Monday, March 16, 2009

Older Brother, Tiniest Angel

Let's talk about something else for a minute. School.

School is good, but it's been stressing me out quite a bit of late, probably making my already frayed nerves a little bit more sensitive. It isn't that the subject matter I'm dealing with is awful, in fact I'm really drawn to it. Notice how I don't say that I love it or am thrilled by it? The only reason for that is that it seems a little irreverent to say I am thrilled by learning about death. Truly, though, the subject matter intrigues me.

For those of you who don't know, I'm studying Thanatology, hoping to become a grief counselor or something close to that in my next career.

In my introductory course, a professional orientation to the program and the field, the workload is heavy, my friends. Not only are there two group projects (with the requisite lack of equal participation), but there are also two individual papers due and the clock is ticking. For one of the papers, I have to go to the funeral of a person I don't know, observe, and write a paper about it. The other paper, the one I'm working on right now, is an analysis of research, and my chosen topic is that of neonatal or perinatal death and parental grieving. When under pressure to come up with a topic, that is the one that popped into my head first, because it is near to my heart.

My mother, at age 18, went into labor with a gush of blood. One of the women at the house with her hurried out into the fields to find my father - they were living on a farm, of course. They were both farm kids, though my dad was freshly back from the war. The story goes that my dad took the wagon (yes...the horse-drawn wagon) up to my grandfather's house (my mother's father) who had a car. They piled quilts into the back seat and placed my mother on them to try to soak up the blood, but by the time she arrived at the hospital, the quilts were soaked through and blood was dripping out of the door when they opened it.

She said there didn't seem to be a rush on the part of the doctors or nurses. They let her lie in bed for most of the afternoon and only really began to intervene later in the evening. Her labor was difficult, made more so because the whole family had shown up at the hospital, anxious for the arrival of the baby. My two grandmothers were arguing over whether or not it was God's will for a woman to be able to vote.

This was a story she told me at length in 2003, when I was doing a paper for college, taking an oral history. She told it all like it had just happened last week. The pain was never far from her.

After the baby, a boy, was born, he was whisked away from her. She survived, barely, and she kept asking to see her little boy. They had named him William Edwin -- William for her father and Edwin, which was my father's middle name.

She kept thinking she heard him crying. She kept asking for him. She heard from her mother and her sister-in-law that he was such a beautiful baby. The doctors kept her a little bit sedated.

Eventually they told her that he had died, that they were having his funeral. She was too sick to go. I can't imagine what this did to her, a teenage girl with a stormy marriage and an uncertain future. Her baby that she had carried for nine months, that she had bonded with, that she loved, was gone and she had never even gotten to hold him. The only look she ever got of him was because the family had a color portrait taken of him in his casket.

Eddie was the most beautiful, perfect, cherubic baby anyone had ever seen. Growing up, we marveled over this precious photograph of our dead brother. As I got older, I wondered how my mother had ever overcome the sadness. Even later, I wondered at all the things that went wrong and why. No one could even tell her why he died, nor did they try. They thought it was better for her to just forget about him and go on. No wonder she had anxiety. No wonder she was depressed and even suicidal at times.

It was a disaster that ruined her life, though she went on to have five more children, and we all lived. There were no support systems back then. There were only trite reassurances that she would have other children, that she was young, that at least she hadn't had much time to bond with him. Oh, but those people, they don't know what a mother feels, particularly the doctors (all male back then). They don't know that from that first flutter, you and your baby have embarked on an incredible love affair that is mean to last for the rest of your - the parent's - life. In a cruel twist, the baby dies in the womb or shortly thereafter.

My paper is all about the kinds of resources that are in place for parents who endure such a tragedy these days. In particular, I'm looking at how online support groups can help parents who are geographically remote, rural people like my parents were. It's quite likely that many research papers and studies originate out of something we encountered in our formative years, some wrong we wished to right, some long-held question we needed to have answered. In striving to attain the long wished-for goal, we help others who are enduring the given experience in the present. What mother might I eventually be able to help by finding new ways to provide better resources for grieving, coping, and healing?

And so, even though the work is hard, my days are exhausting, and my other course is heaping on even more of a load, I am feeling the reward of the research. I'm thinking of my mother and her reunion in 2006 with her little Eddie, the brother I never knew, the baby she only knew from across the thickness of her belly. I am hoping to change the tide so that mothers and fathers are treated with the care and concern they deserve.

The long days and nights are worth it. So worth it.

Peace - D

[photo credit] (That photo is not Eddie. I have no idea what happened to Mom's photos.)


® ♫ The Brit ♪ ® said...

Hi D,
I hope you're o.k. I've been thinking of you, I hope you are feeling better...

Such a sad post about your dear little Brother! Beautiful photo!
I agree the resources years ago were more or less non-existent, not like all the help-groups that we have for absolutely everything today.
I was a twin and my Sister died when we were 5 years old of Septacemia. My Mum also had a terrible time with depression with no support from anyone, only family. I too suffered at that time (although I don't remember it) and my Mum told me that I didn't speak a single word for 2 years after her death. So along with my Mum having to deal with her own depression and loss she also had to take me to a child psychologist. My Father's Mother said to my Mum at the time of my Sister's death "It's not like you knew her for many years and you can always have another one..." suffice to say my Mum and her Mother-in-law never got along.
My twin Sister was hardly ever spoken about again and I don't think I have ever seen a single photo of her... it was my Mum's way of dealing with it, but I always remember her words: "You never ever get over the death of your child, we are not meant to outlive our children..."

Big Hugs for you dear friend!
Donnie XXXX

Maggie May said...

That was a very sad story. I don't suppose any mother would ever get over the death of a baby (or child) no matter what the age.
You are an incredibly good writer.
I don't blame you for wanting to do something to help such mothers in their suffering.

I was also very sad to read *The Britt's* story in the last comment. No one ever knows just what some one else has gone through, do they?

Jeni said...

So true about we are not meant to outlive our children. And that is regardless of their age -infant to adult -there is a piece that is torn from both parents but from mothers especially. Resources where people who have experienced a loss -such as your mother's or even of a much older child or adult -are extremely important. Any type of grief counseling is actually very important and all too often, we tend to overlook that or have preconceived notions about grief, how to cope, how long to grieve, etc., and too many people don't realize this also differs from individual to individual too. Until one has walked in anothers shoes, how can it be known what feelings exist there?

the walking man said...

Isn't it odd how as we age we find our course and are more willing to put aside the things that once frustrated us so we can learn?

My mom was an MSW for fifty years and if you accomplish your goals Doris I hope that you find ways to help as many people as she did. The impact of a good heart can never be underestimated.

lakeviewer said...

It sounds like you're ready to delve with serious stuff; you've just come out of your own self imposed exile, and pain has been your companion for a long time. You have not had an easy life; and you do understand your mother's life because of the pain she suffered.

Is the course for a degree. or to enrich your present career?

Mental P Mama said...

What a wave of emotions for me...I know they are together now. My mother-in-law had a stillborn boy, and went on to have 5 other children. But she always talked to me about that baby boy. I know she is with him now. Check out this is a photography org. for bereaved parents. It is amazing:

RiverPoet said...

Donnie, my friend, what an incredible story! You have to write about this more; it's important. The bond between twins is unique and very strong, though did you know that a high percentage of twins never see the light of day? An awful lot of them "disappear" in the womb, meaning their cells merge with the surviving twin. It's pretty amazing, actually. Please write more about this. We'd all love to read about your feelings.

Maggie - You know things have changed a lot since 1948, when this story took place, but in many areas they haven't changed enough. So many parents are just ignored by the medical community. It's truly sad.

Jeni - You're absolutely right. I remember when my father-in-law died. My expression of grief was like that I had grown up with -- I cried my eyes out and let the feelings come. My husband's family was reserved and quiet. My stupid MIL actually thought my outpouring of grief meant there had been something going on between her husband and I - UGH!!! He was like a second dad to me. Funny how grief differs among individuals.

Mark - What a wonderful thing to say. I, too, hope I can touch lives as your mother did. I'm sure she was an incredible woman. After all, look at her son!

Lakeviewer - This is for my masters degree in Thanatology (the study of death, dying, and bereavement). I'm hoping to form a new career out of it that will take me well into my 70s.

MPM - Thanks so much for the link! I will definitely check it out. There was another link I got from Don Mills Diva for a production company in Canada that did a movie about perinatal and neonatal death, telling the stories and helping to heal the parents. The link is here. I wish I'd been able to watch it when it aired in Canada, but I'm buying the DVD anyway.

Peace - D

Daryl said...

Such a beautiful post..

® ♫ The Brit ♪ ® said...

Hi D,
Thanks dear friend! You know I will write a post about this... sometimes I forget that I am a twin being as nobody speaks about her and all my feelings are supressed, but I do have some memories of her and I will put the whole story into words in the next couple of days... you've inspired me!
Huge Hugs!
Donnie XXX

jay said...

It is a very good thing for mothers nowadays that there is more understanding and skilled counselling available for them. I have no idea how these poor women coped, the ones who'd lost babies - although thinking back to my own childhood, there always seemed to be a few embittered older ladies in the village. I wonder, looking back, if they'd had a similar personal tragedy that hadn't been dealt with and they were carrying it with them still. It would certainly make you bitter to know that your child had died after all the efforts, that you hadn't been allowed to see him while he lived, and then to be told 'you'll get over it'. And that's supposed to be that.

As a mother, it doesn't bear thinking about.

septembermom said...

How your poor mother must have ached longing for that little one. I can't imagine her pain.

Your sensitivity and compassion are true assets to a career as a grief counselor. Your heart will lead you as you help start the healing process for the grieving. Good luck with your workload! You're pursuing a noble path.

Akelamalu said...

My mother lost two babies - a girl who was born premature weighing one and a half pounds and lived an hour, and a boy weighing 10lbs but only lived an hour. They said he had something wrong with his liver. She was heartbroken. I was only 12 months old when my sister was born/died but 13 when my brother was born. We had been so looking forward to having him - I was heartbroken too.

Good luck with your workload, it will be upsetting I'm sure but worthwhile.

Coal Miner's Granddaughter said...

Oh. Wow. You are so brave to approach that subject. My regular family photographer participates in Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep (do a Google search for it). It's a nationwide group of photographers who donate their time. A family can call them if their newborn is stillborn or only has a few days and the local photographer will drop everything to photograph the family with their precious one. I cry every time I go to the site.

Good luck, hon, and it was awesome talking to you the other day!

Moannie said...

Each succeeding generation will tell their offspring how it was for them, and each generation will marvel at how things are different for them and wonder how we coped without robots, or inter-space travel and how we battled cancer when all they need is a course of pills or how we could not find a cure for the common cold when it was right under our noses [pardon the pun]. And their children will think that we lived primitive lives.

It is good that we keep these stories alive, honouring those who paved the way.

Hilary said...

WOW... That was heartwrenching... It's wonderful that you were able to get that story from her.

SandyCarlson said...

You are called. This child in heaven calls you for the sake of those young moms and other moms who need a hand to hold.

I was blessed with a healthy pregnancy and a healthy (though longish in my mind at 10 hours) delivery. I did not tempt fate with a second child but thanked God for the angel in my arms. I admire your mother's courage.

God bless.

Lavinia said...

What a sad story. Poor wee little Eddie. Who knows the depths of your mom's grief. No doubt exacerbated by how badly things like that were often handled back then. I find your course very interesting and look forward to hearing more about your worthy endeavour. Glad you're sticking with it.

ConverseMomma said...

Oh, my dear friend. I am sorry. This post has touched me, wrecked me. I can not imagine. I still have the ultrasound pictures of the babies I lost. I always thought myself a little morbid for that, but I love those children, ya know. Still, what your mother went much worse. I'm sorry

RiverPoet said...

Daryl - Thank you, my friend.

Donnie - I'm counting on it!

Jay - It really must have been horrible for these women. The worst part is that because no one understood the human psyche as well as they do now, they didn't think there was anything wrong with their approach.

September - I hope I'm good at it. I want to be.

Akela - That must have been hard for your mother and for you to miss the love and lives of those dear ones. (((hugs)))

CMGD - It was great talking to you, too! And yes, I'm going to be visiting that website. It can be one of my examples of an online support site.

Moannie - How incredibly true that is. We are very complex organisms....

Hilary - It was truly an honor to hear it from her own lips.

SandyC - I never thought of it that way, but now that you point it out, it gives me chills! You may be right!

Lavinia - It's worth every moment...

CM - I don't think it's morbid at all. In fact, I have the ultrasound picture of my daughter's baby. She very cruelly gave it to me after she had the abortion. Still, it was my grandchild, and I cherish that picture.

Peace - D

Not Afraid to Use It said...

I am, ironically enough, dealing with a similar topic in my family's genealogy. I will have to tell you about it sometime. For now, as a resource for your class check out this site. It is done by a former Swedish colleague of mine. It is a photo essay on the handling of death in Sweden. I believe you will find the photos and commentary fascinating.

Cloudia said...

So SO Excellent!!!!!!!!
We have much in comon.
Ever heard of/ read Doug Smith author of "Being a Wounded Healer"?
Great book on these topics.
Aloha, Sistah

Erika said...

What a wonderful tribute to your mother's pain and ultimate resiliency.

I'm so glad I found your blog. I find myself coming back for more...your ability to express your thoughts and feelings is exquisite.

SOUL: said...

holy cow D-

i was just reading here tryin to get caught up a little..and came upon this post. i'm sorry to say-- i could only read maybe half of it-- i got to the part that seemed like PTSD symptoms, and had to stop. i knew how the story would end.

yesterday was the anniversary of my own sons' death. he was 4 and 1/2 months old. six years later i had a loss of a second baby-- different circumstances... totally horrific as well.
a parent does never lose the pain. it never goes away.

i am so proud to hear that you have chosen to go into the field of helping these parents and families. so few out there are capable of hearing this type of thing.
personally-- i couldn't tell you how many times i have had "professionals" tell me-- it's been "this many years, you should be over this by now". i have given up on counselors as far as my babies go. my grief , pain and loss. all in fear of what stupid thing they may throw back at me.
maybe i should be over it-- but i'm not. i may never be.

i wish you well in your endeavors, i really think you will do terrific at this sort of thing. you have a big heart and i knew that from the first post i read here.

if you want any tips as what NOT to say to a person who has lost a baby--in any way--- just ask me. i could write a book.

hugs to you ---
i know that wasn't easy for you to write.
sleep well.