mummy, can you tell me the story about your baby that died again?

Last Monday was sad day. I was wary of it because although I'm not sad that much any more, it has come upon me in unexpected ways in previous years. As a sharp jab, or a bitter fragment of grief, perhaps of sadness remembered and sorrow about the family that might have been. But this year played out differently, in another totally unexpected way.   

peach blossom after the rain

The Wednesday before sad day was a really, really happy day, our friend and neighbour gave birth to a gorgeous little girl and I managed to get home early so we could make a quick visit as a family to greet the new arrival - on her birthday as it was. It was great, so happy and joyful. I got to cuddle Bronte and take in some of that precious new baby spirit. Anyway, on the way home Grace asked if we could have a new baby too. She's asked before and we always tell her that I'm too old now (which is true) and that we're happy with our little family as it is. But this time, I had this thought, I really need to tell her that she had a brother, that there was another baby before her. Not because it will make her feel better about being an only child but because it is part of her family story and besides, little Frank's name is on her birth certificate. So after Grace was in bed Gerard and I had a little chat.

peach bud

So, on Monday night, which was sad day but as it happened had been mostly quite a good day, we were sitting on Grace's bed and I told her the story of our other baby. I started by telling her that mummy has been a bit sad today because she has been remembering that eight years ago she had a baby boy, your brother, but he was born too early and he died. And everyone was very sad. Grace asked questions, how big was he? Very little, I answered and held out my hands to show how little a baby born at just over twenty weeks is. And why did he die? she asked. I find the true answer to that question to be a complicated and very morally difficult story and I think we're a long way from talking about that with her so I said, he was too little to keep living. And he lived for a little while after he was born and then he died. And everyone was very sad. She took that in for a while and then she said, then you had me and I was alive and then you were very happy! To which I replied, oh yes! and we had a big, big cuddle.

spring sun

It feels right that we should have told her now. She's at a stage where she hovers between empathy for others (comforting me in my sadness) and it being all about her (being excited that she can be the happy ending to the story - she's five, she pretty much demands a happy ending ). A couple of nights later she asked me to tell her the story of your baby that died again and asked pretty much all the same questions. Ending up with her being born alive and everyone being happy. Which is true. We are pretty happy most of the time. 

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On a side note, this time last year the quince was in blossom. Not so this year. Maybe I pruned it too late and too harshly.


Laura Jane said...

ahh, Janet, the perspective of the young.
So now she knows that she is not quite an only child, and that she is in fact a happy ending. Very loved and wanted, but unlikely to be followed. And a joy to her parents, after the sadness of Frank's birth.
Thinking of you all (4) with hugs

Janet said...

Laura Jane, it's funny but her perspective is exactly right for me to hear right now. I find it very refreshing, she is learning empathy but she is still so very direct and honest. And she gives me perspective too, as well as the best cuddles.
Thank you for your thoughts.

Mary said...

I can't help thinking that your intuition to tell her the story now has brought out in grace just what you needed. The best synchronicity of all..

Frogdancer said...


Susan said...

Really beautiful. My kids know about Tallis, the baby who didn't grow properly and couldn't live. Not all the hideous details though. I guess he's there, in the background. He died over 14 years ago, Leah, Clare and Ally weren't born then.

Leah said...

Sounds like your talk went really well. My kids don't recall the loss of our babe, although they were 3 and 4 when it happened. I'm dreading telling them about it again, simply because I know hearing about it once won't be enough.

Eleanor said...

Sending you a big hug and all my love xxxx

Stomper Girl said...

I think it's great that you told Grace, and also that she was able to imprint some 5yo simplicity onto that story. Maybe just as a leavening to the complicated and complex part of your history that it is.
What Laura said is wonderful.

suse said...

How beautiful that Grace supplied the finale to the story - herself as the happy ending.

Kate said...

I know what you mean about being wary. I am eyeing off December warily right now. It was fine last year but I have learnt the lesson often enough to think that because you were fine before, you will be fine next time.
It's lovely that you were able to tell Grace like that, and have her contribute to the story of your family in an explicit way. And that the joy and sadness can all meet up the way they did.

Alby Mangroves said...

Aren't kids wonderful? In some ways we feel that they need to be protected from the truth, and in other ways, they protect us from rehashing the horror and tragedy of those sad stories when they're told, somehow turning them into tales woven into the family tapestry instead. And little Frank deserves for his memory to be cherished by his sister too xxx

librarygirl said...

I love the way childen interpret such sad things and often take away some of the sheer awfulness by voicing their innocent
Not even remotely on the same scale but when we came home a few years ago to find we had been robbed we all cried but my then nine year old said ( as he had heard me say on other occasions) "at least we're all safe and we're all together".
Love to all of you x

meli said...

Hi Janet,
Thank you so much for sharing this part of your life. I don't think I have ever commented here but I have been reading for a long time.
I had a termination due to an anomaly earlier this year, and now I am pregnant again. It was an agonizing decision (the baby would probably had died but would have had a small chance of survival with surgical intervention after birth). It happened at fourteen weeks, so I was able to have surgery rather than go through labour, so it all feels quite unreal. I didn't find out the sex, although I could have because I had a CVS, but I had hours and hours of ultrasounds and I think it was a girl. I am now carrying a boy.
We made the decision very carefully. My new pregnancy has numbed a lot of the terrible sadness, but there is still a sort of strangeness about it, because it was something that we chose, rather than something that just happened.
I think you are doing an amazing thing by telling the story to your daughter. x