Category Archives: Grief

Seeking the like-minded

I’ve read that some parents who go through a stillbirth want to move immediately to restart their lives. When I was pregnant with Genevieve, we actually were talking about moving for a job opportunity. As soon as she died, we dropped talk of the move because I imagined becoming a recluse in a new city. I was only leaving the house — reluctantly — because my friends invited me out. And I liked having around a lot of people who remembered Genevieve. Still, I sometimes recognize why people would choose to move.

I took the kids to their favorite park this morning. It’s far from our house, so we typically don’t see people we know. A few minutes after we arrived, I saw a familiar mom, though I don’t know her name. Her daughter had gone to the same preschool and gymnastics place as Eleanor. I originally met her the summer that I was pregnant with Genevieve. Our girls would work on their puzzles side by side at the library each week. After I had Genevieve, she was one of the few relative strangers who talked to me about it. Now, I always feel happy to see her. She doesn’t know my name, but she knows that I have another daughter.

Later, I saw another familiar stranger. Her son went to the same preschool as Eleanor. I had also seen her at a barre exercise class a few months ago, as well as out running errands in her pint-size SUV. I had commented to Greg that it was strange she still drove that tiny SUV. She had two sons when Eleanor was in preschool, and she was due with a daughter the summer before Eleanor began kindergarten. How was she fitting three carseats in that thing? “Maybe something happened,” Greg said. I waved him off.

At the park today, she had only the two boys. I watched for a while, waiting to see a daughter toddle past. Nope. I already had Genevieve on my mind from the earlier encounter, and I wanted to approach this mom. Eleanor began preschool after I had Genevieve, so none of the parents there had known our story. What if I asked about the daughter and she had died? I should keep my mouth shut. But if her daughter had died, wouldn’t she be grateful to find another mom who understood? I expected to be able to somehow see the loss on her face, and I couldn’t.

Eleanor and Henry ran to play in the same area as her kids. I took off my sunglasses.

“It is you,” she said. “I couldn’t tell for sure with the sunglasses.”

She was with a friend, and she said they had just been complimenting my hairstyle. She asked about Henry, who had been a tiny nugget the last time she saw him. I pointed him out. At this point, the question begged to be asked.

“I hope you don’t mind my asking, but the last time I saw you, you were pregnant…” I began.

“Yes,” she said, starting to laugh. “We sold her off!” she joked. “No, she’s at home with my husband, napping. She’s 15 months and doing all sorts of adorable things.”

I smiled and got out of there as quickly as I could. I almost told her that my own daughter had died. I stopped myself. The implication would be clear. How ugly that would sound to her, my assumption that her daughter had died.

Sometimes I do feel like an ugly person for hoping to find other parents who have lost a baby. But then I also like to find parents with 6-year-old children and with boisterous toddlers, people who can understand this phase of life. I’m not wishing for babies to die. I’m merely hoping to find resonance.

Four years

Today was a normal day. Eleanor awoke first, as she usually does. She tiptoed into the game room and sat down in the corner with whichever Calvin and Hobbes book she is currently reading. When I got up, I came downstairs and made breakfast for the two of us. Eleanor had a banana and a bowl of Puffins cereal. She is trying to eat 20 boxes of Puffins so that she can send in the labels to adopt a wild puffin.

Henry slept past 8, as he likes to do. Once he was awake, the babbling began. He is forever carrying on a conversation with me, though I have no idea what he is saying. After his breakfast, he crawled up the stairs and pulled “Flowers for Algernon” from our bookshelf. How does he always find that one book in a line of 300?

We went to the park. No one fought over the teeter totter. Eleanor nearly swung across all of the monkey bars, a moment of intense bravery for her. Henry started up the steps to the big spiral slide while I had my head turned. He hovered at the top for a bit, afraid to proceed, and then toddled back down the steps with me grasping his hand. Later, a friend brought us dinner, and Henry said “kiss” for the first time while giving me a big, toothy smooch. I noted every blessing.

Living without you, Genevieve, may be normal for us now, but it will never be easy. I wish that you had been here to bounce out of bed first because it was your birthday, to help Eleanor eat all of those Puffins, to encourage Henry to go down the slide, and to tell us that you actually prefer chocolate cake to this lemon variety that we insist on making every year on your birthday. You are always missed, my little girl.

Genevieve's 4th Birthday

One year ago.
Two years ago.
Three years ago.
Four years ago.

How life looks without her

Wednesday is Genevieve’s birthday, and you would think that I had just left the hospital after having her. That first year, I quit my job (which I was going to be laid off from anyway because of restructuring), went back to school to become a nurse, and ran a half-marathon. Nothing mattered to me outside of Greg, Eleanor, and Genevieve, but I knew that I had to keep moving forward. Any time I had an idea, I latched on and threw myself into it.

Every year when I reach Genevieve’s birthday, it’s as though I’m reliving that whole year in the span of a week. In the past 24 hours, I have gone from “Maybe we should have another baby,” to “I can’t possibly stay home anymore. I need a full-time job.”

It always takes me a while to realize what’s happening, that I’ve spiraled into my mid-July funk. I know that I’m going to be upset around her birthday. I await the sobbing and the sad movie watching and the ice cream eating. There is some of that. But mostly there is the feeling that I am suffocating. I make no plans for the week because I expect to be sad, and then I regret that I’m spending so much time sitting around thinking about her. I need to do something to feel better. The only way to feel better is to let the days pass.

Greg arrived home from work today and listened to five minutes of my panicked ramblings. Henry had just had a diaper explosion, and I hadn’t yet checked to see if his shirt had been hit because I needed to attend to our dinner, burning on the stove. And Eleanor’s dance class began in 30 minutes, so it was time to shovel in the sad meal I had prepared. Also, could he collect her dance shoes and leotard and also load her bike in my trunk because we were meeting friends at the park right after dance? Also, Eleanor had told me earlier in the day that I looked angry at her, which had made me feel like a terrible mother because I hand’t been angry at the time, just exhausted of trying to maintain normalcy during the most abnormal week. And Greg did everything I asked and acted as though I were a perfectly reasonable person.

People sometimes compliment me for my good cooking, for the fact that I serve my kids a lot of vegetables, for my clean house. Sometimes my life looks good. And sometimes my kids are eating “crispy” potatoes that came out mushy and undercooked broccoli that is chunky instead of finely chopped into a bruschetta and bread that is flipped so the burned side is down. “What is this, Mom?” Eleanor asks.

This is the part that others don’t see. This is us accepting things that didn’t turn out as we had hoped.