hell out of the house until it was all over (which wouldn't be particularly helpful for my own healing process).
posted by Salieri at 3:31 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Our next door neighbor, friend, babysitter to our children and gymnastics instructor was shot 6 times and killed. She was 19. We came to the hospital to help in any way possible. She was already dead (although not pronounced, officially) for hours, but her mother spoke to her, introduced us, and told her that we were there to see her. Nobody is prepared to have their child taken from them, and I don't think it matters if you're stillborn or 19 years old...the mother in this story, and my friend are no different. They don't give a shit what someone on Metafilter thinks about their process - it is something I hope to never experience, nor would I deign to judge another person in dealing with it the way they need to.

I am not a mother, but I could see the absolute devastation this would cause someone. That she wrote about it is part of her process, I'm sure.
posted by Chuffy at 3:34 PM on October 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


charlie don't surf - rick santorum is a lot of things, but a radical gender studies professor isn't one of them. yet, he and his family spent hours with their dead child, cuddling, kissing, etc. then his wife wrote a book about it. now, maybe she's a radical gender studies professor, but i'm guessing not.
posted by nadawi at 3:35 PM on October 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


Re-reading the article, the only thing I'd have done differently in this situation would be to bring the baby to the home myself, in my car, and stay nearby in case they changed their minds or became uncomfortable. But she clearly seemed to know what she wanted, and there's no way in hell I'd tell a mother who just lost a baby that she couldn't do what she legally had a right to do. You do that, and you're screwing with some primal emotions.
posted by ColdChef at 3:35 PM on October 7, 2011 [22 favorites]


(you know what's really weird, though? Something I hope I never get used to? When you pick up a deceased baby from a hospital, you carry it out in a small bag, so as not to freak out the other people there. Walking around with a baby in a gym bag never fails to give me a small panic attack. I freely admit that this is a wildly unprofessional reaction, but...there ya go. It freaks me out.)
posted by ColdChef at 3:39 PM on October 7, 2011 [42 favorites]


I have -- as someone who never liked or wanted children -- discovered in myself a nearly bottomless well of fear and dread at the possibility that this might have happened to my son, ever since I realized how much I loved the guy.

I don't understand this person, but the grief that I feel by proxy when I read even the introduction to this article (I couldn't bring myself to read the whole thing) is something that, two years ago, I could not even conceive of.

My reaction is, for the record, why parents should not ever set policy. Emotion is weirdly powerful and should be kept far away from decision-making processes.
posted by ChrisR at 3:40 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also charlie don't surf, you did see where it says this was all done in 2008? Three years on from someone quietly grieving their own (weird to many of us, yes) way, there's really nothing good to come from trying to bring the legal hammer down on anyone. The director did everything they could to help the mother, the mother grieved and soon the baby was buried.

Even if you find the whole thing abhorrent, I don't see any good that can come from trying to chase down any possible illegal activity (it sure doesn't sound like any laws were broken, just some untraditional things took place).
posted by mathowie at 3:42 PM on October 7, 2011 [16 favorites]


Jesus H. I can't even. I hope she & the rest of her family are going to be ok.
posted by Space Kitty at 3:43 PM on October 7, 2011


You know what's even stranger? The nurses in maternity wards have a big board where they track all the patient's labors. And they put a big "FD" up there when this happens. So everyone knows what's going on. Once you've been there, you really don't ever want to look at that board again, as you might see that, and know what someone else is going through...
posted by Windopaene at 3:45 PM on October 7, 2011


I've been in just about as near to a replica of this woman's situation as anybody with a penis can be in. For me, this way of dealing with it would have sent me straight down the road to crazytown.

But that's me. One thing I've learned recently is just how differently people deal with loss. And I don't know that my methods of coping are really any better, for me, than anyone else's are, for them. The troubling thing is that I'll probably never know for sure.

Hell, maybe doing something like this, however repellent it seems, would have given me some kind of magical emotional closure. I hope it did for this woman; she sure seems to think so.
posted by gurple at 3:49 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


but I can't imagine anyone but a radical gender studies professor grieving by parading around an unembalmed corpse and then writing about it.

I can't imagine anyone but someone with a near-patholgical lack of basic empathy who would grotesquely misrepresent this story as "parading around an unembalmed corpse and then writing about it" in order to threaten legal action and indirectly condemn an entire academic discipline, but I guess everyone grieves feels the need to make public their wildly overblown sense of moral superiority and outrage differently.
posted by scody at 3:49 PM on October 7, 2011 [63 favorites]


Be careful in judging what others "need."

People need to dispose of human corpses in compliance with the law. The Legislature can place legal limits on what people are allowed (as opposed to what they think they need) and a Judge can enforce it. Nothing in Iowa Code prevents family members from spending time with the deceased. It does not permit them to take the unpreserved body home, carry it around, and return it whenever they're done with it.

I placed a call in to my old friend who co-owns the funeral home. I expect that there are 50/50 odds that this story is a pack of lies, and the author has grossly exaggerated the events. I dearly hope she exaggerated the events.

On preview: Yes, mathowie, I am aware that the Salon story ends with the remark that the professor "..is currently seeking representation for her memoir of her 2008 stillbirth." The events are old, but the Salon story was just published. The professor is well published in scholarly circles and can easily produce a book without an agent. Perhaps she's seeking an agent for a screenplay? THIS is what disgusts me: someone using a tragic death as agitprop for their sociopolitical goals. And that goes for Santorums too. Since the professor is putting this story before the public, I think it's reasonable for interested members of the public to inquire into the true facts.

On re-preview: scody, no matter how discreetly you carry a corpse next to your body around your home and backyard, if you publish the story in the hopes of getting attention from an agent to represent your "memoirs' of these events, yes, you are parading a dead body in public.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:59 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I can't even begin to imagine.. Well, i have two young sons, but i can't wrap my head around the loss. I'd just go crazy with grief...
posted by vivelame at 4:00 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Charlie don't surf...and also don't appear to have a heart. I don't think he read the story carefully either, preferring to gloss over stated facts (like that the corpse was in fact embalmed before she took it with her) in order to paint a more colorful, deranged and even radical picture. Some people.
posted by unwordy at 4:01 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


if you publish the story in the hopes of getting attention from an agent to represent your "memoirs' of these events, yes, you are parading a dead body in public.

Way to move the goal posts. Are you getting the feeling- just a little bit- that your reaction is more about you than her at this point?
posted by small_ruminant at 4:02 PM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


charlie don't surf, the story makes clear that she took an embalmed body home. She says "over the next days..." and talks about visiting him at the funeral home, and then says that they took Thor home "a couple days later," after the embalming that the funeral director clearly stated needed to happen.
posted by peachfuzz at 4:03 PM on October 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


One of the things I've learned from the internet in all its glory and grossness is that no two things are more personal than birth and death, and no two things challenge people's respect for difference any more acutely. Parenthood and grief are both things where no one can expect to know anyone else's experience, and yet we all react so strongly ourselves from our own senses of what's right and wrong that putting them aside is enormously difficult, no matter how rationally we tell ourselves to do so. They're the worst things to stick your nose in about, and the hardest things not to.

I freely admit that I react with revulsion to parts of this story -- it instinctively feels wrong, gross, creepy, all the things that people have said. But as many of you have pointed out, this is something I have never experienced, and whatever I would be feeling if it happened to me, I'm certain it's something I can't conceive of now. I'm glad she wrote this precisely because it challenges my stubborn conviction that you don't judge other people's ways of managing grief, and having that conviction challenged is an important element of recommitting to it.

Because when I examine my reactions, they're all cultural. They're all about what feels normal and comforting to me, which really has nothing to do with her.. After all, I find it "creepy" to carry a dead body close to you, but perfectly normal to fill it with chemicals to preserve it so you can bury it in a box? I find it weird to carry the body to the cemetery with your own hands, but perfectly okay to go stand by a stone that marks where, under the ground, you've buried the body and make that a ritual of visitation?

I actually think telling a story like this isn't cheap or sensational for the writer at all -- this has enormous value. I believe people do this kind of thing, and I believe they feel like freaks and they don't know how to tell anyone. I believe a lot of people are shamed into not doing what they need to do in order to survive tragedies, and this is an example. So I'm glad she wrote it. I cannot imagine doing this in this situation, but honestly, I can't imagine doing anything else, either. It's so far beyond my capacity for real empathy that I can only double down -- triple down, quadruple down -- on sympathy.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 4:05 PM on October 7, 2011 [27 favorites]


I dearly hope she exaggerated the events.

For whose sake? It can't be for the woman or for her family, obviously, based on your comments. So precisely for whom do you "dearly hope" that the events did not happen as described? What specific harm to individuals or society do you "dearly hope" has been avoided? And who, specifically, do you so "dearly hope" to help when you call the DA (no doubt in the "dear hope" that this woman, her partner, and/or someone at the hospital or funeral home will be investigated and prosecuted)?
posted by scody at 4:07 PM on October 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


For me, this way of dealing with it would have sent me straight down the road to crazytown.

This way of dealing with a loss is straight out of crazytown.

the corpse was in fact embalmed

OK, I missed that. This confirms the illegality. Once the body is embalmed, it has to be "in a leakproof container for transfer" (i.e. a casket). The professor claims the funeral director was kind to offer her legal options. Transferring a body to your home in a casket for a wake or personal services is permitted by law (with appropriate burial transfer licenses). Taking a body home (embalmed OR unembalmed) and carrying it around next to your body in a sling, is not a legal option.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:08 PM on October 7, 2011


[Guys, if you want to chomp on charlie don't surf's obvious flamebait, please do it at Metatalk. He does this all the time, and we don't need to let it ruin the discussion]

I think mudpuppie's first comment hits my reaction square on the head. I had a lot of different opinions as I read through the piece, but by the end realized that, no matter how much I read, watch, or talk about what this mother experienced, there's absolutely no way that I'll be able to relate to it. If this mother found closure (and found it quickly), that's fantastic for her, and all that really matters.

The most "unnatural" thing here, I think, is just how uncomfortable we've become with the idea of infant mortality. In the US, the rate is just 6.8 deaths per 1000 births. In countries with functioning healthcare systems (like Brunei, Macau, and Croatia), that rate can be as low as 1.9 per 1000. This would have been unfathomable two generations ago, where it was more or less expected that a family would have a child that wouldn't make it -- I don't have the full reconstruction of my ancestry, but do know that at least two of my grandparents lost an infant sibling to the 1918 flu.

None of this makes the death of an infant any less tragic. Quite the opposite, in fact. However, I have to imagine that it makes the mother's grieving process seem very foreign. After all, will she be able to find any other mothers who have experienced the same? Given that so few of us have encountered something like this in our own lives, I think that we owe it to her to give her some room.

I also hope that Elizabeth Heineman's brave decision to write and publish this article (and subsequent book) is able to help other mothers who find themselves in the same, horrible situation, given that they'll likely have precious little else to relate to.
posted by schmod at 4:12 PM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


After my wife having two miscarriages and then us having a healthy child on the third try, I understand this. I think any parent would. The 9 months of gestation isn't simply your wife getting fatter and then pop! out comes a kid.

Once you pass that first trimester and feel a tremendous sense of relief, you still have another 6 months of that kid slowly but steadily making progress in the womb. They move about - they sleep and wake and make their presence known. I remember pushing on her heel through my wife's belly and her pushing back repeatedly - our first interaction. It's a human in there. A human you're waiting to meet, and, especially if it's your first, a phoenomenally anticipated event that's hugely life-changing before they're even born.

To go through this must be utterly devastating - to wait that long and to go through so many emotions and then to finally have the child not survive. I can't judge this person. One should do what they will to get through this. I'd probably do the same.
posted by jimmythefish at 4:13 PM on October 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Cold as a corpse, this one.
posted by unwordy at 4:16 PM on October 7, 2011


schmod, feel free to take this to MetaTalk, but I am absolutely earnest and not trolling. To dismiss my remarks in this manner is disingenuous. I have expressed my opinion and researched the relevant laws, and I really have nothing else to say until I hear back from the funeral director.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:16 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The professor is well published in scholarly circles and can easily produce a book without an agent.

ROTFL.
posted by desuetude at 4:17 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Having logged a lot of years in the mommyblogging game, I have read enough stories in this wheelhouse to feel nothing but compassion and and the atheist equivalent of "there but for the grace of God...".

It's right for these stories to be told, because it tells other families that it's okay to tell their own stories as they see fit.
posted by padraigin at 4:18 PM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I saw the link at Salon and could not bring myself to click on it. I went through this and it is surprising how even after 26 years I can still cry about it if I dwell too much. I'll be honest, his birthday was two weeks ago and I didn't even remember, the day passed without me thinking of it, but if I DO think about it.... OK choking up a bit here.

So I can tell you exactly what I did in these circumstances. When they came into my room (I was recovering from a C-section) and told me he had died, I cried. For hours. They asked if we wanted to take pictures, I said, "No." They asked if we wanted to see him, I said "No" and my husband went without me.

A few hours later my mom showed up-- she had been flying in from out of state. She requested the nurse to bring him into the room where I was. My husband left the room because he didn't want to see the baby now that he was cold. They brought him in all wrapped up and my mom unwrapped him and we both held him. I was disturbed by how mottled looking he was where the blood had pooled. After we cried and took turns holding him, we wrapped him back up and the nurse took him away. I gave the nurse a little outfit I had embroidered that was meant to be his home coming outfit and asked for him to be cremated in it. She asked me if I was "sure? Because it is so beautiful?" Like I would take that outfit I had spent so many hours on and bring it home without my son.

When I got out of the hospital 4 days later, we called and told those closest to us that we were having a small memorial. My father told me that was inappropriate and he would not be coming. Lots of people came to the church and then to our home afterwards for food.

Two notes: My husband had arranged with the hospital to photograph our son. When we were divorced he kept the baby's book (with his photograph and a few other mementos) and the baby's ashes. The other thing is that this happened at a Catholic hospital and we found out later that one of the nurses baptized him.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:21 PM on October 7, 2011 [60 favorites]


I can't even begin to imagine..

This is what drives me up the wall. Everyone should, because the odds are actually pretty damn good and might just prepare you for that worst case. Same with child abuse, too often i hear "if anyone hurt my kid i'll kill the abuser", but in almost every case i've seen them not believe what was happening. Same with infant mortality.

Personal story that makes my point. Family member has kid that dies almost right after birth, doctor tells them to NOT try for another for a few years at least. What do they do? Try again and again right away. Which led to two or three more deaths, which didn't make it to birth. Eventually they ended up adopting from China, but i see they treat her differently than their first born biological child (i'm adopted too, and put a child up, so i have experience here). Maybe if they had accepted the odds being bad, and to listen to the doctor, maybe things would have been different. Who knows. They did hold the child after death, didn't spend as much time, but also now have photos of the dead child all over the house. Don't know how that helps moving on.
posted by usagizero at 4:24 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thank you for sharing that, Secret Life of Gravy.
posted by Specklet at 4:26 PM on October 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Once the body is embalmed, it has to be "in a leakproof container for transfer" (i.e. a casket). Transferring a body to your home in a casket for a wake or personal services is permitted by law (with appropriate burial transfer licenses). Taking a body home (embalmed OR unembalmed) and carrying it around next to your body in a sling, is not a legal option.

You are partially correct. Except that babies are embalmed differently. It's completely different from how larger humans are embalmed. It's a non-invasive process that generally does not require any openings in the body. Leaking generally occurs only on points of incision. Once the child is preserved (sorry, that's a horrible way of describing this, but there you go), you can easily carry it around, wrapped in a blanket or in a sling.

There is nothing illegal described in this article, despite your strong feelings otherwise. It's unusual, I'll give you that. But there are no potential health risks involved here.
posted by ColdChef at 4:29 PM on October 7, 2011 [37 favorites]


Yeah it's hard to know whether or not to tell people. It's come up before on MetaFilter and I don't want to be repetitious, nor do I want people to think I'm looking for sympathy. It was hell at the time, but I'm pretty much healed-- after all I didn't even remember his birthday this year. Still. I'll never have a son and that hurts. And I always think about the loss of potential and how unfair it is/was that he didn't even get a chance to experience life; he only lived 25 hours.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:32 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh, this is just so sad. I can only imagine the monumental difficulty of it all, and even then I come up entirely short. In the actor Richard E. Grant's outstanding autobiography, With Nails, Grant describes the pain and suffering he and his wife go through when their first baby is stillborn. Grant's account is so well rendered, one cannot help but read the rest of the memoir through the lens of all the family lost in the first few pages.
posted by but no cigar at 4:37 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I do not see value in writing publicly about everything one does, especially not a personal tragedy. I know almost everyone here is of the mindset that we must accept anything anyone does or be labeled narrow minded, but the way this was written about it felt staged and like it was to make a point, not so much to assuage her grief.

I feel awful for anyone who loses a child, including this family, and wish them peace, but I also wish she would not write the book. Most people are not going to do what she did. I do not think there is ever really closure at losing a baby this way, for any mother. She did what she had to do, now she should let the baby rest in peace and go on to other subjects for her writing.
posted by mermayd at 4:38 PM on October 7, 2011


My father told me that was inappropriate and he would not be coming.

That's one of the most disrespectful things I've ever heard...

The other thing is that this happened at a Catholic hospital and we found out later that one of the nurses baptized him.

... OK, these are two of the most disrespectful things I've ever heard. I hope you had some people you were close to who treated you decently while you were going through this.
posted by gurple at 4:40 PM on October 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


And upon further research, I was proven right. This woman is a Professor of History / Gender, Women's & Sexuality Studies at my alma mater, specializing in subjects like Nazi Sexuality and Nazi Women's Studies.

Look, if you want to call up the local DA or moan to your friend at the funeral home, by all means go do it. Just leave your bizarre political fantasies about what academics do out of it. God forbid someone should study history in a way that focuses on women. And God forbid once again that that person be a woman. As someone interested in German history, but not academically involved in it, her work looks, sounds and reads (I read the oh-so-perverse Nazi Sexuality article--did you even both to read the abstract?) like what an awful lot of people who study 20th century Germany do. It's what social historians do. Seriously, I can find way more scandalous stuff written about sexuality in Germany (though my example deals with the Weimar Republic, not National Socialism). And written by a man. As apparently we all know women can't be real scholars, only stooges sent in to subvert the truth. Or something.
posted by hoyland at 4:42 PM on October 7, 2011 [16 favorites]


I never talked to my father again. It wasn't the first time he was an absolute dick to me but it was the last time I allowed him to be a part of my life.

I didn't mind at all about the baptism. I'm an atheist and it is meaningless mumbo jumbo to me but if it made the nurse feel better than I don't really mind.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:44 PM on October 7, 2011 [37 favorites]


I do like to imagine that one day Rick Santorum drops the surprise announcement that he's resigning from politics and pursuing a new career in radical women's studies.
posted by Drastic at 4:47 PM on October 7, 2011 [17 favorites]


I do not see value in writing publicly about everything one does, especially not a personal tragedy.

There's value in it if it helps another person deal with their own tragedy.
posted by ColdChef at 4:47 PM on October 7, 2011 [31 favorites]


I moused over the sole link in this post, read the URL, and there is no way in hell I'm opening it.

nope nope nope nope nope.
posted by thewalrus at 4:49 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


My father told me that was inappropriate and he would not be coming.

Attitudes change through generations, it seems.

My sister's baby died before he was born. She had to carry him to term for a couple of weeks before she delivered.

The hospital was a Catholic hospital, and it was pretty amazing how they tended to my sister. They gave the family all the time they needed. The encouraged grieving, instead of taking him quickly away. The hospital treated it like a ministry to the family, something to be taken very seriously. There were kind questions about clothes and arrangements. It was comforting to my sister.

My sister had a service. It made sense. The baby was thought of as a member of the family, even before he was born, although his time with us was cut quite short. We kept the service to close family and friends, though, which did not include grandparents and aunts and uncles, who were quite a bit older. My sister didn't say this directly, but I think she knew that it would not have been viewed with the same level of grief, and perhaps some skepticism. The attitude for stillborn babies during my grandmother's generation was to quickly remove the baby and not talk or think much about it after.

I thought I was going to be more bothered out by the article than I was. I relate much more with the husband, who did not grieve the same way, and would have bristled at taking the body home. But I have a hard time finding fault with the mom, either. It's actually pretty normal to look at and talk to and want to be with someone after they die, although it's normal not to want to, either. We have open caskets at funerals to say goodbye, so the desire is there in us somewhere. Funerals used to be held in people's homes as recently as the early 1900's, and the bodies were cleaned and taken care of by immediate family members in the house before the funeral. I'm sure there was plenty of time that people spent saying goodbye, and I would definitively understand if the washing and the preparation was done with care, as if tending to a person. Spending a day with a person who passed on is not so strange, and has been done many times before.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:59 PM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I didn't mind at all about the baptism. I'm an atheist and it is meaningless mumbo jumbo to me but if it made the nurse feel better than I don't really mind.

I was wondering how you felt about this, Secret Life of Gravy. On one hand, I completely understand why people would find it offensive, but I personally found the idea of the nurse making that gesture to be touching. From her point of view, it was the last thing she could do to take care of your child.

Thanks for telling your story. This is why I keep coming to Metafilter.

And thanks to ColdChef, too, for your expertise and your reasoned responses in this thread.
posted by duvatney at 5:01 PM on October 7, 2011 [14 favorites]


I am amazed at the strong reactions. I ve reading women's diaries written pre-twentieth century and it is heart-breaking how often the women buried their children and husbands. There was comfort for them though that their community came together for them and allowed them to grieve in ways that modern people would not find decorous. It is funny how the Victorians, who modern day people think are so "proper" embraced public grief.

In contrast, when my own daughter died at birth and I (still) publicly shared my experience I had many women approach me with private tales of grief no one knew. I know of someone who died tragically who had a very public job, when members of the public asked about their absence (they were the very definition of bubbly and gregarious) their co-workers were initially instructed to simply respond "that person does not work her anymore."

If her actions helped process her grief, who are any of us to judge. There is no way to prepare yourself to be a mother without a child and the fortunate rareity of the event means many people wish to apply social norms - like don't make other people feel awkward or uncomfortable - instead of compassion, if empathy is too much to ask.
posted by saucysault at 5:10 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I do not see value in writing publicly about everything one does, especially not a personal tragedy.

I do because it has immense value to me.

I had a late-term miscarriage, but unlike the author of the Salon piece I did not get to see my child. I was given photographs and a birth certificate with footprints and a chance to name him and have a funeral service but I've never seen him. He was autopsied and cremated and I never got a chance to hold him or touch him or see him.

It never quite felt like enough, and to know that there are other women out there who felt similarly helps me. It reminds me I am not alone and there are times that just simply knowing there are other women out there willing to share their experiences made me feel like I could actually deal with mine.
posted by FritoKAL at 5:12 PM on October 7, 2011 [21 favorites]


Just leave your bizarre political fantasies about what academics do out of it. God forbid someone should study history in a way that focuses on women.

This is my alma mater and I am well familiar with the antics of the Women's Studies department. They live to provoke.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:15 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why is that provocative? Alas, it's plain old academia (And here I was hoping for at LEAST a graphic of Ilsa, She-wolf. )
posted by small_ruminant at 5:18 PM on October 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


I also have a "frame of reference" for this... I'll never know if losing my 20 year old son was easier or harder than losing a newborn but it is to some extent a "frame of reference".

This was a hard read, but it was very, very easy to understand the feelings and choices made by this family. I have tremendous respect for the fact that, regardless of the fact that they knew they would probably be judged by those with little compassion, they followed the path they wanted/needed at the time.

There is no doubt in my mind that the memories embedded by these actions will be cherished for years and years. And, that, my friends is the important part. I have 20 years of happy memories of my son, and only a few days of the terror of a fresh death, these folks had only those few days, and they did the best they could with them.

None of us have the right to judge their actions.

I wish them peace..
posted by HuronBob at 5:21 PM on October 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


Hey ColdChef, how and why are babies embalmed differently?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 5:22 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you don't mind, I'll message you outside of the thread. It's a little graphic and I don't want to upset anyone who'd rather not know.
posted by ColdChef at 5:24 PM on October 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


thank you
posted by Space Kitty at 5:26 PM on October 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


This is so fucking outrageous. I am disgusted.

Then you'd probably be disgusted by what my mother did when my grandmother died. They did not take her to a funeral home. They kept her at the house and invited friends and family over to visit. My mother bathed her body, packed her orifices with cotton to prevent the body fluids from leaking out, combed & styled her hair and dressed her so that she could be presented to visitors in the living room.

This was in the early 1950s in rural Ireland and it was the way things were done then. In some parts of the world, it's still done this way. The care and preparation of my grandmother's body was part of the grieving process for my mother. It doesn't seem all that different than what this woman did. I think your opinion of this woman is skewed by the fact that this woman is, in your words, a "radical gender studies professor".
posted by echolalia67 at 5:28 PM on October 7, 2011 [18 favorites]


I am so grateful I got to sit with my mother as she died, sing to her, touch her -- and to hold her hand after, that felt so light -- though it wasn't for nearly long enough. Our relationship was complex, and my longing for her and guilt over my failures was vast. I've not suffered the loss of a child, but it's the ultimate death out of time, unresolved, utterly dream-shattering.

I read Elizabeth Heineman's words at the same gut level as the feeling of wanting just a few more hours to brush my mother's hair, to wash her face, to tell her I loved her and hold her close to my heart. Long before that, an attendant came with a clearly labelled body bag, and when I cried out I wasn't ready, she awkwardly lay it at the edge of her bed. I held my mother's hand and tried not to look, but I couldn't move my eyes away from it.

Death is our only certainty and so much of what we are and do -- consciously or not -- is designed to stave off that fact. I can only say that I needed to understand my mother's death at the same animal level that she and I shared when I was too young to comprehend anything but touch. I don't know how else I could have understood she was truly gone. Yet everything about modern death is rigged to obscure that knowledge.

I also want to say that although we barely knew each other, Coldchef answered my tearful questions from 2000 miles away and was so compassionate and humane I still haven't figured out how to thank him, and don't know really how I could. He (and the funeral director described in this story) understand grief and the human condition at a level few ever will. Even if I didn't already agree with him, that he thinks what happened here is right and good is all I need to know that it is. I don't judge anyone supremely discomfited -- at all, because the subject is supremely discomfiting -- but I do wish we could be more sympathetic to each other in our disagreement. This is as raw and real as pain gets.
posted by melissa may at 5:33 PM on October 7, 2011 [62 favorites]


Thanks for sharing that, melissa may.

I don't know how else I could have understood she was truly gone. Yet everything about modern death is rigged to obscure that knowledge.

This has been true for me, too.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:36 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


[Please do not turn this into some sort of a rant about UI's women's studies department. It's off-topic and has nothing to do with this thread. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 5:37 PM on October 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


This is so fucking outrageous. I am disgusted. I am considering making a complaint to the local district attorney, to see if it can be determined that a crime took place within this jurisdiction.

You what?

Seriously - what are you saying? That she should just buck up and get over it? There will be other babies? Babies die all the time? We are talking about a mother's love for her tiny baby, not the fucking holocaust. Get some fucking proportion.
posted by the noob at 5:51 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh man am I late to this thread. You should all watch a doco called Losing Layla, where the poor documentary film producer had her poor stillborn baby, poor dead Layla in her home for a week. Argh one of the most moving films l've seen, ever.
posted by goo at 5:52 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's right for these stories to be told, because it tells other families that it's okay to tell their own stories as they see fit.

Yes, YES! To me, the whole point of this article and, hopefully, book is to share an incredibly intimate and life changing experience with others who may be suffering something similar.

I found nothing creepy, nothing disgusting and certainly nothing immoral or unethical about her actions. All I felt was empathy. The sudden death of a loved one is intensely traumatic. I admired the funeral director, the father, the teenage son, the previous partner and most of all the author/mother herself for being brave enough to grieve in the way that worked for them, and then share their story with others.
posted by the fish at 5:55 PM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


My state recently approved a piece of legislation that grants parents of stillborn children the right to receive a birth certificate.It's not done in all states. Pro-life and pro-choice advocates have apparently made this into a battleground issue*, which bothers me (independently of what I think about pro-life v. pro-choice) because the issue clearly jerks with the emotions of these parents, who perhaps** never wanted to be a part of that debate.

It's interesting to observe my own reactions about the whole thing. I guess the best I can say if I'm being really honest is I WANT to be sympathetic to these people. But I also have to admit that the photo I saw in connection with my state's passage of this just freaked me right the fuck out (link takes you to a page including the picture, clicking on picture enlarges, nothing gruesome but it may be upsetting, especially if you've lost a child):

http://www.bryantaylor.us/2011/08/08/641/

In reading about some of their stories, my inclination, especially for those that have other children, is to want to say move on. I feel very bad for the siblings holding those pictures, and wonder what it's done to their lives if their parents have been on a crusade about this legal recognition.

I think there's something embedded pretty deep in us to want to distance ourselves from this kind of biological failure. Call it superstition or some kind of evolutionary revulsion, but whatever - it's a particularly creepy sort of thing that seems hard to deal with. We know how to deal with dead bodies, but as ColdChef pointed out, even the most minute detail of how to carry the remains seems to be horrible even to a professional.

Reading some of this thread has also helped me see that the bottom line is there's just not a good way to process this for some, and it does seem to be wrapped around the problem that the life ended before it began. If, God forbid, I lost one of my kids, there would be a story with a clear beginning and an end, even if those two points were horribly close together. These parents are dealing with just an endless loop of lost potential, a sort of division by zero problem, undoubtedly with a top-dressing of guilt about every single thing that happened from the moment of conception. God have mercy.

*it may be that only the pro-life people are making it into an issue. I'm trying to present this as neutrally as I can
** or maybe they did, but I have no reliable way of knowing. Surely this issue isn't uppermost for all of them.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:07 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Telling our stories is what we do. It defines us as a species. It's how we learn from one another, how we learn to be together. How we learn to cope with tragedy. How we learn empathy for those unlike ourselves. Telling our stories is what we do. We need more important stories, not fewer.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:13 PM on October 7, 2011 [24 favorites]


I agree with It's Raining Florence Henderson. I don't understand why people think it's inappropriate for her to write about this. How else would we know about it? Oral storytelling doesn't have much reach these days.
posted by sweetkid at 6:18 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a mother, I'd have to say that there is no *wrong* way to grieve the loss of a child.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:21 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


That statement is just asking for trouble.
posted by small_ruminant at 6:29 PM on October 7, 2011


Oh geez, no. Then I shall untype it and keep it in my head.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:31 PM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


What if none of it actually happened apart from the baby dying and Elizabeth wishing to hold the child for much longer than normally allowed by the hospital?

Maybe writing this "memoir" is some sort of healing phase of the grieving process, or perhaps it's an artistic statement of some sort intended to comment upon the strange values and mores we have in the West about birth, death, and how they relate to a woman's sense of identity and value of self.

I'm not trying to stereotype a Women's Studies Professor, but anyone who spends serious time examining the history of sexual identity in postwar Germany as it relates to Nazism probably has some tendency to examine alternate points of view. Studying the effects of psychological trauma and personal tragedy on a woman's self-identification as a woman in society seems to fit the pattern here.

It's just a thought. I'm not saying that it absolutely didn't happen, but maybe these are the musings of a woman who questioned her own "femaleness" as it related to the loss of a child.
posted by kaminariko at 6:46 PM on October 7, 2011


> I don't understand why people think it's inappropriate for her to write about this.

For me, writing about it isn't what rubs me the wrong way, it's seeking a book deal. The footnote makes it sound like she's already written this memoir and is looking for a publisher so she can sell her story. If she put it up on a blog where bereaved parents could read it (for free) and perhaps find comfort, that would be a fine and kind thing to do. But holding out for money strikes me as rather crass.
posted by Quietgal at 6:48 PM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


There is a difference in publishing something as a commercial book and blogging it for free that go beyond money. She may or may not be realistic in her hopes for publication, but I think we'd have to judge a lot of people who have written and published autobiographical material if we're going to judge her for the mere act of seeking publication.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:53 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


What if she gets her book deal, tours, it becomes a huge deal, she makes tons of money... and, after having raised awareness for families undergoing a horrible sort of grief, she then proceeds to donate all profits to women's health organizations.

Would that still be crass?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:55 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


That article made me cry and also grateful at the same time for its emotional courage, honesty and clarity. Thanks for posting it.
posted by nickyskye at 6:59 PM on October 7, 2011


This is my alma mater and I am well familiar with the antics of the Women's Studies department. They live to provoke.

Charlie don't surf, you've just linked to the article you linked to in your original comment. The same article where I asked if you'd even bothered to read the abstract. The same article I looked at earlier. Sexuality and Nazism is a topic with a lot of depth and potential for good research. (Of the however many thousands of Mefites there are, someone probably studies it for a living or has a colleague who does. I hadn't quit math for German, but if I had it's within the realm of possibility it's something I would have studied, so I guess I'm the best we've got for now.) Christ, the most general thing anyone knows about Nazism is the anti-Semitism. Is there a small possibility that 'racial purity' has something to do with people having sex?

I don't know how one can reasonably think Nazism is studied without considering sexuality, to be honest. If you want, you can pretend gay people didn't end up in concentration campus because of their sexuality, but you're still stuck having to confront public knowledge of Röhm's homosexuality if you want to talk about the Night of the Long Knives and that means you're going to end up caring about how sexuality functioned during National Socialism.
posted by hoyland at 7:10 PM on October 7, 2011 [16 favorites]


But I have absolutely no frame of reference for dealing with this level of grief

i do, so i couldn't read it - when my daughter was born, we were sent from the hospital the day after and within hours we were at our wit's end - she wouldn't stop crying and was overly warm - we took her temperature and it was something like 103 and we called the hospital and they had us take her in immediately

it was a severe staph infection that was even showing up in her spinal fluid

well, she survived and was back home with us after a week - but of course, we wondered during the first couple of days whether she would survive

5 years later she was diagnosed as autistic - and i will always wonder if her sickness had anything to do with that, but i guess there's no way i will ever know

so, it could have been worse - but perhaps, it could have been better

it's not on the same level, but there's grief involved in something like that, something that i had to work through - i've accepted it - but i will always wonder if things could have been different for her if this hadn't happened
posted by pyramid termite at 7:12 PM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


If you are not a woman who has lost a child, I don't think you can speak authoritatively on this woman's choice.

We all grieve in our own ways and within the conventions of our time, as much as we are able, but the death of a child is the worst thing I have ever experienced and nothing any woman does in her grieving is for grist for anyone else's mill to approve or disapprove.

We women can get whiplash trying to live our lives with what people think from one decade to the next is appropriate for women to do, especially when it comes to their appearance, sexual behavior, matters surrounding pregnancy, childbirth, motherhood, marriage and, of course, work. And, now, how she should mourn.

It's enough to drive any woman straight into the arms of the feminists, I tell you, if she's not there already. It makes we want to plead, "Leave this poor woman alone; if you haven't walked in her shoes or alongside her (literally or in the sense Cold Chef has), you don't know what you're talking about."
posted by Anitanola at 7:14 PM on October 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


I want to write something in support of anyone who has endured this form of suffering. Mostly i have no words, other than that I care. And I think I think people should share their stories with experiences that are so painful and isolating because it does make a difference.
posted by xarnop at 7:24 PM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I strongly feel that our society has a very twisted and unhealthy way of dealing with grief and grieving--mostly, by denying it and shaming anyone whose grieving doesn't follow an accepted pattern or last an acceptable amount of time (2-4 weeks, it seems, depending on the circumstances). People often shy away from acknowledging someone else's loss and get extremely uncomfortable or even outright freaked out if the grieving mentions their sense of loss or shows any signs of mourning outside of a funeral or other non-public, socially acceptable place (and in the "right" presence of close family and friends).

People also get really uncomfortable or downright judgmental if they perceive that someone has an "inappropriate" lack of grief ("Oh, he's in denial."). When my father passed away, there was a real mix of bizarre (to me) responses to my own grieving, because at first, I wasn't really that upset (I mean, I was, but my father's illness (cancer) came on rather suddenly and he died within months of diagnosis but the last 2 months after being told it was terminal was pure hell for him); when he passed, at first, it was a sort of relief because he was so miserable and depressed and nobody could do anything for him. Then, when I told people (coworkers, acquaintances, professors) about his illness and subsequent death, they got kind of freaked out (you could see it in their eyes) like they didn't want to be put in the awkward position of hearing about something so "personal" (or perhaps such a blatant reminder of their own mortality). Or people would tell me that I was in denial and I was going to inevitably fall apart once I "hit the wall" (really? How is that supposed to be helpful?). I rarely even got an "I'm sorry for your loss" from people, although it could have been the culture of the place I lived in because now that I'm back in Toronto (where I was born), people seem to be more "normal", to me, if I bring up my father's passing.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I personally am not going to judge this woman. She did what she felt was necessary to do in order to grieve, whether it was "right" or "wrong" for her in hindsight is neither here nor there, but she chose to do what she thought was right for her and perhaps it was at the time. I chose to see my father right after he passed. I just needed some kind of confirmation so I could believe it, and I wanted to say goodbye and hold him for the last time and kiss his forehead and wipe his face. But I chose not to see him after he was embalmed, the idea to me was way too creepy and he had lost so much weight in such a short time that seeing him dressed up and made to look "normal" would have been so absurd to me.

Perhaps we should stop judging this woman for doing what she felt she needed to do to grieve for her baby (I mean, my God, she carried him for 9 months, feeling him kick and planning for his life and his future) and maybe ask ourselves what's wrong with us as a society if we are so quick to dismiss or judge her simple actions that harmed nobody and apparently brought her some peace of mind. Yes, I can understand how it might make people uncomfortable (and I can admit that the idea of her carrying her baby's corpse around, briefly, to be a bit uncomfortable for me), but we don't have to judge her or label her or try to find some reason to discredit her (what does her area of study have to do with her grief?), and maybe just say okay, I would never (or I think I would never) do that myself but if it worked for her, what's the harm?
posted by 1000monkeys at 7:24 PM on October 7, 2011 [22 favorites]


One of the most interesting memoirs I've read recently is Half Baked, about a blogger's experience with a stillbirth and another premature baby. It's heartbreaking,and also the funniest book with a dead baby I've read that isn't actually dead baby comedy, if that makes sense.
posted by nicebookrack at 7:30 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


my aunt lost a child, a 10 year old, to cancer. she reposted this from one of her grief groups recently and for whatever reason it really touched me.

when you lose a parent, you're an orphan. when you lose a spouse, you're a widow. but there isn't a term for you if you lose a child because it's just too horrible to talk about."

i think talking about this, writing about this, and even publishing a book about this could help many parents who find themselves grieving when they thought they'd be celebrating.
posted by nadawi at 7:30 PM on October 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


1000monkeys... very well said, thank you.
posted by HuronBob at 7:34 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


We took a 6 week pre-natal class run by the local hospital (not the hospital I gave birth in.) About a month after my due date we got a follow-up questionnaire asking if the class was adequate, if our experience matched our expectations, etc. Caught up in my grief I fired off an angry reply about how the class did nothing to prepare us for the death of our child (well, duh!) The instructor sent back a card of condolence and I felt bad for lashing out.

But the truth is that being young, healthy, middle class and living in the suburbs does not prepare you in any way for that outcome. It literally never crossed my mind that it could happen. It had not happened to any of my friends nor any of my family in recent memory. So that does make the situation so much harder when you have no rituals to fall back on. A little while later I watched "The Year of Living Dangerously" which takes place in Singapore and in the movie a mother who loses her young child to illness bathes him in a tub of water filled with flowers while her family and friends watch. I wanted that. I wanted some sort of meaningful bonding time that I could always remember because I have so few memories of time spent with him. After nine months of waiting and great expectations (he was the first grandchild on both sides) he was erased with nothing to show that he had ever existed except a box of ashes.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:41 PM on October 7, 2011 [29 favorites]


The professor is well published in scholarly circles and can easily produce a book without an agent.

This isn't how it works for academics. An academic publisher isn't going to publish a personal essay/memoir, and a pop-lit publisher won't be impressed by your academic publishing credentials. These are two different words.

I don't mean to endorse or condemn her seeking of a book deal here, but if she does want to share the story more widely, it's not nuts to seek another publisher. Academic publishing is incredibly narrow in both manuscript acceptance, and printing and promotion. A book about this personal kind of experience would no doubt be comforting and fascinating to thousands, but it's just not an academic book, and would need a different kind of publisher.

Very sad. My thoughts are with all of you who've experienced the loss of a child. I don't even have children, but I take it pretty seriously when everyone I've ever heard talk about it, young and old, say that it is the most difficult kind of grief there is.
posted by Miko at 8:18 PM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I find this disturbing, not because of her method for coping with her grief, but because it's so totally beyond my comprehension. It makes my stomach churn, but it's emotionally unfathomable. I can't wrap my head around the gravity of losing a child. She's in my thoughts.
posted by jingle at 8:30 PM on October 7, 2011


I used to think I was judgmental. Then I joined metafilter.
posted by bq at 8:46 PM on October 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


My only experience with grief in no way compares to her loss of a child, but I can understand her behavior. When you love someone you don't want to let them go away, because when you do you know it is forever.

I think it's sad people will sit in judgment of someone's sorrow. People are frail and it is cruel to condemn someone's way of getting through something so horrible I can't even imagine how you reach the other side of that pain. We hide away grief - it is one of the unacceptable emotions. You're supposed to buck up after a week or so and not bore other people with it, but there are also a number of very scripted performances that we mandate in that time frame.

Well, not everyone grieves on the same timeframe, and in the same way. Death is an inescapable monster for the people left behind, and we all have to manage in our own ways. We all try to do the best we can with the tools we have learned. If this lady is trying to share her ways, maybe it will help someone else deal with the same terrible loss.
posted by winna at 8:48 PM on October 7, 2011


YOUR METHOD OF GRIEVING IS BAD AND YOU SHOULD FEEL BAD.
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:50 PM on October 7, 2011


Ugh. The agony of this. I wish her and her partner all possible solace. My wife and I were a few months shy of 40 when our daughter was born, and we pretty much knew that this was our one and only chance. She had a single umbilical artery defect -- not necessarily a problem, and the high level ultrasounds conducted several times during the pregnancy confirmed no obvious difficulties, but the fact of it kept us on edge for the latter half of the pregnancy. I don't know if I could have taken it if what happened to the author had happened to us. It's amazing how much hope you can invest in a tiny thing that you've never seen.
posted by Palquito at 9:00 PM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I lost my youngest sister. Her death was accidental. My mother was ner the same. She kept a little sleeping dress she personally made for the baby. My own two got to use it later. She kept secretly the baby's little teething beads, a rattle. I
buried these with my mother's
ashes. Interesting side note, my mother did personally know Jessica Mitford.. She shared Mitford's views
on exaggeratedly expensive
funerals, and had her own view of excessive mourning. All the same, the grief never quiet goes away. This was a young life cut short.
I thank God my own children were healthy, and for the health of my grandchildren.
My younger sister was buried quickly.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:36 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Someone way-way back, in reference to people saying they couldn't imagine, said

This is what drives me up the wall. Everyone should, because the odds are actually pretty damn good and might just prepare you for that worst case.


But clearly, our society isn't currently designed to handle this situation. We don't expect our children to die young, and we hold death at arms-length in any case, so we are hardly likely to be spending too much time running the scenarios. Many of us do this, and then try to stop ourselves from doing it, because we live in a fortunate time where we don't really need to think about this kind of thing too hard. We don't need to expect that, of all the children we produce, some of them will die young. We are lucky. And because we are lucky, we don't have a lot of collective knowledge to work with, as our ancestors did.

Truly I think, as hard as it can be to read the accounts, just KNOWING that other people have gone through this is so key to being able to go through it yourself, if that comes to pass.

When I think about the people I know who have lost loved ones to certain diseases, and how much they've been helped by support groups of other people who have been through the same experience--I can only be grateful to people willing to share their story, in case it might help someone else.

There seems to be an issue with the idea that this mother might be trying to monetize her story, but it seems to me that perhaps she just wants her story to be accessible to as many people as it needs to be accessible to. Maybe now it seems obvious to some of us that putting the story in its entirety on the internet is the easiest option, but not everyone is as likely to turn to the internet as Metafilter members for information to soothe their pain.
posted by padraigin at 10:24 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I do not see value in writing publicly about everything one does, especially not a personal tragedy.

Then I am genuinely sorry for you, not just that you do not understand the value of catharsis in and of itself, but also because you don't understand that there is value in telling the tale of surviving such depths of grief and despair and fury and helplessness -- for the extraordinary, compassionate gift that is involved in sharing such pain and endurance in the face of what seems unendurable in the hope of bringing others some sense of connection, of hope in the face of their own hopelessness.

My sister-in-law lost one of her two daughters, Ellie, at four days old, and her son Evan (Ellie's twin) just a week shy of his eighth birthday. Writing about what her (our) family went through in the weeks and months and years following the twins' severely premature birth was enormously valuable -- and not just for Vicki, though that was part of it. No, what was astonishing was the value it had for the countless parents and families out there who had suffered through their own tragedies of complicated births, illness, disabilities, and death. To know that they were not alone, to read something that gave a voice -- sometimes angry, sometimes funny, sometimes weary, sometimes wise -- to their own experiences that they might have thought left them stranded, alone, among a world that otherwise seems so shiny and perfect... well, let me assure you that such value absolutely exists, completely independent and totally regardless of your inability to imagine it.
posted by scody at 10:44 PM on October 7, 2011 [19 favorites]


among a world that otherwise seems so shiny and perfect

Amen, scody.
posted by halonine at 11:01 PM on October 7, 2011


The instructor sent back a card of condolence and I felt bad for lashing out.

I've nearly done that, a bunch of times. Most recently, my wife had a blemish on her credit related to a medical procedure for our daughter (the one who died -- we had twins, one lived). It was a mistake by the debt collection agency, totally not our fault. I had this whole tirade ready in my head that featured the phrase "for our dead daughter's head scan, you incompetent, cretinous ghouls" repeatedly.

But when I talked with the agent, she recognized immediately that they'd made a mistake and said they'd take care of it, and they did. I felt cheated, somehow, and then I felt really weird about having wanted to involve a debt collection agency in catharsis related to the death of my child.

The worst I dealt with, which wasn't really that bad, was right after our daughter died. A coworker had heard the news, and my first day back to work, she ran into me in the hall and choked out some words (she was clearly distraught and also doesn't have a lot of English) about how my daughter "was in a better place now, with God".

I'm an atheist, and to this day I'm analyzing the complexity of my emotional response to that. I know my coworker meant nothing but comfort by it. But it felt like an attack, like she was telling me that my daughter's soul would be better off if I believed what she believed. And it felt like I either had to agree with her beliefs or to reject her attempt at comfort because I don't subscribe to her worldview.

I think I just sighed, said "thanks" and walked away.
posted by gurple at 11:03 PM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Oh, hey, and on the subject of the value of writing about this stuff. I keep a blog about our surviving daughter, but I keep it private for friends and family -- she's got some health issues, and I'm paranoid about her prospects of getting health insurance in the future. But I've googled around for blogs by parents who have health issues similar to my daughter's. And I've found a few, in particular one mom's blog that described a situation very much like ours, that made me feel a lot less alone.

That was very valuable, and I often think about making my daughter's blog public because of that. I'm just too chickenshit.
posted by gurple at 11:08 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem is that no one that doesn't want to go insane for 9 months does think about this happening. Most pregnant folks have never, ever, thought something like this can happen. And it feels pretty ghoulish to say to a woman who's pregnant, "always check for movement. If you haven't felt the baby move in too long, call your doctor immediately." Not only will it freak them out, it will make them more likely to call their doctor in a panic, leading to the doctor to tell them they are overreacting, the baby is probably just asleep, etc. Which is probably true.

I can't stand to be around a pregnant woman in a social situation. It's been fifteen years and three other children since our loss, and I just can't talk to a pregnant woman about her pregnancy. I know what might happen. And given the small percentage of pregnancies which end with the death of the child, telling them this piece of information they have never considered will likely do more harm than good in almost all cases.
posted by Windopaene at 11:23 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


YOUR METHOD OF GRIEVING IS BAD AND YOU SHOULD FEEL BAD.

At least there are SOME people on this website who aren't afraid to be real.
posted by ReeMonster at 11:59 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


My second daughter was unexpectedly born still. I guess the part that most people don't consider or understand is that my wife and I had loved that child since the day we knew she was pregnant. That love grew and grew, and we imagined all kinds of events to come in future: bathing her, teaching her to walk, seeing her learn to speak, playing with her older sister, watching her grow up.

When you're told, "I'm sorry, your baby is dead", that love doesn't know where to go. All those dreams and hopes don't just disappear, but they can become almost perversely painful, and it hurts to remember that love, even more than my little girl's tiny unmoving hand in my own.

I am profoundly grateful that my wife and I were able to spend some time in that hospital room with our poor little girl, just the three of us. I can't imagine not having had that, the hurt would've been far worse, undoubtedly. My sympathies for anyone in a similar situation.
posted by stinkycheese at 12:12 AM on October 8, 2011 [14 favorites]


You'd have to shoot me with a tranquiliser dart to get one of my boys away from me if the worst were to happen to them. Then you'd need to bury them in a hidden grave to stop me from digging into the earth, laying down beside them and waiting to die.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:22 AM on October 8, 2011 [19 favorites]


A big-hearted thanks to all of you who shared your personal, tragic stories of loss.

Metafilter is truly a one of a kind community full of smart, compassionate people (plus the occasional selfish jerkface).

We can and do learn so much from reading about each others' experiences. I feel for every one of you who lost a child.
posted by unwordy at 1:27 AM on October 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


People also get really uncomfortable or downright judgmental if they perceive that someone has an "inappropriate" lack of grief ("Oh, he's in denial.").

that's because they have unrealistic expectations of life and are in denial themselves - i went through something very similar with my father when he died - i was sad about it, but with him having cancer for months, it was something that wasn't unexpected - and at 71 years, he'd had a good life, done the things he'd wanted to do, had a good marriage and a good family

and then it ended - but really, what else do people think is going to happen?

some people expect too much and when things turn out differently, they get extremely upset

it's best to be prepared, as much as one can be - which still isn't enough, but it does help
posted by pyramid termite at 2:46 AM on October 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


with our poor little girl

Thank you for writing that, that's how I most often talk to my son, who we lost in February. My poor little boy.

It's been eight months and I still can't write about it much. Thanks to the other parents who have lost and shared here.
posted by dbrown at 5:09 AM on October 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Oh, dbrown. How much I wish I could send you a hug. I can only say that it gets better; as terrible as you feel now, you won't always feel this bad. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep walking and someday this terrible thing that happened to you and your family will be something sad that happened in the past.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:54 AM on October 8, 2011


I'm 37 weeks pregnant. I should've known better than to read this, it's freaked me out so much I can't even formulate my thoughts. I think the only way to cope at this stage is to lie to yourself and say these things only happen to other people because once I start thinking about everything that could go wrong, I will literally go CRAZY. The other thing I won't do is judge that poor women. Until you've been in her shoes, no one knows how they would react. Compassion costs nothing.
posted by Jubey at 6:21 AM on October 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Dbrown, words fail me. Know that someone out there in the Internet is thinking of you and your family, and sending you a virtual hug. I hope you find peace.
posted by Jubey at 6:26 AM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's about choice. I suppose it doesn't matter what you feel about this choice but it is important that we have choices. There are some choices or paths that are governed by legislation and some choices that are governed by values.

Working in a hospital I hope to provide insight to patients regarding what is governed by legislation vs hospital policy or process and let patients make an informed choice.

There is legislation regarding the handling of deceased - it has been well described above. The process of 30 minutes with the deceased is no doubt a hospital process or norm. It may be due to how busy the hospital is, or perception about changes that occur after death or staff comfort levels or the perceived impact this may have on the index patient, other patients on the ward and the staff. This woman challenged that system and probably worked to change the norm - that's a good thing.

I'm sure we've all made personal choices that others may not have - we just may not have written openly about them. The motivation for writing about them can not be understood by anyone except the writer.
posted by YukonQuirm at 7:58 AM on October 8, 2011


I just want to thank everyone for sharing their stories. I wish I could give you all a hug, and I'm so sorry for your loss(es).
posted by palomar at 8:05 AM on October 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


My aunt died of cancer, slowly and horribly, in her 30s. My grandmother once told me that while my aunt was dying (at home, addicted to morphine), she would go into the bathroom, turn on the water, and cry. She cried in secret so as not to burden my grandfather and my father, who were also grieving. I heard this story from her when I was just a kid, but even then it made me angry that communist values had taught my grandmother to put herself last to such a degree that she felt obligated to "protect" the closest people to her in the world from her pain. To this day it infuriates me to see people trying to repress the grief of others. I blame communism for teaching my grandmother that her needs always took second place to the needs of others, but here in my adopted homeland, bastion of capitalism, there are plenty of people who see suffering and grimace and teach people in pain to hide their pain away so that it isn't so disturbingly visible. God forbid someone should tell us the truth about their anguish. God forbid we should have to look at their face as they cry, unless they cry a single perfect tear and we watch it travel down their otherwise still face and then we can say "aww" the way we would say it to a sad puppy. But if you're an ugly crier, you have to hide your tears, it's so disturbing and so unattractive and so uncomfortable. It's such a burden to have to bear witness to pain that is beyond human language, beyond human ability to feel it. Pain that feels larger than your small human body. Tennyson wrote about it:

In words, like weeds, I’ll wrap me o’er,
Like coarsest clothes against the cold:
But that large grief which these enfold
Is given in outline and no more.

Life is not a nightclub at which you are the bouncer. Unhappy people, ugly people, suffering people, you're not on the list! We want only happy beautiful people, please. Only people who are willing to swallow their truth and freeze their face in a smile. Only people who will not make us uncomfortable by telling us about death or loss or behavior that doesn't fit neatly into the sanitized, familiar rituals we've created. You can suffer this much but then you have to stop. You can mention your loss, but then you have to be brave. You can take one sick day. You can cry at the funeral. You can't talk about it. You can't write about it. You can't reach out to other people and attempt to connect with them by sharing your true self, not if that self is in pain. You can't object to how we do things. You can't be different. You have to be easy to be around.

Just, I don't know how to say this, but I constantly see variations on this theme. I think I've written about it before, generally in MeTa. Sometimes, when people are in pain, they behave in ways that make us uncomfortable. When that happens, some people line up to shame them and tell them how they should be suffering (in a small way, in a neat way, in a familiar way, in a brave way, in the right way). I wish this didn't happen. I wish we could all collectively stop and remind ourselves that before us there is a human being who is in agony. They need help, not blame.

I'm trying to say that charlie don't surf has made me really angry.
posted by prefpara at 8:40 AM on October 8, 2011 [49 favorites]


Beautifully put prefpara. My mother-in-law died 3 weeks ago. She had wanted her body donated to science and the funeral director, UM and the hospice were all willing to wait to move her until my sister-in-law could get there from many hours away to say goodbye to her mother. No one was bureaucratic although there was a distinct (but many hours long) window of time before she had to be moved. It would have made a hard day much harder for my sister-in-law if she hadn't been able to get there in time.

People grieve in so many different ways. I think there is nothing more devastating than losing a child and it's so rarely discussed. Whether it's a still birth or a miscarriage one is seemingly expected to just get on with one's life and not make anyone uncomfortable with the rawness of inconsolable grief. Some compassion and open-mindedness about grief would go a long way here, let alone the understanding that the way one person approaches grief is not THE only acceptable way. I had a couple of early losses in pregnancy and they were extremely difficult. I can only imagine losing a child with utter horror and compassion, especially as I've watched several families close to me deal with losing teens in the last couple of years.
posted by leslies at 9:22 AM on October 8, 2011


I don't have any children and I don't want them, but I still think that there couldn't be anything worse on Earth than outliving your child, regardless of their age. It's too agonizing to think about.
posted by chonus at 12:07 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


My parents went through something similar when my 18-year-old brother died. They never brought him home, but my mom sure tried to make that happen. I couldn't help feel like their grieving, their need to behave as though he were still alive, violated the peace I wanted my brother to have in death. I kept thinking, "Let him be."
posted by The Narrator at 2:08 PM on October 8, 2011


Thank you for this thread. It was awful to read, but the stories are important. The original article is important. How awful it is to read, that's how important it is to do so.

There are not words.
posted by meese at 3:21 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I heard back from the funeral home operator and forwarded her the article. I am awaiting her response after reading the article.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:36 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I heard back from the funeral home operator and forwarded her the article. I am awaiting her response after reading the article.

You already have a funeral director in this thread telling you that what she did is not illegal. I'm not sure what you hope to accomplish. This is a person who is deserving of compassion and not contempt.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:55 PM on October 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


I feel like a wrung-out dishcloth after reading this article/thread. Thanks to those of you who have shared your stories of loss and grief. My heart goes out to you. I'm so, so sorry.

"There but for the Grace of God..." indeed. I've got two daughters, one is nearly 4 years old and the other is 10 months. I had my first daughter in the hospital, no complications, but my second was born at home. She was a surprise footling breech. Once she was out and the placenta was delivered, we discovered she had a velamentous cord insertion as well, which is when the umbilical cord runs through the amniotic membrane, rather than directly to the "meat" of the placenta. Reading up on those conditions after the birth (breech births, specifically footling breech, and the cord issue) scared the ever living fuck out of me. It really, really shook me up, knowing how close we came to having what the midwives call a "bad outcome". The enormity of what could have gone wrong still kicks me in the gut, 10 months later. I do not judge the woman in the article. Not one bit.
posted by fancyoats at 8:08 PM on October 8, 2011


Haven't read the complete thread. Yet I have been thinking about the blowback people are getting from others commenting how over the top the response is to Steve Job's passing.

Let people grieve however they want....
posted by goalyeehah at 8:20 PM on October 8, 2011


You already have a funeral director in this thread telling you that what she did is not illegal.

He said it was not illegal in his state.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:24 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well thank god you're on the case to keep the good people of Iowa safe from monsters like this!
posted by scody at 9:10 PM on October 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


Evidently somebody from one of them thar women's studies departments must have pissed in Charlie's Cheerios once upon a time. Whoever she was, I congratulate her. Hopefully she will do it again and maybe add a few extra bodily fluids, as he seems to be a tad obsessed about 'leakage'.
posted by Flitcraft at 10:10 PM on October 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm on bedrest with a complicated pregnancy that means I've spent the past six months wondering if today is the day the baby dies. Reading her story and the stories of other families who have lost children has been incredibly helpful in coping and preparing for what lies ahead.

Charlie don't surf, I hope when someone you love dies that people treat you and your family with compassion not harsh regulations.

Capturing a Short Life is a wonderful short documentary about photographing stillborn and dying babies that follows several Canadian families as they grieve. http://capturingashortlife.com/
posted by viggorlijah at 10:21 PM on October 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Very difficult reading. It's terrible to think of anyone going through something like this, but it's better to talk about it than to pretend like it doesn't happen.
posted by mekko at 10:50 PM on October 8, 2011


He said it was not illegal in his state.

I'm almost 100% positive you're going to hear the same thing from the funeral director you contacted. I'm not sure why this has become your personal crusade, but it seems to me you won't be doing anyone any good by it. You aren't doing a damn thing to contribute to anyone healing, which is what this is really about. I wish you would stop. Maybe when the funeral director contacts you that will be the end of it. I hope so.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:51 PM on October 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


My deep sympathy to everyone here who has lost a child, and to the family in the original article. Your stories are heartbreaking. I don't think I could survive that kind of loss and thank God my kids have made it to adulthood alive and well. Although I found the article upsetting and extreme, I do not agree with "Charlie don't surf" carping about the legalities involved. That was just mean and irrelevant.

But I am also upset by the tendency to lump all who did not uncritically find the article beautiful and brave as having no sympathy or being critical of old fashioned mourning and funereal practices. I am old enough that in my parents' generation, the dead were laid out at home. My grandmother and one uncle were, the uncle within my memory. I'm sure my Irish ancestors dealt with the dead in the way one poster described her family, and my husband's Jewish ancestors as well, who had societies of neighbors called "chevra kadisha" who prepared the body for burial according to Jewish law. I am not a fan of elaborate, expensive and impersonal funerals by any means.

What bothered me about the article, and perhaps it was the way it was written more than what actually happened, was the undercurrent that the writer and her family were more sensitive, evolved, close to earth than those who might deal with a stillbirth in a more conventional way. Reading it felt staged and scripted. Turning it into a book even more so.
There was a feeling of "we have the right way to grieve" beyond "this is how we grieved".

Yes, there has been a huge amount of insensitivity to parents and families who have lost a child to miscarriage, stillbirth, and neonatal death, and writing about the need to grieve and for others to honor that grief is a good thing, but I do not think this story is the ideal one to do that.

Several people here have evoked the Victorian era as somehow more "healthy" in their view of child mortality. Many children died, but not as many as in past eras, especially among the middle class, and there arose a kind of cult of mourning, photos of dead children, hair jewelry, perpetual black clothing, that was an extreme just as unhealthy as the sanitized treatment of death today.

I do not know if this is communicated, but what I am trying to say is that liking the article is not a litmus test for sympathy for those who grieve or acceptance of simpler funeral practice. It is not that simple.
posted by mermayd at 6:16 AM on October 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


In partially re-reading the article I realised there was an quite a long delay between Thor's death and his funeral. That makes me even more sympathetic to the mother, that her sense of closure was delayed in order not to inconvenience the out of town family. When I contacted my best friend to let her know about my baby's funeral I remember emphasising "but you don't have to come, it is short notice, I know you are busy...". I had crazy hormones (thank goodness I had another small child to mother) and I was busy preparing for the funeral, shopping for her clothes to buried in.

I've had a tough year with two funerals recently, people my age suddenly gone, and when it came to the funerals I would think "oh, they are so far away, do I really need to go?". And each time I was glad I did. It always amazes me how much of a celebration of life funerals are; that makes baby funerals so hard, the lack of funny anecdotes the congregation can chuckle over, the sense that this person made an impact on a wide group of people.

And that attitude that stillbirths don't count is still very much with us; I returned to a work that resented me for taking bereavement leave and reminded me weekly of my "inconvenience" until I quit a couple of years later. I am sure this mother also got the message that her grieving was uncomfortable for others; I didn't get the feeling that this
mother felt her grief was "better", just that her grief was better for her. I can't imagine a funeral without a good Irish wake, but I have seen restrained, stiff-upper lip funerals serve the same purpose for people that need them.

When it comes to grief, I take my cue from the person that is closest to the deceased and do what I can to support their grief however they need it. In this case, it seems like the mother feels a need to testify as a way to work through her life-long mourning.
posted by saucysault at 7:08 AM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


mermayd:Several people here have evoked the Victorian era as somehow more "healthy" in their view of child mortality. Many children died, but not as many as in past eras, especially among the middle class, and there arose a kind of cult of mourning, photos of dead children, hair jewelry, perpetual black clothing, that was an extreme just as unhealthy as the sanitized treatment of death today.

I have to disagree - I think that victorian mourning rituals, as rigid and exacting as they were, gave those grieving some space by virtue of being so visible. I'm thinking especially of the rules regarding clothing color.
A widow would mourn for two and a half years, with the first year and a day in full mourning. During that time pieces of the crape covered just about all of a garment at deepest mourning, but the crape was partially removed to reach the period of secondary mourning which lasted nine months. After that the crape was defunct and a widow could wear fancier lusher fabrics or fabric trims made from black velvets and silk and have them adorned with jet trimming, lace, fringe and ribbons.

In the final six months a period called half mourning began. Ordinary clothes could be worn in acceptable subdued shades of grey, white or purple, violet, pansy, heliotrope, soft mauves and of course black. Every change was subtle and gradual, beginning firstly with trims of these colours being added to the black dresses. These were the transitional mourning dresses from secondary mourning to the final stage of lesser ordinary half mourning where colours like purple and cream rosettes, bows, belts and streamers along with jet stones or buttons were introduced.


When my father died, I really wished that our culture had some sort of dress code for death. It felt uncomfortable to have to reference his death in mundane conversation or have people ask me why I seemed so sad & depressed; having clothing as visual signal to "handle with care" would have been nice.
posted by echolalia67 at 10:32 AM on October 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


(3.38) I will give this one proof among many from which it may be inferred that all men hold this belief about their customs. When Darius was king, he summoned the Greeks who were with him and asked them for what price they would eat their fathers' dead bodies. They answered that they wouldn’t do it for any amount of money.  Then Darius summoned those Indians who are called Callatiae, who eat their parents, and asked them (the Greeks being present and understanding through interpreters what was said) what would make them willing to burn their fathers at death. The Indians cried aloud, that he should not speak of so horrible an act. So firmly rooted are these beliefs; and it is, I think, rightly said in Pindar's poem that custom is king of all.
- Herodotus
posted by skwt at 3:05 PM on October 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


What bothered me about the article, and perhaps it was the way it was written more than what actually happened, was the undercurrent that the writer and her family were more sensitive, evolved, close to earth than those who might deal with a stillbirth in a more conventional way. Reading it felt staged and scripted. Turning it into a book even more so.
There was a feeling of "we have the right way to grieve" beyond "this is how we grieved".


I understand where you're coming from, and yet I still say, "so?" In what way does this hurt anyone outside the circle of people who know them and may be concerned about the authenticity or depth of their emotion? It doesn't hurt me, it doesn't change the facts, and it doesn't make a dent in the reality of grief as we know it. This is what "everyone grieves in their own way" means: we won't like the way some people grieve. We won't approve of it and we will make private judgments about it. But unless it's our grief, it's not all that much of our business.
posted by Miko at 7:15 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem is that no one that doesn't want to go insane for 9 months does think about this happening. Most pregnant folks have never, ever, thought something like this can happen.

When I was 24 weeks along in my much-wanted, long-awaited first pregnancy, a friend of mine reached out for support because her sister had a stillbirth very late in the third trimester. I spent the rest of my pregnancy in a state of suspended dread, afraid to think beyond terms of "the fetus." In her grief, my friend had written about all the dreams she and other family members had had for the departed little girl; consequently, I became afraid of dreaming about this person-to-be or parenthood at all. Less to grieve if it came to that, I reasoned.

The only plus to spending my pregnancy expecting the worst: when I delivered at 41 weeks, my relief at having a live, healthy baby was so overwhelming, it was like a full-body catharsis.

Pregnancy is already such a reality-bending experience in so many ways. I am not sure whether it would be to the good to figure out a way to tell women, "You know that person you're growing? They might die before you even see them."
posted by sobell at 7:19 PM on October 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


"But unless it's our grief, it's not all that much of our business."

True, if this were a story shared with close friends and family. But a widely distributed article and proposed book makes it public and anyone who reads it is entitled to an opinion about it.
posted by mermayd at 5:19 AM on October 10, 2011


There's a difference between "expressing an opinion about it" and "threatening to contact the author's local police force about it".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:29 AM on October 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm of Irish and Maori heritage, living in NZ.
Which means from both sides, I've inherited a tradition of strong intimacy with loved ones when they die.

In the Maori side, once someone dies, they are laid out 'in state' in the family lounge, or the wharenui (big house/communal sleeping hall & meeting space) at the local Marae (used to literally be the communal home of a tribe, is now the communal and ritual meeting space), like they are sleeping, for 1-3 days. The family all sleep in the room with their beloved dead, or if it's on a Marae, everyone sleeps in the same hall as the person who has passed on.

If it's in a marae? The Tangi (cry/grieving time/funeral) happens regardless of any other Marae function, so it would be quite common for a wedding to take place in the Wharenui while a body is 'laying in state'. It's what a Marae is *for*, all of those things. All part of the circle of life, to put it in trite terms.

My Irish side, had, basically the same thing actually, except there was less sleeping in the same room, more staying up all night during a wake, except where duly anglicised.

As a child, our whole street arranged a street-party for a good friend who was dying of cancer on her birthday. She died a day or two before.
So we had her street party as a wake, with her coffin in the lounge of our neighbours, and people came, and held her hand, cried, but also laughed and talked about her life, different anecdotes everyone had, and sat round a fire outside til late into the night. (Ok, and being a street party, we had some gatecrashers, who were a leetle bit surprised to find a coffin! No one was traumatised over it though. ;) )

When my grandfather died, at age 9, and he had raised me like a father, it was such a blow, I wanted to deny it, and it *was* so shocking to see him dead (although I think the embalming was the biggest part of the shock), but - when I saw him, I knew. That he wasn't here anymore, and that it was his body, but he had left. It really helped me accept my death.
When my uncle died overseas, we never saw him. He was cremated. And for years afterwards, I'd still reflexively think that he was still overseas.

Further to that, I had two stillborn siblings. I never saw them, but I know my mother spent time with them after they were born, and I know their names, I know that I nearly had a little sister, and a little half-arabic brother with dark eyes and hair, and I know she grieves them, and even I am filled with what-ifs, and remember them when I remember my people who have passed on.
And yes, the thought terrifies me. I'm not pregnant, but for if I ever am, and that happens to me, somehow it gives me peace to think of a friends rural property, and that that would be the right place for... ok, I can't say 'my baby' because that's really weird sounding, but you know what I mean, but that that is where they could go, and it would be the right place. And that makes me a little less afraid of the whole idea.


And, no, really - I can't get over how very very offended and hurt I am that someone could be so rude, and angry, again and again, repeatedly, over how someone else dealt with the death of their child.

Thank god I live in NZ, a modern first world country, where embalming is not even compulsory.


(And regardless of what some Mefites may think of me now, I just instituted a killfile, for my own emotional wellbeing).

posted by Elysum at 1:24 AM on October 11, 2011 [10 favorites]


This is what drives me up the wall. Everyone should, because the odds are actually pretty damn good and might just prepare you for that worst case.

I have four kids. While I know that thinking about this is important and I do try to think about what I would do, the way my heart speeds up and the feeling of having all the air sucked out of my chest and my eyes water makes me too scared to go on.

God bless this poor family and her bizarro greiving.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:04 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Um, thanks mefi.

My mother called last night, and I ended up having a really emotional but lovely conversation with her, and hope it didn't make her too weepy, where I let her know I remember the births she had too.


Charlie-don't-read-this filter:
She talked a bit about them, and I was able to put more general childhood memories and stories into context, and then she told me where she had buried each of them (they were not full term), in each of the gardens where we had lived at the time (if that seems strange, it may help that one of the places has half of my uncles ashes too, and probably more I don't know of in the area, and I'm in a relatively young country - this happens everywhere). And that she sometimes visits one of the houses, and asks to see the palm she had planted over their grave. The people who live there have kids, and understood why without being skeeved, and tell her how well the palm was growing, and that they love the tree.

So, yeah. I've got that tension-relieved feeling from grieving, and I'm not entirely sure where I was holding it, but I feel this thread has helped me come to terms a bit with some things. It's been awhile since someone close to me died, but a close relative has been hanging on despite terminal cancer for a few years, a terrible weight hanging, but not yet fallen. I think it helps me to know we've coped with this before, and we still remember those people, and that we will cope again.
posted by Elysum at 3:53 PM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


This photo series provides another view of unconventional grief.
posted by Miko at 7:49 AM on October 12, 2011


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